Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tanbo - French Grip and German Grip

French Grip and German Grip

I know what you’re thinking.  Wasn’t this supposed to be a blog about Tanbo?  Well, yes it is.  But I wanted to talk about some theory on grip, specifically Oyata’s theories that he shared with me in that last few years before he passed away.  I never could specifically place WHY he picked me for Tanbo.  Was it because I was a drummer?  Was it because I was a cop that used police batons?  Or was I just a reliable student who was accessible to him, lived close, and he felt he could impart these tidbits of knowledge to?  Who knows?  Perhaps it was a combination of these or maybe none of them.  I do believe that being a drummer has given me a bit of insight into Tanbo strikes and captures that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t spent close to 4 decades striking drums and cymbals.

In the drum world, we call the grip Taika had me use on the sticks as MATCHED GRIP.  There are essentially two variants of the matched grip when striking a drum; French and German.  I’m going to use this terminology in describing the strikes and you can substitute whatever terms you want, it really doesn’t matter.  And as always, there are gradually blends of the two.

French Grip (Power Grip)

On a drum stick, French Grip is essentially thumbs up or thumbs on the opposite side of the object you are striking.  Just like in striking a body with a Tanbo, when striking various drums in a drum kit or cymbals, your hand turns at different angles.  This is most like a milking punch.  The pinky side of your hand is towards the striking side and if you opened your hand, your palm would be facing about a right angle away from the striking point.  The thumb side of your wrist absorbs the impact and helps extend the stick into the object.  It can prevent the bounce or recoil if wished.  Most of the time in drumming, you want a bounce.  But in striking a body, you probably want to penetrate and extend through your target.  This grip, you could also think of as a Power Grip and Penetrating Grip.  There may be times you want a rebound in a fight, but this grip is better suited for penetration.  Unlike in drumming, you are going to have the pad of the wrist absorbing the impact which will be in line with your radial bone.  Your pinky finger and perhaps ring finger will curl in to help pivot the stick into the target.  Probably wouldn’t have my thumb in this exact position on a tanbo but you get the point.

German Grip (Pivot Grip)

German Grip, on the other hand, the stick goes into the webbing of your hand between the thumb and the index finger.  I would call this a Pivot Grip.  There is a noticeable lack of support for the stick when striking something.  There is nothing on the back of the stick supporting it when it strikes an object.  The stick will give way to the force.  Essentially, if you opened your hand your palm would be facing towards the strike.  You might be thinking, “Why would I want this?”  This is one of the brilliant philosophical gifts from Taika.  Using this grip allows you to use the opponent’s arm, neck, leg, or torso as a pivot point.  The second you strike an object, the stick gives way to that object and starts to ‘fold’ through the webbing of your hand.  If you hand keeps its forward motion, you can let the stick switch sides, roll around the object, and capture the object.  This is the major benefit of this Pivot Grip. 

The kata Taika was teaching me over his last few years was a Close Quarters Tanbo kata.  The Pivot Grip is integral in capturing the opponent.  Wrist, Elbow, Shoulder and Neck were the typical targets of the techniques from the kata.   All of this was enabled by using these two grips on the stick.  Additionally, the position on the stick has changed from the traditional Tanbo grip.  Instead of holding the stick at the ends, the grip is at the natural and optimal fulcrum of the stick.  This is identical to most drum stick grips. 

Rule of Thirds – Approximately

In gripping the Tanbo like Taika showed me for this kata, or a drumstick, we typically use the rule of thirds to find the Optimal Balance Point for striking.  I’m not talking about 100% true balance in the center, but the optimal fulcrum.  The front end, and inevitably the back end when sliding to the reverse grip in the kata, should be about 1/3 of the stick to 2/3 ratio.  There are other factors that might come into play like the type of wood (weight) and of course with a drum stick it tapers at the end and may have a small or large bead or even plastic weighted bead.  We don’t have that with a Tanbo.  Drummers call this isolating the fulcrum or finding the ‘sweet spot’.  Finding this fulcrum point does two things; allows an optimal amount of energy transfer and balance when striking, and allows an optimal amount of strength when capturing with the long end. 

First, let’s get the right sized Tanbo for our body.  Not all humans are the same size, so not all Tanbo should be the same.  The 1” thick by 24” length is rarely going to be the right size for anyone.  Keep in mind, this is a close in, Close Quarters kata.  If your stick is too long you will hit yourself in the face trying to do some of these techniques.  If it is too thick you won’t be able to keep a good grip during impact as well as roll the stick during squeezes and captures.  (See blog)

Since most of you do not have a drum handy, take a mouse pad and set it on a piece of wood or table.  We are not going to be hitting it very hard, but don’t dent Great Grandma’s 100 year old dining room table that you inherited.   Start by holding your Tanbo with a grip about 2/3 forward, 1/3 back.  Try the French Grip shown above.  Now a drummer is pinching the stick at the 1/3 mark usually with their index finger and thumb.  That is a pretty weak grip when hitting a person.  Fine on a drum that isn’t hitting back, but not fine for combat.  A better grip, and the one we use will be essentially the same however we will use our middle finger at the point of assumed optimal fulcrum.  Now, using your wrist only, locking your forearm in place, lift and tap the mouse pad.  Let the stick bounce.  This requires a completely loose grip.  Let the stick pivot between the middle finger and the thumb.  This is not how you’d hit someone, but we are finding the sweet spot.  Count the times it bounces.  Now adjust your grip up and down the stick a couple of centimeters at a time.  The spot you find gets the most bounces, is the sweet spot and where your middle finger should go.  Presuming your stick is a typical Tanbo and straight, then you can mark the stick and just measure it to match on the opposite side.  Now you know the optimal placement of your middle finger fore and aft.  This kata has a long end foreward position and a long end rearward position.  Unless you are using a tapered Tanbo, which I don’t suggest, then these should match.  If you are using rattan or bamboo, these balance points may be different on each end.

Power Grip Strike

Once you have figured out your optimum location for your power strike it is time to hit things.  I would suggest a bag rather than brother, sister, spouse or your kid.  Noisy neighbors are optional.  When you strike something like a bag

Obviously, striking with your thumb on the back works on a drum but can be detrimental to your thumb when hitting hard.

This same power grip can help you hook and capture with logically, a strong grip. With the pinky side, whether long or short, you can capture an arm, wrist, neck, et cetera. 

Pivot Grip

Deliberately contacting or striking while using a pivot grip (or switching mid-stream) allows you to continue through the target and wrap around and capture the item you pivoted past.  Naturally, with everything in these arts, much practice needs to be made.  As your grip open slightly, the strength of the grip is weakened momentarily.  You don’t want to take a full brunt strike from this grip.  Developing your skill with this grip is what will help make your clickity clackity stick fighting turn into a close quarters capture environment.



I could type and talk for hours on the lessons Taika gave me in regards to this, but I’ll just stop now with this ‘beginning’ as it was the beginning he gave me that opened my eyes to a whole new world.  Hopefully it gives you some extra things to think about and develop as it continues to do to me.

Public Service Announcement

After much debate over three or more years, I have left the former association I was affiliated with for many long years.  I am not going into the how or why, or a smear campaign.  I have attempted to take the high road in many ways, and yet I have recently heard of some people smearing me.  I chose a low profile and thus have not posted anything in a year, and nothing at all since January when I did not renew.

First off, it was not my idea to take the entire KC group away.  In all seriousness, the KC group was trying to pry me away for 2-3 years before I finally gave in for reasons I will not list here.  I was the last one holding us in that organization.  Me, the one certain people are wrongfully saying was the kingpin and ring leader taking everyone away.  It was a difficult decision for me and suffice to say, was only acted upon after I felt it was truly affecting my health.  I tried hard before making the decision, to contribute and I believe the 2016 Summer Conference is proof of that where I invested thousands of dollars of my own money in a last ditch effort to get some exposure for the organization. 

I have no delusions of grandeur.  I will not ever be the best or most knowledgeable artist in the world nor in my little circle of friends.  I will not be a master.  I will not be the leader of a world organization with a throng of hundreds or thousands.  I will just be Lee, training as I always have.  Sharing as I always have.  I have no idea why people want to smear me.  I am not in competition with anyone.

I attempted to stay silent out of respect for Taika.  People are saying I started calling and emailing and messaging everyone in the association telling them that I was going and inviting them to come with me.  Again, I have no aspirations of leading anyone anywhere.  I will train in my basement dojo with those that want to train there, with my students and peers.  I will attend seminars here and there to increase my knowledge and if someone wants me to share, I will share.  I’m not greedy.  I ONLY let three close friends outside of the KC group know I was not renewing, only after myself and Lisa went and talked to Robin face to face.  We didn’t just send a cold letter, email or facebook message.  Probably the most difficult break up in my life.  That night, I told 3 close confidants that were out of town, only one of which was still remaining in the organization at the time and he still remains.  None of which I attempted to recruit to become my disciples. 

Only two people still in the organization have reached out to me and asked about it and I have talked to them about my base reasons.  I have not led a smear campaign.  I have disagreements with the philosophy of things and so I chose what was best suited for my physical and emotional needs after it was obvious we were set upon drastically different paths.  I left.  I will not voice the reasons of all the other yudansha and mudansha in the KC area.  All had their reasons and made their own choices, many of which many months or years prior to mine.  I have kept quiet for 8 months now, because it is not my place to sway others, as it should not be others' place to wrongfully smear me.

I still support the family in other ways.  I still pay with my own funds for their web site, as I have done for many, many years.  I gave the reigns of that endeavor over to Masaki Oyata last year, I have no input or anything on the site. I merely pay the bills out of respect for Taika. I know my departure wasn't appreciated or fully understood by the family, but I just couldn't remain under the circumstances.

If you have heard rumors, please check with the source.  I can be reached on this blog, on facebook, via the website’s email, and most of the people who would actually read this know my phone number.  I will not wave my sith lord hand and invite you to the dark side.  I don’t know any mind tricks.  I won’t play any games.

I am but a simple man, rolling over into my waning years of my physical limitations, and attempting to enjoy those years with less stress in my life.

Lee Richards

The Choke Misidentification Conundrum

The Choke Misidentification Conundrum
Do you suffer from CMC, there is a cure?


Repeatedly, I hear the ignorant masses spouting wrong things about Choke Hold This and Choke Hold That.  Before you feel insulted, ignorance is something we all have.  I am quite ignorant of how to get to the moon or Mars.  I have a general idea but have not fully educated myself.  The math of it all is probably a bit above me.  Being ignorant doesn’t mean I’m stupid, dumb or anything of the sort.  I have just not educated myself on that particular topic.  I am ignorant in a myriad of things including portions of the martial arts, hence my continued study.  There are a ton of people totally ignorant of the difference in a choke and a neck restraint, particularly a carotid restraint.

Choke (Chōk) - verb
(of a person or animal) have severe difficulty in breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or a lack of air.

A choke is an action where you are cutting off a person’s air supply.  Most often in the martial arts, it refers to the action of placing ones forearm across the front of a person’s neck and squeezing to cut off the air supply by pressure against the windpipe or trachea.   Of course it can occur in other ways such as with a bicep, leg, et cetera.  The MMA has made the leg variant popular.



Chokes such as this have been popular for years in movies.  You see them all the time in your favorite spy movies and such. 

Choke techniques have two core problems:
1.    They can easily result in death or serious injury.
2.    They can easily result in a law suit from the impending death or physical injury.

In today’s society, I cannot fathom a very good reason to teach these other than as a matter of life or death.  Maybe you find yourself in this position and they are stabbing you in the leg or torso with that knife you missed so you crush their trachea…..ok, but in today’s society everyone is going to pick apart how you got in that position to begin with, which is kind of what started this blog tonight.

We teach in our dojo, not to do this.  It is our belief, with years of Law Enforcement experience to back it up, that chokes take longer to incapacitate than carotid restraints take to render unconsciousness, unless you are the Hulk and then, well, it isn’t easy being green.

So what is a carotid restraint?  My classmate does an excellent job here of explaining it:

For those either too lazy or under time restraints…..suffice to say it affects the circulatory system, NOT the airway.  And note that LVNR is a trademarked SYSTEM of instruction used to apply a carotid restraint.  The NLETC has a long and impressive track record of training police officers to use carotid restraints throughout the world without cases of death or serious injury.  They are meticulous in their approach and training and that is why agencies all over the world use them.  What?  But the media has you to believe that these things are banned by all law enforcement because of the danger.  Nope, quite the contrary….just like a lot of other things you hear online.

The easy way to spot the difference between a choke and a carotid restraint, as the two sets of pictures above and below show, is that in a choke (above) the controlling and damaging mechanism is across the front of the throatThat is a bad thing.  In a carotid restraint (below), the elbow is in front of or in close proximity of the chin.  This PROTECTS the airway. 


Good Thing – Airway is Open

Who’s at fault for this confusion?

The media is part of the problem, but we as martial (life protection) artist are the main source of the problem.  A vast majority of us for decades have confused the two when discussing them.  They may look similar to the naked eye, but they are completely different things. 

What can you do as a fellow artists? - Change your nomenclature!

Stop calling things the wrong thing.  Even though for years you have heard certain things called a choke, if they are not a choke as previously defined, stop doing it.  Review all your handouts, web curriculum, and fix it.  Start correcting anyone you hear say it wrong.  Do it now!

Tackles:  The other thing is there are commonly confused ‘take downs’ that are used by law enforcement, security officers, et cetera that at first glance appear to be either a choke or a carotid restraint.  These are in fact tackles that start by encirclement of the area around the neck but should not really have any pressure.  Of course these can be dangerous as well as a dog pile ensues or as the two or more ugly masses pile to the ground.  The death of Eric Garner in New York started as a tackle where the officer appears to be trying to drag Garner down with his forearm on the carotid side of his neck.  Garner is larger, taller than the officer.  I’m not going to further arm chair quarterback that event but when they go to the ground the arm appears to be across the front of the neck for 4-5 seconds before the officer switches to other tactics.  Whether there was direct pressure on the trachea at the time or the officer was trying to re position, is a debate I won’t get into.  That is beyond the scope of this blog.  The party was able to breathe as he was still able to talk and the medical examiner concluded that no damage to Garner's windpipe or neck bones was found.

Another Case in Point:
Below is a very typical web news site and can you spot the problem here?  The elbow is directly below the chin.

Is this a choke or a carotid restraint? - Absolutely correct, it is a CAROTID RESTRAINT.

Can the person breathe?  YES, perfectly well, though he will most likely be taking a nap shortly.

Video – For those that want to watch more of this, I’m not going to debate the several issues that led up to the decision to use this but I will say that fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with using this technique to restraint this individual.  I have actually done a rather detailed research of this incident and others to which I completely side with the orange shirt.  The drunk needed to go and refused all previous reasonable attempts to comply.  Don’t forget that the media only showed a portion of the video and that the person who filmed it only started filming it once it had escalated to a level that caught his attention and he subsequently remembered he had a video recorder on his phone.  The problem that ensued is that the uneducated masses that were there immediately assume the security guard is killing the person.  They wrongfully make that assessment because they are uneducated and then begin interfering which presented a danger to the carotid participant.  The carotid participant was in absolutely no danger until the idiot super vigilantes stepped in.

Another Example

Here is the video link that showed up today in my timeline that caused this blog.  Now, the video cuts off and we can debate other things in this video like what led up to it and such, but that is a different topic for another blog.  The main thing I want to address is;

Is this a Choke or a Carotid Restraint?

Well, up until the video ends, the elbow is directly under the chin.  This was a very close quarter’s encounter on a subway.  We actually practice in tighter areas like a city bus and I can tell you that it took a little bit of skill to keep that elbow where it was.  A few people accused this practitioner of just learning this from watching MMA videos.  If he did, he is a quick study.  He did a real good job of getting that elbow under the chin and keeping it there during this short, tight encounter.  Debate the other things to your hearts content, but this is very much a Carotid Restraint.

To sum up tonight’s blog, it is our task to correct our own vernacular and nomenclature as well as help to educate the public.  Do not let the uneducated public and the muck stirring media continue to disparage good techniques by calling them bad things.

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… 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. 


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.