Thursday, February 13, 2014

Body, Mind and Brain in Harmony

In Karate through many generations, the wisdom and the tools were developed and transmitted to achieve harmony in oneself and with opponent.
Those are not beautiful theories only, in karate harmony within oneself and than with the opponent is a necessity. You will get an immediate feedback when facing a good opponent, if you are not "present", and not in harmony.
This harmony has to be there not only when you lie down on the beach, but when you are on the edge, at extreme situations.
Mind in karate refers to as heart, feeling, intuitive mind.
Harmony in your body means that your body coordinates and integrates, moves in optimal sequences to produce maximum force with least effort, and it instantly follows your intentions.
Achieving this level is a long, unending journey, I will describe some of the tools we use.
My teacher, Sensei Nishiyama, used to shout at me "don't use eyes", "bypass the brain", and he did not mean that in karate we learn to be stupid and do not use our brains.
It means that in karate we strive to achieve balance between brain and mind (heart), conscious and intuition.
We make strategies with our brain, we have to be smarter than the opponent, but when the interaction with opponent began there is too much information and too little time for the conscious brain to handle, and then our knowledge, decisions and actions have to come from somewhere else, we have to tap into a different kind of knowledge. 
Our intuitive mind and breath with our previous experiences together have to perceive the opponent, and carry out our actions. 
How do we do that?
We start by teaching the body to be most effective, moving out of optimal posture, from the ground up, with the the body center as action center and intention center, we don't have arm or leg movement in isolation, even if one finger moves the whole body cooperates.
Step by step we learn to control all phases  of technique with the breath to the point that there is no thought of details, there is only intention and breath, the breath is the "trigger" that initiates our action, and also controls the the type of energy in each action, smooth, continuous, sharp shock.
At the next level, we learn to "catch" the opponent's rhythm and action with our breath, our breathing tunes to the opponent's breath while our eyes observe, monitor, but we do not judge, do not interfere.
We say "eyes way back" as if looking at a far mountain so the brain will not interfere, and than we can start seeing the cues and information that are beyond the external movement. We are looking to opponent's breathing, and moreover looking to opponent's heart (feeling, intention).
Now our breath controls our body action, and interacts, harmonizes with opponent's breath and rhythm, our breath initiate our action and our breath make the reaction, there is no need for judgement, confirming, which is delaying our movement and cause hesitation, doubt and unstable emotion, it also causes us to get stuck in what we see, in this or other detail, and it blocks are intuitive "antennas".
Breath reaction is a way to avoid over using the brain, allowing intuitive mind to turn on, and it allows us to give everything without interference of the conscious brain once we move.
being intuitive means to be sensitive and see all the cues and information that the opponent gives us without getting stuck on one detail or another. It is not some guess nor it is magic, it is being tuned and allows us to use tools that all of us have.
Breath reaction is not enough, it has to work with the previous experiences we accumulated, since with time we face many circumstances and know all the possibilities the opponent has, and also our nervous system is wired properly and we have the skills to handle any attack with ease.
So we have step by step tools to allow our mind, brain and body to work in unison, but , it is not a math formula, and takes a lot of trial and error, making mistakes and adjusting.
Wayne Gretzki, the hockey great, had it, that is why he could be the best hockey player ever without being the most athletic. But only in karate we have systematic method that allow any person to achieve those levels.
In karate we say "think by mind (heart), act by ki (mental energy from body center)", we say "you don't see (with eyes) yet you see (with heart), you don't hear yet you hear, you don't know (with brain) yet you know (with subconscious mind)". and everyone can achieve this level of awareness and intuition with proper training and dedication.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Posture actually changes your physiology.

In karate we know how important posture is for effective movement, and that posture has psychological effect as well.
When In good posture, it is easy to control body dynamics, transfer ground reaction forces through body center to technique, all muscles are in optimal length for function, and have full potential for contraction/expansion.
In good posture one can be more relaxed, perceived the whole picture rather than being stuck in details and be more mentally responsive and flexible.
A good or bad posture influences how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.
We know that a posture shows many things about a person, but does it work the other way? can improving posture affect your personality?

A new study demonstrates that a good posture, which is expansive rather than contractive, cause physiological and hormonal beneficial changes as well.
Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. But can these postures actually cause power? The results of this study confirmed the prediction that being in postures that are expansive and open would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, which increases confidence and dominance, decreases in cortisol (stress hormone) and therefore response to stress more calmly, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; people who had contractive postures exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. The study shows that being in open, power postures for even 2 minutes, embody power and instantly cause one to be more powerful, it causes real-world, actionable implications.
Power determines greater access to resources (de Waal, 1998; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003); higher levels of control over a person’s own body, mind, and positive feelings (Keltner et al., 2003); and enhanced cognitive function (Smith, Jostmann, Galinsky, & van Dijk, 2008). Powerful individuals (compared with powerless individuals) demonstrate greater willingness to engage in action (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003; Keltner et al., 2003) and often show increased risk-taking behavior. (e.g., Anderson & Galinsky, 2006).
The neuroendocrine profiles of the powerful differentiate them from the powerless, on two key hormones—testosterone and cortisol. In humans and other animals, testosterone levels both reflect and reinforce dispositional and situational status and dominance; internal and external cues cause testosterone to rise, increasing dominant behaviors, and these behaviors can elevate testosterone even further (Archer, 2006; Mazur &

Next time you go to karate class, treat your posture even more carefully.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

ISKA Masters seminar in San Francisco Nov 9, 10.

That was a great seminar with great people, why do I say that it was great? because when I teach and feel that I can go through the small details of Sensei Nishiyama's teachings, and people are attentive and interested, people are absorbed and absorbing the details, than it is a great sign, than we are really learning and not just working out.
When the details and principles are digested, the flashy stuff is easy, and when we push and work hard training is effective, but if the focus is on the flashy, than we are limited to the external and to athletic ability and we are likely to develop bad habits as well.
Thank you guys for such great effort and feedback.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Austria Annual Seminar last weekend November 8-10

Austria seminar took place last weekend, November 8-10, this is the 19th year that I am teaching in Austria.
By now, the town of Vienna Neustadt feels like coming home, same cozy hotel and the same person who receives me each year, there is a barber shop by the hotel, where I go to get a haircut every year.

And most important dedicated karate people that keep searching and improving their karate day by day, it is not their profession but it is their passion.

We had participants from Germany, Czech Republic, Russia and of course Austria.
We spend significant time practicing details of Kanku Dai as Sensei Nishiyama was teaching it, it was my kata as a brown belt and i used to practice Kanku Dai at least 2 hours a day.
I used Kanku Dai to explain body dynamics, body snap, pressure to floor at kime, and how to make proper contraction at kime and many other fundamentals.
Than we explained footwork of Oji Waza (response timing) and Shikake Waza (set up timing), with focus  on Sasoi (invite), Koroshi Waza (cut, kill opponent potential action) and combinations.

I had a lot of fun sharing karate and good time with my friends.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sensei Nishiyama the practical and the philosopher

Next week, on November 8, it will be 5 years to the passing of my teacher, Sensei Nishiyama. He was like a second father to me since we spent most of our days together.
Sensei Nishiyama was very pragmatic and a philosopher at same time.
His greatness was that he merged the old wisdom of Okinawa karate, with the old traditions of Japanese Budo (martial arts) and with latest sport science.
In his teaching he was very methodical and scientific, and every detail had a reason and had to work and be part of the whole picture.
His karate was no nonsense, everything was for application, and every detail meant for more efficiency.
Over the years he created a clear system that meant to bring the full mental and physical potential of the karateka.

When I first came to LA at 1981, I expected hard training, but I also expected karate to be spiritual, and I remember that after my first class, it was the Friday noon class, Sensei told me "put white belt on, step by step, understand?" Only that I did not understand any of that. Sensei "understand" sounded to me like "Zen" and I was walking around all day wondering what words of wisdom did I miss.
Later I realized, that the philosophy that Sensei was taught was in the action, in doing, not in words.
As realistic as he was, he understood that just because we cannot see or prove something it does not mean it is not true, and as much as science proves many karate concepts, there are concepts that we know to be true from experience, and science cannot yet prove. He taught concepts that were intangible such as "don't use eyes", "think by heart, act by ki", "condense ki energy to body center and than give ki energy from center through contact area".
Sensei Nishiyama did not spend a lot of time talking philosophy, for him it was through action that one applies philosophy, he summed his philosophy in few words such as "keep trying", "only dead no come to training", "always do your best", "target is self", "best fight is no fight".
If someone talked and didn't do, Sensei would call it "kuchi Waza" (mouth technique), or he would tell me: "when the body does not move, dreams move".
 He cared about how you bow, because doing it right meant dignity and thanking your partner for being your teacher, being humble, doing it sloppy meant every thing you do follows the manners and will be sloppy.
One night he made bow for 15 minutes till he was satisfied.
He cared that you always respect your opponent in kumite, and never be sloppy "Karate is fighting with dignity, like a samurai, not like Yakuza".
He appeared rigid at times, but in a long run he was usually correct, and had reasons, for example one day he came to my dojo, and in the kids class one of the students dropped the belt on the floor. Sensei Nishiyama was upset at that and kept reminding me of the incident for few months, at first I did not understand why he was so stubborn about that belt, but later I understood the importance of that.
It is the small details and the way you manage yourself outside of class that will influence how precise and attentive to details you will be in training.
Sometimes after 5 hours training I was exhausted and slouched and he used to sneak behind me in the hallway and hit my back really hard explaining that I must keep good posture all the time, he said training is only few hours a day, but rest of life is much longer and therefore have much more influence on developing good or bad habits.
When I was sparring it was not the results that mattered to him, sometimes when I felt that I was doing good, he was not pleased at all "don't do it the convenient way, do it the right way", and that was one of the great lessons in my life, don't look at the results, but rather did you use the right means to achieve the desired result.
It is easy to fall into habits, especially when you are advanced and things work for you the way you do them over a long time, but don't be satisfied with that, keep reflecting on yourself and do not lose the fundamental principles to achieve temperory results.
It is better to lose in the short term and develop in the right direction than to win and create bad habits along the way.
I hear his voice every day in my training, and I actually miss the strictness and the shinai chasing me.
Sensei Nishiyama taught me much more than how to fight and be a technician, but he gave me guidelines of how to live my life according to karate principles.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

First Instructors Only Seminar in Czech Republic

Last weekend, October 11-13, we had 3 amazing days of deep karate training, about 15 top instructors from Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Germany, Austria and Czech Republic participated.
The idea was to keep a small group of high level instructors so we can work on small details, and dive into depth of karate giving attention and correction to each individual.
Sensei Nishiyama had this idea, of teaching small groups of instructors in depth, so they can teach on in their own dojos.
We decided to keep doing this instructors only seminar once a year, and limit it to 25 participants.
We worked for a long time on Tekki San Dan, which is one of Sensei Nishiyama favorite katas, how the inside move and the outside follows, and we applied this idea later to kumite.
We worked to details on Ni Ju Shi Ho, another of Sensei Nishiyama favorites,  we worked on details of the outside form, this is a great kata to work on smoothness between techniques, and having no gaps between actions.
We also worked on Chin-Te, with its unusual type of techniques, which is a chance to work on same basic principles in variety of directions, and making our movement vocabulary richer, and enable our nervous system to keep the sequencing in movement even if it is unusual movement.
We spend substantial amount of time working on many variations of Shikake Waza (set up strategies), how to estimate the opponent, bring opponent into your rhythm, and create and seize the chance without space of time.
We went into how to use the distance within each strategy, how to stay calm and sensitive to opponent while setting up. It was lots of fun.

We plan the next year instructors seminar in Sweden, in the beautiful town of Sigtuna, only a few minutes away from the airport.

I am so happy that we have such dedicated, passionate instructors, this is how we will keep Nishiyama karate and bring the level up.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What feels powerful is not necessary powerful.

Butch Harmon was chosen as world best golf instructor since 2003 and he said "for longer drives, forget what feels powerful".
I thought that this is really cool, he said the instinct to try to pound the ball of the tee result in what is known as "hitting from the top", which is a power killer because it disrupts the natural sequence of motion.
He said: "if you cannot hold your finish, have a balanced finish, you are going at a speed your body cannot support. Try to go at 70, 80% of your max speed - and get your downswing sequence right, that will give you more distance for sure."
To me this is so simple yet so impressive.
Sensei Nishiyama used to tell us over and over not to use "top power", get the sequence right, each segment from the ground up accumulates maximum energy and transfer it to next segment, to produce maximum total amount of force, the arms and legs of the technique should be merely an extension, making direction, tools of contact and of course the add some to the total chain of energy.
Sensei Nishiyama used to say over and over that what feels strong is not necessary strong.
Go at slower speeds that you can handle to develop proper sequence and than increase speed gradually, do not go faster than your stance could handle.
Bud Winter was the best sprint coach in US history and he said that he tells his athletes to run at 80 to 90 percent of their maximum speed, and they always end up running their fastest when the think this way. Bud Winter was a big fan of relaxing, he requested from his sprinters to relax their facial muscles while the sprint, so the effort is only were need to be.