Reflections On The Development Of The GCL Method Of Modern Karate.
Like many boys of my generation, I wanted to be Bruce Lee. When I started my martial arts journey in 1978, I was first and foremost looking for an effective method of self-defense.
At that time, I was a shy, often bullied 3rd grader. My mother enrolled me in a local Boys Club Boxing program. Later, I would study Traditional Taekwondo for 10 years, attain a high red belt (1 stripe shy of black belt), only to find myself rejecting the rigid forms and stances as stiff, unrealistic, never used by me (or any of the black belts) when we sparred, and thus a waste of time. I dropped out of Taekwondo to pursue Thai Kickboxing for 5 years. In that time, I also briefly studied Wing Chun Kung Fu (both 'classical' and 'non-classical'), and Arnis.
Yet, I missed both the aesthetic and family atmosphere of a traditional martial arts school. And the after-work commute to Kickboxing had me consistently missing the first 30 minutes of class. I found a Enshin Karate dojo in Seattle and studied there for 8 years under 1990 Sabaki Challenge Champion Sensei Vernon Owens.
This organization was headed by Kancho Joko Ninomiya, the winner of the 1978 All-Japan Kyokushin Karate tournament. During our dojo's last 2 years as an independent school (Sensei Owens founded Kenzen Karate after splitting from the Enshin organization) I earned my nidan and began my studies of grappling under Marcelo Alonso (Brazilian Jujitsu black belt under Carlson Gracie, Jr.) and later under Rodreigo Lopez (Gracie Barra organization).
From the early 1990's to 2016, I have worked security at various nightclubs and outdoor events all over Seattle (an education in its own right). Sensei Owens was kind enough to turn me on to arrest and control techniques he learned in the U.S. Army and used as a bouncer in various clubs on the base.
Even with the solid self-defense tool box I was assembling, the spontaneity of alcohol-fueled, real-deal assaults upon guests and staff forced me to rethink the application(s) of many of my tools, as well as modify them for quicker deployment.
This also meant the introduction of one of the greatest, yet least understood (and thus least applied) tools: dialogue and body language.
Many altercations I had been involved in were entirely unnecessary. Neither my traditional instructors, who practiced mostly katas and non-contact sparring, nor my hardcore sport-fighting coaches who had us practicing full contact on each other, had ever even discussed how to deal with the sucker-puncher or how ones body language and dialogue can effect who goes home and who goes to the hospital (or to the morgue).
None of them mentioned to me how the management of the effect of adrenaline on ones fine motor skills and situational awareness could potentially determine the outcome of a violent encounter. Both the 'classical' martial arts and sport-fighting arts I was studying had lost a key aspect of their actual, real-world combat effectiveness.
The first author I heard speak to this phenomenon was Peyton Quinn in his classic book "A Bouncer's Guide To Barroom Brawling". Later, I would begin ordering instructional VHS tapes from instructors Tony Blauer (Blauer Tactical/S.P.E.A.R. System) and Bill Wolfe (Modern Defendo). I also began searching the internet for as many CCTV-captured assaults as I could find to study in detail. And I would write down incidents at clubs I witnessed, participated in (in my role as nightclub security), or was told about. In addition to traditional and sport-oriented martial arts, I have studied at the Basic Self-Defense Course, taught by PREPARE Portland. And in August of 2009, like a dream come true I won a spot at Blauer's Personal Defense Readiness Summer Camp.
Thus began the genesis of the GCL Method of Modern Karate. My method, the GCL Method, is my understanding, expression, and interpretation of the techniques, concepts, teaching methodologies, and practice of Karate. It is also a continuation of the lineage of full-contact/bare-knuckle karate systems begun by Mas Oyama of Kyokushinkai, advanced by Hideyuki Ashihara (founder of Ashihara Karate, and a student of Oyama) and further re-interpreted by Joko Ninomiya (founder of Enshin Karate and a student of both Ashihara and Oyama).
Most importantly, it is my humble attempt to place a greater emphasis on effectiveness in the realm of real-world application, and less emphasis on being effective in tournament competitions (when we do participate, we do so only in full-contact sport-fighting events); while at the same time retaining the 'traditional' aesthetic and work ethic of karate-do (way): self-discipline, mutual respect, proper dojo etiquette, use of the Japanese language to describe specific techniques, friendship, family, and dedication to all-around self-improvement physically, mentally, and spiritually. or, to put it another way: higher consciousness through harder, smarter, more well-rounded training.
One example of this scientific progress was my modifications to the fighting katas developed by Kancho Ninomiya.
His katas consisted of a mix of both full-contact tournament techniques and street-appropriate techniques. Most required fine motor skills and flawless timing. And they didn't take into account the effects of adrenaline upon the practitioner, uneven or wet surfaces, armed attackers, or attackers with inaccurate, sloppy striking techniques that could virtually come out of nowhere and still do serious damage.
I also wanted the katas to take proper striking form and technique and 'hardwire' it into the student. Over thinking a response to an ambush situation takes away from effective defense against it and further limits an already limited number of choices. I also placed greater emphasis on continuous attacking (sometimes while blocking, often in place of blocking), rather than only blocking and countering the attack.
My training in Brazilian Jujitsu gave me a solid ground-fighting foundation. Less talked about are the grappling techniques found in Okinawan Karate, specifically Goju-Ryu, as taught by Dan Ivan. I have included elements of both arts in this system of karate. The difference is in the application: ground-fighting limits mobility and opens one up to multiple attackers and sharp objects at close range the longer one stays on the ground, especially if one does not have control over the opponent. I now teach that all strikes and submissions should lead to top position and escape, ideally in 30 seconds or less.
GCL Modern Karate is but one approach to Karate-do and self-defense among many. I would argue it that its one of the most scientific and progressive method of 'traditional' karate. One of its stated aims is bridging the gap between martial arts techniques and real-world application. I nicknamed this system of karate "Shigaisen" (or, "street-fighting" in Japanese) as a sober reminder to both students and instructors alike of the underlying deadly seriousness of our studies and the possible consequences of our practical applications.
Though we all may walk the path of peace in our daily lives, that road is cut through a world of potentially violent situations; situations made especially deadly when experienced in the context of a society where gun and blade ownership (both legally and illegally) is common and criminality is encouraged by oppressive social/political/economic structures. The idea is to prepare for the worst, so as to prevent it from actually happening!
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