Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Asian Infatuation

Our Asian Infatuation

My lifelong involvement with the martial arts began when I was five years old.  That’s when a kid down the street began cleaning my clock on a regular basis, and after coming home battered and bruised one too many times mom told pop that it was time I learned how to fight.
          My father, an Army veteran, had boxed and played judo while stationed on Okinawa during the early 1950’s. He once described the island as being “war torn and small, a place where there wasn’t much to do,” and for recreation he spent his off duty hours in the post gymnasium working out or in the enlisted man’s club drinking beer.
 The martial prowess dad acquired on Okinawa was passed on to me with simple, but easy to understand instructions. For instance he would say: “This is a hip throw, use it to get your opponent on the ground so you can stomp the bejesus out of them” or “this is an uppercut, hit em in the breadbasket and when they double over, you’ve really got em.” Not once did I hear him utter something mystical and profane such as “embrace the mountain grass hopper, and you’ll become one with it.”
 Dad’s style of fighting combined both Asian and Western strategies into a simple, but effect means of self- defense.  Needless to say there was little fanfare during our training, but on the appointed day when it came time to confront my aggressor everything worked like a charm. With one punch to the nose I sent the bully next door home in tears and from that day on he never laid a hand on me again.
Ten years later my Isshinryu training began at the Harold Long School of Karate.   Mr. Long was a Marine Corp veteran as well as a living legend throughout the Southeastern United States. He had studied Karate while stationed on Okinawa and after being discharged from the Marines he began teaching in Knoxville, TN.
 Like all things related to the Marines, Mr. Long’s classes were very demanding and for those who couldn’t keep up he freely encouraged them to leave. He was a tough man who tolerated no nonsense and his instructors were a mix of police officers, professional bouncers, rough country boys and college students who fought like angry bobcats. Getting hurt during training was common and once I was punched so hard in the spine that I couldn’t feel the left side of my body for a week. I never told my parents though because I was afraid they’d make me quit karate.
 Although we studied kata, much of our time was spent free-sparring which in those days amounted to bare-knuckle brawling since foam safety equipment wasn’t very popular. One exacting drill we used was called “Bull in the ring”. It involved having ten people stand in a line outside the sparring ring, while one lone individual waited on the inside. At the command of go, each of the ten people outside the ring would run in and fight the lone person for thirty seconds before being replaced by someone else. If nothing else the drill helped you develop intestinal fortitude while receiving an agonizing beating.
Despite the quality and severity of our training there was an underlying assumption that the Okinawan’s and Japanese were better karate-ka than we were.  Many of us felt this way because for one, karate was born on Okinawa and two since it was an Asian fighting art we naturally assumed the Asians would practice it better. However when I expressed this opinion to my father he always replied: “If Japanese were such great fighters then why did they loose the war?” Needless to say his answer irritated me, but subconsciously I realized his first hand experiences outweighed my Asian infatuation.
Over the course of the following decade my estimates of Asian Fighting Arts practitioners rose continuously until I was employed by a Japanese electronics firm. Then and only then was my Asian infatuation finally laid to rest.  Junk food eating karate-ka, out of shape judoka’s, chain smoking kendo practitioners, wannabe samurais, you name it the Japanese have it. In fact they’re not much different than westerners in their pursuit of martial arts. At the time it was a startling realization, but it eventually helped me understand that martial prowess has nothing to do with ethnicity.
Since gaining main stream popularity 50 years ago the Asian Fighting Arts have swept through western society like a tsunami and by doing so have spawned an unhealthy infatuation that encourages westerners to ignore their own martial heritage. For instance today the Samurai are known as the fiercest warriors to have ever graced a battlefield, yet there were others who rivaled, if not surpassed them. One tribe of warriors being the Ancient Celts who used to paint their bodies blue then run naked into battle with only a sword and shield.  Others such as the Vikings, Hoplite’s, Huns, Franks and Knights Templar also fit this category.
Another example of our blatant infatuation is that until the rise of MMA competitions Aikido, Judo, jujutsu and Chin-na were heralded as the standards for grappling arts, yet the Ancient Greeks and Romans as well as English, French, Italian and Spanish schools of Renaissance fencing also included grappling, locking, throwing and trapping in their teachings.  Similarly the illustrations found in Hans Talhoffer’s Medieval Combat could be superimposed on the densho of most systems of Koryu Bujutsu. Let us not forget that wrestling has a long standing history in the west and before the wide spread popularity of golf men wrestled as a past time sport at county fairs, family gatherings and during holiday festivities.
Similarly we evoke the old masters and speak their names with great reverence: Funakoshi, Motobu, Miyagi, Yip Man and Musashi. However in doing so more celebrated western fighters and martial legends such as: King Arthur and Homer, Donn Draeger, Jack Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Ken Shamrock are ignored, nor do we consider that in today’s arena neither Funakoshi nor Motobu would last one round against Leonard or Shamrock.
Whimsically karate-ka and kung-fu practitioners reflect about the good old days, the period before the Asian Fighting Arts were contaminated and commercialized by westerners. History though shows us there has never been such a time because when karate was introduced to Japan many Okinawans strived to open up dojos and enroll a large amount of students. Hence the reason Funakoshi and Motobu hated each other and why Chojun Miyagi quit teaching in Japan altogether.[i]  
Furthermore the political infighting and lofty organizations common throughout the Asian fighting arts are often the result of over ambitious Asians and their desire to cash in on the Western market. For instance the Japanese Karate Association was established in 1949 with Gichin Funakoshi as chief instructor while the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association was founded shortly after the Korean War. Since then both organizations and their off-shoots, have achieved international status with thousands of members’ world wide paying monthly dues. These are just two examples of many such organizations in existence today that have been founded by Asian martial artists.
Sadly despite their own heritage, knowledge and skills westerners hardly ever credit themselves for having influenced the Asian fighting arts, nor recognize their own champions in the face of Asian practitioners. A good example of the former being that Isshinryu karate has almost died out on Okinawa but is currently undergoing resurgence thanks to Tsuyoshi Uechi, a native Okinawan, who consulted with long term American Isshinryu Karate-ka in order to revive the art. And where the latter is concerned many people are unaware that both Olympic Judo and Tae Kwon Do have long been dominated by Western fighters. Similarly Mark Wiley observed about the Filipino martial arts: “This, coupled with the tremendous influence of Spanish culture, prompted the evolution of eskrima, the “classical” martial art of the Philippines.  It was the Spanish rapier and dagger systems that had the greatest influence on it transformation from kali.” (Wiley, Filipino Martial Culture, p.49) Hence there was intercourse between Asian and Western cultures and the Asian fighters borrowed just as freely from the Western traditions as their counterparts did and continue to do so today.
It is time to recognize that the world wide proliferation of Asian Fighting Arts erases a cultural monopoly that has existed for far too long.  Ethnicity is no longer a prerequisite for teaching Asian combatives because there are now as many long term Western practitioners as there are Asians.
More importantly though is that by continuing to encourage the myth of Asian superiority Westerners fail to appreciate their own martial prowess which is sad, especially when considering the enormous contributions they have made to the fighting arts. To fall prey to Asian infatuation is understandable, but to embrace it is an unpardonable mistake no one should make. Fighting is fighting and when the mystic and hype is laid aside you’ll see that the Western traditions and practitoners are equal, if not superior to their Asian counterparts.

[i] Miyagi was actually bribed by a group of Japanese martial artists to award them rank. As Higaonna wrote, “This was clearly a request for Miyagi to grant members of this group black bet ranks.  Miyagi Sensei who in any case disliked the concept of ranks, immediately pushed the envelop away stating that he could not comply with the request.”  (Higaonna, History of Karat, 89-90)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day

It was a busy Friday after noon when I pulled into the car wash and an older man, about 62, greeted me. He was lean and muscular, had sandy grey hair and a limp that accentuated his steady gait.

“Wait here” he said “while I scrub your tires and rims.”

While waiting, I noticed Old Glory on a flag pole in front of the car wash and beside her stood the POW MIA flag. Both waved proudly in the breeze and as I watched them my thoughts turned to friends and relatives I’d known who had served in Vietnam. Suddenly my attention was refocused by the attendant’s voice. “Pull inside the bay and when the red light comes on stop. After the wash is complete pull out and I’ll dry off your truck.”

“Okay,” I answered putting my Chevy into gear.

Rolling up the window I slowly entered the car wash, stopped then sat patiently. Ahead of me at the exit, stood the attendant with both legs planted shoulder with apart, watching intently as the oversized washing machine cleaned my truck. His gaze was tough yet kind, like that of a person who had experienced hard times, but sought neither charity, nor pity.

After the wash had finished I pulled outside, braked to a halt and rolling down the driver’s side window once more noticed the two flags waving briskly in the afternoon breeze.

“Airborne, huh?”

“What’s that?” I said to the attendant.

“I saw your license plate, said you were Airborne, man after my own heart.”

I noticed his eyes and they were crinkled around the edges and a slight grin had crossed his face.

“Where you Airborne too?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yep. 7th Cav, did 22 months in Vietnam.  Flew casualty evacuation, no one wanted the job, so I figured someone had to do it. We got a lot those boys out. Some made it, others didn’t.”

My throat tightened because standing before me was a real hero. Someone who had rode a helicopter into battle and at the risk of his own life carried wounded soldiers back to safety.

“God bless and thanks” I stammered.

He grinned even bigger, “Everyday my feet hit the ground I’m blessed.”

We shook hands and just before leaving he said to me: “Welcome home.”

With a lump in my throat I thanked him again then pulled into traffic. Driving off I saw Old Glory snap to attention then another truck entered the car wash and as the attendant knelt and scrubbed its tires I thought: He deserves better, much better than what our country has given him.

This November 11th please take time to thank someone you know who is a veteran because as the old saying goes:

If you can read thank a teacher

If you sleep safe tonight thank a Police Officer

And if you live free thank a Veteran.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Myth of Empty Hand Combat

The Myth of Empty Hand Fighting

“The first effort of human technology was probably weapon-making.  History and travel tell us of no race so rude as to lack artificial means of offense and defense”   Sir Richard Burton

Mortal combat has been fought with weapons since Homo erectus roamed the African Plains, some 1.8 million years ago.  Initially this involved using rocks, clubs, sharpened sticks and flint knives until the bow and arrow and spear were developed. More importantly though is the invention of projectile weapons (sling, bow and arrow, javelin,) allowed man to kill from a distance and gave him a measure of safety previously unknown when using shock weapons (knife, club, sword). Furthermore, with the development of firearms the distance man could kill from and his ability to do so increased dramatically. [i]

In spite of our natural propensity for using weapons there is in karate a widely held belief that empty-handed strategies will always prevail against an armed assailant. Similarly the myth of empty- handed combat is a long standing one and there are no ends to what people will do to advance it. Death touches and pressure point knockouts are commonly found, though their use in full-contact fighting is non-existent.  Kobudo practitioners will use sais and nunchakus against shotguns to illustrate their system’s effectiveness while karate instructors often portray armed assailants as buffoons barely capable of putting one foot in front of another. Sadly in each and every case myth takes precedence over reality, sometimes with deadly consequences. [ii]

The origin of karate’s empty-hand myth originated with Basil Hall’s visit to Okinawa during the early 19th century. Hall, an English sea captain, was intrigued by the Okinawans and made several noteworthy observations about their hospitality, culture and country. His most notable being that the Okinawans possessed no arms, no army and no means of defending themselves.

On his homeward journey Hall’s ship docked briefly at St. Helena, the island Napoleon was exiled on. There Hall was granted a visit with the deposed emperor, during which he spoke of a kingdom that had no arms and practiced no war. Napoleon however, remained unconvinced and as Hall later wrote: “Several circumstances…respecting the Loo-Choo [Okinawan] people surprised even him a good deal; and I had the satisfaction of seeing him more than once completely perplexed, and unable to account for the phenomena which I related.  Nothing struck him so much as their having no arms.  ‘Point d’ armes!’ he exclaimed;…”Mais, sans armes, comment se bat-on?’

“I could only reply, that as far as we had been able to discover, they had never had any war, but remained in a state of internal and external peace. ‘No wars!’ cried he, with a scornful and incredulous expression, as if the existence of any people under the sun without wars was a monstrous anomaly.” (Kerr, Okinawa History of an Island People, p. 258-259) As with other explorers Hall’s observation was based on insufficient knowledge, but the myth he perpetuated remains to this day.

The 17th century is considered an age when sword to sword combat flourished, yet in reality firearms dominated most of the world’s battlefields at this time. This was especially so considering the development of tactics which allowed drilled units to maintain a consistent rate of fire, thereby increasing the weapon’s effectiveness. With these developments, the distance at which combat was fought increased, and the frequency at which close quarters combat occurred decreased. However there was another advantage firearms offered and that was training.  Whereas it normally took three to five years preparation to be skilled enough to fight on the battlefield with sword and spear, bow and arrow, anyone could be taught to load and fire an Arquebus within a few weeks, if not days.

           Feudal Japanese armies were in many ways no different than their European counterparts and when the Satsuma invaded Okinawa they quickly swept aside all resistance because the invading force was equipped with firearms. As Morio Higaonna wrote, “On April 1, the Satsuma army separated into two forces.  One, led by Kabayama, proceeded to the port of Yomitan from which they then attacked and burned Urasoe Castle and Ryufukuji Temple. They advanced as far as Shuri Castle, the residence of the king.  Kabayama’s army was met at the bridge of Shuri Castle by defiant islanders armed with nothing more than sticks and bamboo spears.  The Satsuma force of between 1,000 and 1,500 men, armed with guns, advanced onto the bridge.  Bullets from their guns fell like rain and the islanders were forced to retreat into the castle” (Higaonna, The History of Karate, 3).

 The Satsuma’s use of firearms allowed them to unleash a devastating barrage on the Okinawans, which produced horrendous effects, physically and psychologically. And, as in Europe where the sword and spear were becoming obsolete, on Okinawa traditionally armed warriors were defeated by soldiers with guns. Hence, Okinawan styles of fighting became suitable only for personal defense due to innovations in weapons technology.

For almost 300 years after the Satsuma invasion the Okinawans developed their native fighting arts in secrecy until karate was imported to Japan. Once there it was practiced as a sport, a means of self-defense and as moving meditation. However despite karate’s enormous popularity it was of little use on the battlefield because firearms, automatic weapons and artillery had rendered the likelihood of empty- hand combat almost impossible.

When karate was transmitted to the United States after World War II, Americans whole heartedly embraced the fighting art though few questioned its historical veracity. Magazines, movies and masters all promoted the superiority of empty-hand fighting in a culture long accustomed to firearms, though oddly enough it was Chojun Miyagi who summed up karate’s role in the modern world best when he stated, “Our intention is to develop a sound and healthy body so that, in the event we are attacked unexpectedly, we are able to defend ourselves effectively.  That is to say, the fundamental principle of karate is to be able to defeat an assailant using solely our natural weapons-our bodies.

However, in situations in which an aggressor possesses superior strength or wields a weapon, we must use, in conjunction with our natural weapons, whatever weapon we may find at hand.” (Higaonna, History of Karate, 82)
 As a sport, a means of physical fitness, meditation and cultural artifact karate holds many possibilities, but as a fighting art it is extremely limited in a culture where firearms’ violence is commonplace. Consequently it is important for karate-ka to understand the difference between myth and fact and know that the instinct which originally drove us to use weapons is alive and well today.  Or in layman’s terms, two hours of firearms’ training negates twenty years of karate with the squeeze of a trigger.

[i] “On the negative side, the maximum range of shock weapons is seldom greater than a couple of meters.  Long lances or pikes can double this reach, but only at the expense of accuracy, mobility, and impact.  Moreover, these very short ranges create sever psychological and social difficulties that render shock weapons the choice among only the more severely disciplined armies of high chiefdoms and states.  These weapons are very dangerous to an opponent, but they put their wielder at great risk.  To employ them against a comparably armed opponent, a warrior must close to a distance where both parties are in maximum danger of being killed or terribly wounded.  And more important, to reach this closure the warrior must pass through the killing zone of the enemy’s fire weapons, with each step forward increasing their accuracy and their impact force.  It is no accident that the use of body armor is highly correlated with the use of shock weapons, since the former can dramatically decrease the risk of injury from missiles and can ameliorate those from close combat.  Many groups equipped themselves with shock weapons but employed them only to dispatch fleeing or captured foes after these had been routed.”  Lawrence H. Keeley. War Before Civilization, p. 49-50.
[ii] One of the more bizarre incidents involving karate and firearms that I have witnessed was while visiting an Iaido school. During the course of the evening the school’s instructor repeatedly demonstrated his ability to draw and cut an assailant before they pulled the pistol’s trigger. This delusion was based on the assumption that the assailant would hold their pistol against the instructor’s back, head or neck as he stood in a ready stance with the katana. Never mind that in daily life he wouldn’t have the sword, or that if confronted by a police officer the first thing the officer would demand after drawing their pistol at a safe distance is that the katana be thrown to the ground. “What happens if the assailant draws the pistol at a distance?” I asked. “I charge and cut” he answered. “My Kiai will scare them and buy me time to cover the distance between us.”  Although dangerous, ignorance is a blissful state of mind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Knife Defense Fraud Will Kill You

Knife defense is a topic often talked about in the martial arts world, but never addressed realistically. Oh, we have plenty of theories, philosphies, masters and experts on the subject all of whom have confidence in their skills and are confident they can impart real world knife defense skills in their students, but truth be known is almost all of them have never confronted an armed opponent except while playing a computer game, or else watching television. Fear is a word absent from their vocabularly and death only happens to someone else. I mean after all Steven Segal, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee never get killed so why should your’s truly? More importantly though is their master showed them this technique and its quite old and has been passed down from generation to generation therefore it should work, plus its part of their style’s teachings and everyone knows that their style of fighting is the best for street fighting. Right? Sorry, Buckwheat, but you’re wrong.  Dead wrong.
Long ago I came to the conclusion that if every student and instructor fully realized just how dangerous a knife is  they would run away like a striped assed ape, if possible that is. Similarly on numerous occasions I've asked instructors "does a knife scare you" only to have them answer "no, I have confidence in my skills." Usually I flinch when hearing these words because if the truth was known the reason they're not scared of a knife is because they've never encountered one outside the dojo.  Hence these are the people to avoid at all costs along with their youtube videos and fact filled books which are marketed by (name your publishing company). Sorry folks, but martial arts publishers are more interested in earning a buck than protecting your welfare, buts thats a topic for another day. My point being is that inexperience and missinformation lead to disasterous results.
Inside the dojo everything works, no matter how absured it might seem. Pressure points, chi,  complicated knife and gun disarms, chi knife disarms, chi gun disarms, they all work,  but then the good guys never get killed in the westerns either. Maybe shot in the arm, but never killed. Right? Right. Therefore since you’re the good guy learning karate in the dojo you’ll never get killed.  Right? Wrong.  A large majority of the knife drills presented are merely extensions of someone's empty-handed, step-punch-kick, training.  There's no fluidity, no real intent, no real threat and an over all tendency to preserve the style's integrity instead of addressing the threat and how you will react to it.  Also, there's a built in delusion that the karate-ka can easily disarm the attacker without sustaining injury because they study karate, kung-fu, Tae-Kwon Do, etc, etc.  Such beliefs and mindsets are a recipe for disaster. For instance not long ago a young man who had just started karate wanted to demonstrate his gun and knife disarms to me. "Okay, I said" and with the gun defense segment I simulated holding a pistol and stood 8 feet away, which is short range for a pistol- but long range for empty hand. "Come closer" he said, "no way" I answered then said "bang, your dead."   With the knife it was about the same thing, he wanted me to line up formal like we were bowing in, but instead I grabbed his shirt and executed a series of underhanded thrusts to his stomach, groin and lower back. Needless to say he was a bit upset because I didn't play by the rules, but that's my point.  Someone armed with a knife isn't going to play by the dojo's rules, they'll invent their own as things progress. That's why live training is so important, along with stressing the fact that if they've got a weapon and you don't, you've suddenly ended up on the bottom of the food chain. Moral of the story is there are no easy answers and beware of someone who presents one because they’ll probably get you killed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Free E-Book

A few years ago Iain Aberenthy published one of my books and I'm very thankfull he did. Comprehensive Karate From Beginner to Black Belt has been very popular and if you'd like a copy here's a link so that you can download one: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/news/free-comprehensive-karate-e-book-back-online



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Defense of Traditional Systems

In Defense of Traditional Systems

By Michael Rosenbaum

If you were to look up the word “traditional” in Webster’s New World Dictionary you would find the following definition: “handed down by, or conforming to tradition; conventional: also tra-di’tion-ar’y or [rare].”

Studying the traditions of one's chosen style of fighting helps us to not only gain technical insight but it also helps us understand the circumstances that brought forth a fighting art's development. But more importantly by coming to understand the development process inherit to a fighting art you also gain insights into the worldviews and ethics which were present during the system's formation. Views that often contrast the ones held today. For instance many people enjoy the sport of fencing but the contemporary fencer’s mindset is quite different than the one held by their 16th century counterpart. Today the ideal of being killed in a duel of swords is not very probable but for those who practiced the “noble art of defense” some 400 years ago it was a very real threat. To draw your sword against an opponent was to literally take your life in hand, therefore hand-to-hand combat was not something one took lightly.

Lately it has become in vogue to devalue the traditional fighting arts based on assumptions which overlook the time, place and reasons for their development. One contributing factor to this miss-understanding is that contemporary practitioners often misstake the tournament floor as being one in the same with the hostile environments for which many traditional combative systems were developed. And by making this assumption the differences between traditional and modern styles of training are overlooked. Hence we forget the tournament style of fighting is designed for use in a win or loose environment, one with established rules and regulations. In contrast to this traditional combative arts are intended for use in an environment that has no rules and is concerned with the issue of surviving a life or death engagement. For instance although a sport karate-ka may have superior kicking skills than a Filipino martial artist, if the two were to fight outside of a ring and the Filipino practitioner were to use a bolo knife, kris, or balisong then all that would be required is one well placed thrust or cut and the match would be over. Thus you have two different systems concerned with two entirely different outcomes of an engagement. One being competition, the other combat.

There also is a trend today to reinvent the martial arts based on consumer appeal, or the popularity of full contact fighting. A good example of the latter being the ever popular no holds barred fights such as UFC, K-1 etc. Without a doubt the fighters who engage in these matches train in a dedicated manner and are very skilled at their chosen style of fighting. However, full contact fighting is not something new to the martial art's world. Wrestling, boxing and pankration were all practiced by the ancient Greeks hundreds of years before Christ was born. And these traditional contests were no holds barred events in the fullest sense because gouging to the eyes, strikes to the throat, breaking an opponent's fingers, even trampling a downed fighter were all allowed during these contests in which participants fought naked, outdoors, in the hot summer sun and with no time limits. Therefore we haven't reinvented the wheel, we've only rediscovered it where as full contact fighting is concerned.

When discussing the effectiveness of traditional fighting arts we should consider that with the history of hand-to-hand combat dating back to prehistoric times there is little that hasn’t  been discovered by previous generations of fighters.  Moreover the assumption that all traditional combative systems are obsolete usually proves to be far from fact, especially for those intended mortal combat. Tradition does not mean to stop progress nor does it mean to curtail martial prowess. Tradition instead is a way to maintain integrity and keep alive a standard of training that was developed not in the light of the latest martial arts fad, but instead in the arena of life and death. It is only when the equation of combat is removed from the traditional fighting art that it becomes ineffective.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hard, Middle and Soft Styles of Karate

Hard, Middle and Soft Styles of Karate.

A common method for categorizing fighting arts is by system and style. When someone speaks of a system more than likely they are using a broad based term to describe a fighting art and the particular geographical region from which it originated. For instance when one uses the term "Karate" this describes a form of fighting that had its beginnings on Okinawa. Likewise if one were to use the term Judo, this would apply to a system of grappling developed in Japan. When the term "style" is used it describes a particular method of teaching that falls under the broad heading of a system. Therefore if I use the term "Isshinryu Karate Do", Karate is a system of fighting while Isshinryu is a style or subsystem of karate.

However, the word "style" can also be used to categorize a fighter or fighting art as either a "hard" or "soft" methodology. Hard styles and stylists are often noted for their physical prowess and body hardening methods, which involves toughing the knuckles, shins and forearms. These are areas commonly used for striking and blocking in hard style training. Soft styles and stylists on the other hand are associated with yielding and molding actions that use an opponent’s own force as a weapon against them. Soft styles of fighting like Tai Chi and Aikido are also known for their reliance upon internal energy to generate power where as hard styles are known to rely upon external energy or muscular strength for their source of power. Although the Hard-Soft method of categorization is a useful tool, it often proves to be an incomplete analysis which fails to recognize that both hard and soft concepts can be found thoughout karate. For instance at the beginners stage most blocks are taught as force meeting force actions. However, by the third year of training these same blocks have, in many instances, become deflections, locks or throws.

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming explains in "The Essence of Shaolin White Crane Martial Power and Qigong", that Chinese fighting arts are categorized by the manner in which they develop Jin or martial power. (p.17) However instead of two categories, Dr. Yang uses three in relation to the Chinese fighting arts. They are: Hard, Soft -Hard and Soft Styles. Hard styles use muscular power in their execution of techniques and utilize bold rigid movements as is often seen in many karate-ka’s execution of kata. Soft-Hard styles tend to be more pliable than hard styles and although they do use muscular power they remain fairly relaxed until the moment of impact with their target. Dr. Yang likens the Soft-Hard styles strike to that of Rattan, one, which inflicts both internal and external injuries. (pp.17) The third style of fighting is soft style. Soft style places much emphasis upon relaxation and only uses muscle tension for a brief instance to retract the striking limb. By doing so a "Whipping action" as Dr. Yang describes it is generated one that can cause much damage to an opponents internal organs (pp.17). Of the three styles of fighting soft form is considered by many practitioners to be the most advanced.

The categories of Hard, Hard -Soft and Soft, Dr. Yang described can be applied to other fighting arts, such as karate. In examining the Okinawan fighting arts and the roles played by hard and soft concepts in them the late Donn F. Draeger stated; "No system of ch’uan-fa, te, karate-jutsu, or karate-do is an absolutely "soft" or "hard" system, but may be categorized as being one of the other depending on the priority given to one or the other aspect in the execution of techniques." (Donn F. Draeger Modern Bujutsu & Budo pp.128) Draeger’s statement makes it quite clear that not only are there- both hard and soft elements in the Okinawan fighting arts but that hard-soft or middle concepts are also present.

Although the three styles of fighting: Hard, Hard-Soft and Soft are frequently viewed as separate entities they are in fact interlinking components that make up a complete process of evolution. More often than not, the beginning practitioner will find that during their initial phases of training, say the first three to five years, reliance upon physical dexterity while executing techniques is far easier than trying to use concepts found within the middle and soft forms of fighting. As Dr. Yang said: "It is easier to be hard, and harder to be soft for a beginner." (P.99 Shaolin White Crane Martial Power and Theory) His statement brings to light that developing Middle and Soft concepts of fighting proves to be very a demanding task.

The process of reaching the level of middle and soft styles of fighting takes many years of dedicated training and the reason is why younger karate-ka's techniques resemble the "old bull in the china shop" approach, while older, more experienced karate-ka tend to exhibit subtle skills which have devastating power and speed. Therefore when examining Hard, Hard-Soft and Soft styles of fighting the question often arises: do some styles of karate facilitate the progress from hard to soft better than others? While this argument can be made, especially when comparing two seeming diverse styles such as Shotokan and Goju-ryu, what we frequently ignore is that progression from a hard to soft style of fighting has more to do with the karate-ka than their chosen style of karate. Although the Shoto-kan practitioner may initally begin their training in a hard manner, over the course of three decades they will develop nuances and skills that will allow them to fight in the realm of softness.

During our study of karate it is important to note that how we train today will change over the course of time. It is this change, brought forth by both time and practice that is at the core of developing hard, middle and soft styles of fighting. It is not an over night process much less one that can be accomplished in a few years time. For the beginning student visualizing what their style of fighting will be like 25 years from now is an almost impossible task. Yet it is important that they are made aware of the changes that will take place during their training. Likewise, it is important that the advanced practitioner remembers where their training began, while acknowledging the transformation process they have undergone.

Michael Rosenbaum is the author of: Kata and The Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts.