Karate and Aikido

The Fundamentals Connection

The other day I read a post on the fundamental concepts of projection, rotation, and isolation found in Aikido that my brother had shared in his Shunpookan Aikido group on Facebook. Dan is an excellent aikido instructor, taking a very practical and serious approach to both his training and his teaching.

As I read his post, I was struck by the fact that we have essentially the same ideas in Isshin-ryu Karate (or, at least how some of us practice it). These same concepts very often apply to how we, as Isshin-ryu practitioners, “greet” our attacker’s technique.

Here is the original post about these three Aikido fundamentals …

Three Aikido Fundamental Principles

Sensei Dan Gilbert

Last night in class we talked about structure, and the three fundamental concepts you can use in your Aikido. In every technique you will see power projection, rotation, and isolation. Different approaches to techniques results in different emphasis on these three concepts.

Suppose you learned a technique – for example, ikkyo, using the idea of rotating (blending) away from the attack. In that case, it is worth studying how you can get the same result by projecting through the attack or isolating it. It is all ikkyo. The rotational approach takes the attacker in a different direction; the power projection approach interrupts the attack and sends him back along the line. Isolation can involve letting the power of the attack “die” and then reversing the technique.

In ikkyo, this coincides with the common description of the attack having a birth, a life and a death. Taking at birth requires projection, rotation works during the life and isolation works at the death.

Okay, So What About Isshin-ryu?

In Aikido, ikkyo, essentially means “first lesson,” and is often taught initially as a “projection,” utilizing leverage on a joint, causing the attacker’s body to be “projected” in a particular direction, often, I would guess, resulting in a throw.

A person’s unbalance is the same as weight …

In Isshin-ryu Karate, we often seek to control an attacker’s joint – say, the elbow, or a shoulder, the hip, or maybe a knee, in order to “project” our attacker’s body in a particular direction, placing him in a position of unbalance or weakness. I often refer to this as “breaking their Sanchin.” The goal is to place the attacker in a position from which they cannot defend themselves, and a position which is, quite often, a target rich environment.

The body should be able to change direction at any time …

Aikido teaches its practitioners to lead their attacker instead of directly opposing force with force. The objective is to move so that the attacker’s energy becomes tangential to a circle revolving around the center of balance of the Aikido practitioner. The aikidoist rotates the attacker but is unaffected by the motion because he or she is at the circle’s center.

Many of my favorite techniques involve rotating on my center of gravity while my attacker’s technique takes off on a line that is tangential to my rotation. This rotation typically leaves my attacker and his weapons facing in a harmless direction, while I and my weapons are focused directly on him.

There is no first strike in karate …

Joint isolation combines two principles, pain compliance and structural manipulation, to imobilize a joint and/or throw an attacker. Many throwing or grappling arts including Aikido and Jujitsu use them. These are often the last techniques to be learned and to use effectively because they require fine motor skills and take a lot of practice to master. Karate uses these techniques as well.

Sensei Harrill was very adept at isolating a joint and then attacking it. One technique I will always remember (probably because he demonstrated its effectiveness on me several times during one seminar), comes from the kata, Wansu.

I threw a right-hand punch, which Sensei deflected with his left forearm while rotating and shifting into Shiko Dachi. Sensei’s arm continued, rotating inward and up, effectively locking my arm with his palm locking and isolating my right shoulder. This had the effect of shifting the point of my shoulder down and forward, where it was met by the knuckles of his right hand. When his fist struck the point of my shoulder, the lesson was instant, painful, and easily understood. That was not a good position to be in …

My shoulder had been projected, rotated, isolated … and then struck. As for my punch – it had a birth, a life, and a death.

Let me introduce the Flesheater!

Combat functionality taken to the max!

Sensei AJ Advincula teaches the Army close combat.

According to Ret. U.S.M.C. MSgt. Arcenio J Advincula, the Flesheater is the ultimate combat fighting knife, a masterful blend of design and craftsmanship that is a cut above, straight, and to the point. Jim Hammond, a world-class custom knifemaker, worked with AJ Advincula to develop this unique bladed weapon.

I first encountered the Flesheater after attending an Isshin-ryu Karate Seminar given by Sensei Advincula in Raleigh, NC, a few years ago. I have attended several seminars given by Sensei Advincula over the years, and like Sensei Sherman Harrill, he is the real deal.

At the seminar, I met Richard Rosenthal, an Isshin-ryu Karate practitioner like myself, who also trained in Sensei Advincula’s Largo Mano Escrima. I began attending Sensei Rosenthal’s escrima classes and thoroughly enjoyed its practicality and compatibility with Isshin-ryu Karate.

The origins of the Flesheater

The Flesheater originated when Master Chief Petty Officer Don Griffiths, who spearheaded the design development research for the SEALTAC™ Series with USN Special Warfare (SEAL) personnel in 1981, asked his martial arts instructor, “What would you look for in a fighting knife, not a combat knife, but a pure fighting knife?”

During a later visit to the shop where the first two prototypes were being developed, Don accidentally experienced the edge of the first prototype. Griffiths proclaimed, “That knife’s a real flesh-eater!” The name stuck.

The Flesheater design is based primarily upon Largo-Mano Escrima and Isshin-Ryu Karate. Advincula is a first-generation student of the founder of Isshin-Ryu Karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku. He began studying escrima and knife fighting in 1946 at age 8 with two Filipino Scouts and close combat instructors, Pete Rado and Tony Navarro.

The Flesheater’s role in Montagnard.

In Montagnard, Carlos Vivas, a US Navy SEAL and teammate of the main character, JD Cordell, is a skilled practitioner of escrima. In the fictional story, Vivas’ father served with AJ Advincula in the US Marines as a drill instructor and trained in Largo Mano Escrima. Carlos, who left Puerto Rico to enlist in the US Navy, carries on the tradition.

As the friendship between Carlos and JD grows, Carlos presents JD with a Jim Hammond-made Flesheater at JD’s retirement party. The knife appears throughout the story and plays a key role in the climatic ending.

The Jim Hammond Flesheater, from Jimhammondkinves.com

For more information about the Flesheater’s design, characteristics, and versatility, click the link or image above to visit Jim Hammond’s website.

My Flesheater – a reliable and valuable companion!

I have to admit, I did have a new custom leather sheath made. I ordered my Flesheater from Columbia River Knife and Tool and found the thermoplastic sheath they included quite impractical for my purposes.

Also, CRKT no longer carries these knives. You have to order them directly from Jim Hammond now. I suspect it is because there are designed specifically for combat and are probably not something the typical outdoor person might carry. It is also not very practical for cleaning your fingernails.

Be sure to check out my books by clicking here! They do get great reviews!

The Dance of Death

I read once that a karate kata could be called a dance of death

Now, I am not talking about some of the highly sensational “stuff” that has come out over the years. Many books are out there by such prolific “martial arts” writers as Ashida Kim talking about Count Dante and others, claiming that The Dance of Death is the most deadly collection of “poison hand” techniques known to man. Several “martial arts” genre movies have been released using versions of “Dance of Death” in their titles. All I will say about that martial arts “pulp fiction” is, buyer beware.

But in general, I think you could consider a kata a form of dance. It is a series of movements combining footwork and stances, proper posture, presence, balance, flow, relaxation, dynamic tension, etc. In addition, they have a certain rhythm which can vary as skill grows or even depending on what the practitioner is thinking technique-wise. And, you could easily receive a description such as this from a karate instructor – or a ballroom dance instructor.

Ballroom Dancing and Karate-do

Ballroom dance and karate both require years of practice to achieve real skill. In addition, both require the study of and understanding of body mechanics, timing, breathing, distance, technique, and posture.

Both require a great deal of time spent practicing basic techniques, simple patterns, and advanced choreographed movements, the mastery of which later allows the skilled practitioner to forget the patterns and to allow his own expression of technique or dance to flow.

The similarities do not end there!

For both karate and ballroom dancing, a good instructor can make all the difference in the world. I first started out learning basic steps from instructors that were essentially a few lessons ahead of me. Having studied karate with a few excellent instructors, I soon became bored with this level of teaching. I wanted more.

Then I met Mark and Rhonda Becker at Champion Ballroom in Knoxville. This husband and wife team are both great instructors. They did not teach steps – they taught you the art of ballroom dancing.

That was when the similarities between karate-do and ballroom dancing began to really show.

So, are karate kata really a dance of death?

Well, if you consider that a traditional karate kata has so much in common with a dance, and then take into consideration what a kata contains, I would say the answer is – yes.

What is a kata? It essentially is a collection of effective and proven combat techniques distilled down to their purest form. Like a dance, they require balance, breath control, timing, focus, proper body mechanics, and flow.

They also require understanding. Many of the techniques, while they certainly can be modified, if executed to their fullest potential, have disastrous effects on the human body. Many can, indeed, be fatal.

So, from that perspective, I guess they could be called, “The Dance of Death.” But they are so much more than that.

Performing kata is a great form of exercise. And depending on how you work them, you can achieve a great variety of results. You can blast through them as a good cardio workout, or you can perform them slowly to work on balance and strength. You can work on timing your breathing to techniques or utilize dynamic tension. Then kata can become moving meditation and help you improve your focus, or relax and reduce stress.

Working on kata will improve your ballroom dancing – and working on ballroom dancing will improve your kata.

It’s almost like a Yin Yang relationship, isn’t it?