UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo – Karate

by Irina

On a small subtropical island such as Okinawa, it is usually physically impossible to take a road less travelled. However, if you are up to the challenge, you may find a certain small karate dojo in Yomitan to be just that rarely available detour.

When I got to Okinawa, I didn’t know a lot about martial arts, though I knew that Okinawa was considered the birthplace of karate in Japan. And, after having watched the Karate Kid movies, I thought it would be great to learn the way of karate at its source. The only problem was that I wanted to study it for my own personal satisfaction and self-improvement, not to fight in the ring or perform for others to see and judge on the tatami.

There are many places on Okinawa that will teach you the basic moves of karate, on and off the military bases. Luckily, I did not know about them when I saw the UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama Yomitan for the first time. The location, environment, students and, of course, the sensei all made a positive impression on me. My intuition did not let me down since the philosophy, principles, and rules of the Uechi Ryu style have also appealed to my senses.

Surprisingly, the teacher (Seizan Sensei) is an American – trained almost wholly here on Okinawa, licensed and certified a true “Hanshi Kyudan” – a 9th degree black belt holder – and the only foreigner residing in Japan holding that rank level in the UechiRyu system. He began training in UechiRyu in 1974 in the States, but has been training on Okinawa since 1979. He teaches classes 50/50 in Japanese and English, so there was no barrier to learning the finer points and more subtle philosophies of the art.

His Okinawan wife (Sumako) teaches Yoga on Saturday mornings, too, and is a licensed Thai Masseuse. That’s right – all this under one roof!

Most importantly, this dojo offered me an opportunity to train and practice alongside my husband and daughter as opposed to just sitting outside and waiting for the session to be over. An ability to study the principles of karate as a family has been paramount in our quest to embrace this particular way of life. We don’t compete at tournaments in this dojo, so there is no pressure to beat total strangers senseless in front of family members!  The dojo is a place where one can do physically challenging exercise, relax with a green tea and a snack during the break period, or it can be a healthy psychological outlet after a long day when you leave all your problems outside the screen door and just practice karate for a few hours.

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

As time passed, the learning process allowed me to understand that true karate is not simply a martial art, but a life art – a true lifestyle. Personally, I can apply the knowledge gained long after I leave Okinawa.


Events and Trends that Shaped the Chinese Martial Arts in 2018 — Kung Fu Tea

This is the time of year when it is only natural to pause and reflect on where we have been and what may be coming next. 2018 has been a busy year in the Chinese martial arts. Progress has been in made in certain areas, while suggestions of trouble have arisen in others. Lets […]

via Events and Trends that Shaped the Chinese Martial Arts in 2018 — Kung Fu Tea

Year In Review – December 20, 2018 — Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia

For Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia, 2018 was a year of consolidating knowledge, pursuing higher technical ability and pushing new goals in tournaments. Three major seminars were held. The first took place in Sydney, at Shihan Rick Cunningham’s Annangrove Dojo. The seminar focused on all things Kyokushin – kihon (basics), kata (forms), kumite (sparring) and […]

via Year In Review – December 20, 2018 — Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia


By Phillip Starr

Currently, there are a number of kung-fu teachers from the People’s Republic of China (or who allege that they trained there) providing interesting and rather expensive seminars throughout the West. In fact, some of them will actually certify Westerners as instructors if they attend enough seminars over a period of time. In my view, this is something akin to becoming a neurosurgeon by attending several seminars. It simply can’t be done. I believe that a martial arts system can be learned only through regular, hands-on training and by “regular”, I mean attending a class at least two or three times weekly. Yes, you can learn some valuable material at seminars and I’m very much in favor of them but I don’t believe that it is possible to learn an entire system that way.

Some time ago, one of my students told me that he’d met an older Chinese gentleman who had moved to the West from mainland China. He was highly skilled in a particular martial art and allegedly possessed a very high level of fighting skill. Really? I told my student to look at China’s recent history and then do the math… Let’s have a look.

During the last dynasty of China, the Qing Dynasty, there were numerous martial arts groups throughout China. However, at the beginning of the 20th century the government collapsed and the country was in turmoil. Warlords vied for power with one of them finally becoming the leader; his name was Jiang Jieshi (we know him as Chiang Kai-shek). But he was at odds with a youngster named Mao Zedong and they locked horns.

It was during this time of political upheaval that Japan attacked China. This occurred in 1937. The Japanese poured into China, ravaging the country and bombing the larger cities. Not much of a time for managing a martial arts school… At the end of the war, Mao and Jiang went back to butting heads and Mao’s forces eventually drove Jiang and his followers off the mainland and onto the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan). The communists established the People’s Republic of China in October of 1949.

One of the first things the new government did was to forbid the practice of any and all martial arts. After all, kung-fu practitioners had been at the head of the anti-Qing forces and the new government didn’t want a replay; they didn’t want anti-government underground groups to come together as they had during the last dynasty. All martial arts schools shut down and teachers were forbidden to teach the martial ways.

Yes, I see the guy in the back waving his hand. You say that martial arts teachers could have continued to teach inside their homes, away from the prying eyes of the government during this time? Not likely. You see, China had, and still has, the best internal intelligence systems in the world. For many years after the establishment of the new government, everyone was required to attend regularly scheduled classes and meetings in which the many benefits and superiority of communism were espoused. These meetings were broken down into small groups, which were divided into smaller groups, and those were further divided into even smaller groups… until there groups of only 3 people. Believe me, if you were doing something that was regarded as illegal, the authorities would find out about it post haste! So, no, teachers didn’t dare teach students behind closed doors. In China, every wall has many ears (this is still true today) and at that time, it simply wasn’t possible to keep an activity such as martial arts instruction hidden.

Then things got worse. The Cultural Revolution began in 1966 and lasted for ten years. During this time, all educational institutions were shut down and anyone who was representative of the “old China” – which, of course, included martial arts teachers – was severely punished. Many were “re-educated” (I’ll leave that to your imaginations). The bottom line is that martial arts practice was still strictly forbidden and anyone caught teaching or even practicing such things was putting his life on the line.

After the end of the Cultural Revolution, China’s leaders began to realize what treasures China really possessed; traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, traditional dancing, and so on. The development of contemporary wushu (a combination of gymnastics, martial arts, and Chinese opera) went into high gear while various forms of taijiquan were modified so that older people could practice them without having to over-tax their bodies. However, to teach wushu, it was necessary to be a college graduate and the majority of traditional martial arts teachers didn’t meet that requirement. They were free to teach in the public parks just as they still do today.

However, they were restricted to teaching technique and forms only. Two-person routines or any form of sparring was not allowed. The authorities claimed that they were concerned about people being injured through such training but I suspect that they were also concerned about people learning how to apply traditional martial arts. So they permitted people to practice “sanda”, which is very similar to kickboxing with some grappling thrown in.

Regardless of what style you’d learned – praying mantis, xingyiquan, or anything else, your fighting practice was limited to sanda. Thus, everyone, regardless of style, fought in the same way… so “styles”, in so far as fighting was and is concerned, simply vanished. While it was possible to learn forms and exercise routines, one could not practice applications at anything close to full speed and sparring of any kind was out of the question.

As far as practical experience goes… well, that’s another can of worms. The Chinese law enforcement authorities take a very dim view of any kind of violence and what we’d call a simple street fight are extremely rare. Extremely. Rare.

Now, if someone says that his teacher from mainland China is, say, in his 50’s, well….I’ll let you do the math. What was happening in China when he was in his teens or a bit later and allegedly learning a traditional martial art? If he’s 50, he was born in 1964 (just prior to the Cultural Revolution) and by the time he was old enough to begin serious training, he’d be learning the “shells” of forms in a local park with no fighting experience whatsoever.

Let me take this opportunity to make a bunch of new friends by saying that I believe a good number of these teachers are simply exploiting their own ethnicity; they’re Chinese, so they HAVE to know what they’re doing, right? Yeah. I remember my high school years when we believed that any student who was even half-Japanese HAD to know judo and karate. I know of one Chinese school teacher in Iowa who claims to be a master of what he calls “Calligraphic Kung-Fu.” His students learn to draw Chinese characters in the air with their hands and he shows them how these movements can be turned into lethal blows. You. Betcha. BUT, he once had a very large following and last I knew, he was still at it!

Then there are those who claim to be Taoists who live in a monastery or some such abode in the cloudy mists atop some sacred mountain. Let me tell you, for all the cute photos they show everyone, there are no Taoist monasteries with adepts practicing exotic forms of qigong and martial arts all day. Not in modern China. The same is true for Buddhist temples. Yes, there are monks but the government determined that they needed to provide some sort of service to the state. They allow them to live in the temples (or nearby) and practice their faith BUT in return, they must help serve the tourists who visit the temples. Shao-lin Temple is a fine example. For all the bruhaha about it, what is being taught there is NOT a form of traditional shaolinquan; it is contemporary wushu. The “monks” aren’t really Buddhist monks at all. For that matter, most of them know little of Buddhism but they shave their heads, wear the saffron robes, and thrill visitors with their demonstrations. For those who wish to learn authentic shaolinquan, don’t go to China. It isn’t there anymore. It moved to the West.

So next time you hear of some famous kung-fu master teaching a seminar (especially if it’s at a high price), find out how old he is and do some simple math. You might surprise yourself.

FOUR-SECTION BOXING — Brennan Translation

– 四式拳圖解 FOUR-SECTION BOXING EXPLAINED 徐士金 by Xu Shijin [published by the 漢口市國術館 Hankou Martial Arts Institute, 1935] [translation by Paul Brennan, Dec, 2018] – 徐士金著 by Xu Shijin: 四式拳圖解 Four-Section Boxing Explained 張學良題 – calligraphy by Zhang Xueliang – 總理提倡國術之墨寶 Our president’s treasured calligraphy advocating martial arts: 強國強種 “Strengthen the nation by strengthening the […]

via FOUR-SECTION BOXING — Brennan Translation

The Origins of Jiu Jitsu and Kempo (part 5)

The Tai Chi Notebook

The final part of our podcast series on Jiu Jitsu and Kempo is live. In this episode we spend a long time trying not to talk about Aikido, then agree to talk about it more next time. Apart from that, we follow the developments in Japan through to modern times, with particular attention paid to the history of the yakuza.


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Chinese Martial Arts in the News: Dec 10, 2018: Young Masters, Colorful History, Chinese Swords

Kung Fu Tea


Its official, holiday madness is upon us. Still, I wanted to comment on some of the more interesting stories that have been floating around. For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts.  In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.

While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we may have missed something.  If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below.  If you know of a developing story that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.

Its been way too long since our last update so let’s get to…

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Varieties of “Tradition”: Work, Play and Leisure in Martial Arts — Kung Fu Tea

A Different Kind of Race Horse races are strongholds of pageantry and tradition, but when it comes to medieval texture, few can compare with the Palio di Siena. Oddly, any footage of the event reminds me of a critical issue within martial arts studies. I suppose that is an occupational hazard. Pretty much anything […]

via Varieties of “Tradition”: Work, Play and Leisure in Martial Arts — Kung Fu Tea

Fighting in the age of loneliness

The Tai Chi Notebook

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I thought I’d bring your attention to a great little video series written and directed by Felix Biederman that’s been produced by SBNation called Fighting in the age of loneliness. It’s a kind of history of MMA and the UFC, including all the influences from Japan to Brazil and elsewhere, including the Pride period, set against the social/economic backdrop the USA and Japan.

One particular quote I liked was:

‘Your home belongs to the bank, your gas tank is lining the pockets of those who had more to do with 911 than the country your brother just died fighting in and you’re told the economy is in high gear even though your paycheck is buying less and less but what you just saw in the cage was unambiguous. One person hit another and the other fell. Nothing about it lied to you.’

Here are the episodes:

Episode 1:


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No Hurry

by Phillip Starr

It seems like I’m always telling you to sit back and watch other students in class so that you can learn what not to do. Well, this time isn’t much different. Sorry.


Next time your teacher calls someone up to perform a given form (or maybe even if he does a form himself), pay attention…but today we’re not going to be paying attention to the form, per se.

We’re going to pay attention to what happens before the form starts…outwardly.

We’ll call the person doing the form “Elmer.”

Once Elmer is standing in the spot from which he intends to execute the form, watch him. Odds are that he’ll begin in the proper basic “natural” stance, whether it’s “attention” or “informal attention” or whatever. He’ll assume that stance and then almost immediately break out into his form.

Is that wrong?

Well, not necessarily. But it is a bit hurried. I mean, he’s acting as though he’s sort of anxious to get it over with. Like it’s an exercise; jumping jacks or push-ups or whatever. And if that’s the case; if he really is in a bit of a hurry, then the entire set is bad.


Because his mind isn’t focused and his spirit is scattered. He isn’t really rooted into his form. He doesn’t feel it. He’s just going through the moves like a good robot. His techniques and stances and such may be technically correct but he isn’t really doing the form.

Let’s take a moment to look at the Japanese art of drawing and cutting with the sword which is known as iaido. Different schools of iaido utilize various kata (forms). Some use identical or very similar kata and some are very unique to a particular style. But regardless of which school a given kata comes from, one thing is always true.

They’re short. Really short.

I mean the entire kata may consist of the draw, one or maybe two cuts, and then the sword is re-sheathed. And that’s it. Granted, there are many, many small and subtle movements that must be perfected if the kata is to be performed correctly. This is something that the “sport” crowd always misses. They grasp the sword and swing it like a Louisville Slugger and although their high-pitched kiais (which often sound like a cat being sexually molested) and fancy uniforms may make the kata look impressive, it’s usually one huge mass of errors from start to finish.

But that’s not my point. The point I’m aiming at can be seen if you watch a skilled iaido practitioner as he prepares to execute his kata. Once in the proper position (which is usually kneeling in the case of iaido, but it wouldn’t matter if he was standing), he half-closes his eyes and takes three deep breaths.

You ask if this is done to relax his body? Well, of course. But more importantly, it “centers” his mind and spirit. He breathes down into his dantien (tanden in Japanese/Okinawan) as his posture is made correct:

* Ears pushed slightly up away from the shoulders.
* Sphincter slightly tightened.
* Coccyx slightly tucked forward.
* Feet flat on the floor.
* Shoulders and chest relaxed.

There’s no hurry. If he isn’t ready after three breaths, he can take more.

Then when his body, mind, and spirit are ready, the form begins.

Notice that I didn’t say that HE begins the form. The FORM seems to begin itself…

He feels every movement and savors each one. He doesn’t try to rush through it like we do when we’re hungry and slamming down a Snickers. He may appear to move quickly but inside, he’s taking his time. Feeling. Tasting the movements with his body.

This is very important in iaido if, for no other reason, so you don’t muck things up and cut yourself! But the skilled swordsman never worries about that. It never enters his mind because he’s done the kata so many times and his movements are precise.

I think this is a lesson we can all take from iaido. Next time you prepare to practice a form, take three slow, deep, abdominal breaths and “center” your mind and spirit while you root yourself. Then let the form begin when it’s ready.

No hurry.