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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Arizona Jujutsu Schools

Jujutsu (also spelled jiu jitsu or jujitsu) is a combat martial art developed by samurai. The art has many traditions and had a completely different evolution than karate. Karate, which focuses on kicks and punches, is a martial art indigenous to Okinawa and was likely a combat for peasants and Okinawan royalty. As such, karate was very different from jujutsu: Japanese peasants were never allowed to train in samurai arts until after 1868. At the time of development of karate and jujutsu, Okinawa and Japan were independent kingdoms.

The uninitiated sometimes confuse MMA with jujutsu. MMA cannot be classified as a form of jujutsu since it is not even a martial art. MMA provides no traditions and no ethical or moral path that is ingrained in martial arts. Martial arts by definition are complexly intertwined with Zen Buddhism and Shinto and provide a path for self-improvement.
Soke Hausel demonstrates te waza at Casper, Wyoming dojo.
Karate includes many jujutsu nage waza (throws), grappling, chokes etc. Some were likely derived from Japanese samurai, others from Chinese Chu'an Fa (kung fu), and still others developed independently for Okinawa Karate. This is likely because karate was designed to not only defend against the criminal element on Okinawa, but also to defend against Japanese samurai who had invaded Japan in 1609 AD. Being that samurai were well-armed with bladed weapons and often weighted down with armor, karate was developed to take advantage by employing powerful strikes to generate considerable focused power to allow the energy to penetrate armor into a body of a samurai, (this is one reason we see karate demonstrations where practitioners break tile, cider blocks and even rocks), but it also employed techniques to up-end samurai clad in armor with unusual strikes (atemi) along with foot-sweeps, leg drops, foot stomps, knee stomps, etc. that are all present in modern day karate kata.

Jujutsu had a different purpose. It was designed as hand to hand combat for samurai to defend against other heavily armed samurai on the battlefield. Punching an enemy in armor with bare hands and feet does not seem like a bright idea, thus samurai developed throwing techniques (nage waza). The samurai also used strikes (atemi) to disturb the balance of other samurai (whether armored or unarmored). These atemi were designed to unbalance an opponent and generate a shock wave propagated through armor similar to karate.  
Katie Wilson Urbanek applies ude garuma (arm bar).
Today, we recognized two general categories of jujutsu and both are practiced in Arizona: (1) Koryu (ancient) traditional jujutsu designed to defend against armed samurai with or without armor, and (2) modern Gendai jujutsu that favors self-defense applications used in sport and modern self-defense. Many Gendai schools lack lineage and tradition (i.e., Brazilian jujutsu). 

If searching for a traditional martial arts experience, search for a traditional jujutsu school. You will learn traditions and history; and certifications will be recognized through an international martial arts association. Such martial arts schools may include training in classical samurai arts associated with jujutsu such as kenjutsu, hojojutsu, hanbojutsu, sojutsu, etc. In Arizona, there do not appear to be many koryu schools.

Traditional jujutsu practitioners wear a traditional judo gi with hakama. These are available at most martial arts outlets such as KarateMart in Phoenix. If you are starting out at a Koryu jujutsu school, such as that at Arizona State University, be sure you check with the instructor before you purchase a uniform. Very similar to jujutsu are traditional arts of ninjutsu, ninpo and Okinawa tode.

Before one can effectively throw an attacker, the aggressor’s balance needs to be disturbed. Thanks to another of many questionable federal grants, the fed discovered people in Arizona tend to sweat more than people in other states. To grab and throw someone in Arizona is difficult in the summertime simply because sweaty people are slippery and difficult to grasp.

According to the Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary, atemi translates as "body trikes". It refers to "…a method of attacking the opponents pressure points". In A Dictionary of the Martial Arts there is a more detailed description. It states that an atemi is... "…aimed at the vital or weak points of an opponent's body in order to paralyze by means of intense pain. Such blows can produce loss of consciousness, severe trauma and even death…the smaller the striking surface used in atemi, the greater the power of penetration and thus the greater the effectiveness of the blow". This may be true in modern jujutsu, but in the ancient styles of jujutsu, pressure points for armored samurai were not important on a battlefield. A samurai covered with armor, had few if any exposed pressure points.
Melinda applies choke on Neal.
Today, atemi is used to provide a distraction before leading to a throw, joint lock, or choke. This is done by redirecting an opponent into a throw through attacking vital points to cause pain or loss of consciousness. In other words, it is easier to throw a disoriented aggressor. One common atemi is a palm strike along the jaw line, ear (mimi) or neck (kubi). This was likely used against armored samurai. Even with a helmet, a powerful open hand "teisho uchi" strike to the side of a helmet would ring one’s bell.

The term ‘jūjutsu’ was coined in the 17th century, after it became a blanket term for a wide variety of grappling combat forms. Jujutsu (柔術) translates as the 'art of softness' or 'way of yielding'. The oldest forms are referred to as Sengoku jujutsu or Nihon Koryu Jujutsu developed during the Muromachi period (1333–1573 AD) that focused defeating unarmed, lightly armed, and heavily armed and armored samurai – thus a greater emphasis was placed on joint locks and throws.

Later in history, other koryu developed that are similar to many modern styles. Many of these are classified as Edo jūutsu and were founded in the Edo Period (1625-1868 AD) of Japan. Most are designed to deal with opponents without armor. Edo jujutsu commonly emphasizes use of atemi waza. Inconspicuous weapons such as a tantō (knife) and tessen (iron fans) are included in Edo jūjutsu curriculum.

Heather applies yubi waza (thumb throw) at University jujutsu clinic in Wyoming.


Weapons training were important to Samurai. Koryu schools included the bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (three-foot staff), jo (4-foot staff), tachi (sword), wakizashi (short sword), tanto (knife), jitte (short one hook truncheon), yari (spear), naginata (halberd), ryofundo kusari (weighted chain) and bankokuchoki (knuckle-duster).

Edo jujutsu was followed by development of Gendai Jujutsu at the end of the Edo Period. Gendai, or modern Japanese jujutsu, shows influence of traditional jujutsu. Goshin Jujutsu styles developed at about the same time, but the Goshin styles are only partially influenced by traditional jujutsu and have mostly been developed outside of Japan.

Today, many Gendai jujutsu styles have been embraced by law enforcement officials and continue to provide foundations for specialized systems by police officials. The best known of these is Keisatsujutsu (police art) or Taihojutsu (arresting art) formulated by the Tokyo Police.

Jujutsu is the basis for many military unarmed combat training programs for many years and there are many forms of sport (non-traditional) jujutsu, the most popular being judo, now an Olympic sport. Some examples of martial arts that have been influenced by jujutsu include Aikido, Hapkido, Judo, Sambo, Kajukenbo, Kudo, Kapap, Kempo and Ninjutsu as well as some styles of Japanese Karate, such as Wado-ryu Karate, which is considered a branch of ShindōYōhin-ryū Jujutsu.

The training uniform (keikogi) provides an excellent indicator of traditions in a jujutsu dojo. Traditional schools wear plain white gi often with a dark hakama (the most colorful uniform might be plain black or the traditional blue of quilted keikogi. Lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve or express the sense of rustic simplicity is common in traditional arts. The use of the traditional (Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, Kirigami and Menkyo Kaiden) ranking system is also a good indicator of traditional jujutsu. These are parallel to the common dan-i (kyu/dan) ranking used in traditional karate.