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Rei to Love: Etiquette is Healthy and Good for Fighting

Shotokan Karate

Rei has a special ceremonial meaning in Shotokan karate. It makes the transition from a casual mind into the state of budo. Most karateka, however, do not know that it is also good for ones health and for fighting. By Florian Wiessmann

Karate Dō begins and ends with rei.
Gichin Funakoshi

Every Karateka is familiar with the first precept of Gichin Funakoshi – Karate Dō begins and ends with ‘rei’. Also probably nearly every Karateka agrees about the importance of this precept, putting rei at the very centre of their Karate practice. Yet many seem to forget, that rei is not only describing a mental attitude, but also a very concrete physical practice. Paradoxically, while rei as a mental attribute is emphasized, the physical manifestation of rei is often shunned upon by the very same Karate practitioners. They see seiza and bowing as something unpleasant and antiquated, only done to fulfill some kind of Asian tradition but with no real usefulness to Karate practice, let alone fighting proficiency.

This lack of appreciation often shows in sloppy reihō. Even advanced belts are struggling while getting up from seiza, glad that the unwanted part is over and the ‘real’ Karate practice begins. But why not staying true to Funakoshis precept and starting Karate practice (yes, I mean the actual physical training) with rei and not after it? You might ask why? Seiza and bowing have no real relevance in the western world, they don’t apply to your everyday life, let alone to physical Karate practice. Guess what: you’re wrong.

Bowing in Rei

Did you ever drop something? Did you have to pick it up from the floor? Happens all the time, right? This is essentially bowing! The question is, did you pick it up correctly in a back sparing way? Or did you struggle somewhat, picking it up in an awkward position? Unfortunately many people tend to hurt their backs while picking up stuff.

We all look like really folded cashews.

Jean Couch

This is were we can learn from other cultures. Use your hips! Ever heard about using your hips in Karate training? Do it properly while bowing, too. Bending at the hips engages the hamstring muscles and takes the pressure off the back muscles, sparing your spine and possibly preventing back pain.[1]

A correct bowing will change your body!

Tatsuya Naka

Seiza in Rei

Ok, so now you might agree to the relevance of bowing. But seiza certainly doesn’t relate to your everyday life and it hurts your knees. So more modern- and practical oriented martial arts are better of without seiza practice? Sorry, you’re wrong again.

Tastsuya Naka shows how to get up from seiza correctly.

The 2012 IFA Report (Institute for Work Safety of the German Social Accident Insurance) about work-related knee-strains mentions seiza and kiza as a common posture within certain crafts while working on the knees (e.g. tilers, plumbers and painters). Laboratory screening shows, that the knee is exposed to less straining forces while sitting on the heels compared to other forms of kneeling and crouching. Seiza and hiza are identified as a recovery posture for the lumbar spine and knees, especially the knee caps. The erected upper body, a relieve of the patella exterior and the contact with soft tissue furthermore reduces the forces on thighs and knee joints.[2]

Seiza and MMA

And regarding ‘modern’ martial arts, actually most BJJ- and MMA practitioners will find themselves in seiza in nearly every training. Working from inside closed guard, a very common grappling posture, will most certainly lead to a seiza position. Therefore you often read about problems with sitting on the heels in MMA and Grappling related internet groups. So if you deem traditional seiza to be not relevant for you, think again.[3]

Seiza and bowing in MMA training

Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training
Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training

While longer periods of seiza sitting can have a negative effect on postural control after standing up because of occluding the blood flow of the lower limbs[4]and seiza at first can be very uncomfortable, especially on individuals not used to it. Seiza per se is deemed to be innocuous for the knees.[5] Of course regular training of seiza will reduce the negative effects so you can use the practice of seiza to it’s full potential.

Getting up

And there is more to seiza than to just sit on the floor. You have of course to transition from standing to the floor and get up again. While this is happening on a regular basis in every grappling- and throwing related art and is also still very present in middle east- and east asian cultures with a more floor-living lifestyle, this transitional movements are sadly very underrepresented in regular Karate practice. Transition into- and from seiza is your chance to experience this very important movement patterns.

Sitting/kneeling on the ground and transitioning to and from standing are a fundamental movement macronutrient, many are missing in their life and their natural movement training.

Ben Medder[6]

Measures

The osteopath Phillip Beach lists three common sense and clinically practical approaches to prevent musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction:

  • spending more time on the floor in archetypal positions (e.g. squatting[7], kneeling and seiza, cross legged sitting – ‘sitting on the floor in comfort is a developmental birthright’)
  • paying attention on the feet (our feet play a crucial role in our biomechanical well being and the rehabilitating of our feet is essential for reducing musculoskeletal distress)
  • revisiting the processes involved in rising from the floor to upright (‘the effort to erect oneself from the floor to standing are a way of finetuning the many muscles we use in life’) [8]

To love your reihō is to love your body! Make yourself familiar with correct bowing, squatting, seiza and corresponding transitional movements. This will improve your health, posture and after all your martial arts proficiency.

Florian Wiessmann: Practising Karate since the mid 1990s, I am currently a Nidan at the Nihon Karate-dō Shūshūkan, which is headed by Sugimori Kichinosuke (9.Dan) and its german branch is lead by Stephan Yamamoto (6.Dan). https://shushukan.com/

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines

[2] https://www.dguv.de/ifa/publikationen/reports-download/reports-2012/ifa-report-2-2012/index.jsp, p.70

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGeB7oS_Qa4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfH9JP8GDdk

[4] http://www.humanergology.com/old/jhe2005p/p13~23-Demura2.pdf

[5] http://drbillsclinic.com/seiza_position.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1bPbLyr8I

[7] s. also https://www.shushukan.de/squatting-as-a-general-karate-skill/

[8] Beach, Phillip: Muscles and Meridians – The manipulation of shape, Elsevier Ltd. 2010, p. 3-4 and Foreword

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Is Shotokan Karate Effective? About The Effectiveness Paranoia

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

The effectiveness of Shotokan karate as self-defense has caused plenty of discussions in the last decade. But is effectiveness even important? Are we paranoid when it come to effectiveness? By Jonas Correia

A few weeks ago arriving from Brazil, I had to go through the USA immigration. The immigration agent asked me what I was doing in Brazil. I replied that I went to compete and see my family. Asking me what I practice, I promptly answered: Karate. He asked me if I taught my students how to defend themselves from grappling and submission techniques. I said no, since most of them are children and barely learn the basics of karate. I didn’t find it necessary to teach techniques like the ones he mentioned.

He Questioned My Effectiveness

The truth is that he seemed to be a jiu-jitsu sympathizer and even questioned the effectiveness of my teaching method. Believe me, this conversation happened during my reentry in the US! I looked at his gun at the waist and said, if we are going to think about effectiveness obsessively, I should teach them how to fire too. He smiled. I mentioned that most jiu-jitsu schools only focus on competitions these days. But they also do not prepare you to face two opponents at once.

What does Effectiveness mean?

The point of this text is not to discuss the effectiveness of Jiu-jitsu or Karate. Because we can be the strongest of fighters and a simple microscopic virus can knock you down. So what is your perspective on effectiveness? How many martial arts masters have ever been shot? And how many martial arts masters have died from drug or alcohol use? How can someone who can’t beat himself get into a discussion about effectiveness? Wouldn’t being effective mean everything that makes you survive longer?

The Effectiveness Paranoia of Shotokan Karate

Whenever people ask me about the most effective martial art, I answer: the most effective is the one that makes you happy to be training. The rest is brainwashing and repetitive marketing.

Is Shotokan Karate effective?
Our authors, Jonas Correia, in Berlin. Jonas has an incredible fighting record. Fighting in shobu ippon, 8-point fights, and Karate Combat.

But the paranoia about the effectiveness of certain martial arts has grown so incalculably. As a result, even great masters get carried away with it. It is disappointing to come to a dojo and encounter the abundant collective narcissism that has become a kind of sect. We see this thinking within Karate organizations as well. Due to different founders’ perspectives, the arts constantly change and their style may be totally different in the future.

Train, Whatever Makes You Happy

The best thing to do is to humble down, and recognize the qualities and defects of the martial arts you practice. That makes it possible to turn yourself in an effective fighter. But if you do not care much about it, train whatever makes you happy.

I believe we should think less about issues like this. However, we should train to improve ourselves to become better practitioners. Nothing is perfect and totally effective. Better to learn it this way, to than become disappointed later.

The more we talk the less we train.

Oss.


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