Sunday, August 22, 2010

Shorin-Ryu Karate Training Memories

Daniel San - "All right, so what are the rules here?"

Mr. Miyagi - "Don't know. First time you, first time me".

Daniel San - "Well, I figured you knew about this stuff. I figured you went to these before. Oh great, I'm dead. I am dead. You told me you fought a lot".

Mr. Miyagi: - "For life, not points".

A few years ago, two yudansha (black belt students) from the University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo Club took it upon themselves to test the effectiveness of atemi. This is not recommended as it could lead to serious injury and I would never have condone it, but now that it has happened, it is a reminder to all of us as to the power to traditional, non-sport karate. Luckily, neither was injured, other than having their brains rattled and they obviously suffered concussions. It could have been much worse - at these two could easily have ended up with a broken jaws.

Many of us already have a good understanding of atemi and its purpose. For those who train in jujutsu, this is a very important part of ki (energy) designed to unbalance or knock out an attacker prior to throwing. In the heat of Arizona, it is almost a must, as hanging on to a sweaty aggressor before a throw, is very difficult. This may be one example of the superiority of karate particularly in the Phoenix valley. It is easier to punch a person than to throw when that person is dripping is sweat.

According to the Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary, atemi is a Japanese term that directly translates as "body strikes‟. It refers to "…a method of attacking the opponents pressure points".

In A Dictionary of the Martial Arts there is a more detailed description. It defines atemi as strikes

"…aimed at the vital or weak points of an opponents body in order to paralyze by means of intense pain. Such blows can produce loss of consciousness, severe trauma and even death… …the smaller the striking surface used in atemi, the greater the power of penetration and thus the greater the effectiveness of the blow".

In jujutsu classes, atemi is used to provide a distraction of an attacker and allow one to lead to a finishing throw, joint lock, or choke. This is done by redirecting an opponent into a throw by attacking a vital point to cause pain and/or loss of consciousness before throwing. In other words, it is much easier to throw an unconscious attacker or one who is already moving in the direction of the throw.

This is particularly true in Phoenix Arizona where we recently learned due to another worthless Federal government stimulus grant that people in Arizona sweat more than in any other state. Now that was definitely worth spending our tax dollars. Because of being sweaty in Arizona, its hard to grip someone without slipping, thus it is best to hit them first. One common atemi we use in karate is a palm strike along the jaw line, the ear, or the neck.

Getting back to the story, these two black belts were both very well trained in jujutsu and karate, and they had black belt ranks in both disciplines. In the test, Scott held onto Jason’s wrist with both hands using a tight grip. Jason struck Scott along the jaw with his palm. Scott reported he let go of his grip as was temporarily paralyzed and Jason could have had his way over the next few minutes. Next, Jason held Scott’s wrist with both hands. Scott is very powerful due to his work as a professional fisherman in Alaska, lifting lots of salmon during the fishing season. As it was relayed to me, Scott struck Jason across the jaw. Jason related that it was about a half hour later before he knew what was happening. 

In other words, Jason was unconscious although still standing on his feet. So atemi works and there is no need to try it on one another - just ask these two students.
Sensei Hausel demonstrates how a scholar should use his head

Martial Arts in the Early Days

Juju uke with tonfa against bo attack at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate, Mesa

Early photo of Soke Hausel at the University of Utah. Hausel
demonstrates yoko tobi geri (flying side kick) against one of
his deshi & geophysicist Tim Smith. Photo by Mike Killian,
shodan, about 1969 or 1970.
Martial arts as they were taught in the 1960s were quite different from today. From my perspective, the early martial arts training in the 60s was boring, brutal, and dangerous. They were boring in that too much attention was devoted to repetition (mo ichi do). Classes were ran like military camps (in fact, years later when I was in the Army during the Viet Nam era, boot camp was much less physically demanding than these karate classes, other than the constant loss of sleep and little free time.

In our karate dojo, there was absolutely no creativity in training, way too much time was spent on kumite with very little time devoted to kata and essentially no time spent on kata bunkai (applications). The general idea was to build up endurance to pain and then test yourself. But don't get me wrong, it was all well worth it and I am thankful for my training and introduction to martial arts - but it could have been much better.

When I trained in Kyokushin Kai Karate at the Black Eagle Federation dojo in Sugarhouse (a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah), from about 1964 to 1967, we would practice kumite (sparring) every week. Kumite was brutal. 

All techniques were done with full force with no pulling of punches, kicks or blocks. What saved us is that none of us ever really learned how to properly focus our strikes. The only protective gear used was a protective cup. No one used gloves, pads, or helmets. 

Usually, once a year, our dojo would set up a competition with another club in the city, the American Kempo Karate Club, which was the only other club I knew existed in SLC at that time (there were probably others, but karate dojos were very uncommon in mainland US). These get-togethers had nothing to do with trophies or friendship - they were only for bragging rights and to see who provided the most bruises. 

At these contests, everyone was expected to cause as much pain and damage to the other school’s students, so that our dojo would have the bragging rights as the toughest dojo in town. Actually, no one club ever dominated. These were brutal events and sometimes the gladiators left with fractured hands, fingers, knuckles, toes, noses, split lips, black eyes, etc. Thus the only trophies were the bruises to sport for the next few weeks.

Sensei Hausel stands on 1.4 billion year old Sherman Granite - circa 1980

I remember two matches in particular that were brutal. One of our members received a blow to the forehead above his right eye. His competitor was wearing a ruby ring (no one ever checked for rings in those days), and left a 2-carat impression on his forehead to sport around for the next month. 

Knockouts were very common during kumite. I remember being knocked out a few times while fighting an opponent remembering only that I could not see anything (but could hear) and apparently continued fighting on instinct and coming out a winner by knocking my opponent out, but not remembering how I had done so or even that I finished the fight. Apparently I was able to see, but my brain said otherwise – a very, very strange feeling. 

Another memorable match was between black belts – our black belt – John was caught his competitor with a front kick full force in the cup. The practitioner dropped to the ground following the loud crack of the kick and it took some time to revive him. It was reported that Sensei John had actually cracked the protective cup. Without this protective gear, this fellow would either have lost use of his reproductive organs, or would have to walk different the rest of his life. But there was not a great amount of concern in those days - after all, ambulance chasers were non-existent.