Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A brief history of Chinto

If I had a favourite kata, Chinto would not be it.  I really like it, but the spinning jump gets me, especially since one of my Senseis decided to tell me that I could throw a Mawari-ushiro-tobi-geri in there as part of the bunkai.  Now, when I get to that part of the kata, I'm thinking "Mawari-ushiro-tobi-geri", but what actually happens is most definitely not a possible mawari-ushiro-tobi-geri, and now I am never happy with the jump.

There are two root versions of modern-day Chinto; Shuri-te (Matsumura Sokon Sensei) and Tomari-te (Matsumora Kosaku Sensei). Whether these two versions originated from the same source is yet to be determined, but there are a large number of similarities between the two katas, which would hint at the idea of a single source.

The most common base story behind this kata can be found all over the internet, but I figured I might as well post it here as well, because the same story can never be told too many times (or in too many different ways) on the Internet.

According to legend, Chinto is named after a Chinese sailor, sometimes referred to as Annan, whose ship crashed on the Okinawan coast. To survive, Chinto stole from the crops of the local people. Matsumura Sōkon, chief bodyguard to the Okinawan king, was sent to defeat Chinto. In the ensuing fight, however, Matsumura found himself equally matched by the stranger, and consequently sought to learn his techniques. The kata is said to be the embodiment of the techniques learned from Chinto.

I find it hard to believe that the chief martial arts instructor and royal bodyguard to the King would be sent to take care of a thief hiding in the countryside.  My theory is that Chinto (which, by the way, roughly translates to "Fighter from the East" or "Fighting to the East", and I'm pretty sure is not the correct name of the person, although the name Chintou has been thrown around a bit as a possible name, but that's a pretty big coincidence) was part of a trade envoy who stayed on Okinawa for a period of time and taught gung-fu to a select group of locals, which included Matsumura Sokon and Matsumora Kosaku.  Chinto is also often referred to as Annan in some of the history I found, but I'm wondering if Annan is actually a reference to An Nanxiang, which is a village along the southern border of Fujian Province, and is often referred to as Annan. It's possible that the name of the gung-fu master and the name of the place where the gung-fu master was from were mixed in the passing down of the legend.

That's my theory.  Remember.  It's a theory.  Be nice.

Chitose Sensei derived Chito-ryu Chinto from the Chinto kata taught to him by Chotoku Kyan Sensei, who in turned learned Chinto from Matsumora Kosaku.  Chotoku's Chinto is almost exactly the same as Matsumora Kosaku's Chinto, except that Matsumora's Chinto has an east / west embusen, and Chotoku's Chinto has a north-west / south-east embusen.  Matsumura's Chinto has a typical north / south embusen.  Chitose Sensei's Chinto is a stripped down version of Chotoku's Chinto (with a few added extras), but with a north / south embusen.  The Shotokan kata Gankaku (Crane on a Rock) is derived from Matsumura's Chinto.

Clear?  Thought so.

Here is a great video of a karateka performing Chotoku's Chinto.

See the similarities to Chito-ryu Chinto?  If not, then let's take a look at Chito-ryu Chinto for comparison.

I find it very interesting that the Chinto Kata, with respect to Chito-ryu, is said to be from shuri-te, despite the evidence to the contrary.  Chotoku Kyan Sensei was from Shuri, but Shuri is not the birthplace of this kata.  Neither is Tomari, for that matter :)

References (for further enjoyment)

Friday, August 12, 2011


Picture this: You're a kyu belt in a Chito-ryu dojo, and one day you decide to take an extended trip (go to college) to another city (half-way across the country). You really want to continue your martial arts training, but are unable to locate a Chito-ryu school in the area, so you evaluate the many schools available to you from the intensive research you did (the Yellow Pages) and pick a new dojo based on many important criteria; price (you are a student after all).

Shortly after joining, you're at a work-out, and a senior student in the club has offered to help you learn a new kata.

Sempei: "Zenkutsu-dachi!"

You: "What?"

Sempei: "Zenkutsu-dachi! Did your old school not teach you zenkutsu-dachi? Couldn't have been much of a school!" *

You drop into seisan-dachi, and get a strange look from the sempei.

Sempei: "Hangetsu-dachi is not zenkutsu-dachi. Also, that's a terrible hangetsu-dachi."

You: "What am I doing wrong with this stance? Can you give me a hand with hangetsu-dachi?"

Sempei corrects, fine-tunes and corrects again.

You: "Is this stance used in some kata?"

Sempei: "You've never heard of Hangetsu? Are we going to have to re-teach you everything?" *

You: "Apparently so. Can we go over Hangetsu?"

Sempei: "You're not ready for it, so I'll just show you."

Sempei performs Hangetsu.

You: "Hey, that actually looks a lot like Seisan."

DING! And suddenly, the world makes a bit more sense.

OK. I admit it. That story was about me.

Let's fast-forward twenty-ish years.  I'm back at a Chito-ryu school (actually, the same one I moved away from), and I am reviewing all of the kata I learned many (many) years ago with Sensei. We get to Seisan, and my mind goes back to Hangetsu, and I think "if Hangetsu-dachi originated from Hangetsu, then Seisan-dachi must have originated from Seisan. Since Seisan-dachi is not as hard on the body as Zenkutsu-dachi, and offers smoother transitions, that must be the reason why it is the primary stance in Chito-ryu katas.".

DING! And suddenly, the world makes a even more sense.

Now, seisan-dachi has gone through some refinement in the past several years, and no longer resembles hangetsu-dachi as closely as it used to. Modern seisan-dachi is more of a cross between hangetsu-dachi and zenkutsu-dachi.  Let's take a closer look.

Width: three fists or shoulder width on inside of feet
Depth: two full foot spans from toe of back foot to heel of front foot.
Weight: 60% front, 40% back

Many styles use zenkutsu-dachi, with only slight variations seen between those styles.  Zenkutsu-dachi is a deep forward stance where the back leg is straight, and the front leg is bent at the knee at approximately 45 degrees. Some styles prefer the front foot to be turned slightly inward, some styles prefer the center line of the foot to be pointing straight ahead, and some styles want the inside edge of the front foot to be straight.  The key for this stance is the front shin should be perpendicular to the ground.  In order to grip the ground better, shime (inward tension) is employed on the front leg. Shotokan turns the back foot almost 90 degrees outwards to make it easier to deepen the stance.

Width: shoulder width on inside of feet
Depth: one full foot span from toe of back foot to heel of front foot.
Weight: 50% front, 50% back

Hangetsu-dachi (Half Moon stance) gets its name from the Shotokan kata Hangetsu, which, in case you are unaware, is the "Shotokan-ized" Seisan (Shuri, not Naha).  Hangetsu-dachi is a longer sanchin-dachi, but the back foot is turned towards the front, rather than turned inward.  The weight distribution of hangetsu-dachi is 50% (just like sanchin-dachi), and the stance employs shime (inward tension) and shibori (twisting) on both the front and back legs.

Width: shoulder width on inside of feet
Depth: one full foot span from toe of back foot to heel of front foot.
Weight: 60% front, 40% back

Seisan-dachi is one of the signature stances used in Chito-ryu, and is derived from hangetsu-dachi, and was actually named hangetsu-dachi before Soke Sensei renamed it to seisan-dachi several years ago (if anyone knows the approximate date, please let me know). Like hangetsu-dachi, shime and shibori are employed on both the front and back legs to solidify the stance.  The key difference is that the weight is more forward than hangetsu-dachi, with approximately 60% of the weight on the front foot, and the outside edge of the front foot is pointing straight ahead.  The back leg is not straight like zenkutsu-dachi, but rather has a slight bend to it.  In order to ensure you are in a proper seisan-dachi, sink into the stance, and then look down at your knee.  You should be able to just see the tip of the toenail on your big toe over your knee. That is the perfect angle for your stance, and from there, the angle of our knee will not change when transitioning to shiko-dachi, kosa-dachi, uchi-hachiji-dachi or niko-ashi-dachi.  This ensures that there is little to no vertical head movement during a transition.  There are other techniques to ensuring a solid seisan-dachi. I'll leave that as  a conversation you should have with your Sensei.

I find that a lot of karatekas (especially younger ones) pay far too little attention to their stances.  I know that I have suffered from that in the past (OK, recent past),  but if you pay attention to the stance and ensure the stance is correct (shime, shibori, other stuff you should already know, etc), after a while, sinking into a correct stance comes natural, and you just need to worry about your technique. The added bonus is, with a solid stance, the technique is stronger as well.

For a little bit of history about stances in Chito-ryu, I recommend reading this Ryushu Newsletter from the Ryusei Karate-do website, where I learned some of the above material.

* The attitude that most of the students had towards other schools and styles was one of the primary reasons why I left the dojo (and martial arts for twenty years), but that's another story.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


When I first started taking karate classes in my teens, the exercise that I found to be the most beneficial was the breathing and meditation at the end of class (mokuso). Now, I find that the breathing exercises are missing from classes.  I can understand why certain things are left out, especially when there are fifty kids under the age of 10 in the class, and getting some of them to "reflect" on anything would be an exercise in futility.

Mokuso (Meditation) was typically performed at the conclusion of the class, and allowed the students to practice deep breathing exercises which helped calm the mind, relax the muscles and improve circulation among the internal organs. It also helped the student learn to focus, as they were directed to focus on their inhaling and exhaling, and push everything else from their minds.

Now, just because we don't do it in class, doesn't mean that it's not an important part of our Martial Arts training.  As a practitioner of Karate, proper breathing is as much a part of the art as proper stances, or the hikite; it's more of an afterthought at the beginning, but when put to proper use, it adds so much to the technique. Karate (or any Martial Art for that matter) helps to improve the health of the practitioners, and breathing exercises help to facilitate that.

In order to help you work on proper breathing techniques, O'Sensei gave us three katas; Shime no dosa (actually a kihon kata), Niseshi and Sanchin. All three have portions that are to be performed under tension and with emphasis on the breathing. Now just because these breathing exercises are within a kata does not mean they don't have any similarity to the breathing exercises practiced during mokuso.

While hunting around for some background information on breathing techniques for martial arts, I happened across a fantastic article that detailed EVERYTHING I wanted to say, and more. So, here is an article by Aaron Hoopes from Shotokan Karate Magazine from August 2002. Many thanks to Mr. Hoopes for allowing me to re-print this.

Breathing Training for Martial Artists

by Aaron Hoopes

Shotokan Karate Magazine - August 2002
Re-printed with permission

One of the most important aspects of martial arts training is proper breathing. However, for practitioners of hard styles, effective breathing methods are often left to the students to figure out on their own. The central principle of breathing is of internal cleansing, getting rid of that which is old, worn out, and stale, and exchanging it for what is new, fresh, and energized. During inhalation we are bringing in fresh oxygen, nutrients, and vital energy. During exhalation we are expelling carbon dioxide and other toxins and poisons that we produce or collect in our daily lives.

There are a large number of breathing exercises. Some are simple and easy while others require years of practice. I will discuss the five I believe to be the most effective for the martial artists who are beginning to explore the potential of proper breathing. First, we will describe the two methods which are best suited for becoming aware of the body: Attention Breathing and Abdominal Breathing. We will then go on to the more advanced exercises of Reverse Abdominal Breathing and Nose Panting. Finally we will introduce The Complete Breath which is more challenging and requires increased concentration and practice.

In practicing these breathing exercises it is important to concentrate on breathing through the nose, both during inhalation and exhalation. Of course when training in the martial arts, breathing strictly through the nose is unrealistic. In fact it is physically impossible since the body's demand for oxygen increases too fast for the nose to handle the flow. However, while doing these specific exercises it is important. Think of it as a closed circuit within the body, breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. If you open your mouth, you break the circuit and the energy dissipates.

Attention Breathing

It is important to realize that people breathe differently. Children tend to breathe with their abdomen, while middle-aged people breathe with their stomachs, and older people often breathe mainly with their upper chests. But the way people breathe is also affected by other factors, emotions, for instance, or ill health. Someone who is excited will breathe faster and shallower than someone who is sad. Someone who is calm will breathe slowly and deeply. Someone out of shape may be panting after a short walk or climbing some stairs.

Attention breathing, as its name implies, is about focusing your awareness on the natural rhythm of your breath, not to control it but simply to observe it as a bodily function. Your awareness is the instrument which enables you to shift from unconscious breathing to conscious, or dynamic, breathing. This shift is accomplished by concentrating on the feeling of the body as it breathes. Feel the air as it enters your nostrils. Follow it as it flows into the lungs and notice how deeply it reaches into them. Maintain your full attention and follow it back up as you exhale. Feel the used air as it is expelled from the body.

Gradually, as you become aware of the feeling of the breath it should become smoother and more relaxed. But don’t try to change your breathing during Attention Breathing. Your aim is to observe your unconscious breathing habits so you will be able to feel the difference when you actually begin dynamic breathing. If you find your mind wandering, simply catch yourself and return to the breath. Try to perform Attention Breathing for five minutes each day at the same time of day, perhaps in the morning when you wake up or at night when you are about to go to bed. As you become used to it, see if you can focus on your breath at other times throughout the day. Eventually the awareness of the breath and your breathing should become an integral part of your life.

Abdominal Breathing

Once you become aware of your breathing, it is time to begin modifying your breathing habits. Abdominal breathing is by far the best breathing method for people beginning to study breathing exercises. Regular practice brings quick, tangible results. It is easy to learn and difficult to do incorrectly. In addition, Abdominal Breathing has the benefit of invigorating the abdominal muscles. Their constant movement massages the internal organs and increases blood circulation.

The basic idea is simple: fill the lungs from the bottom up. Abdominal Breathing is about filling the lungs completely. Most people breathe using only their chests or the top half of their lungs. Abdominal Breathing seeks to expand lung capacity by starting from the lowest part of the lungs. The focus, therefore, is on the abdomen, an area roughly three finger widths below the navel. Known as the hypogastrium in Western medical terminology, this area is called the dan tien in Chinese and hara in Japanese. This point is the focal point of Abdominal Breathing.

Start in whichever stance or posture you feel most comfortable. Inhale through the nose. Expand the abdomen gradually by lightly pushing out and down as the oxygen fills the lower lung cavity. Focus the mind on expanding the abdominal area. Don’t be overanxious and forcefully protrude the abdominal wall. Instead, try to achieve a gentle and smooth expansion in time with the inhalation. When the abdomen is full, exhale through the nose and pull the abdomen gently back into the body, compressing the lungs from the bottom. With each inhalation the abdomen expands, with each exhalation the abdomen contracts. It is important to remember that you should not expand or contract your chest; instead, feel as if you are drawing the air deep into the lower part of your body. Repeat for ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation, filling to maximum capacity and emptying completely with each breath.

Reverse Abdominal Breathing

Reverse Abdominal Breathing is more difficult than Abdominal Breathing simply because it reverses the natural flow of the breath. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method best suited for those who study the martial arts since it concentrates focus on the hara during exhalation. Regular practice strengthens the abdominal muscles and makes breathing naturally strong. Try blowing up a balloon while keeping one hand on your abdomen. As you blow out, your abdomen naturally expands instead of contracting. The same is true if you are trying to push a car that has run out of gas. In order to express the power you are putting into the act, you exhale while pushing out. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method which tends to infuse the breather with power.

Again, start in whichever stance or posture you feel most comfortable. Inhale through the nose. Slowly draw the abdomen in and up. The upper chest will naturally expand as oxygen fills your lungs. As you inhale, contract the muscles of your perineum. The perineum is the area between the anus and the lower edge of the pubis at the front of the pelvis. The central point of the perineum is called the huiyin in Chinese and is the focal point for Reverse Abdominal Breathing. By contracting and pulling up the huiyin you are able to concentrate on the abdominal area. Again, don’t be overanxious and forcefully squeeze the abdomen. Instead, focus on keeping a smooth and relaxed motion. When the lungs are full, exhale through the nose, release the huiyin, and push the abdomen out and down. Repeat for ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation, filling the lungs to maximum capacity and emptying them out completely with each breath.

Nose Panting

Breathing through the nose is of the utmost importance when practicing breathing exercises. The nose has a number of defense mechanisms that prevent impurities and extremely cold air from entering the body. First, a screen of nose hairs trap dust and other particles that could injure the lungs if we breathe through the mouth. Next, there is a long passage lined with mucus membranes, where excessively cool air is warmed and very fine dust particles that escaped the hair screen are caught. Finally, in the inner nose are glands which fight off any bacteria that may have slipped through the other defenses. The inner nose also contains the olfactory organ that gives us our sense of smell, which can detect poisonous fumes that could damage our health if we were to breathe them.

The Nose Pant is a great exercise for charging yourself up with energy if you feel sleepy or for releasing stress any time during the day. Imagine that you are blowing a piece of dust out of your nose by sharply puffing out through the nostrils. This is immediately followed by an equally sharp intake of air through the nose. This in-and-out ventilation should be repeated in rapid succession ten times. As you become comfortable with the exercise, increase the number of repetitions. When beginning, just concentrate on the nose and upper chest when breathing, but as you progress try to focus on the abdomen. Abdominal Nose Panting consists of contracting the abdomen as you puff out. Reverse Abdominal Nose Panting expands the abdomen on the puff out. After completing a session of Nose Panting, always follow with a couple of deep slow breaths to calm the body down.

The Complete Breath

The Complete Breath is a dynamic breathing exercise that is both simple and complex. Regular practice expands lung capacity, which, in turn, slows down unconscious breathing and makes it smoother and more regular. In addition, The Complete Breath maximizes oxygen intake and enables oxygen-rich blood to flow to the extremities. It also cleans and invigorates the lungs.

In the beginning it is best if The Complete Breath is practiced from a lying-down posture so maximum concentration can be placed on the exercise itself, which consists of four separate aspects: inhalation, retention, exhalation, and suspension.

  • Inhalation - Inhale through the nose. Expand the lower abdomen, pushing out and down, just as if you were starting Abdominal Breathing. Once the abdomen is full, continue inhaling and expand the chest, filling the upper lungs. Raise the collarbone and shoulders as you continue inhaling. Fill the throat and the nose. Stop.
  • Retention - Hold the breath in. Bring your attention to the fullness of the body. Feel the expansion circulating the oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Continue to hold the breath in for a count of ten.
  • Exhalation - Exhale through the nose. Contract the lower abdomen pushing in and up. Continue to exhale by squeezing the air from the lungs and chest. Lower the collarbone and shoulders. Blow the air from your throat and nose. Empty it all out. Stop.
  • Suspension - Hold the breath out. Bring your attention to the emptiness of the body. Feel your body like an empty balloon waiting to be filled. Continue to suspend breathing for a count of ten.
  • Repeat - On the next inhalation don’t gasp for air. Calmly and smoothly inhale just as before. Feel the air reaching far beyond your abdomen, filling every corner of your body like an expanding balloon. Notice the sensation of your body as the new oxygen is brought in.

Do the complete set five or ten times each day.

The purpose of breathing exercises is to enable you to bring awareness to your breathing. When you are aware of your breathing you can use it to maximum effectiveness. The change from unconscious to conscious breathing is accomplished by thinking about your breathing and becoming aware of your own body. Most of our behavior is unconscious. We walk around in our bodies, rarely noticing how they feel unless there is pain. Seldom do we consciously think of the body as feeling good. Feeling good shouldn’t be an absence of pain. It should be an invigorated, energetic state where you are comfortable and happy in your body. Becoming aware of your breath is a way to reach that feeling. Expanding your breathing ability is a way of extending that feeling.

Try to become more aware of your breathing during training and at other times. Take deeper breaths. Do regular Abdominal Breathing. If you feel yourself getting tense or angry, do some Attention Breathing and notice how your feelings change. If you are bored or sleepy, do some Nose Panting to re-energize yourself. No matter what you are doing, breathe. Make conscious dynamic breathing a regular part of your life and you will find it naturally benefits your martial arts training.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kuzushi: Where did my stance go?

This article was originally posted by me at okiblog.com. I highly recommend heading over there if you are interested in reading some great material about Okinawan Karate.

The term "Kuzushi" tends to confuse a few students at our club. I hear a few people talk about how you have to "break your opponents kuzushi before you can complete the technique.". Let's get the definition of kuzushi out of the way first, shall we?
Kuzushi - the point at which the stability of the stance is compromised, where the centre of balance is pushed to the point that requires movement in order to regain proper balance.
There are two points one should focus on in order to gain kuzushi on an opponent; the hips and the shoulders. The easiest way to disrupt these points is to crowd your opponent. Another method is to drive your opponent into the direction of least stability. I'm going to use some techniques from Juniko as examples.


The key to gaining kuzushi when crowding your opponent is to use your stance and technique against theirs. In Juniko, the eighth technique is the perfect example of this, as shown below beginning at 0:47.

  1. Attacker stands in hidari seisan-dachi, chudan kamae.
  2. Attacker performs migi oi-zuki.
  3. Defender steps back into hidari seisan-dachi and blocks with a heishu-uke.
  4. Defender steps forward into migi seisan-dachi, wraps his (or her) left arm around the punching arm of the attacker and shoots right hand past attackers neck over their left shoulder. At this point, the attacker and defender should be hip to hip. When stepping into seisan-dachi, the defender's right thigh pushes against the right thigh of the attacker, twisting their hips and pushing their hips to their left. Depending on the height of the people involved, this could even lead to the attackers right foot leaving the ground. This is the point of kuzushi. The attackers stance has been compromised, and unless they move, they are unable to maintain stability.
  5. Defender transitions their back foot into shiko-dachi and guides the attacker over their front leg for the take-down. Since the defender has gained kuzushi, there should be no effort required to take the attacker down.

Figure 1: Seisan-Dachi
Figure 1: Seisan-Dachi
The other method of gaining kuzushi is to drive your opponent in the direction of least stability. Each stance has it's strong points and weak points, and it is of major importance that the student understands each. For instance, seisan-dachi (Figure 1) has strong stability forewards and backwards, as well as to each side. The weak point is at 45 degrees to the left or right (depending on which leg is forward) behind the opponent.

Figure 2: Shiko-Dachi
Figure 2: Shiko-Dachi

With a shiko-dachi (Figure 2), the stance is very strong along the direction of the stance, but the weak points are at the front or back of the person.

Performing the stances with the correct weight distribution, correct angle of the knees, correct alignment of the feet, should reduce the size of the weak points in the stances, but will not eliminate them.

The finer details of stances are a whole other topic. I'll cover them at some time in the near future.

Knowing this, let's take a look at Juniko technique number twelve (above video, at 1:18).
  1. Attacker stands in hidari seisan-dachi, chudan kamae.
  2. Attacker performs migi oi-zuki.
  3. Defender steps back into hidari kosa-dachi and blocks with a migi heishu-uke.
  4. Defender grabs the right wrist of the attacker with their right hand, steps forward into migi seisan-dachi and drives the attacker's wrist back behind them while applying torque to the wrist. This drives the attacker's elbow up and twists their shoulders towards the weak point in their stance. Notice the front foot of the attacker in the video. This is the point of kuzushi. The attackers stance has been compromised, and once again, unless they move, they are unable to maintain stability.
  5. Defender transitions their back foot into shiko-dachi and pushes the attacker's hand down to the floor behind the attacker's back, which is the weakest point of the stance. The attacker is pulled over the defender's front leg.
Juniko is filled with examples of gaining kuzushi on an opponent, as are most of the goshin-jitsu techniques learned in Chito-ryu. Performing these techniques correctly takes a lot of practice. Best method is to perform them slow ... a lot. After a while, the pace can be increases and eventually perform them at full speed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Higashi Sensei Clinic

There are only two or three times a year that members of Chito-Ryu clubs in the Maritime Provinces get an opportunity to see Higashi Sensei and train with him, so I plan on taking advantage of every Higashi Sensei Clinic I can over the next thirteen months. I'm told that it really helps if he sees your face often, as people have a tendency to let their nerves take over during their Shodan grading, and if he sees you often enough, he is aware of what you are capable of under "normal circumstances".

These clinics also give the senior belts (kyu levels and dan levels) a better understanding about certain techniques and how we should be teaching them. One of my major complaints about KV Karate is the lack of consistency in teaching techniques. One Sensei will teach a technique one way and then another will tell you it's wrong when you're asked to demonstrate it at another class.


On April 16th, several members of KV Karate (among others) attended the Higashi Clinic in Charlottetown, PEI. Typically, these clinics include a Chito Bo clinic, as well as separate time for Junior and Senior students. We arrived shortly before the junior students were completed, which gave us an opportunity to get changed and then mingle with some of the other attendees who were waiting to begin.

After a brief warm-up with Sensei Golz, Higashi Sensei had junior belts pair up with senior belts, and we went straight into gohon-kumite,sanbon-kumite, and then finally kihon-dosa-ichi and kihon-dosa-ni bunkai. It was a great opportunity to fine-tune those blocks for the junior belts as the senior belts tend to not pull their punches as much, and there was more than a few bops on the end of a nose.

After lunch, the clinic moved to the Charlottetown Chito-Ryu Karate Dojo where we continued on with Kata, bunkai and goshin-jutsu.


There are two points in this kata that need clarification. I have been aware of these points for some time, but I run into students from time to time who are unaware of these details, and I think they should be mentioned as often as possible.  These points are:
  1. After the initial gyaku-zuki soto-nagashi-uke repetitions and turning, the next four techniques are NOT tekube-kake-uke, but rather kote-uke (wrist block) and then hiki-otoshi (pull down).
  2. After the kote-uke hiki-otoshi repetitions, the karateka must perform a soto-uke, jodan-zuki-uke (high punching block) and then shift into shiko-dachi. When shifting into shiko-dachi, pivot on the ball of your foot instead of the heal. If you pivot on the heal of your foot, you actually move slightly away from your target, and you should never move away from your target when striking, always forward.


I covered Niseishi before, and all of the information in that article, I'm proud to say, is accurate. Check it out.


There was only one technique discussed in Rohaisho that caught quite a few people by surprise. After everyone thought about it for a moment, it makes sense. When twisting into shiko-dachi after the migi-kyusei-kamae, you should shift in the direction of your attacker when throwing the gedan-uchi (which is actually a gedan-kentsui). Other than that, Sensei Higashi wants to see a KIAI on the mae-empi.

After going over the katas, we went over the bunkai for each, and moved into Goshin Justu (tehodoki-no-waza, tai-sabaki and ju-ni-ko). Fortunately, the partners I had for bunkai and goshin justu were senior belts (1st kyu and up) and we didn't have to spend any time teaching each other the techniques, only perfecting them.

During a couple of points during the clinic, Higashi Sensei would demonstrate the technique he wanted us to fine tune, and he would throw a punch or perform a block. It really is quite a sight to see someone 70 years old throw a punch that is the crispest and one of the fastest you've ever seen.

I really wish I had taken pictures or video.  I'll remember to take pictures at the next clinic in May at the New Maryland Karate Club, and I'll update this post.

More to come later.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cross Training

Now there are a lot of Martial Arts blog posts about cross training (like here and here at My Journey to Blackbelt, and here at Martial Arts And Modern Life). I'm not a fan of training multiple styles of Karate in order to round out training, but I do think that training in different fighting styles would work, like Karate and Judo, or the more obvious, Karate and Kobujitsu. There are also a lot of theories on when you should try cross training, and a lot of sources say wait until you have the basics down (shodan) before trying something different.

I started to take part in judo classes at the Fredericton Judo Club, and the work-out was much harder than what I am used to. The nights I can attend, we typically work on ground work (Jujutsu), but I think I'm going to see if I can get more traditional Judo training.

I chose Judo as a secondary Martial Art mostly due to my lack of training in dealing with an opponent who has been able to break through my defense, or has managed to tackle me to the ground (the opposite of Masami Tsuruoka, who was accomplished in Judo, and then practiced Karate to defend against a larger opponent). I'm just starting with Judo, but I am REALLY excited learning a lot of new things, and making even more friends who are dedicated to their Martial Art.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fancy book learnin'

If you learned everything you know about Karate from books and the Internet, then this post is for you. If you are a student of Karate, taking instruction from a Sensei in a karate school, then this post is not necessarily meant for you, but please continue reading.

At this weeks class in Hampton, the senior students were going over Tehodoki-no-waza, and when we got to number five, there was some interesting discussion. When we were initially taught the technique, it results in a choke-hold. When I was acting as a bunkai dummy during my brown belt test, my partner performed technique number five as a take-down. Basically, I learned it as herp, and he learned it as derp. Now, both techniques are valid, and they are both very effective. The question that arose last night was "Which technique is correct?". My Sensei says herp is correct. The book, on the other hand, clearly shows the technique as derp.

Once the discussion was finished, we determined that, for the time being, we were to perform the technique as herp rather than derp, which was fine by everyone there, as that was how we learned it. Last night in Apohaqui, I discussed this with Renshi, and he says that derp is correct, no matter if you want to perform the technique as a take-down or a choke-hold, but the herp technique is very effective. We took a few minutes, and he was able to assist me in fine-tuning both techniques even further.

We have a technical manual so that we understand what we are required to learn and work on to achieve the next level, not so that we can learn the techniques out of them. Discussion about the techniques with others in the class, or better yet, with your Sensei, is essential. If you are learning everything about Martial Arts from a book, you only have a small portion of the story, and are lacking very important information and training that can only be received in a class with a knowledgeable teacher. You're not getting the whole story.

I'm not saying that Martial Arts books are a bad thing. On the contrary. I own several books, and refer to them on a regular basis.  Books should not be your primary source of Martial Arts instruction. They should be a secondary resource to broaden your understanding of topics and re-enforce what you learn in the dojo.

Find a local school. Attend a class. Give it a try. You'll see that it is well worth the investment. If you end up in a McDojo, then that's a whole other ball of wax.

"Karate is a traditional martial art that is meant to be conveyed directly from a properly qualified teacher to a willing student. It cannot be learned from a textbook, however well put together."
Dr. David R. Smith - President, Canadian Chito Ryu Karate-do Association

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

12 months down ...

So my 1st Kyu test was a success (Yay me!).  I now have a nice list of items, courtesy of my Sensei,  of things that I will need to improve upon before the end of classes this June. On top of that, I'll be learning all of the new Kata, kihon and bunkai required for Shodan. That doesn't really amount to a huge amount (Chinto, Kihon-Kata-San, which I already know, Nage-no-kata, and a few jumping kicks), but everything must be performed perfectly. My technique must be flawless, and I know I have a ways to go before everything is flawless.

So, Sensei says that I should be looking at May / June 2012 for my Shodan test. Thats about sixteen months to prepare, and I am really looking forward to the journey. I've come quite a ways in the past twelve months, and I'm amazed at what I was able to accomplish.

  • Eight Kilos dropped
  • 2+ Inches gone from my waist
  • More muscle mass added
  • (Much) More flexibility
  • Re-learned (and fine tuned) five Kata
  • Re-learned eleven Kihon
  • Learned 2 new Kihon that didn't exist the first time (There's a Kihon-dosa-yon??)
  • Learned the finer points of Bassai
  • Learned Tehodoki-no-waza
  • Learned Ju-ni-ko
  • Removed flaws from my punching technique
  • Identified issues with my ukemi (aka, still working on that active foot)
  • Removed inconsistencies in my stances
  • Grasped the concept of Shime, Shibori and Hari (I do not remember this being mentioned the first time at all)
  • Learned, and now regularly apply, several terms and concepts (Ichi Gan people!)
  • Began diving into the history of Chito-ryu and Okinawan Martial Arts
  • Began learning Kata from other styles
  • Started instructing junior students.

All of that in exactly one year. On February 1st, 2010, I walked into the Hampton Dojo of KV Karate in a white T-Shirt and track pants, wondering if I was going to survive the first work-out. On February 1st, 2011, I walked out of the Apohaqui Dojo of KV Karate with a Brown Belt. Twelve months down, out of countless more as I continue my journey.

"Karate-Do is a lifetime study."
Mabuni Kenwa Sensei - Founder of Shito-ryu

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Niseishi translates to "twenty-four" in English. If you take a look at all of the steps in Chito-ryu Niseishi-dai, some of them can be a little hard to imagine that they are a single step, while other steps are simply just that; a step. I remembered reading an article a while back that said "Every move in Okinawan karate has purpose, no matter how small or trivial it appears". I'm paraphrasing, but you get the general idea.

So what are the steps? There are countless videos on YouTube to guide you through the steps, but a large majority of them are not for Chito-ryu. Even the ones for Chito-ryu are a little off. Granted, the performer is demonstrating the kata as a 4th kyu should practice it, and that is probably who the video is meant for. I'm a bit of a visual learner, but I still need the explanation to go along with it for better understanding. There is only so much you can learn from a video.

So, I present to you, in glorious Technicolor, my step-by-step guide to Niseishi-sho/dai. I'm assuming that you are starting the kata from the standard uchi-hachiji-dachi, with your right fist covered by your left hand at belt level.
  1. Inhale through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth while performing kakewake-uke. Make sure to tighten your tanden muscles on the exhale. (Niseishi Bunkai, steps 1 through 6)
  2. Move your right foot into migi-seisan-dachi (2nd kyu and above - sanchin-dachi).
  3. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Inhale through your nose again, and at the same time, draw your fists back to your belt. Exhale through your mouth, and push your fists out into chudan level haiko-zuki. Your fists should be approximately one inch apart, which puts the contact points of your fists at about the same width as your eyes.
  4. Move your left foot up into uchi-hachiji-dachi.
  5. Inhale through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth while performing kakewake-uke.
  6. Move your right foot into migi-seisan-dachi (2nd kyu and above - sanchin-dachi).
  7. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Inhale through your nose, and at the same time, draw your fists back to your belt. Exhale through your mouth, and push your fists out into chudan level haiko-zuki.
  8. Slowly draw your left fist back to your belt.
  9. Oi-zuki (kiai).
  10. Gyaku-zuki.
  11. (Niseishi-dai) Turn your head 180 degrees to the right and look over your right shoulder, and shift back into shiko-dachi, uraken-uchi.
  12. (Niseishi-dai) Turn your head 180 degrees to the left, move your right foot to the right into hidari-seisan-dachi, mae-te-zuki. When you perform the mae-te-zuki, shift backwards so that you thrust your ushiro-empi into the opponent behind you.
  13. (Niseishi-dai) Gyaku-zuki.
  14. Move your left foot over to the right so that your is almost directly in front of your right foot. This takes you off of the line of attack. At the same time, open your hands, draw your right hand back to prepare for a shuto-uchi, and bring your left hand to the center of your chest for a tekubi-kake-uke. Twist your whole body so that you end up in a kosa-dachi, shuto-uchi to the temple. The twisting action is what gives your shuto-uchi power. This all must be performed as a single action. (Niseishi Bunkai # 7)
  15. Mae-keage with your right leg.
  16. Step through the kick, and after landing, draw your left foot up into a kosa-dachi that is perpendicular to your line of attack (but keep your focus in front, on your embusen). Kosa-uke beside your right hip to grasp your opponents punch. (Niseishi Bunkai # 8 & 9)
  17. Pick both hands up into an arc to draw your opponent off balance while moving your left foot back along your embusen into shiko-dachi. Once securely into shiko-dachi, and your hands are now on the left side of your body, heito-uchi with your right hand to your opponents ribs.
  18. Turn your head 180 degrees to the left and move your right foot out so you can get into hidari-seisan-dachi (2nd kyu and above - pivot on the heel of your right foot into hidari-chokusen-seisan-dachi) and shuto-uchi to the temple.
  19. Mae-keage with your right leg.
  20. Step through the kick, and after landing, draw your left foot up into a kosa-dachi that is perpendicular to your line of attack (but keep your focus in front, on your embusen). Kosa-uke beside your right hip to grasp your opponents punch.
  21. Pick both hands up into an arc to draw your opponent off balance while moving your left foot back along your embusen into shiko-dachi. Once securely into shiko-dachi, and your hands are now on the left side of your body, heito-uchi with your right hand to your opponents ribs.
  22. Turn your head 180 degrees to the left and move your right foot out so you can get into hidari-seisan-dachi (2nd kyu and above - pivot on the heel of your right foot into hidari-chokusen-seisan-dachi) and shuto-uchi to the temple.
  23. Bring your right foot up into musubi-dachi and slowly perform haishu-uke with your right hand. Your focus still remains straight ahead. The haishu-uke should finish slightly behind your head. The purpose is to move off the line of attack and slightly push your opponents punch behind your head. (Niseishi Bunkai # 10)
  24. Cross both hands (still open) in front of your face. (Niseishi Bunkai # 11)
That's it. The twenty-four steps of Chito-ryu Niseishi-dai (or twenty-one steps to Niseishi-sho, whichever floats your boat).

Things to watch out for?
  1. Know your embusen. If not, then there is a lot of places where a small error in your line of attack will result in stances being off more and more.
  2. When you kick after the shuto-uchi (steps 14 & 18), make sure to bring your knee up on the inside of your elbow. I know it only makes sense, but you would be surprised how many people don't, and then all of a sudden, the elbow is an obstacle for the kick.
  3. The kosa-uke, in my opinion, should be performed like you're grasping a punch, not like you're gently laying your hands in flowers, one after the other.

Niseishi is the first kata learned in Chito-ryu where the karateka demonstrates Zanshin. You could read the Wikipedia article on Zanshin here, but I prefer this write-up at FightingArts.com. You know that part in the kata where you block a punch without even looking? Yeah, that part. That's Zanshin, which, by the way, is step number twenty-three out of twenty-four.