Kama Connections with Sensei Darrin Johnson

“A lethal weapon of self-defense, Ryukyuan kobudo evolved through the application of combative principles to a myriad of domestic objects that were readily available for use as weapons.” – Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts 

Kama Seminar: April 31st – May 1st

At Sensei Darrin Johnson’s seminar, hosted by Renshi Mike Coombes at Hatsuun Jindo Martial Arts, students from around the Greater Toronto Area were introduced to one of the Sensei Darrinclassical Okinawan weapons, kama.

Sensei Darrin is a long time practitioner of Yamane Ryu and Koryu Uchinadi. In his seminar, he guided us through the kama kata Koryu No Nicho Gama.

Kama Kata: Koryu No Nicho Gama

Movements:

Koryu No Nicho Gama has a unique embusen, like that of an asterisk. Because of this, it also has intricate foot work, literally keeping you on your toes. It utilizes all possible sides of the weapon, which demands one be very familiar with all the ways to handle this tool. Also, this particular kata is far more physical than one might expect from a Kobudo form, including jumps and quick movements from kneeling to standing.

Applications:

No Koryu Uchinadi-based seminar would be complete without applications. Sensei Darrin left his audience in awe with his innovative applications using the kama, which included joint locks, chokes, tegumi and even throws.

Concepts:

1. Hooking

The kama shouldn’t just be looked at as a weapon meant for cutting, but rather like a sharp extension of the hand, that can be used to assist in any type of hooking motion, such as an arm drag.

Kama Applications

2. Striking

The blunt edge of the kama and the butt of the handle can both be used for striking vital areas.

Josh working through Koryu No Nichi Gama

 

3. Tools

Modern Western tools can be used in the same fashion as the kama, like a hammer or small axe.

Sensei Darrin is a big proponent of the idea of “Human Ryu,” the universal style. Because all human beings have two arms, two legs, a head and torso, we’ll all move in similar ways and produce power in the same way whether we are empty-handed or armed.

Throughout the seminar, this was the number one theme. Sensei Darrin emphasized this point by comparing karate and weaponry to other sports. He explained that the body mechanics a shot-putter would use to build centrifugal force is the same as when rotating to strike in the kata.

Sensei Darrin above all else is an excellent communicator and draws on historical context to assist in the teaching process. Studying weaponry, such as the kama, helps us to build a better understanding of where our art comes from and the context in which it was developed, while also helping to have a greater understanding of body mechanics.

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The Martial Arts Muse Tatami Promo

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.