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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Wax On, Wax Off, Knife Fighting and Karate-Do

Although I teach Matsubayashi-Ryu, we have enhanced the curriculum by adding skills training outside of traditional karate do. Let me be clear, Matsubayashi-Ryu remains unchanged. The additions I refer to enhancements, nothing more, to account for the realities of our changing world and include skills sets like, firearm marksmanship, edged weapons, stick fighting, urban SERE (survival, escape, resistance & evasion), and improvised weapons of opportunity to name a few.

Last week I was presenting a very basic ROK SEAL MUSAT (Multi UDT SEAL Assaulting Tactics) knife drill very similar to a kata of sorts (no I wasn't in the Navy, wasn't a SEAL, wasn't in Sec Ops, etc. In fact I swim like a large rock) but I do have friends in low places. A single man drill prepares one for the two man "kata" they have developed. Actually it's fairly similar to a SPETSNAZ drill I have seen. While we used rubber blades the ROKs use live blades.

After class, as we always do, we debriefed. As one thing led to another we somehow landed on "The Karate Kid" (the original, not the Jaden Smith abomination).

It seems no one can talk "Karate Kid" for more than 10 seconds before someone says "Wax on, Wax off"!

Everyone laughed and off we went but, at some level, it lingered inside me. Eventually it percolated into awareness and insight.

People laugh at the Karate Kid's, "Wax on, Wax off" because they see it as an over simplification of what the martial arts really are. After some thought, it occurs there is little that represents the true nature of karate more than "Wax on, Wax off", if you expand your thinking.

For the 3 of you who have never see the movie: the Caucasian kid (Daniel) asks the Japanese-American war hero (CMH) - Mr. Miyagi, to teach him karate.

Mr. Miyagi agrees and then proceed to teach Daniel how to wax Migayi's car by applying the wax with his left hand in a counterclockwise motion and then buffing the wax off using his right hand in a clockwise motion.

When Daniel has had enough and confronts Miyagi about not really teaching him karate, Miyagi punches Daniel who, utilizing the right and left arm movements, intuitively blocks all punches.

These basic skills quickly morph into yudansha quality tournament skills and Daniel (spoiler alert!) wins the big tournament.

But the "secret" of karate has been unwittingly exposed!

When someone starts karate because "I want to learn to defend myself" I encourage them to buy a handgun and get some training. It's faster, cheaper and proficiency can be achieved in a matter of weeks. A good karate student is not proficient in basic self-defense for at least 3 -5 years after beginning training. Sure your develop "islands of skill" before that but generalized skills really do take years.

If you are going to a dojo and become a yudansha in less than 3-5 years (without significant previous training) you are dangerous only to yourself. You're dangerous because you may actually believe you have real skills when, in fact they are still developing.

Renshi Sam Palmer used to ask "Do you know what they call a 2 year Blackbelt who gets into a street fight? . . . the answer was "A trauma patient."

- The secret of proficiency in karate is two fold: Repetition and basics.

- The secret of proficiency in fighting with edged weapons is also two fold: Repetition and basics.

- The secret of proficiency in kobu-do is two fold: Repetition and basics.

- The secret of proficiency in the use of firearms two fold: Repetition and basics.

- The secret of proficiency in MMA, judo, gung-fu, even bowling? Repetition and basics.

In a fight if you start thinking "I'm gonna do a ni-dan geri then drop into a cobra coil and deliver..." You're tagged!

Basics, remember "mizo no kokoro" (mind like water)? If you're "fighting" you'll lose; in the dojo or in the street. Remember "Enter the Dragon": "What's your style?" "I call it the art of fighting without fighting."

In sparing, in fighting, one must be proficient enough to "flow" with your opponent. That does not mean simply responding, but rather reading the waves of the flow of the encounter, letting go. The "empty mind" of the beginner must become the "empty mind" of the seasoned karate-ka. In fact, in Buddhism, we call it "beginner's mind".

One does not look for openings in a battle, the seasoned karate-ka is aware without being aware.

O'Sensei Nagmine said "Zen and the Fist are one". Many misinterpret this slogan. It means (to me) that the same principles, of empty mind, awareness without effort and the absence of "wanting" which are key to Zen are also the keys to karate. No tournament karate but true, spiritual karate.

Thankfully the vast majority of karate students never use their fighting skills in a real real encounter. However, on those occasions when they do find themselves in a confrontation they do NOT utilize neko-ashi dachi, chudan soto shuto uke, a ni-dan geri, or plain old flying side kicks. Instead (and the literature supports me) they fall back to basics and use chest blocks, straight punches and front kicks - most of them not delivered in textbook form.

I'm sure you ask why? Why does an 8th degree blackbelt, jumped on the street, execute a chudan uke followed by a simple chudan zuki then finished with a mae-geri to the kogan before walking away from the encounter?

Simple, because he (or she) has done those techniques so many thousands of times that they are delivered without thinking. The opening is sensed, the technique delivered and it's over.

If you have enough time to spot your target then think about where and how you are going to block or strike you opponent, hopefully you're sparring in the dojo. If this occurs when you're on the street you will never hear muzzle report of the bullet that is about to hit you.

But back to knife fighting. Knife fighting seminars are extremely dangerous. Not techniques in the seminar but attending the seminar. Taking a seminar on knife fighting can be enlightening, entertaining and down right fun but it doesn't prepare you to defend against a knife nor fight with one. It's the 1,000 repetitions of the techniques you learn at the seminar that helps you begin to get prepared for an edged weapon assault.

Repetition and Basics - ALWAYS!


Cox Hakase


If you are going to practice with edged weapons you should follow these guidelines.

1) Learn from someone who knows

2) Start with a rubber blade (consider buying a Shocknife )

3) See one, do one, teach one, repeat.

4) When the "good idea fairy" says "You know, it can't be that hard with a live blade" - don't listen to him!

5) If you have not had a tetanus shot in 5 years, get one from your family physician.

6) Repetition is the key so buy Band-Aids.

7) First, First Aid, step for bleeding is ALWAYS direct pressure.

8) NEVER be the guy who brings a knife to a gunfight!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Motivation and Retention of Students in the Martial Arts

Palmer Renshi receiving instruction from Nagamine Hanshi (undated)

Note: Before writing this piece I did some research on available literature on the subject, there is a reference list attached at the bottom of this post if you are interested.

Many highly skilled martial arts instructors fail miserably when they open their own dojo. Not because they are bad teachers, not because they are poorly skilled practitioners, but because they believe being skilled in karate somehow equates to be skilled in teaching and that personality is all you need to motivate students. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Students do not remain in training because of the instructor's skill, the size of the dojo, how great a guy the instructor is or how fast they get promoted. They stay because they are motivated to do so.

Now here is the part nobody's Sensei taught them: as a Sensei, Renshi, Shihan or Hanshi you CANNOT motivate a student. Motivation must come from within the student themselves. You can provide a caring nurturing training environment but still the motivation comes from, and must come from, within the student not from us.

However, instructors CAN de-motivate a student and do so very, very quickly.

When we think "motivation" we really need to think on "retention", i.e. "what can I do to retain this individual as a student even as their motivation vacillates over time?"

Well the first attitude I have to "fix" is my own. My personal motivation in no way equates to what motivates my students, every student is different.

Some students start because they want to learn how to kick someone's ass. Usually those students last 6 months or less.

Some students start because they want to be able to say "I study karate". Those students usually last 6 months to a year or two.

Students who start training so they can learn "self-defense" usually face a crisis when, at some point, they realize self-defense proficiency takes 3-5 years (no one in the street ever remembers that "cool" technique they learned at the seminar.) You fight like you train so you have blocks, punches and straight kicks for a very long time. No one leaves a $400 seminar with even one new muscle memory. It doesn't happen like that - you may not like that but neurophysiology is neurophysiology.

Who is more motivated, the student who trains 5 days a week solid for five years or the student who trains once a week for 15 years? Certainly the retention of the 1st student appears to be better, especially during those 5 years and thus more motivated - but is it really.

Consider these examples:

Example 1: There's an old John Wayne movie called "The Green Berets". In it, when selecting members for a new A Team, Wayne chooses a new team member. The SgtMajor questions his choice by saying "Are you sure you want Sgt Smith? The jumpmaster says they have to kick him out of the aircraft every time he makes a parachute jump." Wayne responds "That's exactly why I want him: he keeps going back up."

Example 2: Bill Hendrix was a "star" in the dojo from the day he walked onto the floor. His reflexes were like a cat. His speed and accuracy rival the best yudansha. When shown a kata once or twice in one class he returns the next class capable of teaching the moves. Basically everything comes easy for Bill. Karate is fun, ranks comes quickly, Sensei uses Bill as the example to other students, and always spends a few extra moments in every class focusing on Bill and his techniques.

Once promoted to Shodan Bill stops being a idiot-savant and simply becomes another yudansha, albeit a good yudansha. 6 Months later Bill discovers skydiving and leaves karate behind.

So, who do you feel is more motivated? Bill or Sgt. Smith? Looks a bit different when viewed in these terms, doesn't it?

So back to the question, what motivates them. Do they "want to be like Sensei"? That's not motivation, that's an unresolved Daddy issue. An instructor who wants students to match the instructor's level of motivation is looking for sycophants not students.

For me to try to motivate a student by pointing out how motivated another student is only runs the risk of alienating the very student I want to motivate. No matter how you phrase it they still hear "Why can't you be more like your Frank?"

Some instructors think that only pearls of wisdom flow from their mouth or, worse yet, the have no one else to talk to. Students make the perfect captive audience. Unfortunately both techniques server only to alienate students.

Having a black belt or the title "Sensei" does not mystically embue the bearer with the skills and training they need to be an effective instructor. Unfortunately those exact skills sets needed to become proficient as an instructor are rarely taught in a dojo.

So, as an Instructor what can I do to provide a training environment that encourages retention and gives students a reason to motivate themselves to train?

Suggestions to Instructors on How to "Retain" Students:

1) Individualized instruction (even with yudansha students) the mudansha still need that 1:1 attention from Sensei.

2) Every student progresses at their own speed, don't be a speed bump. Nothing demotivates a student as quickly as being held back. Holding back a student is almost as bad as promoting a student too quickly.

3) Yudansha who are not good teachers should not teach UNLESS they are being directly supervised and their teaching is part of THEIR professional growth. How do you know who is a good teacher? Assume everyone is a bad teacher until proven differently.

4) Set clear individualized expectations for students collaboratively. I know that's not the way they did it in Okinawa but WE are not in Okinawa. The millennial student of today, and our dojos, would not survive under that training model nor should they have to, this is the 21st century not the medieval Ryukyu Kingdom. To retain students, the first person that has to adjust, who has to learn to be flexible, is the instructor, i.e. US!.

5) Care about your students, legitimately care about them. I'm not talking about making them a member of your family, we're talking about what Carl Rogers referred to as "non-possessive caring".

6) There is no place for ego in the dojo, least of all from the instructor. That's not what teaching martial arts are about.

7) If you have a "favorite" student, shut-up about it. One favorite student equals ten demotivated, "done quit" students. Its like being a parent: Parents lie all the time and say "Oh I love all my children equally" your children know better and, in the dojo, your students know better as well.

If your best friend(s) are your students you have your own issues. Students are students not peers or friends. This is not to degrade them but to ensure there exists professional distancing between student and Sensei - this is called a psychological and professional boundary. There has to be boundaries and you, the instructor, must set them. If you worry students will not like you if you are not their friend then you have other issues. In the dojo you are "Sensei" ALL the time and should be addressed as such before, during and after class.

Outside of class the salutation "Sensei" is inappropriate. If a student chooses to address you as "Sensei" at church fine, don't shut them down but don't insist on it.

9) Here's a novel idea: Actually learn how to teach. Learn how to develop your personal pedagogy for teaching. Your local Community College offers educational courses year round - take advantage of it, become a professional teacher not just another guy who knows karate and teaches.

10) This one is very important: Don't be afraid to say "I don't know". If a student asks you a question you do not have the answer to, tell them "I don't know". You then have two choices for follow-up:

a) "I don't know but I'll find out by the next class." Then do so.

b) "I don't know. Why don't you find out the answer and let us all know by next class?" Then make sure YOU do find out the correct answer before next class in case the student does not or in case they find the wrong answer.

Great Ways to Lose Students:

1) War stories; the dreaded "No crap there I was...." Your spouse is tired of your stories, your yudansha are tired of your stories and so are your mudansha. Students are in the dojo to train, not to hear your philosophy of life, political viewpoints, world traveling adventures, etc. etc. If you suffer from an external locus of evaluate and, as a result, you have a need to have people listen to you in order for your to validate your sense of self worth, join Toastmasters ( .

2) Exclude from your training statements such as: "...then tear off his arm and beat him to death!" or "Once he's out, kick him to make sure!". Sounds great in the movies but in real life it just guarantees you will be in the "plaintiff boat" in court. The plaintiff boat is when, in court, your ex-student recounts the story of how you taught them to continue beating the victim after the danger had been neutralized. The student will lose in court and you will share the blame for teaching them. There is an old saying: "Never say anything in the dojo you could not justify saying in court."

3) Homophobia, genderism, and ageism have no place in the dojo - ever. If you cannot or will not teach the female student the homosexual student or even the older student, not only are you breaking the law, setting a horribly poor example and missing a profitable income stream. If you are homophobic but feel sure you can "hide your true feelings" in the dojo you're an idiot. A student will see through you in about 30 seconds. A Sensei teaches, period. Prejudice (of any flavor) converts an instructor into a liar; to themselves and to their students and, in the process, they sully the name of their art.

4) There can only be one "instructor" in a class at a time. Martial arts training is not a consensus of opinion. This goes back to boundaries. No one every said to Nagamine Hanshi during a class, "hold on Hanshi, I think twisting it this way works better" or worse yet "I studied another style before this and we did it a different and more effective way." Sensei is always right. period, end of story, no further questions your honor.

I once had a green belt (with no teaching experience) come up to me after a class, in front of other students, and say "Would you like some feedback on your teaching?. My answer was, of course "No". For a student to display that degree of arrogance is, in itself, a harbinger of issues to come. As a Sensei do not be afraid to maintain a healthy professional distance with your students. When you have a student you work with or run into on a constant basis in other life ventures this known as a dual relationship". When a dual or multiple relationship exists, the student's ability to observe boundaries becomes paramount.

5) Don't bad mouth other styles. No style is "pure" and no style fits everyone. Despite that, all styles have something we can all learn from.

There is an old saying: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." It is not encouraging violence. It is saying be your own person. Whoever, whatever your instructor was, don't become a "Minnie Me". Bring your personality into your teaching

Teaching is hard. Good teaching is even harder but highly rewarding.


Cox Hakase


Allen, B. (2015). Striking Beauty: A Philosophical Look at the Asian Martial Arts, New York, NY: Columbia University.

Anshel, M. H. & Payne, J. M. (2006). Application Of Sport Psychology For Optimal Performance In Martial Arts, in Joaquin Dosil (Ed.), The Sports Psychologist's Handbook: A Guide for Sport Specific Performance Enhancement, (pp 353-374), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Dosil, J. (2006). The Psychology Of Athletics, in Joaquin Dosil (Ed.), The Sports Psychologist's Handbook: A Guide for Sport Specific Performance Enhancement, (pp 265-284), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Freire, P. (1921/1985). The Politics of Education, Westport, CN: Bergin & Garvey Publishing.

Kunen, S. M. I. (2011). Superhuman In The Octagon, Imperfect In The Courtroom; Assessing The Culpability Of Martial Artists Who Kill During Street Fights. Emory Law Journal, 60(6), pp 1389-1435.

Lantz, J. (2002). Family Development And The Martial Arts: A Phenomenological Study, Contemporary Family Therapy 24(4), (pp 565-580).

Molanorouzi1, K., Khoo1, S., & Morris, T. (2015). Motives For Adult Participation In Physical Activity: Type Of Activity, Age, And Gender, BMC Public Health, DOI 10.1186/s12889-015-1429-7

Nower, J. (2006). >Martial Arts & Feminist Awareness: A Plausible Explanation of Origins, Off Our Backs 37/(2/3), pp 28-31

Robertson, D. (1991). Marital Arts for People with Disabilities, Souvenir Press, London, United Kingdom. Vertonghen, J. & Theeboom, M. (2010). The Social-Psychological Outcomes Of Martial Arts Practise Among Youth: A Review, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 9, 528-537

Yi, J. & Silver, D. (2015). God, Yoga, and Karate, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 54(3), p596-615.

Ziv, G. & Lidor, R. (2013). Psychological Preparation of Competitive Judokas – A Review, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 12, 371-380

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Spirituality and Karate-Do

I've been studying, practicing, learning, and teaching Matsubayashi-Ryu karate-do since 1972, first on-base at Patrick AFB, FL and then in a small strip mall off A1A in Satellite Beach under Palmer Shihan. I've taken breaks, sometimes long breaks, but I always keep coming back.

From day one I have been told karate has a core of spiritual development, not religious development but spiritual development. While this doesn't exclude religious development it is not a focus.

In spite of this, in dojo after dojo, I have found very little emphasis on true spiritual development. This is most frequently due to the Sensei's above me also not having been trained in spiritual development.

When we go back to the source, Osensei Nagamine, we see he did not separate spiritual development from physical development. Osensei said "Ken zen ichi nyo" roughly translated means "Zen and the fist are one". His karate practice paralleled his spiritual development via Zen Buddhism and Zazen meditation.

Why spiritual development?

Excellent question and one which lends itself to an answer via metaphor.

Existence is like the ocean. We are all a part of the ocean of existence but occasionally we begin to develop into a wave. It is insanity for a wave to think it is somehow different, better, superior to the ocean it is a part of. Many times the wave can lose itself and believe it is more - it is not; we are not.

Even as a wave we are still part of the ocean and, eventually, every wave returns to the ocean, returns to the source we never actually left.

Every karate practitioner starts as a drop of water in the ocean, we grow, excell, become a wave and in that moment run the risk of losing ourselves in the insanity of the "superiority of the wave".

Eventuality even the greatest karate practitioner slows down, time & age draws us back into the ocean like it does everyone.

If we avoid the insanity that enticed us when we were the wave, we return to the ocean like going home. If we succumbed to the illusion presented by "wavehood", we return to the ocean fighting tooth and nail.

Fight or not, we all return. The difference is how we return, how we embrace our existence, our life, our death.

This is the spiritual lesson "hidden" in karate; do we visualize reality as a threatening enemy to be fought against or do we embrace the ocean of reality as the bed of existence we all come from and return to without every actually having left it?

So how do you incorporate spiritual development into karate training?

It's not easy because we, as Westerners, do not want to "waste" dojo training time on spiritual development.

We have to present spiritual development as an integral part of karate training. To that end, why no start with what we already do?

We do formal sitting at the start of every class; an ideal time to start.

A Warning; If you are not trained in Zen do NOT try to teach Buddhist meditation. To do so would present a tremendous danger to your students. As a psychologist I will tell you it is very easy to find yourself in an abreaction which will NOT end well.

However you can start with basic Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) exercises. Don't reinvent the wheel, you can download free self-help audio recordings of the exercises from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center . If you like it; get certified as an instructor.

A note of caution: Screen your students. Any student under a physician's care for hypertension, heart disease, lung disease or any other chronic physiological or psychological ailment(s) should be cleared by a physician before starting the training.

Its a start. If it works for you, then find meditation instructors in the area who can help your dojo. A good source are your local Buddhist centers and/or Yoga centers - do your research.

Return to the source! (TFYQA!)

Cox Hakase

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Birthday!!

If he were still alive today, 27 November, Bruce Lee would be 75 years old! Can you imagine? 75! To me he will always be 33.

I remember the first time I "met" Bruce in 1972. I had just started school at Brevard Community College while living on-base at Patrick AFB, FL. I had a part-time job in the base theater but absolutely no interest in those crappy low-quality Chinese movies. My best friend, Wesley Golden, convinced me to stay and watch "Fists of Fury".

I did.

My life changed.

Nunchakus, OMG NUNCHAKUS!!!

I went home, sawed a broom in half, put a length of chain between them and proceeded to beat myself to death with the worst set of nunchakus ever made - nonetheless I was hooked!

I saw the move again 6 times.

After than Wesley convinced me to come join a group he had joined studying karate. That was how I met Palmer Renshi and was introduced to Matsubayashi-ryu.

Bruce was my introduction to Shorin-Ryu. I, like so many others, owe him a debt I can never repay.

Bruce, wherever you are, Thank You! (please tell Sam I said "Hello"!)

Cox Hakase

IMPORTANT NOTE: If anyone knows how to contact Wesley Golden, PLEASE have him contact me! Thanks.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mindfullness and Karate are NOT Paradoxical Statements!

Mindfulness is the "secret" to mizo no kokoro; mind like water. Another way of conceptualizing this is the when the practitioner achieves the state of "no mind" or mushin. All external focus is dropped, the running internal mental dialog ceases or at least quiets significantly, and a state of mindfulness is attained however transiently.

Calming the mind to mushin, or “no mind.” Removing internal chatter to allow the mind to function more efficiently.

Nagamine Hanshi focused on achieving this state through the study and practice of Zazen and Zazen meditation.

Other Okinawa styles have incorporate the kata Sanchin. Sanchin, literally translates as "three battles" which refers to the development of mind, body and spirit.

Sanchin is a deceivingly simple kata, linear movements, basic block and punches incorporated into the sanchin dachi stance. The difficulty does not lie in the moves themselves but rather the single minded focus on tension and relaxation that accompanies the movements and centers on awareness of the breath.

If you are looking to expand your practice by incorporating a traditional Okinawan kata while retaining the focus of mindfulness consider adding Sanchin to your repertoire.

There are numerous resources for Sanchin with some variations from practitioner to practitioner. YouTube (below) has several clips.

Goju-Ryu Sanchin Kata By Morio Higaonna

Higaonna Sensei, Sanchin - Explanation and Training

Sanchin kata by Goshi Yamaguchi

Another excellent source is available from Tsunami Productions located at

So, does Sanchin actually work as a vehicle to mindfulness? If done correctly; yes. More than one practitioner has experienced moments of enlightenment or "satori" while performing Sanchin. (Traditionally satori refers to the achievement of kenshō which is the experience of "seeing into one's true nature".)

All of this is not to say the process is easy or even attainable for everyone but it is another avenue for more fully developing the holistic karate-ka and not just the punching-kicking mindless karate "master" so many occidentals view themselves as.


Cox Hakase

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Conservation of Energy
"Things Are NOT as They Seem!"

I was training a small group of visiting Wado-Ryu stylists in “Slow Zen – Mindfulness” training this weekend and we began taking about kata. Sigh. . . .

They training in a version of Pinan III which has some variations not seen in Matsubayashi-Ryu. See Below:

Pinan Sandan – Wado-Ryu Performed by: Maicon Nonoyama

Mawashi Hiji-Uke (Harai) or a “Sweeping Elbow Block” In Matsubayashi-Ryu traditionally this is referred to as a shoulder block.

Seeing the move as a sweeping elbow block or a shoulder block cannot be, or should not be, the correct interpretation of the move.

I tried block a straight punch with first my elbow and then my shoulder. Even knowing when the strike was coming it was nearly impossible to effectively block and left me in a vulnerable position with my back exposed to the attacker. Don’t believe me? Try it.

I then experienced a “BFO” (Blinding Flash of the Obvious)!

It is neither a elbow or a shoulder block, it’s a side step, upper body only.

The strike is launched and you spin your upper body to avoid contact, but just barely. This placed you in a perfect position to execute a reverse back fist to the unprotected head of the attacker and positions you perfectly to trap their extended arm and take them to the ground or dislocate the shoulder, All in a fraction of seconds.

Watch Hanshi Ota, Eihachi perform the same kata. The avoidance of the strike is clear as is the position for counter attacking it places you in:

Pinan Sandan – Matsubayashi-Ryu Performed by Hanshi Ota, Eihachi

This is NOT a beginner technique, it is simplistically sophisticated! Not only that but it also adheres to Nagamine Shoshin’s doctrine incorporating his view of sidestepping to avoid contact while place yourself in an excellent position to counter strike.

How is it I never saw this before?

The old Okinawan saying is there are no secret techniques in karate. Apparently this is true, this was staring me in the face for 20+ years.

Time to go back an look at the Fukyugatas!


Cox Hakase

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Taking a Life

"If you can't be safe, be deadly."
Unknown U.S. Army Ranger

What is Okinawan-Karate really about?

- Self-Defense?
- Exercise and Physical Training?
- Maintaining Okinawan Traditions?
- None of the above?

Karate is about a singular event in your life, the moment you either take another person's life of give them yours. Karate is about life and death, that moment where years or decades of training suddenly are called upon and you either live or die.

I know, sounds melodramatic; but it's not.

I can train you in karate, I can teach you blocks, punches, kicks, yadda-yadda-yadda, but how do you learn to kill? How do you take a technique you've learnt in a safe, nurturing environment with other yudansha who you know will not intentional hurt, maim, or kill you and suddenly move beyond those limitations and terminate another man's life?

"Well I can train full contact."

You can, in it might help, but in that moment of singularity when the awareness leaps into you mind and you realize "for me to live, I must kill", how do you prepare, more importantly how do I prepare you for that moment?

We've all heard the instructors, at that time of month when their testosterone it at it's highest, encouraging you to "gouge their eyes out. … rip of their arm and beat them to death with it…" and other mindless pabulum. If you're 12 years old it does sound C-O-O-O-O-L but it's dumb. It doesn't work. Worse yet, if you do injure, or maim someone their lawyer will sue you AND your instructor who spouted off that maniacal crap.

Few martial arts students have been in actual hand-to-hand, life-or-death combat. So what we say we would do is based on a mindless repetition of what other equally mindless peers and instructors have told us. Maybe we should consider thinking for ourselves?

You've probably never heard of Col. David Grossman, but you should have. He's not a martial artist in the oriental sense of the word but he is a true renaissance martial artist. He's an Army Ranger and PhD psychologist who taught psychology at West Point (the U.S. Army Military Academy). His expertise is in how we teach young boys out of high school to become killers when everything in society tell them such behavior is abhorrent.

Col. Grossman is the developer of The The Warrior Science Group. He has written such books as; "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society",. . . "On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace", . . . "Warrior Mindset", . . . and others.

As a paramedic/critical care/emergency/flight and Air Force nurse I will tell you the human body is, at best, frail. Death can be produced easily. It's not like the movies; there's no sound track, not drums; one second you're alive and the next second your dead. It's that simple. The next morning the monthly bills arrive, a new contestant is thrown off Survivor, the phone rings, Email continues, etc. The world continues to turn, unaware, unaffected, by the death.

Funerals, Wakes, Stencils on Windshields, are NOT about the dead, they are about the survivors.

The physical act of killing is a surprisingly simple task. The psychological preparation prior to taking a life and the psychological preparation for dealing with the aftermath is far more difficult and training I have never seen in a dojo or even talked about except in mindless "manly" banter. Colonel Grossman breaks down the B.S. into the reality of the act.

If you are not familiar with Col Grossman's works, consider "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" it's available in both print and audio CD. He talks about the detrimental effects of learning to kill to the individual and society. In the process you learn a lot about how individuals become indoctrinated and capable of killing despite societal admonitions against such acts.

Think about it, I can teach your 4,000 different bunkai to 27 different kata and in a fight you'll throw up you arm and cower behind them while you opponent rains down the blows. Or if we follow the Osensei's teaching when he says "it takes 10 years of training to become proficient in one kata" we respond instinctively, muscle memory, mindlessly and yet completely mindful. "Mizo no kokoro" in all it's beauty and simplicity!

You may have the most perfect execution of Kusanku, your dojo buddies have acclaimed you as the next Bruce Lee, but on the street, when assaulted, you will do three things; block, punch and low kick. Why? Because THOSE are instinctual, mindfully mindless. If you stop to think about what technique to do next, or worse yet, you've learned SO many techniques you can make up you mind what to use; you're road-kill.

Street thugs, hit-and-run "gangstas", don't train in the dojo for years like we do, they learn the art of the sucker punch. The sucker punch is great, when delivered properly is has a 80-90% success rate. Best yet, when it fails the assailant simply runs away. What would you do? No not that insane stream of martial arts conciseness running through your head right now but in reality; WHAT WILL YOU DO?(how do you know?)


Cox Hakase

References: - The Warrior Science Group - Killolgy Research Group