Saturday, February 25, 2006

Kissaki-Kai Karate

Dave Hague 6th Dan © 1998

Martial artists in all over the world – and especially those who read his regular column in ‘Traditional Karate Magazine ’ - will not be unaware of the name "Vince Morris" thanks to his many books and videos and his frequent seminars promoting a better understanding of Kata bunki all over the world, from China to Europe, from Malaysia to the USA and now even in Moscow.

Most know of his work through his Kyusho-Jutsu seminars all over the world, and of his commitment to the training of Law Enforcement Officers in the USA and in Europe where he instructs regularly at Police Academy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as in the background, however, Vince has been quietly working away at establishing a karate association that incorporates all the valuable aspects of the strong sporting Shotokan schools combined with deep research into the close-range often-neglected Kyusho-Jutsu & Tuite elements of traditional karate.

Never previously really advertising this new group, Vince, with the help of senior Dan grades, is now happy with the balance of the training and agreed to give a brief interview before leaving for seminar tours in the USA and Russia.

Hopefully the readers will enjoy this insight into what lay behind the formation of his association.

The name of the association: Kissaki-Kai has a great significance, as have the Torii (Gate) and Yin-Yang symbols in the Badge.

The sword was considered to be the ‘Soul’ of the Samurai, and the blade itself a venerated object of both beauty and deadly efficiency; a fusion of harmony and function.

The Kissaki is the term for the deadly sharp cutting edge of the very tip.

The use of this term as a name for the karate association was carefully considered and deliberately chosen as representative of those qualities which distinguish the manufacture of such a blade.

Just as it is forged in fire and water, hammered, pounded and beaten until all the impurities disappear and it is shaped into perfection, just so is the spirit of the martial artist forged in the flames of challenge and adversity, tested and reworked time and time again in the intense workshop of the Dojo until such time as it stands, a new creation, straightforward, bold, keen and flexible, functional yet something more than it once was, stripped of the impurities of ego and falsehood.

The Torii symbol of the gate signifies the concept of entering deeply, not being concerned with the amount of things known, but more with the depth of learning and knowledge to be gained by a constant striving to reach to the heart.

A gate is something which is an entrance, but one which demands total commitment. It requires that one must go through to the other side, not merely peer in from the sidelines.

No ‘half-heartedness’ but bold endeavour, this courage will often be called upon to bolster the spirit in its journey, as pitfalls and setbacks will continue to test the traveller.

The Yin-Yang emblem denotes the concept of balance and harmony. A constant reminder of the need for clear-sightedness, of temperance and of an understanding of the wholeness of a situation, a problem or even an enthusiasm.

So much for the name, but the ‘Why’ is another matter!

Throughout his long martial arts career, Vince had never either envisaged, nor even considered that he might one day be the head of his own Ryu.

A long-time student of Shiro Asano 8th Dan, chief instructor of the SKIEF, he was a constant member of the Honbu successful ‘A’ team and the SKI European squad in both Kumite and Kata.

He developed, along with one or two other notables from this stable, a formidable reputation for spirited fighting, but at the same time he was also active on the political front, representing first the SKI, then eventually helping to establish the then governing body for English Karate, (EKF) which in turn led to his appointment as the Chairman of the Martial Arts Commission.

Vince was also instrumental in introducing renowned karate-ka such as Aidan Trimble (the first westerner to win the SKI open-weight kumite world championship in Tokyo) into the national squad and into contact with Ticky Donovan the then English national coach.

Eventually a disagreement between Vince and Asano sensei made it impossible for Vince to continue as his student, and (in a scenario very similar to that shared by more than a few other contemporaries in the Honbu) he left and continued training in his own University Dojo.

Soon he was asked to join Toyakwai, a London-based group, which he was happy to do.

A few years later, Vince’s old compatriot Aidan Trimble was also forced to sever his connections with the Honbu and the SKI.

At this time he approached Vince to ask his help in establishing a new karate group, to be named ‘The Federation of Shotokan Karate’.

This turned out to be successful, and Vince was happy to accede the position of Chief Instructor to Aidan.

Sharing the presentation of courses and the coaching, Vince’s University Dojo continued to amass a notable number of championship successes and when the FSK were asked to represent England at the JKA World Championships in Dubai Vince was the team coach.

For many years Vince had been interested in researching the origins of modern techniques and in the applications of the Kata.

In his first book, ‘The Karate-Do Manual’ published in 1979, we first see the use of the phrase "Kyusho-Jutsu" (Vital Point techniques) which signified a shift of focus away from the relatively ‘new’ sports oriented style of karate exemplified by Shotokan to a deeper study of the original concepts and practical effectiveness of traditional karate. This was long before such concepts became public knowledge through the work of others like George Dillman.

Developing his connections with Military and Law Enforcement training he continued to research and refine his teaching with the emphasis equally divided between the promotion of the health-giving and character-building sporting side and that area devoted to developing the pragmatic and reliable control and protection techniques for which his Law Enforcement Training is well known.

One citation from the Antwerp Police Academy that regularly retains Vince’s services pays compliment to his "Professionalism" and "Amazing Skills" and many an attendee at his Kyusho-Jutsu & Tuite seminars has testified to the effectiveness of his methods.

Just very recently one American student emailed Vince to thank him for saving his life!

He had been studying techniques on some of Vince’s videos, little thinking that he might have to make use of them, but he was attacked by an ex-special forces Vet wielding a knife. Within 3 seconds he disarmed the attacker and knocked him out! He was unscathed, but the assailant suffered 2 black eyes, loosened teeth and had to wear a surgical support collar!

There are many other similar testimonials from others who have had occasion to rely upon the techniques he teaches, which support him in his efforts to develop powerful and effective bunkai, but at the same time to propound a moral philosophy intent upon creating a society in which such techniques would be unnecessary.

In spite of the friendship still enjoyed by Aidan and Vince, it was inevitable that there would come a parting of the ways, as the shortcomings of Shotokan as an all-round method of self-defence were becoming all too apparent, in the form in which it was frequently taught.

In March 1993 the new Kissaki-Kai Karate-Do was formed, with Vince as the head.

In conversation Vince revealed his feelings about establishing a new body, and about the proliferation of ‘splinter’ groups in general.

"In principle I’m against the way there are now so many groups all purporting to teach more or less the same art.

It’s a free country of course, but it seems a shame to me that the long-term efforts of reputable teachers are undermined for what are often the shallowest of reasons!

Naturally if an individual or a group of students really believe that their sensei has taken them as far as he is able, then of course go and study under another. Is this any reason to abandon the former, however? Wouldn’t it be far better to bring this extra knowledge back into the Ryu?

There are other reasons why it must be necessary to break with a sensei, but all too often I see that the only real reason is ego; the desire to be ‘The Boss’ or maybe it is the financial considerations.

I would ask all who consider going this route to consider carefully if they are actually going to become students of a sensei who knows more than the current one, or are you supporting baser reasons?

If the karate is going in a different direction, or there are demonstrable differences in the manner and the content of the teaching, then that is another matter all together."

What then, briefly, distinguishes the Karate practised by Kissaki-Kai from that of most other Shotokan schools?

Conceptually Kissaki-Kai works from the basis of recognising Shotokan for what it is, and undeniably exciting and powerful combat sport.

There is nothing wrong with this on one level, however study and the rigours imposed by confronting the reality of the problems encountered in the real world soon reveal the shortcomings of a style based upon long range techniques and a system of rules which preclude the use of the more effective and dangerous Waza.

Real combat situations rarely occur at distances which allow the defender much chance to employ the most practised techniques, which are favoured in competition, such as mawashi-geri jodan, for example; the other perennial standby - chudan gyakuzuki - is often less than successful in the street than it is assumed to be in the Dojo and Shiajo.

History demonstrates just how much both the techniques and the practice of karate have been modified in post -1930’s Shotokan to develop a relatively safe combat sport.

This has happened at the expense of the extremely effective short-range techniques that are now seen only in the Kata, and then usually misunderstood. So, although the modern karate-ka has indeed developed a new repertoire of powerful techniques at long range it has been at the expense of in-depth training in the methods of self-defence contained within the Kata.

In itself, perhaps it could be argued that:

It doesn’t matter because an attacker can be stopped at long range.


The purpose of Karate is to develop the character rather than to serve as a method of self-defence

Unfortunately statistics show that in more than 60% of combat scenarios the protagonists end up grappling on the ground. And in answer to the latter, this type of view could well be applied to almost anything, and to uphold it in the area of martial arts is to do a severe disservice to the old masters who built their concept of character-building upon the bedrock of reality.

In fact, of course, it is not necessary that one element precludes the other, as the vast majority of original Waza can be found within the Shotokan Kata, albeit often in a form latterly modified to form a more dynamic and athletically challenging Kata.

Kissaki-Kai forms a synthesis of the old and the new - not throwing the baby out with the bath-water, it continues to teach Shotokan basics, but it includes in the training many concepts and techniques to be found within the Kata but frequently overlooked. Kissaki-Kai forms a synthesis of the old and the new - not throwing the baby out with the bath-water, it continues to teach Shotokan basics, but it includes in the training many concepts and techniques to be found within the Kata but frequently overlooked.

Early versions of the Kata are also studied to help understand the common combat concepts that underlie them, so emphasis is placed once more upon making the techniques work in real situations.

Common Shotokan exercises such as Gohon Kumite, which is fine for beginners and inculcates spirit, a strong attack and so on, is transformed into Shin Gohon Kumite, in which the combat ineffective practice of stepping directly backwards in the face of a frontal attack and then blocking at unreal distances with techniques which are never used as blocks in reality is replaced by tai-sabaki and real defences at every attack.

Thus the pattern is maintained but the form becomes much more vital and meaningful, allowing practice in Kata Bunkai as it used to be in the pre-sporting form.

Another Kissaki-Kai concern is to ensure that training is geared to each individual, whatever age they happen to be.

Expecting a 50-year-old to train in line at the same intensity and with the same techniques as an 18-year-old is frankly ridiculous.

Different ages - different needs: Kissaki-Kai is attempting to encourage effective and productive training right up into a healthy old age.

The senior students are encouraged to develop their own particular objectives, and together with this shift in over-all concern the philosophical and mental side of training is also strongly featured.

Unless one might think that this would adversely affect those who were just interested in the sports side, note that in the 1997 All Students Championships a Kissaki-Kai black-belt from the Honbu Dojo won the heavyweight women’s event, and a week later only three Kissaki students entered the senior EKGB English National Championships, and of the three one won silver, one won bronze and the third got through to the quarter finals! This competition success continued in 1998.

There is an important place in Karate training for the concentration upon kumite competition and basics, and Shotokan basics are undeniable excellent for developing certain strengths.

On the other hand, most Shotokan Dojos continue a type of training in which the only difference between techniques performed by relative beginners and Black Belts is that the latter are able to execute them harder and at greater speed.

This is fine, but not when speed and power are the main criteria in themselves. The aim of higher grades is not just to train in the same fashion all their lives, but to go beyond the basics and use them appropriately according to circumstances.

To do otherwise is to confine karate to the level of the basics, and is much the same as continuing to recite the alphabet all one’s life whilst refusing to create words, sentences, prose and poetry!

It is as senseless in that situation as it is in the practice of a martial art.

Shu, Ha, Ri is otherwise impossible. One cannot eventually transcend anything that one refuses to transcend! Shu, Ha, Ri is otherwise impossible. One cannot eventually transcend anything that one refuses to transcend! Shu, Ha, Ri is otherwise impossible. One cannot eventually transcend anything that one refuses to transcend!

In a nutshell, although Kissaki-Kai teaches Shotokan Karate, it does so in a depth that leads the student into a consideration of the roots from which it sprang, which in turn unavoidably demands that many other aspects are practised than those usually emphasised.

It emphasises ‘core principles’ such as: correct combat distance, body shifting, unbalancing, deflecting, controlling and finishing, in a manner in accordance with the ancient ‘rules of combat’ rather than in terms of ‘sport’ karate, and thus for the student the art is richer and life-long, with the concomitant that karate reverts to the very effective self-defence system it always was, and individual development of character and clarity of perception is constructed from a more solid base.

Some other notable teachers (Trad’s own Harry Cook for example) have come to understand the shortcomings of modern Shotokan and have added elements from other styles (Goju) to their regular training.

In Kissaki-Kai however we prefer to research the original forms and meanings and find with Itosu sensei’s karate – before its further transformation in the later years of master Funakoshi’s life and thereafter (although not discounting the good elements of competition) almost all that is necessary for a balanced and effective martial art.

So Kissaki-Kai Karate-Do is entering its 6th year, and the basis is there for all to see; good strong Shotokan karate and coaching methods which are already producing National Champions, and at the same time an emphasis upon the individual needs of all students based upon the old values and methods dating back to the days of the Shaolin.


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