Why you need a Personal Practice?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

What is a Personal Practice, and why do you need one?

There is a very important stage of personal evolution that you want to obtain.

It is so important that over the years many paths have been developed to help you get there. They are all fundamentally trying to accomplish much of the same thing, but in different ways. They have originated from all over the globe, there are both past and present techniques, some are even built into the fabric of life itself, and they all have different names. Yet if you put masters from each in a room together they would all agree on what the landscape of their inner world looks like.

Some examples include:


Your goal is to find a way to Practice that works for you and start practicing.

You might be thinking, “So what is this thing that is so important, and how can you compare this list? These things are not all the same.”

I’m not saying these paths are the same, just that they have the capacity to bring people towards a similar goal.

Here is the bottom line……YOU are not your thoughts.

It might be a little tricky to understand something from a blog if you don’t have already have a Personal Practice, because you are trying to do something most people only start doing after years and years of practice.

I’ll try to explain it, but it’s more likely you are going to have to trust that there is something out there worth getting closer to since so many other people are also trying to get there in so many different ways.

First I want you to close your eyes and DON’T think about anything, have no thoughts whatsoever.


How long did you last before you had your first thought? It probably wasn’t that long because it’s really hard to do. When your brain is awake it is basically in a constant spasm of bio-electrical regurgitation…..thoughts.

That is essentially what that organ does. A muscle contracts to move your skeletal system, and your brain is like a computer running software. Of course software is never perfect, is it? There are bugs sometimes and it doesn’t always do what you want it to.

So the statement that you are not your thoughts is like saying you are not the software, YOU are the programmer.

The tricky part of that analogy, is that instead of a human programmer using code to talk to a machine, the “programmer” in your head is a component of your thoughts/brain/machine built into the machine itself.

So if we are talking about software that can manage other software, we are talking about the operating system…..interesting parallel, huh?

This makes it almost impossible to really get, because you have to use your thoughts to think about your thoughts and it all seems like YOU anyway, so it can easily seem kind of trite, circular, and pretty meaningless.

Maybe, just like a computer, you have layers of thoughts. Some are deeper, closer to being YOU and are like a computer’s operating system.

Then there are more specific thoughts that are reactions to your life and those around you. This is like the software installed on the operating system, the most import “thought software” for most of us was installed during our childhood when the hard drive had the most space and we were open to new installations.

So in a nutshell, a Personal Practice gets you to see that you have your own operating system in there somewhere, and it’s capable of installing and un-installing, and running or not running, the other software or thoughts that you have.

Now consider how much of your experience in life is a direct result of the thoughts you have about stuff.

When something good or bad happens, you are going to have certain thoughts about it, and those thoughts will lead to feelings, good, bad, or indifferent. Then those feelings might make you take action, and those actions are going to be good, bad, or indifferent as well. Is everyone out there eating right, being kind to others, and getting enough exercise and rest?

Since all that stuff is coming out of your brain, and your brain is kind of like layers of software that spits out thoughts, what if you could change the software?

Do we have to swallow everything that comes out of our brain hook, line and sinker? Is our brain so perfect that we are absolutely 100% certain our thoughts are always spot on perfect about everything we think about?

If your brain can do that, then please, please contact me because you are God and I want to hang out with you and listen to what you are thinking. :-)

The rest of us have to Practice, and go through the slow, and gradual process of finding the software that is working, the new stuff we want to install, and the software in our head that needs to be debugged, or un-installed altogether because it just isn’t working right.

This work can’t even begin until you realize it is even possible in the first place. This realization can come from a variety of activities, for a variety of reasons, but they all have in common the ability to give you that experience.

It also really helps to be looking for it.

What most people don’t realize is that they need to be looking for this experience. So while two people may be doing the same activity, only one may actually be doing it as a Personal Practice. (Think sex addict and Tantra master)

The martial arts also lends itself well to a Personal Practice, but there is a lot of variation in terms of how well that aspect is taught at any given school, as not all teachers have this orientation towards their art. Some think how well you can fight is the measure of success, but unless you are a professional fighter, a Navy Seal, or personal safety is a likely, regular and serious concern, then how well you can fight is probably not the best choice for your ultimate purpose in practicing a martial art.  Since you don’t really need it, it will soon fade as a motivation for Practicing, and most of us don’t really need it to be honest.

Martial Arts as a Personal Practice

Personally, one of the things I love about Isshin-ryu is how well it lends itself to being a Personal Practice. If you look at all the symbolism in the patch, the fact that it is worn over the heart, the 8 codes of Isshin-ryu, the symbolism in the patch itself, and the fact that the translation of Isshin-ryu is “One Heart Way,” there is overwhelming evidence that Tatsuo Shimabuku considered Isshin-ryu his Personal Practice and wanted others to be able to use it that way as well.

How Does a Martial Art work as a Personal Practice?

The martial arts, like yoga, is an art of movement. What a martial art adds to the movement, is interaction.

Learning the movements creates opportunity for a lot of thought about the process of learning. A simple examle might be that you think, “this is hard, I can’t do it.” But being patient and determined you keep practicing, and then you can do it.

It might occur to you to ask yourself, “why did I have that thought about not being able to do this, when clearly I can?”

Will you always have that thought “I can’t do it” about everything? Was it a necessary or helpful thought? Or maybe you are wondering why crap like that ever came out of your head in the first place, crap is supposed to come out of the other end.

“But I can’t help what I think, my thoughts just happen!”

Yes, I know. It’s because you don’t have a personal practice.

When you interact with someone else in a martial arts setting, you will have a whole new set of thoughts. “Did I win?” “Am I better?” “Did I loose?” “Do I totally suck?”

The answers to those thoughts are going to produce feelings, then maybe actions.

But what if your thoughts were, “Nice move!” “This is fun!” “I really learned something.” You are going to probably have different feelings, and probably different actions.

When you develop the confidence through expertise that gives you the CHOICE of which thoughts to have it gradually, or maybe suddenly, occurs to you that every thought you have had is not the golden egg you once thought it was.

Then you realize that even though you are a black belt, you have just started truly becoming a student.

It’s a humbling experience, and one of the most precious gifts any teacher of any discipline can pass on to a student. If you are a parent considering a teacher for your child, logistics will be a major factor, but also try to determine if the teacher has the capacity to deliver that gift, as that is really what should be your first priority.

The irony of focusing on the Personal Practice aspect of a martial art, is that in the end, it will make you the most formidable opponent for the simple reason that all true warriors know that their most important weapon is all that stuff in between their ears.

The battle with another actually starts long before the first punch, and usually before the first word. Your brain is the only tool you have for that part of the battle, and winning there is the highest goal, as it means nobody got hurt.

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”Sun Tzu


30 Days of Bikram Yoga

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Last week I finished what the Bikram Yoga crowd calls the “30 day Challenge.”

30 back to back days of 106 degree, 40% humidity, 90 minute Bikram yoga sessions.

They say if you can do 30 days back to back, you will change you life.  So I wanted to see if that was true.

Now I know….it’s true.

Of course going into it, that promise kind of sounds like the cosmos will deliver life changing results to include a new job, maybe a winning lottery ticket, a new car and all the other trappings we consider the measurements of our happiness.

Did any of those things happen….?  Of course not.

So why am I willing to back up their claim of having my life changed?

The biggest reason is that 30 days of yoga showed me how capable Bikram Yoga is at changing my body “from the inside out.”  You hear the “inside out” line in the Bikram dialogue when you take class, and at first you think, “OK, whatever.”

After 30 days though, you just can’t help “feeling different.”  Maybe it’s a subtle body chemistry change, more serotonin, or endorphins, or something, because I can look at my life and it feels better, I feel better, and my sense of self in my life is better.

You can look at the same thing a bunch of different ways, and the choice you make is largely a function of whether your brain naturally wants to lean towards optimism, or pessimism.  That tendency is probably driven by your body chemistry.  When you feel good, it’s easier to be optimistic.  If you are tired, then “grumpy” is the easiest disposition to have.

So that saying is true in the sense that the experience of “your life” is largely a function of the lens through which you look at it.

What Bikram is trying to say is that his yoga is going to clean that lens for you, and the result will seem like your life has changed.

I believe he is correct.  As Americans we are constantly surrounded by the paradigm that our experience is controlled by what’s outside of us.  If we make a lot of money, have career success, find the love of our life, wear the latest fashion, or buy that chocolate bar, we can be happy.  Whatever the marketing message is, it’s always something we need outside of ourselves that is the key to our happiness.

No one is saying any of those things are bad, the question is simply why did we decide to let them have all that power over us?  I mean seriously, are they really the “key,” or just nice things to have?

Personally, I think the biggest mistake people make about yoga is thinking that it is about stretching.  So naturally when they start to practice they want to get as far as possible in each pose as if the goal has something to do with distance between body parts, as apposed to the correct position for your body based on what you body is like right now, so that the technique of a given pose has a chance to work it’s magic on you and provide the designed benefits.

Flexibility is one benefit of yoga, but there are many more and they are all just as important.

The other benefit is this thing about “changing your body from the inside out” and what it can do to your perspective on life.

What yoga is fundamentally  “about” is teaching you how to use your mind, and not let your mind use you.   There is a similar phenomenon in the martial arts, where the original paradigm is driven by how good you are against someone else.  (Another external paradigm, do you see a pattern yet?) After a while, that sense of “how good you are” becomes something you realize is being generated inside you and that you have simply been attaching it to being better than the person you spar with.

Winning and losing happens to everyone, what matters is that sense of ourselves, and “how good we are.”  This is different from winning or losing a sparring match.

Our brains control that process and without knowing it we let our brains run-a-muck and make any associations they want with all this stuff on the outside and then just sit back and listen to the resulting messages as if we have nothing to say about it.  To make it worse, we even listen to the people around us who’s brains are also running-a-muck with unchecked access to their flapping gums and we give them the power to unbalance us as well.

I heard my favorite Bikram quote the other day in class, “He who let’s someone else take their happiness is a loser.”

That’s called letting your mind use you.

It’s a very sublime experience, feeling the distinction between your Self and your mind, but without it happiness will likely be sporadic and slippery to hold on to.

Personally I feel like I discovered there might be a secret passage to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that puts me closer to where everyone else is trying to get with new cars, new jobs, new partners, new surgeries, more wine, or by consuming 11 lbs of chocolate every year.

The one thing that the 30 day challenge made me realize is that nothing happens if you don’t practice.  Actually, something does happen, you start going backwards.  Figure three steps forward every day you practice, and one step back every day you don’t.

The other thing I have been appreciating is how much information is actually contained in the dialogue.  I’m still discovering little things I’ve been missing and it’s been two years or so by now.

So get in the room, and follow directions.  It’s that easy, and it’s that hard.

I’ll see you there.

Tokumine-no-kun (徳嶺の棍) Weapon Kata

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Requirement: Black Belt – Level 2 (Nidan)


This form comes to the Isshin Ryu system from Shimabuku’s time with Chōtoku Kyan.[9] Kyan is to have learned the form either from Tokumine himself, or from Tokumine’s landlord after the aforementioned had passed on. Shimabuku Tatsuo also commented that this was his favorite kata.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy


Urashi-no-kun (浦添棒) Weapon Kata – Bo

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Requirement: Black Belt – 4th Degree (Yodan)


This form comes to the Isshin Ryu system from the village of Urashi

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy


Kusanku-sai (公相君サイ) Weapon Kata

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Requirement: Black Belt – Level 2 (Nidan)

Parts of the sai:

  • Sai grip: Tsuka
  • Moto: Center of Sai
  • Tsukagashira: Sai Head
  • Yoko: Sai Gaurd
  • Tsume: Sai Guard Tip
  • Saki: Blade Tip
  • Monouchi: Blade

Run Time: 1:40 min


Kusanku-sai Tree: It is believed that Sakugawa named this kata after his Master Kusanku – Tatsuo Shimabuku


This kata is perform from the Kusanku empty hand version of the kata.  This kata comes from the Shuri Te and Shorin Ryu systems.


This kata was traditionally performed with 3 sai, as one was thrown during the kata.  Due to safety reasons, and the need to preserve most dojo’s hard wood flooring, the thrown sai has been eliminated.  Tatsuo originally taught this kata with kicks, but later took the kicks out.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy

Sunsu (スンスウ) Kata

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Requirement: Black Belt – Shodan


  • Sunsu Translates as “strong man”
  • Sunsu has also ben translated as “son of old man”

Run Time: 1:16 min

Movements: Sunsu consists of approximately 87 movements.

Kusanku Kata Tree: Tatsuo Shimabuku




Sunsu kata is the last empty hand kata taught for black belt.  Sunsu encompasses the essence of Isshinryu Karate and is the kata that Isshinryu is most known for.  Sunsu is  most difficult of the Isshinryu empty hand kata to perform.  GrandMaster Shimabuku formed this kata after years of studying the other 7 empty hand katas.  Sunsu is considered the “MASTER” kata.  The exact year Sunsu was developed is unknown though  is believed to be in the late 1940’s.  Sunsu combines the main points of all the empty hand katas, though Kusanku and Wansu have the most influence.  The floor pattern (umbusum) of Sunsu is in the form of a plus (+) sign which is defended from all four directions. Sunsu consist of 2 kiais.  The 1st one is on the last elbow smash and the 2nd one is on the last right front snap kick.

This kata was created by Shimabuku  Tatsuo, although it is still unclear as to exactly when he created it. It  is often described as a combination of techniques and principles from the other  seven Isshinryu karate kata. However, there are elements of other kata as well,  such as Useishi (Gojushiho) and Passai that Shimabuku is thought to have  learned under Kyan.  There is also one sequence that appears as if it came out of Pinan Sandan.  However, Shimabuku’s teachers appear not to have taught the Pinan kata, so we  are faced with the problem of where he learned them. However, looking at the  timeframe in which Shimabuku was active, it becomes clear that he could have  learned the Pinan just about anywhere, or even just taken the technique via  observing the Pinan kata being performed.

There seems to be some confusion as to what the name Sunsu means. It has been  stated that it means either “strong man” (Uezu, et al, 1982) or  “son of old man” (Advincula, 1998). However, a recent newspaper  article from Okinawa tells us a different story:

“It is said that when Shimabuku performed Sanchin kata, he appeared so  solid that even a great wave would not budge him, like the large salt rocks at  the beach, and his students nicknamed him “Shimabuku Sun nu Su”  (Master of the Salt) out of respect.” (sic, Ryukyu Shinpo-sha, 1999, p.9)

Another possibility is that Sunsu may be named after a family dance of the  Shimabuku family (Advincula, 1999).  No matter what the meaning, it is safe to say that Sunsu kata represents the  culmination of Shimabuku’s understanding of the principles of the defensive traditions,  and was, along with Isshinryu, his unique contribution to the classical art of  Okinawa karatedo.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy


Kusanku (公相君) Kata

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Requirement: Brown Belt – Level 3


  • Kusanku has been translated as, “to view the sky”
  • Kusanku has also been translated as “night fighting kata”

Run Time: 1:28 min


 Kusanku Kata Tree: Takahara Peichin – Kusanku — “Karate” Sakugawa — “Bushi” Matsumura — Kyan — Itosu — Tatsuo Shimabuku


Kusanku was developed by Master Sakugawa (1733-1815) around 1762 after studying for nearly 6 years under a Chinese emissary named Kushanku, who lived in Nakashim-Yukaku, Okinawa.  After studying under Peichin Takahara, his first instructor, Sakugawa accidentally met Kushanku by trying to mischievously push him off a bridge into a river.  Master Kushanku quickly stepped aside and grabbed Sakugawa and shocked him with his tremendous speed and power.  Sakugawa was then introduced to Kushanku by a younger student of his.  Kushanku made the comment that Sakugawa needed to learn the “why” of the martial arts, not only the “how.”

Sakugawa studied under Master Kushanku until he was 29 years old and his first instructor died.  It was at this time that he developed Kusanku kata from a series of techniques he learned from Kushanku and Peichin Takahara and then named the kata in honor of Kushanku.  Therefore, we can say Masters Peichin Takahara and Kushanku both influenced the development of Kusanku kata.  Master Sakugawa passed his kata down to Master Matsumora and Master Itosu.  Itosu then developed two versions of Kusanku: Kushanku dai and Kushanku sho and incorporated them into his own system of karate.  A very well known student of Itosu’s, Gichin Funakoshi became very well known for his mastery of these kata.

Master Matsumora is given credit for teaching this kata to Master Kyan who then passed it on to Isshinryu’s Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku around 1926.  Some accounts say Master Yara taught Master Shimabuku Kusanku kata, but facts show Yara taught him his own version of Kusanku known as Yara Kushanku.


Kusanku is one of the most complex kata of Isshinryu.  It consists of a variety of offensive and defensive techniques executed at many different levels from the ground to the air.

The Japanese version is known as kwanku.  Kusanku was originally written as KUSHANKU.  Some other versions of the kata have been Yara Kushanku, shiho Kushanku, Kushanku dai and Kushanku sho.  Kusanku sai, a weapons form that is required for 1st degree black belt, was developed from this kata.  It is  not certain who the originator of this kata was.

Kushanku is a fairly long kata consisting of approximately 84 movements. It takes approximately 65 seconds to perform this kata at full speed.

Kusanku symbolizes fighting up to fifteen different opponents in a large field of uneven terrain in the dark and makes use of “deception,” which is demonstrated in the very first movements.  The performer leans to one side and does a foot stomp to the other, drawing the opponent to the wrong side in the dark.

Kusanku introduces the advanced students to low kneeling defensive postures.  After executing a flying crescent kick block (mikazuke uke) the performer turns 180 degrees and lands on the left knee with the right knee close to the chest, then he reverses this, facing the opposite direction.  Kusanku also introduces simultaneous hand and foot attacks such as a front snap kick and backfist strike combination, which is used 5 times throughout the kata.

Kusanku uses 4 major stances: Seisan, cat, seiuchin, and crane.  The performer will pivot from one stance to the other within seconds.  Kusanku consists of a variety of blocks such as double open hand, middle level, low level, high level, palm heel, kneeling middle level, upper and lower x blocks.  The major kick of Kusanku is the front snap kick.  Kusanku employs many different strikes such as:  kneeling elbow, hammerfist, spearhand, and double palm heel strikes.

Kusanku has 2 kiais.  The first one is done on the first backfist-kick combination.  Some schools teach the first kiai on the flying crescent kick block.  The second kiai is on the fourth backfist-kick combination.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy


Chinto Kata

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Requirement: Brown Belt – Level 2

Translation: Chinto was named after a shipwrecked Chinese sailor

Run Time: 45 seconds


 Chinto Kata Tree:



This kata is of Shorin Ryu origin. It emphasizes pivots and fighting on angles. This kata emphasizes techniques to be used against attackers on somewhat of a 45 degree angle. In addition, it introduces the karate-ka to jump kick techniques and the use of the cross block and cross stances.


A shipwrecked Chinese sailor named Chinto was washed ashore. He hid in caves by day and at night would sneak into the villages to steal food for survival. The villagers complained to the king who sent his best samurai, Matsumura, to capture the sailor. Matsumura tracked Chinto to the cave where he was living. When he confronted him, Chinto refused to surrender. In the pursuant fight, Chinto blocked and out- fought the samurai. Matsumura returned to the king and reported that there would be no more trouble from the man. Then he went back to the cave and befriended Chinto, who in turn taught him his system, including the kata now known as Chinto.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy
Chinto Kata

Wansu (汪楫) Kata

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Requirement: Brown Belt – Level 1

Translation: Wansu kata translates as “the dumping form.”

Run Time: 45 seconds

Movements: Wansu consists of approximately 48 movements

Naihanchi Kata Tree: Takahara Peichin — Sakugawa — Matsumora — Kyan — Tatsuo Shimabuku


Wansu has been traced back to approximately 1695, which makes it nearly 300 years old.  Wansu is believed that a Chinese martial artist named Wanshu taught a system of movements to a few Okinawan martial artists who later named them Wanshu, after their instructor.  Master Shimabuku learned this kata from Master Kyan, who was instructed by Master Sakugawa, who was in turn taught by Master Peichin.


Wansu is the 5th empty hand kata taught in Isshinryu and is required for brown belt 2nd level (Ni-Kyu). Wansu has multiple attacks and flows from block to counterattack very graceful all while keeping a strong solid stances. Wansu kata is known for its unique technique known as, the dump, where the opponent is grabbed at the throat with the left hand and hooked between the legs at the forearm with your right hand then picked up and dumped to the floor during the 180 degree turn. Wansu also introduces the “Obi Waza” where the opponent is pulled by the belt with your left hand at the same time you are side stepping and punching with your right hand.

Wansu’s symbolic meaning is “karate is my secret.” This is shown in the very first move when you step to the right keeping your left hand open and the right hand closed in a fist right before the left does a low body block and the right hand does a reverse punch.

What the karate-ka should learn from this kata is to seize the advantage by changing the ma-ai (the distance between opponents.) This is done during the belt grab that was talked about earlier.

Wansu is defending against 5 opponents and introduces open hand strikes along with knee lifts (hiza geri). It consists of low blocks (gedan barai), open middle blocks (tegata barai), double blocks, grabbing techniques, middle punches, hammerfists, elbow strikes, 2 side kicks (yoko geri), and 2 front kicks using the ball of the foot (Mei Geri). It also makes use of avoiding punches and then, counterattacking, instead of blocking and counterattacking. The stances used in Wansu are: Seisan, Cat, Cross, Zenkutsu, and Seiuchin. Wansu consists of very strong attacks and defensive positions. This kata starts and ends at 2 different points quite a distance apart.

Wansu has 2 kiais. The first one is at movement 18, right hand uppercut as the left hand, palm up, grabs the right forearm and just before the front snap kick. The 2nd kiai comes on the next to the last movement, during a double knife hand strike to the sides (morote shuto uchi). *NOTE: The kata tree is the same as Seisan kata.

This kata is said by many to have been brought to Okinawa by the 1683 Sappushi Wang Ji (Jpn. Oshu, 1621-1689). It is possible that it is based upon or inspired by techniques that may have been taught by Wang Ji.

The problem with this theory is that why would such a high ranked government official teach his martial arts (assuming he even knew any) to the Okinawans? Also, Wang Ji was only in Okinawa for 6 months (Sakagami, 1978).

Wang Ji was originally from Xiuning in Anhui, and was an official for the Han Lin Yuan, an important government post (Kinjo, 1999). In order to become an official for the Han Lin Yuan, one had to be a high level scholar, and pass several national tests (Kinjo, 1999). Just preparing for such a task would all but rule out the practice of martial arts, just time-wise. However, assuming that Wang Ji was familiar with the martial arts, the Quanfa of Anhui is classified as Northern boxing, while the techniques of the Okinawan Wansu kata are clearly Southern in nature (Kinjo, 1999).

So, if Wansu was not Wang Ji, just who was he? This is as yet unknown. However, in the Okinawan martial arts, kata named after their originators are not uncommon. Some examples include Kusanku, Chatan Yara no Sai, and Tokumine no Kon. It is entirely possible that this kata was introduced by a Chinese martial artist named Wang. As the reader probably already knows, in the Chinese martial arts, it is common to refer to a teacher as Shifu (let. Teacher-father). Could not the name Wansu be an Okinawan mispronunciation of Wang Shifu (Kinjo, 1999)?

Other schools of thought are that Wu Xianhui (Jpn. Go Kenki, 1886-1940) or Tang Daiji (Jpn. To Daiki, 1888-1937), two Chinese martial artists who immigrated to Okinawa in the early part of the 20th Century, may be responsible for the introduction of the Wansu kata (Gima, et al, 1986). As a side note, Wu was a Whooping Crane boxer and Tang was known for his Tiger boxing. They were both from Fujian.

Shimabuku is believed to have added on several techniques to this kata, such as the side kicks, evasive body movement into double punches, and elbow smash as these are not found in any other version of Wansu known in Okinawa karate.

San Francisco Isshin-ryu Academy
Wansu Kata


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