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Friday, December 28, 2012

Challenge Coins are Here!

 Originally if you walked into a military bar and placed your challenge coin on the bar then everyone else had to produce their coins or buy everyone in the bar a drink. If everyone produced their coin, you had to buy the bar a round.

 In martial arts the meaning is somewhat different.

 The coin is typically given to yudansha (dan rank holders) as a reminder of their achievement and a symbol of their attainment of true advanced student status.

 When given to dojo mudansha non-dan rank holders), the coin represented an acknowledgement of that student's potential to excel in the dojo and the art.

 Regardless of rank, the challenge coin serves as a easily hidden reminder to the practitioner they ARE a martial arts practitioner and are expected to conform to the highest of morale and ethical standards. This is best embodied in the slogan "Karate ni sente nashi" or "There is no first attack in karate."

 This does not actually mean for you to allow the other person to strike first but, as Nagamine Hanshi explained it. "Don't be there."

 Don't be where trouble might start. If you're not there then there is no danger of you having to strike first.

 These polished brass metal coins each come in an individual PVC packet and are finished in full color with an epoxy coating to preserve the paint. The coin is 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 2.9 mm thick. This limited edition coins are in-stock and now available for $16.50 each Just click on the PayPal button below. (U.S. postage is free! - Contact me first if you are ordering from outside the United States).

Cox Hakase


Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Two Bits on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

 Adam Lanza now joins a growing list of disturbed American assassins which include other "notables" such as John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahlmer, Jared Loughner and James Holmes. It seems like the horror is only worsening but, as a country, we have a history of under-service to people suffering from the ravages of mental illness. That "head in the sand" attitude has been around for a very long time and we pay for it frequently.

 Let's avoid the quagmire of "Pro-Gun" versus "Anti-Gun" for minute. There has never been a case of any gun jumping off a store shelf and walking down to the nearest school, temple, polling place, etc. and shooting people. There has always been a deeply troubled mind behind the guns. When guns weren't available other means were used.

 On May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, MI, Andrew Kehoe used explosives to kill his wife, as well as 43 other people, including 38 children; and injuring 58 people in setting off bombs in what came to be known as the "Bath School Disaster." The only time he effectively used a firearm was when he shot the dynamite in his truck as a successful suicide.

 Eliminating guns, or knives, or baseball bats, machetes, swords, spears, etc. would be an ineffective stop-gap measure at best. Why? Because it does not address the true problem; the assailant, frequently the mentally ill assassin behind the horrors.

 The United Kingdom was highly successful in outlawing almost every type of firearm imaginable. And yes, their firearm murder rate did drop, however they now have a significant problem with murders/assaults involving edged weapons, i.e. knives.

 It is time we stop these needless, horrific, and pitiful killings. NO ONE can stop them all but I would suggest the following as a good first step.

    (1) Immediate funding for mental health counselors in every school (grade school, middle school, high school and colleges/universities. They would NOT be school counselors, instead their job would be to intervene early and help identify individuals with issues before they result to violence.

    (2) Enforce Mental Health/Health Insurance parity laws

    (3) Education loan forgiveness for Mental Health Counselors (NOT Social Workers)!

    (4) Affordable psychotropic medications for individuals who need them.

    (5) Train school teachers (who wish the training and responsibility) in concealed weapons carry and close quarters handgun techniques. Sounds stupid, right? Remember when it sounded stupid to train Airline pilots to carry guns as well???

    (6) Recruit more police and increase their pay to make it a more attractive career. Change police academies from a one semester course to a minimum of an Associate's Degree. The expanded curriculum to include Crisis Intervention Training, Introduction to psychopathology, and Abnormal psychology (not just criminal psychology)

    (7) Pass a federal law allowing certified Law Enforcement Officers (active and retired) to carry concealed weapons in any state of the union (not just where they work) to include airlines, buses and Amtrak.

    (8) Institute stringent training and certification guidelines, including a psychological evaluation, and then allow open carry to those who meet the new criteria.

    (9) Mandatory jail sentences for any "journalist" (Print or TV) who asks a family member of a murdered victim "What are you feeling right now?"

 You may not agree with me, but then that is what made American great: our right to disagree.


Cox Hakase

Monday, November 26, 2012

Deadly Hands

“When confronted by an opponent;
Run away rather than fight.
Fight rather than be injured.
Injure rather than be maimed.
Maim rather than kill.
Kill rather than be killed.”

This instruction fits hand in in hand with the karate maxim “Karate ni sente nashi” loosely translated “There is no first strike in karate”

This DOES NOT mean the individual trained in karate waits till after the opponent throws the first punch rather it is best defined by Osensei Nagamine Shoshin who said “Karate ni sente nashi” really means “don’t be there”. Meaning as a karate person do not place yourself in a position or situation where you will be in a fight. If you’re not there when the fight starts you never throw the first strike.

An individual proficient in karate CAN kill another person with their hands. Knowing that should temper your actions. If you have a .45 pistol in your pocket and the other person starts waving a stick around why would you shoot them if you could simply walk away? You COULD have killed them but you did not. Should you find yourself in a situation where a fight is imminent: LEAVE. You are not a coward, you are potentially saving the other person’s life and certainly avoiding a world of painful (and potentially expensive) court appearances. Remember; you can be found innocent in a criminal court and still be found guilty in a civil court (remember O.J.?) Sure a civil court cannot throw you into jail but they can get 25 cents out of every dollar you make for the rest of your life!

What about legal consequences. Legally the law always respects someone who clearly tries to leave the situation, makes every attempt to leave, then engages in physical combat only when they are cornered and have no option in order to defend themselves. If your ego says “If I leave I’ll feel like a coward” then you have a problem you need to resolve within yourself. If your Sifu, Sensei, Instructor says “When you fight, fight to kill!” find a new instructor. Fight only to escape and then only with the intensity and the ferocity required to make that escape. The coup de grĂ¢ce only exist in movies - forget it, it’s a guaranteed prison sentence.

“Winning, losing and running away” can be nothing more than simple projections of the ego. Don’t fall for them.

Cox Hakase

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Does The Punching Fist Rotate 180 Degrees?

Basic technique teaches us to hold the fists in chamber palm up. As we punch the fist twist 180 degrees with the twist ending in contact with the opponent.

Why? Well I've heard all kinds of bizarre answers: "the twist at the end macerates the skin on impact…" , "the twisting action makes blocking the punch like trying to grab a spinning top" and even "the spin of the fist is a dilution of dim-mak [the delayed death touch] and produces a flu like feeling for days after you are struck with it." The last one is actually my favorite!

In actuality it is much simpler than that. The cocked fist, palm up, remains relaxed as does the arm. Try holding the fist in chamber palm down. Really feels a lot different, doesn't it?

As you execute the punch, the twisting movement allows the arm to remain non-tensed until impact. This increases speed while maintaining anatomical alignment throughout the technique. This process significantly increases the power delivered by the punch. Experiment: Hold the fist cocked in chamber, palm down, and straight punch without twisting. How much power can you generate. Immediately then re-execute the punch correctly. You will immediately notice a tremendous difference in (1) the lack of tension in the arm muscles (before and during execution), (2) the power generated by the technique, and (3) the stability of the arms and shoulder during the punch.

Tension equals slow. Tension equals decreased power. Tension equals unnatural action.

Now, all this being said, what's the point? Simple. . . the most important part of the Matsubayashi-Ryu punching technique is missed by most students, even many yudansha.

When you punch the Makiwara, what anatomical position is the fist on impact with the pad? 90% + will not their fist is palm down, top of the hand parallel to the ground, i.e. the fist has completed it's 180 degree turn upon impact. BAD! That means the majority of the potential force generated by the punch is depleted upon impact. We are striking the MAKIWARA. If we fight like we train this means we will strike OUR OPPONENT.

In reality we should not aim to hit the Makiwara, not the opponent but we should focus on punching through both. We are not trying to hit an opponent in the face instead we should be trying to hit him in the back of his head. Through his face.

If I go to punch an opponent in the face, my force ends in his face. If I go to punch him in the back of his head, my fist is moving full force, full speed as it strikes him in the face. Which would you rather be struck by?

Now back to the Makiwara. If you apply the above to Makiwara training it now means at the point of impact the force should NOT be fully rotated 180 degrees. Probably closer to 90 degrees [think of the Isshin-Ryu fist].

"Yeah, but if I hit the Makiwara like that I'll be hitting full force."

Yes you would, But when you strike the Makiwara correctly you learn to control your power and do not strike it with 100% power. This concept was summed up by Motubu Choki in his book "Okinawan Kempo" (1921). He said "It should be noted that a student should be able to control his strength when practicing with a Makiwara. If he uses 80% of his strength to strike a Makiwara, he should maintain 100% of his strength when he pulls his arms back after striking…" The key to rapidity in punching technique is paradoxical; you can punch as fast as you can but still you will increase your speed when you concentrate on pulling the deployed fist back into the ready chamber. FYI: Motubu Hanshi spends most of Chapter 4 describing the proper use of the Makiwara.

Motubu Hanshi had a great influence on Osensei who said in his book "The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do": "There are no karate men who do not use the Makiwara."

Okay, great review of basic technique, but how does that help me in training? Answer: it doesn't if you continue to train the same way you always have. Next time, in practicing punching, try the following.

1) Forget fast. Punch so slow the entire technique take 5 seconds or more to deliver.

2) With the slow technique, don't tens the muscles but concentrate on becoming aware of what the punch feels like; in you hand, wrist, arm, shoulder. This is called mindfulness. (Remember Osensei's lecture - "The Fist and Zen As One"?)

3) As you develop this muscle awareness, begin to speed the technique up while maintaining the awareness of your body's movements.

4) Hang up a piece of paper (free hanging) and practice punching it. Extend the mindful practice you are developing in to becoming aware of what it feels like hitting the paper. Do you slow down, hold back, pull your punches?

5) Then hang two pieces of paper, one 6 inches behind the other. Focus on striking the second sheet of paper (behind the first). How does that change the way it feels striking the first sheet?

6) Over time extend the practice to harder objects and finally to the Makiwara. Augment this training with breaking practice.


Cox Hakase

Friday, September 28, 2012

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet . . .

Students always want to execute blindingly fast Bruce Lee kicks, punches and delayed death touches. It looks great on the movies because that is where they belong; in the movies.

Take kata for instance. How fast is too fast? Well to arrive at the proper answer we need to look at the function of kata. Kata is designed to perfect basic techniques and present them in such a manner as to allow beginners to see potential applications of the movements and allow advanced students to develop their own bunkai.

However bunkai and “favorite techniques” are pretty much worthless. Should an occasion arise where you are called upon to use your skills you automatically revert to basics. Blame it on muscle memory. When Billie Bob makes a disparaging remark about your parents (specifically your mother) and steps in to sucker punch you you don’t stop to think “cool he’s going to throw with his right, I’ll step in, middle block, flip my blocking arm around into an arm lock, counter strike with a palm heel to his chin while I sweep him with my from leg!” No, you execute a middle block and counter punch before you even realize what you were doing.

Why? Because you did the middle block – punch 2,000 times in the dojo. The fancy technique you did maybe 20 time 4 months ago. In a crisis you really have “mizo no kokoro” – mind like water and it flows to the familiar, the tried and true: basics, not fancy.

In a real-world confrontation numerous different Catecholamines (hormones and other chemicals) are dumped into our system. These chemicals prepare us to either fight or run away (fight or flight response) They speed up our reaction time, narrow our focus of concentration and focus our mind.

So what does that have to do with speed and kata? Wait for it.. .

When we practice, even at “full speed” it is not adrenline driven, anxiety induced hyperspeed. In a real fight every thing is far fast than we every plan for; everything is sped up. If we doing blindingly fast training those techniques become sloppy and befuddled in a real fight. If we train “dojo full speed” then when the need arises we execute proper effective but rapidly delivered techniques.

So how do you know when you are moving too fast in training? When you blur. Remember: Wax-on . . .Wax-off not "Wax-on-Wax-Off"!

By that I mean when there is not a distinct transition from one technique to another. “Punchblock” should be executed punch/block. One count kata practice deprives us of this training (though it has it’s own uses). Kata, by the count, allows us to learn to execute distinct, precisely delivered techniques before going on to the next technique. In a well performed kata, even when done fast, a trained on-looker can see distinct individual techniques, not a Bruce Lee blur.

Challenge: Try delivering a block and punch full force, full speed in makiwara training. It’s a little slower than FTL (faster than light) kata movements, isn’t it?

Cox Hakase

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How Can You Find A Reputable and Safe Karate Dojo/Style To Study At?

It’s an oxymoron: wherever children are found in numbers or where individuals go to learn to protect themselves from predators your will always find predators.  Martial Arts schools, unfortunately, fall into these categories. 

Then how do you know the “style” really is a style or something some guy made up in his garage?

Some suggestions:

1.  Annual contracts – avoid.  These schools are frequently money over art.

2.  Go and observe a class first before enrolling your child or yourself.  If they cannot let you observe without signing-up because “we cannot reveal our secret instructional techniques passed down from generation to generation…”  Don’t walk out . . . RUN!  If you can’t run, fly!

3.  Get the instructor’s name and the assistant instructor’s names (if they won’t give them to you see the advice in para 2.  Take the names and enter them into the sexual predator database.  In Florida it’s located at;jsessionid=N3dTdZdLXhFDpGejJi5GLQ__  the Department of Justice National Database is located at  Sometimes, depending on the state, these records can be expunged, if so the “Internet Archives Wayback Machine” may be able to help (if you’re suspicious).

4.  Ask about liability insurance- they should have it.

5.  Ask about style and school affiliation – then verify it on-line.  NOTE: many good schools change affiliation so look at their history as well.

6.  Trophies in the window mean competition not traditional karate.  If the instructor says he was the “World Full Contact Karate Champion” it would be verifiable on the internet. If it was “secret” competitions, follow the advice in para 2 above.

7.  Talk with current students – not in class but outside of class.

8.  Ask if the instructors are all CPR certified and if they have a Automated External Cardiac Defibrillator (AED) on premises.  Heart attacks are actually rather rare in dojos but AEDs improve survival percentages significantly.

9.  Expect minor injuries.  The martial arts ARE a contact activity.

10.  If you ask about promotions and they can guarantee a promotion time frame refer to the advice in para 2 above.

11.  Martial arts training IS meant to be rigorous, rigorous is NOT the same thing as sadistic.

12.  If you are taking karate to learn self-defense, don’t. Buy a gun instead.  To become proficient in self-defense in the martial arts takes a minimum of 3-5 years of continuous practice.  Anyone promising you differently should be avoided.

13.  Any School instructor who participated in a “Death Match” is off his medication and should be avoided.

14.  Any instructor who can “kill a man 50 different ways” can also rip you off 100 different ways – avoid.

15.  If there are no female students, ask why.  If the answer is “Women cannot endure the rigors of our training” leave (even if you or your child is male)

16.  Weapons training is normal in martial arts schools but not during the first year or so.

17.  Students bowing to the head instructor or a photo the style’s developer is NOT a sign of a cult or replacement religion.  It is simple, professional Asian courtesy.  Chill out.

18.  Bottom line:  If you feel like the school is not right or that something is wrong, go to another school .  Trust your instincts!

Cox Hakase

Why Do American Karate-Ka's Knees all go Bad?

Have you noticed? When you go into an American Dojo you can hear the mechanical clicks of the knee braces throughout the class.  Yet when I lived in Okinawa I never saw an Okinawan Shorin-Ryu practitioner with a knee brace on (unles they injured it outside of the dojo). Why?

The reason is both clear and disturbing.  The infamous roundhouse kick: the mawashi-geri.

Okay here's the even bigger news:  mawashi-geri is NOT a Mataubayshi-Ryu technique!  Don't believe me?  Look it up.  Still most every Matsubayashi-Ryu dojo uses the roundhouse kick - and many of those dojo members have bad knees.

There is a reason Nagamine Hanshi did not include it in basis techniques when he developed Matsubayashi-Ryu: it's ineffective.  Sure you can occasionally score a point in competition but Matsubayashi-Ryu is not about competition, its about fighting in the street.  In a real fight, a kick targeted above the waist is an invitation to test your ground skills.

I know what you're going to say "But kickboxers use roundhouses all the time as do the Korean Arts." and you are absolutely correct.  However remember Korean arts (regardless of what they say) came from Shotokan (Japanese) which came from the Okinawan arts.  You never see a 60 year old Korean throwing roundhouse kicks but even Nagamine Hanshi could throw conventional kicks in his 80s.

I understand a beautifully executed mawashi-geri impresses your friends and influences judges, but its sort of like smoking; by the time the damage begins to show (i.e. your knees) its too late.

Again it boils down to a simple question: are you studying traditional Okinawan karate or a bastardized American version of the art.  Art vs. sport.

Cox Hakase