Sunday, 25 January 2015

Health Benefits of Karate Do Training (Continued)

In a previous post, I presented some of the health benefits of Karate Do Training. The blog may have seemed a little bit one sided due to the fact that I only focused on the positive impacts of Karate Do training. Furthermore, I had to end the blog before addressing the Mental and Spiritual benefits that I stated I would. In this post I would like to get back to this thread, but before doing so I would like to clarify one important point regarding the information I provided in that post 'Health Benefits of Karate Do Training'. The information I provided was taken from a book that Chitose Tsuyoshi Sensei, the First Generation Soke and founder of Chito-Ryu Karate Do (O Sensei) wrote, "Kenpo Karate-do Universal Art of Self-Defense." He wrote this book in the late 1940s (1946 or 1947) eventhough it was translated into English by Christopher Johnston and published in 2000 by Shindokan International. (the Cover of this book is pictured below)
Training approaches have changed a great deal since this book was written and since it was published. The audience for which the book was intended must also be considered when we read it. It was intended for Japanese Nationals living in post WWII Japan. Many were malnourished and in poor physical health. This book was expressing the benefits of Karate Do training as a way to increase the general physical health of Japan as is stated in three very important sentences in The Purpose of Studying Karate-do where O Sensei writes, "In order to re-build the New Japan, we must first ensure that we are in good health. To begin with, to perform sound physical exercise is to study Karate-do. Initially a way to protect ourselves, Karate-do is the most complete form of physical exercise" (p. 90).

While sports training methods have grown in leaps and bounds in the 70 years since the end of WWII, the health benefits of continued exercise such as the practice of martial arts which now often includes various forms of cross training such as running and other strength training, speaks for itself. There are, however, some things that we do need to be careful of when teaching or training specific 基本 Kihon, Basics and 技 Waza, Techniques, namely the danger of injuring our joints due to the application of stress caused by unnatural twisting, torquing, and pressure. It should be noted that these injuries are not caused by the technique itself but rather by our misunderstanding of how it should be practiced. There is nothing unhealthy about Karate Do,  but the limits of our understanding often lead to unhealthy practice habits. I am no exception. I have had my fair share of injuries which resulted due to my limited understanding. However, since studying Japanese Language and Culture and after coming to Japan and developing relationships with various Karate Do Sensei my understanding has increased and my injuries have reduced in number and severity. I would have to say that only recently have I begun to practice at a level that I feel is indeed increasing my health without a high risk of injury to my joints. It took me almost 25 years to understand, but in the past 2 years I really feel that my Karate Do has changed for the better namely due to deeper understanding in two major areas. I would like to tell you about them. The first area will be the focus of this post and the second I will write in a following post. The first area deals with a more natural use of muscle combinations, focusing on contraction, stretch, and a state in between which may be referred to as neutral, natural, or relaxed.
Muscle Use
During my time training in Japan I have grown and and deepened my knowledge base in many ways, all of which have impacted the way I approach my personal training. One of the major epiphanies I had was the realization of how to use the muscle groups in my upper body, namely my shoulders (Trapezius) and Lats (Laissimus Dorsi) in a more natural working combination through out the movements of 基本 Kihon and 形 Kata (See photo below for muscle groups discussed).

Thursday, 15 January 2015

お正月 in 熊本 Continued

There is a lot that I want to share with you and the many customs of the New Years' time in Japan are rich with tradition. As I said in my previous post, there are far too many to share in this format, but I would like to tell you as much as I can about how I have spent the New Year here in Kumamoto for a little over a decade. I would like to continue this post where I left off, with 初詣 Hatsu Moude, the First Visit to a Shrine or Temple. I have visited 小国神社 Oguni Jinjya, Oguni Shrine almost every year on January 1st since 2002. Please let me share with you how my family started our year.

(My Daughter, Son, and I Hatsu Moude at Oguni Shrine, Jan. 1st, 2015)

初詣 (Hatdsu Moude)
As I said, I am not religious and have no ties to anything in particular, but since I started going to Oguni for the New Year's holiday, I have visited Oguni Jinjya on January 1st for Hatsu Moude with my wife and this year was my Son's first New Year's visit. We never stay long. We make a wish, buy some おみくじ Omikuji, Fortune Slips, and お守り Omamori, Good luck Charms or Talisman, then we return home. There is nothing particularly ceremonial about how we do this other than we must wash our hands and mouth at the fountain in front of the shrine before entering. Although it is not ceremonial, there is an order that we have followed every year. Let me share it with you now.

(Chou Zu Ya, Kagoshima, Japan, 2014)
手水舎 (Chou Zu Ya)
Every Shino Shrine in Japan has a 手水舎 Chou Zu Ya, a special fountain or pool of fresh running water near the entrance designated for cleaning our hands and mouths before proceeding to the shrine. (See the photo above) To the best of my knowledge this is there simply to cleanse the body so that when we enter the grounds of the shrine we can do so with pure intentions. Cleaning our hands that we use to touch things with and our mouths which we use to communicate our thoughts, for me, holds a particularly powerful meaning and I always make it a point to perform this cleaning action. I do have to tell you, though, this year's Hatasu Moude was extremely cold and it was difficult to take off our gloves and pour cold water over them, but as you can see in the photo above, we all did it. After we clean our hands and mouth we enter through the main entrance and make our way to the shrine. In front of the shrine there is a large bell and rope. We throw ¥100 One Hundred Yen into a wooden box beneath the bell and ring it by shaking the rope back and forth. The sound it makes is very unique, unlike any bell I have ever heard before or since. We then clap our hands together two times and bow our heads and make a wish. It is said that the wish you make on Hatsu Moude should not be a wish for personal success but rather for the health, happiness, or success of others. I always wish for the health and happiness of my family.

 (A sign telling you the proper procedure for washing your Mouth and Hands)
(See the video attachment to hear the sound of the bell)
The O Mikuji is like a kind of guide that gives us advice on how to proceed through the year ahead. It gives us advice on work, health, and relationships. I can tell you that, in my experience, they have been surprisingly accurate and I have received some pretty good advice over the years from these little slips of paper. (See photo below right, my O Mikuji, 2015)

After we finish reading the advice we tie them on a branch of a tree or a rope designated for this at the shrine. We do not take them home with us, but depending upon the kind of O Mikuji you buy, they usually have a little good luck charm inside that you can take and keep with you throughout the year. (See the photo below, our O Mikuji together tied on the rope in front of the tree at Oguni Shrine.) 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

お正月 in 熊本

Before I get back to the previous theme of the health benefits of Karate Do practice let me first wish everyone reading this blog a very Happy New Year! I don't know about you, but 2014 was a very busy and productive year for me. It was a year full of personal successes on many levels from personal to professional. Reflecting on all that happened in 2014, I am very excited about 2015! According to the Chinese calendar 2014 was the year of the Horse. I was born in 1978 making me a horse. One of the most important things for me, that occurred last year, was the healthy birth of my first Son (a Horse, too. Now at 4 and a half Months he is built like a horse, too. He is almost 10 kilograms!)

(The Author with his Son, 賢志 Kenshi, December 31st, 2014)

In this post I would like to share with you how I usually start my year here in Kumamoto, Japan. Every year for New Year's お正月 O Shou Gatsu many people in Japan return to their hometowns to spend quality time with their family and close friends. Depending on work schedules the time spent can be very short, but everyone tries to make the most of it by catching up and starting the New Year fresh. Many Dojo and households are cleaned お掃除 O Souji before the new year so that the family can begin the New Year fresh in a clean house. For those of you who follow my Facebook page you will remember that I posted some photos of the O Souji at the Buntoku Dojo late last year.
(Buntoku Dojo Cleaning, December, 2014)

There are many traditions surrounding Japanese O Shou Gatsu and each family spends this special time doing many similar things however, each family is unique and therefore, there are many subtle differences. Therefore, in this blog I am only sharing the traditions that my family performs regularly each year. Think of this like a kind of case study of one Japanese family's New Year's traditions where I present the highlights to you in hopes that you can benefit from this snap shot of Japanese Culture in the context based on the customs that my Japanese family have shared with me.

Let me start by sharing my usual End of the Year 忘年 Bou Nen and New Year 新年 Shin Nen schedule before I go into detail of the individual customs and traditions.

Every year my family and I go to my wife's family's home in Oguni on either the 30th or 31st of December. My wife takes the children first and I usually follow after in separate cars because our schedules in the first few days of the New Year are quite different due to my involvement with Chito-Ryu and Koutairen Karate Do. We spend the first few days together before I return to Kumamoto on the 2nd of January. On the 3rd is the 養成館道場滝行  Youseikan Dojo Taki Gyou, The Annual Waterfall Training of the Yoseikan Dojo.

(Youseikan Dojo Takigyou, 2015)

For the past 7 years I have also been fortunate enough to take part in the 桃太郎杯 Momotarou Hai, A 3 day invitational Karate Do competition and practice tournament for Senior High School athletes held in Okayama. This year 1500 athletes competed in this National level invitational championship.
Officially, work usually begins at Buntoku on either the 6th or 7th of January, but this week is always followed by a 3 day long weekend. During this long weekend is the Chito-Ryu Karate Do 新年講習会 Shin Nen Koushyu Kai, New Year's Training and 代表者会議 Daihyousha Kaigi, the National meeting of representatives for Chito-Ryu in Japan (a kind of Annual General Meeting).