Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The many faces of Bassai

I'm a huge fan of Kata. I remember how I felt when I first learned Ne-Sei-Shi-Sho/Dai (recently renamed to Ne-Sei-Shi in the new Canadian Chito-ryu Technical Manual). It was the first kata I learned in Chito-ryu that did not involve a lot of repetition, like Kihon-dosa-ichi/ni or Shi-Ho-Hai, and it required much more attention to detail than previous kata.

One of the requirements for my 1st Kyu is the kata Bassai. The kata is quite difficult with respect to feet positioning, as well as the block and strike techniques at the beginning of the kata. While searching for more information about Bassai on the Internet, I found that the Chito-ryu version is a little different from the other styles of Karate, so I decided to research the kata more, and document what I discovered.

Passai (later renamed to Bassai when Karate was brought to Japan due to the different pronunciation of the kanji) is thought to be at least 400 years old. I won't get into the specifics of the kata as you can just read the Wikipedia article here.

Below is a video of Matsumora no Passai as done by Sensei Bud Morgan (USSKA). I especially like this version as it is slowed down and you can see the finer detail in the kata.

Matsumura no Passai, as you can probably guess, is the kata Passai as envisioned by Matsumura Sokon, who is the maternal grandfather of O'Sensei Chitose. This version of Passai is said to be very close to the original (if not the same), although I am having trouble finding anything that verifies that with the exception of some various comments around the Internet. More on this later. Matsumura Sokon is said to have brought this kata back after training Chuan Fa in China.

Kokan Oyadomari envisioned Passai slightly different. Oyadomari no Passai, also known as Tomari no Passai, has many similarities to Matsumura no Passai, which some say it is based on. Another theory is that Kokan Oyadomari learned Passai from a Chinese living in Tomari, possibly from someone with the same Martial Arts training as the Chuan Fa teachers of Matsumura (Anan?). Kokan Oyadomari's version of Passai has more "local flavour"  that Matsumura's.

Anko Itosu, a student of Matsumura Sokon, brought Karate to the education system in Okinawa. Itosu no Passai is another variation of Passai which is based on Matsumura no Passai.

Finally, here is Chito-ryu Bassai, as performed by Sensei Glenn Euloth from the Atlantic Karate Club in Halifax, NS.  There are a few minor errors in this video, but I believe it's mostly due to the fact that the kata has been refined slightly since Sensei Euloth learned it. You can see many similarities between Chito-ryu Bassai and Tomari no Passai.

While searching the Internet for Passai, I came across this video. Before you continue, let me just say that if you are not already reading the blog Karate by Jesse, you should be. OK, my fanboy plug is done. You may now continue.

You can see the similarities to Chito-ryu Bassai in the sequence of steps. This is an older version of Tomari no Passai, but Chito-ryu Bassai is said to have originated from Shuri-te. Well, it seems that the above video is of a Shurinji-ryu student demonstrating the Old Tomari no Passai for Nakazato Joen Sensei, who was a student of Chotoku Kyan, and in case you're forgetting, Chotoku Kyan was one of O'Sensei's teachers in Shuri.

I believe that Chito-ryu Bassai is as close to the original Passai as we're going to find in Karate today. When I began training in Chito-ryu last year (after a bazillion years away from it), I began to ponder on the possible origins of a lot of the kata in the style. Seeing so many kata with the same name but performed so differently, I thought that O'Sensei changed the kata to fit the style he was perfecting. It appears that O'Sensei preserved them, and the other styles changed things so much to fit their needs.

Yet another reason I love Chito-ryu.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No guarantee

I'm not sure if you are aware of this or not, but Chito-ryu went through a bit of a break-up a few years back. On one side is the International Chito-ryu Karate-do Association and affiliated clubs and National Organizations, which focus on continuing the teachings passed down from O-Sensei while attempting to modernize the style. On the other side are those clubs and National Organizations that wish to expand on the knowledge and teachings of O-Sensei while keeping with the traditions that helped define the style.

Now, I belong to a certain Yahoo group that is centered around discussion of the Chito-ryu style. This week, someone asked a question. The question was innocent enough.

What is the proper position for the Arms and Hands when standing in Hachi-ji Dachi, and why?

OK. Interesting question. Now, here is one of the responses sent to the list:

Do you mean by "proper", the antiquated style of Chito-ryu as was taught by the now deceased O-Sensei? Or "proper" by the up to date and more proper, living Soke Tsuyoshi Chitose?

Am I wrong to think that we, as Karateka, are supposed to be above this type of behavior? I'm sure that the others on the list will just ignore this person and answer the question.

I think what he means is the "old" way which is steeped I'm tradition and deeply rooted in his Okinawan training which provided us with a method of becoming not only better fighters but also better people in society. As opposed to, the new watered down, sterile, seemingly unconnected version that seems to be prevalent today.

Wait... What?? Are you kidding me? Can we not just answer the question without getting into why this style is better than that one? Every style has it's positive and negative points. Sure, there are watered down styles of Karate that have been born in the past twenty or so years, but so what? Crap eventually gets to the point where it stinks enough that someone will flush it.

I especially like this part of the response:
...not only better fighters but also better people in society.
Better people in society don't troll.

I'll finish with this quote which, I think, is quite fitting:
"Karate strives to build character, improve human behavior, and encourage modesty. It cannot, however, guarantee it."
- Ankoh Itosu

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ichi gan ...

I began teaching in October at the Apohaqui Karate Club.  It's located in the Apohaqui Elementary School, for those of you who are interested.  Now, I'm only 2nd Kyu, but my students are all 10th Kyu, and if I can't convey the basics by now, then I'll be in for a real treat when I test for my 1st Kyu in January.

So, anyways, I was doing a bit of research into the exact meaning of the concept Ichi-gan, ni-ashi, san-tan, shi-riki so that I could introduce those concepts to my students. Now, I know what you're saying. "But Terry-san, everyone knows the meaning of those words! They are drilled into our heads from day one!". Well, yes they are, but the message being delivered is not the same, and I would like to have a clearer understanding of what it is I am teaching my students.

My Sensei (actually, every Sensei in KV Karate) teaches the following:
  • Ichi Gan - "Eyes First". You must look before performing the technique.
  • Ni Ashi- "Two, Feet". You must have a solid foundation.
  • San Tan - "Three, Focus of Power". Tighten the Pyramidalis muscle.
  • Shi Riki - " Four, Technique". Perform the action required.
The theme of the above is pretty simple; it is all focused around delivering a technique. "Look. Get in your stance. Tighten the Pyramidalis muscle. Deliver the technique.". Let's expand on the definitions a little bit, shall we?

Ichi Gan - "See Your Opponent"
Noma Hasashi explains in "The Kendo Reader" (found here) that "The eyes should always be directed towards the opponent so that his face occupies the centre of vision while at the same time remaining aware of the opponent in his entirety.".  I especially like the next sentence: "In the same way as looking at a distant mountain, one must view the opponent with a long focus and be aware at a single glance of his whole aspect, from head to foot.". Basically, this boils down to the simple adage: "Don't just look. See.".

Ni Ashi - "Foundation and Footwork"
Having a proper stance allows you to deliver the technique with maximum power and stability. Understanding footwork will allow you to transition efficiently into your stance so that you can deliver the technique. It's not just about "having a good stance". You have to get into your stance first.

San Tan - "Focus"
Not just focus of power, but focus of mind. While doing a bit of reading, I found a site that defined this as "guts and determination", and it makes sense. By tightening the muscles two inches below your navel, you are focusing your power and strength. This area, coincidentally enough, is where your "Chi" power originates from.

Shi Riki - "Technique"
Performing the technique correctly is not enough. You must direct the focused power and strength through your arms (or legs) and deliver them with power and force, BUT, the power and force comes immediately before the impact. Muscles must be relaxed in order to deliver the technique with speed.

So there they are. My expanded definitions on the "Ichi-gan, ni-ashi, san-tan, shi-riki" concept. While researching this a bit, I noticed that most martial arts styles refer to more focused definition; either the physical (look), or the metaphysical (see). I believe we need to teach the broader definitions above in Karate. Begin with the simple explanations, and as the student advances through the Kyu belts, expand on them. I know I have a better understanding of things just from the brief bit of research I did on this.  I see a few things differently, and classes this week will have a refreshing new tone to them.

Ichi gan people. Ichi gan.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Great. Another blog.

Yeah. I know. Just what the Interwebs need. Another blog. This won't be another "Hey, look what my cat horked up this morning!" kind of blog. This will be a blog strictly for Martial Arts, specifically (but not limited to) the Chito Ryu style of Karate, as originally taught by Tsuyoshi Chitose.

Mushin (or mushin no shin) is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. It roughly translates to "no-mindedness". You may or may not remember this topic of discussion in "The Last Samurai", where Shin Koyamada's character explains to Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) what he needs to do in order to get past the level boss and save the princess (or something).

Don't remember? Check here.

This is what I am searching for in my martial arts studies. If you're serious about martial arts, you're possibly searching for it as well. Let's look together, shall we?