Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Martial Arts (A - F)

Age Higa Uchi
Rising elbow strike. Rich Mendolia receives elbow
strike at the Arizona school of traditional karate

Age higa (empi) uchi, rising elbow strike, is a very effective technique useful in many situations. In the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate style, it is often used as an escape from frontal grabs of the wrist or lapel.

Age Uke
Rising forearm block (age uke) is often used against a high attack or top of head attack.

Aikido is a martial art developed in the 20th century. Aikido (合気道) (the way of harmony) is a grappling art similar to jujutsu. It was created by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) in Tokyo during the 20th century. According to Farkas and Corcoran (1983) this art was established in 1942; however, like any art, it is difficult to say exactly when an art was created as martial arts are formed over an extended period of time and continue to evolve as time progresses. They are generally dynamic and are periodically modified by the Soke (grandmaster) as new thoughts and technqiues are recognized. Frederic (1998) suggests aikido began its evolution in 1931 and its major governing association was organized in 1948. The name ‘aikido’ was officially registered with the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1942, thus this date is stated to be the birth of this art.

Demonstration of classical aikido waza known
as 'te waza' (hand throw) with the assistance of
Wade Stenger from Albuquerque
at the University of Wyoming.
The creator of aikido, Sensei Ueshiba was described as a deeply religious man. He was also nationalistic and created his art with religious and nationalistic overtones. Ueshiba avoided any connection to kempo (Chinese hand) and other Chinese arts (Frederic, 1998) as he wanted aikido to be exclusively a Japanese art. At that time in history, nationalism in Japan was rampant.

Ueshiba linked aikido to Zen and Shinto, the national faiths of Japan (Farkas and Corcoran, 1983). He emphasized harmony between breath or spirit (ki), and body (tai) combined with nature while emphasizing harmony between the mind (shin) and moral outlook (ri). In Zen, followers believe that the center for meditation and power is the tanden, a point situated 1.5 inches above the navel. This point is emphasized as the source of power in aikido and the point from which ki is thought to originate. Anyone who studies meditation and yoga is introduced to this Zen concept early on. So, is aikido a religion? No, it only has religious philosophy that is associated with technique as do all traditional martial arts.

Ueshiba started his martial arts training in jujutsu. Thus his aikido art was greatly influence by jujutsu and evolved from jujutsu while emphasizing the philosophical aspect of martial art known as ‘do’. Do meaning the way or path to enlightenment. Many techniques (waza) in jujutsu and judo require close contact grappling, whereas Ueshiba avoided such techniques in favor of placing an attacker at a distance. He began his practice in Daito-Ryu Aiki JuJitsu and through time, named his new art Aikido. Today, more than 30 different sects of aikido exist in the world.

Ueshiba’s philosophy was to defend against an attack without causing great injury to the attacker. Aikido attempts to redirect an attack by blending with the attacker’s movement and redirecting an attack using the momentum of the attacker against himself. This is done with entering and turning movements. Aikido uses joint locks to manipulate an attacker while attempting to assist the attacker in moving in the same direction as the force generated by an attack. Joint locks are usually followed by a throw (nage waza) as the attacker is manipulated. Aikido attempts to lead an attacker into a circular path so that the defender can turn on an axis. The circular motion allows the defender to neutralize an aggressive action by gaining control of momentum (Westbrook and Ratti, 1970).

Like jujutsu, aikido employs atemi. Atemi is a vital point strike used to disrupt the attacker’s balance and focus. Following atemi, the defender will use evasive moments and body shifting (tai sabaki) to manipulate the attacker’s force so it can be used against him as the attacker is redirected and thrown, have his feet swept out from under him, or a joint lock applied for control. Many of the techniques in Aikido end with grappling to subdue the opponent.

Most techniques in aikido are used to control (katame waza) or throw (nage waza). According to some sources, there are over 700 techniques that fall within these two categories that are derived from basic kata (forms) of aikido. Aikido kata consist of freeing oneself from basic grips or grabs (te hodoki), throwing, and immobilizing with use of pressure point attacks (kyusho) on joints (kamsetsu gaeshi). Aikido also has a limited number of weapons as part of its training including the bo (6-foot staff), jo (4-foot staff) and yawara (short stick) (Frederic, 1998).

An example of an aikido technique will require the opponent (uke) to throw a punch. The defender (tori) will block or evade the punch followed by atemi to upset the uke’s balance. This is followed by seizing the wrist and twisting the wrist joint to activate pressure points or nerve centers to bring the attacker to his knees.

According to Mitchell (1998) aikido lost much of its effectiveness through time. Genuine attacks were replaced by compliant attackers. For example, a would-be attacker typically runs forward with arm held out until the defender employs a defense. This is followed by a symbolic strike without much focus. However, without a focused and powerful atemi, one learns to defend improperly as the body's muscles tend to learn these bad habits and emulate them during an actual attack. As a result, some aikido masters separated from the mainstream aikido association and attempted to develop more effective methods to practice self-defense. One school, Tomiki aikido, incorporated contests in the art to try to improve reflexes, but this is something that was already part of the jujutsu and judo arts, where continuous defenses (randori) are performed one after another non-stop. Another school, Yoshinkan aikido, focused on the importance of ki requiring their uke to attack with energy and force. As a result, Yoshinkan aikido has been used to train many Japanese law enforcement agents as it tends to emphasize more realistic atemi.

The traditional aikido dojo (place of the way) is simple. Floors are matted with a tatami since practice involves throws and unlike judo and jujutsu, the aikidoka (practitioner) does not slap the mat (tatami) when thrown, but rolls out of the fall (ukemi) similar to ninjutsu practitioners. To practice these types of break falls, aikidoka dive onto the floor extending one slightly curved arm forward while curving the spine to keep the head tucked in. As a student progresses, these dives become higher and higher and cover greater distances. In some schools, students are encouraged to jump high over the backs of others, something that we do not encourage in karate simply because karateka do not practice throws and falls constantly during training.

Aikido, like most Japanese martial arts, has a ranking system of colored belts (kyu) that vary from school to school. As one progresses, they may reach the upper levels of aikido or yudansha (black belt) ranks. Aikido practitioners typically wear a hakama (split pleated pants) with a gi jacket. Since aikido manipulates the joints, teaching this art to children should be of concern.

Exercises in aikido serve to loosen wrists and joints. During training, the wrists are seized and twisted and joint locks applied until the uke either slaps himself on the thigh as a sign that the tori should stop applying pressure, or until uke yells mate (stop). Through time, the wrists become supple. The more one practices, the less the wrist hurts. However, in the beginning, one can expect sensitive and swollen wrists.

Because aikido does not involve intense striking and kicking techniques such as karate, the public views this art as being less violent and is therefore a good art for many law enforcement agents. It also focuses on restraints, another important law enforcement application.In Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo, we apply several techniques taken from jujtsu and aikido. Several joint manipulations and throws have become an important part of bunkai in our kata.

Ashi translates as foot or leg. Did you ever wonder why Japanese martial arts are practiced without shoes; while Chinese martial artists wear shoes? It’s because of geology! And you thought geology was not important.

Yoko geri (side kick) on 1.4 billion year old Sherman Granite.
 Japan is a volcanic island with more than 200 volcanoes (20 are classified as active). In the southern reaches of Japan, 50 or so Ryukyu islands (Okinawa) are formed primarily of uplifted coral reefs (limestone) and lesser volcanics. The subtropical climate and tropical vegetation of Okinawa are favorable for disintegration and breaking down these rocks into soil. This is the reason why Okinawa has so many caves. Because of considerable weathering and erosion, large parts of Okinawa are blanketed by soil with nearby sandy beaches. Many rock exposures are formed of limestone (similar to concrete). The limestone, tropical weather and soil produced a good surface for running around without shoes.

In contrast, China is underlain by what geologists call “craton”, a very old continental core with many hard and protruding rocks and the weather in many places of China is cold. As a result, much of the Chinese population wears shoes.

So it’s all about the feet, rocks, weather and climate. Those of us in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming should consider periodic training in shoes, so we can match our local geology. But it doesn’t matter. If one day you end up having to defend yourself, you won’t even realize you are wearing shoes.

Atemi Waza The atemi (or strike) used in martial arts is designed to unbalance an opponent or deter an attacker's determination. The strike can be applied to any part of the body and used in aikido and jujutsu to disrupt an attacker's determination prior to throwing an opponent. It is much easier to throw an individual if that person has either lost balance or temporary conscienence.

Atemi waza - this pressure point strike designed to force an attacker
 to look away before throwing the aggressor.
If not practiced with focus and power, the practitioner will learn an incorrect response to an attack. An atemi can include shuto (open hand) strikes to the arm, teisho (palm strikes) to the chin, kozumi geri (crescent kick) to the chest, etc.
Two of my students several years ago decided to test an atemi to see if it worked. Scott and Jason were in excellent physical condition and told me about their experiment after the fact. Being a Shorin-Ryu school, we strongly emphasize atemi as one-punch knock out strikes - and the atemi used by Scott and Jason is considered to be weaker than many karate strikes.

Scott held onto Jason’s left wrist with both hands as Jason applied a teisho uchi (palm strike) atemi to the side of Scott’s chin with some focus. Scott indivated he let go of Jason and stood vulnerable for the next few minutes. He indicated Jason could have done anything he wanted. After Scott recovered, Jason grabbed Scott: Scott struck Jason with the same atemi and Jason indicated it took him 30 minutes before he was cognizent. He had essentially been knocked out on his feet.

Bō is a kobudo weapon as well as a Asian tool. Bōjutsu (棒術) is an important part of Okinawan Kobudo (古武道) as well as Japanese Koryu Budo (古流). Of all of the kobudo weapons in the Shorin-Ryu arsenal, few seem more traditional than the bo. The bō is usually the weapon most people in Shorin-Ryu begin their kobudo training. The martial discipline of the bo known as bojutsu includes distinct styles; however, bo is also part of all Shorin-Ryu styles.

Defending bo attack with sai at the Arizona School
of Traditional Okinawan Martial Arts in Mesa.
When I taught at the University of Wyoming years ago, I initiated new students to the bo as their first kobudo weapon primarily because of cost and access. It was relatively inexpensive for students to purchase and all they had to do was drive to the local lumber or hardware store and purchase a 6-foot wooden dowel or closet rod. But most cheap dowels were made of pine and could not be used safely for bunkai practice: some would snap when struck with force. If only we lived in Okinawa, we could just walk into our backyard with a katana (samurai sword) and cut a bo from the bamboo forest.
Historically, the bo was developed as a farming tool known as a tenbin or tenbinbo. These are still used in the Orient. The tenbin is a pole placed across the shoulders of a farmer designed to transport equal weights of material in buckets or sacks at either end. Most tenbin are made from bamboo due to available material and usually have a diameter (about 1.2 inches) that is constant from end to end which was necessary for transporting materials. Many modern bo taper at either end. A few historians suggest the bo may have been derived from a ra-ke (rake) or kuwa (hoe) handle. I don’t doubt this, as any pole of suitable length would be used as a carrying pole or handle depending on the personal needs of a farmer.

The length of a bo varied depending on where in the Orient (or even in the West) it is made. The differences in length and diameter are due to using a measuring unit known as shaku (尺). In China, shaku is known as chi and equals 1.094 feet (also referred to as a Chinese foot). All around the Orient, different countries have different names for shaku and there is not much consistency other than being approximately the length of an English foot. In Japan, a shaku or Japanese foot is 0.994 feet in length.

In times past, longer shaku were used in Japan known as korai shaku equal to 1.167 feet. Because of these differences, there remains an interpretation problem of historical records that reminds me of a problem I often face in geology. This is the difference in short tons, long tons and metric tonnes. This causes problems because few reports (both historical and modern) identify which ‘ton’ is used (a short ton = 2,000 pounds; a long ton = 2,240 pounds, and a metric tonne = 2,204 pounds).

Prior to 1961, shaku was a common unit of measurement in Japan. The unit was derived from nature and equivalent to the average length between mature bamboo nodes. For those fascinated by bamboo, it should be obvious that the length between nodes will vary from plant to plant and between individual stocks in a single plant. But it is even more entertaining when one learns a few facts about bamboo. There are >1,000 species of bamboo; each having different heights, diameters and even different lengths between nodes. The species includes small annuals to giant perennial timber bamboo. It is the fastest known growing woody grass plant and has been reported to grow as much as 3 to 4 feet per day.

The different species of bamboo vary from a few feet to 120 feet tall with diameters as great as 12 inches (now that would produce one heck of a bo). There are almost as many variables in bamboo as there are in climate change. One cannot control the average length between nodes anymore than they can control global warming: thus, this is where much of the inconsistency arises in shaku. For those interested in paleontology, it is interesting to note that species of bamboo have been identified in the fossil record 30 to 40 million years ago. As for kanji the Japanese and Chinese use the ideograph "竹" to represent bamboo, which represents two twigs of bamboo with leaves.

The length of many bo produced in the past was known as hasshaku (7.96 feet) or hasshaku gosun (8.45 feet); both which are considerably longer than the bo sold by martial arts supply houses. Supply houses sell rokushaku-bo that is 6 shaku in length. Supply house lengths are satisfactory for our needs; but for the purist, you might consider a hasshaku gosun bo from a bamboo plant (and cut your own). Members of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu karate also train with a half bo known as hanbo as do many forms of jujutsu and ninpo. These are usually three shaku long, or half the length of a traditional bo.

Confusion arises from another archaic unit that was known as shaku. This shaku was equal to 14.9 inches, or the length of an average whale’s whisker (I had no idea whales had whiskers). It was adopted by law in 1881 for measuring cloth. To distinguish between the two different Japanese shaku, the cloth shaku was referred to as kujirajaka (kujira meaning whale) while the bamboo shaku was referred to as kanejaku (see the Bushido Newsletter, v. 5, no. 12, 2008).

Not only did Okinawans train with bo, but bo was also employed by Japanese samurai because of the considerable reach on a katana. Unlike most Okinawan bo techniques which grasp the bo by splitting the bo in thirds, the Japanese samurai grasped the bo near one end to achieve maximum reach to stay out of reach from a samurai armed with katana (sword). Many techniques that apply to Samurai bo also apply to yari and naginata.

Several years ago, at a JKI clinic on kobujutsu, we trained in samurai bojutsu arts. We were a little nervous, but also very excited when we started training in kumite. We were at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis and had about 50 yudansha in a hanger. Like most Shorin-Ryu systems, we wore no protective gear - just had to defend ourselves, and it was more like a battlefield. We did not get a chance to pick a uke (partner), it was every karate-ka for himself and herself. So you had to be on the lookout for anyone near you as everyone and everything was fair game. Often we would find ourselves defending against 2, 3, and sometimes 4 and 5 martial artists. Most people would think this would lead to serious injury, but we were all well trained and loved the martial arts and the only injuries were bruises to fingers because of misplaced blocks.

When it comes to the shape of bo, most of us are familiar with maru-bo, or a round staff. But there are also kaku-bo (four-sided), rokkaku-bo (six-sided) and hakkaku-bo (eight-sided). There is even an archaic bo known as the konabo (also konsaibo and tetsubo) which looked more like a caveman’s version of a club made from wood studded with iron.

When training with a bo, many thrusting, swinging and striking waza resemble empty-hand karate techniques. Consequently, bōjutsu is often incorporated into the Shorin-Ryu styles of karate. Additional techniques taught with the bo include entrapment waza in which the practitioner blocks an attack while keeping both bo in contact to swing the attacker’s bo to a position causing the aggressor to lose balance. There are also techniques in which sand is picked up by bo and thrown at an opponent’s face, something that does not work well with dry, let alone wet, sand.

The kata of Shorin-Ryu include Kihon Bo, Sho No Kun, Sho Ken No Kun, Suuji No Kun, Choun No Kun Dai, Choun No Kun Sho, Bojutsu Shodan, Bojutsu Nidan, Bojutsu Sandan and Bo-Katana No Kun and others. The last kata in the list is from Japanese Koryu Budo. Note the Okinawans refer to the bo as kon and kun refers to bo kata.