The Edge Of Experience
By Christopher Caile
Stories abound in the martial arts of the aging master of their art defeating
younger, stronger opponents. But is this true for karate?
Many of these stories come from the Japanese sword arts. Richard Kim
(the great Karate teacher, historian and writer now deceased) had a favorite
story of a seasoned teacher of Japanese sword arts (kenjitsu practiced
by kata) who quickly defeated several younger, stronger competitive kendo
players in a challenge match. His advantage was long practice and honed
skills in timing, distance, subtle technique and a mind hardened by long
practice and discipline.
I have also seen an old black and white film of Kyuzo Mifune, 10th dan
(1883-1965), the famous Japanese judo pioneer and once head of the Kodokan’s
instructors (headquarter of Kodokan judo) practice fighting with a fellow
black belt judo player that could easily have been his grandson. Whenever
the younger man attempted a throw, the elder Mifune would counter with
some subtle technique and in the process of the practice the younger seemed
almost powerless to stop Mafuni’s technique.
But these were not karate Coffee Dan (1), those who get their
black belt and then largely give up competition, practice fighting and
substitute talk for rigorous training. Many become senior students, others
are teachers or those who just don’t like competition. In short,
they never develop their skills much beyond the basics, which got them
to black belt. Whatever skills they had are then often eroded by excess
weight, loss of skill and lack of practice.
That’s why the younger, more athletic practiced karate-ka often
dominate in fighting matches.
Some karate practitioners, however, keep working and developing. They
keep practice fighting to hone superior skills of timing, movement and
strategy. They know what to do when faced with different types of fighters
and can quickly size up an opponent’s weakness. They also work on
makawara or on practice punching/kicking bags to develop strength and
speed of technique. But these experienced practitioners are unfortunately
in the minority. (2)
Not too long ago I visited Jamaica for our Seido Karate’s celebration
of the 30th Anniversary of the Jamaican headquarters in Kingston. Part
of the celebration was an island-wide open karate tournament. Several
students from Seido New York’s Honbu (world headquarters) and elsewhere
attended to compete.
One man who attended from New York was Seido’s Paul Williams (5th
dan, Kyoshi). While attention was focused on the younger competition,
Paul easily won the “Over 40 Black Belt Kumite” (free fighting)
section. The Grand Champion was then decided in a round robin competition
between the light weight category champion, heavy weight category champion,
last year’s Grand Champion and that older guy, Paul something, from
Paul faced two competitors, the light and heavy weight champions in the
round robin match. Both were tall and lanky fighters who had exhibited
lightening fast kicking combinations to dominate their weight classes.
They were also young, 17 or 18 years old.
When the first faced Paul in the Championship round, you could almost
see his mind thinking, “I won’t embarrass this old guy too
much.” He was in for a surprise. So was his next opponent. And I
must admit, I had thoughts too, like “I hope Paul isn’t out
of his class here.” I was a little afraid for him.
What I, and the others forgot or didn’t know was that Paul Williams
was really experienced and had fought regularly. He had won Grand Championships
in various tournaments for decades (equally good in point, semi-contact
and full contact). He has honed his skills and weapons and is equally
good with his hands and feet. And, I might add, no one actually knows
how old he is since he won’t tell, but he is no youngster.
The final matches turned into a seminar on how to dominate an opponent
with superior skills. The younger contestants had superior reach, speed
and probably better kicking skills. But Paul Williams dominated through
his use of timing, distance, movement and fighting strategy. In both of
his final two matches Paul scored almost at will-- point…point...point…point
---using timing and positioning to avoid kicks and then countering with
either his hands or legs. The final score in his last match was 10 points
to 2 points.
This proved to be a great shock to Paul’s competitors. They started
out so confident and ended with only questions as to how they could be
so vulnerable. The outcome was a great lesson for all.
This example shows that even in karate, an experienced karate practitioner
with honed skills can beat a younger, stronger and faster, but less experienced,
competitor. It also shows how skills in timing, positioning, strategy
can be honed through practice and experience, and that being more advanced
in age does not mean being less skilled --quite the opposite is true.
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com.
He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years and a teacher
of karate since 1962. He is the author of over 300 articles and columns
on the martial arts and editor of several martial arts books. Over the
last 20 years he has conducts seminars on street self-defense to community
and student groups in both the United States and Canada. His seminars
topics also include his specialty areas of kata applications and joint
locks and other jujutsu-like techniques found within karate. Caile started
his martial arts career in judo. Then he added karate as a student of
Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then
hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later
in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho
Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black
belt (Sei Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo (NYC). He is also
Sensei in Wadokai Aikido under Roy Suenaka Sensei. Other experience includes
diato-ryu aikijujutsu, Hakuho-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto
Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including
Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wing Chun, Chin Na and Shuai
Chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch
of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of
the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.).
He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in
Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast
Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies
in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional
life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.