Tag Archive for academy of okinawan karate

Koshiki Match

Koshiki Match
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri

The Academy of Okinawan Karate held its Winter Tournament on Saturday. I only managed to capture a few pictures and videos, but I sat on a lot of panels as a judge. That was an interesting experience in itself.

I’m waiting for YouTube to process the first video and I have a few more to put together and upload, but I wanted to post this picture quick. This is a koshiki match, which is fighting in armor. With heads, torsos, and groins protected, this is a full contact sparring match. Here Jason has just scored a point punching Josh in the face.

This is the second time I’ve seen a match, and it’s interesting stuff. It’s probably the only way to put one’s karate to the test without showing up for work the next day looking like an extra from the set of Fight Club. I’d like to try it myself sometime, but I think my speed is still a bit slow in our regular sparring matches and I wonder if I should work on that first. I have more power than most of the students I spar with regularly, and I’m not sure it evens things out here or not.

It’s something I’m going to have to talk to my instructors about.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

A Little Photography

I’ve finally managed to put the camera to use a little more in the last month or so. Most of it has been event or family photography rather than the creative photography I’ve been intending to do all year, but at least I got out and put my rig to use.

The Power Team Demo

The Power Team Demo

Sometimes my 50mm prime lens is worth its weight in gold. I shot this in a high school gymnasium without flash, and I was very happy with the results. The Power Team put on a brief strength demo for our students, so I brought my camera along to see what I could capture. I sat in the bleachers with my son, and you can see more pictures from the event here.

New nikyus run the Tsue Sho bo kata

New nikyus run the Tsue Sho bo kata

I probably should have stuck with that lens for this second shot, taken at the last graduation night at the Academy of Okinawan Karate. My friend Toby Matthieu (on the right) was promoted to nikyu, or second degree brown belt, and demonstrated the Tsue Sho bo kata. I used the regular 18-55mm lens that came with the camera and an external flash, and with the action shots spent a little too much time going back and forth between setting up for lowlight action and for the flash (and consequently had some trouble with white balance in the set). I could have solved the white balance issue by shooting RAW, but I didn’t have the space on the card that night so put it off for another time when I can do some experimentation on practice shots.

A Bald Eagle from the Columbia Park Zoo

A Bald Eagle from the Columbia Park Zoo

My family visited the Columbia Park Zoo in Lafayette, Indiana, in September, and I captured this picture of one of their two eagles. This was also taken with the basic kit lens, but the outdoor environment really helped. It still amazes me how much more detail this camera/lens combo captures over my old 4MP PowerShot G2. I just wish I could have avoided the soft blur on the right edge, but that’s the result of shooting through a narrow viewing window cut into the enclosure’s fence. (I’m also fortunate the glass or plastic in that viewing window didn’t obscure the shot.)

My only concern with these is in the full size, the focus is just a bit soft. My tripod has a removable monopod, so next time I may bring that out and start putting it to use, see if I can’t sharpen things up. I’m very happy with these for the most part, but I think it’s time to start stepping up my game.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


I finished my sparring requirements this evening and I am officially a Nikyu, or second-degree brown belt, in Shuri-ryu Karate.

Next week I’ll start learning a new kata called Bassai Dai, and I’ll be going through several more requirements for my next few stripes as I work toward Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt. My goal is to finish that sometime next year.

After that comes the long slog toward black belt. That could take anywhere from two to ten years, depending how hard I continue to work. I’m in this for the long haul, though, so I don’t see it being a major problem in my karate development. I’m committed to the short end of that scale, with a personal goal of testing for black belt by sometime in 2013. If I’m asked to test earlier, that would be great, but I won’t let myself take longer than that. In the meantime I plan to start some Judo work, and finish some of the kobudo (weapons) requirements.

Tonight’s celebration is short-lived. I have writing to do.

Tonight’s soundtrack:

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Karate: Always Moving Forward

Karate has been quite eventful this summer. Every time I tie on my belt and bow onto the mat, it amazes me how far I’ve come in the two years I’ve been studying.

Earlier this month, my sensei named me Senpai of our dojo. This is loosely translated as senior student, but when used as a title it is indicative of a mentor relationship, often used in the sense of “older brother.” It doesn’t change the way I’ll train or attend classes, but it’s an acknowledgment of my efforts and contributions and I’m honored to have received the title.

Now I just have to get used to people calling me that…

We also had our annual Break Day last month, where every student gets an opportunity to break a board. This time I chose to try a standing empi (elbow) strike.

Too bad I cant solve problems at work this way

Too bad I can't solve problems at work this way

Sensei suggested I try one board because I’ve never done it before, and it was a lot easier than I expected. I also wound up doing it twice because we had trouble with my video camera. Of course by the time I got around to doing it the second time the video camera battery ran out, so I’m stuck with stills for this year. Ah well.

In May I was asked to be on another student’s attack team for his black belt test. I hear a lot of horror stories about black belt tests at our school, and this will be a good opportunity for me to see one first-hand and get a better idea of what to expect when my turn comes around in a few years. My job is to attack the black belt candidate in his kata, short forms, and self defenses, and while our Sunday workouts are intended to help us all prepare for the test day, they also give me a good chance to polish my own kata and techniques and pick up a few extra insights from the other, more experienced students on the team.

These are exciting times for my school, the Academy of Okinawan Karate, as well. They celebrated their 30th anniversary this week, and last night they threw a party. They covered most of one wall with photographs from those three decades, and it was interesting taking in all that history and listening to Shihan Walker’s stories behind several of them. It made me realize while I’ve come a long way, I’m just getting started.

When I look forward, I often think about one thing: black belt. This is not uncommon, as it’s the first major goal for any karateka. But what happens then? Right now it’s like looking into a fog: I know there’s more karate for me out there, but I can’t be sure of which direction it’s headed or what shape it will take.

The only thing I’m sure of is I’ll keep moving forward.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Cunning Linguists

Language is a funny thing, particularly when it’s translated through foreign understanding.

I learned a new kata on Saturday called Shudoso. It was developed by Robert Trias, the founder of Shuri-ryu, the style of karate I study. It’s short and sweet, but I was already losing the proper ending, so I hit Google to see what I can find.

Not much, as it turns out. But I kept finding constructs like this:

“i feel i shud oso settle for 912, but worry of the wet road performance”
“They shud oso hav 24/7 polyclinics to serve a rising population mah?”
“de org shud oso consider de fact dat most likely de attendees wud be within those teens dat have waited patiently for dis bands”

I scratched my head for a moment, then noticed they were trying to translate should also. These were all posts to message boards and websites in Singapore, so they were typing the words as they understood them. It’s kind of like how we get “vamoose” out of vamos.

Of course, this is also how most of the English language was born.

As for Shudoso itself, my school’s director, Shihan Joseph Walker, didn’t claim to know what language the name came from. It’s supposed to mean “monk form” or “priest form” because Grand Master Trias developed it after a visit to the Shaolin Temple. He demonstrated another tension kata and the monks told him it was too long, so he developed Shudoso. It appears to be part of the Kosho Kempo style, which includes Trias in their lineage.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

That Which Does Not Kill Me…

I survived graduation night.

I got recruited to help out, so I spent most of the night lining up the new graduates before they went out onto the mat and helping tie their new belts onto them. This worked out well because it kept me busy rather than sweating my own pending performance. It proved an interesting experience in itself, too, with some of the lower ranks calling me sir and oohing and ahhing when they noticed I had just earned my brown belt.

My own kata went smooth. My biggest concern with Empi Sho is always the leap at the end, and my heel landed in a seam between the mats. Of course I sank right down into it and my leg wobbled. I had a sudden image of falling on my ass in front of the crowd, but I managed to keep my footing and finish the kata. Some friends in the crowd assured me it looked fine.

Either way, Shihan Walker tied my new brown belt around me a moment later and all was right with the world.

There are more pictures from the night on my Flickr account. Some are a little fuzzy because I left my wife with a prime lens and a low aperture without having the time to explain how to manage it. She caught me dropping an elbow on an imaginary opponent during the kata, though, and it’s in focus enough to see I need to concentrate on kicking my heels out a little more in kiba dachi. I’ll blame the nervousness.

I’ll be learning two new kata as a Sankyu: one called Seyunchin, which was only recently added to our curriculum, and Tsue sho, a bo kata. I learned Tsue sho Saturday morning and it’s not particularly difficult, especially after seeing it run in class so many times and having participated in interpretation drills for it with higher ranks. I only found one video of it here; it’s very sloppy so I almost hesitate to link it, but the moves are the same and you’ll get the idea. I hope to learn Seyunchin this week, and this is what I’m in for:

I’ve seen it run several times and have always thought it looked like fun. I suspect it will be a little more difficult to learn, but I’m up for it. If nothing else it will bring more variety to my workouts at home.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Tournament Photos

Miss Walker Go Pei Sho
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

The Academy of Okinawan Karate hosted their winter tournament last Saturday, and I took several pictures, most of which you can find here.

Once again, I just took pictures and did not compete. I’m just not a big fan of tournaments, or of paying for the privilege of looking like an ass. Not to mention I’ve got this ‘spensive camera rig that I don’t use near as often as I’d like…

The tournament — and the school’s Peoria dojo in general — pose a particular challenge to getting good photos. Now, I realize “good” is subjective, so let’s say “good” means “pics Mike is happy with”. This can be frustrating at times, but it also makes for a fun challenge.

The first problem is the backgrounds, especially the crowds of people. For example, the picture of Ms Walker above is a terrific picture of her, but the background is very cluttered. I had to crop the picture way down to reduce clutter (though to be fair I may have done the same crop anyway), and I had to tone down the brightness of the camera a woman is holding over Ms Walker’s left shoulder because my flash had turned it into a bright silver reflector. The pose would be suitable for framing in an office, but would the picture as a whole? The same goes for this picture.

Unfortunately there’s not a lot that can be done about this first problem. The dojo is very long and narrow, and there is very limited seating near the entrance. This means the crowd — and competitors — have to wrap around three sides of the mat. And if I shoot from the back of the mat toward the judges and the fourth wall, I’m shooting the competitors’ backs 90% of the time.

The next problem is the lighting. I was able to get away with not using a flash in the Morton dojo, but the Peoria lights are placed wider apart and one of them is out over part of the mat. Thus, you’ll see few action shots in the photos because I have to try to time the action with the flash (and the flash has to recover between shots). I’d love to catch some burst mode shots and even go for some slight action blur as in this photo of Sensei Miller breaking boards, but I just couldn’t pull it off with the lens I had. There’s a fine line between “motion blur” and “what the hell is that?”

Not that the pics I did get suck. I’m very happy with several of them. I’m thinking for next time, though, I’m going to try to get my hands on a prime lens with a very low f-stop. In English, this is a lens with no zoom capability but much better performance at low light. I’ve got my eye on a 50mm f1.4 that should do the job nicely.

Santa better be paying attention, or I’ll be hiding a fat, bearded, dead body in the near future.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Blizzards & Brimstone

After the rugrats woke me by pounding on my kidneys, I looked outside and saw snow. A few inches of snow, in fact, covering the ground and streets. No wonder they were so excited. I took them outside while I shoveled, then we had a snowball fight. I continued an unofficial Oliveri tradition by blasting the Squirt in the forehead with a snowball.

I didn’t think much about the weather after that. We see snow like this in Illinois all the time, and generally if there’s no wind we have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately the wind kicked in around nightfall. I was supposed to go see a kamiza (black belt promotion ceremony) at my karate school, but the roads outside of town were too dangerous and I had to turn around.

The way I see it, the weather owes me one. It can repay me by snowing all night (weatherman seems to think it will) so we have a snow day at work tomorrow. I’ve never seen a kamiza before, and it seems like every time they have one I’m either out of town or have something else going on. My own is still a few years off, but I’d really like to see one.

In other news, I finally got around to finishing Brimstone by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child this week. At the beginning of the book I said I wasn’t fond of their Pendergast character, but he grew on me by the end.

So, of course, they killed him.

Sort of. It looks that way, but he’s in the next book in the series, Dance of Death, so he must live somehow (thus the lack of a spoiler warning). I picked it up the other day, so I’ll find out how Agent Pendergast got out of his predicament after I finish reading The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski.

I’ll wait until after Dance of Death to decide whether or not it’s worth chasing down the rest of the Pendergast books. There’s a lot of hints to back story in Brimstone, and I don’t imagine Dance of Death will be any different. I do hope, however, there won’t be another monologuing villain. I know such monologues — by both heroes & villains — tend to be a staple of mysteries, but man, I kept waiting for D’Agosta to start shooting or for the villain’s cape to get sucked into a jet engine (yes, folks, it’s a The Incredibles reference). Nothing breaks up tension like a couple pages of monologue.

Note to sit and worry about whether or not I’ve done the same thing in my own work…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Sanchin: The Bonus Kata

I now get to learn two new kata before obtaining my next belt. No pressure, but there is a lot of tension.

Dynamic tension, to be exact.

Sanchin is a tension kata, and as such running it is very different from running a “normal” kata like my other new one, Empi Sho. Where we typically put our full power into our techniques like punches and kicks, we instead tighten every muscle in the body and push the technique out slowly, using passive resistance all the way. We also breathe out, slow and steady, making it both a good breathing exercise and an isometric workout for the muscles.

Perhaps it’s easiest if I just show you:

This is the Shito-ryu version of the kata, and as usual our Shuri-ryu interpretation of the kata has some slight differences, but it works the same way: run the kata with dyamic tension and controlled breathing. We’re also a bit louder than this guy, but we don’t use the same odd (to me) breathing technique as they do in the Kyokushinkai version. Sanchin comes from the Naha lineage, and if you’re curious you can find some thoughts on its history on Mario McKenna’s blog and on Wikipedia.

I wasn’t terribly worried about holding the tension. My dojo has turned the last class on Tuesday night into a more intense workout, and Sensei Miller always has us run at least one tension kata. Because it was not yet time for me to learn Sanchin, I’ve been running the various Taikyoku kata with tension. This gave me plenty of opportunity to get the breathing and isometric resistance down, which should make things easier as I inch closer to brown belt.

Not that it made learning Sanchin easy, mind you. I’ve been watching my classmates run Sanchin for months, and there aren’t a lot of steps to it. However, the weekend I learned it I found myself asking Noah Legel, another Shuri-ryu student, for a quick review via email. I remembered it right, but the application feels strange at times, especially with tension thrown into the mix and having to nail down the peculiar Sanchin-dachi stance.

I think I’ve got it down, though. Now it’s just a matter of refining the technique, making it look good and making sure it has the desired effect. It’s also cool to see characters running tension kata in movies like The Executioner and knowing both why they’re doing it and how it feels, even if it does look a little awkward on the screen.

Now if only I could shake that dorky feeling when I run it at home…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Breath of Life

One wouldn’t think CPR would be part of a karate class, but this weekend the Academy of Okinawan Karate certified its SWAT team members in CPR. One of our black belts, Mrs. Denise Miller (everyone say hi, as she’s out there reading), works as a nurse for a living, and she led the class.

It’s been a good 20 years since I last sat through a CPR class, and things have changed a bit. Specifically, they don’t appear to sweat breaking ribs or busting off the tip of the sternum anymore. After all, the alternative is a lot worse. Also, good Samaritan laws now protect bystanders providing CPR, whereas I remember being told last time that, if at all possible, you should ask permission to begin CPR. Fat chance of that if the victim is already unconscious, right?

Jokes abounded during the class, of course, but everyone paid close attention and we all felt we learned something. It’s nice to know that if we drop a punk with a well-placed shotei or a hanuchi ken to the throat, we could conceivably correct our mistake. We even learned to adapt one of our strikes for use in the Heimlich maneuver.

In the end, despite the changes in the counts — the number of compressions vs number of breaths — the principle remains the same: get a little more oxygen into the victim, then push it around the body. If it comes to it, it’s time to shock the victim:

Oh, wait, wrong shocker. Let me try again:

That’s better.

Just as with my karate, I hope I’m never in a position where I’m forced to use my CPR. Nevertheless, like karate, it’s nice to know it should the need arise.

My friend Clark saved a former co-worker’s life with an AED once. One of our former principals was refereeing a basketball game, and he passed out on the floor. Clark hooked up the AED and saved the man’s life. AEDs are becoming common in schools and emergency vehicles, which is a comforting thought. Even if you don’t know the timing of chest compressions matches the beat of “Stayin’ Alive”, you could save someone’s life.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

On Terrorizing Children

Killer on the loose!
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

I never realized scaring kids can be both so difficult and so much fun at the same time.

The Academy of Okinawan Karate put on their annual haunted house last night, and as one of their students I volunteered to help out this year. They supplied me with an orange jumpsuit, toy chainsaw, and face paint and stashed me in a dead-end hallway. Visitors fleeing from another scare would be directed down my hallway by their guide, at which point I jumped out with my chainsaw and barking out some insane laughter.

I was about halfway through the haunted house, and there were a couple cases where some kid was already screaming and crying before they got to me. I thought “Hmm, maybe I should tone it down for this one.” Then, a moment later: “Nah.” I gave ’em full power and watched ’em jump and scream. I felt like a dick afterward, but it was totally worth it.

It’s also good to see that I’m not the only parent who relishes their own kids’ fear. There were a few parents coming through with screaming, crying children, and they were laughing as much as I was when I took my kids through last year. The instructors warn parents that it’s scary, yet we had more little kids than adults or teenagers.

Not that it stopped teenagers or adults being from scared. I got good screams out of a group of girls, and at least one woman had to be pushed from section to section by her friends.

It was hard work, too. The groups were close enough together that I didn’t have time to chat with the other monsters much, but far enough apart that I had to do a lot of waiting. I stood in the dark (not counting a strobe light nearby) the whole time. The jumpsuit was kind of warm, and the makeup started to itch after a while. Someone brought cookies through for the monsters, but somehow I missed out on the water. In short, it gave me a new appreciation for what people go through to put on a good haunted house every year.

All worth it, though. Next year I just need to find a bigger chainsaw.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Karate to Come

I just dumped several pictures on my Flickr account from two recent events at the Academy of Okinawan Karate, the school where I study Shuri-ryu. Some came from last month’s graduation, and the remainder are from this weekend’s Friends & Family Day demonstrations.

These events are a lot of fun for me, not just because some of my friends and classmates are out there but because I get an idea of what’s to come in my training. There are almost always demonstrations by black belts and other advanced students showing off their kata, weapons kata, Judo, and more, and I always find myself guesstimating how long it may be before I start learning some of those same moves.

Tap out!

Tap out!

A few months ago, my sensei asked me if I wanted to be a black belt. It was tough to answer at the time, because it’s a long path to black belt at our school. I’m told it takes most students 5-7 years, even if the student makes it to ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt, fairly quickly. Some students reach that point, lose patience, and drop out or go to another school.

To make things even tougher, I can hardly sit still. My family moved six or seven times when I was a kid, and now wanderlust creeps up on me every few years. The Wife and I have had three different homes and I’ve shifted through two careers (not counting writing), four employers, and a stint as a student while we’ve been married. It’s hard for me to picture what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be living next year, much less five years from now.

Have a nice trip?

Have a nice trip?

The commitment is not unlike going back to school. There’s a tuition involved, and though it’s not as steep as many schools, it’s not cheap. There’s the time commitment, and the willingness to work it into a schedule around one’s full-time job and supporting a family. I can tell you now, if I decided to return to school for a real degree, the pros and cons would not be all that different.

Like school, the outcome would be personal development. I may not be able to parlay a black belt into a larger paycheck in the same way I could a bachelor’s degree, but it would be hard to question the physical and mental (as opposed to intellectual) development. I’ve heard of similar development from some of our advanced students, and I’ve even seen the development in some of my classmates, particularly the younger ones, in the relatively short time I’ve been studying.

When a board meets an immovable object.

When a board meets an immovable object.

So far my interest in karate is still as strong as it was after my first week. I still look forward to every class, and I hate having to miss class. When I missed a full week due to travel, I felt like a stranger walking into the dojo. I pay close attention to the ranks just ahead of me, hoping to pick up a few things before I start learning their kata and techniques myself. I’ve even started reading martial arts books, such as Gichin Funakoshi‘s Karate-Do: My Way of Life and Zen in the Martial Arts.

I think I’m as hooked on karate as I am writing.

Most certainly not walking on sunshine

Most certainly not walking on sunshine

There have been times that little tickle of wanderlust appears, or friends or family will suggest we move out closer to them, and I’ll open up a real estate website and browse housing prices to satisfy my curiosity. The next search? I hit Yellowbook or surf the International Shuri-ryu Association directory to see if there are any dojos in the area, and at least once I’ve ruled out moving to an area because there wasn’t a single dojo in range.

I’d say that pretty much tears it: I want to be a black belt. I want to be a black belt as much as I want to be a full-time writer. I think it would be great to spend my days in a mix between training and writing. The reality may not be that simple, but just the same, I think it’s a goal worth aiming for.

I best start making more of the magic happen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.