May 13

Results from Morrow’s 39th Semi-Annual Tournament in Davenport

I always tell my martial arts students that a tournament only represents how you performed that day, at that time, in front of  a set of judges, in a division with a set of people. In other words, you can almost never predict how you’ll be scored by the judges.

After coming up short at the 20th annual North American Grand Nationals last week, two of us placed in four different divisions at Morrow’s 39th semi-annual tournament in Davenport at St. Ambrose University.

Faith Robertson and Mr. Bockler

I’m very proud of Faith Robertson’s 3rd-place victory in her division with green and blue belts. I judged her division last week, but got to watch her as a spectator. I could tell she’s been fine-turning her performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she does in the future. She received what I always consider to be the best compliment you can get at a martial arts tournament: a judge from her division came up to her at the end of the day, gave her some tips about how to improve, and told her she thought Faith should have won first place.

I placed first in three black belt divisions – forms, sparring and…horse-riding stance.

That’s right – horse-riding stance. Mr. Morrow is the only person I know to have a horse-riding stance competition at his tournament. The goal is simple. Sink into a horse stance so that your legs are parallel to the ground and can balance a bo. When your legs give out, the bo falls. The last person to remain in the stance wins. After what was probably about 2 minutes, I managed to outlast five others.

My forms division was tough.

One competitor was in his first black belt division after being promoted earlier this spring. I know it’s recent because I worked with him at a seminar in February and he was still a brown belt.

Another pair of competitors were a husband-and-wife combo, who I first noticed at this event last year for their internal martial arts. While I’ve been trained for most of my martial arts career in the hard style of karate, seeing a Chinese style such as tai chi chuan in this type of environment is great.

The other competitor was a karate stylist who, I discovered after talking to later, seemed to be a Japanese or Okinawan stylist. We talked for a bit, and I could tell he respected Shuri-ryu.


My sparring division was even tougher. I don’t often spar in tournaments since my emphasis is typically on kata. But, after five years of coming to this tournament, I thought it was finally time I strap on the gear.

One competitor drew blood in the first match, cutting his opponent right under the eye. These accidents happen. He lost the match, and I assume left the building. He didn’t even stick around to watch the rest of the matches. I can only suspect why he left, so I can’t say with certainty what happened. If he left because he was upset about not winning the match, I hope that in the future, he represents himself and his school in a better manner.

I defeated two competitors, including the fresh black belt I mentioned earlier, as well as the brown belt who received the cut. (Due to lack of competitors in his division, or his age – I’m not exactly sure – this individual was placed with the black belts.)

Fasting to End Hunger

Every year in time for his tournament, Mr. Morrow fasts. He does this for a number of reasons: to show discipline, to demonstrate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and to show that the martial arts can help you persevere. But mostly, Mr. Morrow was doing this as a means to eradicate world hunger. He says of the 7 billion people in this world, so many are obese and so many go hungry. “Let’s balance that out,” he told the crowd.

Mr. Morrow, 61, then proceeded to do 130 pushups on the backs of his hands in 60 seconds, unofficially breaking his Guinness World Record of 123. An article that appears to be from 2006 discusses this feat.

Overall, this is a great martial arts tournament to attend. Quick divisions. Fair judges. Great competitors.

What more do you need? 

April 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.

April 12

Forms Training for Tournament Competition

Last night’s advanced class featured one of my favorite drills for competition training – drilling one form 16 times in four different ways.

It’s very tiring when done right, but I know it can lead to improved tournament preparation. I credit this drill – along with regular practice and instruction – for the numerous 1st-place trophies I’ve accrued at martial arts tournaments.

Mr. Bockler competes at the 2009 Metamora Martial Arts Open Tournament

Mr. Bockler competes at the 2009 Metamora Martial Arts Open Tournament

You’ve picked two forms – your primary form and your back-up form. You know you need to spice up the form for competition, so you’re not necessarily concerned about practical application. Knowing the difference between practical application and competition is crucial.

For competition, we emphasize the “art” of martial arts. We want the form to look good. We still want to know the application, and we still want to show intent of destroying opponents, but everyone should acknowledge that a competition form may not be the same as a practical form.

For example, competition forms may feature kicks to the head, slow, tense breathing techniques, elongated stances, and more graceful motions than we might use in a real fight.

In reality, for self-defense, we would keep the kicks low, perform our moves quickly, and keep a higher stance for protection and ease of movement.

Know that we know a little bit about the differences between the types of forms we can do, practice this drill with any of your karate forms, tae kwon do forms, kung fu forms and the list goes on.

I don’t have a name for the drill (yet), but let me explain it.

Four Times for Power

Facing a direction, perform your form four times for pure power. Don’t worry about how fast you go through; every move should break a board. That includes blocks, punches, kicks, and even the bow and the mudra.

These forms are all about destruction.

Four Times for Speed

Turn 90 degrees clockwise so you’re facing a different direction. Then, practice your form four times for speed. Make sure your attacks still have a focus and that you’re not just flailing your arms and legs out there.

You’ll probably notice your stances are a little higher up than usual. Your techniques will be sloppier, but we’ll take care of that in a minute.

Again, even the bow and the mudra should be done quickly.

Four Times for Grace

Turn 90 degrees clockwise again.

Now, practice your form for grace. This is where precision techniques and elongated stances come into play. Your muscles will probably be very sore after this if you aren’t using to working deep horse stances or deep front stances very often.

The movements should not be tense. In fact, you should be very relaxed. Focus on breathing and targeting.

Four Times Together

Turn 90 degrees clockwise one more time, and combine what you’ve learned.

To best demonstrate this, I’ll share with you how I’m preparing my form.

I open with a series of blocks. I do them with grace, and also with tension (advanced ranks will be working more with tension and breathing). On my last block, I do it very quickly, then explode with a series of powerful punches. Within 10 seconds, I have demonstrated all of the elements of a good karate tournament kata.

This is where you can mix it up. Maybe you would perform those blocks quickly, do a graceful final block, and then explode into your power.

As I explained to the students last night – think of your kata like the alphabet. There are certain ways for movements to fit together, just like there are certain ways for letters to fit together. Everybody has different handwriting. And most everybody will perform their form just a little bit different than everybody else.

Use this drill to make your kata unique to you.

Support Metamora Martial Arts as we compete at the North American Grand Nationals in Rockford on May 5!

March 18

Adam Bockler Takes First Place in Black Belt Division at Auvenshine’s Open Tournament

Yesterday was the 13th open tournament hosted by Bill and Patty Auvenshine. I’m happy to say I placed first in the 2nd-degree-and-up black belt forms division, ages 16-34. I have competed only as a black belt at this tournament four times since 2007, and yesterday, I finally clinched a goal of placing first.

Due to a last-minute schedule change, my tournament companion Joshu Adair was unable to accompany me to the event, meaning I have no footage of my two performances. I say two because after all of the black belt divisions finished, the first-place winners were called back for the grand championship. I thought it was cool how that was organized. We were asked to be seated and then turn around. This way, we couldn’t see our competitors’ performance and we were only told what form we would be doing once we were standing in front of the judges. We were all given the number 5, meaning we had to perform the equivalent form in our system. For us, Empi Sho is the fifth form, meaning that’s what I had to compete with.

In a tournament predominately attended by tae kwon do practitioners, I’m proud to have represented not only Metamora Martial Arts, but the art of karate itself.

The event featured two unique twists that not many open tournaments (that I’ve been to, anyway) have, and those were grappling and special divisions. As we had our backs turned to the judges and competitors during the grand championship, I found myself more focused on studying the grapplers – how they jockey for position standing up, how the people on the bottom can attempt to kick their legs out to pass the guard, and how that one guy took a gamble on a sacrifice grab. Since I didn’t win the big trophy, hindsight is telling me perhaps I should’ve been thinking about my own forms a little more than I did. I only saw about half of a sparring match with the special competitors, but I think it’s a cool thing for the Auvenshines to offer.

This year, I’ve been noticing several family members or friends using iPads to record their favorite competitors. I first noticed this last week at the Supreme Way Challenge. It makes sense, given that the iPad 2 that came out last spring was the first with a camera on it. I didn’t attend any competitions last summer, so this year is the first time I’m really seeing them. My guess is we’ll see more and more iPads on the sidelines.

Of course, it was great seeing Mr. and Mrs. Aldus (who are putting on a seminar for us, in case you haven’t heard), Ms. Harrison, the Auvenshines, and Mr. Walker and his troops. And a special thanks Mr. Budan for doing a great job running the ring I judged yesterday, and to Mr. Warren (whose first name escapes me) and the boy who both came up to me and told me they liked my form. Having a trophy would have been cool, but knowing that total strangers appreciate what I did is enough for me.

March 11

Adair Rodriguez Places 3rd in Men’s Black Belt Kata at Supreme Way Challenge

Joshu Adair Rodriguez placed third in men’s black belt kata Saturday at the Supreme Way Challenge in Pekin. His Nan Dan Sho proved a stiff challenge for the tremendous competitors in our division. I performed Kanku Sho.

Supreme Way Challenge 2012 - Adair Rodriguez, 3rd place champion in men's black belt kata, and Adam Bockler I wanted to post a few takeaways from this tournament:

* I love what we do. I really do. I think are forms are cool, and I think how we do them is cool and works for us. But there are so many other cool martial arts out there. I saw some great forms competitors today who represented their school and their art very well. Several times I said to myself, “I have to learn that form!”

* In my studies of other arts, I try not to focus on the differences. However, I noticed students who were running the same forms we do that were running variants. I saw a Wansu that looked to be more performed at a 45-degree angle than a straight line. Adair saw a Go Pei Sho where a te uke usually on one side was on the other. Some people started their forms with or added a few “extras” along the way. But, again, the main idea is that they’re doing exactly just what we do with some modifications. It’s like handwriting – everybody does it, but each person has their own individual touch.

* I was struck by several martial artists who, several years ago, were still kyu ranks and were now black belts, taking responsibility for judging and really upping their competitive game. These martial artists competed in Metamora when we would host open tournaments, and it was great to see how they’ve advanced since our last one in 2010.

For those who asked yesterday that may be reading this: Yes, I’d like to eye an open tournament again. But first, we need to get our martial artists out to other tournaments to see how it’s done.

* Coaching your students from outside the ring is okay, depending on the rules of the particular tournament. Blatantly standing behind a referee and vocally disagreeing with the calls is unsportsmanlike, though at least a judge can choose not to acknowledge it. Getting in the face of the center referee and cussing him out, however, is not an appropriate way to handle those disagreements. There was an incident today between two instructors that I feel did not represent martial artists in the best light. Thankfully, this incident is in the minority.

* Kudos to Mr. and Mrs. Fink of Kosho Kai Karate in Pekin. They did a great job of making sure that things ran smoothly. And thanks to the Lincoln’s Challenge cadets who also volunteered their time to help out.