After a number of interview it got me thinking, if you are going to train with other styles, you better know what you are getting yourself into. Which is why I asked Matthew Apsokardu a few questions about how he trains Okinawan Kenpo Karate and Kobudo. If you are not familiar with Matthew, for lack of a better term he is a popular “Karate blogger” from from the site ikigaiway.com
Lets get the questions started!
How did you start your training and what made you choose Okinawa Kenpo Karate & Kobudo over other styles?
My training began mostly as a matter of circumstance. My father, brother, and I were helping one of my uncle’s rehab his home. During the redesign we converted a large open room into dojo space. Once the space was completed my uncle needed some early students, so my brother and I decided to join up! He was a student of Bruce Heilman of Okinawa Kenpo, and in time I started studying directly under Heilman Sensei as well.
I never explicitly chose Okinawa Kenpo over other styles, but as years went on and I learned more I began to appreciate my style’s strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately I decided the art was a good fit for me, and that I was quite lucky to have stumbled upon a martial art with such a rich heritage and effective curriculum.
Introductory example of Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo concept (how to handle tonfa) -
What is the difference between Kobudo & Okinawa Kenpo Karate?
Okinawa Kenpo has two important aspects that are mutually beneficial throughout a practitioner’s development – karate and kobudo. Karate is a term familiar to most martial artists. It is commonly interpreted as “empty hand”, but was originally written as “China hand”. The karate curriculum consists of a continuum of life protection strategies and tactics, including means of striking, joint locking, tripping, throwing, and vital point compression. Classical karate contains a small amount of grappling known as tegumi, but ground work is not often emphasized.
The other aspect of Okinawa Kenpo is kobudo, which can be translated as “ancient martial way”. While the term kobudo is rather generic, on Okinawa it refers specifically to the art of handling weapons. Okinawan kobudo features an array of unique and unusual tools. The impetus for the development of these weapons is largely historical. Okinawa faced two separate weapons bans, one from internal sources and one external. The first ban came directly from the Okinawan king and served mainly to disarm potentially disruptive factions across the island. The primary Okinawan army was still well equipped during that time. Unfortunately, Okinawa also suffered a takeover from the Satsuma Samurai of Japan, resulting in a more comprehensive disarmament. As a result, the Okinawans needed to find self-protection in more creative ways, and spend a little more energy in concealing their training into every day farming and fishing activities.
The Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo curriculum is notably diverse. Odo Seikichi, senior student of Nakamura Shigeru and inheritor of the Okinawa Kenpo style, was a kobudo savant and collected a wide variety of kata. Eventually his weapons training included the rokushaku bo, tonfa, sai, kama, nunti, eiku, tekkos, nunchaku, tinbe rochin, and more.
What makes these styles unique compared to other Martial arts?
Okinawa Kenpo has many shared characteristics with other karate styles, but also some unique and interesting aspects. One very noticeable quality is the diversity in kobudo implements offered as part of the program. Very few practitioners were able to study with as many kobudo seniors as Odo Seikichi Sensei; as such, his style provides a multitude of rare and legitamite forms.
Odo Sensei was able to take the concepts of his karate and kobudo and create a cohesive system out of both. The body principles of Okinawa Kenpo can be used and adjusted on the fly no matter what implement is in hand, ranging from nothing (karate) to long polearms (nunti and eiku). As such, Okinawa Kenpo students do not need to learn different body fundamentals throughout their training, resulting in less body confusion and higher levels of skill in critical fundamentals.
The following are a few more items that aren’t seen in many other styles:
Foot Movement – rather than deep, grounded stances Okinawa Kenpo utilizes two foot movement which provides a more natural stance and maneuverability.
- Outside Bo Chamber – When the bo is used in a striking or thrusting capacity many styles tuck the bo under their rear arm. Okinawa Kenpo keeps the bo on the outside of the arm for quick use of the back end of the weapon.
- Full Range Bo – Rather than utilizing the bo in thirds, we tend to swing and extend the full range of the bo on techniques to gain maximum advantage of the weapon’s length. Of course more length results in less finite control, so the bo needs to be handled in a way that does not cause excess vulnerability.
- Side Kicking - Where classical styles often feature low level snap kicks to the midsection and groin, Okinawa Kenpo often utilizes a longer range side thrust kick. This was developed during the “school era” of karate development and is considered optimal for sparring with padded gear. This kicking adjustment is considered one of the modern aspects of Okinawa Kenpo, as opposed to one of the more classical aspects.
There are other examples of uniqueness but I think that gives a nice flavor for the style.
What is the “prime directive” or main theories of these style? For example in Wing Chun we often talk about the “center-line.”
Much like in Wing Chun, centerline control is considered of utmost priority. While there is no specific prescribed fighting stance in the style, a concept known as “meotode” is often implemented as a way to establish centerline and shift the body off-axis while still maintaining centerline control.
I believe the other prime directive of the style is to utilize both hard and soft concepts in order to maximize the effectiveness of the Okinawa Kenpo continuum (strikes, parries, blocks, grabs, throws, point compressions, etc).
The history of karate is filled with a wide variety of cultural influences as Okinawa was a primary trading hub of East Asia. The Okinawans were able to fuse their own indigenous ideas with that of visiting cultures like China, Japan, Indonesia, etc. Every karate style has their own particular percentage of different influences, but understanding and utilizing those influences is what can make a karate style operate at its maximum intended efficiency.
What type of drills are at the heart of this style, that really help define what it is?
Without question, the most important drill to the style is kata. Odo Sensei always stressed the importance of kata and that the preservation of our forms was critical to the survival of the style.
That being said, at it’s core Okinawa Kenpo utilizes the three k’s very heavily – kata, kihon, and kumite. Kihon is a term relating to basic repetition of fundamental movements, and kumite is a term referring to sparring.
There are other elements which enhance and complete the style, but those are at the heart of it.
If i were to fight or spar with a person who trains this style, what are the main things I should look out for?
I’ve never noticed one set structure for fighters in our style. However, we do utilize side thrust kicking more than most as well as front kicks up under the chin. Rather than specific technique combinations, we tend to focus on timing and distance control.
In your opinion, how do you generate power in these styles? Is there any drills or movements from Youtube that can illustrate what you mean?
Power generation comes from two important things: body alignment and use of tension (or lack thereof). Proper body alignment means that the body can be used in such a way that thrust can be generated from the ground and propelled via the hips, using the upper body and arm as a conduit of that power. Without good bone alignment in the body and arms the practitioner is forced to use muscular tension to try to generate force, which is never as fast or as effective.
Tension can be used strategically to focus and enhance the power of a strike, but it should not be held in the body throughout the entire technique. Instead, tension should arrive in an instant, all throughout the body in a snap of power generation focused out through the point of impact. The tension should then be let go after the technique has landed and transferred energy into the opponent.
The best example I can personally show is this video -
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
I’m a bit too young to have any real words of wisdom, but I will say this – the best thing I have done for my training is to stay open minded about other styles. Senior teachers in other forms of karate (and in other martial arts altogether) have been instrumental in helping me understand aspects of my own art.
There are three things that are killers when training in a classical martial art: complacency, ego, and a lack of curiosity. Too much of those qualities can cause a person to cease growing, or lead them to believe that they’ve “outgrown” their art and need to spawn a new better one.
Keeping curiosity up and ego down is a great way to avoid getting stale, and is a recipe to achieve that idea of pursuing “a lifelong art”.
Scott’s Final thoughts & Conclusion:
First off, I’d like to thank Matthew for putting together such a well thought out guest post. He clearly put a lot of work into helping us research what we might encounter from a fighter who trains this style.
What I found really interesting is that a lot of the concepts overlap with Wing Chun. For instance he also spoke about the center line theory and the Long Bo/other weapons from one of his videos strike me as somewhat similar to Wing Chun knife attacks.
If you want to check out Matt’s blog, be sure to check out ikigaiway.com