Sunday, August 22, 2010

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.

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