Sunday, October 27, 2013

Women's Self-Defense Clinics

We attended a self-defense clinic at the Chandler Public Library.  Few people (including martial artists) would have ever thought that so many things could be used for self-defense - magazines, books, credit cards, PCs, cell phones, car keys, spare change, pens, belts, staplers, chairs, cups, tote bags, purses, brief cases and even reading glasses. The instructor kept pointing out that we are surrounded by weapons in libraries, homes, restaurants, schools, etc. We just need to learn to use them. Any object of just about any size and mass can be quickly made into a martial arts weapon. 

(C) by Soke Hausel
The clinic focused on weapons because the instructor noted that few people taking such clinics will show the initiative or interest to sign up for a martial arts class, so by learning to use weapons, the librarians will have a better chance of survival from an attack on the street or in the library. In karate, one learns mushin, the art of muscle memory. This is one of the methods that gives martial artists such a great advantage over those who do not train. It is a form of repetition and training reflexes. So for those librarians not interested in learning karate, they can achieve a lower state of mushin by learning how to use the tools around them for self-defense, and then keep reminding themselves every time when they walk into the library, that they are surrounded by weapons. They should try to visualize how they used that magazine and car keys in the self-defense clinic. So if they are every attacked, their mind will not go blank with panic, but it will search for a nearby weapon of self-defense. The clinic also focused on teaching the librarians how to use their God-given weapons such as their elbows, knees, fingers and palms - things that require little skill to learn.

Color pencil sketch by Soke Hausel (C)
It is the same for women's self-defense clinics. These clinics are taught all over the Phoenix valley at martial arts schools, police stations, fitness clubs, universities and community colleges, but the only good any of these are to the students is that they may attract one or two women to sign up for karate classes. According to Grandmaster Hausel, who taught martial arts classes and clinics in karate, kobudo, iaido, jujutsu, samurai arts, self-defense, women's self-defense, martial arts history, etc for 3 decades at the University of Wyoming and has 5 decades of martial arts experience, a person cannot expect to achieve the self-defense abilities and awareness in a single self-defense clinic that a person who has been training for 5 or more years has. It takes considerable time to learn to react and block, develop focus, timing and power. But in todays society, many people want a quick fix, but it is just not out there - at least not until science comes up with a self-defense pill. So for now, if a person wants to learn self-defense - either sign up for karate, or learn how to use a gun. There are several indoor gun ranges around the valley that have a Free Ladies Day and will assist women in gun training.

Grandmaster Hausel demonstrates how to use
a library book for self-defense at the Chandler
Public Library
Both men and women who sign up for karate classes should look for schools that focus on adults, not kids. Adults will have a better time and also learn to defend against adults instead of 6-year old kids. Shy women should find a friend and join a class together - the classes will help them become more positive over time - its one of the side benefits of karate classes.

The purpose of the clinics is to provide attendees with a general introduction to self-defense and modern kobudo. One clinic attendee, an engineer from Boeing named Amanda exclaimed, "Wow, I'll never be able to look at another magazine or towel without thinking I'm holding a self-defense weapon - who would have guessed?"

Few self-defense clinic attendees will continue in martial arts education, so martial arts instructors have to be creative with clinics. So goes for a Master of Karate, Dr. Neal, who is also a professor at Grand Canyon University. He showed other martial artists how one can use protractors, rulers, pens, pants, glasses, suspenders, straw hats, corn-cob pipes, and even corn cobs as weapons. Other off-the-wall weapons include picture frames, flashlights, batteries, memory sticks, markers, and Duck Commander style duck calls.

Self-defense clinic attendees at the Unversity of Wyoming.
The World Health Organization reported recently that 420,000 murders occurred in the US. Sounds like a lot, but we have a very large population (>311 million). The report goes on to state 109 countries which have 100% gun bans (most with considerably smaller populations than the US), had a high of 9.16 million murders to a low of 420,000 murders during the same time frame. Imagine that, 109 gunless counties with murder rates higher than the US!

One country was a distinct anomaly – Switzerland. During this same period, Switzerland reported ‘zero’ murders. What makes Switzerland different is most adults in Switzerland are required by law to own a gun and required train and qualify as marksmen. So, would tighter gun control laws or banning guns altogether in the US lower the murder rate? Based on historical data, our murder rate would skyrocket. Sorry about the detour, the US Constitution is fine and guarantees Americans to have access to guns for self-defense. After all, this does not seem to be the problem.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Arizona Martial Arts Instructors

"No such thing as bad student. Only bad teacher." -Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)

Just like any profession (except politics - where honesty seems to elude all), there are good instructors and there are bad; there are honest instructors and there are con-men. so before you sign up for classes at a local martial arts school, learn about the martial art and about the instructor.

Schedule a meeting with the owner of a martial arts school and meet the instructor or instructors and find out what qualifications (if any) they have. What is the instructor like - are you going to be able to get along with this person? How well does he or she teach? Ask to watch a class or two to see what goes on in the class and then ask to talk to some students to get their perception.

Master Gichin Funakoshi, Shorin-Ryu Instructor from
Okinawa, considered the father or Modern Karate (sketch
by Soke Hausel)
Ask about the instructor's lineage. This may be the most revealing information you will find. If you get a response like 'Lineage?" you might think about checking elsewhere. Ask the individual where he or she taught in the past and how long they have been training in martial arts and how long they have been teaching. If you are going to be taught by a child, remember this is going to be very awkward. We had one of our Japanese-American karate instructors who told us about her horror story learning taekwondo many years ago in Arizona. She was the only adult in the class and at the end of each class, the school would vocalize the schools philosophy. She would stand in a line with about 2 dozen 3 to 10 year olds and say together - "I will obey my mommy and daddy".

Ask about the martial arts style? Where did it originate? Ask about tournament requirements if any? Are there extra fees for training with weapons? Take notes to be sure that the information matches what you find on the Internet. And something that should be considered for most women is the type of martial art. I do not recommend judo, jujutsu or aikido for most women, as this requires using a lot of upper body strength. Look for karate, taekwondo, kung fu, tai chi and similar classes. But remember, tai chi is very good for your health, but of little value for self-defense., 

Tournaments are new to the martial arts - this is something that began in the mid 20th century. Many traditional martial arts instructors feel tournaments breed the wrong attitude and lessen a person's ability to defend. But at the same time, supporters of tournaments feel these provide good competition among students and also helps students to build good reflexes, especially if they are full contact tournaments.

And weapons? Weapons have been part of the martial arts training regimen for centuries. Only recently have some martial artists divorced themselves from weapons, or have found a way to require more fees to learn the weapons. Many traditional Okinawan martial arts schools start teaching weapons the first week beginners sign up for classes.
Shaolin Temple Guardian. Sketch by Soke Hausel.
Look closely at instructor certificates posted on the walls of the dojo. This could be a very important hint as to the qualifications of an instructor. Do the certificates have Chinese, Japanese or Korea symbols?  Find out what martial arts associations the instructor is listed with and check the Internet for information about the associations as well as do a search for the instructor's name and school. Ask to see old photos of the instructor. Write down the names of the individuals who signed the diploma and search them on the Internet.

Today, there is a problem. More than 4 decades ago, everyone knew everyone else in the martial arts in the US, and there were only a few legitimate martial arts associations. Today, there are all kinds of MMA (Mixed martial arts), Kickboxing, Sport Karate that have little evidence of legitimacy, but if you are interested in learning these, check out some classes and see if that is what you want to learn. Since most are not martial arts and there is little to go on - just like boxing schools. Many will teach you how to fight, but most will not teach you how not to fight.

Now that sounds pretty strange. But think about it and look back to the Karate Kid:

Daniel San: So, karate's fighting. You train to fight.
Miyagi: That what you think?
Daniel: No.
Miyagi: Then why train?
Daniel: So I won't have to fight?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Self-Defense Classes and Clinics In Arizona

Self-defense classes and clinics can offer an attendee some insight. For example, not only do we have hands, feet, knees and elbows as weapons, we also have many tools that can be used for weapons. Pepper spray may be a good solution, but you have to have it with you at all times and be able to get to it at a moments notice. Think about it. If you have pepper spray on you, how long does it take to get it out of your pocket, from your purse, your glove compartment. Do you take it to the shower with you, swimming pool, church, etc.
Don't have a weapon handy? Yes I do - have a close look at
 my elbows!
Pepper spray is a good weapon but one must realize there are all kinds of weapons around us. Next time you go to a restaurant, etc. with a friend, play a game. Look around you and see what kind of weapons are available and see who can come up with the most potential weapons and how they can be used.

In a restaurant, you have a fork, spoon, knife, salt and pepper, purse, cell phone, coins, strap attached to a purse, car keys, belt, ring, etc. Now how would you use these and other things that might be present? Or what happens if you are a farmer or a nerd? We witnessed a couple of demonstrations where a martial arts instructor in Mesa used pens, belts, glasses, suspenders, and even corn cobs for self-defense weapons.

Just like the Okinawan martial artists of old who had to adapt using their
farming and fishing tools for self-defense weapons (kobudo), Dr. Neal Adam
(6th dan black belt) demonstrates how a Nebraskan farmer might
 defend himself in a pinch. Here he demonstrates the use of corn cobs, rope,
 corn cob pipe, straw hat and his suspenders as weapons of self-defense.
At a clinic taught at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate on the border of Mesa and Gilbert, a group of ladies recently learned to use purses, lipstick cases, magazines and car keys for self-defense. Other groups, such as girl scouts, learned to use contents of their back packs, while EMT, military, teacher and university faculty and staff members learned to use a variety of weapons including their elbows for self-defense.

"The limit of self-defense techniques and self-defense weapons is only limited by your imagination" according to Soke Hausel (Meijin wa jutsu) at the Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai Hombu in Mesa. "Because of so much rote needed to be an effective martial artist, an instructor must be creative in teaching the same techniques many different ways otherwise the Western student will quickly bore of martial arts".

Imagine you are a computer geek or nerd and you need to defend yourself. Dr. Neal
Adam from Phoenix demonstrates at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa
some of the common self-defense weapons geeks have with them including a pen, belt
shoes, glasses and even tablet and cell phones.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Arizona Martial Arts Schools

Looking for a martial arts school in Arizona? There are major differences in training from dojo to dojo (martial arts training center) and you will find (1) Traditional Martial Arts Schools (those with philosophy similar to the Karate Kid movie that include true and tried methods of teaching martial arts used for centuries on Okinawa and include history, philosophy, traditions, devastating self-defense, and self-improvement), (2) Sport Martial Arts Schools (competition martial arts created in the 20th century that often lacks in self-defense), and (3) Mixed martial arts schools which are not martial arts, but instead a form of controlled street fighting.

There are questions if sport martial arts and mixed martial arts are actually martial arts. If they do not include a 'Way", or philosophy for self-improvement as a person, they are likely not martial arts based on definition.

A traditional Japanese martial arts school is typically referred to as Dojo (道場 dōjō).  Dojo means "place of Tao" in Japanese. For those not familiar with Tao (, Dào), this is a concept of Taoism and Confucianism. The kanji (Chinese graphics) used to write dojo translate as "way" or "path" and more loosely as "doctrine" or "principle." These are very important concepts in traditional martial arts.

Tao is expressed through in-yo (yin-yang) where every action creates a counter-action that is natural and unavoidable. This is a natural concept of physics. The karate (tsuki) punch is accomplished by withdrawing the none striking hand at an equal and opposite velocity to maintain power and balance.
At one time, martial arts dojo were adjunct to temples because of their importance in the Japanese culture. Many Westerners confuse Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, Korean and sport street fighting facilities (MMA) as dojo, when the term dojo should be restricted to the traditional Japanese-Okinawan arts.

A traditional martial arts dojo, or karate school is special. It should be cared for by its practitioners as it is their facility, not one person's facility. It is important to conduct ritual cleaning of a dojo at the end of each training session called souji, which translates as "cleaning". Besides the obvious hygienic benefits of regular cleaning, it serves to reinforce the fact that a dojo is a sacred place supported and managed by the student body, not the school's faculty.
Another important characteristic of traditional dojo is dues are donated. In the US, dues at a traditional dojo are set at a minimum level even though the type and quality of instruction is often many orders higher than commercial sport schools. On Okinawa, it is traditional for members to support dojo by paying whatever they can for its operation. Try to imagine your life without your dojo.

When a dojo closes its doors, it is usually for good so think the next time you pay your fees. What can you afford about the minimal fee this month. Was the instruction good? 

Many traditional dojo built in the Orient, follow a prescribed layout. The structure will include entrances for students and for instructors. Students enter the lower-left of a dojo (in reference to the shomen) with instructors entering the upper right. Shomen typically have kamidana—a Shinto shrine. Upon entering, respect is paid to the dojo. When the head sensei (teacher) enters, all activities cease and the class is loudly called to attention by the senpai (class senior).
There are often displays throughout a traditional dojo, such as kanban (signs) that authorize the school to practice a particular style or strategy, and items such as taiko drums, armor (yoroi) and kobudo weapons. It is not uncommon to find the name of the dojo and dojo kun ("rules or philosophy") displayed prominently at the shomen. Weapons and other training gear will be found at the back wall - the sensei's weapons are often near the front.

A hombu dojo is the administrative headquarters for a particular martial arts style. Hombu are not necessarily large or ostentatious: most are small. Hombu is considered the head of a martial arts system and is the home of the Soke (Grandmaster). All members of a traditional ryu (style) support the hombu financially.
Hombu are considered very important: all training and certifications originate from a hombu and its soke. A hombu provides credibility for members. Most Soke of traditional martial arts styles are not businessmen and it is rare that any association receives excessive financial support. Rare exceptions included the late Mas Oyama and late Ed Parker, both of whom build international empires for their ryu. At various universities, we periodically brought in Okinawan instructors for special clinics and we were never asked by the instructor himself, for his fees. These were all arranged by their senpai, as it is considered an insult in the Okinawan culture for an instructor to have to ask for fees and dues.
Martial arts in the eastern culture are intimately concerned with matters of the spirit. Thus, while a dojo may resemble a gym, its historical inspiration is that of a temple or shrine. A dojo should be treated as a shrine. All of its practitioners should be missionaries or emissaries of a dojo.
A dojo teaches self-confidence, self-esteem, self-improvement, concern for others and provides benefits of health not available in any other kind of training – so why would we not want this for our friends and family? As a student of a traditional dojo, you should consider ways to attract people you care for to your dojo – a blog on the Internet about your experiences works wonders, a personal business card designed with pride can provide valuable information about you and your dojo: students are the success and voice of any dojo. After a dojo is well-established and the dojo population declines, there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. The student body should remain stable or grow.

In the past, traditional dojo architecture and associated reishiki (etiquette) had three functions: first, the placement of the sensei at the front, seniors on the right, and juniors on the left, this afforded the teacher maximum protection from an intruder. Second, the arrangement shielded the teacher's instruction from those who might peer through the entrance. Third, the arrangement reflected certain Buddhist rituals. The next time you enter a traditional dojo, look for the subtleties. They are all around you.

You can practice weight training, aerobics, sport karate, MMA in a gym, but not in a traditional dojo. Traditional dojo are reserved only for traditional martial arts - not sport. Traditional dojo are actually quite rare in Arizona. As you search for a martial arts school, keep many of these ideas in mind. Also check out the training uniforms (gi). Are they bland, or are they brightly colored? If they are brightly colored and there is music playing in the background, you are likely in a sport school.

There's nothing wrong with being in a sport school or a traditional school. It is your decision as to what is best for you.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tameshiwara - Testing A Martial Artist's Ability to Break Boards, Bricks, etc.

Arizona Tameshiwara - the Art of Breaking
The Phoenix sun rises high in the Arizona sky, daylight dominates the early Spring and Fall evening - it may be time for tameshiwara: the art of breaking

When I started training in karate in the early 1960s, most people in the US were uneducated in martial arts (most still are), and many had the wrong impression that breaking boards was the primary function of karate and jujutsu when this is actually a very minor aspect of martial arts. I think it was Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon who said, "boards don't strike back". Although not totally true, as most physicists would suggest boards do exert a force on the striking hand. Even so, breaking is a very minor part of karate.

I was told by my mother when I was very young that a person needed to develop callus on the side of their hand to develop a 'judo chop' by daily striking sand and gravel. She apparently had no training in martial arts

Shihan-Dai Kyle Gewecke, head instructor of the Gillette Wyoming Seiyo
Shorin-Ryu dojo, prepares to break rock at the University of Wyoming in
Laramie using a classical 'Judo chop' or 'Karate chop' known as "shuto
uchi" in Japanese.
It wasn't until Bruce Lee in the Green Hornet TV series in 1966 to 1967 that people began to take note of martial arts in the US, even though Mas Oyama had already toured the US taking on any and all fighters to demonstrate the effectiveness of karate 14 years earlier in 1952. I can still remember hurrying home after kyokusin kai karate classes at the Black Eagle Federation dojo next to my junior high school in Sugarhouse (SLC) to watch Kato do his incredible gung fu. At the time, I was studying Oyama's karate and knew of his encounters with bulls.

Years later, I watched David Caridine, a dancer, as he introduced us to the philosophy of martial arts from 1972 to 1975 in the Kung Fu TV series while I was working on graduate degrees in geology at the University of Utah and later at the University of New Mexico. It didn't matter all of the martial arts had to be filmed in slow motion for Caridine; this series was about the 'do' of martial arts - the path, which separates traditional martial arts from lookalike fighting systems like MMA that are not martial 'arts'. I fell in love with karate and martial arts as a young kid. I wanted to be one of the best, so I tried to surround myself with the best in the world. First, Mas Oyama's karate (even though I never met Sosai Oyama), and years later by Dai-Soke Sacharnoski who I see as the best in the world today. I also trained with superstar - Tadashi Yamashita.

One of our greatest fears as men is taking one in
the nads. At a halftime martial arts demonstration
at the University of Wyoming, Sensei Donnette
Gillespie kicked me in the groin so hard that if felt
as if she lifted me off the ground - this was done
without any protective athletic cup or any other
When most of us think of fearless martial artists, we think of martial artists like Sosai Mas Oyama, Dai-Soke Sacharnoski, or Hanshi Kirby Roy. These three are incredible and stand alone, above all others in martial arts in the world today.
Back to breaking and karate in ArizonaTameshiwara is a very minor part of karate and practiced to assist in development of self-confidence. Many martial arts schools today use rebreakable boards - these may save some money, but they are nothing like good o' lumber, Spanish roofing tile, bricks and in particular, rocks. Even so, if they assist in self-confidence, they are serving a good purpose.

I’m also a geologist, so I know there are rocks willing to assist in our martial arts endeavor. Rocks are usually cheap, unless you live in the Phoenix valley. As a geologist, I think it is great people pay huge sums of money for landscaping rocks and for boulders. Where I come from (Wyoming), rocks are free; so to see people pay for these was a surprise.

When I was a research geologist and kyoju no budo (professor of martial arts) at the University of Wyoming from 1977 to 2007, I would typically head to the field behind my house to search for stream-worn limestone to fill the back of my pickup with these rocks for spring classes at the university. Prior to some of our half-time basketball martial arts demonstrations at the university, I would head to the university quarry north of town (a location where stone bulding blocks were cut for buildings at the university) to collect slabs of rock to break with my head to entertain the Wyoming community. One thing about rocks: it is the martial artist against Mother Nature - and you just never know who is going to win because each rock is different and some will fight to the end to keep a martial artist from breaking it.
University of Wyoming tameshiwara (breaking of rocks), or what I like to
call, Geology 101, or Introduction to Geology for Martial Arts Majors.
Rocks in the Phoenix Valley are different from limestones in Laramie. Limestone is Mother Nature's concrete - its what concrete is made from and a very good medium for breaking. In the Phoenix area, the great majority of rocks are rhyolites, andesites and basalts. Volcanic rocks can be finicky due to their porphyritic texture (rocks with both little and large crystals). For the times I teach tameshiwara for my students from Chandler, El Mirage, Gilbert, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe, I generally search the Salt River flood plain for rocks. If I get out of town on one of my prospecting ventures for gold, I always take a geological map to look for areas with limestone, sandstone, slate or quartzite and bring home a pile of rocks.

I once thought about picking up samples of kimberlite (one of the host rocks for diamond) when I was at the University of Wyoming, so our karate club could suggest we might have cleaved a diamond during rock breaking - but never did. With all of the many tiny microdiamonds in the matrix of the Colorado-Wyoming kimberlites, who knows? 
Breaking Spanish roofing tile in 1976 in Las Cruces New
Mexico. I found roofing tile to be a great medium for breaking
for karate demos.
If you have never tried breaking rocks, it is recommended you seek a qualified instructor of martial arts who has - otherwise, it is likely you will end up in the emergency room to get your hand reset. Any attempt at breaking rocks can (and likely will) result in breaking your hand (or head) if you do not have proper training and instruction. So, get some good martial arts training and hopefully, you will not break anything other than the rock or a board.

George Chakmakian, petroleum engineer and shodan, breaks his first rock at the University
of Wyoming.

Breaking cinder blocks at the University of New Mexico

Breaking tile with bare knuckles at New Mexico State University.

Donnette Gillespie, 9th kyu white belt, breaks her first rock in 1977 at the Laramie
Bushido dojo.

Arizona Martial Arts Instructor and Geologist inducted into two Halls of Fame. The photo shows a folded specimen of gneiss - a rock type that is usually not very good for breaking.

University of Wyoming martial artist inducted
into Hall of Fame
University Professor inducted into National Black Belt Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame induction for Mesa Martial Artist
Letter from the President to Arizona and Wyoming martial arts professor
University Karate Club one of the best martial arts programs!
Karate Professor Inducted into World Karate Union Hall of Fame

Karate Instructor awarded "Grandmaster of the Year"

Monday, May 6, 2013

Samurai Arts (Naginata) in Arizona

Rich Mendolia prepares to attack Ryan Harden during naginata training.
Naginata-jutsu is a rare martial art in the West and even rarer in Arizona. Only one martial arts school teaches this ancient samurai weapon in the Phoenix valley - the Arizona School of Traditional Martial Arts on the border of Gilbert and Mesa on Baseline Road. The instructor of naginata has certification as Menkyo Shihan (master instructor) in this art. Essentially equivalent to a 5th dan in the modern gendai martial arts. Soke Hausel, the instructor, is also a Junidan in Karate and Kobudo - the highest rank awarded in these arts.

One of samurai class defending her dojo. Actually, this is Sensei Paula Borea training with a wooden naginata.
Paula is a descendant of a Japanese samurai.
Soke Hausel, Grandmaster of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu and head of
 Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai shows rack of kobudo weapons.
The naginata is rarely seen in most martial arts schools, although it was relatively common on the Japanese battlefields during the reign of the samurai. Certifications (menkyo) in naginata are typically given in Koryu dojo, although there are modern Gendai dojo that offer dan ranks in naginata-jutsu.

The naginata (なぎなた, 薙刀) is also taught at the JKI Hombu, located in Texas. When one trains in this art, most wear a white or black uwagi (jacket) or keikogi hakama as naginata is a very traditional Japanese art. For those who have not trained in hakama, it is a clumsy piece of clothing for men, as it is bloused, pleated pants (similar to a skirt) that is easy to trip over until one gets use to it. It seems women never have a problem with hakama.

The naginata is considered a Japanese samurai weapon. It was just one of several bladed weapons in the arsenal of the samurai class of Japan. A halberd, or pole arm, the naginata had a long wooden pole for a handle that was attached to a curved blade with tsuba (guard between the blade and pole similar to that on a katana). The length of the blade and pole for naginata varied.

Naginata means ‘mowing down sword’ or ‘reaping sword’. The dictionary defines ‘reaping’ as ‘harvesting with a sickle’. This definition provides a very good visual of what the weapon is designed to do. When you train with naginata and in particular Naginata-Dai kata, this will give you the impression of mowing down aggressors – particularly when you perform a series of 360o propeller-like cuts.

In old Japan, naginata varied in size. The shaft was reported to range from 5 to 9 shaku and blade 1 to 3 shaku (a shaku equals 0.994 feet). The blade of some naginata were thought to have been recycled from katana (see William Deal, 2007, Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan. Oxford University Press. pp. 432) while other blades were likely forged for naginata.

The shape of the blade sort of reminds one of a banana: curved to a point. The portion of the blade (tang) that enters the handle should be almost as long as the blade itself. This will assure that the naginata is sound and hold together under most any kind of abuse.

The shaft of naginata was equipped with a pommel known as an ishizuki. The ishizuki was designed as a counterweight and as a striking surface to attack between armor plates of an enemy. Similar pommel are found on yari (spear). Unlike most pole arms, the shaft of the naginata was oval shaped to allow samurai to ‘feel’ the orientation of the blade while swinging the weapon during combat.

Naginata-ka of today often wear bogu similar to those worn by kendo practitioners to allow them to engage in combat using wooden training weapons. The bogu is gear that provides protection from powerful blows.

Like many weapons in martial arts, the origin of naginata is uncertain. Even so, many have suggested it descended from the Chinese Guan Dao. Others have pointed out that the naginata had been used by Japanese for many centuries all the way back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185 AD). Other researchers claim the naginata was used even earlier by sohei (warrior monks) during the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD).

During one of many wars in Japan (1180–1185 AD), naginata rose to a position prominence as an effective weapon. Cavalry battles had become important by this time and the naginata proved effective in disabling riders. During the Edo Period (1603 to 1868 AD) the naginata became less common on the battlefield, and instead was adopted as a symbol of social status for women of the samurai class and the naginata was often given as a part of a samurai daughter's dowry. Although women did not typically fight on the battlefield, those of the samurai class were expected to defend their homes (and dojo) when necessary. An excellent example was a famous female samurai by the name of Itagaki who led a garrison of 3,000 warriors from Toeisakayama Castle against ten thousand warriors dispatched to take the castle. Itagaki led her troops out of the castle killing a significant number of the attackers before being overpowered.

Koryu Naginata training became part of the public school curriculum in Japan after the Menji Restoration (1868). After world war II, martial arts training was banned on Japan for five years and then in 1950, a modern system of naginata training known as atarashii naginata (new naginata) was developed. This system is primarily practiced as a gendai sport with emphasis on etiquette.

Soke Hausel dons hakima in Gilbert, Arizona
Although considerably smaller numbers of practitioners still train in a number of koryu bujutsu systems (old school martial arts) of combative naginatajutsu that including Araki-Ryu, Tendo-Ryu, Jikishinkage Ryu, Higo Koryu, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-Ryu, Toda-ha Buko-Ryu, Yoshin-Ryu and Dai-Yoshin Ryu.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Age and Martial Arts in Arizona

Want to be active and live to be more than a 100? Move from Arizona to Okinawa! If you can’t move to Okinawa, watch calories, eat well, train hard and take evening walks.

There is a misconception in Arizona that martial arts are only for children. When I started training in martial arts in the 1960s, it was unheard of to see children in karate. So what happened?

 The misconception probably began with programs like Little Ninjas. Today, people train at almost any age and as many as 50 million people train in Okinawan karate, worldwide. I’ve had students in their mid- to late-80s training in karate and kobudo (my oldest was in his early 90s): one in particular, a professor at the University of Wyoming, had the fastest reflexes of all my students. So there is no upper age limit.

 How about kids? If you find a good instructor, kids can start very young (it’s recommended to start them young). My youngest was 3 years of age from Mesa, Arizona. But one major problem with children is attention span and maturity, so I suspect the best way to judge if a child is ready for martial arts is to determine if they can handle an entire class (45 to 60 minutes) without losing focus. If they can, it may be time to start them – just be cautious! There are a large number of martial arts schools that have no evidence of lineage (it is suggested as many as 80 to 85% have no proof of lineage or proper certification). And personally, I would also be very concerned about starting a child in judo, jujutsu, ninjutsu and aikido as these martial arts focus on joint manipulation. 

 A recent study on the elderly of Okinawa led to the access of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. The research indicated Okinawans enjoy the longest average life-span in the world while having relatively good personal health throughout their lives. The study also indicated Okinawan people have the lowest frequency of the three leading killers of Westerners: coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. Could this good health be a result of favorable Okinawan genetics?

 The research suggests Okinawan longevity is more a result of life-style choices of Okinawa people; particularly since Japanese people outside of Okinawa do not show the same increased benefits, and Okinawans who have been Westernized fall prey to the same health issue issues as Western people.

 Compared to Westerners, Okinawans age more slowly and are 80% less likely to get heart disease. They're also 25% less likely to be afflicted with breast or prostate cancer, they have a 50% lower risk of contracting colon cancer and they are less likely to get dementia. On average, Okinawan people spend 97% of their lives free of disabilities. These benefits are likely a result of diet and exercise.

Pencil sketch of Sensei Gichin Funakoshi – father
of modern karate.

Okinawans have learned the value of pushing away from the dinner table. An Okinawan rule ‘hara hachi bu’ (eat until 80% full) provides a guideline to limit daily calorie intake. Another Okinawan guideline: ‘eat mostly plants’ is very beneficial. The typical Okinawan diet includes green and yellow vegetables, some whole grains, tofu, fish and other legumes. Little sugar, meat, and very little dairy is in their diet. For those of you in Wyoming, this could be an obstacle. When I gave up red meat while a resident of Wyoming three decades ago, I often received strange looks from ranchers when I turned down steak dinners. Most thought I had a few marbles missing.

 The Okinawan people exercise daily in their labors in the fields, gardens and on fishing boats. And being that karate and kobudo originated on Okinawa, a significant percentage of the Ryukyu island chain population trains several times a week. And Okinawan karate and kobudo have been shown to be exceptional for burning calories. Past studies prove intense karate training burns more calories per hour than any other form of exercise. But karate should be practiced with the philosophy of Tim the Tool Man Taylor – with more power!

So what are the benefits to eating right and training all your life in karate and kobudo? The great majority of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu karate masters from the Shuri-te systems have lived to be very old, not only because of their healthy diets but also because they remained active in martial arts. It’s been rumored this does not hold for martial artists from Naha-te systems: naha-te martial artists are rumored to die younger due to intensity of ibuki (breathing). But there are no statistics that I’m aware of to prove this one way or another.

There are many examples of elderly Okinawan karate practitioners. Visit the link of Soke Seikichi Uyehara demonstrating a kata. At 88 in 1992, he was quite agile. Soke Uyehara ended up living to be 100 and taught martial arts to the day he passed on!

Another Shorin-Ryu martial artist, Sensei Teru Hendrey an instructor of Yamashita Shorin-Ryu Karate is still teaching karate. Sensei Hendrey was born to an Okinawan family of samurai lineage in 1927. She was exposed to martial arts in 1941 and began a study of Shorin-Ryu Karate in the late 1980s while in her 60s. She is now 86 with godan (5th dan) certification in Shorin-Ryu. Tadashi Yamashita himself was born in Japan in 1942 and is active teaching Shorin-Ryu karate and works as a stunt coordinator for Hollywood at the age of 71. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the world at any age, who could punch harder than Yamashita.

Another martial artist - Shugoro Nakazato began studying Shorin-Ryu Karate as a student of Chosin Chibana (Hanshi Chibana lived to be 83) in 1935 at the age of 16. He is now ranked as judan (10th dan) and head of the Shorinkan Shorin-Ryu karate system at the age of 94.

One of many paths on Okinawa. When we think of traditional karate,
we think of karate-do. The way (or path) of karate. Photo by Jesse Bergkamp.
A prominent Kendoka on Okinawa is Sensei Moriji Mochida who reportedly trains daily at the age of 90. Another Okinawan, Sensei Keiko Fukuda began studying judo in 1935 under Jigoro Kano, the father of judo, and has been training and teaching judo for many years. Sensei Keiko is a judan (10th dan) in judo and 99 years young.

Shoshin Nagame, Soke, taught Shorin-Ryu Karate until he died at 90. Nagame was a soke of Shorin-Ryu and author of a couple of significant books on karate.

The father of Japanese Karate, Gichin Funakoshi, introduced Shorin-Ryu Karate (with Anko Itosu) to the rest of Japan. He passed away at the age of 88 and his system of Shorin-Ryu was renamed Shotokan Karate to honor of the great master (Funakoshi had a pen name of Shoto). There are photos on the internet and even a few movie clips of Funakoshi teaching karate at a very late age. At the time Funakoshi was introducing karate to Japan, another great Okinawan master – Anko Itosu, the person responsible for the Pinan katas, introduced karate to Okinawan schools (early 20th century). Itosu died at the age of 83 or 84.

As far as the Naha-te martial arts masters, it would be interesting to have someone compile statistics on longevity. The first karate I studied was kokusinkai developed by Sosai Mas Oyama. Kokusinkai was basically a modification of goju-ryu, a naha-te style of karate. Oyama died at an early age of 70 for a martial artist. But he was not Okinawan: instead was Korean who had been assimilated by Japanese society and changed his name to a Japanese name. There are suggestions his style of karate may provide underlying health problems which stem from ibuki (deep breathing) taught in some kata and due to many injuries and concussions suffered by kokushinkai martial artists. But Oyama’s early passing could also be a result of fighting bulls and trees with his bare hands. He was also known to travel the world taking on any fighters.

Two other great grandmasters of Naha-te and Goju-Ryu karate were Chojun Miyagi a very powerful Okinawan martial artist who died at the early age of 65 and Gogen (the cat) Yamaguchi, who was not born on Okinawa; even so, he lived to be 80.