Hanshi McCarthy Summer 2005 Seminar Review at
Shotokan Karate Jutsu
Simple. Brutal. Effective. The essence of realistic, serious self-defense. And it's all right there in front of us, in the kata we do every day. It just takes somebody like Sensei Patrick McCarthy to put things into perspective, and help us see with new eyes.
On July 29th, Andy Kwait and I drove down to Sensei Lopresti's Shotokan Karate Jutsu dojo in Sewell, New Jersey for a seminar by Sensei Patrick McCarthy. This is the third McCarthy seminar I've been to, and they just keep getting better. It's a bit like drinking from a fire hose, though -- there's so much information flying at you that there's simply not time to absorb it all.
Getting back down to Sal Lopresti's New Jersey dojo again was like coming home -- these guys always treat us just like family. And it is a family, too. Everybody there is friendly, helpful, and totally dedicated to the serious study of karate. We got there in the evening after a long drive, and went to a small cookout at Joe and Jill's house where we met Patrick McCarthy, Sal and Paul Lopresti, and the rest of the folks. There, we had an opportunity to relax and talk, ask questions, and listen to some fascinating stories. Even though it was a pleasant and relaxing evening, Andy and I felt really pumped up knowing what we were about to experience.
If you've never been to one of these seminars, you're in for a real treat. McCarthy, head of the International Ryukyu Karatejutsu Research Society (IRKRS), has devoted his life to studying and teaching martial arts, and qualifies as a genuine scholar. He's the most knowledgeable karate instructor I've ever met, and speaks with authority about all sorts of martial arts and their histories, the physics and anatomy of the human body, and the logical analysis of unarmed combat. His presentation is often entertaining and always compelling in its comprehensive detail and organization. It doesn't take long to realize that you're in the presence of an expert.
The seminar began about 9:00 A.M. the next morning, with about 45 to 50 students, mostly black belts. Most of us had been to at least one seminar before, so Sensei McCarthy went through the theory part quickly but carefully, summarizing the origins and development of kata, the connection to the "habitual acts of physical violence", and the five basic categories of karate techniques. Since many participants were from other dojos and styles, he also pointed out that what we were going to learn was not specific to any particular style. Rather, it's universal in the sense that all martial arts systems have to follow the same principles of physics and apply them to the same targets in the human body. This was very reassuring for many, since it meant they could apply the principles they learned regardless of what style they had trained in.
This part of the presentation was punctuated by brief applications pulled directly from kata. Several times, my eyes grew wide and my jaw dropped a little as I suddenly understood pieces of kata I'd always wondered about. Looking around, I saw that I was not alone. That's one of the best parts of these seminars: the little "blinding flash of the obvious" (as McCarthy says) that happens when you suddenly see things in a new light and wonder why it took you so long to get the point. The 'uke' for these demonstrations was Sensei Paul LoPresti, Technical Director of the Shotokan Karate Jutsu organization. The applications always showed simple, brutal responses to realistic situations. The winces of pain on Paul's face testified to their effectiveness. After that introduction, we paired up and started a series of increasingly complicated drills. The basic idea was to deal with a sequence of close-quarters attacks of the kind most likely to arise in a realistic self-defense situation, using the simplest responses that could do the job.
This is an important point that bears repeating. The kinds of attacks and defenses we practice in the dojo are often geared toward competition-style fighting, in which both the fighting distance and the range of techniques are artificially constrained. But McCarthy points out that kata cannot be understood fully in such a context. Its true meaning only comes out when seen in the context of what McCarthy refers to as the "habitual acts of physical violence" (HAPV), the things that happen up close and personal. If you are only interested in competitive free-sparring, then that's what you should study. But for those interested in the roots of karate, and in practical, serious self-defense for today's world, kata shows the way.
McCarthy's seminars help us understand these habitual acts of physical violence, and how the techniques in kata deal with them. He covers the entire range of techniques seen in traditional kata: strikes, throws, joint manipulations, strangles, and so on. Once you start to see things through different eyes, you realize it's been there all along, and you wonder how you missed it.
McCarthy emphasized several times that the purpose of the drills (at this time) was learning, not conditioning, so we tried hard to keep it light and smooth. The point of the drills was to use a small variety of simple blocks against a wide variety of common attacks, and find the 'break' in the sequence of attacks that allows you to turn the tables and disable your opponent. As we got farther into the drills and they became more complicated, McCarthy would stop occasionally to show how some of the counters showed up in the kata. This often caused grins to break out all over, as people suddenly had that 'Aha!' experience.
We trained for 3 hours in the morning, and 3 more in the afternoon. We tried the same techniques when backed up against a wall, and saw that the same defense and counters worked. Then we got down on the floor in a classical 'mount' position, and saw that once again, the same techniques applied.
There are two important aspects to this kind of training. The first is habituation, or getting accustomed to dealing with these common attacks (head butt, lapel-grab and right punch, knee to groin, etc.). The second is the sudden realization that it doesn't take a lot of different techniques to deal with these. The same block works in many ways when adjusted or redirected.
This latter aspect has a lot to do with how the body works, and that's something that Sensei McCarthy spent a bit of time talking about -- the physics of karate. He has a solid understanding of basic physics and the mechanics of the human body. His description of joint-locks as different classes of levers was dead-on, and he clearly explained the effect of using a soft 'shock-absorbing' block
as one that reduces the power of a blow by spreading the energy dissipation over a longer time interval. This sort of block covers a lot of ground, once you loosen up and start to use it effectively. And what's really fascinating about it is the sudden realization that this is, of course, independent of any particular style. It's an abstraction that applies across all styles, relying only on two things: the physics of mechanical application of force, and the anatomy of the human body.
At the end of the day, we were all treated to a big surprise. Sensei McCarthy presented a certificate to Paul LoPresti, conferring upon him the title of "Shidoin". This means that Paul is now a licensed instructor of Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu, one of only a small handful of such in the United States. Paul has been studying this art diligently for years (he seems to live and breathe this stuff), so we were all delighted to see his efforts recognized like this. He is helping to spearhead Sensei McCarthy's efforts to infuse the old-style practices and techniques into modern karate training, and recover what was lost when karate became a sport instead of a means of self-defense.
This certification also speaks highly of their dojo as a whole. They have created an organization in which modern kata training is blended with old-school Koryu-based training and one-on-one application practice. They are developing a comprehensive, integrated curriculum that covers all of the fundamental techniques of unarmed self-defense. The fusion gives an exciting edge of realism to the training, and reveals some of the deeper meanings of kata that have remained mysteries for so long.
But there's more to it than that. What they are doing is truly 'radical', in the sense that it is a return to fundamentals, to the origins of karate, back to its original practice and purpose. Nowhere is this reflected more clearly than in the spirit shown by each and every member of the dojo. They are all partners in this, sharing their knowledge freely with each other and with anyone else who wants to learn. There are no big egos, no macho men, just a bunch of genuinely good people who love to train hard together and want to learn more about self defense.
Funakoshi wrote: "To search for the old is to understand the new. The old, the new, this is a matter of time. In all things man must have a clear mind. The Way: Who will pass it on straight and well?"
I think he'd be proud of these guys.
Paul Silvas MA
Shotokan 4th Dan
Boston, Mass. USA