Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Practical Self-Defense

Arizona Hombu Dojo, Mesa, Arizona
You're in Phoenix when someone walks up to you and pulls out a knife demanding your wallet; or a thug with a gun threatens you and your family if you don't hand over your car keys; or you are out for a walk in Phoenix valley and threaten by a group of thugs who don't like your 'Make America Great Again' t-shirt; or you are elderly and just selected as a target by teens for their knockout entertainment. How do you defend yourself against these kinds of low lives? Our first instinct, unless you are a member of one of the recent anti-American thug gangs, is to call the police - but we don't always have time to call.

Do you just give up? If you have the opportunity, it is best to try to talk your way out of these situations, but if you don't have such an opportunity, you'll be wishing you had listened to your friend and had signed up for that karate or self-defense class. We have a saying in the traditional martial arts - "sweating blood in the dojo is a lot easier than bleeding in the street".

You could buy a gun and hope you remember to take it with you, and hope you can get to it in time,  you can buy pepper spray and hope you remember to take it to the shower in the locker room or remember which direction to aim; you can buy a big Bowie knife and carry it on your belt and never go out on another date. But constant practice of traditional karate and kobudo will help you not only stay in good physical shape and provide you with a unique education, but it may also prepare for that day when you are attacked and your weapons (feet, hands, knees, elbows, forehead) are always with you. And the kobudo will provide an added advantage teaching you how to use your car keys for self-defense along with your cell phone, rings, coins, etc.

The best way to prepare for that awful day when you are attacked is to join a karate club and train weekly. But not all karate (and martial arts) clubs are equal. There are (1) McDojos, (2) Sport martial arts clubs and (3) traditional martial arts clubs. 

McDojos are interested in your money and most instructors at such schools have questionable (if any) qualifications - we've even heard about some instructors who learned karate and self-defense from  videos.

So how do you defend against a McDojo? McDojos don't have golden arches displayed on their windows, but there are sites on the internet that provide you with general guidelines on what to look for. It is not easy for a beginner to determine what is real and what is a McDojo; but, just know, there are some really good instructors and schools in the Phoenix valley of Arizona in the mix with the many McDojos.

Some suggest McDojos began to arise in the 1970s. But from my experience, these didn't start to pop up until about the beginning of the 21st century. And now they are as common as used car lots with their salesmen. In the 1960s, it was easy to identify who were the martial arts used car salesmen because nearly all used the same line - "my hands are registered!" Registered for what? Picking your nose? But nowadays, most forgot this classic line, but today, McDojos use all kinds of other lines and contracts and promise you a black belt in a contract after so many months of training. One of our students who helps her husband run the Utah Shorin-Ryu Kai karate club told me that one of their young students asked if it was possible just to buy a black belt? She replied it was, but then he would have to fight Hanshi Watson, 9th dan.  That's when it really sunk in.

Yes, anyone can dress the part of a black belt, but what good is it if the black belt comes only with argyle socks and with no, poor, or ineffective training? Sure, money will buy you many things, but it can't buy experience, happiness, or a way to heaven. These have to be earned.

McDojos always have contracts (contracts that guarantee black belt ranks), sloppy training, music played during classes and kata (forms), brightly colored uniforms covered with patches, many colored belts with a variety of stripes such that the practitioner looks more like a strand of buddhist prayer flags than a martial artist, kobudo techniques that look great at high school pep rally, but have no use on the street.

In addition to the McDojo, a recent and alarming fad has been the development of so-called superhuman feats with people using star wars martial arts or martial arts magic to stop opponents. These martial arts cults abandon martial arts abilities (if they ever had any) and likely arose from Star Wars and Marvel comic books and Hollywood. They are easy to spot as they use the force  (farce) which only works on their students and has no effect on outsiders. Another thing to watch for is that most McDojos (and sport martial arts) have large picture windows. Some are located in malls and we even saw one that was actually located in a Walmart in Gilbert, Arizona.

Sport martial arts were invented by the Japanese sometime after 1922. Gichin Funakoshi, a Shorin-Ryu karate master moved from his home in Okinawa to mainland Japan where he introduced karate (an Okinawan art) to the Japanese at some Japanese universities. Funakoshi modified Shorin-Ryu Karate which later was called Shotokan karate by some of his students against his wishes. The invention of sport karate occurred around 1949 with the creation of the Japanese Karate Federation. Prior to this time, karate was considered to be a weapon, not a sport, and many techniques that were taught in Okinawan karate were taught to injure or kill another person. In some cases, there is nothing wrong with sport martial arts as it does tend to build good reflexes, particularly martial arts styles like kyokushinkai karate and shotokan karate. But the objective is sport and most training focuses on gaining points rather than knocking out the opponent. After training in kyokushin kai karate, wado-ryu karate and shotokan karate for several years, I found my reflexes were very good, but my technique was sloppy. You can see what I mean by watching most kumite (sparring) videos.

I really didn't learn about proper self-defense until I began training in Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo and, in particular, training under Dai-Soke Sacharnoski with Juko Kai International. Juko Kai is one of the larger US-Okinawa martial arts associations in the world who practice traditional martial arts.

Traditional martial arts focus on self-defense and self-improvement and traditional martial artists do no compete. This is one of the major differences between sport and traditional martial arts. In my definition of traditional martial arts, I see these arts as self-defense weapons as taught for centuries on Okinawa.

So, free-sparring is uncommon in traditional martial arts because it tends to breed sloppy technique. Instead in traditional martial arts, people are taught to train with one step to three step sparring and ALL techniques must be taught with full power and full focus. In order not to cripple or injure another person, these focused techniques are taught in a particular way to protect all members.  And rarely is anyone every injured. Students also must never use protective gloves as these teach improper technique, but they must learn to strike with power, focus and acceleration. By doing so, one can learn good self-defense techniques designed to take another person down with one strike, or one combination.

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