Monday, September 30, 2019

After Battle

I am a big fan of comedy and particularly when it relates to my real life.  Hot Fuzz is my favorite cop movie and of course, Master Ken of AmeridoTe is my favorite comedian in the world of martial arts.  At this time, EnterTheDojoShow has 485,000 subscribers, almost 70 million views, and 293 videos produced.  The flip side of that, the sad side, is that the reason there is so much comedic material available to him to work with, is our industry is just filled with bad practices, ridiculous claims and outright fraud.

The big thing I want to discuss, and well it will be more venting as usual which is basically what blogs are (therapy) because it is rare that anyone wants to respond to them……… is the LAW.  I could sit and just randomly scroll through youtube and find a ton of martial arts training and demo videos that always have a big finish.  The veritable money shot of martial arts.  What I’m talking about is stomping the groin, breaking the arm, breaking the leg, stomping the head and all of these other big finishes you see in so many arts….particularly hard style arts.  My favorite is the James Bond neck snap and all its variants.  Why?  Because it looks cool.  One of my great martial arts training buddies has been training for decades in BJJ and his favorite saying when someone asks why we do something a certain way is, “Cause chicks dig it.”  In other words, because it looks cool and makes us look cool……we think anyway.

Now I am not saying that these things may not have a time and a place, but we now live in a civilized, law-suit happy world.  Taika Seiyu Oyata used to say that you fight two battles, the one on the street and the one in the court.  I like to think of it as three fights as there are two court rooms you can land in.  The civil case as well as the legal case. 

So we like to think we are the good guys and gals.  That we are not going to be the evil that starts a fight.  That we will be defending ourselves or others.  But what a lot of people don’t realize is that, depending where you live in this world, that thin line separating the good from the bad, can move. 

Initial Physical Aggressor

Many years ago, most cops arriving on the scene of some fight would ask, “Who started it.”  If they could clearly tell that, this person went to jail.  In many jurisdictions both parties went to jail as there are ordinances where it is illegal to fight…period, end of story.  Well this was the status quo for many years in law enforcement as well as once the case was brought to court.

Primary Physical Aggressor

Well then, as always, things change.  New terms came out like Primary Physical Aggressor.  Here is just an example of one such definition in a state statute.

The term "primary physical aggressor" is defined as the most significant, rather than the first, aggressor. The law enforcement officer shall consider any or all of the following in determining the primary physical aggressor:
(1) the intent of the law to protect victims of domestic violence from continuing abuse;
(2) the comparative extent of injuries inflicted or serious threats creating fear of physical injury; and
(3) the history of domestic violence between the persons involved.

Again, just in the United States alone, each State will have slightly different laws, each municipality or county may have little additions to it as well as the police themselves may have certain policies based on all of the above.  Apologies to my International buddies, I don't know your divisional boundaries.  To my friends in New Zealand, Canada, England and Japan.....sorry.

Turning to the Dark Side

Let’s just make up a hypothetical example.  There you are, listening to your favorite band at the local bar.  You are just minding your own business and some drunk bumps into you but perceives it the other way, that it is your fault.  You apologize and attempt to de-escalate.  He eventually goes away but keeps mean-mugging you (staring at you) from across the bar.  Eventually you decide to head home and go out to the parking lot.  The drunk follows you to the car.  He throws a punch and you, with all your years of training, are no match for the intoxicated guy and simply parry it, throw an armbar on him.  He lands on the ground. 

He now is incapacitated by restraint.

He cannot throw another punch and since you are well trained he has no avenue of defense.  He cannot even kick.  You now decide to ‘finish him’ by breaking his arm so that he cannot attack you or anyone else further.

When the cops arrive, he was the INITIAL Physical Aggressor, but witnesses explain that the drunk guy took a swing and that you pinned him, whispered sweet nothings into his ear and after a few seconds, ‘snapped that arm like a twig’.  Guess what, you are now quite possibly the PRIMARY Physical Aggressor.  You did more damage, when you could have either let him up with a warning or waiting for the police to arrive.  It is quite possible that you may be going to jail and even if that doesn’t happen, it is quite possible you may lose a lawsuit in court having quite significant impact on you and your family.

We ALL Need to Train Our Students for This

When our students first learn techniques, they don’t take armbars, tuite and other things to the ground.  They are just learning the fundamental body mechanics, studying the human weaknesses, et cetera.  About 6th kyu we introduce takedowns and pins.  In with that, we add Decision Trees, De-Escalation and Scenario Based Training.

So let us repeat the same basic scenario with our students in the following manner;

We give the student a technique and they go to the ground with their peer in class.  While they have their buddy pinned I ask them questions or just frame the situational training with a description of their environment, possibly similar to the above.  I will use the above scenario as Scenario 1.

Scenario 1: Tavern Disturbance, Drunk Punch in the Parking Lot
-        Ask the student to perform and armbar off of a punch
-        Once pinned, ask the student what they do at this time.
o   Possible Responses:
§  Explain to the opponent while pinned, that you can easily break his arm if he continues to resist.  Say it loud enough that witnesses hear and explain that you don’t want to hurt him but you equally don’t want to get hurt.
§  Ask someone to call the police, keep him pinned till the police arrive.

Related Story: Taika was at a tavern one night with one of his students. It was a cold winter night in Missouri with ice in the lot and sidewalks outside, and a nearly identical situation to the one above occurred.  A drunk decided to pick a fight with one of Taika’s students.  Ego’s prevailed and they moved outside of the bar….onto the ice.  His student slipped and fell to the ice, the drunk jumped on top of him and got a couple of punches in before Taika came up behind, grabbed the drunks arm and pinned him.  Taika said that he told the drunk, “You want arm break?  It’s ok, easy do. No problem for me.  You want break or go away?”  This was from a hospital conversation while I was sitting in Taika’s room about a year before he passed away.  There were a lot more details in the story but suffice to say, Taika pinned the guy and de-escalated.  They guy wholeheartedly agreed, even drunk, that he didn’t want his arm broken and agreed to leave.

Scenario 2: Public Park – Student is told they are out jogging in a public park but it is early morning and they have not seen anyone else at all until someone jumps out and attacks them, possibly trying to steal your wallet and phone.
-        Ask the student to perform and armbar off of a punch.
-        Once pinned, ask the student what they do at this time.  Note: the nature of the armbar (in this manner) doesn’t allow a way to access and dial your phone without letting the suspect go.
o   Possible Responses:
§  Explain that you can break their arm if they continue to resist.
§  They continue to resist.
§  Yell for help – No answer
§  In fear for your life, you may damage the opponent to prevent their continued efforts to harm you.  You are in fear for your life.

Of course these are just a couple of examples to get the students thinking.  We as instructors often claim to teach Self-Defense or Life Protection arts, but I feel we often forget this very important thing.  In police training, when you go through the police academies worldwide, you are constantly checked and evaluated based on scenarios.  These test your physical skill, legal knowledge, policy knowledge and checks how you hash it all out in a little more realistic way.  Teaching your students how to survive an attack only to end up going bankrupt or serving time as a result of stomping the head, is a vast disservice to them.

It is of great importance that now we live in a society where people are more inclined to grab their cell phone and record your fight than help you.  This stage of society has reached the point where everyone has a video camera in their pocket that takes great videos.  These will be used for or against you in court.  Of note, the first part of the confrontation will most likely not be recorded.  So if the bad guy started the fight, the first moments captured by the time they get the phone out and started will be in mutual conflict.

Again, just my 2 ¥ but I think it is high time we ensure our students understand the legal ramification of what we do.  That is why we teach in this manner and do not teach to injure, maim, and break, et cetera unless it is truly the only way to ensure the safety of ourselves or those we are protecting.

Lee Richards

Snippet me Timbers

Since the inception of Youtube and other variants, the world has been flooded with small martial videos.   A large portion of these martial videos are made to generate interest or the cool factor and are not at all videos designed to specifically learn from.  I have frequently posted training videos in the last decade, so that my students could have reference material when they were hopefully home training. These are ‘learn orientated’ where I go through something slow like a kata or teach a foundational principle nice and slow.

A snippet is not a training video.  A snippet is merely a small portion of a seminar, usually under a minute.  As more and more people have invited me to teach at seminars, more and more of these snippets have been released and people will continue to do so.  I always find it crazy that the second one of these gets released and shared across the net, suddenly the keyboard warriors descend upon the video like half-starved vultures, bound and determined to save the world from the things they don’t believe are valid….from their limited perspective of this vast world we live in.

As an example, I was recently asked to teach at a dojo in North Carolina.  I had attended several seminars with the dojo owner and we had become friends.  We both attended each other’s classes at seminars in the past, and when we were not teaching we usually paired up to train in other classes.  He liked what I was doing, I liked what he was doing, and he decided he wanted his students introduced to Taika’s art of tuite after our paths had crossed numerous times and he had purchased and studied the Six Basic Principles of Tuite.  He requested I come and introduce the principles in an hour and a half short seminar. 

An hour and a half is no time at all to learn something as complex as the foundational principles that Taika Seiyu Oyata spent a lifetime teaching his students.  In fact, most of my guest appearances at seminars with multiple instructors are merely 50 minutes long.  When I have seminars where I am the solo instructor I tend to make that much longer if possible but quite often all I can get is 2-3 hours on a regular class night.  So this seminar was a very brief introduction. 

At one point during the class a particular technique was taught to further illustrate a principle, particularly the 3-dimensional attack principle used in Tuite, Kyusho and other aspects of Taika’s art.  During the course of this class, a pair of students were missing two of the principles in the execution of the technique.  After only 4-5 reps, that would be normal for any practitioner, never having trained in a particular manner before.  There were 14 people, so 6 other pairings to help, thus time was limited with each paired practitioners.  I did a very quick cleanup with them and a third party asked if I would repeat what I just did and said for his camera.  And thus, a 55 second snippet was born.

I have kind of gotten used to these moments now and they almost always play out the same.  The snippet gets uploaded to the net, you get a great deal of likes and shares, mostly positive comments, and then you have the few vultures in the world that are going to trash you for no other reason than you are not in their art, their circle, et cetera.

The most common things I see/hear are:

·       That is not a realistic training situation.
·       Nobody grabs in a fight, it just doesn’t happen.

Realism in Training

Now, I don’t know how these people train but in about 40 years of running around in the martial, self-defense and law enforcement training environment, I have never seen anyone successfully teach something new and immediately go to the ‘realistic’ mode.  What would you do if you showed up to a knife defense seminar and the instructor said, “I am only going to show you this defense once, and then randomly attack you when you are not looking with a real weapons.”  Oh, and we won’t give you any time to practice.  It sounds absolutely ludicrous but the Snippet Snipes act like this is what you should be doing, even though they have never trained this way and if they even are instructors themselves wouldn’t teach this way.

Tuite is difficult.  Taika told us, it is a difficult art to attain and thus you should start your students out early in the fundamental principles of it.  His plan, not mine but I wholeheartedly agree.  We introduce tuite to our kyu students within the first three classes.  There are a set of six basic principles that we like for our students to grasp prior to ramping up a little and even then, we don’t jump to realistic mode.  When we first start, they are just standing arm’s length away from each other trying to learn grips and angles of attacks.  They are just learning the basic physics, the science of what it takes to get the proper lock-up.  They are learning how to make it work from a position where they can more easily see their mistakes and correct them.  After they get the hang of that we increase the number of techniques, still from this same start position and every new technique will always start from here.  It is their root, base start position of learning.  This is how you teach new people. We don’t load a fully functional gun, hand it to one student, and tell the other go outside and when you come back in there will be someone in here with a gun and you have to disarm them successfully without dying in order to get your yellow belt.

After months of training in it, and totally dependent upon the student’s abilities, we progress to more and more realistic training.  It is never 100% realistic in that when you walk in the dojo door you know you will be training. The only way to go full-realistic is to put a ski mask on and attempt to mug your student as they are leaving the University, Church, the BBQ restaurant, the bar, et cetera.  Nobody expects the Tuite Inquisition!  We do speed things up later, go from different stances, random pushes, grabs, punches in the dojo, et cetera.  But only after they have the fundamental understanding which takes more than a handful of hours at a seminar.  My job at a seminar is to give you homework, not make you a master at whatever new idea I am introducing you to.

Nobody Grabs in a Fight……Ever

I’ll respond to this in three parts. 

One: You are wrong, it happens all the time, just because it has never ever happened to you doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid technique.  I was a security officer at Kmart and was grabbed and pushed all the time with my attempts to stop shoplifters.  In that 3 year time period I stopped about 250 people.   About a third of them would see the little kid before them and decide they were not going to jail, they would push, punch, and then run away.  I would chase and a ground fight would ensue. Without fail during these ground fights I would get grabbed.

As a cop for 27 years, all of my field time was in the bad parts of town, the inner city and the crack haven of south side.  I took lots of reports involving assaults and saw a lot that were involving pushes and grabs. The vast majority of Domestic Violence (not just man vs woman) calls I went on involved grabs and/or pushes.  As a general rule, people that know each other tend to do things like this rather than full on beat downs.  Most rapes are not stranger rapes, they are indeed people that know you.  Strangers fight more fists and feet but if they get on the ground then they usually grab.  Ten years into my career I became a Sergeant and had to approve every report for my entire sector each night.  So I had to read and respond to many more such events.  They do absolutely happen on a regular basis. 

I have always love this argument, the lack of logic in this argument based on ‘their own life’.  In Kansas City there are just shy of 500,000 residents and it swells up during the work day or specific events to upwards of 1.5 million.  Of all of those people in a given year, only about 14,000 are assaulted in Kansas City per the 2018 stats provided by the department.  Such a tiny percentage of the people are actually assaulted.  And yes I know, a lot of fights are not reported.  I frequently poll people during a seminar and find that very few have ever been in a street fight during their adult lifetime.  Kids, well, most kids get in some sort of scrap but as adults, the vast majority of martial artists don’t get into fights……ever.  The ones that do, and frequently, are the ones that work security, police jobs in big cities, bouncers, et cetera.  As I train cops worldwide to become police trainers I even poll them.  There are tons of ‘Mayberry’ small town cops that maybe get in a scrap once a year, as well as ‘Mayberry’ small town cops that work in meth infested areas that get in as many fights as inner city cops.  So if the slice of the pie worldwide or even just U.S. wide for most of my contacts is so huge and such a small teeny tiny percentage of people are getting assaulted, and such a small percentage of martial students are getting assaulted, how can you say it doesn’t happen.  I even had one person say they had perused ‘x’ amount of youtube fight videos and never seen it happen.  First off, they have not looked hard enough as I’ve seen it in videos.  How many people have their cameras rolling before a fight?  You rarely, unless it is a mounted building camera, get the full fight on video.  It is someone whipping their phones out once the first attacks and defenses were launched.  And this technology is all relatively new, the ability to record quality video on your phone.  Humans have been fighting since the first two knuckleheads reached for the same mastodon leg at the cave dinner table.

Two: Make it happen.  Taika taught as part of his art, a greater skill of manipulating the opponent’s body to make them reach out, open their hands, and grab.  This is a lesser known or shown part of his art because on the seminar circuit we are trying to squeeze in the fundamentals of how a wrist lock truly works.  That is all that is feasible during a 1-2 hour time slot.  Students had to stick with Taika a very long time and be proficient in the fundamentals before they would ever get these lessons.  Taika had a way of striking, punching and kicking that would loosen a fist, or cause the person to lose their balance.  The first step of this is learning what we call Dermal Redirection.  A falling person that is still conscious would reach out and he would position a part of his body into the hand. I frequently will demo some of these strikes but rarely have the time to teach in the blocks given as the people, even if repeats, have only trained with me for hours. When you are falling you reach out, a natural human reaction.  Usually this was a forearm you landed on when Taika struck you.  Hence, all the various forearm grabs we practice were prep work for this sub-art of the Oyata systems.  People always like the magical neck knockouts, but Taika would say that just a light fuzz-out was better because the opponent is still conscious and will grab you as they fall, if you are so positioned.  If they grab you, you can pin them with tuite rather than chase them.  They may grab your arm, your lapel, your hand or they may just open their hand to reach and you catch it just like you would when practicing a push catch.  “Same…same.”

Three: Everyone has things they are more skilled at than others whether it is this art, a hobby, or just life in general.  The two things I presume I am best at in Taika’s arts, based on the fact that I get asked to teach those the most, are straight baton (tanbo) and tuite.  Taika’s art was a combination of many things.  There are non-tuite related defenses and offenses as well.  Just because you saw a 55 second snippet of tuite and don’t truly understand it, doesn’t mean the other parts of the art are trash.  This is just a sample of what Taika taught.  He taught everyday hand to hand, he taught joint locks (wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle), he taught Atemi (creating pauses in your opponent later known as ooda loop by many), he taught Kyusho (and not the mass marketed over exaggerated TCM stuff on the market), he taught Kobudo, he taught Police Defensive Courses, he taught basic Self-Defense and many other aspects of the arts.  The pond is much, much deeper than a 55 second snippet could portray.


I also love when people start talking about realism in training and then their facebook profile is of them with a Nunti-bo, naganata, manji sai, kama, et cetera.  All these things you usually carry with you at the local Hy-Vee when grocery shopping.  (Side Note: Most of the Kobudo Taika taught had other purposes such as strengthening, learning to do a milking punch, learning to break-over your wrist.)  There are a lot of things we do that are about historical preservation, and well, just the fun of it.  A friend at a seminar I attended last year was teaching and made a very good point during his class.  It was an instructor level seminar so everyone there had multiple years.  He said, there are numerous reasons people get into this art.  Maybe they got scared.  They were bullied as a kid.  They were entering a profession that had a high likelihood of confrontation (police, probation officer, security, or military).  If you think about your current reason, it probably isn’t the same as your original reason.  A lot of us stay decades in the arts because we just find it cool in one manner or another.  I find it amazing that even after over 3 decades of training, that I still find getting better at discovering the body’s weaknesses and exploiting them, to me that is just amazing.  Even on his death bed at 81, Taika was still learning and wanting to train and teach while there in the hospital.

Save the World

What I do not understand is the Snippet Snipes who believe that it is their duty to save the world from things their slice of life perspective doesn’t agree with.  I see full training video and snippets all the time that I do not have the context to judge.  Some things might stand out as complete craziness but most often, if you truly look at a short video snippet from a seminar, you should realize that you don’t have the full context (and entire seminar recording) to make an informed decision on the validity of what is going on.

Another things that is frustrating is when people compare you to someone else in a most unrealistic manner.  I have had people say that wrist locks don’t work on them because so and so tried them and nothing happened.  Maybe so and so didn’t know what they were doing.  I’ve even had people tell me I am not Taika so I can’t do what he did, even though neither Taika nor I ever touched that person in their life.  So they have no point of reference to a comparison.  I don’t purport to be Taika or do my techniques exactly the way he did or believe I am anywhere near his equal.  That may be a goal, a lofty one at that, and I will endeavor to get there whether I even come close in my lifetime.  But don’t compare apples and oranges if you have never tasted either.

Numerous videos are forwarded to me for my opinion on a weekly if not daily basis.  If it is related to Oyata, I will give my perspective based on my experience.  If it is of something/someone I am not familiar with, 90% of the time I do not have enough information to save the world.  I just ignore it.  I might discuss aspects of it in our weekly shihan dai and usually we will gain some unintended knowledge by experimenting with someone else’s situation or setup for something that I only have a snippet of.  I think that is by far the better thing to do. 

Let your art grow from training rather than let your heart sour from poison.

Just my 2¥

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Alphabet Soup for the Ryukyu Soul

Why are there so many versions of Taika’s kata? 

As this question has come up a lot recently with students, peers, and even complete strangers, I thought I’d spend a little time tackling some of the things I learned from Taika about this.  Taika treated kata as a way for him to become fluid, precise, efficient as well as to teach concepts and ideas to his students.  It was much more as well.  It was a research tool.  We, his regular weekly guinea pigs, were a way he could make a modification and see what path it led him to.  He could see in us a true three dimensional representation of what he only saw of himself in the mirror.  Taika would change things multiple times in a class or from class to class in the same day.  You would sometimes hear him say, “I think maybe this way, try.”  Sometimes that meant to us that he wanted us to think about it, but often he was just thinking about it.  He was looking at how we moved with each experiment.  The flow of it all.

Taika talked about kata being alphabet.
- You learn to spell – Foundation
- You learn words - Foundation Tier 2
- You learn incomplete sentences - Foundation Tier 3
- You learn complete sentences - Foundation Tier 4
- You learn Paragraphs - Foundation Tier 5
- You learn to read a book and make a book report - Foundation Tier 6

As you now can spell, you can also read. You go away to school and teachers ask you to research.  They give you a topic such as WWII boats. In the old days you would spend the day at the library reading, copying different books, magazines, newspapers, et cetera. Nowadays the cheaters don't even have to leave whatever room they are in they can just browse the internet. :)

- You learn to research multiple sources and piece them together - Technical Application
- You take that T.A. version and make it Force Efficient - Tier 1
- You take that T.A. version and make it fluid – Tier 2
- You take that T.A. version and make it apply to a different theoretical target – Tier 3
- You take that T.A. version and vary the timing for different order of attacks – Tier 4

Note: The above tiers are examples and not limited to just the above examples. 

We have different versions and different timings of those versions for several reasons then.  He was growing as he taught, and refining.  He wanted us to grow with him.  People who did not train every week with him, would get a version maybe once a year and think that was the version they were supposed to be doing but it was only a snapshot in time.  People made the mistake of believing that, ‘Oh, this is the new Naihanchi Shodan’ and usually missed the entire point of the version.  What everyone needed to ask was, ‘What is he trying to get us to understand with this tool.’

Naihanchi Crane

As an example, I will tell the tale of the genesis and birth of Naihanchi Crane.

Taika had been experimenting as always on us faithful guinea pigs and went off to a weekend seminar at one of the affiliated schools.  His intent was to teach what we had been working on, something using the tool of Naihanchi but not related exactly to what came forth that weekend.  He adapted to a problem he saw.  He taught a Friday evening and all day Saturday seminar then returned home.  We met up on Tuesday for regular training and he told the whole class how frustrated he was that the students there had no balance.  This had angered him that people that should be farther along in their practice and training could not even balance when they crossed over in Naihanchi.  He ended up teaching them what we later called the Naihanchi Crane and working to perfect their balance.  He then had us work on it for a short while.  (This drill would actually spawn some other crane/balance drills at another couple of weekend seminars where he tried several different ways to get people to practice enough to attain balance.)

The kata version was quite simple conceptually.  People had no balance, so they needed to practice balance.  Taika took a tool, Naihanchi, which required balance on the cross overs.  He then added an exercise to that tool.  Every time you crossed over, the back leg would pull up into a reverse crane.  For those that need further explanation of a reverse crane….the back leg pulls up until the instep of the foot rest in the back of the knee.  Taika would then make you count to 5 out loud, slowly, then drop the leg and continue the kata.  We had to keep our knees bent, and head from bobbing.  He would explain that if the knee pointed one direction there was no balance, but if you pulled it another you were balanced.  This was a familiar tool (Naihanchi) with an added drill (crane). 

We worked on it a short while until most people’s balance improved.  That was it.  The drill was never visited again by us beyond that day at his dojo.  That drill is a tool I use for unbalanced students.  The problem is, most students at that particular weekend seminar never asked Taika or understood that this was a drill.  For months, they spread the rumor that this was the new version and they were bequeathed it.  At the next Summer Conference a bunch of people were practicing it and of course Taika had moved on with other drills. 

Kata was a tool for Taika and the one tool that every single student in his association should know is Naihanchi Shodan.  That is why we have so many versions of this kata, more than any other kata in the system.

In truth, he would refine his Foundational and Technical Application versions over the years but all the other ‘Tiers in Between’ were using the kata as a tool to make the student better. 

Tier: a layer; level; stratum:

If you remove the initial Foundation kata and only practice the other variations, your entire structure will crumble.  Foundation is 1,2,3 for memorization but has to be there, has to be precise.  If you cannot have your feet properly aligned, thereby aligning your chest, your aim will always be off in any tier above the Foundation.  The Biathlon is an Olympic sport where there is cross country high cardio combined with shooting.  The marksman learns a stance in their early foundation training.  They don’t forget that stance when it comes time to shoot during their Olympic games.  They don’t wear roller skates or spiked heels during the game.  They know the stance required and have trained on it for years to allow the rest of their platform to do what it needs to do.

Taika’s actual versions of kata were gradually refined over years of training.  There is a misconception that there are a bazillion versions out there.  In reality, from numerous conversations over the final years of his life, there are only two full versions he believed and accepted.  His Final Foundation and Taika’s Final Technical Application.  Everything in between were tools for various reasons and personal refinements.  ‘Timing’ experiments were another common tool.  Putting Foundation motions together or changing up the timing was common.  These were greater concepts Taika was trying to push down our throats during his final years.  I will address more of this in a later blog on pairings but Taika’s goal was to move us past spoon feeding to the point we start making our own drills, our own timings, and our own pairings. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cautionary Tale of Kata Reversion and False Claims

For those that knew and trained with Taika Seiyu Oyata, you know that his art progressed gradually over the years.  He didn’t stay stagnant in the art.  There are many forms of Karate, Kung Fu, and other arts out there that strive to remain exactly today as they were decades or centuries ago.  This was not Taika’s path.  He would endeavor from the end of WWII when he began his training until his death in 2012 to make his art more refined, streamlining body mechanics and the like.
Taika’s first recorded images of techniques were from the 1950’s and his first video was recorded in 1968 in the United States.  The next video was around 1978 and then he continually, every few years, released videos of exercises and kata.  Each version was slightly more refined.  This lasted until June of 1991 when the Classic Okinawan Arts video series was finalized.  There were actually 15 VHS tapes produced, and as always, by the time they were finalized he was already striving to refine things even more.

Of special note, it is specifically stated within this 1991 tape series that objects in the video were exaggerated in some places, some stances were shorted due to the size of film location they rented on 23rd Street and the lens they had on the camera they purchased.  So even this 1991 version was not, for that snapshot in time, 100% correct in Taika’s eyes.  Also take into account that Taika was somewhat camera shy.  By this time he well knew, as he had been filmed for 23 years, that videos could be slowed down.  The bunkai in the videos were not the crème of the crop, and there were specific endeavors to distract the viewer like throwing a hand up in the air and shaking it.  I’m not saying the techniques were not any good, quite the opposite.  Taika just felt that if he put his best stuff in a video, as history had previously shown, people would steal his product and he would be out of business.

On to some key changes since the 1991 video series and why it makes it pretty easy to see when people are professing that they trained with Taika and they actually did not, or at least not in the last decade of his life.  There were a rather large percentage of people that either were removed from the organization by Taika from 1991 to 2012 or left on their own.  The largest exodus occurred between 1992 and 2001 when Taika began to, ‘Clean House’.

Basic – Intermediate – Advanced

In the 1991 videos, the terms Basic and Advanced were used to differentiate between the two kata versions and for quite a while those terms were used and Intermediate was thrown in there as well.  There were even some using Basic 1, Basic 2, et cetera.  Taika would refine something and people would make a new kata category instead of putting that piece in the version he requested.  Sometime after 2003 Taika announced that he didn’t like those words and they were poor translations of what he had really meant.  The words he later chose to differentiate versions of the kata were Foundation and Technical Application.  The word Basic just gave the impression of being not important once you progressed, but he was adamant that the Foundation kata must be retained, though tweaked and refined.  He would gradually over the 21 years between the release of the 1991 videos to his death refine the Foundation and tell us in class and at seminars what was the ‘now’ Foundation.  When he showed us anything related to the kata, we would clarify which version it was for.  These changes were predominately body refinements to motion.  These are things that made your attacks work better.  Angles, speed, et cetera were bettered.

Technical Application was not an advanced version he said, but additions to the kata to make certain techniques flow better.  As an example he would add a Pinan motion to Naihanchi Shodan to make the transition to an arm bar cleaner.  These refinements were not advanced, just refined additions.  Depending on how you count a kata, particularly with varied timing, it may have a different number of moves.  To a brand new kyu student learning Naihanchi Shodan, you might teach the foundational kata with 30 motions.  This is just an example, I am not specifying how anyone should teach and count motions.  If you did an experiment, sequestered two new students and taught one 30 motions, and the other student 48 motions, teaching them the Technical Application version, neither would know the difference unless they were told.  Thus, in Taika’s perspective Technical Application wasn’t advanced, just more.
A Few Refinements

A few examples will follow but just one very important way you can tell if someone trained with Taika in his final decade would be the stances in their kata.  Horse stance was narrowed, not as deep.  In the early days, we all trained where our stance was very wide and deep.  Height disparity would dictate exactly how much farther in, but the stances became more mobile and for me, horse stance was probably a good six-eight inches narrower.  There was also a key change to the balance of all stances.  “Heels out!”  That was a shout anyone who actually trained at Headquarters heard a billion times and at many seminars as well.  That applied to horse stance as well as Seisan stance.  When I see things like several recent videos released by people claiming to have trained at Headquarters, particularly in recent years, and I look at the stances, I can easily tell they are fabricating their history….well, and I was there.  Anyone else who trained there can as well and I frequently get emails of people complaining about these claims.  It is what it is, the deceitful will always be deceitful it seems.  These stance refinements were for balance, power and quite simply for practice aiming.

The BOX – Stances and Twisting

Taika talked about a box representing the torso, or a rectangle.  You learned to be proficient at aiming by using the Han Shin principles (see other blog by me or Tony) and for the most part you remained in your box with your arms or fairly close to the box.  A right punch would end with your index knuckle in your imaginary opponent’s brachial plexus…..that soft spot where your arm and pecs meets.  The dot in the diagram would be where that knuckle would land, relaxed fist at a 45 degree angle.  It was much like target shooting with a gun, throwing knife, dart, arrow, et cetera.  You learned to always put that knuckle there for basic target practice and used bottom body, side body, back body, or other means to aim than twisting your body halves more or less than 90 degrees past your torso.

What many would call a down block (we refer to the as down forearm strikes) would put your knuckle at the bottom dot, again a right angle from your chest or torso.  It would go right where your opponent’s soft spot connecting the leg to the torso.  You aimed with other parts of your body.  Certainly there are parts of the kata where your hands go briefly outside this box or the box is somewhat expanded for the head.  The above diagram is just one tiny part of the things we were working on with him, and the ‘target boxes’ he gave us.  There was absolutely no exaggerated gross motion outside this box and at no point did you twist your upper body opposed to your lower body to strike out at areas far outside that box.  Passai is an excellent example of this as Taika showed how you could punch left and right of center by moving from one Twisted Horse stance to another.  Your upper body never left the box and your chest stayed almost perfectly still during that portion of Passai.  I won’t go into much more detail but this is the section near the beginning when you first face back to the front, just after the kidney strike.

Hidden Strikes

The hidden strikes that so many people attribute to ‘Advanced Motion’ were everywhere in what Taika called foundation.  If you don’t believe me, please go back to youtube and check out the 1968 video of Taika doing the foundational 12.  When he punched, he also covered.  Back to my original analogy of two students doing the same kata but one does 30 moves and the other 48, the same thing applies.  If you think about Tomari Seisan and the moment you turn left at a 90 degree angle midway through the kata, you can perhaps follow along.  If you teach to turn left with a single followed by three punches (and a shuffle in there) that is four counts.  We teach what Taika told us to do…….eight counts as his foundation version of Seisan.  Cover-Single, Cover-Punch, Cover-Punch, and Cover-Punch.  Our yellow belts that learn this have absolutely no idea that others didn’t listen to Taika or were not around to hear it, and only do 4 moves.  These moves are in Taika’s foundation, per his request.


In the Technical Application refinements, there are numerous angle changes that are completely missing from the 1991 ‘advanced’ video series.  Pinan Shodan for example does not start at a 90 degree angle.  Tomari Seisan’s left 90 and subsequent right 180 are completely different angles. 

These are but a scratch on the surface of the refinements that Taika made during the course of those 23 years.  Massive improvements were made to our balance, ability to strike efficiently with more force and speed, among other things.  These were all made by Taika Seiyu Oyata, and we went to great lengths in his classes at headquarters to ensure these amendments were clarified and documented.


Taika did not stand still.  He constantly refined his skills and endeavored to ensure his refinements would carry on past his death.  The number of people who were with him till the end are few compared to the number of people now selling their wares.  When Taika had his cancer scare in 2000 and the subsequent numbers were thinned, he began having a roll book taken.  Three different people took those records over the years and there were also records taken of who paid their headquarters dues and who attended seminars.  Participation at said seminars, well that was another story.  There were always the few that would show up every 5-6 years, or less, and want to acquire something. 

The art progressed 23 years past the production of the June 1991 release of the final tape series, and anyone that uses them as their gold standard needs to rethink Taika’s philosophies.  I will only show the technique portions to my students as I don’t want my students reverting back 23 years.  I digitized those 1991 videos for Taika in 1999 and Tasshi Jim Logue tried to get Taika to authorize the sale of them in DVD version at that time.  It was only eight years past their original production at the time and Taika told Jim ‘No!’  Taika told us that those versions were not where he was now and not what he was teaching.  That was no longer his art.

Don’t throw away the 27 years of progress.