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Interview of Shinyu Gushi
Uechi Ryu, 9th Dan
Dragon Times Issue #14

Not many people find an 9th Dan karate instructor at the front door on a Sunday morning, especially not one carrying a large box of doughnuts. But then working at Dragon Times never was boring, and nor was this particular day as it started with a serious period while we checked his latest video, progressed to light hearted discussions over lunch, and turned into mirth and hilarity as the day drew to a close.

Gushi sensei, every inch the stern karate master on the outside, has a well-developed sense of humor we discovered. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, I ended up being its target and as a result, the source of a great deal of amusement for my co-workers. At one stage while he was explaining a technique he made his hand into "hiraken" then grabbing my head without warning with his other claw-like appendage, rapped his knuckles on the side of my temple saying as he did so in a rather matter-of-fact way, "because this area (of my head) is very weak, you don't have to hit too hard!"

I did survive the day although as my eye glasses now list heavily to port like a ship getting ready to capsize, I must assume that they were bent during the demonstration or, as seems likely from the pain I felt when I woke up next morning, he displaced my left ear by half an inch.

Dragon Times: Many readers have asked us about your muscle-development. They want to know if you do weight training or if not, what sort of training you do to keep yourself in such good condition.

Shinyu Gushi: I don't do any weight training. I used to do a little when I was young but Uehara sensei told me that it I should concentrate on the quality of my muscles and not just their size so I cut it down to a minimum. It's good to be strong but in karate it's speed and "snap" that you need. What muscles I have comes from Sanchin training and using nigiri game. Muscles developed this way serve to protect the body, weight training just produces a pleasing appearance.

When you are fighting (drops into Sanchin stance) you pull your shoulders down like this and tense your muscles, including those around your throat to make a shield. With your body round and compact and your muscles tense you are relatively safe and protected. We pull everything into the center, lower our bodies like this and make them round and smooth. Techniques are performed in front of the body, we don't block above the level of the head for example because that would weaken our defenses.

DT: How would you say that karate has changed since you started training?

SG: In some ways it has changed for the better, in others for the worse. Times change and with them the way that we lead our lives. When I started karate we would make our uniforms out of U.S. Army flour sacks because everything was in such short supply in postwar Okinawa. Nowadays most youngsters have everything they need or want but are no happier than we were.

What I do regret are the misunderstandings that have occurred about technique. When demand for tuition became very strong during the sixties and seventies, students were given permission to teach before they were ready. Not knowing the bunkai, that is, the purpose the movements they were teaching, they ended up just teaching the movements. This is like giving someone a map without indicating in which direction north lies-you sort of know where you going, but then again you don't.

The result of this were students who slavishly performed the basic form of the technique without knowing its purpose. For example, koi no shippo (goldfish tail block) is performed slowly in the kata (demonstrates) but in fact it is either a very sharp upward block, or a powerful downward strike to the opponent's hand. The student might think that it should be performed during kumite as it is done during the kata, but this is completely wrong. The point I am trying to make is that is if you have never seen a nail you will not know how to use a hammer.

In authentic Uechi Ryu there is order and method, and this must be passed on to students perfectly, not just the physical appearance of techniques as has been the case so often in the past. If you are attacked strongly you block softly-absorbing and deflecting. This is the Crane method. When you attack you do so fiercely, gripping your opponent so he cannot escape and striking him really hard-this is the way of the Tiger. Other techniques are inspired by the imaginary movements of a dragon, that is why our method is referred to as Ryokokaku-Dragon, Tiger, Crane school.

DT: Do you teach differently now than you did in Okinawa?

SG: In some ways yes. When I came to the United States, students asked me many questions about technique which is not the way we do things at home. I was accustomed to waiting patiently until one of my seniors in the dojo would decide that it was time for me to learn something new. The American way was a little unsettling at first, but it caused me to rationalize things that I had always done instinctively. Then, and only then could I explain them logically, which is what the Western mind has been trained to expect. This period of self-examination made me aware of the real secrets of karate so you could say that it was not until I became 8th Dan that I really knew what I was doing!

But don't think that there are short cuts because there aren't. Learning karate properly is hard work, you will often feel pain and exhaustion, frustration, and from time to time you will suffer injury. Karate still involves strengthening and conditioning the body, learning the techniques so you can do them without thinking, and building a strong spirit. When you have perfected each and can bring them together perfectly, you are really doing karate and your ability will become much greater than the sum of the three constituent parts.

DT: Is this why you decided to produce your video series?

SG: Well, my students said that I should, and now I agree with them. Before you train with a senior teacher you should watch and listen to the videos and learn as much as you can, then your time in the dojo will be used to the greatest benefit. If you can really absorb what is shown on the videos and perform it to a reasonable standard, it will take you to the level of third or fourth dan. Watch and listen, think about what you have seen, and train as hard as you can.

The videos give a visual example of technique which is very useful. For example, I see so many people these days just standing up straight when they perform Sanchin and pushing their arms out in front of them. That's not the way. You have to lower your body into Sanchin stance (demonstrates) like this, so that there is only a small gap between your knees and your groin is protected. You thrust strongly with your arms, don't just push them forward. This is serious business and you must learn properly the first time otherwise the techniques won't work.

DT: Do you have any strong views about sparring?

SG: Not sparring as such but the use of protectors or pads can be a problem. In Okinawa we don't use them as body conditioning is part of Uechi system that teaches us to withstand pain and avoid injury. When extensive protection is used students lose all fear, much of their control, and a good deal of their mobility. Sparring become a wild brawl with punches being swung indiscriminately and the fighter with the longest arms and legs usually comes out on top. I realize that there is a liability problem in the U.S. and insurance companies probably insist on protection being worn before they will give coverage, but we must remember that competition sparring is not real fighting.

DT: We are often asked by readers if you are going to open a dojo so they can train with you. Do you have any plans?

SG: No! Running a dojo is a big responsibility and very time consuming. I would end up teaching beginners to cover the overhead which would prevent me from teaching senior students and younger instructors which I feel is my real mission. I travel to do seminars however, and I will be teaching at seminars organized by Tsunami Productions later this year.

DT: I understand that on the last of the four part series you will be demonstrating kobudo. Can you tell us something of the background of your training?

SG: Well, I started about 45 years ago with Akamine Shoichi sensei, and also trained with one of my karate teachers, Seiko Itokazu sensei. The kata are mainly from the Matayoshi school but as you know, kata varies a little from dojo to dojo. I have studied the bo, eku, sai and nunchaku. There is no official kobudo style for Uechi Ryu, we choose what we like and train with the teacher we prefer.

DT: Thank you sensei for giving us this interview. I have seen your video series and was very impressed-it is excellent. I hope that it will make more people aware of the genuinely traditional training that you offer.