Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sins of Our Fathers



Recently, we’ve all been tied up in the emotions of the death or our leader, Oyata, Taika.  It has been an emotional ride and now as I reflect after four years I’m not sure I’ve really even started the grieving process.  There has been a lot of hate, bile, ego and testosterone flung from one side of the world to the other.  I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in it as well as the next practitioner.  I feel it is time to move on, to let bygones be bygones, and get to the point where I can not only begin to train more effectively, but to grieve.

Once massive emotional thorn in my side that I’ve had for many years, and that came to a head when Taika passed, is all the people that hurt him before he died.  There were a few people that were kicked out of the association for various reasons, some truly hurt Taika and his family emotionally, financially and in other ways.  For years, I have fostered a major hate for these people and all associated with them, particularly if they were still riding on his coat tails.  As illogical as it is, I think I somehow blame them for his death.  That isn’t reality, isn’t even possible, but part of me feels like lashing out at them because he is gone.  Well, it is time to move on.  Some of these people have been gone for decades and Taika has been gone for over four years.  I cannot let hate consume me.  Neurons firing in pursuit of training are much better spent than in pursuit of hate.

I’ve gradually come to this realization over the last few months, and I’ve fought it.  I didn’t want to let go of the hate.  I wanted to hold on to the hate, to feel as if I am defending Taika’s honor.  After going to a grief counselor to deal with the fact that I can’t grieve when I’m still dealing with this mental cancer, I have to just move on.  This is no longer a concern of Taika’s as he is gone, why should I let it tear my heart apart.

So where is the ‘Sins of Our Fathers’ part?  Recently, a friend in the art was called out for his association with a former student of one of these blacklist refugees.  I found myself analyzing and researching the situation a bit because any time any name from that black list came up; I immediately went into defensive mode.  I had to step back and ask myself ‘why’?  There are a handful of people that Taika kicked out.  Many others left with a not so pleasant standing with Taika.  I won’t say I’ll ever forget but I can move on.  I should move on.  I’ve never really liked the phrase ‘Forgive and Forget’ as you should never really forget.  Learn from your mistakes and others, but keep moving. 

When someone would leave the association for whatever reason, their students would only ever hear one side of the dispute that brought upon the departure.  They wouldn’t hear Taika’s side, only that of their instructor.  Put yourself in their place for a moment.  Imagine your first instructor, and how they were probably almost a god in your eyes.  Many students never even met Taika or if they did it was just a fleeting glimpse at a seminar.  Maybe they went to test for Shodan and he was in the room when they tested, yelling or tasking them on some mission.  Now suddenly, your instructor sits everyone down and says we are branching out on our own.  He give you a story about ‘creative differences’, being stifled, whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  You don’t personally know Taika, but you have known your instructor for months or years.  Most likely you are going to believe your instructor and follow along blindly.  Now keep in mind, 10, 20, 25 years ago there was either no internet as we know it today or it wasn’t nearly in the social state it is today.  In one profound instance, an instructor was kicked out and told his students for 19 years that he was still training with Taika.  Those students believed him.  Very few students ever stay long term, so hundreds if not thousands of people march on by only hearing their instructor’s side of the story.

I can remember in one instance, where an instructor was expelled by Taika.  Taika personally contacted the students and gave them a chance, gave them a choice.  He told them his side, and said they could either stay in his association or stay with their original instructor.  If Taika gave these people a chance, shouldn't we?

Back to my friend getting called out, after a bit of digging, I found that the person, who I myself had associated some bile with……was never actually in our association.  I was caught up in the hype as well, guilty as charged.  This person doesn’t even make claims to have been in our association on his bio unlike many others out there.  He had been a disciple of someone who Taika separated from; let’s just call his instructor Mr. Big.  At some point, not too long after Taika’s separation from Mr. Big, this student smelt the bull and separated from Mr. Big as well.  Shouldn’t we commend that person for smelling the bull and leaving the person Taika had an issue with?  Others didn’t leave Mr. Big and are still knee deep in that association. 

As I began to research further, I finally realized that I have had numerous students over the years that originally came from these other splinter groups.  I’ve had students from at least four different associations, probably more, that were founded by people that were either kicked out of the association or left under shaky grounds.  My tutelage of these students gave them a chance to see how Taika’s art had grown since the departure of their former instructor.  It gave them a chance to finally hear Taika’s side of the story.  In each case, it gave me a chance to further spread Taika’s unique art.

As a group of people that profess to be dedicated to spreading Taika’s art, his philosophies, his techniques…..it is time we move on.  I’m not saying we need to put the whole band back together.  There are some things that can’t be mended.  I cannot forget what some people did but I must seriously limit the blame to them and not their followers.  This is probably the hardest thing I have had to consider since Taika’s death, but I will never be able to move on and grieve if I cannot forgive the students for the sins of their masters.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Your Instructor is not a God - Neither Was Mine


Over the last couple of years I have had people debate me online, in emails and face to face about things they know to be true about their instructor. This is usually centered on what their instructor has told them about their expulsion from RyuTe® Ren Mei by the founder Taika Seiyu Oyata.

Let’s face it; people don’t like to be wrong. They usually don’t like to make ‘life mistakes’. I have yet to know a single expelled person that didn’t make disclaimers about their expulsion. Whenever Taika would remove someone from the organization, it was never for anything small or petty. It was always for some major character flaw or a plethora thereof. In almost every case, there were warnings and chances given by Taika leading up to the expulsion. These expulsions were for many things over the years; money, physically inappropriate relations, integrity issues, drug problems, adultery, as well as others and combinations thereof. It was Taika’s organization and he was free to expel them for any reason he chose, and he never did it lightly or because of some big conspiracy. Let’s face it, none of the other yudansha in the organization were coordinated or spiteful enough to plant drugs on someone, hire an underage girl and her mother to tempt an instructor, entice someone to steal money from Taika or cheat him out of money, tempt someone to make yudansha certificates to promote people without Taika’s knowledge, host secret seminars and advertise that Taika was coming when he knew nothing about the seminar, or a myriad of other infractions that occurred.

What frustrates me and others that remain in the association is the very common fiction that ends up being spread. The lack of logic that oozes from these stories is maddening. But we see it with every other conspiracy in every other situation that floods the web nowadays so why I expect any more from the testosterone driven market of the martial world is I guess my fault. I’ve recently had second and third generation students of expelled people challenge my interpretation of their instructor, or instructor’s instructor’s, relationship with Taika.

Please, I beg of you people, look at things from a logical and evidentiary view. Challenge what your instructor is saying. I did, yes I said it. I did not always take what Taika said at face value, he was human. I’m not saying I didn’t trust him, but there was always room for misinterpretation with the language and cultural barriers in place. Plus I am a cop and a historian, so when he’d tell me something I’d want the bigger picture, more facts to go with it. I asked questions, I looked for evidence in many ways. I validated information. When he would tell me something like the island his father was the mayor of, where he grew up, I researched all the information I could find on that island. It was just fascinating information that was now readily accessible due to the internet.

If your instructor claimed to be Taika’s favorite student and still trained with him, why for 19 years did Taika never show up at a single event hosted by your instructor’s instructor? Why were there in 19 years no pictures or videos of the two together? Why was he kicked out of the funeral he was asked not to attend in the first place? Why did his flowers so offend the family they threw them in the dumpster at the funeral home? And a special note on that action, requested by the immediate family, it was the giant capital letters on the cards with the name of the expelled member’s organization that was offensive. It was as if every florist was expressly told that those words and only those words should be in all capital letters. That was like a slap to the face of the family trying to grieve mere days after the death of their father and husband.  If your instructor(s) quit coming regularly or at all to classes in 2000 (after the first surgery scare), and you hadn't even started training by that date, then don't expect me to not sigh in total disgust at your inaccurate 'facts' about what occurred in my presence during my time with Taika.   

I know there have been people asking questions and figuring this out in the past because people had frequently left these peripheral factions in search the real McCoy, one Taika Seiyu Oyata. Numerous times over the years people would train for a while in one or more of these groups hoping to meet Taika and then being crushed when they learned the truth after a senior member reluctantly pulled them aside because they were asking too many questions about Taika. These questions could embarrass their leader. Some choke it down and continued to study with the expelled, and I don’t fault them for that. Many of the expelled were very talented practitioners that just made poor decisions during their crossroads with Taika. They were forced to go a different direction and that is fine. Their skills didn’t go ‘poof’ and hopefully they learned from their social mistakes. Continuing to train with them is their choice. My question remains though, if some people can smell the bull, then why don’t others? If the red flags are there, if the evidence is obvious to some, then why do some people who never met Taika in their life or if they did they went to one or two seminars before their instructor was expelled which amounted to either being in the same room with him once or just walking in proximity to him, want to argue over knowledge they do not possess. The simple truth is they believe their first instructor was an infallible god.

None of my instructors over these decades were infallible nor gods. They were all humans who made mistakes. Taika would talk to me many times during our car rides or while training about the mistakes he made in his life, from childhood to the final days. He was a mortal, though a very talented one.


Ask questions freely of the master or superior for you must strive to understand what you are learning.

There are many people that saw Taika.  There are many people that trained at one of his events.  There are many people that trained in his presence.  There are many people that actually had a hand on moment with the man.  There are few who stuck with him to the end, kept their promises to him, and actually are performing the art the way he taught it in 2012. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Notebook Club




One of the earliest things I learned in this art, and was reminded of during my last blog is that, just about any class can become overwhelming.  It is difficult in a 1-2 hour class to remember everything you are taught, much less a weekend long seminar.  What I found when I started training at Taika’s dojo and even before that when I was just going to seminars he put on, is he liked to keep your cup running over.  In fact, I would always hear people saying how they couldn’t remember a tenth of what he said. 

My remedy for that very early into the 90’s was going to the local book store and purchasing a ‘blank lined book’.  I took this to class with me every time, and wrote notes as I went.  Constantly jotting things down.  My last blog had some footwork scans that I had made for my notebook from one of Taika’s early Spider Web classes at his dojo.  As I saw it, the people that took good notes tended to remember things better.  Taika would notice.  Openly in class he would kid me about it but later at his house he would always stress that I should write stuff down.  He actually told me to take good notes so I could retain his art and surprisingly, to write a book later on.  I even practiced my Japanese language skills, as limited as they were.

  

 


I would write down notes during class.  As soon as I got home or to work after class, I’d add more notes and clarify any short hand.  I would often go into work the next day and have a co-worker at the academy take pictures of me doing the fixups or no drills.  I would then print them onto sticker paper, cut them out and put them in the book.

Early days I drew stick figures and really ugly drawings, later on I used photos on sticker paper and even at one point I had little footprint rubber stamps made that I carried in my notebook bag along with a protractor and other tools of the trade.  Yes, I’m one anal geek.

  

Now if you go back and realize I did this for 25 years, and extrapolate out the math of not understanding but maybe a 10th of what Taika was giving me at the time, you can see that I’ve only scratched the surface of understanding all that I wrote down.  I have many years’ worth of research and training on my shelves.   I still go through my books and find notes to both make sure I have not drifted from his teachings, and to see what I’m forgetting.  I have thousands of documented hours of training, and even just stories, language and history notes from Taika.  These are my cherished treasures. 


Taika is still alive, in my books and in my heart.

Polishing Kata


Well, there have been numerous blogs out there talking about 101 ways to practice your kata.  I just wanted to share a little bit of Taika’s Polishing Principles that I was lucky enough to take part in.

Learn the Skeleton

When first learning the form, get the basic patterns down.  The floor map, basic directions faced, which stances are used, just the general form.  Taika sometimes called this the skeleton form or scaffolding or even foundation.  At this stage things don’t need to look pretty, in fact they may be somewhat awkward or ugly.  Get the pattern down and memorized.

Pick a Piece to Polish

Taika would stress this and luckily my first instructor passed that tidbit on to me from him before I even met Taika.  It sounded to me, a musician for probably 15 years at the start in this particular art, common sense.  As an instructor I don’t see it as common sense for all of my students, but I’ve had different life experiences that most of them. 

As a musician, you would sight read a sheet of music.  You would most likely find problem areas in that song that were difficult.  Let’s say measure 24 of the song Tom Sawyer by Rush was a booger of a drum fill, striking multiple toms in rapid succession with quite a bit of cymbal and foot action going on as well.  As a musician I was taught by various instructors over the years, to just work on that part for next week.  I would work on that part, nice and slow, dissecting it.  I might write down some sort of analogy or mnemonic to memorize the pattern and/or timing of it.  I might write out a sticking diagram that worked best for the situation.  I would dedicate time and energy working on that one little measure out of several hundred in a piece of music.  Then I would try to play the whole thing, and most likely find another spot that was ‘lacking’.

It made perfect sense when Taika shared this with his students.  If you learn a brand new kata, whether open hand or with a weapon, you need to polish the little pieces.  After they have the skeleton, I tell my students to pick that piece that feels uncomfortable and work on it.  Only after it begins to feel smooth to them, should they then perform the whole kata again to see if that helped.  Bit by bit, brick by brick you build something.  If you try to tackle the entire thing all at once, you cannot help but choke on it.  Taika was the greatest, most talented, most natural life protection practitioner I ever met.  Taika did not choke on a kata.  He took it one bite at a time.

Take a Piece in a New Direction

So now you took that piece and polished it within the kata.  Now it is time to take it out of the kata you found it in and polish it in other directions.  I just did this in my last Bo Kihon session with a new student.  He was working on some hand changes, trying to make them polished.  I then had him, as he knows Renshu Dai Ni (Exercise 2 for those fans of Tasshi Logue’s blue book), use the footwork from that exercise.  So now he is practicing the hand changes with the three bo strikes/captures in the four basic directions.  North, South, East, West. 



Now that was his homework till the next bo lesson.  As you can imagine, this can be challenging.  You are now stepping in different directions, left 90, right 180, left 90, and right 180 over and over again.  This is different than the kata, you repeat the snapshot of the kata till it starts to feel smooth and then you pull it out of the kata and into this pattern.  This will pull you out of your comfort zone.  I think one thing Taika did as an instructor with us on a regular basis, if not always, was keep us out of our comfort zone.

Now this new student knows Renshu Dai Ni, but he is way too new to know any of the various Spider Web patterns.  For anyone not knowing what Spider Web is, it is a series of exercises that Taika learned as one long exercise.  The exercise was designed to be a way to essentially go in about any imaginable direction, with about every possible hand/foot combination you can imagine.  So I will give him a portion of the footwork, when he next feels comfortable.



Above we have a tiny portion of one of the Spider footwork patterns.  This is just the North Side of the Mid-Line facing out.  You can do this entire drill starting facing the north side of the midline, the south side, the east side, the west side, or even at the angles.  There are a myriad of other patterns and those within this system know this is but the tip of the iceberg.  There are patterns facing out of the web, patterns facing in, and every combination imaginable.  So if we again have the student take that piece of the kata they are working on and do it over and over again.  They will eventually get thousands of reps in of the hand changes, strikes and joint locks they are practicing with the top body with every possible combination of the bottom body.  They should be refining and polishing that technique for thousands of reps.  Now put it back into the kata.

Once you are comfortable with any of these foot patterns, most likely you have only been performing the feet in one simple way, for instance, stepping forward each time.  Now start over with the first pattern stepping back each time.  When that gets comfortable, step forward, step back and change that pattern up to your hearts content, or until nausea is induced.  All this can be quite mentally challenging.  Then try it with ‘switch foot’.  That will tell you great things about the power you have in your upper body.

Off the Grid

Now they are getting proficient at 45, 90 and 180 degree angles.  Well, it is time to take them off the grid.  One exercise Taika had us do in class back in 2012, as we were working on a whole slew of ‘upgrades’ to what he called Technical Application Tomari Seisan, was point us in a new starting direction.  That direction wasn’t necessarily 45 or 90.  It was amazing how much this could throw you off when you had been performing that kata in the same dojo, always starting facing east for over a decade.  East was the direction his chair was sitting.  So that was naturally the direction we faced when we would normally start, bow to him, and begin the kata.  Of course, there was some confusion as we attempted Seisan at an odd angle.  You would feel yourself, at least during the turns if not the three strides in each direction, trying to realign yourself with the world.  You wanted, craved those 45 or 90 angles.  Once you started to get the hang of it, but nowhere close to being polished, he would change things up again.  You would come to your first turn and he would give you a different angle to go than was preprogrammed into your head after a couple of decades of practicing the kata.  In Tomari Seisan your first turn is normally 180 degrees, then your next turn is 90, then 180, then 90, then 180 then retreat 90.  Try it 90, 45, 90, 45, 90.  Or worse yet, 45, 120, 90, 45, 90, 120.  You can see how this can get quite challenging. 

Summation


I believe Taika was trying to prepare us for any situation, and push us way beyond our comfort level.  A real encounter will most likely not be be comfortable and at precise, pre-planned angles. I don’t think there was ever a time training with him, that I felt I was even nearing a comfort level.  It wasn’t until feeling the loss of this great man, that I realized how well he had pushed me.  During a class I would, if lucky, just start to formulate a plan in my head as to how I can practice whatever he was teaching me.  I would know that there was no way I was going to leave his class with any comfort in the pattern or technique.  And just as I began to formulate a plan for later training that night when I got home or the next day, he would change it.  He would pull the rug out from under me.  This forced me to (and others) to persevere and grow.  Thank goodness I kept great notes.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Force Efficiency Drill



This past week I was working in our Oyata Te class (Shihan Dai) with intermediate and advanced principles of Tuite.  During this session we were all discussing the direction the chest faces in relation to the Principle of ‘X’.  This is what we refer to as Force Efficiency and is the sixth basic principle of tuite.  As we discussed how different stances point your chest in a different direction, Becky (one of my higher ranking long term students) recommended when we do our begging warm up drills in class, instead of calling out ‘Right Back Stance’, ‘Left Forward Stance’ and other combinations, I should call out a direction that I want their chest to point to.  BRILLIANT!!!  This is what I love about Oyata Te, everyone throwing out ideas and training together and Becky comes up with one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve heard in a while.  So here is the drill as it is evolving in my head since the brilliant spark of inspiration by Becky.


   




Above are just a few examples of stances and the direction of the chest.  The left one is basically what we call a Left Back Stance or Left Cat Stance position.  You see that, if the top is considered North, then the chest is aimed at North West.  In the middle you have a Ready Position but you could say other stances have this North position such as Attention, Natural Stance, Forward Stance (Seisan) and Horse Stance.  The three above are obviously not all the stances represented and obviously you can reorient any stance to face any direction.

Phase One - Orientation

Armed with this knowledge, it is time to make your students (and maybe even yourself) a little more aware of how to apply their Force Efficiency.  As an example, have all the students’ line up and for the geographically challenged, point toward the North wall.  Or you could just for the exercise name the front of the dojo as North.  Most people are rarely aware of the compass directions once inside a building so it doesn’t really matter.  Now, instead of calling out stances for them to practice their foundational drills, call out directions and explain that when you call North they must pick a stance and have them settle into any stance with their chest square to North.  As a group they may be tempted to mimic each other as typically, instructors call out a stance and everyone does the same thing in formation.  In this Force Efficiency training, every student could be slightly different, as long as all of their chests face the same direction.  Explain this and stress to them that different is fine.  You are trying to make them more aware of their chest direction.  It doesn’t matter if their neighbor is in a different stance.  No cheating off your neighbor. J  Don’t worry about hands.  You might even have them close their eyes then open after they are aligned.  That way they are not tempted to follow their peers.


Phase Two – Hands and Feet

Now that they have the idea down, start everything from the Natural Stance.  We train most of our starting conflict scenarios as starting from a Natural Stance.  The thought is that most confrontations that the average person will find themselves in doesn’t start off like a tournament bout in fighting stances, but that is a discussion for another blog (or just read four or five of Tony’s).  Everyone starts in Natural Stance facing the front of the room.  Pick a technique you are going to practice such as Upper Forearm Strike (Upper Block for those outside our school).  Tell everyone that is the technique and that they will execute the technique while moving into a stance that points their chest to the correct direction you call.  So instead of counting out Ichi, Ni, San, Shi…… I will be calling out directions.  After each call, I will review everyone’s chest position and make any corrections, then state ‘Return’, then they will return to the Natural Stance to simulate the next attack.  There is no ‘wrong answer’ of a stance as long as their chest is pointing to the correct heading.  Well, crane stance might be a wrong answer as it is really only practiced for balance. J



A little background about how ‘maybe’ we have differed for a while than most Karate type schools.  We used to do the standard hand techniques in formation like everyone else.  Everyone standing in a horse stance and doing strikes, punches, blocks and such in horse stance but one day Tony and I discussed how this deep horse stance was rarely ever a stance that you struck from, or at least not in the manner we were doing it.  So we started having the students do it only in formation until they tested for 9th Kyu.  The idea was, they learned early the deep stance and built up a little leg stamina.  Once they reached 9th Kyu, we then moved them to a natural stance, and the instructor would call out what stance we would be moving to such as a Right Back Stance.  They then would pivot back at a 45 degree angle and execute whatever hand technique or even kick we called, pause for a 2 count, then return to Natural Stance.  We’ve done that for quite a while and think it has worked quite well and is more realistic.  It has made our students a little more practiced and relaxed during combination and tuite practice.  Taika would always say, don’t waste your practice time.  So here we are not just making the students do hands only in a deep stance, they are learning from 9th Kyu on to move their body when they move their hands.



Phase Three – Conservation of Motion

At this point, they are hopefully heading in the correct direction but is it an efficient transfer of stances?  What I mean by that is, I can start in a Natural Stance facing North and get the call for North East.  What is the most efficient stance to get me to North East?  I could do my best ballerina impersonation and pirouette 270 degrees to North East or I could just drop my Right Foot back to a Right Back stance and poof, my chest is aligned.  At this point, start to look for not only correct Force Efficiency but also look for time and energy efficiency.  Conservation of Motion.    


Phase Four – Daily Integration

Now let’s start putting my blogs together. J  I’ve spoken about ‘finding time’ to train before.  Whether you are standing on an elevator or standing in the kitchen, finding time to train when you have work, honey does and just ‘me time’ to worry about is sometimes difficult.  Today, I was playing with this while putting the dishes away.  Yes, I know I’m obsessed and probably a tad bit on the crazy side, but as I put dishes away I was going to every corner of the kitchen….every drawer….every cabinet.  Each time I went to a different location, I tried to use a different stance to square my chest to that object.  After doing about every combination of that, I began trying to offset my chest at a particular angle.  So the first few times I faced the cutlery drawer I had my chest dead parallel to the face of the drawer.  Then I began turning my chest at a 45 degree angle to the face of the drawer as if using the Principle of ‘X’.  Yes I know, I’m crazy.  I won’t even tell you about the exercises I was doing to strengthen my calves while doing this…


To sum up, I see great potential in this exercise and am so proud of the spark from Becky.  You never know where inspiration is going to come from.  I truly believe that this has great potential to prepare my students and myself to better apply the Principles of Tuite and Kyusho. 





Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chi Balls of Fire




Since Taika’s death, the question of whether he believed in Chi, Ki and Traditional Chinese Medicine has come up.  If fact, I get questions about it every month or two.  To answer my perspective on this question I need to give those that don’t personally know me a point of reference of my relationship with Taika, as well as another student I am going to quote.

Lisa Ohmes and I were close to Taika.  And when I mean close, I don’t just mean in proximity though that was a domino that led to the closeness we had.  Lisa and I took Taika to the bank, drycleaners, DMV, various stores and anything else you can imagine.  We took him to restaurants and sat and ate with him.  We spent hours with him a week talking, and handling his daily life and business.  We had constant conversations with him in our cars, waiting in line at places, during all sorts of regular weekly situations.  I spent time teaching him to shoot, taking him to a range where we both had memberships, and shooting guns.  All this is in addition to the time we both spent in his basement, back yard, garage and dojo training in RyuTe®.  We would even talk on the phone at times.  We spent hours in hospital waiting rooms, and even more in hospitals as test after test was run in his final years.  We talked in these various manners about RyuTe®, members past and present, his wishes for his art, life in general, the United States, Okinawa, family (real and extended), other styles of ‘martial arts’, and a myriad of topics throughout your standard encyclopedia.

Though some will take it that way, the purpose here is NOT to brag.  It is to specify that Lisa and I talked to Taika on a regular basis and for many, many years.  Though we certainly didn’t know everything that was floating around in his head, we accumulated a lot of knowledge about him over the years.  One topic that came up several times for both of us was the topic of chi, ki and the mystical energy that is taught by many in the industry.  Absolutely, without a doubt, Taika did NOT subscribe to this.  He considered it ‘Snake Oil Salesmen” techniques.  He would bring this up as he was frequently asked about it while teaching seminars.  He would talk to me and Lisa at length about how it wasn’t any mystical energy that caused his knockouts.  He was striking specific locations on the body, with specific amounts of penetration, at specific angles and with specific follow through.  I can remember him talking about these others who taught and delved into T.C.M. and other such stuff he called nonsense.  I distinctly remember someone asking him if he struck pericardium this or triple warmer that or stomach this before he made his neck strike leading to a knockout.  He proceeded to knock someone unconscious without touching any other point on their body.  None, nada, nill.  Others would comment over the years on how the Bubishi referred to specific times of the day to attack certain organs.  He would laugh and say, “You think I no knock you out at night?”  Or something to that affect.  I personally witnessed the same nerve techniques equally affective at any time of the day.  From day class, to night class, to afternoons at his house, to early mornings at a seminar.  His favorite phrases for these topics were, “Bullshit” and This Stupid”. 

How much did it bug him?  I’ll tell you this and won’t name any names, but there once was a high ranking instructor in our style.  This instructor had a previous background in a heavy CHI touting style.  He was supposed to be teaching RyuTe® but Taika found out he was having his students dwell into chi and showing them things that Taika viewd as ‘parlor tricks’.  Taika disaproved each of these with science.  For those that don’t know, Taika was actually a well-educated man who went to college, yes college, for engineering.  (Another tidbit from a conversation in a car).    When this instructor didn’t stop these shenanigans, he was kicked out of the association.  Yes, booted.  A long time instructor, and very high ranking, who failed to listen to Taika and stop teaching chi/ki.  If that doesn’t tell you how he felt, I should just give up at this point.

Taika believed in body mechanics and science.  He believed in being fluid and relaxed.  He believed in directing your KINETIC energy to a target, and redirecting there.  I’ve had people ask me to explain things like the curling hand motions in Shiho happo no Te which they perceive as ‘gathering ki’.  I can assure you that ki gathering is not what Taika was doing.  These small hand motions are easily explained in grab releases and positioning.  Taika would be very unhappy with any of his followers heading down the wrong path, and even more unhappy if they were leading others down it. 

Some people will never believe me, no matter how hard I preach from the pulpit.  

At least I got it off my chest and my conscious is clear.

Di



Burn Out


First off, don’t fret.  Burn out happens to pretty much anyone that trains in anything.  It happens to us at work, so why should the recreation we love the most be any different.  Recently, a really close friend has hinted about being burnt out.  It has been quite a while since I got this dreaded feeling about the art, or at least the overwhelming feeling.  I believe I get a ‘tad’ burnt out more frequently but the big burn outs have only happened for me once or twice in my thirty some odd years in budo.

Realize that everyone gets burnt out to varying degrees.  You can’t tell me Taika never did.  I know for a fact he quite frequently got frustrated at a myriad of things from student failure to just the repetitive grind of life.  So knowing that you are by no means alone in your feelings can help.  Everyone knows Taika started training just after WWII and trained till he died in 2012.  But not everyone knows that he quit teaching out of a dojo for a while and was a small engine mechanic during that time.  I’m not saying he quit training, but he did quit teaching. 

Next, try to identify if there is a particular thing that is burning you out?  Or a stack of them?  See what you can do to decrease those things.  Is it the grind of kata?  As a new student, sometimes we start studying things like kata and it doesn’t feel realistic and becomes a grind.  I can remember getting bored with things I was shown and being too afraid to ask the instructor about it.  ‘Ask questions freely…..’ is part of our principles of training but we sometimes put the teachers up on such a pedestal that we can’t say anything to them.  I try to give my students a few little bits of bunkai or reality related to each kata the second we get them all the way through it.  That way they have a little glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Is it the negative people around you?  Is it the negative stories?  There are a myriad of things that can contribute to this common problem.  Those last two are there because, since Taika’s passing, we saw his predictions come true.  There have been a host of disrespectful actions, ego flare ups, and negativity spill out all over the place.  Maybe it’s time to unplug those facebook friends, whose timelines are pissing you off.

Try shifting gears.  If you have had one or two primary weapons you train with for a few years, pick something new.  Go into it with a mindset that you don’t have to master this thing; you are just looking for some variety.  I was myself rather burnt out on bo, my favorite weapon, many years ago.  We were not learning anything new with the weapon, and I wasn’t getting any tutelage, fixups or corrections.  Out of nowhere Taika began training me on some amazing tanbo changes that lit a fire under my gi. 

How about a book?  There are tons of aspects of the arts that most students completely neglect.  Stay in the art by reading some cultural books like Customs and Culture of Okinawa by Gladys Zabilka.  It is out of print now, but you can find numerous used copies on Powells.com, Amazon.com and BarnsandNoble.com.  I found that reading books about Okinawan culture, religion and even the language gave me a greater insight into Taika’s world.  I know for a fact that this opened up several doorways with him for me as I would engage in conversations with him while driving him places that he was at first shocked about.  He didn’t think us American’s understood some things about the islands he came from.  This knowledge caused him to open up and tell me stories about Kita Daito where he grew up.  They gave me a different perspective and helped me through my minor burnt sessions.  You can search for online books on Okinawa, Ryukyu, and other key words and find a ton of topics to read that can be a temporary placeholder for the monotony in your training. 

If nothing seems to work and you are still seriously thinking of taking a Burn Out Hiatus, set a distinct goal.  Make it one month, two months, or something like that.  Place your return date on your calendar and have your friends in the art hold you accountable.  Ensure they understand that during your hiatus, you want their friendship but no mention of any drama or other reasons that may have drove you to your hiatus.  One of the biggest problems with taking a vacation from the arts is that 95% of the people that do (highly unproven non statistic based guess from decades in the arts) don’t ever come back.  Many people just get out of the habit and can’t get back, others feel embarrassed as their peers have continued on.  During your hiatus you may lose skills and not keep up with the pack.  It is quite likely that with your new, fresh boost in morale and energy given to you by your hiatus, that you will catch back up quickly upon your return.


Nintai

Monday, May 11, 2015

Non-Linear Striking

I've already posted at length on Taika's view of the Makiwara as a training tool, or rather an attitude tool. And I've already talked about people not listening to Taika's wisdom at length. So those posts are in previous blogs but I wanted to add a little more information, but not totally give away all of Taika's pearls. 

Since those previous posts, I've heard a lot of counter arguments about how the makiwara helps to build power, and yes, indeed it can. One of the problems Taika had with it, and why he preferred newer technologies was the linearly restricted motion it teaches. As Taika became more aware of what worked, and he became an uncertified Dr. of Kinesiology, (the scientific study of human movement addressing physiological, mechanical, and psychological mechanisms) he learned how the body resisted attacks. Simply striking hard and fast in a linear direction, did not achieve the results he was looking for. 

Many of the Six Basic Principles of Tuite have a symbiotic or similar relationship to the Basic Principles of Kyusho and the Basic Principles of Atemi. 


Basic Principle Five: Three Dimensions


If you think about how an opponent reacts to force, a direct linear strike can be resisted…..to a point. Obviously you are not going to hold up well to a .40 round coming out of my Glock. (But think about what a bullet proof vest does to displace that energy and reverse that principle.) We all probably did it as kids; trading blows to the belly, chest or torso. If you tighten your abs, and a punch comes in straight and hard, the force knocks you straight back. To a point, this can be resisted. And keep in mind, yes I am absolutely aware that this isn’t realistic training. So many other things are going on during an attack; body position, Atemi, body reaction, et cetera. But if you play the trading punches game, you can see that you can get pretty good at absorbing a straight attack, depending on your threshold of pain. There are quite a few styles out there that practice this art of absorbing until their bellies (or other items I wouldn’t would want to train with) are black and blue. Did you ever see Taika make a tight fist and punch someone straight in the belly unless he was deliberately showing what ‘not to do’? I didn’t. Such topics were usually followed with the comment, “Dis stupid.” Even watching old seminar videos from my na├»ve pre-Oyata style days, I have picked up on his different approach. He stressed a lot about being relaxed. But there was some very deliberate attack misdirection along with mental misdirection (he didn’t want to give away everything). 

With Taika, you really had to work at looking at all the little details. If he demonstrated a strike 4 times in a seminar or class, I would pay attention to 4 different things while watching him. Usually, I’d first pay close attention to his footwork. Then maybe hands, then torso, then an overall view. If he continued on and demonstrated the same thing a few more times I’d look at overall head position and all the other little nuances. The great thing about reviewing thousands upon thousands of old seminar videos is the ability to track all these little nuances. Tracking the path of the hands, the feet, and the torso. We have this modern gift of technology. When Taika learned from Uhugushiku Tan Mei and then Wakinaguri Tan Mei, he didn’t have that benefit. I also have thousands of pages of notes I took during training sessions over the course of a quarter century, where I took detailed notes on positions of his body (to the best of my artistic abilities). 

So now back to all the extreme analyzation. Look back at how makiwara are made. They don’t adequately allow for non-linear motion, unless someone has invented a new one I have not seen. The board allows for a forward back motion, and because it is essentially like a lever in the ground, a slight arc as it goes forward and back. Perhaps if the post was on a ball bearing type assembly that could also move up and down, it would allow for more training of non-linear motion. Patent Pending :) I could spend months trying to develop this idea, along with a lot of money, when a Body Opponent Bag will pretty much get me there. I got my first one (slightly used) on Craig’s list many years ago for $70 after conversations with Taika. When Taika would strike me, not mutually exclusive to the torso, it was never in a linear fashion. The strikes would have amazing power, but completely different from a brute force tight fist. 

Power is Not Brute Force

Taika would put fist on my belly, relaxed. He would say ‘Ready’, then go. His fist wouldn’t close. He wouldn’t even really move his body during this demonstration. I would most definitely ‘go’. I would most definitely feel the effects as I went to the ground. I would most definitely feel the power and respect it. I have demonstrated this to student’s over the years and it doesn't ‘make any sense’ in our strength based American culture. We think of Arnold Schwarzenegger when we think of power. We think muscle.  I teach my students from day one, not to think the American way. 

To wrap up another one of my ramblings, be open to new ideas. Analyze, research and try new ways of doing things. We learn in many ways as human beings. Trial and error is one of the main ways. We cannot always be spoon fed, at least not any more. Taika gave up training with the makiwara decades ago and got continually better at striking as he aged. Does that make you wonder? It did me.

Oyata Family Tomb


 


It was mother’s day still in the United States when Lisa Ohmes and I met up with Taika’s Great Nephew Satoshi and Great Great Niece Yuika.  Satoshi is a wonderful person who graciously invited us out for some history and a tour of several important places in the Ryukyu Kingdom.  First stop, we were taken to the Oyata family shinju (haka) tomb. 

The original tomb had been located near Taika’s birth island of Henza, but his sister Tomi had wanted to move it closer to where she was living in her later life.   The old tomb was in need of some repairs and the drive was a bit long for the current family.  Satoshi found a new location early in this century and Taika began bringing money back to Okinawa between 2000 and 2007.  He special ordered marble from China and the new family tomb was finished in July of 2007.  Taika’s parents, and a lock of hair from Taika’s eldest brother Akio, were then placed at this new site.  (Akio was killed during the battle of Pearl Harbor but his mother had a lock of his hair.) Tomi was then laid to rest when she passed away last year.

Satoshi bestowed on us a great honor by not only taking us to the family tomb, but allowing us to take part in the Okinawan custom of paying our respects to Taika’s family.  The rest of the Okinawan family, and Okinawa in general, do this once a year in April.  This is called the Seimei or shimi in the Okinawan language.  It was quite an emotional moment for us all as we gave our offerings of awamori, burned incense, burned our ‘paper money’, and Satoshi said a prayer. 



Afterwards, Satoshi took us a few steps southwest to show us what was so wonderful about this new location.  This location had quite a beautiful view of the ocean and a public park/beach which Taika and Tomi loved.


 Our next stop was to Taika’s birth island, Henza.  As discussed on the history page of ryute.com, Taika was actually born on Henza, which at the time was not connected at all to Okinawa.  Before the island was connected by a bridge, they had to take small boats when visiting the mainland.  Satoshi said that Tomi would talk about how she would be so scared when they would take the trip in a small six person boat.  On this island we drove through the small village where Taika was born, though sadly the original home is no longer there.  Satoshi also took us to the original family tomb.  This was followed by a tour of Henza, Miyagi and Ikei islands.  Shortly after Taika’s birth, the family moved to Kita Daito island.



Satoshi then took us to a wonderful Japanese restaurant where we ate until we couldn’t eat any more.  We then discussed a little about Satoshi’s life and how he works at Kadena air base.  He is essentially a base Police Officer or Base Security.  He has been doing it for 17 years.  Satoshi then took us on a tour of the base and we exchanged police stories. 


He drove us all around the island that day, sharing stories of the family and ending the trip at Okinawa’s new Aeon Shopping mall, a brand new, huge indoor mall in Chatan.  In all, it was a wonderful time, cut short by the impending Typhoon.  We all had to scurry our separate ways to brace for the storm and gather resources.  It is a wonderful thing knowing that Taika’s family carries on in the Isle of Smiles, Okinawa.

Lee E. Richards & Lisa A. Ohmes
May 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Failure

Warning: This one may be a bit soap boxish, but that is what a blog is.  And no, I am not without my own failures.  As I revue thousands of hours of videos and thousands of documents, I continually find events I’ve failed to remember.  Things I’ve forgotten.  Et cetera.  I’m not perfect, but I strive to learn from the things Taika shared and hold things that Taika preached as very important to me.  With that in mind, here is my blog on failures.

Failure to Listen

One of the biggest problems with training with Taika I saw over the years was failure to listen to what he was saying.  Whether it was about the martial arts, history, life in general or just some random topic.  He had the ability to overwhelm you during any training session which is why some of us chose to keep notebooks next to us during the majority of training years.   I have numerous volumes annotated and filled with sketches.  On some topics however, people have chosen to completely ignore him.  Alas, here are but a few examples that really crawl under my skin.

Makiwara

I know, I know.  I have blogged about this before.  But recently, a former student had a ventation proclamation calling all of us non-makiwara users wimps and other such names.  He made bold claims about makiwara making people tough and other such nonsense and if we were not using it, it was just because we were measly little cowards and weaklings.  I don’t use the makiwara because Taika proved to me that it was not necessary back in the mid 1990’s.  In fact, for those that don’t believe me, feel free to read one of his books, RyuTe® no Michi which was published back in 1998.  Or in fact, as some of this Makiwara Worshipers have allegedly read it, maybe try to study it.  He had worked on the book for years, and I have the original Japanese notebooks that evolved into it.  He spoke freely of what a poor tool this was as well as wrote about it.

So why did he use it as a young martial artist?  Taika would say quite freely that in his early days, a lot of what he did was about proving how tough you were on the island.  At one point, teaching the art became a job which provided him with income.  The market share of students that were providing his income were the military, predominantly United States servicemen.  Looking tough and feeling tough was ‘the in thing’.  Plus, he would say in his early years he had a bit of an attitude.  So large callused knuckles was a way to show how tough you were.  They were a badge to show off.

Later, when he came to America, he stated that he used it as a tool to weed out the less diligent, and whenever he had someone that was hard headed.  So if you are bragging about how Taika had you continuously work on the Makiwara, particularly after, say the mid-eighties, then that should tell you something about what Taika thought about your character at that time. 

I won’t continue on too much about better tools, but think about it.  A Makiwara doesn’t give like a human.  There are much better tools that give like a human and even feel relatively close to a human.  Think about any one of Taika’s fingertip knockouts, how much strength did he really need?  He didn’t have huge callouses built up on his fingertips.  Any guitarist will have probably ten times the callouses on their fingers and they don’t know how to knock someone out.  Taika didn’t require big callouses to do so and swore that it was more about angles of attack that power. 

Technology has made better tools.  You don’t see US servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting with samurai swords or blunderbusses.  If that makes sense, why doesn’t this?

So am I a wuss for not using makiwara and following Taika’s instructions that are a good 25 years old.  Ask my students.  I continually have bruises where I let my students and peers in KC Shihan Dai beat on me as we research topics left us by Taika.  I continually do things that hurt, over and over again, in the name of training and research.  I don’t use a makiwara, not because it is painful, but because I choose to follow the teachings of my instructor.  There are better training tools.  My choice has absolutely nothing to do with pain.  Pain is an inevitable part of training that I embrace in an endeavor to increase my knowledge, stupidity however…

Bogu and Kicks

Again, a topic I have ranted on before.  Why don’t I do kick to the head and why don’t I bogu?  Because Taika found these things in the last years of his life to be counter to his philosophies on training.  AND I truly believe his logic.  High kicks screw with your balance.  His philosophy of kicking below the belt doesn’t work when the rules of a tournament require you to kick in complete contrast to Taika’s teaching…..above the belt.  Oh, and good luck performing Tuite or Kyusho or even Atemi with a huge set of gloves on your hands.  But hey, I must just be scared to get hit?  Oh wait, I covered that.  I stand there and let me students and peers hit me over and over again in most every spot you could imagine in the name of learning.  But go ahead, call me a coward.  Bogu does not further my knowledge, I have done it and had fun back in the day.  But I choose to listen to Taika’s teachings and not waste my time when my training time is so precious.

Birth Year

Taika was fifteen years old at the end of the war and that is pretty young.  An age that would be difficult for people to believe of someone that was uneducated in certain topics, to of done the things he did.  In the United States, no 15 year old boy would be tossed into the war and trained to ride a suicide torpedo or anything else for that matter.  Americans would have trouble believing such a story.  Taika spoke openly about changing his birthday around, during his younger years, trying to explain away his age.  In his final years on this earth, he confessed that he was actually born in 1930.  He said this openly and repeatedly in his Kansas City class as well as at other gatherings and yet some people still didn’t believe him.  He told us these things and some of us took him at his word, but when he died many people would not believe it.  In fact, some people got down right snotty about it.  Knowing that some people wouldn’t believe Taika’s word, I got proof from his sister.  Prior to her death she verified for Mrs. Oyata and the Association that Taika was indeed born in 1930.  Taika’s sister, who knew him her entire life, verified that Taika wasn’t mad, out of his mind, crazy.  He indeed was born in 1930.  This was published on the RyuTe.com history page.  And yet, some people refuse to snap out of their coma, and even are getting snippy about it.  They fail to believe. 

Bo Length

In a class there was a big discussion about 5’ or 6’ bo for a certain kata.  Taika arrived and one of the students performed the kata (so there was no doubt in Taika’s mind which kata was being discussed).  He said that this kata was supposed to be done with the 5’ bo and that he just allowed everyone to use the 6’ bo on it for decades because everyone had a 6’ bo, nobody owned a 5’ bo.  That same person then started to argue with Taika that he was wrong and Taika got quite angry.  “I say 5’ bo!”  He got really angry that he was not believed.  After class, that student and another continued talking about how Taika must be confused.  Later, after he died this same kata was taught at a National Conference in Kansas City.  I made a bunch of cheap 5’ bo for the conference for people to learn it (so they wouldn’t’ have to pay for airport fees) and got no end of grief over it and still to this day people don’t believe me or Taika.  The two people that argued with him during class and argued after class still don’t believe what they were told and added to the confusion at the National Conference.  They fail to believe.

Dojo Kun and Kokore vs RyuTe® Motto

Taika didn’t make the Dojo Kun.  He didn’t make the Dojo Kokoroe (Principles).  Those were Nakamura’s.  Some of his early students who trained with him during the days in Okinawa were the ones that brought those scrolls back to the United States setup the sales and propagation of them into the art, not Taika.  Taika did sell copies of them in their original form, to make money.  Later he cut off the original kanji that said Karate Do and added the kanji for RyuTe.  But later in his life he came up with the RyuTe® Motto, “To strive to attain true moral goodness and express it through ones every action.”  THIS was his.  THIS was what he wanted us to memorize and enact in our lives.  NOT Nakamura’s legacy.  Again, some fail to believe this as it was published in Tasshi Logue’s book. 

During the last couple of years of Taika’s life, Tony Skeen and I were working on a project with Taika to reprint the Dojo Kokoroe.  Believe it or not, there were several errors in the one that had been reprinted since the 60’s that Nakamura had penned.  Yes, I said it.  Nakamura had made mistakes.  He had even crossed out kanji on that print and put in other kanji above kind of like we’d spell something wrong and ‘x’ out the wrong letter putting another letter above it.  Not exactly a pretty product when you look close.  AND it had no reference to RyuTe®.  It referenced Nakamura’s organization and the style of Karate Do.  So Tony would brush a principle and I would scan it into Adobe so make the graphics into mathematical equations.  But that is a topic for later.  In short, I’d bring these large prints to Taika to discuss the positioning and ensure all kanji were correct.  This is when he talked to me with Lisa and Marvin around about how it was ok to do this (the Principles Project) and sell these, but this was NOT his.  This was Nakamura’s.  Ok for history, but NOT his view, his life, his work.

Live Taika’s Motto, Not Nakamura’s.

I’m sure I could go on and on forever but let me skip to the one that is really chapping my arse.

Family

One of the really wonderful things about Taika’s art over the years was the price tag.  Look at how many years we paid a mere $50 for our annual membership.  Look at the low price of seminars, particularly the ones that were outside Kansas City, the smaller ones.  Yes, a shodan test could be expensive for students that had to pay airfare, hotel, conference and testing fees; but a student should have had years to put money in the piggy bank.  That is if their instructor was preparing them in advance for this, and if their instructor wasn’t pushing them through to test in just a couple of years or less.  Taika never had a retirement fund.  He didn’t have a pension plan to take care of his family when he was gone.  His thought was he’d always be fair to his students in pricing, and they in turn would take care of him in his retirement years and his family thereafter. 

For years I would hear some dojo owners whine about how much money they had to pay for each student.  Really?  $15 or $20 a year for a student (Depending on the point in history).  Divide that by twelve and add it to your student’s yearly fees.  It is next to nothing.  A student wouldn’t bat an eye at an extra $1.25 in their dojo fees in one year.  Particularly the ones of them charging hundreds of dollars a month. 

Taika never retired.  How many of you want to work in your 80’s?  He still trained every day, even when he was sick.  He still did seminars.  He still taught.  His students kept demanding more of him and regrettably many cheated him financially.  Luckily, those people showed their true colors and have left.  But Taika’s retirement and pension plans were his extended family, us.  And what has happened to this plan.  Many people feel that supporting Taika was one thing, but the family is different.  The thing to remember is, Taika supported us for decades.  We were his extended family.  Robin, Masaki, Masami and RyuTe® in general are his family.  We should be supporting them by continuing to support the association.  THIS was the pledge that so many made to him in so many conversations.  This to me is one of the greatest failures.
So many people went to seminars and trained with Taika.  But so many people failed to listen to him.  Failed to listen to his words.  Failed to listen to his philosophies.  Failed him mentally and physically.  They took what they wanted, and stored what snippets they wanted in their brains.  They failed to move past his early teachings.  They failed to move along, to bigger and better things.  They failed themselves.  And now they are failing his family.

Please do some hard thinking, look at your failures, and try to overcome them.