of Shinyu Gushi
Uechi Ryu, 9th Dan
Times Issue #14
many people find an 9th Dan karate instructor at the
front door on a Sunday morning, especially not one
carrying a large box of doughnuts. But then working
at Dragon Times never was boring, and nor was this
particular day as it started with a serious period
while we checked his latest video, progressed to light
hearted discussions over lunch, and turned into mirth
and hilarity as the day drew to a close.
sensei, every inch the stern karate master on the
outside, has a well-developed sense of humor we
discovered. Unfortunately, as is so often the case,
I ended up being its target and as a result, the
source of a great deal of amusement for my co-workers.
At one stage while he was explaining a technique
he made his hand into "hiraken" then grabbing my
head without warning with his other claw-like appendage,
rapped his knuckles on the side of my temple saying
as he did so in a rather matter-of-fact way, "because
this area (of my head) is very weak, you don't have
to hit too hard!"
did survive the day although as my eye glasses now
list heavily to port like a ship getting ready to
capsize, I must assume that they were bent during
the demonstration or, as seems likely from the pain
I felt when I woke up next morning, he displaced
my left ear by half an inch.
Times: Many readers
have asked us about your muscle-development. They want to know if you do weight
training or if not, what sort of training you do to keep yourself in such
Gushi: I don't do
any weight training. I used to do a little when I was young but Uehara sensei
told me that it I should concentrate on the quality of my muscles and not
just their size so I cut it down to a minimum. It's good to be strong but
in karate it's speed and "snap" that you need. What muscles I have comes from
Sanchin training and using nigiri game. Muscles developed this way serve to
protect the body, weight training just produces a pleasing appearance.
you are fighting (drops into Sanchin stance) you
pull your shoulders down like this and tense your
muscles, including those around your throat to make
a shield. With your body round and compact and your
muscles tense you are relatively safe and protected.
We pull everything into the center, lower our bodies
like this and make them round and smooth. Techniques
are performed in front of the body, we don't block
above the level of the head for example because
that would weaken our defenses.
How would you say that karate has changed since you started training?
In some ways it has changed for the better, in others for the worse. Times
change and with them the way that we lead our lives. When I started karate
we would make our uniforms out of U.S. Army flour sacks because everything
was in such short supply in postwar Okinawa. Nowadays most youngsters have
everything they need or want but are no happier than we were.
I do regret are the misunderstandings that have
occurred about technique. When demand for tuition
became very strong during the sixties and seventies,
students were given permission to teach before they
were ready. Not knowing the bunkai, that is, the
purpose the movements they were teaching, they ended
up just teaching the movements. This is like giving
someone a map without indicating in which direction
north lies-you sort of know where you going, but
then again you don't.
result of this were students who slavishly performed
the basic form of the technique without knowing
its purpose. For example, koi no shippo (goldfish
tail block) is performed slowly in the kata (demonstrates)
but in fact it is either a very sharp upward block,
or a powerful downward strike to the opponent's
hand. The student might think that it should be
performed during kumite as it is done during the
kata, but this is completely wrong. The point I
am trying to make is that is if you have never seen
a nail you will not know how to use a hammer.
authentic Uechi Ryu there is order and method, and
this must be passed on to students perfectly, not
just the physical appearance of techniques as has
been the case so often in the past. If you are attacked
strongly you block softly-absorbing and deflecting.
This is the Crane method. When you attack you do
so fiercely, gripping your opponent so he cannot
escape and striking him really hard-this is the
way of the Tiger. Other techniques are inspired
by the imaginary movements of a dragon, that is
why our method is referred to as Ryokokaku-Dragon,
Tiger, Crane school.
Do you teach differently now than you did in Okinawa?
In some ways yes. When I came to the United States, students asked me many
questions about technique which is not the way we do things at home. I was
accustomed to waiting patiently until one of my seniors in the dojo would
decide that it was time for me to learn something new. The American way was
a little unsettling at first, but it caused me to rationalize things that
I had always done instinctively. Then, and only then could I explain them
logically, which is what the Western mind has been trained to expect. This
period of self-examination made me aware of the real secrets of karate so
you could say that it was not until I became 8th Dan that I really knew what
I was doing!
don't think that there are short cuts because there
aren't. Learning karate properly is hard work, you
will often feel pain and exhaustion, frustration,
and from time to time you will suffer injury. Karate
still involves strengthening and conditioning the
body, learning the techniques so you can do them
without thinking, and building a strong spirit.
When you have perfected each and can bring them
together perfectly, you are really doing karate
and your ability will become much greater than the
sum of the three constituent parts.
Is this why you decided to produce your video series?
Well, my students said that I should, and now I agree with them. Before you
train with a senior teacher you should watch and listen to the videos and
learn as much as you can, then your time in the dojo will be used to the greatest
benefit. If you can really absorb what is shown on the videos and perform
it to a reasonable standard, it will take you to the level of third or fourth
dan. Watch and listen, think about what you have seen, and train as hard as
videos give a visual example of technique which
is very useful. For example, I see so many people
these days just standing up straight when they perform
Sanchin and pushing their arms out in front of them.
That's not the way. You have to lower your body
into Sanchin stance (demonstrates) like this, so
that there is only a small gap between your knees
and your groin is protected. You thrust strongly
with your arms, don't just push them forward. This
is serious business and you must learn properly
the first time otherwise the techniques won't work.
Do you have any strong views about sparring?
Not sparring as such but the use of protectors or pads can be a problem. In
Okinawa we don't use them as body conditioning is part of Uechi system that
teaches us to withstand pain and avoid injury. When extensive protection is
used students lose all fear, much of their control, and a good deal of their
mobility. Sparring become a wild brawl with punches being swung indiscriminately
and the fighter with the longest arms and legs usually comes out on top. I
realize that there is a liability problem in the U.S. and insurance companies
probably insist on protection being worn before they will give coverage, but
we must remember that competition sparring is not real fighting.
We are often asked by readers if you are going to open a dojo so they can
train with you. Do you have any plans?
No! Running a dojo is a big responsibility and very time consuming. I would
end up teaching beginners to cover the overhead which would prevent me from
teaching senior students and younger instructors which I feel is my real mission.
I travel to do seminars however, and I will be teaching at seminars organized
by Tsunami Productions later this year.
I understand that on the last of the four part series you will be demonstrating
kobudo. Can you tell us something of the background of your training?
Well, I started about 45 years ago with Akamine Shoichi sensei, and also trained
with one of my karate teachers, Seiko Itokazu sensei. The kata are mainly
from the Matayoshi school but as you know, kata varies a little from dojo
to dojo. I have studied the bo, eku, sai and nunchaku. There is no official
kobudo style for Uechi Ryu, we choose what we like and train with the teacher
Thank you sensei for giving us this interview. I have seen your video series
and was very impressed-it is excellent. I hope that it will make more people
aware of the genuinely traditional training that you offer.