Friday, May 17, 2013

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

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

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 tell us 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.

Rocks are usually cheap and one can typically pick them up most anywhere. .

At the University of Wyoming from 1977 to 2007, many students and faculty trained in karate and many of them had the opportunity to  break stream-worn limestone. There were even some  half-time basketball martial arts demonstrations at the university, where students would break boards and the instructor would break cinder blocks with his fist along with rock slabs with his head!  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).

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 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 Professor inducted into National Black Belt Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame induction for Mesa Martial Artist
University Karate Club one of the best martial arts programs!
Karate Professor Inducted into World Karate Union Hall of Fame

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.