8/12/2009 9:34pm, #1
Bad Isshinryu, Less-Bad Isshinryu, How to Fix it.
This is something akin to an Isshinryu rant that I've been stewing over for a few months. There's a couple other threads where I tried to get my thoughts out and failed.
Let's start out with what Isshinryu is today, because that's the easy one. Most Isshinryu sucks. The sparring rules suck, the kata/bunkai/philosophy of waza sucks, and the virtually-useless 15 basics suck.
YouTube - Angelo isshinryu sparring 2
YouTube - Basic Exercises 1-15, Side View
If you're lucky, you'll do something akin to these partner exercises, which are useful for practicing ridiculous applications at something between 10% and 70% intensity.
YouTube - Isshinryu Shobu
Of course, no matter how hard or fast or accurately you practice that kind of sparring, those basics, or those partner exercises (or whatever minor variations), you won't be able to apply these techniques in any sort of real manner. I purposely used examples wherein the students are actually not awful for the crap they're doing. The students are doing what they're supposed to be doing fairly well. It's just that what they're supposed to be doing is stupid and useless.
If you're incredibly geographically lucky, the Isshinryu school you have in your town will do something fairly useful like these:
YouTube - Isshinryu sparring - boxing, take downs & kobudo
YouTube - Full Contact Karate Kumite Netherlands
But that's 1 in 100. Don't count on it.
So, what is Isshinryu? Why does it annoy me in its current incarnation? Well, look at what Isshinryu was created to be by Tatsuo.
0. Some mediocre theories. Almost all schools will pay lip service to them. If they're followed, OK. Often they're not.
One version of these principles is here. Comments in bold italics and also below.
Originally Posted by http://isshinryu.union.rpi.edu/history_whitebelt.html
- The trademark punch (vertical fist w/thumb on top) and block (use both bones/muscle of the arm). These are minor details, not major revelations. They have taken on stone-tablet type status in Isshinryu lore.
- A natural stance. This is actually good; the basic stance for most Isshinryu is closer to Muay Thai's upright, shoulder-width one than Shotokan's deep ones.
- Crap like "50% hands, 50% feet." What the **** does that even mean? It's meaningless.
- A philosophy of kata bunkai that almost always revolves around making **** up. It's actively encouraged. Thinking about this for even a moment will reveal why it's an awful idea. It was born out of the original concept that "a block is a lock is a blow is a throw," which is to say, each technique in kata or basics should be analyzed for all possible applications, and that the same movement can be applied multiple ways. This is terrifying close to the Bujinkan-like theory that one should move "naturally" and everything will work out OK. Ugh.
- An approach to self-defense that is fundamentally theoretical in nature and compliant in practice. I rest my case.
Other things that Isshinryu includes:
1. Okinawan training methods - kokekitae, tegumi, line basics. Some of these, like arm and leg pounding, can be quasi-useful as bareknuckle conditioning. Mostly they're deprecated and only useful as history.
2. The best kumite you could do. Tatsuo was constantly innovating with sparring rules, just like his primary teacher, Chotoku Kyan.
He tried bareknuckle, with tegumi-like standing grappling.
He tried light gloves with strikes only.
He tried bogu kumite with strikes only. Dig around in http://www.bohans-family.com/shimabu..._t_1/index.htm - click on "Harry Smith / Tatsuo Shimabuku / Art Smiley" halfway down the left menu, and the ones starting with "Tokumura Kensho" 3/4 of the way down. Use IE only. Fucking stupid site.
3. Kata, for one reason: applications. Not for conditioning, focus, speed, cardio, or whatever bullshit. Okinawans did kata because that was their pedagogical method. Now it's deprecated, as DerAus has stated repeatedly. Look at how much effort Tatsuo put into his kata:
YouTube - Naihanchi Kata Isshinryu
He waltzes through it. Why? Because it's the applications and sparring that's important. See http://www.bohans-family.com/shimabu..._t_1/index.htm - "Tatsuo Shimabuku and Harry G Smith" and the 3 after it. Yes, it's some stupid stuff, yes, it's mostly compliant, yes it includes a bunch of compliant wristlocky stuff:
YouTube - Self-defence application practices
YouTube - Shimabuku's Otoshi-geri Application
Anyway, that's the (sort of) good, the bad, and the ugly of Isshinryu. I've said for several months (including before the infamous "witch hunt" thread) that I can't recommend it, and that's still true.
My displeasure goes deeper, however. It's that Tatsuo was an innovator. He didn't want to do kata for the hell of it. He was a born tinkerer--he experimented with kumite, he experimented with how to block and punch (which he waffled back and forth over several times over the 40s and 50s; you can tell because people who trained and left at different times do their techniques slightly differently, ie, traditional corkscrew punch), he experimented by creating the basics (my old teacher's theory was that he was copying the new-fangled fancy-pants Shotokan training methods of Ten No Kata; he has a whole reaf of evidence).
Yet, Isshinryu today is staid, stagnant, and useless. Tatsuo would be playing with BJJ guys and letting MMA and Kali instructors guest-teach at his dojo, if he were alive today.
How do we fix this? Renovate the training methods and cross-train. Stop playing Tag and calling it Kumite. Learn to box instead of doing Basics 1-15. Throw away shobu and step-kumite drills. Stop obsessing over where your left toe is during Seisan. Learn to have fun fighting and playing with effective techniques against challenging opponents.
It's what Tatsuo would have done.What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. -Xenophon's Socrates
8/12/2009 10:39pm, #2
- Join Date
- Dec 2006
That's a well put together thesis, now let me make you sad. I don't think anything you said is going to be isolated to Isshin. The core tenets of other karate and even Tae Kwon Do all favor some sort of direct, simple, and practical approach. The compliant wrist locky stuff, the one step sparring, the crappy point sparring, it's run rampant everywhere. So great work explaining your point, I just seriously think it applies to a lot more ryu's.
8/13/2009 10:13am, #3
- Join Date
- Jun 2008
- Long Island
Very Good Post 1pointMove along citizen ,nothing to see here !!!!!
8/13/2009 5:01pm, #4
I wonder, what would be left if Isshinryu established good training methods? As far as I can tell, it would be a stand-up and clinch style that focused on the transition between the two. There would be kickboxing strikes and defense, plus Okinawan-style parry-blocks (and the accompanying drills), some unorthodox strikes (shuto, kangaroo hooks, CMA-looking leg kicks), Crazy-Monkey-looking (technically/traditionally with only 1 side at a time) head blocking, some standing jointlocks, and a rudimentary clinch game focused primarily on the single collar tie.
Obviously a huge portion of this training would need to be re-imported from elsewhere. Let's not open that can of worms. The list above is the stuff that is talked about and trained poorly already. I'm trying to brainstorm what Isshinryu could look like if trained properly. Basically, what would make it different from other standup striking styles.
I don't think this version of Isshinryu exists anywhere, for the record.What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. -Xenophon's Socrates
8/13/2009 5:27pm, #5
- Join Date
- Dec 2006
Great point. From a personal note, I've been in an assistant or head instructor position in a few different schools (tae kwon do, shotokan and kung fu). In every instance, I tried to communicate what my personal experiences were. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, he basically said fighting is fighting. Until a human grows a third arm or leg, then the barrier of style is a man-made one. With this in mind, I would try to convey sparring-applicable techniques only. Jab, cross, hook, front kick and roundhouse from a free fighting position. Everything else like one step sparring and kata I really steered away from.
I was thinking about this very subject as I've considered teaching again. I have mad respect for my Sifu, but a lot of mantis kung fu is frivolous. What I would teach would still be a core of universal and applicable skills, but what would make it "mantis" versus someone like you, who wanted really hard to learn "isshin ryu"? The drills and the exercises? The "applications" that you practice with a static, compliant partner?
I think some of the "traditional" stuff is fun, and of course there is the romanticism of the "old way" that appeals to us from time to time, yes? So tell me, what is it about isshin ryu that appeals to you so much as compared to other styles you have seen?
8/13/2009 7:36pm, #6
That Dutch Kumite sure looks like Kyokushin. Those are some seriously tough dudes. That version of Naihanchi is completely devoid of power. What is the purpose of that? That is the first form I learned in Shorin-ryu.
8/13/2009 7:58pm, #7
- Join Date
- Jun 2008
- Long Island
8/13/2009 8:47pm, #8
8/13/2009 11:11pm, #9
The Nordic IR does look like KK, which makes me think it's more influenced from competition rules than tradition. Nothing wrong with that.
To answer everyone's question in one big hodgepodge, let me say this. The original post, IMO, is 99% golden; I wouldn't change a thing. Even as I wrote the 2nd, however, something was nagging me.
The idea of "what would it look like" is classic theory-based martial arts, which is to say, everything I want to leave behind. Until (and if) I establish a root of hard sparring (which rules must allow Isshinryu waza to be practiced, ie, must include clinch, elbows, knees, and takedowns) plus consistently train Isshinryu drills like kotekitae, ashikitae, sawtooth and other parry-block drills, Naihanchi head blocking (aka 1/2 Crazy Monkey), trapping entries, and a smattering of other applicable techniques, it's pretty much an invalid question. It may not have an answer, and if it does have an answer, I may never get around to finding it. It's very possible that either A) Isshinryu is dead, or B) Isshinryu is dead to me.
What is the purpose of half-ass kata? The point of the kata is not to do the kata hard. Modern Motobu guys (who learned it from Motobu like Tatsuo did) do it easygoing too. The point of the kata is to act as a file system, or a curriculum, or a notebook. Techniques go in it, and your effort should go into practicing those techniques alive with a partner, instead of towards doing a solo form hard and fast and pretty (which is OK once in a blue moon for a demo, of course).
For instance, and I picked Naihanchi intentionally because I think it's the most fundamental, what should one get from Naihanchi kata? Off the top of my head:
- Trapping to an over-the-top-of-their-arm straight punch or backfist, with or without following up with more, with or without a simultaneous leg check
- Entering a single collar tie plus elbow strikes from their punch, preferably a wide punch
- Various knockdowns and sweeps from attacking the front, side, and back of the knee
- Elbows, uppercuts, and knees from a single collar tie
- Taking the outside ("preferred" in IR nomenclature) position, somewhat like a Russian 2 on 1, from an "en garde" position
- 1/2 crazy monkey head blocking
- Perhaps that wonderful CMA-style Parting Wild Horses Mane takedown
- A bad standing Kimura that assists a mediocre kaiten nage that relies on an OK sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi (off the single collar tie entry, if you want)
- A rear takedown (sentry-style)
- Front-arm blocking and attacking the mastoid process
All of these things were "taught," so to speak, in Isshinryu. Yet, I can perform maybe two of them, and of those, I do poorly. Why? Of course, training methods, aliveness, poor focus, yadda yadda yadda. But the question is, what would the practitioner look like if they actually trained those techniques correctly? Wouldn't that be cool!? If a bunch of guys did that, with proper modern training methods, I bet they would have a claim to doing Isshinryu that was legitimately a standup/clinch entry based style.
Oh, and for the original point: Tatsuo also does the kata half-assed because he was hung over that day. Plus, he used to wander around while doing kata; he didn't think Japanese-style precision was necessary in forms. He'd do Naihanchi, then work these techniques. Plus a couple wristlocks.What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. -Xenophon's Socrates
8/14/2009 12:41am, #10
- Join Date
- Jun 2008
- Long Island
Im starting to understand why you feel the way you do about Kata .
watching that version of Naihanchi I would feel the same way. We do the same kata in shotokan we call it Tekki
We do it full power and speed with Kime . Its the same movements performed vastly differently. The difference is tremendous .Move along citizen ,nothing to see here !!!!!