21 May 2012

A weekend with grandmaster

I had the pleasure this past weekend to work with Grandmaster Fusei Kise and his son, Kaicho Isao Kise at a karate seminar here in the NW.

Grandmaster is a remarkable person, to put it mildly and with a great degree of understatement. He survived the Battle of Okinawa as a young child and endured much deprivation in the years to follow. He chose to dedicate his life to the study and preservation of the traditional Okinawan martial arts as a young man and continues to do so. He has been a 10th degree black belt for 25 years! He is, it seems, as old as the hills and as enduring. He is pushing 80, but still as tough as nails. Standing a diminutive 5'0", he can toss young men about like rag dolls, despite the fact that they have 12 inches of height, 60 lbs, and 50 less years of age on them. And his bones are so dense that blocking his punches feels like smashing your forearms into a cement wall.

Age is beginning to take a little toll on him: his kicks are no longer any higher than his waist, and workouts of longer than two hours are taxing. Still, I can only hope to be in as good shape when I am 80.

We also benefitted from a great degree of personal instruction from Kaicho. The man is amazing with the fluidity and precision of his movements, and his discerning eye which will spot (and correct) a student's most subtle flaws — a slight misalignment of this hips, say, or a strike which arcs in an inaccurate angle. The legend is that in all his years of competition in karate tournaments he was never once deducted a point, except one time when he forgot his belt. When he enrolled in tournaments, the other competitors would drop out. Having the opportunity to observe him up close, I believe it.

This weekend we worked on kata (traditional forms) and some sport kata (forms adapted for tournaments), as well as fighting drills and tuite (standing grappling techniques) and time with traditional martial arts weapons. This in addition to a great deal of conditioning work and body toughening.

We shared a lot of sweat and bruises. Sometimes it seems as if nothing in the words is as funny as watching a close friend writhing in pain as Grandmaster demonstrates a particularly agonizing maneuver on him. And a few minutes later, it is your turn to experience the pain as you become the tackling dummy. Afterwards, you rub your wrists or neck or wherever the technique was performed, and all you can do is laugh. But it's a gift as well: once you've had a joint lock performed on you, you will never forget how it works and how to apply it yourself.

A weekend of karate — inspiration from the great masters and comradeship with our fellow students. Good times.

And if you see me walking funny in the ER tonight, you'll know why.


  1. What an awe-inspiring teacher, and what a privilege to learn from him.

    Okinawa was the birthplace and childhood home of my teacher's teacher, too. His name was simply Master Tosh; he too was diminutive and powerful as all hell. Sadly, he died in the 1980's of liver failure.

    Okinawan styles are profoundly challenging and strength-building, but woe betide the easily-bruised. I was never in better shape, or more black-and-blue, in my life!

  2. Gotta love old karate people. My sensei is 60 and can f'in kill you with HIS MIND. His sensei is in his upper 70s and can kill you just by being in the same room with him if he's in the wrong mood.


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