Lady Puts on a Necklace

North American Gasshuku, Georgetown, 2015

2015 Gasshuku Go KU

During the 2015 Gasshuku with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, hosted by Sensei Tony Rampulla, our main focus was Riai Kumite, exploring combinations from the Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu syllabus and Niseishi Kata. We were also taught by guest instructors Sensei Scott Hogarth, Sensei Monty Guest, Sensei Cezar Borkowski and Sensei Ron Beer.

This year’s Gasshuku was by far the most unique with the vast scope of knowledge, experience and ideas on the martial arts taught by these highly regarded instructors. The topics ranged from Silat-based knife work, the simplicity of high block, the importance of distance and how to use personal anecdotes to teach your lesson.

With every Gasshuku, there is also a grading. Of those in attendance, many were promoted, including myself to Nidan.

When we first wear a black belt, like putting on a pearl necklace, we question whether we are worthy of wearing something of such great value.

Since receiving my promotion, I’ve been absorbed with the question of “what does it really mean to be a black belt?”

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Does someone deserve a black belt out of loyalty? Should you be promoted just for skill? Is your belt equal to your attitude? Are you ranked on your ability to memorize all the drills?

I think we all have our own ideas. Promotions are based on a number of variables and the values of a specific club or style.

For me, the value of a black belt doesn’t lie in what we have done to receive it, but what we will do to represent our style, teacher and most importantly ourselves as entities that promote as Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura says “virtue before vice, values before vanity and principles before personalities.”

If you have been in the martial arts long enough, you will see many who receive their black belt, then just quit.

There are some people who receive their black belt and feel like they are the new badass in town. Their egos inflate to the size of an elephant.

There are those who hold their knowledge close. With no interest in teaching, they flaunt their abilities in the faces of those around them. Perhaps they even surpass the skill of their teacher.

For these people, no one will ever follow them. They will have no legacy.

Since the beginning of my martial arts training, I’ve always had a stern and determined mindset.

Gasshuku 2015 Tegume

I don’t compete with others. I do the best that I can.

With this attitude I set very strict goals and take ownership of my learning process.

This is where I think many fail.

Up until your Shodan, you are told exactly what to learn, how to learn it and if you’re lucky, maybe you even learn how to teach it. Your teacher will have always been there to assist you. However, after that, it feels little like you are in Karate Limbo, waiting for someone to tell you what to do.

I believe a black belt should have enough agency to walk the path of Karate autonomously. By this I mean you should set a schedule for your own learning process. Learn the things you feel you need to work on. Search out teachers who can help you achieve this, as opposed to simply waiting for your Sensei to tell you what’s next.

 

In preparation for the 2015 Gasshuku, I put it upon myself to learn as many of the supplementary drills in Koryu Uchinadi as I could manage, which include, but are no limited to:

Learning all the drills wasn’t something I was told to do. It is something I expected of myself.

At the same time, through learning all the ways you can manipulate the body, it makes it exponentially easier to learn, practice and retain the combinations taught during the Gasshuku.

For example, Sensei McCarthy presented Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu combinations taught by Carlos “the Ronin” Newton from last year’s Gasshuku, as well as his own variations and AKJJ drills.

For example:

When you already know all the techniques in the syllabus and understand the mechanics that make it work, you don’t have to spend time during the seminar “learning” the techniques, which make up new combinations or drills. You can just practice the drill and begin to build up to aggressive resistance.

Andrew's Arm Bar

I feel that one should not just wear a black belt, but a person should represent it. What gives the belt value isn’t the belt itself, but the person who wears it and the principles and virtues they express in their every action.

Learning the Koryu Uchinadi syllabus was a challenge that I saw value in. It is what made me feel worthy to continue to wear a black belt.

For you, the challenge might be quite different.

What determines the worth of the belt you wear is YOU!

Lady Looks In a Mirror-Part 2

For those who may not know, “lady looks in a mirror” is an English translation of a Chinese martial arts term.

 It was common in Chinese martial arts to give techniques unique or “secret” names to differentiate those who were “insiders” of a martial arts system and those who were “outsiders.”

Chinese martial arts manuals would often have songs or chants, which were codified patterns. This practice in turn would aid in the memorization of forms.

I will use these classical Chinese terms as an introductory frame to explain my experience training with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy during his North American Tour.

Hanshi Patrick McCarthy Calgary 2015

As said in my previous post, Lady Looks In a Mirror-Part 1, Riai Kumite translates into the harmonizing laws of grappling hands. Riai Kumite is a continuous flow of attacks and defenses between two people, which includes all the elements of fighting: groundwork, throws, percussive impact, etc.

This practice builds students practice from passive resistance to full on functional spontaneity, imitating real fighting in a safe and controlled format.

2015 Calgray Semina Tegume Line Drill

Although many pursue the martial arts for the ultimate goal of better health and self-defense, many practitioners lose sight of the intention behind techniques, destroying the gains that could be attained in practices like Riai Kumite.

Upon reflecting on the practice of this drill and how we engage with it with our partners, I see areas that sometimes inhibit Riai Kumite.

Intent

When I switch from one partner to the next, it is clear who understands intent—the intention of the technique, their intention towards me and the intention of the exercise—and who does not.

Technique

The first thing that gets lost for many people, especially beginner students, is the intention behind the technique. When I talk about this I am referring to the application formula: tool, location, direction, angle and intensity.

When people forget the intention of the technique (to emulate physical violence), they forget to:

  • Use the correct part of the body to attack
  • Aim!
  • Strike/Block from the correct direction
  • Strike/Block on the correct angle
  • Use the best amount of force for their situation

One simple example of this is punching in a straight line to the chin.

Inspiration Strikes

Now, you would think that the intent of this would be simple to understand. The intent is to punch in a straight line to the face.

Yet, in many instances, when hearing these instructions many people will throw bad hook punches and hammer fists while at the same time striking towards the chest, shoulder or even nothing at all!

Sometimes, this is a result of inexperience.

Or, it is the result of going too quickly, usually because people think it looks more impressive. At best, it hides poor execution.

When people fail to grasp the intention of a technique, the execution of the technique will be incorrect and the defence, as a consequence, will also be incorrect.

Thus, the learning process deteriorates and what would be Riai Kumite turns into nothing more than rough patty-cake.

And nobody likes rough patty-cake!

WINNING!

Usually someone’s attitude towards training in general will dictate how they treat you as a their partner.

There are those who feel the need to “win” when working with a partner—either through believing they’re superior in the amount of things they actually know or just through their physicality.

Winning

Alternatively, this inclination is the result of anxiety that our partner will harm us because of their size or rank. From this, we unknowingly up the tempo out of shear fear.

I should add that both these attitudes can be an unconscious act.

When people feel this way the response of many is to go harder and faster. The point of the exercise is not to go hard or fast, but to flow and realize where openings lie.

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If we go too hard, the movements become rigid. If we go to fast, we can overlook blatant opportunities.

When there is a greater focus on how am I doing in comparison to another, whether we deem ourselves superior or inferior to our partner, there will always be an inclination to go harder and faster than is necessary—in the end, destroying one’s ability to learn effectively through Riai Kumite.

In other words, the goal of the exercise is not to “win.” That would imply that the exercise should have some type of definitive end. Rather, Riai Kumite can be infinite with the type of combinations of defences that can be accomplished.

The Exercise

Riai Kumite, as I have experienced it, demands a certain type of continuity or flow. As mentioned before, Riai is the concept of harmony. When this flow ends, you are no longer practicing Riai Kumite.

Many people may know many techniques, but perform them mechanically, restricting the transfer of energy between partners that should be performed in this exercise. When the movements become rigid, we lose the opportunity to perform techniques that demand continuity in order to be executed properly, for example any type of throw.

I’ve also watched people who know only three movements, but can gracefully flow between them.

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I believe Riai Kumite as an exercise is dependent on being mindful of the correct intentions and not on how many techniques you know.

One must be mindful of

1) All the elements to execute the technique properly

2) The ego and how it affects the practice

3) The goal of the exercise

When we are mindful of these three things, one can achieve the harmony of grappling hands.

Ultimately, through changing partners and practicing Riai Kumite, I’ve learned that how we treat others and engage with the material we wish to practice is a reflection of our own ego and how honest we are with ourselves about our abilities.

My question for you is, what do you see when you look in the mirror?

That concludes what this lady reflects.

Lady Looks In a Mirror-Part 1

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –Lao Tzu

In the fall of 2015, I decided to follow the steps of my Sensei, Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Head Instructor of Koryu Uchinadi and Director of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, on his North American Tour to Calgary, Toronto and Virginia.

Hanshi Patrick McCarthy Calgary 2015

As one pursues the Way, it is important to pause and, like a lady does in a mirror, reflect. In order to gain further understanding of the path of the martial arts, I reflect not on what we practice, but how we engage with it and with whom.

Lady Looks In a Mirror

Calgary, September 18th-21st, 2015

In Calgary, Sensei McCarthy introduced the concept of Riai Kumite.

Riai Kumite 理合組手

Ri理 are the universal laws of nature and their application.

Ai合 is the principle of harmony.

Kumite組手 is grappling hands or commonly translated as sparring.

When we combine these terms together they paradoxically mean the harmonizing laws of grappling hands. The purpose of this practice is to build a continuous flow of attacks and defenses between two people, which includes all the elements of fighting, including throws and groundwork.

2015 Calgary Seminar Sensei and Gary

With practice, students can move from passive resistance to full-on resistance. In the end, this methodology builds functional spontaneity in unscripted defensive scenarios.

Sensei McCarthy started the seminar by having the group practice two or three combinations out of the Koryu Uchinadi tegumi drills, which includes checking, trapping, blocking, joint-locking, twisting bones, cavity seizing and impacting pressure points.

The lesson started with the give and take of hook punches, hammer fists, and push-hands before new elements were added, like clinching, elbows, knees and much more.

By the end, our practice of Riai Kumite looked like full on street fighting, except safe and with control.

Koryu Uchinadi Calgary Seminar Wall Drill

Why Change Partners?

In Calgary, Sensei McCarthy had us constantly change partners through a line drill. With each new person you experience changing conditions, thus pushing you outside your comfort zone.

2015 Calgary Seminar Cody Grappling

Another benefit of changing partners is you learn to apply techniques against varying body types, which brings to light the principles that make such techniques effective.

The most common principles being:

  • The 5 ancient machines
    • Pulley
    • Wheel and Axel
    • Wedge/Inclined Plane
    • Screw (which is a variation on a wedge)
    • Lever
      • Class 1 (Load, Fulcrum, Effort)
      • Class 2 (Effort, Load, Fulcrum)
      • Class 3 (Load, Effort, Fulcrum)
  • 36 Habitual Acts of Physical Violence that, in Sensei McCarthy’s words, “represents the contextual premise, which Koryu Uchinadi is based on.”
  • Tool, Location, Intensity, Angle, Direction = The Application Formula

I have found that these concepts are overlooked in many martial arts. Often instructors haphazardly teach as they were taught without critically looking at the laws of physics that make them effective.

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By looking at martial arts as a set of principles, it allows you to transcend individual techniques and see the practice as a whole.

Yet, these are not the only things that become clearer.

The martial arts are more than the technical and mechanical elements that make it work. I feel that the understanding of these principles and how they work are dependent on understanding why we do them.

The combination of Riai Kumite and actively changing partners also brings to light the importance of intent and how it makes the difference between learning and just doing the drill for the sake of the drill.

Like looking into a hall of mirrors, the journey can seem infinite.

Stay tuned for the next step of the path with my look at the relationship between Riai Kumite, Partners and Intent.