was describing my efforts to remember what I had learned about Sherman Harrill
to a friend from extensive Northern Chinese Systems. His were very different
traditions than those of karate. This came from that discussion.
of my ongoing project documenting Mr. Harrill’s technique. I thing I may have
300 technique applications documented, and I still have 5 hour of video tape I
was permitted to film from that clinic to covery. An I’m fully area that that
is but a fraction of what your systems cover.
process applied by Mr. Harrill as I’m beginning to comprehend, is he takes a
look at every piece of the movement. Besides looking at a technique from both
sides, he examines every portion of striking surface, every location that the
technique could be landed, plays with the timing of the sequences too.
compared the application he showed for kata Naihanchi (Naihanchi Shodan) (as an intellectual exercise) to those documented by George
Dillman in his texts. There isn’t much by way of comparison. Mr. Harrill’s
applications are more extensive and in far greater grasp of the movement
potential of the kata.
I tried to
describe how he saw one kata movement as having many applications.
The movement to
be used was the descending lower X block from kata Chinto. This was the
movement from that first clinic that I chose.
into a forward left front stance and deliver a descending X block
Turn 180 degrees on a pivot on the right foot, the left leg in a crane stance as
3. Slide into a forward left front stance and deliver a descending X block
For the most
part in those days we did not study kata applications, However, for this
movement Lewis Sensei did suggest two different methods of execution could be
used as a descending X block
Against a right
front kick coming toward you one method was to cross the arms at the wrist and
use the top of the X formed to block into the kicking leg.
method against a right front kick coming towards you was to perform a left low
block to that leg, then as the left arm performs the block, the right vertical
knuckle punch strikes into the middle of their shin. This then is a class of
augmented strike, which looks like an X block. Performed at very fast speed,
anyone observing what was happening would see the X block as what was being
used, but the actual technique was the augmented block and strike, at the same
things all together, but they do resemble each other.
Fine uses for
the movement, but Sherman explored different possibilities.
1.)First he began with an attacker stepping in with a right
punch as if towards your solar plexus or abdomen.
defender steps in with his left foot and uses a right over left X block on top
of the attackers arm, below their elbow. The right arm goes across the
attackers arm. The left arm just blocks straight down, at the same time.
defender then turns 180 to the right, while rotating their left arm up and
around the attackers arm, bending their elbow. The defender draws their arms
into their chest during the turn, and at the completion of their 180 they have
locked the attacker’s arm and taken them down to the floor.
Next he explores variations of that takedown, against the attacker Right foot
forward right punch or the left foot forward left punch.
defender uses the double hand descending X block wind up motion to parry the
attackers first punch on the inside.
defender can then:
Take the left arm and block/strike down as the right hand strikes across that
arm into the abdomen.
Take the left hand and on the interior line of defense, strike into the ribs as
the right strikes into the solar plexus.
c. Use the descending X block to
strike to the top of the right
punch then finish with number 1. above.
Explore the X block on the interior line of defense as an inside parry of the
attackers first punch, then the options of the X strike.
a right punch into the abdomen with the left hand strike hitting above the
Deliver a left strike into the abdomen with the right hand punch after that
strike immediately following it.
Mr. Harrill showed a greater reaction
to those double strikes using the
descendingstrike in a staccato 1-2 manner instead of
Then Mr. Harrill went into greater detail on other options and potential
followup movements to these strikes, parries, etc. Such as performing the
rolling lock within the X block one-handed with the left handand using a
reverse punch at the end of No 1. Etc.
All in all, it
is interesting knowledge which fully fits the Isshinryu system. It man seem
simple and often is, but it falls within that vast category of things right in
front of your face which you were never shown and haven’t taken the time to
Well Mr. Harrill
has taken that time, and does those applications.
Although I have
conducted some explorations, once you discover a new facet of a technique, its
too easy to stop there. He didn’t he just kept going and going and going.
my own discoveries, I haven’t seen in his explanations. Now I know I haven’t
seen but a fraction of what he’s developed, but I thing it’s more the same. I’ve
tried to follow tai chi movement explanations I have seen, and applied those explanations
to Isshinryu movement, with some results. Where he did not come from the same
He’s also spent
far more time hitting people than I have.I am sure that gives him a different
perspective than I use.
*** post script ***
is what I wrote then, over the years I learned a bit more about what Sherman
Harrill was doing. But that is not what this piece was about, just those
today looking back at what I wrote, I realize the number of techniques shown
was my approximation at what Sherman was showing.
later on hearing of his death, I underwent a sort of possession, and for three
month mostly non-stop I pulled together all the notes and things from 10 years
of attending clinics with him, Then I wrote allof it up by kata. The result the accumulation of 800 applications for
Isshinryu’s 8 kata, and other things. Then I printed one hard copy out for
myself, I called it my Sherm-pedia. These are
photos of that book.
discovered a file in my records I had totally forgotten about. It was printouts
of email Ernest Rothrock and I sent to each other in the mid 1990’s. They
wereincredibly detailed about everything
we were experiencing at that time.
What we were
studying, me with Sherman Harrill and being exposed to how he used Isshinryu,
him with Shum Leung In Eagle Claw and what he was working on after 20 years of
study. We talked about our kids, our lives, our schools, what we were training
Of course I will
not relate the personal details of what he was doing. That is no one else’s
business. But It brought so many memories flooding in.
At that time I
was working for a company in Framingham Mass. Commuting 1 ½ hours each way,
taking care of all my family responsibilities, teaching 5 classes in two
different arts a week. Also traveling across the country for work on occasion.
I was quite busy.
Those who knew
me as an instructor of Isshinryu or Yang Tai Chi, only saw that side of what I
was doing. They of course were aware of my family and work. But there was so much
more happening. What research I was doing. While we had email, there was no
internet or youtube. We did have access to some videos, and as we had different
interests it is interesting to hear both our views of things we watched.
I was working on many other things I had
studied, but mostly for my own practice, not for my students. Both Earnest and
I had a wide, very different range of studies. We worked on what we studied,
but for different reasons most of them never made it to our students. Their
studies were something else.
For example one
of my studies was a version of Hakutsuru I had been shown by another friend. I
had shown it to Ernie on a visit and he would discuss possible alterna
from his studies. Eventually I left it behind, it was interesting, but I had
many things that were interesting. You gain from such studies even when you set
I also detailed
which Chinese forms and which tai chi forms I was working on. They came from my
studies with Ernest, representing a different side of my study. Eventually I
also decided not to teach them for a variety of reasons. Mainly they made
little sense in the Isshinryu studies I was teaching, no one had enough time to
do everything, even me.
Of real interest
was as I had just experienced Sherman Harrill’s material, I spent a lot of time
giving my impressions of what I as seeing to Ernest. It is very interesting
reading this at this time, So many details ring true from the decade that I was
fortunate to attend his clinics.
In fact I went
into considerable detail about possible uses for the descending X block in
Chinto. Way beyond the reasonable standard strike/block into a kicking leg. My
shorthand of movement description has evolved since then, and this is likely
the next thing I will work on, it is good material. This memory revived it for
To many things
to detail, but there was nothing in our lives we did not discuss, so to speak.
Even what we
thought of the books we were reading, or the movies we were watching.
It was from 1976 when the Black Belts of Tom Lewis’ IKA were supporting Charles who was going to run a summer self defense program in Ocean City Maryland. They did demonstration of self defense, breaking, kata and weapons. This photo was from their breaking demonstration.
I remember that day because I was there. I was not a black belt, just a blue belt. But I had been asked to do a sparring demonstration with Charles. Of course I... had no chance of succeeding, I was a blue belt, and he was a 2nd dan, and one of the strongest in sparring of the group. We were using the new safety gear on our hands and feet. Charles had never seen it and had to be assisted to don it.
Nobody told me it was just to be a demonstration to make Charles look good. Instead I only saw 25 of my seniors watching me, and I did not want to look foolish.
So when Sensei shouted Hajime, I tore into Charles, I was a kitten compared to him, but when I tried to hit him, he got serious (as least as far as I could tell) and he proceeded to go rat-at-at-tat all over me. So I just tore into him again, and let him unleash against me another time.
Eventually it finished. I survived. At least that was how I remember it.
Charlie used to have video of our fight, lost over time. I remember it well because he looked so good.
When I was a new
black belt I began teaching through the Scranton Boys Club (I taught young men,
and also young women. The first program to bring young women into the Boy’s
Club at that time.) I taught Isshinryu exactly as I learned it, and those
students learned it well.
But as the years
passed I began to wonder if therewas a
stronger way to prepare the young. Then when I had to move for a new position,
and had occasion to begin again at the Greater Derry Boy’s and Girl’s Club, I
put many things I had also learned into practice.
Simply put, I
wanted to slow the pace of learning, yet keep the classes engaging to allow the
students to better develop. I had no reason to rush the process, my only
concern was to produce better Isshinryu.
Over the proceeding
6 years I had learned many things, learned and personally worked on them. I had
great faith in the power of kata, and that was where I began.
I had learned several systems approaches to beginning
kata. I no longer remember where I saw it, but was more impressed with Fukyugata Ichi
as a beginning kata. I had conducted some
experiments sharing it with my previous students, and the first thing I
realized was to change the name (kids would change the name into a terrible pun
the F*** You kata) and I could not allow that.
So it became
Kata Sho to me. Then I adjusted the technique and stances into Isshinryu
technique and stances.
an aside, what I was doing was using Kata Sho and Kata Anaku (also
Isshinryuized, as subsidiary precursors for eventual Seisan kata instruction.
Allowing the time to create stronger student technique before beginning Seisan.]
But what began
as a beginning kata became much more to me over time.
of it’s shorter length student’s would understand the concept of kata more
readily. Simply because they could do one. That made teaching subsequent kata
Then I found
another use. It became a binding group kata for everyone. By using it as a
group kata, it allowed everyone to work more closely together. Binding the
newer students to the same performance of the older students. Making a stronger
group identity possible.
Next I began to
find more possibilities.
As a group kata,
the first performance at class beginning was often less dynamic that when done
as the final class group exercise. They were of course more into the kata grove
by class end.
So to show
everyone their efforts could produce more on their own effort.
I first just had
them do Sho, at their beginning performance. Then I had the group do it again
with 25% more power. Then another time at50% more power. Now I had them do the kata again, with the absolute maximum
power they could put into every technique. Then again down to 50% power, then
again down to 25% power, finally finishing a their regular performance.
Then I would
explain that they were the ones that did it. They always had that power, just
did not choose to use it. A very powerful lesson to build on.
Another use was
to take a beginner who barely knew the kata. On their own they would freeze
when others watched them and be unable to complete it.
But when placed
between two black belts, or brown belts, they would stay with them even to
black belt speed and power of execution. They knew it better than they
realized. Everyone learned they could do the kata as a black belt, and it was
them that was holding back. This was a lesson everyone learned.
variations. Took the students it three row, shoulder touching shoulder. 2nd
and 3rd row students chest against the students before them back.
Simply a very tight formation. Then I had them do so with the teeniest possible
techniques, their smallest possible motions. The smallest steps. And to stay
together. The first time they fall over as a unit, until they understand they
really have to stay together to do it. Another group binding exercise, not for
martial purpose, rather understanding they have to use their senses to hear,
and trust each other. Sense training of Sight, Hearing and Touch.
There was always
time in classes over the years to use it in different ways.
One thing that
happens is students get to used to doing any kata always facing the same
direction. If you have them face a different way, their performance often
suffers. They got used to the same visual cues from repeated performance. So I
hit on a different use.
I had two
students perform Sho both of them facing opposite directions. The kata didn’t
change but they had to deal with their partner working the opposite direction.
And they were to keep their kata timing the same.
Then I built on
that. The two students now beginning with their right shoulder facing their
partner’s right shoulder had to bow, step open and do the opposing kata as a
close order drill, in fact the first time they passed each other, their low
blocks would be don’t as strikes to each others arms (shades of Kokite). On the
return pass they had to avoid locking arms with their rising blocks. A very
precise performance the goal.
Something I had
learned from Tristan Sutrisno was a black belt exercise in multiple striking,
each strike becoming a 5 count strike, each strike flowing into another strike.
I would use this drill the same way as a supplementary black belt exercise. But
I would also apply as an advancing kyu exercise. In this case each punch in Sho
would become a 3 count strike, repeated in place os each punch in the form.
eventually learn an advanced timing version of the form. Instead of technique
then technique. They would begin to down block then step and punch, or where 3
punches were in a row, the 2nd and 3rd strike done on a
one count. Beginning of the possibility that kata could be done different ways
with different results.
This is not
everything I saw or used.
I think by now
you get the idea that I could use that very simple kata for many different
learning experiences. All of them supporting drills. Not all of them at one
time. Secondary support for the students primary training and other kata.
Then after dan,
there were other advanced uses for Kata Sho. It became a test bed to use for so
many different things. Everyone knew the kata so well, it could be used for
studies in breathing, studies in what definition of a technique could be,
studies in advanced multiple striking ( the 5 count) and so much more.
This would be
different in work on application studies the form presented.
Of course this does not define everything I
did. Just uses for one minor form.
There are no such things as a minor form.
There are the infinite potential of all karate.
I chose to
modify Fyugata Sho as the beginning kata study for my students, An isshinryu
version.. Just called Kata Sho. The reasons
are too long to go for here, in time they will get into Seisan our first
youth group performance.
But there are
many things that can be done with Sho to build skills.
version of Sho.
A more advanced
youth practice, Kata Sho with 3 count multiple striking.
And for fairness
an adult version the kids are working to pass through in time.
There is much
more done in Youth and Adult versions, each different skills being built.
Back about 1998
when I joined the internet I had been a black belt since 1979 beginning in the
art in 1974. I had not had much contact with others in Isshinryu, as there were
not many schools in the areas I lived.
From that time I
had observed there were often kata differences in others, but never paid much
attention to that, just practiced the art as I learned it.
One of the first
discussions I had on the original Isshinryu list, was about what others were
doing with the Isshinryu Charts.
That was the first
time I came to realize that there were many, many different variations for
Chart I and Chart II.
I noted the
differences from what I was taught, but was content to keep the way I learnt
them. I observed that there must be many variances from what Isshinryu
occurred to me that the first technique was from Chinto. Not that I hadn’t
realized that a long time ago, for I had. But that I had never seen anyone talk
about that. Then again there are many things people rarely talk about, often
core practices are among them.
I do not care about
better or worse. I see it as the foundation on which each dojo has been built
But it is
Here are the
Charts, Upper Body and Lower Body, which I have always followed.