Let’s put the 1% aside.
My visit to Okinawa improves not only my knowledge and skill in karate-do. It has been an eye opener and it lets me discover the real karate-do, its culture, philosophy and spirit; as an ancient budo art of Okinawa.
The Okinawan system is not as rigid and militarized as the Japanese system. The Okinawan system is more flexible in many ways. The Malaysian karate-do has been following Japanese styles which are very much a militarized training. The influence was from Shotokan, one of the few introduced to Malaysia in the earliest karate era of Malaysia.
Many times people have been asking me, “Is style really matter?” These people are thinking, if any karate that can teach you to fight well, what is so important what style it is. To me, the real essence of karate lies deep in its root of the style which has been forgotten by the new generation of practitioners. Many who know the real budo path of karate-do are not too interested in changing people’s thinking and often choose to be self-contained for self-improvement and self-preservation.
If you Google for “karate”, you will find many funny styles and names across the world. Many new styles are created outside of Okinawa/Japan. Really, can we call these karate? It is very difficult to have a stand on this argument. Call it whatever if you find nothing wrong about it.
My visit to Uechi-Ryu Zankai on Okinawa was absolutely an ultimate experience. Toyama Sensei is one of the very few grand master who really doesn’t care about the outside world. He is very disappointed how polluted karate is today. Of course, he feels very sad if he sees some videos of poor performance. He is entirely into preserving and passing on his knowledge to his high ranking students. My teacher, G. Seizan Breyette Sensei, a hatchi-dan (8th dan) kyoshi to-dan, is one of the very few high ranking students of Toyama Sensei.
The Zankai’s Training Philosophy
Uechi-Ryu Zankai is one of the remaining few old-style traditional karate-do on Okinawa devoting to continue to teach and to preserve the pre-World-War-2 karate-do which Kanbun Uechi Sensei brought back from China. And Toyama Sensei is the only legendary left on the earth who is actively passing on his knowledge which he learned from Kanbun Uechi Sensei.
The training at Zankai is very organic. Unlike most modern styles of karate-do, the Zankai uses training methods derived from organic living mechanisms which largely resembling a living organism in organization or development and profoundly affecting our bodily organs and functions. Many modern karate-do as well as other martial arts introduce free form sparring element to their training for competitive sports purposes with influences from Hong Kong and Hollywood movies. The introduction of free form sparring is also to transform monotonous old-style training to a more dynamic and exciting activity. It is rather hard to have modern people especially the youngsters to involve in a monotonic daily devotion. Martial arts training in the old days (100 years and more ago) was a daily devotion and monotonous with repetitive training. Modern youngsters prefer exciting new stuff such as sparring to display their male machoism.
The organic training of Zankai enhances functions of heart and lung especially. Take Sanchin for instance. Beginners (new students) learn Sanchin as first lesson in Zankai. To perform proper Sanchin, the shoulder must be down and pulled back, tummy tucked in and pulled up so the chest will rise and expand. This increases the capacity of the lung and reduces pressures onto organs such as the heart, the lung and digestive organs. The heart can pump more freely with bigger room. Bad body posture has long-term effect on our internal organs such as our heart. When our body postures collapse, our organs are squashed against each other. This is the reason for an enlarged heart appears in X-ray. Because of restricted space, the heart has to work harder to push against the pressure from the lung and other organs. Gradually, the heart enlarges due to the stress.
The kata system of old-style Uechi-ryu has staggering effect onto one another and they are closely inter-related and enhancing each other in one way or another. There is no basic or advanced kata in old-style Uechi-Ryu. In fact, all the kata complement each other at various stages of the training, enhancing and strengthening the body (skeleton, muscle tissues, organs and vital body functions), motor skills, balance (stability), breathing, mental concentration and ultimately all the senses.
Human is actually animal but with slightly higher intelligence and having civilization after going through many evolution. The human evolution contributes to the lost of animal characteristics both physically and mentally. Invention and innovation reduce our physical activities while we become more dependent on tools and machineries. Comfortable lifestyle has made us a lazy animal and lose all the primitive animal characteristics and instinct. Essentially, the training retrain us (human) to become an animal again. The training is based on 7 animal forms: Dragon, Tiger, Crane, Snake, Cobra, Leopard and Mantis. Dragon, Tiger and Crane are the major animal forms in the training. These animal forms teach us to move like them. After some period of training, you can notice improvement in physical strength, bodily structure and vital functions.
The old-style Uechi-Ryu training, like many old martial arts in the olden days of China, does not include jiyu kumite or free form sparring. Kumite (for short), cause destructive effects and harms more than constructive growth to our body. The ancient Chinese had learned a great deal about injuries many thousand years ago without sophisticated medical equipment. Many Chinese martial artists were practicing for their health and to protect family and country. They rarely flashing their skills. Until today, this culture remains in modern Chinese martial artists. But no doubt, there are some going around (the world) displaying and promoting their strongest arts. Like many other modern martial arts, the wushu introduces San-shou or free form sparring into some of their training for competitive and other reasons mentioned above.
I have written articles about injuries and their potential long-term effects. You can read my articles about injuries here.