How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Taika Oyata, Seikichi Uehara, Tuite/Toide/ToriTe, and the Development of Kata

I just finished reading several threads on a traditional fighting arts forum, each of which at least tangentially concerned Taika Seiyu Oyata. There were several interesting things therein, not the least of which was that not one of the participants was actually a member of the RyuTe Renmei. Another was the respect everyone writing had for Taika. To my mind, this is extraordinary. Think of Wing Chun; last I heard, there were a minimum of three people each claiming to be Yip Man's "closed-door disciple." I recall seeing video of one particularly spectacular incident wherein a student from one faction attended a seminar taught by the leader of another faction, and actually jumped him!

Not so with Taika. Nobody, not from any system, as far as I know, doubts that he is the "real deal." At least, I haven't seen any such speculations publicly made. Taika's former students (some of them quite high ranking), as far as I know, say nothing negative about their former teacher. That, too, seems unusual in the martial arts world. It speaks highly of Taika and his system.

There were some other interesting thoughts being voiced. There seemed to be some speculation as to the history of tuite, both as taught in RyuTe and in Shian Toma's Seidokan, with some apparently leaning toward believing that both Taika and Shian Toma had been at least influenced by Seikichi Uehara, and Uehara, in turn, having possibly been influenced by Hakko Ryu jujutsu, which, in its own turn, was derived largely from Daito Ryu Aikijutsu, with the apparent upshot, in some people's minds, being that Taika's tuite was something of a descendant of Daito Ryu and apparently obviously right out of Uehara's Motobu Udun Ti, and therefore just like Shian Toma's tuite!

One person seemed to have doubts as to the immediate effectiveness of tuite techniques--he stated that he and his students "just" trained to stop people in their tracks, and I gather that he didn't think tuite would be an effective vehicle for such things.

Others seemed to be concerned with such things as whether Taika derived his tuite from the kata or whether he read it into the kata.

Well, I wasn't there during all the history that was being speculated on and can't speak from first-hand knowledge. Whether or not Seikichi Uehara ever studied Hakko Ryu, I don't know. I have read that he denied it more than once, and in the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, I would think that people would be good enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have read in several places that Taika was part of a "research group" that included Uehara and certain others, but for me to speculate as to who influenced whom would be going quite beyond anything I am ever likely to find out.

For what it's worth, here's a sample of the tuite taught in Shian Toma's organization:

and here's some demonstrated by Taika himself:

Same stuff? You be the judge. Doesn't seem quite the same to me. Points of similarity, yes. Identical, no.

At any rate, that whole thread got me to thinking about some of the things that I have heard and read about Taika and his arts, and I thought I'd air my thinking publicly for a few minutes. I am in no way speaking as an authority or an expert, so bear that in mind.

I think one of the first things that you have to know about Taika is that he is extremely intelligent. I have never read anything by anyone or heard anything from anyone that would indicate otherwise. Everyone who's met the man seems to come away convinced that he is exceptionally bright. One person wrote that when he first came to train under Taika, he was making his living as, if I recall correctly, a diesel mechanic. He had been trained as a kaiten pilot. My own instructor told me a story of where he'd been sitting in, a guest, apparently, at a Japanese language class. The teacher, a native speaker, was apparently treated to a rare display as Taika explained the background and meanings of a number of kanji--background and explanation that apparently are ordinarily the province of scholars. I have heard that Taika manufactured his own uniforms at one point. He is clearly a man of intelligence, drive, and determination.

And for sixty-plus years, he has channeled that intelligence, drive and determination into the Okinawan martial arts. Some of what he knows seems to have been derived from a combination of what his teachers showed him, deep thinking, practice, and experimentation. If it seems to some that some of what he teaches is to be found nowhere else, at least not in quite the same form, I can only suggest that not every system has a man of Taika Oyata's caliber at its head. He seems to be unique, a last link to a body of knowledge that came distressingly close to passing out of the world.

His first instructors, I have been told time and again, did not so much teach him kata as they taught him how to interpret kata, and about the weaknesses of the human body. From somewhat oblique remarks made here and there and from time to time, I have also begun to think that they taught him some psychology, not the therapeutic kind of psychology, but means of misdirection, distraction, and taking advantage of the way the human body receives and processes information. I remember one writer saying that when he sparred Taika, he seemed almost invisible, that he couldn't tell when Taika was gaining ground on him, and that his blows seemed to come from out of nowhere. I mentioned this story to my own instructor, and he showed me some of what the writer was talking about, but I do not believe I have seen it all yet. On another occasion, my instructor told me that Taika once said--to him or to someone else, I don't know--that "jitsu" (jutsu), though now generally translated more or less as "technique" or "method," once also carried the connotation or meaning of "tricks," like magic "tricks," or sleight-of-hand. Make of that what you will. I do know that Taika explicitly rules out any supernatural elements to what he teaches. No special "ki" or "chi" abilities necessary.

Taika learned his empty-hand kata from Shigeru Nakamura, as anyone can find out by surfing the 'net for a little while. But sometimes I wonder if what we here in the United States think of as "learning kata" really reflects what Taika has been all about. Looking at my videotapes, and looking at what I am being taught now, it is clear that they are a little bit different. Is Taika changing the kata? I don't think so. There are a few little things that convince me of this, all of which would require paragraphs of explanation that would bore anyone not interested in the subject to tears, so I'll skip those and just cut to the chase.

If you are interested in karate, you may, at some point, have read Gichin Funakoshi's autobiography (if you are not familiar with the subject, Funakoshi is the man most generally credited with bringing karate to the attention of the Japanese public). Do you remember the part where he said he deliberately simplified the kata so as to make them easier to teach and learn? You have to keep in mind that Funakoshi was trying to teach rather large numbers of people, quite the opposite of the practice in the old days, where practice groups were (I'm told; again, I was not there) quite small and intimate. In my opinion, it would simply not have been possible to teach the details of the kata--at least, not the way I am being taught them--to that many people at one time. I am about half-convinced that what look like "changes" in the way Taika has taught the same kata over the years are not so much changes as they are reflections of the fact that the pool of knowledge possessed by his senior students keeps growing so that they are ready to absorb and pass on new levels of learning.

Have you ever taught someone a kata? Or, if not, can you image learning one? What comes first? The simple sequence of movements, right? Then details of posture, of balance, of hand and foot placement, of proper stepping, of application, are taught later, at appropriate times in the student's development.

One of the first things my instructor told me was that I would be beginning to understand any given movement of a kata when I had at least one interpretation of that movement as tuite, one as a strike, and one as a block. Given an approach like that, can you see how going through the kata deliberately looking for the strikes would affect your understanding and performance of it? How doing it just looking for the blocks and deflections would affect it? Just looking for the tuite? Then looking for how the strikes and blocks worked together, then how they were sometimes the same thing? Would any of those interpretations and performances of kata necessarily be incorrect? No. They would just reflect differences in what the student was learning or working on at that time. Sometimes you might be looking for how to shift your weight. Sometimes you might be emphasizing footwork. You could go on for years. Is that drawing technique from the kata? Or reading technique into the kata? Wouldn't it look more like a spiral, as the drawing and the reading fed, in turn, one upon the other?

About the effectiveness of tuite: I do not, of course, claim to be an expert. But I have practiced enough, and been on the receiving end of enough tuite to have no doubt as to its effectiveness. As far as I can tell, all of those techniques, executed correctly, are fight-stoppers.

I recall that after one test, my instructor was reviewing the test with us, and when we got to one particular self-defense technique, he'd had me repeat the defense a couple of times, not so much because what I did was ineffective (though part of my success was due to size and strength), but because he hadn't taught what I did to me, and wondered if I'd picked it up years ago whilst in the Marine Corps Reserve. The answer was no, I'd simply done it wrong, but nevertheless, he said, "Well, consider this," and showed us a variation of what I'd done. We got to try it out on the senior student in the class. I was, as is not unusual in that class, gobsmacked. Once the techique was "set," there was no recovering for the poor attacker. He was going to go down, awkwardly and off-balance, with absolutely no chance in the nether regions to break his fall or slow his momentum in any way. Applied full power, it was apparent to me that the results would--at least!--involve a wrenched elbow and shoulder, and a high-velocity slam of the rib cage into the ground, probably with the head whipping around and bouncing, too.

All in less than a second. Whenever I hear or read about someone thinking that tuite takes too long, or doesn't have real fight-stopping capability, I can't help but wonder what they've been looking at. It doesn't seem like the tuite I'm being taught.

Just my opinions and thoughts, worth about what you paid for them!

No comments:

Post a Comment