It is not only what you do

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
April 15, 2016

It is Not Only What You Do

It is what you hope to do

Last week we explored the five classes of assailants and how these classes suggest different strategies for one’s martial response whether it is to attain disarmament, immobilization,  unconsciousness, disfigurement, or death.  But, whether one is dealing with a drunken uncle or a hitman, using minimal force or lethal techniques, what will determine the actual outcome of one’s strategy is how one trained.

In Randall Hassell’s classic book, “Conversations with the master: Masatoshi Nakayama,” Master Nakayama relates many important historical events and concepts that make that book a must-read to any serious karateka.  But, for consideration today, is the tale Master Nakayama shared of Sensei Anton Geesink, the first Judoka not from Japan, who was the Olympic Champion in 1964.  Geesink Sensei astounded the Japanese by beating them at a martial art that they consider theirs and certainly not to be outdone at it by a gaijin let alone a hakujin.  When interviewed and asked how he did it, Geesink Sensei reportedly replied, “I trained in the basics.”  Meaning, instead of training in the sport of Judo, as a competitor, he trained to be a judoka, as Master Kano, the founder of Judo, had instructed.  Geesink Sensei did not train for the Olympics to win the gold medal; Geesink Sensei trained to be proficient in “the gentle way” per Master Kano.  This is an important part of how we must train.  We must not get caught up in the points and rules of the sport of karate nor should we focus too closely on the potential demands of actual self-defense scenarios.  To fully connect to the way of our art, we must focus equally on kihon (Isshin-ryu upper and lower body techniques) and kata as much as we do on kumite.

But, balancing one’s physical training is only part of how we must train. How we train also includes a mental or spiritual aspect.  The attitude that we carry is just as important as the actual techniques we employ.  Master Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, perceived the importance of our attitude in how we train when he devised Aikido as a synthesis of martial studies with philosophy and religious beliefs. He created the word Aikido to mean “the way of unifying life energy” or “the way of harmonious spirit.” Master Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.  Aikido makes clear that it is not only the techniques that are important for doing no more harm than is necessary to an attacker, but it is also the belief that one is responsible for the wellbeing of one’s attacker, as much as one’s own life, that is equally important.  As one Aikido sensei told me, “if we hold the proper attitude, the receiver of our techniques should wake up the next day feeling as if they had experienced a vigorous massage.”  That is to say, that if we do not intend harm and indeed execute our techniques with a positive and nurturing spirit, the outcome of our techniques, despite their actual physical nature, will not be irrevocably harmful.

The responsibility to our society as martial artist should be clear.  While developed during the Middle Ages of our civilization, one now practices martial arts in a modern world.  Where careless disregard for life may have been acceptable or at least tolerable when martial arts were first developed, it is completely unacceptable now. But, our responsibility to ourselves remains the same regardless of the era.  There is still the possibility that one’s life will be threatened by another and still the possibility that one might have to act in a manner that takes another person’s life. But how one responds to that threat will not only have ramifications for the wellbeing of one’s body but also one’s spiritual wellbeing. If one ever has the unfortunate experience of killing another human being, and one did so without concern or care for that person’s life, one must consider that the damage to one’s own soul will likely be worse than if the assailant had killed you.

The Five People You’ll Meet On Their Way To Heaven

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
April 8, 2016

*The views expressed in this essay are the views of Shihan Bill and do not necessarily reflect the views of WNY Karate Center. WNY Karate does not necessarily endorse the techniques mentioned in the article, and people should use their best judgement when deciding what technique to apply in any given situation.

The Five People You’ll Meet on Their Way to Heaven

And why you will over-skill that encounter

As you work on self-defense techniques, ippons, even bunkai, consider who you are training to interact with, who your opponent, your attacker, might be.  There are five classes of people who you will engage with and I will list them here in the order of the highest probability to the lowest. Depending on where in the world you are and the kind of choices you make in life, these probabilities can vary from person to person; the order here is what is most typical for suburban America:

  1. Chemically Altered – this is someone who is either intoxicated on a disinhibiting substance like alcohol, a stimulant like cocaine, or a pain-numbing substance.
    STRENGTH – This person will not likely be fully aware of the physical damage they take in their attack or from your defensive actions and will continue their attack after taking damage that would stop most people.
    WEAKNESS – They are likely to be narrow in their awareness of the environment, have single-minded and simplistic attacks, and little to no sense of a need for defensive actions and will respond simply with standard reflexes.
    STRATEGY – Unlike any other opponent, their attack is completely impulsive and can sometimes be stopped simply by yelling, “stop!”  Your defensive actions need only stun or immobilize them long enough for them to hear you tell them to stop. Thus, joint locks or grappling techniques will be most useful.
  2. Agitated – this is someone who is significantly upset, often by jealousy related to an anticipated loss of a relationship but could also motivated by a sense that their life or livelihood is under significant threat.
    STRENGTH – This person has a single-minded sense of purpose that is motivated by a sense of self-preservation. They will not stop until they feel they have been defeated; that they are no longer capable of “defending” what is theirs.
    WEAKNESS – Attacks are likely to be fully committed, attempting to connect with a single “killing” blow.  While likely aware of a need for defense, they can overcommit to their attack at the expense of their defense.
    STRATEGY – Bait their attack and get them to fully commit in a manner that will best play in to your response strategy.  Strikes should be focused on damaging legs and arms to quickly lead the opponent to their sense that they are no longer able to attack. This person can then be reasoned with.
  3. Criminal – this is someone who is seeking to take what you have, usually your valuables. They are motivated by a sense of financial desperation and their ability to feed themselves or their family or to be able to continue to purchase addictive substances.
    STRENGTH – This person is committed to obtaining your valuables.  They often have a strategy to their attack with the encounter having occurred in an ambush site that they chose.  They also will have a sense of a need for defense that usually takes the form of a weapon such as a knife or a gun. Due to their sense of desperation, they will not likely withdraw from the encounter until they get your valuables and have often already committed to killing you if necessary. While often done individually, some Criminal opponents will employ a group strategy and will have accomplices to assist them in their attack.
    WEAKNESS – They are more concerned with defending themselves and if you appear to not pose a threat, they will not actively engage in attack.  Moreover, their sense of a need for a defense can be reduced or lulled by your taking a passive or cooperative posture.
    STRATEGY – Cooperate.  Valuables can be replaced.  If that does not appear sufficient, any weapon they have must be neutralized first and taken into your control; if they had employed a weapon in their attack and you take possession of it, that will likely lead them to feel defenseless and disengage from their attack.  If they are skilled in unarmed combat, you will likely then have to treat them as an Agitated opponent (see above). Be prepared to engage accomplices.
  4. Mentally ill – someone in this category will most typically suffer from a personality organization that compromises their ability to appreciate the needs or rights of others. Other people are seen not as living, feeling individuals with their own hopes for life, but simply a means to an end. If attacked by such a person, it is because you are viewed as “in the way” or “part of a plan/a necessary step.” This type of person is often referred to as a sociopath.
    A less encountered person in this category is someone suffering from schizophrenia or some other form of psychosis that is untreated and the person is floridly psychotic at the time of the attack; the person is actively hallucinating and/or truly paranoid. Such people resemble the Agitated opponent and they could also have characteristics of a Chemically Altered opponent, but the ability to reason is significantly compromised and strategies that would work for those categories of opponents, joint-locks, grappling, limb destruction, may be insufficient to stopping the attack.
    STRENGTH – This person is not viewing you as another person.  Thus, there is no remorse, no hesitation, no holding back. The attack will come with no social cues that would make you aware that you are the target of an attack and therefore will often come as a complete surprise. Due to the social disconnect, there will be ineffective or no response to attempts at communication and this category of opponent will be difficult to deter or distract from their intense sense of purpose and need to act in a manner that can likely result in your death.
    WEAKNESS – As they are not viewing you as a human being, they are not considering that you could respond in a deliberate and strategic manner. Thus, they are not prepared for a martial response to their actions and can therefore also be taken completely by surprise.
    STRATEGY – Plan to render this opponent unconscious and be resigned that your attempt to render this opponent unconscious may kill them. This opponent is not engaging in an impulsive attack.  While possibly agitated, there will be no reasoning with this opponent.  There are no valuables you can surrender that will satisfy them; they are going to act in a manner that will likely kill you. You will need to defend yourself to the point where you are certain the opponent is unconscious and then immobilized securely until help can arrive.
  5. Professional – this is an individual who has been trained in martial arts such as mercenaries and assassins. They are motivated by a sense of duty and responsibility to a chain of command. If you are attacked by such a person, you are viewed as either a threat to the success of their mission or you are the designated target for elimination.
    STRENGTH – This person feels empowered by an authority that makes their actions justified by a code of conduct and/or a contract. Attacking you is part of their job.  It will be done without hesitation and usually as part of a developed plan that often has contingency plans. The attack will often be executed with no social cues that would make you aware that you are the target of an attack and therefore will often come as a complete surprise. Due to the social contract the Professional has with someone else, there will be ineffective or no response to attempts at communication and this category of opponent will be difficult to deter or distract from their intense sense of purpose and need to act in a manner that can likely result in your death. While sometimes done individually, most Professional opponents will employ a group strategy and will have accomplices to assist them in their attack.
    WEAKNESS – Little to none. The Professional has often prepared for a variety of possibilities including a martial response to their actions.
    STRATEGY – Plan to kill this opponent. This opponent is not engaging in an impulsive attack.  While possibly agitated, there will be no reasoning with this opponent.  There are no valuables you can surrender that will satisfy them; they are going to act in a manner that will kill you. You will need to defend yourself to the point where you are certain the opponent is at least completely incapacitated if not actually dead.  NOTE: THIS IS A HIGHLY UNLIKELY ENCOUNTER!  But, if none of the other categories apply, this is what remains as the explanation for an attack and thus, to survive, you must assume that you have no other choice but to respond with lethal intent.

It should be said that it is also possible to meet someone who is in multiple categories such as a Professional Criminal or an Agitated Chemically Altered opponent. But, regardless of the category or combination of categories of an opponent and the most appropriate strategy for that particular opponent, what should become clear in this analysis is that there is no category of opponent where a strategy of a single punch or kick will be sufficient.  Actual attackers will continue to attack until they are subdued, rendered unconscious, or killed.
While there is no clear agreement as to what will subdue someone or render them unconscious, it should at least be clear from the above that it will take more than one strike.  As a guideline, for the highly trained martial artist, an individual could be subdued with two to three precise strikes, rendered unconscious with three to five precise strikes, and likely killed by five or more precise strikes.  But, for most practitioners, precision will be difficult to accomplish in an actual confrontation.  Thus, it is recommended that you add at least two more strikes, as a rough guideline, to ensure success: 4 – 5 for subdual and 5 – 7 to render the person unconscious.
If possible, one should try to take a moment in the course of the combination of strikes to see if one has already accomplished the desired effect before continuing to apply additional strikes.  Also one can likely increase the chance of success of a series of strikes by distributing the strikes across the opponent’s body: striking both above and below the waist as well as striking both the left and right side of the body.

Manipulating Tactical Advantage

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill Reynolds
March 31, 2016

Manipulating Tactical Advantage

Once one is engaged with one or multiple opponents, whether in self-defense or as part of a planned offensive action, a martial artist must strive to take control of the encounter or leave to chance as to whether he or she will become the victim rather than the victor.   Specifically, a martial artist must use the environment in the encounter to their advantage and arrange for each opponent to come within range of the most effective technique for that person, their position in the environment, and the exact moment within which the technique will be executed. While traditional training in the martial arts focuses upon technique and timing, not much training is dedicated to the position of the opponent in the environment relative to the martial artist.  This is mainly due to their being only one aspect of position that most martial artists will manage.

There  are three aspects to a position in the environment: range, elevation, and cover.  With regard to cover, we will usually wish to maximize our cover while minimizing the cover of our opponent. With regard to elevation, generally we will seek to have a higher elevation than our opponent.  But both cover and elevation play the most significant roles when dealing with opponents at long range. Given that most martial artists do not operate offensively at long range, we will focus on examining the manipulation of range.

There are four ranges we shall consider: long, medium, short, and close-quarters. Each has a defense, tools to use at that range, and strategies to consider. Note that a parry is used to minimize damage and provide the option of a pull and a block is to cause damage as part of a defense.


Defense: avoidance only; outside the ability to immediately parry or block.

Tools: Arrow, Throwing knife, Dart, Bullet

Strategies: Use projectile weapon OR, if without a projectile weapon, use cover if possible AND either move out of range or close to MEDIUM range


Defense: avoidance, parry, or block.

Tools: Spear, Staff, Sword, Club, Nunchaku, Foot

Strategies: Use handheld weapons or unarmed striking tech at range OR push to LONG range or advance into SHORT range


Defense: avoidance if possible, otherwise parry or block

Tools: Knife, Sai, Hand, elbow, knee, foot

Strategies: Use handheld weapons or unarmed striking tech at range OR push to MEDIUM or advance or pull into CLOSE-QUARTERS range


Defense: parry or block

Tools: Hand, forearm, elbow, head, knee, shin, foot

Strategies: Use unarmed striking tech, joint-locks, strangle-holds, or grappling at range OR push or escape to SHORT range

Ying and Yang versus Ying-yang

Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
March 25, 2016

Yin and Yang versus Yin-yang

An illusory distinction of complementary forces

in what is actually an indivisible whole

When people think of the phrase, “yin and yang,” they think of distinct dualities such as light and dark or good and bad. Paired but distinct opposites. The use of the conjunction “and” in that phrase underscores the sense of there being two elements in a pair.  But the Taoist concept from which the phrase yin and yang is derived is better pronounced as “yin-yang.” That instead of distinct and possibly opposing forces, these dualities are complementary aspects of a whole.

This week, Hanshi directed our attention to the duality inherent in techniques. For example, where there is extension there is also retraction. But, like the concept of yin-yang, that these are not to be considered separate and distinct actions but instead complementary elements of a complete action. For example, a kick is not solely an extension of our leg to bring the foot to our target, a kick is an extension AND also a retraction of our leg. Not only do we apply force to a target with the impact associated with the extension of the leg, more important, the leg’s retraction also serves a function; beyond taking our foot out of range of counter-attack, the retraction can be used as a heel kick, a hook kick, a sweep, as just a few examples.

Within the wholeness of a punch, following the intended hand strike, there is also the possibility of an elbow strike when re-chambering. That within the wholeness of a block, following the interception of an intended blow, there is the potential for a grab and destabilizing pull in the re-chambering.  As you train, remind yourself that not only need no movement be wasted, but that no movement exists as a single element.

Great test and class last night.

It was a very busy night last night at the dojo. There were four individuals that tested last night. Two were promoted to Blue Belt and two were promoted to 1st Degree Brown Belt.  While this was going on, Shihan Bill led a great class of White to Orange belts on basics. In addition, many other students practiced their material during the open workout class. A great night and congratulations to all those promoted. Pictures of the night can be found by going to

Breakfalls and Judo Throws

All teens and adults with an orange belt and up! Breakfalls and judo throws seminar on Tuesday, February 9th starting at 7:45PM with Sensei Frank, Shihan Jim Fenner and Hanshi Jim.


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