by Ian A. Cyrus, 9th Dan, OMD
As I move along the path of my martial arts experience there are observations that is locating me in the here and now and shaping my future expression of the martial arts/military tactics (methods) /civil defense systems. After over 40 years of intense study and practice of highly stylized and ritualized systems. And, having served as a U.S. Marine (Recon) a FBI Special Agent, I have come to the conclusion that these high stylized and ritualized systems are not relevant to the cultural, social, economic, of the times we are living in. Our martial arts predecessors “mode of expression reflects” the times they were living in. Can you imagine Muhammed Ali fighting the way fighting the way John L. Sullivan did? The current relevant question is, why are we still punching and leaving our arms hanging out there so that an opponent can complete a pre-conceived skill which, does not in any way translate to an actual sparring match? This is known as incongruence. So, why engage in it? This is not a criticism, but a timely observation. I have studied several martial arts that are based on a standardized curriculum. Practitioners are expected to rote memorize an exhaustive amount of material. While this might lead to improved memory and recall, it does nothing for the manner in which a practitioner actually responds to a real threat. I have seen some very so-called accomplished martial artists frozen in their tracks when asked to demonstrate their art against someone who comes at them with the intent of inflicting damage. We often engage in an unspoken tacit agreement to “play along with each other”. However unrealistic, this leads to “apparent hypocrisy”. That is, a situation that is defined as real, is real in its consequences. In other words, “what a fool believes, he sees”, Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald. It seems that martial artists have this propensity for creating a reality that does meet the demand of SREV.
The martial arts practitioner must keep in step with “Socially Relevant Expression of Violence (SREV)” while utilizing the “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID)” principle as the underpinning to achieve realistic preparedness. All of the practitioner’s efforts in practice should be to achieve “congruence” in the different aspects of training. Now, that does not mean you “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Our predecessors framed things in the manner they had for a very good reason. Therefore, it behooves us to conduct “Reverse Engineering (RE)”. That is, to walk in footsteps of our predecessors to get a clear sense for what their intent was when they framed their art. Once this is done, move beyond it. In the words of Albert Einstein, “the same consciousness that creates an institution can’t be the one to change or evolve it”. We must think outside of the box. In the words, of Patrick McCarthy, “sometimes you don’t know how to fit in until you break out”.
Early in my development, I studied most of the original Karate Kata (Okinawa/Japanese). At some point I began studying Taekwondo and I studied and practiced the same Kata now called Hyung (Korean). As taught by Lee Won Kuk, a senior student of Gichen Funakoshi through the Chung Do Kwan General Choi Hong Hi began to proliferate his own version of Karate now called Chang Hun Ryu (TaeKwonDo) through the International TaeKwonDo Federation (ITF). He along with Nam Tae Hi, Kim Bok Man and others choreographed a new curriculum of 24 Hyung with a nationalistic tone. The World TaeKwonDo Federation (WTF) superseded the ITF for political reasons. The WTF choreographed the Palgwe (Eight Trigrams) and then the Tae Geuk (Grand Ultimate) Poomsae again with strong nationalistic Taoist philosophical overtones. Bear in mind that South Korea is essentially a Buddhist country, yet another example of incongruence. However, all of these attempts at Koreanizing Karate was nothing more than an adaptation and possibly an aberration of Karate as taught by Lee. The practice of Hyung was only a choreography required for advancement from one rank/level to another. It had no practical application or relevance to sparring or actual combat. When Ockham’s Razor is applied the simple explanation is usually the correct one. The early progenitors of Taekwondo had no clue of the true intent and practicality of Kata/Hyung. This is due to no fault of their own. When the Japanese taught their art to the Koreans who were their colonized subjects, did not teach the complete art. For that matter, when Funakoshi brought the art from Okinawa to Japan, he was not their most skillful representative. He was however, their most educated and articulate. That said, we have a case of lack begets lack. Consequently, when the skills of Hyung/Poomsae are examined with respect to combat relevance, they appear to be just a sequence of disjointed movements.
My first insight into the meaning, practicality and relevance of Kata came when I was stationed on the Island of Okinawa (1977-1978). I spent my free time visiting most of the prominent teachers and dojos. I visited Seikichi Odo, Fuse Kise, Angi Uezu, Honan Soken, Taketo Nakamura and others. I can recall demonstrating Kata only to have them laugh at me because stances were too long and exaggerated, my timing and rhythm of blocking and striking sequences were asynchronous, and my bunkai (Japanese)/Hae Sul (Korean) was pathetic. I was told by Uezu, Sensei that I was practicing elementary school Karate. For that matter, all Americans were. Before I left Okinawa, I learned that each Kata had a combative theme. Each Kata elucidated very specific concepts and principles. The skills of each Kata were constructed in such as manner as to attack certain vital points (Atemi/Keupso) in particular sequence to bring about a desired effect (percussive compounding). These skills where place into a sequence in which the practitioner engaged in shadow boxing or solo practice, but more importantly to disguise the true intent and application of the skills. Moreover, I learned that at least 60 % of the skills that comprised Kata, are grappling (Tuite/Gum Na). Moreover, there is a seamless synergistic combination of Atemi/Keupso and Tuite/Gum Na. The Korean adaptations lack this quality.
TaeKwonDo can reasonably trace its lineage to Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889) who is the central most important figure in the Okinawan Martial Arts Tradition. He invented linear-direct-explosive Karate as a departure from the circular-yielding-soft approaches to the arts that was prevalent on Okinawa during his time. He embodied Newton’s Second (2nd) Law (Acceleration: F= M x A) of motion. Matsumura’s contributions became the skills that is evident the practice of ShotoKan and TaeKwonDo as we know it today. The Korean Martial Arts community, by and large, do not recognize this lineage because of nationalistic bias. Since the Korean conflict (1910-1945), Korea has dedicated itself to eradicating any Japanese influence that had become so much a part of their cultural experience. So much, that a history was fabricated linking obvious Japanese/Okinawan martial arts contributions to Korea’s ancient Hwa Rang (Flowering of Manhood) group which existed during the Three Kingdom era (57AD-668 BC) of Korea, which was accepted as the “official story”. Consequently, modern Korean Martial Arts Traditions arose based on approximations and not from the depth of mastery. As an aside, I find it interesting that no Korean (South Korean) martial arts practitioner that I know of has ever travelled to Okinawa to study the arts that eventual led to the development of Taekwondo. The same can reasonably be said of Yudo (Judo), Gum Do (Kendo/Ken Jutsu), Hapkido (Jiu Jutsu).
After over 30 years as I revisit the early Katas I learned, they take on a whole new meaning. I was almost at the point of abandoning Kata/Hyung when I began to look more deeply. That was when I meet Taika Seiyu Oyata in 1991 at Robert Teller’s Okinawan Kempo School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He changed my point of view. The practice and understanding of Kata/Hyung now had significance and relevance. That was also when I began to question the general usefulness of Kata/Hyung as a training tool. I questioned, why practice Kata/Hyung when I can cut right to chase just focus on the applications of signature skills such as high block, low block, inside and outside forearm block, knife-hand guarding block front kick etc. I found that these skills can be adapted to meet the demands of SREV which can be accomplished without the convention of Kata/Hyung. This approach would fit the S.A.I.D. principle. It’s around the same time I began to take a serious look at all of the arts and sciences (Karate, Jiu Jutsu, Taekwondo, Okinawan Kempo, Hapkido, Chen Tai Ji Chuan, Yin Fu Ba Gua Zhang, Itto Tenshin Ryu Ken Jutsu, Law Enforcement Defensive Tactics, Oriental Medicine, Physicial Education, Sports Medicine, and Bio-Mechanics) I had studied. I came to the conclusion that these disciplines shared the essentially the same under-lying concepts and principles. I decided that I was going to be true to these two premises rather than engage in stylistic similarities and differences. Armed with SREV and SAID what emerged was a comprehensive, cohesive, and congruent system of combat training and readiness. I recently formalized this approach as Yu Shin Jong Hap Kwon Bup (Flowing Mind-Body Combined Fist Method) – A Research Group. Giving credit to my predecessors for their insightfulness and ingenuity, I must also acknowledge that we, in our day and time are capable of making the martial arts socially relevant. Why, we have benefit of science at our disposal.
It is my opinion that the term, “martial (military) arts” is used too loosely to describe what bares little to no resemblance its true meaning. Having served as a combat trained U.S. Marine, I know from first-hand experience what this term means. I can recall very practical hand-to-hand combat/tactics, use of a bayonet or K-bar as a stand-alone weapon or fixed at the end of a rifle, marksmanship which includes extensive use of a rifle and small arms (45 Cal. Pistol), water survival, jungle survival, desert survival, cold weather survival, combat first aid, air insertions (HALO), combat psychology and tactics, and physical fitness. Ask yourself, does your training come anywhere close to what I have described? When was the last time, if ever, did your instructor take you to a shooting range and instructed you in tactical shooting which includes learning about the nomenclature of small arms, how to interrupt the cycle of operation of a small arms, weapon retention, the basics of shooting, how to handle a weapon in low light conditions, the difference between cover and concealment, etc. If you have never had this experience, you are not practicing martial arts if the principles of SREV and SAID is applied. The term “art” implies a wide range of self-expression based on interpretation. Therefore, the term “Martial Art” should be applied to those who practice an approximation of martial related skills that are not practical and for aesthetic reasons. The term “Civil Defense System (CDS)” should be applied to those practices that are devoid of any real military training or experiences. For example, Shoto Kan Karate and Taekwondo/Tang Soo Do can be considered CDSs because they are limited in the applications, i.e. limited to percussion type skills. The term “Combat Tactics” should be applied to those systems that employ a wide range of combat tactics and survival methods that is underpinned by SREV and SAID. The NAVY Seals, U.S. Marine Recon., Army Green Beret, and FBI Hostage Rescue Team are ideal examples of Combat Tacticians (CT). How about if I coin a new term, “Relevant Combat Tactics (RCT)”? The use of the term “Relevant” would imply that the content of RCT meet the demands of the times we are living in.
Okinawans are typically small in stature compared to the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Europeans (Dutch), and Americans (Admiral Perry) who frequented the island due to its strategic location. The island’s police and militia had to develop skills that would work against their much larger and stronger visitors. Their skills had to be effective enough to restrain and knock down and opponent. They had to acquire a deep understanding of Eastern Anatomy, Physiology, and Medicine in order to maximize the effect of their skills. This is why the Bu Bi Shi (The Manual of Military Preparation) was regarded as a secret text of the Okinawan Martial Arts Traditions. The Okinawans being one of the few cultures to survive armed invasions and occupation while relying on “empty-hands” exemplifies SREV and SAID.