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Monday, January 26, 2009

Essential Karate Books

Some time back, I put together a list of books on karate--or on subjects I think are closely related to karate, or contribute to a proper understanding of karate. Here it is, for those interested. I'll tell you right up front that my recommendation of a book in no way means that I agree with every jot or tittle contained within it, and that with some, I have serious reservations. Nevertheless, something in that book is worthwhile.

First up: Masatoshi Nakayama's Dynamic Karate. In my opinion, this is the definitive work on how to do modern Shotokan, surpassing even Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan. Despite the criticisms some make of the changes Gichin Funakoshi and some of his students made to Okinawan karate to produce Shotokan--which is probably the quintessential modern Japanese version of karate--such as that the method of forming the fist and generating power have been altered, many of the applications of the old forms discarded, etc., etc., etc., the reality is that enough of the basic material is left within Shotokan that with the old bunkai added back in (something that is happening more and more as this knowledge becomes more widely known and accepted), Shotokan can be a fiercely combative art. Shoot, even without some of the old bunkai, Shotokan is nothing to sneeze at. Those people have learned how to hit hard, even if their method of punching differs from Kiyoshi Arakaki's, and some of the modern bunkai are downright vicious.

This book breaks the movements of Shotokan down in detail. I think a person who, out in the sticks without a karate instructor, had this book, could at least get going on the basics and maybe not go too far wrong. That's saying something. Something important.

Bunkai, for the uninitiated, are applications drawn from the kata, which are the prearranged sets of movements you see karate practitioners doing.

Next: Patrick McCarthy's The Bible of Karate: Bubishi. The Bubishi is an old document that a number of Okinawa's old masters treasured. It has been copied and recopied and there are parts of it that are confusing and hard to deal with. Mr. McCarthy's translation and commentary, especially as regards history, are invaluable.

A caveat: It is clear from certain of Mr. McCarthy's words that his worldview is somewhat incompatible with biblical Christianity's. However, that does not impact the material in this book, nor its usefulness. It is just something to be aware of in your evaluation of some of the things he says.

Next: Yang Jwing-Ming's Analysis of Shaolin Chin-Na and also his Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na. Chin Na is the corpus of close-quarter seizing and grappling techniques common to kung fu styles, and is very similar in some ways to the tuite practiced in Okinawan karate--practiced in Okinawan karate, that is, if you have an instructor familiar with it, which is not too common. Both books cover the subject well, with the former, much shorter book dwelling more on how the techniques work, while the second attempts an exhaustive catalog of the major techniques. The striking of vital points--or cavity press, kyusho-jutsu in Okinawan karate--is also covered to some extent.

Next: Javier Martinez's Okinawan Karate: the Secret Art of Tuite. An introduction to the close-quarter grappling and seizing techniques common to Okinawan karate. An eye-opener.

Next: Kiyoshi Arakaki's The Secrets of Okinawan Karate: Essence and Technique. A book almost entirely about how to generate and use power in karate technique. Invaluable especially for its discussion of how to form the fist.

Next: Shoshin Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, principally as a reference on the sequence of moves in many of the major kata. I will say that it is hard to "get" how those movements are performed solely from still pictures in a book. However, anyone reading this post has access to a major asset: YouTube. You can find almost anything on YouTube these days, including expert kata performances, and this certainly helps. I would caution you to look at more than one performance of any given kata you may be interested in, though, as some of the videos are clearly posted by proud parents, and others are posted by people with real skill. At any rate, you can learn the movement sequences of a number of kata from this book, and combined with the examples available via YouTube, you might have a fighting chance, so to speak.

I know that the Goju Ryu guys, Isshin Ryu guys, and Uechi Ryu guys might object that Nagamine's book leaves out their kata, some of which are quite famous and influential. Nolo contendere. That is true. The karate I practice seems to me more from the Shuri-te/Tomari-te stream than from the Naha-te stream, though I do practice (badly) the Uechi Ryu version of Sanchin, largely as an exercise. If I read an outstanding book that clearly delineates some of the Naha-te kata, I'll add it to the list.

None of the books mentioned, in my opinion, do a great job of how to deal with the makiwara. I'll do another post on that sometime. Even got it named: I'm going to call it The Forge of Karate.

Next: Zhao Da Yuan's Practical Chin Na: A Detailed Analysis of the Art of Seizing and Locking. If I had to limit myself to one book on chin na or tuite, this would be it. I'm told that years ago, Taika Seiyu Oyata wrote one for his students, but I have never seen a copy. Until I can obtain a copy of that highly-desired book, this will have to do. Very clear and logical explanations of the range of motion of each joint of the body, and how to lock them up.

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