japanese martial arts

In Karate Way, often I've discussed the many Japanese idioms and sayings that refer to the sword. This aspect of colloquial Japanese reminds one of how deeply the sword and the warrior influenced the culture of that country.

Thinking about these figures of speech, I remembered one that I heard as a child: umi no uchi no katana, "the sword behind the smile." This is a curious saying. How should one interpret it? A smile behind the sword would seem obvious in meaning. You are ready, even eager to use the weapon and happy to do so. But the other way around? We associate smiles with politeness and friendliness. The sword hiding behind that seems incompatible.

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Gichin Funakoshi was not the greatest karateka of all time.

This might come as a surprise to many who train in Japanese karate, who have come to regard Funakoshi (1868-1957) as the most towering figure in the art, the man who brought it from the countryside of Okinawa to Japan and the man who oversaw its introduction to the rest of the world. But it's true.While Funakoshi was a central figure in those accomplishments, we know that there were others — some with more experience in karate than he had — who also contributed. We also know that a primary reason Funakoshi was promoted to bring karate to mainland Japan was the fact that he was well-educated and able to communicate with the Japanese at a level that wouldn't lead to his dismissal as an uncouth hillbilly — which is how many Japanese regarded Okinawans back then.So it's reasonable to remove Funakoshi, gently, from his pedestal and view him in a more realistic light. However, in doing so, we should avoid going too far in reducing his stature. He wasn't a saint. He was, though, a remarkable figure.

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Goju-ryu icon Chuck Merriman analyzes five more karate terms you need to know. Those karate terms are kumite, mokuso, rei, reishiki and sensei, all of which are crucial to advancement in the Japanese martial arts.

In the first half of this article, goju-ryu instructor and Black Belt Hall of Fame member Chuck Merriman discussed five karate terms you should know: bunkai, bushido, dan, dojo and kata. In this conclusion, he addresses five more essential karate terms — kumite, mokuso, rei, reishiki and sensei — that will benefit practitioners of all Japanese martial arts. (Go here now to read Part 1.) Karate Terms #1: Kumite Misunderstood meaning: sparring Actual meaning: grappling or engagement of hands Why it matters: Composed of two roots — kumi (grapple) and te (hand) — kumite refers to the instant a fight actually begins. It’s when you and your partner first make contact, Chuck Merriman says. “When you think about it, you’ve got to be standing right in front of each other when you touch. It’s important to understand the real meaning of the word to better understand what happens during oyo bunkai.” Karate Terms #2: Mokuso Misunderstood meaning: meditation Actual meaning: reflection and contemplation   Why it matters: Practicing mokuso gives you an opportunity to get in the proper mind-set to train, Chuck Merriman explains. “It’s not meditation in the sense of going off into another world. It’s reflecting on your past training and contemplating the training you’re about to do.” Karate Terms #3: Rei Misunderstood meaning: bow Actual meaning: spirit or soul Why it matters: “For somebody practicing karate for exercise or sport, rei is merely a salutation,” Chuck Merriman says. “These days, people bow by nodding their head and slapping the sides of their legs, but that’s not the proper way do it.” The bow must come from the abdominal area because that’s where the tan tien (the seat of the soul) is. “If rei is ‘soul,’ obviously the bow has to be done from there,” he adds. Karate Terms #4: Reishiki Misunderstood meaning: spirit Correct meaning: manners, etiquette or correctness Why it matters: “[It refers to] the correct attitude — why you’re training and always keeping your mind on the path or way,” Chuck Merriman says. For example, you’re expected to know and demonstrate proper etiquette in the kohai-sempai (junior-senior) relationship. “Your sempai always precedes you. You open the door and let him go first. Before you take care of yourself, you always make sure he’s taken care of.” Karate Terms #5: Sensei Misunderstood meaning: teacher Correct meaning: guide   Why it matters: Because it’s composed of the roots sen (before) and sei (life), the literal translation of sensei is “before in life,” Chuck Merriman says. “A sensei is somebody who guides another person. For example, if you went to climb a mountain, you’d probably need a guide. Why? Because the guy has climbed that mountain before, and he made it.” It’s the same thing with karate. The sensei was once at the same stage of training you’re at, and he can show you the way up. If you understand what his role is, you will have a better idea of what you can expect from him and what he can expect from you, he says. “Think of it this way: A sensei is behind you, pushing you forward, not standing in front of you, pulling. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to progress.” Conclusion Whether you practice for exercise or are a fanatic who’s interested in every nuance of the art, it’s essential to comprehend the true meaning of the karate terms that describe what you do, Chuck Merriman contends. “If you understand [them], it fills you with a feeling of having something more than just the ability to kick, punch and block.” And that’s what practicing karate is really all about. Story by Sara Fogan • Photos by Rick Hustead BONUS! The Meaning of Karate Some karate students misunderstand even the name of their art, Chuck Merriman says. In the beginning, karate was derived from the characters kara (China) and te (hand), he says, but Japan changed the meaning of kara to “empty.” And over time, the hand emphasis of the art’s name has been replaced by kicks. Kicks are more spectacular for spectators, he says, and in tournaments they’re awarded more points than hand strikes are. Consequently, students tend to work harder on improving their kicks and less on their hands. All practitioners should review karate’s roots, he says. “I tell my students, ‘Karate is empty hand, not empty foot.’” Read “Karate Terms: 5 Words You Need to Understand,” which is the first half of this article with Chuck Merriman, here.

Veteran martial artist Andrea Guarelli, an eighth-degree black belt, provides a detailed overview of Matayoshi kobudo, a rare Okinawan martial art that focuses on traditional weaponry.

[Sponsored Post] As a child, did you wish you had a nunchaku so you could fight alongside Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are fictional, of course, but Matayoshi kobudo is a very real martial art, and it's making a resurgence around the world thanks to Andrea Guarelli of Verona, Italy. Guarelli is a master of goju-ryu karate-do and an eighth-degree black belt in Matayoshi kobudo. He’s the only Westerner to have received a sixth dan and the title of renshi directly from master Shinpo Matayoshi. That is possible because Guarelli trained under him for many years, and the two developed a deep personal friendship — as evidenced in a 1996 certificate of thanks that reads: “Mr. Andrea Guarelli, for a long time you have been applying yourself to the growth, diffusion and development, by your students in your country, of our cultural heritage, which is karate-kobudo of Okinawa. The extraordinary results you have reached have contributed to the prosperity of Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. To pay you tribute for your contribution in the association and to honor the result of your effort, I would like to demonstrate my gratitude.” As chairman and founder of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association, Guarelli has set out to preserve the history and teach the techniques of the Matayoshi style to students and instructors around the world. As part of this goal, he wrote Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art, which Skyhorse Publishing has just made available for the first time in English. The book delves deep into the history of the Okinawan martial arts and includes many never-before-seen photographs given to Guarelli by the Matayoshi family. Of particular interest to the Black Belt readership are the full-color technique photos of eku no kata and related bunkai (fighting applications) that pit the eku (oar) against the bo (staff). The use of "white weapons" for self-defense has always been part of the cultural heritage of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. Karate and kobudo are two wheels on the axle of the Japanese martial arts. And while karate is practiced more widely around the world, kobudo can add a similarly rich dimension of fitness to students of any martial art. Making the pursuit even better, training in weapons is a whole lot of fun. Below is a video of two of Guarelli's students demonstrating nunchaku renzoku kumite.

The Matayoshi style of kobudo dates back to the 1500s. It was systemized and modernized by Shinko Matayoshi early in the 20th century. After his death in 1947, his son Shinpo Matayoshi assumed responsibility as soke and codified the art further, creating hojoundo (basic training exercises), kata and bunkai. When Shinpo Matayoshi died in 1997, his son Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi inherited his father's dojo — although he’s not a practitioner of the style. Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi wrote the preface to Guarelli's book: "I congratulate Andrea Guarelli sensei, direct student of my father Shinpo, on the publication of his book about the history, techniques and kata of our school. In spite of national and language differences, no distance exists between people who aspire to the same martial way (budo), and I am deeply grateful for his love and respect toward my father, grandfather and family." The weapons of Matayoshi kobudo are divided into four categories: long, short, soft and double. In combat, long weapons have two advantages over shorter weapons. They have a higher potential efficacy, thanks to their length and trajectory. And their range of action is wider than that of shorter weapons, which permits the user to strike first and from a safe distance. Matayoshi kobudo long weapons include the bo, eku, nunti (perforating weapon) and chogama (long scythe). Short weapons are easier to carry. For this reason, historically they were more often used for defense than for offense. Matayoshi kobudo short weapons include the jo (medium-length staff) and kuwa (similar to a hoe). The so-called "soft weapons” of Matayoshi kobudo include folding weapons and limber weapons. Their lengths vary, and they’re most frequently considered secondary weapons intended for use after a main weapon. They can be hidden around the waist (suruchin, or rope with weights at the ends), in the sleeves (nunchaku) or on the back (sansetsukon, or three-section staff) before deployment in a confrontation. Also in this category is the kuramanbo (“stick that turns”). Historically, the double weapons of Matayoshi kobudo were its primary tools of defense. The sai and tunkuwa (also called tonfa or tuifa) are still in widespread use and viewed as basic weapons suitable for beginners. Others, like the kama and tinbe (shields), are intended for more advanced practitioners. A few, including the tekko (fist-load weapon) and tecchu (hand-held striking implements), are rarely taught and, therefore, reserved for students at the highest level of the martial art. This post is intended to whet the reader’s appetite. No doubt martial artists across the English-speaking world will want to learn more about Matayoshi kobudo and Andrea Guarelli. They can do so by visiting the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association website. Andrea Guarelli’s text Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art can be purchased from Amazon.com as a paperback book or an e-book. More good news for American martial artists: Andrea Guarelli plans to conduct a seminar in Connecticut in August 2016. For details, visit the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America website. About the author: Kimberly Rossi Stagliano is a student of Andrea Guarelli, as well as the secretary and treasurer of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association and the vice president of the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America. She trains in shito-ryu karate and Matayoshi kobudo with Kyoshi Danilo Torri, a founder of the IMKA and president of the MKAA, at Hanko Ryu Martial Arts in Trumbull, Connecticut. She’s a nationally recognized author, blogger and speaker who’s been published in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.

Learn how this iconic martial arts researcher was introduced to judo, jujutsu, kendo, iaido and other budo and bujutsu — and how he immersed himself in each discipline.

On October 20, 1982, the martial arts world lost one of its most dynamic and charismatic figures. Donn F. Draeger, USMC (retired), budo kyoshi (full professor of Japanese martial arts and ways) and ranked martial artist in perhaps a dozen combative systems, passed away from cancer at age 60 in his home state of Wisconsin. Draeger is remembered today chiefly as the author of more than 30 books and numerous articles about the Asian martial arts, as well as for being one of the best-qualified and most experienced Western exponents of the combative arts. The oft-repeated legend that he either had or possessed the equivalent of some 100 black-belt ranks is perhaps apocryphal, but he no doubt was among the most accomplished martial artists of his generation, possibly of all time. He held a sixth-degree black belt in judo; a seventh degree in jojutsu (Japanese stick fighting), kendo and iaido; and a menkyo license in the tenshin shoden katori shinto-ryu of bujutsu. Yet Draeger was a private man, and little has been published about his background and how he came to be such a pioneering figure in Western martial arts history. More intent on studying and analyzing than on promoting himself, he made perhaps his greatest contribution to combative studies in the form of the reactivation of hoplology — the scholarly study of weaponry and human combative behavior, a field with which he became familiar by reading Sir Richard Francis Burton’s The Book of the Sword. This volume, first published in 1882 (and available today from Dover Publications), is a seminal hoplological text devoted to a cultural history of the sword from the earliest times to the Roman era, and it had a profound influence on Draeger’s thinking concerning weaponry, systems of combat and their place in global culture.

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