Action as Medicine

Action as Medicine

He sat alone on the wooden floor of a little cabin, miles from town. Deep in the night the clouds parted. Moonlight came in and made its way softly across the floor. From time to time the sound of voices far away, talking, maybe singing, were carried in on the breeze.  Someone strange jumped in […]

Self-defense vs. Protection Rackets 

Self-defense vs. Protection Rackets 

Kids need love and protection. They may wander off. They may get frightened or hurt. They want someone who can do protect them.  Families do that. Part of growing up is the transition from wanting protection to providing it. As a teenager you learn to look out for yourself. You take care of your body, your dignity, […]

Balance in Space, Time and Mind

Balance in Space, Time and Mind

Balance in Space During training you may notice that you are over extended toward your target. Arm outstretched in a punch, you notice too much weight on your front foot, your spine axis projecting over your front foot, too close to the balance point. You notice the vulnerability in this and correct it, bringing the […]

Karate Koan from 把握不能心

Karate Koan from 把握不能心

We practice karate, 空手, empty hands. Hands empty of what? “A weapon,” people say. A hand can take many forms. It can punch or grab. It can release or withdraw. It can tear flesh from bone, build a house, play the piano, caress a loved one. A hand has no fixed form. We can learn to use […]

Training at Sunset

Training at Sunset

As civilization sheds its skin, or drops its mask, our karate training is a treasure that we need to protect. Unlock the door. Open the windows. People enter and bow. We create a zone of order and beauty. My teacher began the day by lighting a stick of incense in the alcove at the front […]

Three Instructor Stages

Three Instructor Stages

There are three levels of instructor in our style. There are many different styles of martial arts. Within them are many different approaches. Our approach is what we use. The first stage instructor demonstrates technical competence and the interest and ability to share what they know with others. The second stage instructor combines that with […]

The Benevolence of the Butcher

The Benevolence of the Butcher

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”    -Adam Smith, 1776, An Inquiry into the Nature and Sources of the Wealth of Nations Adam Smith was describing how free markets work. No one knows everything. […]

Naihanchi’s Strange Omission

Naihanchi’s Strange Omission

In “te”, the indigenous Okinawa fighting art which evolved into karate, for the first three years some students practiced only naihanchi kata. Why?  We may also observe that there are no high blocks or head strikes in naihanchi. Why? The answers are closely related. Naihanchi does not present a full spectrum fighting system. It is […]

Karate and Nuclear War

Karate and Nuclear War

Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayashi Ryu Karate, was a Police Chief and an Okinawan political official for much of his life. In 1996 he was also recognized for his spiritual achievements. In his address “Karate and World Peace” he reflected on the spiritual heritage of Okinawan culture, as embodied in karate, and its role in […]

No Menkyo Kaiden for You!

No Menkyo Kaiden for You!

Fixed and bounded systems can be fully known. In martial arts this is a convenient and reassuring structure. But it is a fiction. To be sure there needs to be a clear, well-defined and structured knowledge base. It needs to be scrupulously acquired and mastered. But this should be understood as the platform for exploration, development and innovation, […]

True Karate Do

True Karate Do

Written by Jeffrey Brooks Translated into Japanese by Sakiyama Sogen, Roshi, Shuri, Okinawa, a Goju Ryu karate practitioner, as well as the Zen teacher of Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayshi Ryu. In the translation Sakiyama Roshi named this essay True Karate Do. Many people feel they are missing their lives, that real life is going on […]

Threats and Miracles II

Most of our training time is spent getting the skills we need to deal with a possible assault. We get stronger, faster, more agile and more skillful in the use of our body and mind. We train in threat awareness to alert us to the presence of a threat, before an assault can begin. We […]

Stable Equilibrium 

Stable Equilibrium 

As we train, without quite realizing it, our lives take on the character of a stable equilibrium. That does not happen automatically. But if you practice well it will happen.  It is essential for every able person.  A stable equilibrium system tends to return to stability when it is disturbed. Imagine a ball at the […]

Look Out

It is easy to hurt people. It is difficult to protect them It is easy to burn. It is hard to build. It is easy to trick people, bother people, seduce people, frighten people.  It is easy to weaken and humiliate people. Intoxication is easy.  Slander is easy.  It is easy to fall. It is […]

A Different Ken Zen 拳禅

A Different Ken Zen 拳禅

The expression Ken Zen Ichi Nyo – 拳禅一如 – Fist and Zen as One – was derived from Ken Zen Ichi Nyo – Sword and Zen as One 剣禅一如. The Fist version was adopted by Shoshin Nagamine (1907-1997) as his motto. The Sword version was famously used by Zen priest Takuan Soho (1573-1645) while teaching Zen or swordsmanship […]

The Other World

Dojo life is different. For some it is ideal.  Dojo life is dignified, collaborative, strong and devoted to freedom. Different from a world of coercion, deception, isolation and dependence. In some places, where our friends have trained for many years, dojo life is over. Classes banished to cyberia.  No more daily renewal through training with groups […]

Mind Training in Kata

Mind Training in Kata

Mind training begins as soon as physical training begins. If you make an error, you notice it, fix it and move on. We cannot get stuck on the error, regret it, announce it, or have an emotion about it. We learn to instantly fix it and forget it.  Continue In a combative situation we may […]

Killing People and Taking their Stuff

Killing People and Taking their Stuff

Killing people and taking their stuff has been popular throughout history. Many great historical figures are considered great for doing this. Empires have been built on it. Sun Tzu, military genius, guide for every military in the modern world, taught how to do it. Although he recommends taking people’s stuff without killing them, if possible. […]

Sakiyama’s Final Challenge

Sakiyama’s Final Challenge

It was unlikely we would ever meet again. But training was not over. To continue, Sakiyama Roshi, abbot of Kozenji Zendo in Shuri, Okinawa, presented me with this: He asked that I study it; penetrate its truth completely. He told me to visit his dharma brother when I returned to the US, train with him […]

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

Sugar is an addictive drug. It makes you fat, sick and depressed. It has many forms and names. It is in most manufactured food. It is easy to get addicted to it. It is difficult to quit.  But once you do quit it is easy to do without. And when you do without it you can […]

Moral Kata

Moral Kata

Martial artists develop powerful concentration in training. In bursts, under pressure, and for sustained periods of endurance training, our ability to focus goes far beyond the capacity we would have if we were untrained. That deep focus comes, little by little, naturally, as we make effort to meet the high-performance demands of our training. We […]

Competence and Freedom

Competence and Freedom

Our first line of defense is to know the difference between right and wrong.  But staying out of trouble is not enough.  We need to build our ability to do right. Doing things well gives us freedom. Here’s why: If you do not take care of yourself, if you are unable to do much that […]

Successful Training

Successful Training

“Do each task for its own sake and everything you do will succeed.” How can it be? In the dojo, if you do the technique you are doing, right then and there, with full commitment, then you will succeed at that technique. It may not be perfect. Your work may not be complete. But you […]

The Sharp Edge of History

The Sharp Edge of History

A guy walks into the dojo and says: “I just want to learn to fight.” He paused for a second. “I really don’t care about all that other stuff.” He didn’t say what other stuff he meant. We didn’t ask. He wanted to learn to fight.  We teach that. He started that day. What he […]

Having a Practice

Having a Practice

Having a practice is not the same as doing an activity or learning a skill set. An ‘activity’ is interesting or pleasant or distracting or edifying or fun. We enjoy it. It might make a lasting impression, but it probably won’t. Go to dinner or a movie, play a game or go for a walk. […]

How to Encourage Mushin or “Flow” in the Dojo

How to Encourage Mushin or “Flow” in the Dojo

Researcher Steven Kotler writing in the Harvard Business Review, listed four conditions that produce a flow state – intense concentration, goal clarity, feedback as to how well you are doing, and a properly matched challenge to skills ratio. We use these continually in martial arts training.   If the challenge level is set lower than the […]

型 Kata

型 Kata

The Japanese character for the word “kata” shows two hands linked together using an implement, like a knife or a sword, to cut into the earth.  To build a house you might pour a concrete foundation. Before you pour the concrete, you dig into the earth and build a form, out of wood, to hold […]

Senior Karate Training

Senior Karate Training

Our Senior class is for people 65 years old and older.  Sometimes classes for this age group are watered-down version of “the real thing.” Older people are sometimes treated as less competent versions of younger people. They sometimes think of themselves that way.   New technology makes old technology seem obsolete, and irrelevant, and sometimes ridiculous. It […]

Just, Not the Same

Just, Not the Same

On the first day I received these two belts they looked nearly the same. The same two-inch Shureido black belts, the same gold embroidered kanji, the same five characters on one of the ends of each belt – “from Sakiyama Sogen” – the teacher who presented them to me.  On the other end of the […]

The Dojo and the Crime Scene

The Dojo and the Crime Scene

  Amid all the shouts of f*ck the police there are millions of people who call the police, every day. For help. Most of them are calling because they are afraid or have been hurt, or their stuff has been stolen. They are calling for help.   Often, they call for protection from drug dealers […]

Funakoshi’s Crisis Intervention – Bun Bu Ryo Do, Part 1

Funakoshi’s Crisis Intervention – Bun Bu Ryo Do, Part 1

Funakoshi Gichin’s book the Karate-Do Kyohan (空手道教範) is a concise and comprehensive technical manual. It is meticulous and accessible and, without confusing beginners, opens the door to deep understanding for practitioners with the experience to grasp what is there.   In it, Funakoshi Gichin bookends his technical material with personal comments. At the beginning he explains his motive for […]

Ansei Ueshiro’s Nin Tai

Ansei Ueshiro’s Nin Tai

One day Ansei Ueshiro walked onto the training floor. This was the first time I had seen him there in my three years in the dojo. I had met him briefly several times over the years. Those of us who started in the 80s had never seen him do karate.  Mr. Ueshiro was an early […]

The Kansha Controversy

The Kansha Controversy

If you do a word search on the titles, keywords and quotations in the articles I have written over the last few years you will see, month by month, who has been inspired by what I have written: who has republished it, or who has changed some words, reordered the ideas and posted it as […]