Tag Archives: Isshinryu

Body Mechanics

Good friends at Sensei Advincula's seminar

I just returned home from another great seminar given by Isshinryu karate master, Sensei A.J. Advincula. Today he discussed and demonstrated body mechanics, which is one of my favorite topics. I find it fascinating how accurate positioning of the body, and proper tensing of the correct muscles can double or even triple a person’s strength. Since I’m a small person, I need all the strength I can get. Conversely, if your positioning is off by a little (even by a half inch) your strength is minimized.

At the seminar, we experimented with many different arm positions to determine how to get the most power from your punches and blocks. I’d like to share some video clips with you on Thursday’s blog (assuming I can figure out how to do that) to demonstrate what I’m talking about. Then you can try it at home and see for yourself what proper body alignment can do for your karate.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the video on body mechanics.

On a personal note, I’d like to wish my grandma Gert a very happy 95th birthday today! I love you grandma!! :)

~K.M. Fawcett

The Devil Is In The Translation

This past weekend I attended another outstanding karate seminar given by my teacher’s teacher, AJ Advincula. Though I learned a lot while training, my biggest lesson came later that evening after dinner. I learned the language barrier is a tough wall to scale, and sometimes the things you believe you understand, you don’t really.

An Oni Mask

During a discussion of ghosts of Okinawa, the conversation turned toward oni. Oni are demons or devils from Japanese foklore. I first learned about them in 2008 on a trip to Okinawa. I had visited a relative of Sensei Advincula’s and saw hanging on the wall a scary looking mask of a red devil face with horns. His relative told me the name of the mask (my notes say “Yasamen” but I must have written it wrong as it doesn’t come up in Google searches), and that it was for good luck and a protector in the same way shisa are. Then she told me the mask was no oni. Umm, ok. If the nice Okinawan lady tells me the devil mask wasn’t a demon, who am I to argue? Right?

Fast forward to this past weekend and our oni conversation. Sensei said the mask on his relative’s wall was an oni. “But sensei,” I replied, “she assured me it wasn’t.”

Well, with the power of the iPad, we did some research and sure enough I learned that not only was the mask an oni, it was a NOH mask. Noh is a traditional Japanese musical drama where the characters are masked. So all this time I thought she was saying that the mask was “no oni” (not a demon) when the mask was “Noh oni” (a demon mask from a play)!

So what does this lesson have to do with martial arts?

Many American soldiers stationed on Okinawa after World War II studied Isshinryu karate. Upon their return to the US, they opened up their own dojos (schools). Unfortunately, most of these first generation American pioneers of Isshinryu had been stationed on Okinawa for a short time. A typical tour of duty was only thirteen months. They didn’t have time to learn all the finer points and, therefore, didn’t understand how to make their karate work best. They also got much of the history and terminology incorrect because of language barriers. For example, the founder of Isshinryu karate, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, created a kata (form) called Sunusu or Sunsu for short. Sunusu is translated to mean “father of the old man” or “father of the old man’s house”. Meaning that Master Shimabuku had named this kata after his grandfather. A marine student had asked the master about sunsu, and the master replied, “strong man”. To this day some Isshinryu sensei incorrectly teach that sunsu translates to strong man. What got lost in translation was that the master’s grandfather (for whom he named the kata) was a very strong man.

I had often wondered why there was so much incorrect information being passed down in certain lineages of Isshinryu karate. I now know it’s because what one person believes they understand may not, in fact, be understood at all. The devil is in the translation. DesiSmileys.com

~K.M. Fawcett

Does Your Character Have Style?

In Martial Arts and the Perfection of One’s Character, I’ve blogged about characterization and the martial arts.  Today’s post will focus on the different types of martial arts your characters might study.  Realize that you may also need to delve deeper and understand the specific style within the type.

For example, the type of martial arts I study is Karate. The style of karate I study is Isshinryu Karate (meaning one heart way or whole hearted way).  My style emphasizes a vertical fist with the thumb on top, which aligns the wrist bones and makes for a strong weapon.  Isshinryu also emphasizes muscle blocks.  Other styles of karate may emphasize bone blocks, a twist punch, deep stances and deep breathing.  As Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshinryu Karate) had once said, “all bottles are good,” meaning that all martial arts are good.  However, not all martial arts are the same.  And as a writer, you need to know the differences if you want your character and your story to sound authentic.

It is also important to know the correct vernacular your style uses.  If your character practices Tae Kwon Do, do not let him call it Karate. Tae Kwon Do is Korean.  Karate is Japanese.  Yes, there is a difference.  Don’t make me throw your book against the wall because you’re using incorrect vocabulary.  Here’s another example, a karate school is a Dojo.  A Tae Kwon Do School is a DojangSensei is teacher in Japanese.  Sifu is teacher in Chinese.

In addition to proper vernacular, you should be familiar with the techniques each style emphasizes.  Akido practitioners will use more throws and movement to evade their attacker, whereas a character that practices Muay Tai will use mostly strikes.  If you don’t want to get caught up in the nuances of each style, have your character study multiple styles or practice a form of American Freestyle, where they learn many techniques from different styles all in one school.  However, this character probably won’t have as deep a cultural knowledge in any one style because they are not practicing a strict traditional art.

Below is a chart listing different types of martial arts, their primary focus, and their county of origin.  It is by no means comprehensive.  It’s merely a jumping off point for your research.


STYLE TRANSLATED PRIMARY FOCUS COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Pentjak Silat Striking and weapons Archipelago (Malaysia to New Guinea)
Capoeira Kicks, sweeps, head strikes, evasive moves, rolls Brazil
Kung Fu Adept, skilled through hard work Striking and throwing China
T’ai Chi Chuan Supreme ultimate fist “internal” martial art, moving postures, powerful pushes China
Wing Chun Kung Fu striking, balance, trapping China
Savate Boxing – striking, kicking France
Indian Martial Arts India
Kendo Way of the sword fencing Japan
Judo Gentle way throwing, break falls, ground fighting, joint locks Japan
Jujutsu or Jujitsu Art of softness; Way of yielding Most variety – Uses attacker’s energy against him, grappling,  joint locks, holds, throwing, striking, weapons Japan/  Brazil
Iaido sword combat Japan
Kyudo The way of the bow Archery Japan
Ninjutsu & Shuriken-Do Uses strategy and tactics of unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, and art of espionage (ninja) Japan
Sumo grappling Japan
Aikido The way of harmonious spirit throwing, moving to avoid attacks, not a system of self defense Japan
Taekwondo The way of kicking and punching striking Korea
Ryukyu Kobujutsu Old martial way of Okinawa Weapons Okinawa
Karate Do The way of empty hand striking Okinawa/ Japan
Escrima Fencing Stick and sword fighting Philippines
Sambo Grappling Russia
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) striking, grappling in a standing position Thailand
Kick Boxing striking Western
Hybrids ie Jeet Kun Do, MMA, American karate

~KM Fawcett

How Karate Came to the US

Today’s guest blogger is my husband and sensei, Scott Fawcett.  Scott is a godan (fifth degree black belt) in Isshinryu karate and owns the NJ Academy of Martial Arts in the Lebanon Plaza in NJ.  He blogs about how karate came to the United States.  Welcome Scott.

Scott and Kathy on Tsuken Island, Okinawa in 2008

Karate originated on the island of Okinawa. I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa with my Sensei, Arcenio Advincula for 10 days in 2008 and again for 10 days in 2009.  To fully understand Okinawan karate, one must understand and have an appreciation for Okinawan culture, customs, traditions and history.

Okinawa is a small island located about 200 miles south of Japan.  It is approximately 60 miles in length and about 15 miles wide at its widest point.  During World War II one of the most fierce land campaigns was fought on Okinawa.  This battle was known as Operation Iceberg or The Battle of Okinawa.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the War in the Pacific with the ultimate goal of defeating mainland Japan.  The United States would use Okinawa as a strategic launch point to defeat mainland Japan. The Japanese realized how important Okinawa was and arrived there well before the American troops.

The United States arrived on Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.  At first the American troops advanced with little resistance.  The troops were later met with great Japanese resistance. The Battle of Okinawa lasted just under three months and resulted in 10,000 American casualties, approximately 40,000 dead Japanese soldiers and 1/3 of the Civilian population of Okinawa being killed.  This island of peace-loving people had their world turned upside-down.

US Navy SeaBee, Harold K Fawcett on Okinawa 1945

Following World War II, Okinawa was under American administration.  During this time, America rebuilt much of the infrastructure on Okinawa and also built a number of military bases.  Some U.S. Marines who were stationed on Okinawa in the late 1950’s and 1960’s became interested in Okinawan Karate (Kara meaning empty and te meaning hand).

Most Marines were only stationed on Okinawa for one 13-month tour of duty and therefore did not have time to fully understand this system, which takes years to learn. Tatsuo Shimabuku wanted Americans to learn more than kicking and punching.  He wanted them to understand Okinawan culture.  He is quoted in the April 30, 1960 edition of the Okianwan Times as saying “Even if we cannot promote friendship between Okinawa and America through karate, my true hope is that if karate becomes popular in the USA and Hawaii, then Okinawa would also become more well understood.”

Isshinryu Founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku

Today there are hundreds of Isshinryu dojo (karate schools) in the United States teaching Isshinryu karate.  Many have unfortunately lost the connection to Okinawa and appreciation for Okinawan culture, customs, traditions and history.  Sensei Arcenio Advincula is one of the few who returned to Okinawa many times to continue his studies under Shimabuku.  To this day Mr. Advincula continues to conduct annual Okinawan cultural martial arts tours to keep the true spirit of Isshinryu karate and his teacher Tatsuo Shimabuku alive.