Respect Revisited, by Shihan Bill

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
September 9, 2016

Respect Revisited

In my article from September 2016, I examined the command, “rei” (ray), which is most commonly translated in karate schools as “bow”.  But, as explored in that article, the more accurate translation is “respect”. When the command, rei, is spoken, we will readily think of not only how a bow should be executed but the reason it is being executed:

  • Showing respect to the shomen (the founders) of the martial art.
  • Showing respect to one’s instructor.
  • Showing respect to one’s fellow student.

What we don’t often consider is, first, when one should bow without even being given the command and, second, when one shows respect to others in this manner, one is also showing respect to one’s training in a martial art.

These concepts related to respect came sharply to mind recently while I was observing a Black Belt pre-test. It was clear to me that the Black Belt candidates had dedicated more than sufficient hours of practice to their preparation for the grading to come and that they were passionate about their study of the way of Isshin-Ryu. I was quite pleased with their demonstration of skills at a Black Belt level.  But, I was also struck by what seemed to be a lack of regard for the two concepts identified above. And it was not only these candidates that uniformly appear to be unaware of these concepts; it also appeared true of the many of the Black Belts and other students present at the pre-test. I realized that these two concepts related to respect require explicit attention in an article as I know for a fact that our master has discussed this topic multiple times in the past; perhaps a written version will stimulate change more effectively.

When should one bow without being given a command?

Simply, one should bow whenever one wishes to convey respect or convey thanks to anyone.  These moments are fairly predictable and are often subject to commands: the start of class, the end of class, prior to starting a kata, and prior to sparring. But there are times when a bow is not always explicitly commanded; for example, it is courteous to bow prior to beginning a training sequence with a partner. And, it is expect that one will bow prior to demonstrating anything before a tournament judge or grading examiner.  When one is before a tournament judge or a grading examiner, it is expected that you will bow to the judge or examiner prior to demonstrating a given skill, such as prior to a competitive sparring match, a kata demonstration, or the demonstration of a self-defense sequence. And, if a partner is involved, it is considered courteous to bow to one’s partner(s) before executing that skill set.

Respect is also shown through means other than bowing. Specifically, while demonstrating martial arts techniques, we are to be silent with the exception of the sound of incidental physical contact as a part of the execution of a technique or the use of an audible kiai; a judge or examiner should not have to speak above a normal volume in order to be heard. And, if one can anticipate that one will be receiving a command from the judge or examiner, as either an examinee or a student participant, one should be completely silent.  In tournaments and grading events, emotions definitely run high and our desire to support our friends and dojo family can become significantly elevated. And, certainly, there is a degree of enjoyment that should and will be present.  But this does not excuse the importance of showing respect to the judge, the examiner, or the dojo. The desire to cheer or applaud our friends should not override the respect that should be shown nor drown out or supersede the commands that are being given on the floor.

Showing respect that one is training in a martial art

One must respect that one is training in a martial art, engaging in an activity that is designed to cause not only significant pain, but could also cause traumatic injury or even death. The practice and demonstration of martial arts should be enjoyable.  But, significant injuries and deaths have occurred at tournaments as well as Black Belt grading events. Taking time to bow keeps one focused on the fact that what one is doing is serious and that one holds personal responsibility for one’s practice of martial arts.  Hopefully, by staying focused in this manner, the chance of causing injury or death will be diminished significantly. But when we allow our excitement or enjoyment to override the gravity of the moment, conveying a sense of being at a sporting event rather than a martial arts event, we sow the seeds of carelessness that could forever change the lives of the people involved.


As a postscript to this article, I have noted that self-defense routines have become increasingly choreographed such that entire routines appear strictly scripted. While this may be appropriate at a tournament demonstration, this is not at all appropriate as part of a Black Belt grading event. While the start of the self-defense sequence should be fixed, the chain of actions in that sequence should not reliably take the same course; if one is asked to repeat a self-defense sequence, it should not appear to follow the same course as if one is replaying a clip from a movie. While perhaps somewhat similar, it is expected that the sequence will not play out exactly as the previous demonstration.  Indeed, if the examiner asks for a repeat demonstration, it is likely because that examiner felt that the initial demonstration was not sufficient and the candidate can assume in most cases that they are being called upon to “raise the bar”.

A self-defense routine as part of a pre-test or a grading is intended to demonstrate not only the degree of knowledge a student possesses but also the degree to which that knowledge has become an intrinsic component of that student’s practice of martial arts. In other words, demonstration of a self-defense technique provides the examiner with a sense of how well a Black Belt candidate could respond contemporaneously to the spontaneous and not fully predictable aspects of a real threat.  That is to say, that if that student were not demonstrating a self-defense technique in a dojo, but instead being called upon by life’s circumstances to defend themselves outside the dojo, how capable would that student be to defend themselves?  When one is preparing a self-defense routine for demonstration at grading, show respect for the fact that one is training in a martial art – as in life, we definitely know how things started, but we can’t fully control how everything will turn out. And, also showing respect for that fact that one is practicing a martial art, please execute all your techniques with as much discipline and self-control as one can muster so that no one ends up with memories one would rather not have.

Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do: An Instructor’s Manual by Shihan Bill Reynolds

We are happy to announce Shihan Bill’s new book titled, Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do: An Instructor’s Manual. As Shihan Bill states: “I wrote this book for students who have earned a Brown Belt to help them in their preparation to become an instructor at our dojo. Per the description I wrote for Amazon, “this book is to serve as a resource to help Isshin-Ryu students to better personalize their understanding of this martial arts system and to be able to better able to train others. Not only basics, kata, and sparring are covered, but also the history, philosophy, and culture underlying Isshin-Ryu are addressed.” If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, you can purchase a copy at WNY Karate Center or via

Also, this fall, Sensei Scott Cvetkovski and Shihan Bill Reynolds will be having a workshop at WNY Karate Center where students will be aided in learning how to best use the book as part of their training and the training of others. Keep an eye out for date and time.

Use the Force!

Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

December 2, 2016

A decision, you must make

Have you ever watched a martial artist in a movie or experienced one in your training, and thought, “WOW!  That martial artist is AMAZING!”? If you have ever been inspired in your study of the martial arts, it is very likely for that reason.  It is only natural that one would then consider, “how do I get that good?” The simplest answer is to develop one’s ability to enter the state of mushin no shin, the mind without mind, often referred to simply as mushin. This is a state where the martial artist is not occupied with their thoughts or emotions, not thinking or reacting to a threat, but joining with it instantaneously.  As a martial artist, one should be perfecting one’s ability to enter a state of mushin, but how does one do that?

Here is where an important choice gets made by all students: mushin will be pursued by attempting to remove one’s mind from the equation through the perfection of one’s physical martial arts proficiency OR mushin will be pursued by also developing a spiritual, even mystical, connection with all things.  The vast majority of students will focus solely on training the body so as to attain mushin.

Training the body is comparatively simple.  Exercises for the body are readily tangible and perceptible.  And, the training of the body is one that will feel familiar simply from experience in a gymnasium or from training to perform in any sport.  Certainly, as with those other experiences, repetition of identified movement patterns will, over time, improve both the competency to perform the movement pattern as well as the speed with which it can be effectively executed. The ultimate outcome desired is that these movement patterns can be executed subcortically; decision making will be removed from the process and thus enable the pattern to be executed as quickly as is physically possible.  One hopes to use muscle memory alone to execute the movement pattern.

Here is how this strategy fails in application: muscles need something to direct their action. Typically that is the mind.  If sufficient muscle memory is attained, the mind no longer needs be the director of actions but this does not mean that the muscles can now act with no direction at all.  One may strive to not use one’s mind as part of one’s performance of martial arts, but if one has not developed an alternative source of direction, the body will by default engage one’s mind to provide direction. 

This is not noticeable when one is the first person to take action.  When one is the attacker, the time before the attack, used to decide the exact attack strategy, will not slow down the engagement itself.  Defaulting to direction from the mind is quite noticeable when one is defending.

As a proof, stand within striking range of a training partner who is of similar skill/training, and in turn, execute unannounced simple attacks on each other.  The vast majority of the time, the initiator of the attack will land their strike.  A defender will usually fail to effectively defend against any attack.  This is because, more often than not, anticipating the attack, the defender is still using their mind.  Despite all the muscle memory that person has developed for a variety of defensive response movement patterns, most people will still rely on their mind to interpret the incoming threat and then select the most appropriate response.  That cognitive process will often slow response time sufficiently to enable the attack to be completed before an effective defense can be deployed.

The only alternative form of direction for our body is the spirit.  Through developing one’s connection with qi, one can then “connect” with the attacker. The attacker’s physical intent, how they are directing their body, can become part of one’s experience.  Thus, one will “know” the attack when it is decided upon and can choose one’s response before the attack is actually performed. The defense will then occur in perfect timing and harmony with the attack and be maximally effective.

How one develops one’s connection with qi goes beyond the scope of a small article such as this; books have been dedicated to this subject.  But, the first and most important step is to realize that one must develop one’s spiritual self if one hopes to actually attain mushin. It starts by working on one’s kiai, but it should eventually extend into every aspect of one’s training.  Speak with your primary instructor to learn more about how to engage in the spiritual component of your training.

The Importance of Contact

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
November 2, 2016

The Importance of Contact

Given the potential for injuries in the practice of martial arts, it is not surprising that a novice student will initially target the air near a training partner when performing training drills. No one should want to hurt a training partner.  But, as stated in the article on randori, “how we train is how we will perform.”  Failing to perform realistic attacks against one’s training partners will undermine learning how to best defend realistic targets of an attack.

For example, if instead of targeting the center of the upper body, we target the air to the side of our partner’s chest, we train our partner how to best defend the air to the side of their chest.  If instead of targeting between the eyes or the chin of our partner, we target the air above or six inches or more in front of their head, we train our partner how to best defend when they possibly didn’t even need to.

Even more important than where we target our training attack, however, is actually attempting to strike our partner.  This is not a direction to strike our training partners with traumatic or lethal force.  It is a direction to attempt to make contact.  In the case of training with unarmed attacks such as with the hands or feet, light contact should be the objective.  In the case of training with weapons, nominal contact should be the objective.

It is understandable if a student is fearful of their ability to modulate the degree of force in an offensive action; but, how else is a student to learn how to modulate force except through practice?  Initially, practice in modulation of force can be performed strictly against a free standing or wall mounted pad.  But, practice in modulation can soon move to hand held targets and then finally to the body of a training partner.  In all cases, practice should start by attempting only nominal contact or a “feather-like” touch.  This should then progress to light contact which involves distortion of the surface of less than quarter inch.  Moderate contact, or a distortion of about a half inch, is the maximum to be used in training on a living body and only with the expressed permission of a regular training partner.  Heavy contact, or a distortion of an inch or more, is not appropriate for training on a partner’s body and should be reserved for pad work only or on actual assailants.  Force modulation practice should also include “pulling” of an attack; launch an attack with a specific intent of contact, such as heavy contact, but stopping the attack short of actual contact or performing no more than nominal contact.

Final thought; contact with actual targets must be the goal with weapons as much as with unarmed training. Indeed, engaging in pad work to develop force modulation with weapons is even more critical than pad work with unarmed training.  The confidence and control developed through pad work with weapons will not only allow for realistic weapon defense training but also thwart the development of false confidence in one’s ability to defend against weapon attacks.

Consistency is key

Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

October 7, 2016

Consistency is Key

It is understandable when a karateka appears to engage in Kumite in a manner that is not consistent with Kihon and Kata. Whether the person is training in karate, tae kwon do, or some other system, in a mixed martial arts tournament, only a studious eye might discern which system a participant has been studying when watching them spar.  While Kihon, or the basics, and Kata, or forms, are at the heart of a martial art and perfectly reflect the philosophy of a given martial arts system, Kumite cannot perfectly reflect any given martial arts system.  Martial arts can be lethal and therefore the practice of Kihon and Kata can demonstrate potentially lethal techniques. Kumite cannot be lethal.  If Kumite was practiced in a lethal manner, no dojo would long remain open as its members would either get arrested, die, or quit out of fear of arrest or death. Furthermore, if participants from different systems each entered the ring with a different set of safety guidelines and methods for evaluating success, the potential for lethal misunderstandings would be too great to allow.  A common set of Kumite rules, unique to tournament participation, must be obeyed.  Thus, Kumite training is performed under many strict guidelines intended to provide a common ground of practice that will also preserve the well-being of its participants.

With randori, the real world application of Kumite, the most minimal guidelines are provided in order to preserve the well-being of participants yet otherwise still allow the participants to perform in manner that demonstrates a martial arts system with greatest accuracy.  Randori should not occur outside of a dojo and thus the chance for misunderstanding between participants is significantly reduced.  The real world application of Kihon and Kata is referred to as “self-defense.”  Like randori, self-defense techniques have minimal guidelines to preserve the well-being of participants but otherwise participants should perform in a manner that accurately reflects that martial arts system.

Despite this, students often perform self-defense techniques as if they were in a separate category from Kihon and Kata. Worse, the self-defense techniques often don’t appear altered to safeguard against lethality as much as they appear altered out of ignorance for the need to remain true to the martial arts system. While offensive techniques will be maintained, only a subset from the entire system will usually be demonstrated. Stances will often end up abandoned and defensive techniques will be only partially executed as if they are not viewed as essential to the self-defense technique in the same way as offensive components.  If one hopes to have the practice of Kihon and Kata lead to successful real world use, self-defense techniques must be consistent with the philosophy of the martial arts system.

If one’s martial arts system does not including breaking one’s posture at one’s waist, one’s self-defense technique shouldn’t either.  If one’s martial arts system does not train you to go to the ground or remain on the ground, neither should one’s self-defense technique.  Consistency in training, particularly in how one demonstrates self-defense techniques, is the key to real world success in using one’s martial arts system.


Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
September 30, 2016


Chinkuchi (pron. chin-koo-chee), Okinawan for “sinew-bone-energy,” is considered to be at the heart of Isshin-ryu.  There are many karateka who have attempted to interpret what Master Shimabuku meant when he would focus on this concept.  With that in mind, chinkuchi should be considered as worthy of on-going thought and discussion; a dedicated martial artist should not halt their exploration of this topic with any one article and should definitely revisit chinkuchi in their training with frequency.

For our purposes, chinkuchi will be defined as the coordination of the mind, body, and spirit to achieve the most effective Isshin-ryu technique.  Thus, we will examine how each of these elements contributes to chinkuchi.

When determining the correct course of action, a karateka must be strategic.  The nature of one’s circumstances, the conditions of the environment and the character of one’s opponent(s), as well as the desired outcome of one’s actions, must be considered when selecting a course of action. Furthermore, the mind of a karateka must see each action they will take as part of a series of moves, each timed to be executed at the correct range, with each move setting up the next for the optimal effect.

But, with all this thinking, one should wonder how a karateka could respond fast enough to a threat to have a chance of mounting a successful defense let alone anything else.  As we shall address below, all aspects of chinkuchi must be respectful to the yin-yang of their nature.  As a martial artist should have shoshin, or an open mind, when training, one should have fudoshin, or a fixed mind, when executing a series of moves.  And more critical to chinkuchi, while one should have zanshin, or a state of total awareness, prior to and subsequent to any encounter, mushin, or no-mindness, should be one’s mind during combat.  That is, the role of the mind in chinkuchi is to first strategize before engaging in an encounter, but once started, the mind must be release from active thought during the engagement.

There is a wealth of physical considerations involved in chinkuchi; so much so that the perfection of physical aspects of chinkuchi practically overwhelms the study of the other two components, mind and spirit.  Indeed some authors when examining chinkuchi speak only of the physical aspect of it and completely neglect the role of mind, spirit, or both.  Moreover, the yin-yang of the physical aspects of chinkuchi, while sometimes obvious, are often left unaddressed:

Stance – one must take the appropriate stance for both the opponent’s threatened action as well as the desired outcome of one’s response.  But, one should also incorporate the fact that while one will be in a stance in some moments, there will also be times where one is not in a stance. Where a stance represents stability and provides the appropriate platform to launch a specific offense or defense, no-stance is a time of flexibility and having multiple possible choices of offense or defense.  Furthermore, chinkuchi in this regard also involves utilizing the movement going between no stance and stance to make the desired techniques to follow even more effective.

Breathing – control of one’s breath will not only significantly affect one’s endurance in an encounter but, more importantly, also chinkuchi.  While one might think that the yin-yang of breathing is simply the pairing of inhalation and exhalation, it also is the pairing of the flow of breath and holding one’s breath.  Conscious control of the timing, speed, volume, and depth of a breath is as important as all other physical aspects in achieving effective chinkuchi.

Power – likely the most seductive aspect of martial arts, power is also the most misunderstood.  Too often, students focus on generating a degree of force that will be so decisively destructive that no defense will deter the irresistible intensity of their action.  Let alone the fact that a karateka should consider both non-destructive techniques as well as destructive ones, a focus on intense force often leads a student to tense muscles that must be relaxed for the best chinkuchi.  But there is more than just tension and relaxation involved in the generation of power.  The yin-yang of power also includes  hard contact and light contact, expanding of limbs and contracting of limbs and all in a coordinated manner throughout the entire body such that the body is solid where and when it needs to be and fluid otherwise.  Respect and use of the yin-yang of power will not only allow for the appropriate and desired degree of force to be generated but also will contribute to developing the maximal possible speed in the delivery of that force.

Form – form is the final physical component.  While form often refers to specific techniques executed in their ideal manner, form also refers to a set of underlying principles. For example, the shoulder is able to be engaged with the greatest strength when it is either at 45 degrees above or 45 degrees below the plane of the shoulders.  The elbow is able to be engaged with the greatest strength when it is at a 90 degree angle.  Also, one should generally maintain an upright posture without leaning forward or backward and certainly not to either side.  The yin-yang of this component refers strictly to its self; one is either demonstrating form or one is formless.  Similar to stance, it is in the transition from formlessness to form where chinkuchi will find its best expression.

The third and final element is spirit.  By spirit, I refer to qi or the life-force. For the best chinkuchi, a martial artist must engage their connection with qi.  The yin-yang of this element is that one can either be expending qi or absorbing qi between one’s self and one’s environment.  Most common, the martial artist will take the qi directed to him or her by the aggressor and then either allow it to flow through, divert it, hold it, or send it back to the aggressor.  Master Shimabuku put a particular emphasis on the act of “centering” with regard to this element of chinkuchi. Centering in Isshin-ryu refers to fully connecting one’s lower dantian with the qi of the universe; connecting at the soles of one’s feet, up through the legs and into the lower dantian as well as connecting at the crown of one’s head, down through the neck and chest and into the lower dantian. The lower dantian is located three finger widths below the navel and two finger widths deep.  The lower dantian is also called the “golden stove” and “cinnabar field” and is thought of as the “root of the tree of life.” By centering, the mind becomes clear and the body not only becomes balanced, it also becomes immovable.  Further, by centering, one achieves full control over the flow of qi within one’s body and thus one’s qi cannot be used against one.

In summary, chinkuchi is the coordination of mind, body, and spirit, respecting the yin-yang of every aspect of each, in such a manner that one is able to be maximally effective in what one intends when one acts as a martial artist.  While the above should impress one that there are many aspects to chinkuchi to consider and could be experienced as almost overwhelming, it is recommended that one should instead consider that it is the pursuit of chinkuchi that makes martial arts a lifelong process.  It may be a lot, but taken a piece at a time, and then a chunk at a time, chinkuchi can be achieved.  But, it certainly will not be achieved if you don’t consciously and routinely give it attention as an organizing principle of training.


Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

September 23, 2016


Pressure point techniques, or kyushojitsu (key-you-show-jeet-sew), are an essential field of study in martial arts. Rather than rely on brute force, multiple strikes, and luck to neutralize an aggressor, specific vulnerable points on the human body can be utilized with no more force than what is needed to clap two hands together in polite applause.  By striking specific pressure points, one can better choose the desired outcome of the encounter, rather than leave it to luck, and a hostile engagement could be concluded with as little as a single blow.  Utilization of pressure points as a conscious component of one’s martial arts will not only allow one to be highly effective and efficient, but  in so doing, the decreased need for significant exertion will also extend one’s endurance allowing longer engagements prior to succumbing to fatigue.

Kyushojitsu finds its origins in Indian as well as Chinese medicine and relates to the study of the relationship of vital points to health. In martial arts the focus is on how these vital points can be engaged not to heal but to generate pain or other effects that would lead to defeating an aggressor.  Varma adi, or pressure point striking, is possibly one of the oldest martial arts systems, reportedly older than 500 BCE, that focuses on striking vital points with empty hands or a staff to affect nerves, veins, tendons, joints, and organs. Varma adi identifies 107 vital points with 64 of those points being considered as associated with lethal effects. 

While most people will think of pain points and death points as the totality of pressure points, there are multiple types of pressure points.  While we will not address the 107 vital points here, we will examine each type of pressure point:


Pain points produce an intense sensory signal when struck, pressed, or rubbed and can cause mental distraction, physical immobilization, or a rapid “pain withdrawal” reflex. Pain points represent a large portion of the vital points.  The activation of pain points can be accomplished with minimal effort.


Under the jaw – directly under and behind the point of the jaw is a “V” shaped area. Place one’s thumb in the inside of the V area and one’s fingers on the outside surface of the jaw and then squeeze and push up with one’s thumb against the bone.


Break points are the specific points on joints, bones, and tendons that if activated effectively will dislocate the joint, break the bone, or rip a tendon in half. In some cases, pain points are break points that generate pain when minimal force is applied to them; pain serving as a warning that if greater force is applied, a dislocation, break, or rip will occur.  Break points are only activated with a significant degree of force.


Floating ribs, collar bone, side of knee


Communication points are involved with nervous system communication. Activation of communication points can cause specific involuntary actions, or reflexes, such as causing hand grip to weaken, a joint to relax, knees to buckle, an arm to straighten, etc.  Triggering of these reflexes is often done strategically as part of a combination of strikes where activation of a communication point makes the aggressor more vulnerable to the technique that follows. When communication points are activated in this manner, they are often referred to as “reflex” points. The activation of reflex points can be accomplished with minimal effort.


Gag reflex – strike to base of the throat can cause a sensation of choking

Tendon reflex – a strike along a muscle tendon in a limb will cause the limb to extend such as with the knee-jerk reflex commonly used in Western medicine physical exams.

Golgi tendon organ reflex – a strike at the Golgi tendon organ, located at the junction between a tendon and muscle, will cause the tendon to essentially relax its current tension on a tendon so as to avoid tearing. This would allow for a hyperextension of the joint and make is significant vulnerable to over-extension and dislocation of the joint.

Protective reflex – a strike to any part of the body will usually result in the aggressor’s hands moving automatically to cover the part of the body that was just struck. In addition, the body will attempt to curl so that the struck section moves away from the perceived source of force which often results in previously distal regions of the body moving toward the source of the force.  For example, if one strikes an aggressor in the face, the aggressor’s hands will likely move to cover their face. And while the head moves backward, the waist and groin will move forward.

Fencing reflex – following a strike to the side of the head, the arm on that side of the head will flex and the fist will cock and move toward being just under the jaw; the arm on the opposite side of the strike will extend.  This can be less dramatically triggered by turning the head of the aggressor to face a side of the body.

Tenodesis Effect – By flexing or extending a tendon over two joints, the associated muscle(s) become weakest as any muscle and tendon that goes across two joints is maximally strong when flexed at one joint but extended at the other.  This effect can be used against a weapon hand for disarming purposes.  Pushing on the back of the hand will cause the hand’s grip to become its weakest.  The tenodesis effect is also why a support leg for a kick will be strongest when it is bent instead of being straight.

Activation of communication points can also be done so as to block communication. This will result in either numbness or paralysis in specific areas of the body depending on the communication point that is engaged. When communication points are activated in this manner, they are referred to as “paralysis” points.


Unconsciousness points generate a response of the body to induce unconsciousness. This could be due to loss of blood flow or due to overstimulation of the CNS. The activation of unconsciousness points can be accomplished with minimal to significant force.

In addition, while correct activation of a single unconsciousness point will result in unconsciousness, it is important to note that striking three or more pressure points of any type will overstimulate the CNS and precipitate unconsciousness.  Care must be taken as while activation of three points can result in unconsciousness, chaining pressure point activations beyond three points could be lethal.


It is undisputable that there are several vulnerable points on the human body that when sufficient force is applied would have lethal consequences for an aggressor.  But the existence of true death points, specific points where minimal force can be applied and death will result, is controversial.  For the purposes of this article, death points should be thought of as referring to vulnerable points on the body that can cause death when significant force is applied.  Also, similar to the precipitation of unconsciousness, activation of multiple pressure points of any type, five or more, can potentially overstimulate the body to the point where death occurs.

In closing, due to the potential for traumatic injury and even lethal consequences, caution must be taken in the exploration of the activation of pressure points and such exploration should be conducted under the supervision of an identified expert instructor who also holds some knowledge of qigong techniques. If you note or your training partner complains of dizziness, nausea, or other suddenly present physical complaints, stop training immediately and either utilize qigong techniques yourself or seek assistance from your instructor.


Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
September 16, 2016


How we train is how we will perform.  As one trains in Isshin-ryu, one should keep this martial arts maxim in one’s mind.  This maxim is true at all times one is on the training floor but most definitely during the practice of kihon, kata, and kumite.  Generally, we think of this maxim in terms of developing so-called “muscle memory;” that we are attempting to create specific reflexes so as to remove thought from our practice of martial arts and therefore make our engagement with an opponent, offensively and defensively, faster.  But, this maxim also includes one’s intended practice setting. The techniques we employ, the targets we choose, the outcomes we desire will be influenced by where we imagine we will usually demonstrate our training.

For most, training will only be demonstrated in the dojo and thus the choice of techniques, targets, and desired outcomes is highly abstract.  These students may never fully feel that they should even be making such choices. In their training, these students will follow what they are told to do but with little understanding as to the potential reasons associated with those actions. They will follow rules without even being aware that they are following rules and therefore being unknowingly restricted by those rules.

For some, training will be demonstrated in competition and then the choice of techniques, targets, and desired outcomes will be made with respect to tournament rules of engagement and evaluation. Following and being restricted by rules is a conscious choice by these students made for secondary gain: to win in a competition. These students will develop kata with the idea of engaging an audience and thrilling a judge.  These students will engage in kumite to the exact letter of the rules of engagement so as to avoid disqualification and seek to score points in a match so as to win. Kihon, the basics, for these students, will be viewed as drills that develop muscle memory but otherwise are treated as “ideal” or even “stylized” versions of the techniques they will actually employ when in competition. Indeed, how such students spar will often look significantly different from how they perform kihon and kata.

For a few, training is predicted to be demonstrated in “practical” settings as a part of their work or in instances of self-defense. Training takes on a practical aspect for these students where kumite reflects the practice of kihon and kata. In this case, the martial artist is training at all times as if they could be demonstrating their training in a situation for which martial arts were originally developed, where life will be at risk. In order to do so, this martial artist cannot be restricted to tournament-style kumite or sparring. Given that kihon and kata reflect the application of force in ways that could result in grievous injury and even death, there will still be a set of rules of engagement so as to safeguard against death, but these students’ conscious choice to be restricted is solely for the safety of their partner. Kumite performed under these conditions is known as randori (rahn-doh-ree).

Randori is a term used in Japanese martial arts to describe a form of free-style practice. The term denotes kumite where participants are expected to apply techniques to a random succession of attacks in a form of “mock-combat.” The two karateka engaging in randori will move at “street” speed, moving very fast, parrying and attempting acts of extreme violence with potentially all possible tools: hands and feet but also elbows, knees, forearms, shins, and even martial weapons. And, unlike tournament-style or sport karate, all techniques can be considered potentially available: not only strikes and kicks but also grappling techniques such as submission holds, strangleholds, and throws. The exact classes of tools and techniques that will be considered “fair play” should be verbally agreed upon between the two karateka before starting the randori round.  Also unlike tournament-style or sport karate sparring where protective equipment is required, karateka engaging in randori can elect to use only some or no protective equipment so as to make as many techniques as possible available for use as well as to increase the experience of a more genuine threat to their wellbeing as a part of the round.

Total control of one’s body is necessary in randori due to the potentially lethal nature of martial arts. Despite moving at street speed with potentially brutal techniques, only “light” contact should occur during a round of randori. The only lasting evidence of a randori round should at most be bruising of the skin.  Given that such control usually takes years of training to attain, only students holding a Brown Belt or higher are usually considered as being potentially capable of the safest possible use of randori. Furthermore, students must ask permission of their instructors before engaging in randori.  And, randori should only occur between two students who have obtained such approval and then consent with one another that they will be engaging in a round of randori, rather than “standard” sparring, and agree to the classes of tools and techniques that can be employed in the randori round. Instructors can use their observations of a student in their demonstration of self-defense techniques to evaluate the level of control a student is capable of demonstrating. But, more controlled types of kumite, such as ippon kumite, will not only provide a more reliable method of evaluation but also an effective method for developing the level of control needed for the safest possible use of randori.

The only remaining distinction between a standard round of kumite and a randori round is the rhythm of engagement.  As a reflection of tournament-style sparring, action can be interrupted as soon as a successful technique has been applied. The two karateka can then “reset” before once again engaging with one another.  In a round of randori, the action is uninterrupted when a successful technique is applied. Action in a randori round continues until the full time of the round is completed.

Randori is dangerous and should only be attempted with permission from one’s instructors and then only with another consenting randori practitioner. But, in order to train to use martial arts as they were intended, randori is indispensable.


Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

September 9, 2016


The command, “rei” (ray), is most commonly translated in karate schools as “bow.”  However, depending on the kanji associate with this sound, it has a variety of meanings.  But, for the purposes of martial arts, the meaning that is more accurate than “bow” is “respect.” When the command, rei, is spoken, while the physical action is to bow, the intent is that respect is being demonstrated by that act. When Isshin-ryu was developed, while intending in many ways to break with traditions whose origins could be argued to have started in China and influenced by the Japanese, there are still aspects of showing respect in the Isshin-ryu bow that are in line with many Asian traditions.  And these traditions proscribe a variety of characteristics to the bow that are felt to demonstrate respect.

First, a bow occurs at the waist, back straight, with no arching of the spine.  A bow is NOT performed with one’s neck.  A tilt of the head forward using one’s neck alone is not considered respectful at all. One does use different declinations of one’s upper body to denote the amount of respect given, but this is accomplished at the waist. The standard amount of declination for a bow is approximately 30-degrees.  This is the bow that one provides to students of similar rank; a slighter bow could be given to students of significantly lesser rank but, again, this is accomplished by bowing at the waist and not with one’s neck.  When bowing toward an instructor, a student should bow approximately 45-degrees and when bowing either to an honored official or in a circumstance where one is conveying an intense sense of humility, a bow can go as deep as 90-degrees declination.  It should not go deeper than 90 degrees.

Second, hands are placed lightly on the sides of one’s legs if one is bowing from a standing position; if wearing gi pants, one’s fingers would be along the seam of the pants legs.  The Isshin-ryu tradition is to not slap one’s thighs when placing one’s hands in order to bow.  While some traditions will have one place one’s hands on top of the thighs, that is not the Isshin-ryu tradition while standing. 

On that note, while one can kneel in an Isshin-ryu dojo, it has not been the tradition to bow from that position in Western New York dojos.  But, if one were to follow traditions of bowing from a kneeling position, the hands would start resting on top of the thighs and then move forward simultaneously to touch the floor in front of one’s self with the hands separated by about 5 inches.  The hands are moved closer together to show increasing amounts of respect, but the hands generally don’t touch each other unless one is bowing to a person of high government rank such as a president. One’s elbows should remain in line with the sides of the body and not flare away from the body.  One’s elbows should never end up touching the floor and if they did that would indicate too deep of a bow.

Third, eye-to-eye contact is broken.  While breaking eye contact does make a martial artist vulnerable to attack, that’s really the point. While in truth, a good martial artist is either watching the lower body of the person they are bowing to, for signs of imminent movement, or at the least will maintain awareness of their environment to detect if the other person is closing distance, bowing definitely makes them more vulnerable to attack.  As one bows progressively deeper, the ability to monitor the other person or the environment becomes increasingly limited; the 90-degree bow that makes one significantly vulnerable and also why it is rarely performed except in situations where one is expected to make one’s self that vulnerable. Bowing display of respect and trust, as if to say, “I put my life at your disposal.”  And the deeper one bows, the greater that sentiment such that a 90-degree bow is a manner of conveying that one is putting one’s life completely at the disposal of the person one is bowing to.

There are commands and phrases that are associated with bowing, some are common and some are rare if ever used, in Isshin-ryu dojos:

Kiotsuke – attention. Take the attention stance.

Yasume – at ease. Take the at ease stance.

Seiza (say-zah) – kneel.  This will be accomplished starting with the left knee.

Mokuso (mawk-sew) – mediate. Center one’s thoughts only on the training to be done; disconnect from the thoughts and concerns outside the dojo.

Shomen ni rei – bow, showing respect to the shomen (the founders)

Sensei ni rei – bow, showing respect to the instructor

Rei – bow, showing respect

Onegai shimasu (oh-nee-guy she-mass) – “may I be of service” or “please grant me this favor.” This can be said at the beginning of class by the instructor and students together to conclude the showing of respect and before starting the lesson

Domo arigato gozaimashita (doh-moh ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zai-mash-ta) –“thank you very much (for what I have just received)”.  This can be said at the end of class by the instructor and students together to conclude the showing of respect and ending class.


Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
September 2, 2016

Grappling Techniques

While joint locks, chokes, breakfalls, and throws are most associated with the practice of Judo, they are also a part of several martial arts including Isshin-ryu and are known universally as grappling.  With regard to the Isshin-ryu curriculum, we will first examine submission holds in the form of joint locks and strangleholds and then throws including breakfalls.  As there are far more grappling techniques in martial arts than what is taught in the Isshin-ryu curriculum, Judo terms will be provided when possible to identify the specific technique. Also the Judo terms tori (toh-ree) and uke (oo-kay) will be used; a tori is the person executing the technique and an uke (oo-kay) is the person who experiences the technique.

Submission Holds

In Judo, joint locking techniques are known as kansetsuwaza (kan-set-sue-wah-zah).  These techniques seek to isolate a specific joint and leverage it to move it past its normal range of motion.  This will result in pain and, if applied forcefully, injury such as muscle, tendon, or ligament damage and can even result in joint dislocation or a bone fracture.  Joint locks can be divided into five categories: spinal locks, arm locks, leg locks, wristlocks, and small joint manipulation.  Isshin-ryu teaches one arm lock, several wristlocks, and one small joint manipulation.

ARM BAR (Ude hishigi juji gatame)

The arm bar or ude hishigi juji-gatame (oo-day hih-she-gee jew-jee gah-tah-may) is an arm lock that refers to the uke’s arm being fully extended. The sound “juji” refers to the technique’s resemblance to the kanji for “ten” which looks like a cross.  The technique involves the tori securing an arm of the uke at the wrist.  The tori then steps to the outside of the uke and rotates their orientation to the uke, while applying their other arm’s forearm just above the uke’s secured arm’s elbow; this should cause the uke to face downward with the secured arm moving posteriorly. The tori then steps forward into a seisan stance to increase pressure downward on the uke with the intent of further grounding their body weight.


A wristlock is a joint lock primarily affecting the wrist and possibly the forearm through rotation of the hand.  A wrist lock is typically applied by grabbing the uke’s hand and bending or twisting it. Isshin-ryu teaches four wristlocks.

Common Wrist Lock (Kote gaeshi)

The common wrist lock, kote gaeshi (koh-tay gay-she), is also known as the forearm return or supinating wristlock.  It involves rotating the hand so that it becomes maximally supinated, fingers pointing up with the thumb going ahead of them toward the outside of the body with the elbow pointing down. Properly executed, this lock does not focus torque on the wrist but instead upon the forearm and eventually the shoulder.

Reverse Wrist Lock (Kote mawashi)

The reverse wrist lock, kote mawashi (koh-tay mah-wah-she), is also known as the forearm turn or pronating wristlock. It is similar to the common wrist lock but performed in the reverse direction; internally rotating the wrist instead of rotating it externally.  The hand is rotated so that is becomes maximally pronated, fingers pointing upward and going ahead of the thumb toward the inside of the body with the elbow point somewhat upward. This typically results in the arm moving posteriorly and allows for complementary techniques such as the arm bar.

S-curve (kote hono gaeshi)

The S-curve, kote hono gaeshi (koh-tay hoh-noh gay-shee), which is also known as a “goose neck,” Z-lock, partial forearm return or adductive wristlock.  It is typically applied by twisting the uke’s arm part way through a reverse wrist lock so that the uke’s palm points laterally and the elbow is slightly bent and the whole arm forms an “S” or “Z” shape. The hand being manipulated is then forced, using one or both hands, such that the focus is on the wrist being moved downward. To avoid damage, the uke must drop down to the ground.

Figure Four (Ude garami)

The final wrist lock that is taught in the Isshin-ryu curriculum but considered more advanced is called the “Figure Four” or ude garami (oo-day gah-rah-me) also known as the top wrist lock. This is a grappling keylock technique in which both of the tori’s arms isolate and cause flexion to the shoulder, elbow, and, to a lesser extent, the wrist of the uke. The technique is generally set in motion by the tori, using their same side hand, (i.e. to target the right hand he uses his own right hand) grabbing the uke’s arm at the wrist, so that the elbow falls at a right angle with the palm facing the tori.  Subsequently, the tori will thread his opposite hand under the uke’s biceps, reach through and grasp his own wrist, doing so creates the signature “figure four,” from which one name for this technique was derived. To finish this submission hold, the tori slides the wrist of the uke toward the lower body, while simultaneously elevating the elbow and forearm, in a motion resembling using a paintbrush, creating opposition to the joints and causing the necessary flexion in the shoulder and elbow to cause significant pain, and damage if the uke fails to submit.


The one small joint manipulation taught as part of the Isshin-ryu curriculum is referred to as the “pistol grip.”  This technique is a variation on the wrist lock where the tori’s hand that is manipulating the uke’s hand slides forward to capture the uke’s thumb with the tori’s thumb and simultaneously grasp the uke’s wrist with tori’s fingers. The tori then closes their grasp such that the uke’s thumb is hyperextended backwards to their own wrist.


Shimewaza (she-may-wah-zah) is the Judo term for chokeholds.  While the term “chokehold” or “choke” is used for all types of grappling holds to the neck,  this can be misleading as most holds aim to strangle a person; choking in martial arts means to cause severe difficulty in breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat. When the aim of a technique is to cut off blood supply to the brain, or a “blood choke,” this is more accurately referred to as a “stranglehold” or “strangle.”  Almost without exception, while referred to as chokes, the Isshin-ryu choking techniques are taught as blood chokes and are thus strangleholds.  There are two major types: gi and naked.  Gi strangleholds use the uke’s gi to conduct the stranglehold.  Naked strangleholds refer to the fact that the gi is not used and therefore need not even be present in order for the stranglehold to be completed.

Gi Strangleholds
Cross hand stranglehold

There are three cross hand strangleholds. There is the normal cross hand stranglehold or nami juji jime (nah-mee jew-jee jee-may), the reverse cross hand stranglehold or gyaku juji jime (gee-yak-oo jew-jee jee-may), and the half cross hand stranglehold or kata juji jime (kah-tah jew-jee jee-may).  For the normal cross hand stranglehold, the tori crosses his arms as he reaches high on the opposite collar areas on either side of the uke’s neck.  The tori’s palms face toward the uke’s chest. The tori then pulls their hands laterally so as the blades of the hands press into both carotid sinuses. The reverse cross hand stranglehold differs only in that the tori’s palms are up, away from the uke’s chest, and thus the ridge of the hands press into both carotid sinuses. The half cross hand strangehold is a hybrid of the normal cross hand and the reverse cross hand in that one palm faces the uke’s chest and one faces away.  Whether one performs normal, reverse, or half depends on preference and circumstances.

Two-handed lapel stranglehold (Ryote jime)

The two-handed lapel stranglehold or ryote jime (ree-oh-tay jee-may) uses the gi collar as leverage to press a fist in each carotid sinus. This technique is initiated by the tori grabbing the collar on either side of the uke’s neck, the tori’s right hand to the uke’s left side and the tori’s left hand to the uke’s right side. The tori pulls the collar tight against the back of the uke’s neck and then turns the fists into the respective carotid sinuses to apply equal pressure to both sides of the neck at once.

Thrust stranglehold (Tsukkomi jime)

The thrust stranglehold or tsukkomi jime (sue-koh-me jee-may) is a cross hand stranglehold that uses the lapel and collar to effect the strangle. The tori takes his right hand, palm down to the uke’s chest, and grab’s uke’s left lapel and pulls it toward the uke’s right ear. With the left hand, the tori grasps the uke’s right lapel and pulls it downward to take up slack in the collar.  The strangle is accomplished with the gi itself.

Rear collar stranglehold (Okuri eri jime)

The rear collar stranglehold, okuri eri jime (oh-koo-ree air-ee jee-may), is also known as the sliding lapel choke.  The tori comes from behind the uke and starts by looping one arm around the neck to grasp the collar of the uke’s gi on the opposite side. The ridge of the hand is placed against the carotid sinus of the neck on that side.  The other hand goes under the uke’s armpit and goes across the chest to grasp middle part of the lapel on the opposite side. A lever motion is applied, helped by the underhand grasping the lapel, such that the ridge of the hand presses into the carotid sinus. It is faster to apply and requires less strength than other gi techniques from the rear.

Naked Strangleholds
Sleeper Hold (Hadaka jime)

There is really only one naked choke in the Isshin-ryu curriculum, hadaka jime (hah-dah-kah jee-may) or rear naked choke, but two variants are taught.  The most popular and common variant is known as the “sleeper hold.” The sleeper hold is applied from behind the uke, starting by looping one arm around the neck so that the crook of the elbow is under the uke’s chin, then placing the hand of that arm on the opposite biceps. The other hand is then placed on the back of the uke’s head and pushes the uke’s head and neck forward into the crook of the flexed arm. Additional pressure may be applied if the technique is done on the ground by pinioning the uke’s lower body by locking the legs around the uke’s waist (referred to as “hooks”) and arching the back to place more force against the neck.

Clasped hands variant (Hadaka jime)

The other rear naked choke is the “clasped hands” variant.  The clasped hands variant is also applied from behind the uke, starting by looping one arm around the neck so that the crook of the elbow is under the uke’s chin.  But then the tori places the hand of that arm into the tori’s other hand. The hip of the tori facing the back of the uke is pushed into the uke as the tori shuffle steps backward.  This variant, while having less control of the head and slower to effect unconsciousness, is ideal for moving the uke into a more private area while performing the stranglehold.


Before examining throws, a martial artist must be trained in performing breakfalls or ukemi (oo-kay-me). Correct breakfalls allow the uke to suffer the least amount of damage possible from a technique; the force of hitting the ground will be spread out along non-critical areas.  There are four breakfalls that are part of the Isshin-ryu curriculum.

Forward breakfall (Mae ukemi)

The forward breakfall, mae ukemi (may oo-kay-me) consists of falling forward, chest toward the ground, turning one’s head to either side and keeping the legs straight. Prior to contact with the ground, the uke splays out both arms so as to land on forearms versus landing on the wrists or elbows. The ground is slapped by the hands and forearms as part of this technique.

Backward breakfall (Ushiro ukemi)

The backward breakfall, ushiro ukemi (you-she-roh oo-kay-me) consists of falling backward. Practiced from standing, the left foot can be placed forward with hips and shoulders square to the front.  Bending the left knee and reaching forward with the right foot, the uke lowers their buttocks squarely to the ground and sits gently behind the left foot. The uke then rolls backward keeping the chin tucked into the chest. Before the roll can progress to the shoulders, the uke throws both arms down to either side of their body and slaps the ground to either side with their forearms and palms.

Backward side breakfall (Ushiro yoko ukemi)

The backward side fall, ushiro yoko ukemi (you-she-roh yoh-koh oo-kay-me) is a variant of the backward breakfall where instead of landing eventually on one’s back, one ends up on one’s side.  This breakfall can be performed to either the left or right side of the body but for this article we will describe a backward right side fall; the body parts would be opposite side for the left side fall. Practiced from standing, the right foot can be placed forward with hips and shoulders square to the front.  Bending the left knee and reaching forward with the right foot. Lowering one’s self to the ground, biasing to the land on one’s right buttocks cheek and then rolling back behind the right foot. Throwing down the right arm before the roll can progress to the shoulders and slapping the ground to one’s right side with the forearm and palm of the right hand.

Shoulder roll (mae mawari ukemi)

The last breakfall is a forward shoulder roll or mae mawari ukemi (may mah-wah-ree oo-kay-me).  This is performed by diving forward with the lead side’s arm making a semicircular form.  Tucking one’s head, the roll starts on the leading side’s shoulder and travels across the back to the hip on the opposite side of the uke’s body. It then can either end with a side breakfall or the uke can continue with the momentum and regain their footing.


Known as nagewaza (nah-gay-wah-zah) in Judo, throws are grappling techniques that focus either upon unbalancing an opponent or facilitating an opponent moving, usually forcefully, to the ground. In Isshin-ryu, training in throws includes two leg reaps, a hip throw, a shoulder throw, and circle throw.

In a leg reap, the tori uses one of their legs to reap one of their uke’s legs off the ground. A reap is performed as one smooth action versus hooking or lifting the opponent’s leg.  Prior to the reap, the uke’s weight is shifted by the tori to be placed on the leg of the uke that is to be reaped away. This coupled with the tori controlling the uke’s body with their hands causes the uke to fall over. The major inner reap and the major outer reap are part of the Isshin-ryu curriculum.

Inner reap (Ouchi gari)

The major inner reap is known in Judo as an ouchi gari (oh-oo-chee ghair-ree). In right-handed ouchi gari, the tori steps into the uke in a crane-on-the-rock stance with his left foot, placing his right shoulder into the chest of the uke. The tori then uses his right leg to reap the uke’s left leg from the inside while pulling the uke down.

Outer reap (Osoto gari)

The large outer reap is known in Judo as an osoto gari (oh-soh-toh ghair-ree). In a right-handed osoto gari, the tori steps into a seisan stance next to the uke with his left leg forward, being right hip to right hip, and then reaps the uke’s right leg (at the back of the thigh) with his own right leg.

Hip throw (O goshi)

There are three throws in the Isshin-ryu curriculum: hip, shoulder, and circle. A hip throw involves using the tori’s hip as a pivot point, by placing the hip in a lower position than the uke’s center of gravity. The Isshin-ryu curriculum teaches a full hip throw or “o goshi” (oh goh-she). In this technique, the balance break is to the uke’s front. Turning involves the tori turning his hips, moving them in front and below the uke’s hips, with the tori’s lifting (lapel-side) hand passing behind the uke’s back, usually under the uke’s arm, while minimizing the amount of space between the tori’s back and the uke’s chest. The tori’s pulling (sleeve-side) hand pulls the uke’s arm to the front, maintaining the balance break. The execution of the throw involves the tori lifting with the hips and bending forward while continuing the pull to the front and down, bringing the uke onto the mat at the tori’s feet

Shoulder throw (Ippon seoi nage)

A shoulder throw involves throwing an opponent over the shoulder. A shoulder throw lifts the opponent from the ground and is one of the most used throws in judo; one study indicated that approximately 56% of judokas implemented this technique in competition.  The shoulder throw taught in the Isshin-ryu curriculum is ippon seoi nage (ee-pohn see-oy nahg-gay) or “single back throw. In this shoulder throw, the tori grips the uke with only one hand while the other slides under the uke’s armpit. The tori then throws the opponent over their shoulder such that the uke lands in a side breakfall in front of the tori.

Circle throw (Tomoe nage)

The final throw in the Isshin-ryu curriculum is tomoe nage (toh-moh nah-gay) or circle throw.  Tomoe nage is performed by the tori gripping the uke on the upper body and then falling backward as in a backward roll. Once the uke is off balance and has begun falling forward, the tori plants a foot around the uke’s waist level, usually on a hip and applies strong pressure as the tori rolls onto his back bringing the uke above him. The uke then flies over the tori into a front roll, as the tori releases the uke, and the uke lands on his back, head to head with the tori.