Seiza: The Kneeling Posture by Christopher Caile

Seiza. It is the basic kneeling position used at the beginning and the end of martial arts classes and is associated with bowing in respect for teachers and other students.

Christopher Caile sitting at head of a karate class (Kyokushinkai) in 1967 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the school headed by Kaicho (then Shihan) Tadashi Nakamura who would later found World Seido Karate.

In this posture the knees are bent 180 degrees with the calves tucked under the thighs so you sit on your heels, toes pointed.

Few today, however, give it more than a momentary thought, other than the pain so often felt in the ankles and legs, or the growing discomfort felt when sitting this way for long. And when westerners sit this way for very long often their legs go to sleep.

So why do we sit this way and what is its value? After all, in the west most people sit in chairs or lounge across their sofas. There is no history or lifelong adherence to a method of kneeling on the floor. Is seiza anything more than a quaint Asian cultural artifact?

In Japan this method of sitting has always been associated with proper etiquette. In modern karate-do, aikido, kung fu and in many other arts, the role of proper etiquette is a vehicle to show respect, develop discipline and train the mind and body. By being respectful you show appreciation for your art, your study, the teacher and other students. It becomes a triumph of spirit over ego, an acknowledgment of the importance of others and the group over the self. In this form etiquette represents willful discipline of the mind and development of spirit.

Seiza and proper etiquette, however, did not always serve this same purpose. Many elements of etiquette that developed during feudal periods of armed warfare (roughly the 12th through the 17th centuries) — such as where to hold your hands, how to bow, walk, move, or sit, where to sit and the distance expected from others — all at their core were intimately linked to the practice of sword and other weapon arts, as well as to strategies of self-defense and the ability to react instantaneously.

Warriors were almost always armed and even when they slept a weapon was always close by. At any time warriors had to be ready for immediate reaction and mobility — when outside, in town, when visiting others, in the presence of their superiors or lord, when eating and drinking with friends, when escorting others or on campaign or in battle. Necessity dictated constant awareness of everything around them, the position of others, their environment and always their ability to react or defend themselves.

Some samurai took this to the extreme. One story says that legendary Miyamoto Musashi (1600 era), the Japanese masterless samurai famed for his many successful challenges of others, was so fearful of being exposed (without his sword) that he refused to ever take a traditional bath.

In this warrior context, if seiza was incorrectly executed, or the kneeling person was lax in his positioning, it could have fateful consequences. Inside a dwelling a razor sharp short sword (often a short knife was also present) was often positioned at their left side just inches from their hand. When outdoors, a longer sword was added, also positioned at their left side (through a sash) or slung across their back.

Warriors were taught how to draw a weapon instantly, from seiza and other positions, to strike or parry an attack. Today, this art of sword drawing is most often practiced as a specialty known as iaido (the art of drawing the sword). When formally sitting in seiza, the ability to rise up from a kneeling position instantaneously with the right leg forward simplified the sword drawing, positioned the practitioner for further movement and closed the distance to his antagonist. This was all done with such speed that the rise from seiza, cut and sword’s re-sheathing could be done by the most accomplished in a blink of an eye. What made all this possible was proper seiza technique.

Likewise, from sieza position many warriors learned empty hand defenses against a sword strike or other attack. A defender could pivot to the side instantaneously to avoid and control a weapon thrust (careful that the knees were not too widely spaced to maintain balance while pivoting) or move forward into a downward weapons strike in order to intercept the striking arm before the attack was fully generated or control a weapon strike coming downward at an angle from the side. Today many empty hand self-defenses are still practiced in diato ryu, aikido, many forms of jujutsu as well in some other arts.

But these skills no longer receive the same emphasis in many modern “do” arts, such as karate-do, judo and others. As a result some of the subtleties of proper kneeling and moving have been lost. In other cases just the outer form of etiquette has been maintained, while the original intent, rationale and meaning have been lost to the new ends of “do” oriented arts.

This evolution in itself should not necessarily be considered unfortunate, or those who practice the new seiza etiquette should not be considered as “doing it wrong.” Westerners aren’t used to sitting in seiza, and the art there practice has a different emphasis.

The principles of traditional seiza are simple. Upon sitting, the left leg is bent and moved behind, the toes of the left foot maintaining contact with the floor as the shin in lowered, the right leg being forward and bent. As your buttocks sink the right leg is likewise pulled back — both feet now being supported by the toes. Only then are the toes allowed to move backward so the instep lies flat, the feet pointed in an a angle (they can be kept apart or the big toe of each foot can touch). The hands are then positioned across the thighs.

The toe position is critical. If the leg and instep are placed flat with the toes pointed, mobility and balance are lost if you try to move forward to one leg, or otherwise move. For a warrior, such a technique would be dangerous since stability would be sacrificed, and a foe observing such behavior would be alerted to an interval of advantage.

To stand from seiza the right leg moves first. But first as the buttocks begin to rise the toes of both feet pull back with the tips of the toes on the ground,
Thus as the right leg moves forward, the toes of the opposite foot support a quick, balanced, powerful forward motion — the movement of the body forward, supported with the right leg providing momentum and mobility behind any sword cut, parry, empty hand defense or transition to standing (in empty hand self-defense situations, however, sometimes the left leg comes up first).

Try this experiment. Sit in seiza with your toes pointed. Try to move quickly and powerfully forward or quickly rise. Now try the same with the toes turned to the floor. You should feel a dramatic difference.

An alternative exercise is to start to sit, just by collapsing your legs, or by moving one leg back but with the toes pointed. See how you can react to an attack from the front, or a push backwards. Check the stability in this position against that evidenced during traditional kneeling.

It is true that in judo, karate-do, taekwondo and many other arts there is no longer an active link to the sword arts or necessity to practice self-defense from seiza. But the practice of traditional seiza does force a heightened state of mental readiness, and awareness, and attention to position and balance. It also maintains a combative link to self-defense scenarios of our warrior heritage and by doing so creates an atmosphere of seriousness around practice that can be easily forgotten — an integration of attitude with technique.

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Making a Fist by George Donahue

How to make a fist is one of the first things taught in karate, kung fu, taekwondo, or any art that includes punching or striking. Thus it is surprising that many practitioners have never been taught how to form their fist correctly.

I’d guess that most readers of this article are pretty confident that they are already making a proper fist. However, over the years, when I’ve conducted seminars with groups other than my own students, I’ve invariably found that many participants, including many of higher rank, do not make a proper—or at least an effective—fist. Even among my own students, improper technique very often creeps in, much to my annoyance. And, much to my chagrin, I sometimes catch myself at it, too.

Many karate, taekwondo and other practitioners get away with bad fist formation for years because they never actually hit anything with any force. Most of their punches are to the air, without contact. When they do make contact with a target such as a makiwara (practice hitting board or post) or heavy bag (even ribs), they feather the technique so much that their impact is more of a forceful pat or push than a real punch. Protective gloves while useful to prevent possible injury only serve to cover up this problem. Hitting a makiwara with an improperly formed fist is at least a waste of time and is often a cause of injury. At worst, it develops bad technique that can take great effort to overcome.

Students who practice this way, either consciously or mindlessly, are deceiving themselves. Their practice is not giving them the optimal benefit it should and they are unprepared for actual combat. Among these people are the “karate and other martial arts experts” you hear about breaking their hands or wrists if they ever get involved in a real fight. The same thing happens to boxers who get too used to the wrapping and padding and then break their hands in minor squabbles on the street (Mike Tyson breaking his hand punching an annoying dweeb in a Harlem clothing store springs to mind).

I know what you are thinking. “Oh, here comes the lecture about striking with the first two knuckles of the fist and not the other knuckles that don’t have strong bone alignment internal to the wrist, and keeping the top of the fist aligned with the plain of the forearm.” Not really. I have assumed that if you are reading this article these lessons have long been digested. I am talking about something completely different.

Instead, the most common mistake I’ve seen in making a fist is something you may not even be aware of – the tendency to over-tighten the muscles of the hand in such a way that the soft tissue between the knuckles is tautly stretched and, as a result, the skin, muscle, connective tissue, and knuckles are stressed. The result is that beneath the surface of the skin, the bones of the hand and fingers (especially the first two) are pulling away from each other, a sort of flattening or flarring out—definitely not an example of e pluribus unum. When you make a fist in this manner, then hit a makiwara—or, perhaps, a person—really hard you might damage yourself as much as you damage your target.

If your target is harder than expected, or if it twists unexpectedly with the impact, you can damage yourself more than you damage the target–split skin and torn and/or strained muscle between the knuckles. Often too, you damage the knuckle surfaces. Sometimes you get broken bones. Even if the only injury is split skin, there is a danger of infection and, worse, you can’t whack anything with gusto until it’s healed. In a fight that might limit follow-up punches with the same hand if you are aware of injury, but if not, and adrenalin has masked feedback, you might just end the fight successfully only to find you have injured yourself more permanently than your opponent.

In short, an improperly formed fist is hard and brittle, like a plastic bag packed completely full of ice cubes. There’s some heft there, but the bag is easily torn and the ice cubes are easily cracked or crushed.

A well-made fist is soft, supple, and pliable on the surface. The hard mass beneath the surface can be shaped as needed for optimal use, depending upon the situation and the target. It’s like a thick rubber bag filled with BB shot, which can be gathered or shaped at will.

To make a fist optimally, you must squeeze the knuckles together, rather than stretch them apart. Likewise, you must squeeze the bones within the hand together, so that they reinforce each other and work as a large cumulative mass rather than as a group of individual small bones. Over-squeezing, however, is counterproductive, as it causes the hand as a whole and the individual bones within to buckle on contact. It’s also counterproductive to squeeze the hand at all except upon impact. Squeezing before impact slows you down and robs power from the punch; maintaining the squeeze after impact slows you down and leaves you vulnerable to trapping and counterattacks.

 

What doesn’t matter much at all is the position of the thumb. It’s actually easier to make a proper fist using the fist formation found in such styles as Isshin Ryu, in which the thumb tip is pressed against the fold of the second knuckle of the forefinger.

When making a fist with the thumb tucked under and bracing the third knuckles of the forefinger and middle finger, as in Shotokan and most Shorin styles, care must be taken to leave the thumb relaxed, but not so relaxed as to hang below the fist. If the thumb is tense, it acts as a lever pulling the bones at the base of the hand apart. Contact in that case can result in lower hand and wrist injuries.

At left the fist is compressed internally, while it is pliable and supple on the surface – a strong fist. At right the fist is over stressed, internal tension actually working to pull the first two knuckles outward and away from each other – an internally weak fist.

Here is a simple test to determine whether a fist is too hard and tense or, on the other hand, too loose. Using the thumb press into the gap between the fist and second knuckles of the fist (Don’t use the thumbnail). If the thumb is able to penetrate the fist, or if the thumb cannot penetrate but still causes appreciable pain, the fist is not optimal. If the fist is optimal, the pressing thumb is merely a nuisance.

Here is another way to feel difference between the two kinds of fists. With your thumb still in place between your two knuckles, first slowly compress the fist. The fist should be still relatively loose. You should be able feel the fist and the two first knuckles compress together. Now tighten the fist using more muscle tension. If your hold your thumb underneigh (bracing the third knuckles of the forefinger and middle finger) you will feel the first knuckle separate from the first (the first digit pressing the bottom of the fist finger inward, thus leveraging the striking knuckle outward). You will also feel the little finger squeeze in such a way that the top knuckle pulls downward and inward – this pulling action distorting the whole fist and breaking its consolidated structure.

Setsu Do Motsu: A Lecture on Karate-do by Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, 9th Dan Head of the World Seido Karate Organization

 Note: Kaicho Nakamura still speaks with somewhat of a Japanese accent. His use of words and sentence structure in this lecture have been retained as much as possible to give a better sense of his person and flavor of his speech.

I have a few things today that I would like to mention. Sometimes way people starting karate, they are just only concerned with their technique, how they kick or punch, or their forms. But more than that, the way you study is not just your kata, your fighting form, or fighting spirit but how you study karate applied to daily life. And we always say, the way we study in not only karate, but karate-do. So lots of moral, lots of discipline is required to call yourself karate-ka. So each of you here I think — continue good moral, good discipline –moment to moment.

(Kaicho Nakamura then points to a sketch of a bamboo stalk with the words “Setsu do Motsu” written above it.)

This is one of my favorite expressions. I want you to remember these words today — especially discipline and flexibility. Together they mean Setsu do Motsu.

In training, certain times come when you must tighten yourself. (Here, Kaicho Nakamura holds his hands in front of his body as if holding a sword. He twists his hands inward as if tightening something.)Discipline. This is Setsu do Motsu. You must always carry discipline.

(Then he points to the lowest segment of the bamboo stalk.) Certain times come when you must tighten yourself. Then another time comes when again you must tighten yourself (pointing to the bamboo segment above the first one). This is the way we grow. Each segment is stiff, has strength, discipline.

Editor’s note: Japanese characters are not lifeless, but have distinct personalities whose sub-elements are often rich in interpretation and subtle meaning. More

(Kaicho Nakamura then picks up two practice sword. First he shows a solid wood sword.) What I have here is a bokken, kind of hard. (Then taking the solid wooden sword, he smacks it hard on the floor.) “WHACK.” (He then picks up a practice kendo sword made of strips of tied bamboo.) This Shinai is made of bamboo and is hollow inside, but when it hits the floor, “WHACK,” it is flexible and doesn’t break. Still it is serious sword. When we fight against solid wood practice swords, sometimes they break, but with a shinai we can hit hard and it doesn’t break. So I want you to understand bamboo — it has flexibility.

When growing bamboo must have this (he points to each distinct segment of bamboo along its trunk) in order to grow. Without it (the segments) it would fall down without strength.

In the winter time when I was a kid I used to go with my family to part of Japan (northern island) where there was lots of snow, an area that also had lots of bamboo. There was lots and lots of snow, and as the bamboo became covered with snow, down, down, down it would bend almost to the ground. (Nakamura here uses one of the wooden swords to illustrate it bending over under the weight of the snow.) There were also some sorts of trees and when lots of snow came, even big branches would break. But bamboo in winter time and snow bends, goes down almost to the ground. Then winter changes, snow starts to melt. A little bamboo comes up, comes up and comes up (here still using a wooden sword, he holds it straight up again) and ‘aaahhh.’ Then chance more to grow. This always remind me of Setsu do Motsu.

Without discipline we can go down and stop (ending up there). So remember as Karate-ka, always have flexibility, but also strength in discipline. This is easy when in the dojo, when in front of the teachers or senpais, easy when you have your belt on and can say ‘I’m Karate-ka, I have good form, I am fighting, I work hard.’ But after you get changed, wherever you go — sometimes you forget. It’s all attitude — be careful. Wherever you go you are karate-ka, you are your dojo. Carry on as if your dojo exists wherever you go, especially when you are alone and no one watching.

You have to dedicate yourself. That is a very important thing. Easy when people are watching, when you can say ‘I’m a karate-ka, I’m a senior.’ But be careful. Wherever you go, when you are alone or in a different place –STILL THE SAME WAY. Appreciate what you have. Appreciate what you are. Then in Karate training watch yourself. UNDERSTAND? (Those listening respond with a loud OSU.)

So please continue to be proud with what you are doing. Your karate is not just karate discipline, skill, technique, your fighting or knowing many kata. Most important IS TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON!

Even children should say, ‘Since I started karate, I enjoy more my study, listen more my parents and more concentrate. Since I study karate, I more a chance to understand myself, more listen to other people and more appreciate — yourself and what you have. Then you become a good karate-ka.

Note: This lecture, was given in March 2000, to students of Seido Karate at the Cornell College Champion Festival/ Tournament in Ithaca, New York. Nakamura regularly lectures on aspects of karate-do during weekly mediation sessions held at Seido Karate’s New York City Headquarters. A number of these lectures are published in his book, One Day, One Lifetime — An Illustrated Guide to the Spirit, Practice and Philosophy of Seido Karate Meditation.

THE RISE OF TEAM BRAZIL by Glory World Series

brazilians.jpeg

In the martial arts world, Brazil is best known as the home of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the birthplace of Vale Tudo. But it also has a thriving Kickboxing scene, dating back to the arrival of Muay Thai in the 1970s.

In the same way that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a variant on the original Japanese Jiu Jitsu, so Brazilian Muay Thai is a variation on the original Thai style. The instructors who first brought Muay Thai to Brazil – in the city of Curitiba – had trained in Europe, not Thailand.

That meant they had a European-style mindset, favoring a punch-heavy style with kicks hidden in the middle of combinations or delivered at the end.

But the existing Taekwondo scene in Brazil meant that, rather than completely replicating Dutch-style Kickboxing, the Brazilian version incorporated some of the flamboyant kicks and aerial moves of the South Korean art.

Not every Brazilian fighter uses them – especially those from karate backgrounds – but at the same time don’t be surprised to see spin-kicks and flying attacks come from nowhere when a Brazilian is in the ring.

Several fighters from Brazil have made their mark on the GLORY World Series in the past year and other new talents are emerging. Already a superpower in MMA, Brazil looks set to replicate that success in Kickboxing.

 Saulo Cavalari (28-2,18 KO’s)

Light-Heavyweight (209lbs/95kg)

Ranked #4

Cavalari comes from Curitiba, the epicenter of the Brazilian Muay Thai/Kickboxing world. The city has produced some of the fighting world’s most ferocious strikers and anyone fighting out of Curitiba has a lot to live up to.

Fortunately for Cavalari, he is more than up to the task. He made his debut at GLORY 11 CHICAGO against the much more experienced Filip Verlinden and completely shut the European fighter down, battering him relentlessly to take a unanimous decision win.

At GLORY 12 NEW YORK he returned, facing the K-1 veteran Mourad Bouzidi. This fight ended with one of the most brutal knockouts of any fighting event of 2013. An overhand right put Bouzidi down and it was nearly five minutes before he awoke and was able to stand.

Cavalari had announced his presence in style. Back to back wins over higher-ranked opponents meant that fans were clamoring to see more. They got what they wanted when Cavalari earned a wild-card slot for theGLORY 15 ISTANBUL World Championship Tournament.

There he will line up alongside Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki and Nathan Corbett – three of the biggest names in the sport – and try to capture the GLORY World Series Light-Heavyweight Title.

Can Cavalri become the first Brazilian champion in GLORY? We will find out on Saturday, April 12.

Anderson ‘Braddock’ Silva (37-10-1, 24 KO’s)

Heavyweight

Ranked #4

The ‘Braddock’ nickname was stuck on Silva after friends watched a Chuck Norris film in which the action hero plays a gung-ho character of the same name. The nickname fits, as Silva’s fighting style is endless forward pressure and constant attack.

He hails from Sao Paulo but first came to prominence when he struck up a friendship with the legendary Peter Aerts and was invited to live in Amsterdam and be his main sparring partner. That arrangement lasted several years, during which time he fought for It’s Showtime and faced the likes of Hesdy Gerges, Stefan Leko and Badr Hari.

Never feeling quite at home in Europe, Silva moved back to Brazil and took up residence in Rio de Janeiro. There he joined Team Nogueira, an MMA squad headed by former PRIDE FC champion Rodrigo Nogueira.

Aside from training for his own fights he also puts teammates through their paces in the striking sparring sessions, working with the likes of Nogueira, Junior Dos Santos and ‘Feijao’ Cavalcante.

He is often confused with his namesake, the former UFC middleweight champion Anderson ‘Spider’ Silva, who is also a member of Team Nogueira. In a mid-2013 interview, ‘Spider’ Silva commented on the difficulty of sparring with ‘Braddock’, saying he is one of the best strikers he has ever trained with.

Jhonata Diniz

Heavyweight (8-4, 5 KO’s)

Ranked #14

Diniz is one of the youngest fighters in the heavyweight division but also has one of the biggest hearts. This was demonstrated when he met Daniel Ghita in the opening stage of the epic 16-man Heavyweight Grand Slam tournament on New Year’s Eve 2012.

Nobody gave Diniz a chance. Ghita’s then-coach even said, the night before the fight that Diniz was “just a kid” and that Ghita would not be throwing kicks in this fight. Instead he would only be using his hands in order to save his legs for later in the tournament.

As it turned out, Ghita had to change plans quickly. Diniz turned out to be much more of a problem than had been anticipated. Ghita fought hard to win a decision. He won his next two fights by KO and made it to the Grand Final but that first match with Diniz made the biggest impression on him.

Diniz comes from Curitiba in Brazil and came up via Thai Boxe, a team that is friendly with the famous Chute Boxe MMA gym. Fighters from Chute Boxe are often sent down the road to Thai Boxe for sparring and to work on their striking game.

The learning curve Diniz has been on since his GLORY 2 debut has been a steep one, filled with world-class opposition – one third of his fights have been in the world’s premier kickboxing league, where he has gone 2-2.

Diniz is currently training hard, improving with every fight and building towards his goal of becoming Brazil’s next heavyweight contender.

Alex Pereira (11-1, 8 KO’s)

Middleweight (187lbs/85KG)

Ranked #9

Alex ‘Po Atan’ Pereira is one of several new Brazilian talents breaking through onto the international kickboxing stage.

The middleweight was originally a professional boxer. He switched to kickboxing in 2009 and has enjoyed success after success, winning several domestic championships.

His boxing background means he has very dangerous hands and a real killer instinct. Pereira likes to look for the big finish and will take risks to do so, even if comfortably ahead on points.

Pereira’s nickname ‘Po Atan’ is a traditional name among the native Indians of Brazil. It reflects Pereira’s pride in being descended from one of the Indian tribes.

“I go by Po Atan to give respect to my heritage and to channel the warrior spirit of my ancestors,” he says.

Makings Of A Hanshi: Charles Martin By Christopher Caile

Charles Martin

The business world of karate is populated by young, instant, self-proclaimed masters, who sport 8th, 9th, even 10th degree black belts and fancy titles as Hanshi, Kyoshi, Grand Master, or Soke. But these people should not be confused with those sincere life-long practitioners who truly represent dedicated spirit and training, men and women who have studied for decades within their respective systems. This article is about a friend and senior from my own karate organization who was just promoted to 8th degree black belt (Hanshi).   I have known him for over 30 years. Here is his story.

In June 2008 Charles Martin was one of three senior Seido Karate members who were promoted to Hanshi, 8th dan (degree of back belt). They were the first Seido members ever promoted to this rank by Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, the founder of Seido Karate headquartered in New York City. Seido Karate is a traditional Japanese style of karate which focuses on karate-do – the development of spirit, character and discipline along with the training of the body, and development of karate skills. The goal of training is realization of each student’s human potential.

The three newly promoted senior Seido Karate students at the end of their weekend long promotion  – Left to right –  Hanshi Charles Martin (Honbu,  NYC), Hanshi Renzie Hanham (Branch Chief, Christchurch, New Zealand) and Hanshi Andy Barber (Branch Chief, Nelson, New Zealand). A few days later on Wednesday, June 4th, World Seido Karate Organization held a celebration dinner in honor of their promotion to 8th degree black belt.  The dinner was held in a restaurant in little Italy in downtown New York City. At the dinner Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura (founder of World Seido Karate) described how far Seido had evolved from its Kyokushinkai beginnings. He noted how Seido kumite has evolved from a sport emphasizing strong fighting with no safety equipment to one focused on safety where students learn the basics of karate and strategies of kumite before they actually start to practice fighting at green belt level. He also addressed Seido’s different philosophy. “Now we wear hand and foot protectors, mouth guards and groin cups. In Seido it is also not enough to be just a good fighter, you should also become a good person.  We try to develop good character, a strong non-quitting spirit, humility and sense of mutual respect. In this way Seido is a  karate for everyone, not just the strong.  Our karate helps all students – men, women, the young and even seniors. In this way karate helps you in life, in your job and with relationships. This is also why we have special programs for the handicapped. Everyone benefits.”

“I am proud of them,” said Kaicho to honbu (headquarters) students shortly after the promotion. “All Seido is honored to have such outstanding representatives.” At a celebration dinner held a few nights later, Kaicho explained that the word Hanshi means a “great teacher,” but most important “a person with a big heart”. The three men promoted were Seido’s most senior students, those who trained over decades to overcome challenges in both life and training and men who have helped pioneer and promote Seido Karate.

Hanshi Charles Martin assisting Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura in a demonstration held in Madison Square Garden during an event sponsored by the Oriental World of Self Defense in 1977.

Nidaime Akira Nakamura (Vice Chairman and son of the founder) described their achievements as a “milestone”. The night of the dinner was an opportunity for all Seido members to “show them respect that they deserve”.

Martin, the most senior Seido student, has been a pillar of Kaicho’s karate since 1966. Known for his powerful fighting, he became an international karate champion and East Coast Karate Champion two years running. At various times he also taught Seido karate at five YMCAs in New York and New Jersey.  Through the years he assisted Kaicho in many demonstrations, several of which appeared on TV, such as ABC Wide World of Sports, and The Oriental World of Self Defense which recently honored him with membership to its Black Belt Hall of Fame.

If it hadn’t been for a stroke of luck, however, Martin might never have practiced karate at all. It was his wife, not Martin, who signed up for martial arts. His wife Ada signed a six month contract for Judo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, but after two months she became pregnant and dropped out. Not wanting to waste the money, Martin took over her contract and was given a choice of taking judo or karate. He took karate under Tadashi Nakamura who was then serving as North American head of Kyokushinkai Karate.

Kyokushinai at that time was a rough, hard-hitting style of Japanese karate that had been founded by Mas Oyama.  As a muscular six foot one inch athlete and former college football player, Martin naturally took to his new martial art. “I started free fighting my very first class, and I loved it,” Martin says.

Studying karate was a huge challenge, although he somehow made time for training. Martin was married with two sons. He was working full time at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and enrolled in its Management Training Program. At the same time he was finishing college and then graduate school. He later graduated with an MBA from Pace University. For his efforts he was selected as “Black Achiever in Industry” in 1978. When he finally retired in 1995 after 33 years of service, he has risen in his career from an entry-level position to one of senior management.

Those who knew him well were not surprised. Born in 1942 in Huntsville, Alabama, Martin was born at a time of rampant discrimination. He grew up during the early civil rights era and participated in strikes, boycotts and other movements. He went on to attend high school in a military academy in Powhatan, Virginia which instilled in him discipline, loyalty, hard work and persistence. This paid off in both his work and in karate.

U.S. and Japanese posters advertising the 1975 First Open Full Contact World Karate Championship.

In 1975 Martin was selected as one of three US Kyokushinkai fighters to represent the U. S. to compete in the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships sponsored by Kyokushinkai that year. It was a full contact, knock-out event and a tournament open to any competitor. Attending were the best fighters from 36 countries. They were selected from Kyokushinkai branches around the world, but contestants also included entrants from other karate styles, kung fu and other fighting systems.

Prior to the event Oyama Sensei sent to New York a group of students to visit the Kyokushinkai North American Headquarters then headed by Shihan Tadashi Nakamura. Informally known as the “Seven Samurai,” they were top Kyokushinkai instructors who would soon also compete in the upcoming tournament. Their mission was billed as a good-will tour to help promote the upcoming tournament. In actuality it was quite different.

Nakamura Shihan was arguably the strongest of the three Kyokushinkai fighters who traveled to Thailand in the early 1960’s to participate in a challenge match against champion Muay Thai fighters (Thai boxing that included low kicks to the legs, elbows and punches to the head). The Kyokunshinkai fighters won, two matches to one.

Nakamura later moved to the US to head the organization’s North American Headquarters. He soon developed his own group of strong, tournament-tested fighters. Martin was one. If there was anyone who might truly challenge the Japanese Kyokushinkai fighters, it was from this group.  Thus in reality the visit of the “Seven Samurai” to New York City was more to scope out the competition than to promote the upcoming world tournament.  In their ten-day visit to the North American Kyokushinkai Headquarters, they watched from the sidelines as New York practitioners worked out and fought.  Only once at the end of their stay did they concede to join into practice with their US counterparts. And this practice demonstrated, at least for one Japanese fighter, his own vulnerability.

Charles Martin fighting in the First World Kyokushinkai Tournament held in Japan in 1975. He placed the highest of any foreign competitor.

During the free-fighting segment of this practice, Charles Martin found himself squared off against Sato Sensei, the largest and strongest of the Japanese contingent and the man who would soon win the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships.  “I knocked him down,” said Martin. “He was totally surprised. Reportably this was the first time he was ever knocked off his feet.”

This event may help explain how the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships played out later. The Japanese were allowed more competitors, and foreign fighters were pitted against foreign fighters in eliminations. And if the odds weren’t stacked there, on the tournament floor Japanese judges consistently ignored tournament rules in favor of the Japanese competitors.

Later Martin would say, “It was unfortunate that politics and other things outside karate determined the outcome. I never got to face Sato in the tournament even though I had defeated him earlier when we faced off in NYC. He (Sato) never got a chance for the revenge he vowed against me. I guess he will always wonder who would have won if we had fought again.”

A comic book cover (left) and two pages from a series of Japanese karate comic books that featured the fighting exploits of Charles Martin and William Oliver. These issues appeared after the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships sponsored by Kyokushinkai. In the images above (middle and right) a young mustached and bearded Martin is shown in fierce karate combat against several villains.
One of the many different covers sported on video and DVD recordings of the karate documentary “Fighting Black Kings” that followed Charles Martin, William Oliver and others training for, and participating in the final competition of, the First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships.

Despite the tournament politics, however, Martin placed 7th in the world tournament, the highest placement among non-Japanese competitors. In Japan Martin and another US fighter, William Oliver (known for his spectacular kicking combinations), also became minor celebrities. They were featured in a Japanese comic book series, Martin in the images shown above sporting a short afro haircut along with a short beard and mustache. Their exploits in preparing for and competing in the world tournament were also documented in the movie, “Fighting Black Kings.” Now on video and DVD, the film remains a minor cult classic.

In 1976 Martin left Kyokushinkai to follow his mentor and teacher Kaicho Nakamura when he formed Seido Karate, a style based on a new philosophy — to extend the benefits of karate and the philosophy of “do” (as in karate-do) to all students. Since that time Martin has been one of Seido Karate’s most senior students. He is also not one to rest on his laurels. He still considers himself a student and attends several weekly classes, not only for black belts, but for mixed belt classes too which include basics and drills.

Hanshi Charles Martin with Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura during a meeting with New York City Mayor Rudi Guiliani in 1999. For many years Seido Karate has donated funds from benefit karate tournaments through the NYC mayor’s office to various charitable causes, such as children and abused women’s programs.

As a senior, Martin often assists Kaicho Nakamura in class, and still fills in and teaches Kaicho’s black belt classes when Kaicho is out of town or unavailable. He also assists in officiating for frequent promotions and yearly competitions and has represented Seido in various international visits to member dojos.

Charles Martin breaking roofing tiles during a demonstration in 1990 in Tokyo Japan. Charles Martin was one of several senior students from around the world who assisted Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura in this demonstration to help introduce Seido Karate into Japan.

At the end of class or in meetings Martin often speaks up as an unofficial voice of Kaicho, prompting students toward participation in Seido events, improved respect for seniors, practice of etiquette, etc. As the most senior student after Kaicho Nakamura, Martin is also the first called to speak at meetings and annual events. He is both unassuming and friendly and although outwardly humble, he is really a skilled orator, a man who knows how to cajole the best out of his deep, mellow voice. His comments are often serious, but they are also often spiced by personality – a mix of humor, dry wit and even self-depreciation that can elicit not only laughter, but deep appreciation for what is said.

Hanshi Charles Martin assisting two students in class with a self-defense technique during a recent class. Hanshi Martin often assists senior Seido students with kata and technique before or after class. Here he is assisting Sei Shihan Christopher Caile and Sei Shihan William Best with an advanced kata.

On the dojo floor when teaching, Martin exudes a commanding presence. He extols his students toward serious, realistic practice, while stressing the virtues of hard work and spirited practice. He also has strong opinions.

“You can teach a person the physical aspects of karate,” says Martin, “but you shouldn’t do that without teaching the mental side at the same time – that is, how to control the use of what’s being taught.” Despite his expertise and proven fighting ability, Martin is proud of the fact that he has never had to use his karate on the street, and never been in a fight outside the dojo.

Hanshi Charles Martin (left) became well known in Japan for his participation in the 1975 First Open Full Contact World Karate Championships. This notoriety continues today within Seido Karate. He often accompanies Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura during visits to Japan and has often been featured as a senior student with Kaicho Nakamura in magazine covers (this cover from Budo-Ra) and within stories about Seido, its development and its karate technique. At right is Shuzeki Shihan William Oliver (now deceased).

Although Martin’s classes are strenuous and tough, they are greatly appreciated by those who appreciate his practical experience and technique. Because of his background Martin

Stresses realistic technique as well as the benefits of free fighting. If asked, he is also quick to point out that when faced with a real opponent in a fight, it is the person with indomitable spirit who is most likely to come out on top. Thus when teaching he demonstrates what works and shows students how their technique and drills are relevant to self-defense and fighting.

“Too many students come to the dojo to practice and to remember different moves. They practice each move, but do not develop a feeling and understanding of what they are doing.” Thus when teaching Martin always stresses the practical application of various Seido exercises and drills. “That way students can understand what they are doing.”

“Many students also avoid free fighting practice today,” Martin observes. “This is a mistake, for in free fighting you can discover what moves and techniques from your karate training you can apply – what is good for you. You can also develop your own style of fighting. You can perfect your techniques and master them.”

If you see him in the dojo when not teaching Martin is friendly and quiet. If asked, however, he is always willing to help other with their technique, explain drills or offer advice. But make no mistake about it: even though his frame has filled out and he is older now, Martin still has an iron will hardened by decades of experience. His afro, beard and mustache have now given way to a clean shaven bald head, but his eyes and thick body still exude spirit and power.

If it weren’t for a stroke of luck, however, Seido wouldn’t have Martin today. A couple of years ago heading home from class his car was broadsided by a driver trying to speed away from police pursuit. His car was totaled, and Martin missed death or serious injury by only inches.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Martin says. “I only saw a flash of white.” He was lucky. He only suffered wrist and neck injuries, which although nagging, are now largely healed. Despite injuries, however, Martin was soon back in the dojo, although moving a bit slower.

“The accident didn’t really hit me until a couple of days later when I saw my grand kids. Suddenly I realized how close I had come to never seeing them again, to losing my family and my life. I think it gave me a greater appreciation for what I had. It is just as Kaicho Nakamura often reminds us: ‘that every day should be enjoyed and appreciated. You are in good health and everything seems fine, but you never know. Bang, there is an accident, someone gets sick or is injured. So appreciate this day, appreciate those you are working out with, appreciate your friends and family as if you might never see them again. You just never know.’”

I think this event also had an effect on his karate. He arrives at the dojo, sometimes hours before class and can be seen practicing alone, going over his own kata, weapons and iaido which is included as part of Seido’s senior student curriculum. Although the nature of his training had changed, for him training never ends.

How does Martin sum up his philosophy, his essence of “do”? “The good times cause good memories,” he says, “while the bad ones become good lessons.”

YOUNG LIONS: NEXT GENERATION OF SENSEIS

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photos by Pamela Feodoroff Wilbur and Red Rocket Photography

Bob Buchanan holds the rank of sandan in the Phoenix Karatedo Association, Kyokushinkai International and is the Head Instructor of the Association’s Gaithersburg Dojo, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland where he teaches traditional Kyokushin karate.

In the summer of 2009, Bob began an introductory karate camp for young children, which built interest in the area and a demand for continued instruction year round. The following April, the first students of what would become Phoenix Gaithersburg met in the basement of a friend’s home. Within one year, the group outgrew that basement training room and we moved to our current home. Since the very humble beginnings, to the humble present, Bob’s dojo has grown from those original 7 students to 100!

What was your motivation in opening your dojo?
My motivation was simple: I wanted others to experience the same kind growth and self-improvement that I had been walking through during the last decade. Training with the Phoenix Karatedo Association, Kyokushinkai International helped me to improve my overall health and well being from the first training session. My teachers looked at the very out of shape man that walked into the dojo and saw the potential and they’ve helped me ever since. When the opportunity came for me to help others in that same way, I had to take advantage.

When did you begin your training in the martial arts?
I began training in October 2005, one week after hearing about a local Kyokushin dojo from a good friend. At the time, I was more than one hundred pounds overweight and only getting worse. Very early on, I learned that a smaller, lighter, faster, and healthier version of myself would be much better off in our style! The training over the years have made me stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually.

What did you do prior to opening your dojo?
I have been a schoolteacher, working with all age levels and abilities, since 2001. Since I began, I’ve had the privilege to work in some top-notch schools including the Ivymount School and Covenant Life School; both located in the suburbs of Washington, DC. My professional experience has helped me so much as a sensei and I’m constantly relating karate training into the classroom and vice versa.

What was your goal in opening your dojo and what direction do you want it to take?
My goal in opening the Phoenix Gaithersburg Dojo was to provide an environment where people could come, train, and find the greatest version of themselves through training in Kyokushin karate. I believe that the proverbial fires of hard training will burn away blemishes in our character and that the greatest (strongest, most kind, most outward focused) version of ourselves will be left to shine.

From the very beginning, I knew that people in my area were craving our style of training, but I have never set out to have a certain number of students or to have a huge training space. My personal experience, seeing interested people come and go, I know that our training isn’t for everyone…in fact our training is really attractive to a relatively small, special group. So while I am always looking for ways to introduce to the dojo, I completely understand if one’s path to self-improvement looks different than mine; as long as they pick a path and walk it.

As we look to the future, as our numbers slowly grow, I want to remain committed to the way in which I have been brought up. Our space may change and new faces may come and go, but my commitment and the direction of Phoenix Gaithersburg will always be to provide traditional Kyokushin training combined with cutting edge exercise science to produce the greatest version of your friends, family members, and neighbors.

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Nobutatsu Suzuki excited by the prospect of testing his Kyokushin Karate against Brock Larson’s BJJ

Nobutatsu Suzuki celebrating his 10th stoppage win in MMA over Phil Baroni.

Nobutatsu Suzuki decided to take up Kyokushin Karate as a 15-year-old after losing a street fight. He went on to become heavyweight champion at a high school tournament in Tochigi Prefecture, heavyweight champion at a Kyokushin tournament in West Castle and heavyweight champion at MAC Karate Challenge Championship as well as winning numerous other competitions before taking up MMA at the age of 27.

Since making his professional debut in 2005 Suzuki has put together an impressive 10-1-2 record culminating in a first round TKO victory over seasoned veteran Phil Baroni at ONE FC: ‘Rise to Power’ last May.

The 36-year-old Tokyo native is renowned for his striking prowess and his ten wins have all come by way of stoppage due to strikes.  Four of those opponents have been finished with knees and the other six put away with punches and Suzuki puts this power entirely down to his Karate training.

He was so impressive on his ONE FC debut that matchmaker Matt Hume decided to award Suzuki with an immediate title shot against top welterweight contender Adam Kayoom. That matchup was initially set to headline ONE FC: ‘Warrior Spirit’ last November but unfortunately the Malaysian suffered a serious injury in training.

A late replacement was found in the shape of undefeated Portugese welterweight Victor Pinto but he failed a medical and the non title bout was scrapped leaving Suzuki without an opponent. It was a frustrating experience for a fighter who is forced to schedule his training around full time work.

As well as being one of the best 170 lbs mixed martial artists in Asia he is also employed a by a law firm and Suzuki spends his days working in an office.  It’s an unusual, if not unique, combination of careers but being unable to train full time hasn’t hindered his ability to establish himself as one of the most feared strikers in the region.

With Kayoom still out injured the man now standing between Suzuki and the ONE FC World Welterweight Title is American Brock Larson. He holds a 37-7 record and is a UFC veteran and former WEC title contender.

The two welterweights will clash at ONE FC: ‘War of Nations’ in Kuala Lumpur on March 14th. The title is on the line and Suzuki is excited about the prospect of becoming an MMA champion for the first time.

“I have won many titles in Karate but never MMA. I signed with ONE FC because I wanted to test my skills against the best fighters in the world and winning the title is the best way to prove you are the best,” he said.

Larson holds a black belt in BJJ whereas Suzuki is a Karate black belt and the Japanese fighter is anticipating a highly competitive clash of styles.

“I started MMA because I wanted to see if Karate would work in this sport. I know Brock Larson is very good on the ground and dangerous with submissions but I am always very confident I can win every fight and this fight is no different.”

Suzuki’s striking has been too good for ten separate opponents so far in his MMA career but he has never faced anyone with Larson’s grappling pedigree. March 14th will be the ultimate test of his Karate based skill set and with the ONE FC Welterweight World Championship title on the line the stakes could not be higher.

LYOTO MACHIDA: OLD SCHOOL KARATE By Jack Slack ,

Lyoto Machida: Old-School Karate

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

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I’ve written plenty about Lyoto Machida‘s karate over the past two years, but I thought we would try something different.

I usually speak at length about Machida’s striking style, which is very much influenced by tournament karate and indeed Japanese karate. Shotokan is, after all, considered a Japanese style of karate rather than an Okinawan one.

Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press/Associated Press

In karate tournaments, oven gloves must be worn on all striking surfaces.

The differences are many, but among the most obvious are that Japanese styles (Wado-Ryu,Shotokan, Kyokushin and its variants) tend to focus more onrepping out basic techniques and practising kata (forms) into infinity.

They use longer stances and tend to be more about pure striking than self-defence. This is for the simple reason that when Gichin Funakoshi (the founder ofShotokan) went to mainland Japan from Okinawa, he found himself teaching high-ranking judoka at the request of Jigoro Kano (the founder of judo).

Not wanting to teach simple throws and grapples to guys who had spent years turning that into an art form and having to teach in the regimented environment that the Japanese love, Funakoshi’s karate became less Okinawan and more like it is today. Looking at Shotokannext to more traditional Okinawan styles such as Goju-ryu and Uechi-Ryu, they are starkly contrasted.

The truth of it is that real karate, as in the original applications (orbunkai) of the forms, is not going to win you many tournaments. Karate developed from the citizens of a disarmed Japanese colony’s need to defend themselves from attackers in self-defence scenarios, not the need to fight off samurai or other trained martial artists.

Old-school karate, the kind found in decent applications of kata, is pretty much all about grabbing at the crotch, headbutting and breaking free of grabs or defending basic street-attacker-style swings.

That said, Machida himself has shown some slick little techniques that hark right back to the old days of rough and tumble karate.

I am a firm believer that many (though not all) old, traditional techniques that look ridiculous can be reconfigured and given an appropriate setup to make them effective. Hell, Anthony Pettis’ Showtime kick should have made us all a little more open-minded—that was straight out of a kung fu movie.

Today we’ll look at one ugly, simple, wooden old-school karate technique that Machida has demonstrated successfully in the Octagon.

The Wedge Throw 

This technique is sometimes referred to as sukui-nage, which means scooping throw, but there are already two throws in judo which are known as sukui-nage…so let’s not confuse things further. For now I’m just going to call it the wedge throw.

Before we go on, I know some of you are curious so here are the twosukui nage from judo.

The first is the traditional version.

The second is the one that proved more practical.

Now onto the throw that I’m talking about. It’s different from those two, but more akin to the first.

The idea of stepping behind the opponent’s lead leg so that the inner thigh is high on his outside thigh, then dumping him over that leg, is an incredibly old-school move. Pretty much any time you see a downward block (gedan-barai/gedan uke) in a karate kata, it can be applied as scooping the opponent over that lead leg. Indeed this is much of what Gichin Funakoshi taught himself.

Here it is demonstrated in the eccentric Shigeru Egami’s book, The Heart of Karate Do, as an application of a basic downward block. Egamiwas one of Funakoshi’s original students, but became gradually more eccentric after Funakoshi’s passing.

The Heart of Karate-do, Shigeru Egami

Now of course, in a fist fight in the pub or a dark alley, the opportunities to dump someone over your lead leg are going to be more forthcoming than against a professional fighter in his well-practised stance. Heck, plenty of altercations at a bar see one or both men trip over themselves while throwing punches anyway.

So here is how the Japan Karate Association thought this technique could be best applied against an opponent in a stance during akumite match.

Yep, that is the legendary Keinosuke Enoeda, and no there isn’t much tact to it. You dive in deep, and they fall over or they don’t. Most of the time they didn’t. Watching back any old kumite match, it’s the usual skittish trading of reverse punches and running. Not much of this being applied at all.

Here’s Seiji Nishimura, a living karate manual and coach of the Japanese team, demonstrating a much more sensible application of the same technique, in counter to an opponent’s attack. And not some BS stepping punch either—the kind of jab you might see in competition or in any combat sport. Even then, however, you would be hard-pressed to find examples of it in high-level karate competition.

Even Mas Oyama, known for founding a style of karate that was all about striking and not so much about old-school self-defence techniques, became enamoured with techniques like this in his later life. In Advanced Karate (an incredibly hard book to find in English and one which I am very luck to own), Oyama demonstrates dozens of variations of this simple step behind and bail them over-type throw.

Advanced Karate, Mas Oyama

Here’s one over the arm, as in traditional applications.

Advanced Karate, Mas Oyama

And here’s one under the arm, as has proven to be more applicable against decent strikers. Notice Oyama takes the leg as well in this variation. Advanced Karate contains hundreds of pages of this sort of stuff, the stuff which Oyama really isn’t associated with.

Now here’s Lyoto Machida, showing a beautiful application of it. His opponent kicks, Machida parries it across the body (always the smartest option in any martial art) and steps in behind it, already in position to dump his opponent over the lead leg. I’m getting excited just watching it.

Still, that’s a karateka at a local competition. They don’t have great throws. What about against Kazuhiro Nakamura? That guy was a student of Olympic gold-medal-winning judoka, Hidehiko Yoshida.

So what made the difference? How did this old-school technique designed to unbalance attackers in self-defence situations become an effective takedown in MMA? The clue is in the name I gave it at the start of the article: the wedge.

The problem with old martial arts techniques is the same as any technique: How are you going to get into position to do it?

Nobody is going to attack you with a stepping punch and allow you to use an upper rising block to smack it upward, then let you start your technique as Oyama did above. But change that stepping punch to the more popular jab or right straight, and the block to a driving arm or elbow used to parry the blow and enter in behind, and you’re on to something.

Throughout the fight Nakamura kept throwing his powerful right hand and looking to step into the clinch. By both committing to a swing and bringing his feet close together in order to enter a clinch, Nakamura gave Machida the perfect opportunity to drive in behind his elbow and hit the wedge throw.

Now this trip is, in traditional karate, considered an application of downward blocks, but also just about any time a chest level “hammer-fist” is thrown out in a karate kata, it’s safe to assume that there is more going on there.

Gojushiho/Useishi/Hotaku is a kata that appears in many styles of karate and features a similar throw as well as headbutts and all sorts of other slick nastiness. If you’re a karateka and all you’re doing isrepping out the moves in the air, go have a think about some of the cooler stuff you can do with the motions you’re practising instead of just assaulting your own personal space.

Now is the lesson here that traditional karateka are awesome fighters and can easily throw judoka? God, no.

Karate, like all traditional martial arts, has a lot of catching up to do. The lesson is simply that it is always worth looking into the techniques of various traditional martial arts. Funakoshi himself said, “Look to the old to understand the new.”

For a long time simple high kicks were thought too risky to attempt in MMA. Wrist locks were scoffed at in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as aikidononsense for a while, then as cheesy one-off tactics for a while.

Now Claudio Calasans is snapping the wrist joints of people who fail to respect the threat. Marcelo Garcia even sets up the previously unappreciated north-south choke off of the threat of a wrist lock. And how many of us would have thought that the big problem against Jon Jones, an excellent wrestler, would be getting past the Bruce Lee side kick to the knee?

Old techniques will keep coming back in new formats, because there’s nothing new under the sun. The trick is getting them to work against what is the combat sports norm.