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
Harvard  University
Shotokan 4th Dan
Boston, Mass.  USA