Thursday, September 24, 2015

Self-Defense? Or Just a Trophy?

After training in Okinawa/Japanese karate, kobudo, self-defense, samurai arts, and jujutsu for a half of a century, it never ceases to amaze me that there are martial arts schools handing out black belts to people who have little idea of how to defend themselves. I don't know if this is just a mis-understanding by their instructors, or if there are that many martial arts schools teaching bad curriculum. Anyway, after stopping for breakfast at a cafe near Home Depot in Mesa just west of Country Club and north of Baseline this past September (2015), my wife and I dropped into a nearby store. The owner noticed I was wearing a martial arts shirt and told me about her kids. She and her husband sent them to a martial arts school where then learned sport karate, won trophies and earned 2nd degree black belts before being bullied in school and finding they had no idea how to defend themselves. I was shocked to hear this, but I've heard similar stories. In fact, I was just talking to a member at Lifetime Fitness. This person had signed up with her two kids to take Taekwondo and paid fees for 2nd degree black belts, and she indicated she too, had little idea of how to defend herself. She said they were never taught what to do if a mugger walks up and grabs them, puts a knife to their throat, or a gun to their head. This is not unusual in the sport martial arts.

Gun defense training at the Arizona Hombu Dojo in Mesa
I grew up in martial arts, and never heard of such thing as paying in advanced for a martial arts rank - this is a new marketing ploy by many martial arts schools. Most never reach the yudansha (black belt) level: it's not that they can't attain a black belt, its just that few people have the necessary commitment. When people start in martial arts, they need to understand it is a lifelong endeavor and they need to train for the rest of their lives, teach martial arts, and be active. Possibly, this whole problem with a lack of ability to defend oneself, or having a doubts, goes back to the Japanization of Okinawa karate.

Several years ago, I taught an all-day self-defense clinic to a group of Taekwondo martial arts instructors and school owners from western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho who ranked from 1st degree black belt to 5th degree black belt and it was the first time any of them had been introduced to self-defense! Yes, they could all compete for trophies, had great kicks, but they were unsure of themselves when it came to someone grabbing them, etc. Over the years, I've had many black belts come in to learn karate after being in other systems. Most do not come with an open mind and it takes time to change their sport karate bias (if they last long enough). But I've had students from taekwondo and kempo karate stay in our system and become successful and positive martial artists: one is now writing books about martial arts and another received a shihan license from me a few years ago.

About 3 to 4 years ago, I had two 1st degree black belts from a Mesa taekwondo school sign up for our traditional karate classes because they wanted to learn how to use their hands, even though they had great kicks. I never studied taekwondo, so, I honestly do not know that much about the martial art, but this was one of the more unusual requests I had received.

We also heard from another from Dallas who indicated he was frustrated at the schools in the area. They all required contracts (none were cheap) and each guaranteed their kids would earn a certain black belt within a specific time frame. In my experience, each person is different and takes a different amount of time to reach certain levels that cannot be guaranteed, but so much for that.

We often hear stories like this and its because some people teaching do not have credentials, others have a diploma from the Kick, Punch and Block karate association or something similar, and many others have little experience, but are good as selling used cars and contracts for martial arts students. About 80 to 90% of the instructors teaching karate, MMA, etc., have few of any qualifications. So beware!

So, when you are looking to start classes at any school, ask to see the instructors diplomas and find out if they have really trained in martial arts and whether they either purchased a diploma or self-promoted themselves. 

And for a very simple method to check out the instructor and school - just do a 'BING' and a 'GOOGLE' search on the instructor, the school, the type of martial art and the martial arts association. If it still sounds good to you, sign up.

Otherwise, you may be the next 2nd degree black belt who can't defend themselves on campus or on the street.

Here are some videos I recommend watching - particularly women who are looking for self-defense training:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Nunchuks and Boxing Gloves

My wife and I were shopping for floor tile in Mesa Arizona when we discovered the owner of the shop had taken karate in the past. So we began talking about karate and he mentioned in the conversation his experience in kobudo. Although he had swung a bo only a few times, the weapon he really trained with was nunchaku and I heard something from him I had never heard before. When he was taught to use nunchuks, all of the students wore boxing gloves. Hopefully, they didn't also have to sign contracts wearing boxing gloves. Now, I never heard that one before and not sure what the purpose of the gloves were other than he indicated he thought it was to protect their hands from the nunchuku

When I learned to use the nunchaku back in about 1967, we had to make our own chuks and we trained hard and learned one of the important lessons of nunchakujutsu. You have to keep an eye on that weapon at all times in the beginning until you domesticate the weapon, otherwise it will sneak up on you and bite you.

Nunchaku is like a snake - mistreat it & it will bite” - Soke Hausel

I still have fond memories of training with nunchaku at the University of Utah and later at the University of Wyoming and listening to my students periodically imprint a lifelong memory when swinging the nunchaku and accidentally hitting themselves in the shin, knee, elbow, or other not so friendly spot. There was a distinct sound of wood hitting bone (we did not have foam rubber in those days), followed by "ouch" and a few choice words only an engineer would understand. Why would any karate ka want to miss out on such wonderful memories - we all went through the same lessons. 

We had more discussions about nunchuku and I was again surprised he did not know who Tadashi Yamashita was. This is not the first person not to know who sensei Yamashita is or what he is known for. Osensei Yamashita is known for his kobudo, and in particular for nunchaku. He is an extraordinary martial artist and without him, few people in the western world would know much about the popular weapon. His techniques and applications with the nunchuku provide great showmanship and most techniques by Yamashita are practical. Then there is the kobudo of Dai-Soke Sacharnoski that continues to provide us with extremely practical and devastating techniques. In addition to nunchuku, Dai-Soke Sacharnoski also teaches many other kobudo weapons as well as karate, aikido, jujutsu, judo, toide and extreme body hardening.

In closing, leave the boxing gloves at home.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Should Women Take Karate?

"Japanese Bridge" original sketch - copyright by D. Hausel

Yes, all women should take karate! Why?

Some people attend local gyms to access aerobic kick boxing classes. These are nothing more than aerobic classes that don't provide much insight into self-defense - they burn a few calories, but not much more. While teaching at Gold's Gym in Mesa, Arizona, one karate instructor was asked to take over a kick boxing class, which he did out of curiosity. After talking to the women in the class, they were surprised to find they could not defend themselves with that kind of training.

For aerobic value, examine a table of calories burned verses types of martial arts activities: it is interesting that kick boxing not only does not come close to self-defense effectiveness of karate, but it also burns less than half the calories. If you need a calculator for calories & exercise, we found one on the Internet. This gives a general idea of the energy burned during martial arts training, but is so generalized that the calculator does not differentiate between different types of martial arts. For example, if you train in tai chi, you stretch your muscles slowly, but don't expect to burn many calories. Tai Chi is nothing like the 'hard' systems of martial arts such as karate or judo. But when it comes down to self-defense, karate in many cases is the best choice for a woman who wants to learn self-defense and burn calories.

Why would anyone learn karate? Karate has many health benefits and provides a person with personal self-defense. For example, translated from Japanese, "Kara te" means "Empty hand"and one interpretation of empty hand is a method of self-defense using no weapons - in other words, this is a personal form of self-defense. 

Why not just carry pepper spray? This is not a bad idea, but what happens when you are attacked on the beach wearing a bathing suit, or attacked without warning and can't get to your bottle of spray fast enough. Most serious attacks occur without warning!

White crane kung fu (copyright sketch by D. Hausel)
Recently, Grandmaster Hausel at the Arizona Hombu taught a self-defense clinic for a group of women organized by one of his female engineering students. Amanda was concerned for her friends' safety. In particular, one of her best friends jogs at night after work and was recently mugged while jogging. She had a bottle of pepper spray, but never took it jogging with her because she indicated that it got in the way! The nice thing about karate is that you always take it with you!

White Crane martial arts (copyright sketch
by D. Hausel).
All women should take karate and kobudo and all public schools should be required to teach karate and kobudo! These are traditional martial arts that teach discipline, honor, physical fitness and self-defense. Wouldn't it be nice to see kids today with manners?

Kobudo can be a valuable as karate as it teaches how to use tools at hand as weapons - such as car keys, coins, rocks, etc. Recently, a clinic taught a group of librarians in Chandler, Arizona how to use hands, feet, elbows, knees, staplers, paper weights, credit cards, coins and even books for self-defense! Unfortunately, only a few karate instructors are educated in kobudo even though kobudo was created before karate and eventually became part of every karate system until after World War II. Only in the last 50 to 70 years has most Japanese, American and European karate schools avoided kobudo probably because of complexities - but it is nothing more than an extension of karate and uses the same stances, blocks, strikes, etc.

If we were all equally armed, there would likely be fewer attacks on the street. I am reminded of a couple of thugs who recently tried to rob an Internet cafe in Florida. One thug carried a gun, the other a baseball bat when they ran into a 71-year old senior citizen who ruined their day.

One of several ways to use car keys for protection. Note the
leather strap attached to the keys - this is also used in a variety
of ways for self-defense - such as a Japanese weapon known
as kubotan or kusari fundo. It can also be used like an
Okinawan nunchaku if you are experienced.
So what happens when you take your first karate class? Karate classes are as different as gyms. Each instructor (known as a sensei in Japanese, or sifu in Chinese) has their own idea on how to teach, but most important is experience. Look for someone with evidence of good credentials (look at their diplomas on the wall of the school) and search the Internet for evidence of a resume. It is likely more than 50% of martial arts instructors with commercial schools have no certification, no history, and are self-appointed. We've heard from some legitimate martial arts associations that as many as 80% are not certified. SO INVESTIGATE the INSTRUCTOR.

When you first start karate, you will likely learn how to tie your belt (obi in Japanese) and put on a karate uniform (known as gi in Japanese). Then you will learn how to stand and move. Then your instructor will start you on blocking, punching and kicking. If it is a traditional (an original form) martial art, you will likely learn to bow, when to bow, etc., and then you will start learning kata. If you are shy, first watch a class at a local dojo (karate school), take a friend, your mother, daughter or grandmother and decide if it's for you. And when you start, try to begin an affirmation that you will train for the rest of your life - for health and self-defense. Often, people start, set a minor goal, and then quit. To keep karate effective, one must always practice, no matter what rank you earn.

Kata are liken to Asian dance forms in that they have set patterns designed to teach muscle memory. And if you have a good instructor, you will learn to use every single movement in kata for self-defense (these are known as bunkai in Japanese).

White Crane karate can be beautiful as well as deadly. The
rare art mimics movements of the white crane. Dr. Teule
and Sensei Martin train in White Crane at the University of
As you search for a school, look for either (1) Sport Karate or (2) Traditional Karate. Sport karate focuses on tournaments while traditional karate focuses on the individual and self-defense. Some schools declare themselves as traditional, but take part in tournaments. A true, traditional karate school will not because tournaments are a recent invention. 

There is a long history of women in martial arts. One of the more powerful forms of Chinese kung fu was developed by a lady who watched the movements of white cranes. Her style became known as Fujian kung fu. This style was later picked up by some Okinawan students who converted it to Hakutsuru karate (White Crane Karate) which has been incorporated into many Shorin-Ryu styles of karate.
Professor of Martial Artrs, Soke Hausel, Hall-of Fame Grandmaster of Shorin-Ryu Karate teaches White Crane Karate at the University of Wyoming. Professor Hausel also taught similar arts at Arizona State University, University of New Mexico and University of Utah, and now teaches at the Arizona Hombu in Mesa, Arizona.