Apr 28

Master Phillip Koeppel: Pay Attention to Details

During 2013, I’ve made a personal goal to attend as many seminars as my schedule (and budget) allows me to.

One I wanted to make sure was on my radar was a seminar taught by Mr. Phillip Koeppel and hosted by the Springfield Karatedo Budokai.

Mr. Koeppel teaches kyu ranks at his 10th annual seminar in Springfield

Mr. Koeppel teaches kyu ranks at his 10th annual seminar in Springfield

Peoria-area martial artists should be familiar with Mr. Koeppel. He opened his first school in Peoria in 1960 and, from what I can gather, has been in or around town ever since. He’s also the founder of the United States Karate-do Kai, an international organization consisting of karate schools of different styles whose headquarters is in Peoria.

Metamora Martial Arts students should associate Mr. Koeppel as a senior student of Master Robert Trias, with whom he trained for 22 years.

“I was the first shichidan (7th-degree black belt) he ever promoted,” Mr. Koeppel said in an interview with H.P. Henry. “He promoted others later on to this grade, but as far as I know, and as far as I am concerned, he never graded anyone above the rank of shichidan.”

(The interview is great, by the way. I suggest reading it. Mr. Koeppel talks about training with Master Trias in great detail, as well as his entire martial arts career, and led him to leave Shuri-ryu and begin taking up Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu, with which he developed his own style, Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu Koeppel-ha.)

Upon his arrival in Peoria in the mid-1970s, Mr. Hawkey trained at a dojo owned and operated by Mr. Koeppel and received instruction under one of Mr. Koeppel’s instructors, Mr. Randy Holman.

The seminar itself was intriguing.

Mr. Koeppel, 75, started by running the attendees (mostly black belts) through Ryu Sho Ken. I quickly realized I was one of the few who did not know this form. With the help of Mr. Loyd Shults and his son, I was able to keep up. Mr. Shults looked at me at one point and said, “I can tell you don’t know this form.”

I really liked what was described as the “Four Winds Kata.” I found my phone and recorded a group of attendees practicing the form so that I could review it later.

As he was throughout the four-hour session, Mr. Koeppel was a stickler for details. He described how the feet should move in two motions instead of one, and how the hands and feet should be at 35-degree angles. He illustrated exactly how the hands should swing down for the opening motion.

Clearly this day was about perfecting. Not introducing.

After Ryu Sho Ken, we went over gokui waza. In talking with Mr. Shults, Mr. Koeppel created the gokui waza to be short snippets of kata. In other words, Mr. Koeppel would extract essential points in kata for shorter, more direct waza. These are similar to our ippons, taezus and kihons.

Again, more detail. Raise the arm up vertically instead of rotating it out. Step out of the line of attack. And so on.

My favorite part of the session was a Chinese form that I understood to sound like Ba Bu Lin (I’ve seen other spellings online, including Ba Bu Lian or Lien. Somebody help me understand which would be proper).

Mr. Koeppel said he learned this form from Patrick McCarthy, translator of the famed text, Bubishi, in 1997. “I’ve dedicated my life to learning it,” he said to me afterward.

The form appears briefly in the Bubishi under the name Happoren. It is also apparently a predecessor to Tensho, a tension form for advanced ranks in Shuri-ryu.

As a practitioner of Chinese martial arts, I instantly loved the form and am working on memorizing the movements.

Again, Mr. Koeppel emphasized details. The traditional Chinese opening of the form. Breathing when releasing the tension in the hands. Releasing energy on a movement known as “fire hands.”

Overall, this was a great seminar to attend. Mr. Lucky Phillips hosted it at his home dojo, a beautiful space in a Morton-style building. And, if the seminar wasn’t enough, Mr. Phillips cooked a big cauldron of chili for everyone to enjoy afterward.

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Adam Bockler

Sensei Adam Bockler is a 2nd-degree black belt in karate and the owner of Metamora Martial Arts. He's been in the martial arts since 2003, and has received instruction in tai chi chuan, Hsing-i chuan, judo, tae kwon do and XMA. Sensei Bockler was inducted into the 2014 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Karate Black Belt of the Year. He is the communications manager for Float Mobile Learning.

  1. Jason Simpkins 17 Mar 2014 | reply

    This is very interesting, as I and my family are students of Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu under Sensei Payne, Warriors Way Karate, CO. Now I understand where some of the Waza’s and Kata’s come from and why.

    -js

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