Friday, August 14, 2009

Welcome back Kotter!! I mean, Muromoto

Wayne Muromoto, for anyone who does Japanese martial arts and is over the age of 30, is probably a familiar name. If he isn't, he should be. Wayne published one of my favorite out of print magazines, Furyu. This was a journal of Japanese martial arts, koryu, gendai, and outgrowths of those arts like Goshin budo. You can look up Wayne's background yourself.

Now, he is back doing a blog.

I'm happy to see him writing again and I hope you find his writing worth the time to read. Of course, if you are reading my blog, I think you may need to upgrade you reading skills before reading his blog. You know, little things like polysyllabic words and language beyond the 8th grade level I use in my blog.

Welcome back Wayne!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What’s in a name?

■ イチョウ- 銀杏 the ginkgo tree

■ ぎんなん - 銀杏 the edible ginkgo 'nut'

■ ぎんきょう- 銀杏 (nonstandard reading)

Confusion for people in Ichou, err, Icho Ryu. I’ve had someone again ask me about the name Bernie chose for his art. So, I thought I'd throw up something I had written a while ago to explain this.

Forget any notions of the Lau family crest or any of that garbage that a few people put up on their now down websites. Ain’t true.

So, where did the Icho - Ichou come from?
Well, gather round children, there is a history of language lesson to be found in the name. First, there is a convoluted aspect to the use of Icho or Ichou (romaji). The correct Kanji for Ichou are really not pronounced that way. The correct pronunciation of the two Kanji is really “Gin” meaning silver, and “an” meaning apricot. Together, they mean silver apricot. This refers to the color and shape of the fruit of the Ginkgo tree.

The origins of this are vague. The original Chinese characters (hanzi) are thought to be “ya” and “jiao”-“chiao” and meant “Ducks foot”. This refers to the shape of the tree’s leaves. OK, makes sense so far. Some where along the way, the Chinese began to use “Yin” and “Xing” which are the same Chinese hanzi as the Japanese kanji “gin” and “an”- which is also sometimes pronounced as “kyou”, meaning silver apricot, referring to the tree’s fruit. Still make sense?

Some time later, the Chinese began to use “bai” and “gou” referring to “White” and “Fruit”. Again, this is descriptive of the fruit of the tree. So, we now have Ya+ Jiao/Chiao, Yin+Xing, and “Bai+Gou” all referring to the same thing. Confused yet?

Then how did these come to be pronounced as “Icho - Ichou”?
One theory is the pronunciation is a corruption of the Southern Chinese (Cantonese) pronunciation of the characters, which is Ichao or Ichau. Another theory, the use of the Chinese characters – kanji -“Gin” and “an-kyou” retained the Chinese characters pronunciation of Ya + Jiao for some reason. This pronunciation seems to have eventually evolved into Icho or Ichou. No one knows why.

OK, with me still? Now, this is all theory and supposition. No one actually can pin this name down accurately. No one is sure where the Ichou really came from in terms of Japanese use. Even the Chinese use of the terms Ya Jiao, Bai Gou, and Yin Xing are muddled together by the Chinese in everyday use. I personally tend to think it’s a corruption of the Cantonese pronunciation.

In Japanese, the context is key to the usage. Icho or Ichou (depending on the romaji use) refers to the tree, ginnan refers to the fruit, and they both use the same kanji. The context determines the pronunciation for the kanji. “That is a beautiful Ichou Tree” and “I’m cooking tofu with some herbs, including some gin-nan, for dinner.” Does that make sense to you? This illustrates context, and why you can’t pin down exact translations using Romaji alone. Context is extremely important in determining the correct kanji and meaning.

So where did Gingko come from?
Which brings us up to the current day use. No one is sure where name ginkgo came from. Some theorize it’s a variant of the kanji pronunciation “kyou” for the kanji “an”- (Gin+kyou). Blame for this is usually laid on Kaempfer, who gave it the Latin name of gingko. And no one knows why he did or how it came about since it’s not a commonly used variant. Another theory is it was a simple mistake in writing and became the common use. But theories I’ve read on the Hepburn Romaji used at the time giving rise to the English name of gingko coming from Gin+kyou doesn’t fit in terms of historical time frames. So, once again, we really don’t know for sure.

So, what we have left to us is Bernie picked a name with a linguistically convoluted history, to name his martial art theories and practices. And it was simply because he liked ginkgo trees. See the Icho Ryu mon for proof. See the ginkgo leaves?

He used the Japanese pronunciation “Icho” to frame it in what he thought was the proper Japanese context. This makes for some convoluted looks when telling some Japanese visitors, and Japanese language teachers, that you study Icho Ryu, since they can’t figure out the context. As several friends who speak Japanese fluently tell me, “Well, it is what it is, isn’t it? Not like Japanese language and culture isn’t full of quirks anyway.”

My personal interpretation when Bernie announced he was going to be calling his teachings Icho Ryu, I asked him if he was naming it after his Doberman Pinscher, named Icho. Even back then I was a smart ass.

Bottom line, it’s perfectly fitting to have a convoluted name and kanji use for Icho Ryu. Like what we practice, it’s often hard to explain.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

KOGA VS LAU Hilo Hawaii, June 2009

Bernie Lau and Robert Koga finally met each other. FYI, Robert Koga was perhaps the first person to teach tactical defense from an aikido training perspective. Like Koga, Bernie left aikido to develop his own take on Defensive Tactics based upon aiki arts as well. Bernie sent me a recap of his take on the seminar. Text in parentheses and italics are my insertions to clarify something Bernie didn’t explain since it’s something I knew about, or just a snide comment of my own. Photos are courtesy of Carrie Yonemori.
(Teaching aikido to police officers isn’t the same thing for those of you upset over this comment and who are thinking of emailing me about your own sensei teaching police. The topics are related, yes, but are different in purpose and intent.)
Left to Right, Robert Koga, Dennis Quiocho -Hilo PD Defensive Tactics Instructor, Bernie Lau.

I went to the Hilo Rec Center where Robert Koga was doing a seminar sponsored by the Hilo Seishinkai Aikido dojo. I joined in, met Koga, and the first thing he said was; "I've been hearing so much about you over all these years, I finally get to meet you". I said "Likewise". Strange, but Koga never met Wally Jay or any of those guys we got to know, and he was right in the LA area all those years.

Bob Koga is a very nice guy, friendly, clean cut, professional, 84 years old, good physical condition and mental health. Gives me something to shoot for. Koga's techniques and what he talks about are very much like our stuff. No bullshitting, some stuff works, some stuff don't, simple as that. He also hit on those "useless techniques" done in aikido training. "The real world isn't like that" were his words. Koga brought up the "fact" that most (or many) "aikido" techniques "look great in a demo" but won't ever work in a real situation. Went on to say that the better your uke can take a break fall, the better you look -duh ! As for the knife take aways taught in aikido- "Yeah right!” Koga also mentioned that there is no "one" technique that will work 100 % of the time.

(Part of what I see with what Bernie writes above is the distinction over teaching techniques versus readily practical techniques. The typical martial arts instructor can’t tell the difference all too often.)

Koga really didn't teach much cop type stuff to the "aikido" gathering, talked a good bit of the time. After all, they're not cops and wouldn't understand or need all that's involved in arrest and control techniques. He talked about common sense stuff. “Don't want to get into fights? Stay out of bars. Don't wear martial arts type shirts that say, ‘I'm bad and I can kick your ass’ etc.” He talked about de-escalation versus escalation of potential conflicts.

Techniques demonstrated to the aikido folks in attendance were basics, - grab wrist - removing/s hand with no effort, (wipe table, scratch hair, etc) same-same stuff that we of Lau Ryu, Oops, make that "Icho Ryu" do as basics.

Koga did demonstrate an interesting same-side grab to shirt. Uke grabs your shirt, your right side with his left hand, you bring your right hand up and snake it between his arm and his body. Your right hand continues down between his body snaking toward his lower spine area as you move in towards his rear, right foot leading, your left hand comes up under his chin and presses forward as your right hand pushes into uke's spine to take away his center. It should feel effortless, etc. kind of like Don's “magic” stuff. (Bernie is referring to Don Angier here)

One very important thing I observed him use. My all time favorite, the infamous "finger flick” Koga didn't say a word about it, he just used the flick once as a distraction, I saw it, I understood, and that one movement of his hand made a huge impression on me as far as Koga's understanding about "stuff that actually works". I observed it and thought to myself, “All-right, this guy knows stuff and has made it work.” I'm certain that no one else in the aikido audience registered the technique, but I did.

BTW, I did techniques with several Hilo area aikido instructors, I wore them out; the Muay Thai training has really helped my endurance come back big time. Twenty – thirty continuous techniques - I was still bouncing back, smiling, sweating and going for more. I was smiling because I could see that I was quickly wearing my partners down. Most of them said, "OK thanks, I need to take a break". I am so thankful for my past training and my new positive attitude from training actively and living back in Hawaii!

(Bernie has been doing Muay Thai with a local group - Spirit of the White Robe- training 2-3 times per week. His brief description of training: Each MT training session, we probably do over 400 of those Thai boxing shin kicks against pads. I have to stop and catch my breath for a moment but I don’t stop and drop out like people half my age do. I was sore and tired the next day for the first couple months, but nothing too bad. A few ibuprofen and I’m fine. Now, I just get minor aches that come from a good workout.)

Later on in the seminar I went around to practice with (not teach!) other beginners, guys and gals, and allowed them to throw me continuously, they were thrilled and I enjoyed it. At one point, I was training with a ten year old Japanese girl as my training partner and allowed her to keep throwing me; I was doing the techniques on my knees, suwari-waza fashion, since she was so small. We were doing kote-gaeshi, I modified the technique showing her to use my thumb as leverage as her hands were too tiny to apply the technique on me. Koga noticed this, came over, smiled and totally agreed with the modification. She was good and was having one hell of a good time. She never tired and neither did I. I noticed some of the aikido instructors watching me as they stood around and chatted instead of training.
I sat in seiza throughout some of Koga's long lectures, not one of the aikido instructors there are able to even sit in seiza properly for more than a few minutes. Old training habits never die, it sticks with you. Remember sitting for so long in seiza during testing?!

Koga was down to earth, didn't bullshit about the mystical power of "Golden Showers", but Koga did mention that he never really got to understand this "KI" stuff, and Tohei was one of his teachers! Strange, or perhaps, Koga was a bit more enlightened about the "real world". I forgot, how many arrests did Tohei make during his lifetime? Did Tohei really "grapple", outside of that "Rendezvous With Adventure". Tohei grappling - my all time favorite!

All in all, I like where Koga was coming from. It would have been interesting to hook up with him years ago. However; I no longer feel that need to find and connect with anyone out there for myself. I know what I know. I can make it work "most of the time". If not I can always get into my other mode, "Fucking Nasty Bernie ryu".

As for his "Police Weaponless Control" stuff, I didn't see much of it as it was an "aikido" gathering so I can't comment on that. I'm pretty certain a lot of his stuff is similar to ours. Our stuff is probably less complicated, and less of it. As you know, you don't really need much stuff to take some asshole down and cuff him. However, if you're selling DVDs and books, well, that's another story all together, as you know from experience.

Bottom line, I liked and agreed with all that Koga had to say. "No Bullshit Ryu". He is a very down to earth guy, easy to talk to, likes the lime light (like someone I know) ha-ha. (Bernie is referring to himself here.)