Shokunin Kempo

It may be a little presumptuous to some that I, a martial artist of only a couple of decades, have defined my own martial art style.  However, Shokunin-ryu (pronounced “show-koo-neen”) is the inevitable progression of my martial journey as it would be for anyone else who has studied different styles and under different instructors. Regardless of what you study, once you start thinking outside the box and making it your own, you end up with your own personal style or flavor of martial art.  Bruce Lee called this Jeet Koon Do.

The genesis of Shokunin Karate started with me first enrolling in Tae Kwon Do.  This was a good start, but not being a sport focused person, the competition aspect of the school and the art began to sour me.  Then an instructor of mine turned me on to Master George Dillman and his Okinawan art which focuses on pressure points.  I found this self defense style intriguing and soon became my main focus.

George Dillman referred to his style, Ryukyu Kempo as a general style since most of its elements came from systems and styles of Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands.  This ideal of Okinawan Kempo and its elements of Kyusho Jitsu and Tuite’ Jitsu along with kata and some of the basic theories of bunkai form the foundation of my personal style. Since I am always a student, I have continued my studies under the guidance of Grandmaster Mark Kline.

Most of the original kata I learned, however, have not made it into my curriculum.  I have only kept a few for foundation purposes or because I really liked doing them.  The additional kata I have added, I chose because they looked cool, I enjoy them or they have health building purposes.  Though the names of the kata in my curriculum are the same as others in other styles of karate and kempo, I have used old video and film of early masters as reference to de-sport the kata movements and tend to sway to older, original movement translations than the more modern ones.

Through my pressure point studies, I was introduced to Modern Arnis, developed by Remy Presas and have continued my training under one of his students, Dan Anderson. Professor Presas once said that Modern Arnis was “the art within your art.”  This still holds true with me.  Though I teach Arnis as a separate class, there is a specific part of our curriculum dedicated to it.  I have also incorporated the use of pressure points and other principles I feel are important when it comes to blunt impact weapons.

I feel that it is very important that empty hand stylists know a weapon, more importantly a practical weapon. When my first Kempo instructor told me I should choose a weapon to learn, I immediately chose the stick and the principles of Modern Arnis because of its practicality.  Logic suggests, that most places you go, there will be something in your environment that can be used as a stick.  Most recently, I have personally graduated to a knife as a personal favored tool.  My primary training in this has been under Grandmaster Bram Frank, another first generation student of Professor Presas, and his modular knife system, which is primarily based on Modern Arnis.  This bladed addition has been priceless.

I have always been more of a standing grappler and striker, but I also believe that it is important to know how to roll and fall and be familiar with basic ground work.  I learned most of these basics through Small Circle Jujitsu, Aikido and Judo.  I incorporated these elements into my personal style and have become part of the curriculum.

It wasn’t until after being in the martial arts for a while, that I entered the private security industry working in different areas of the trade.  It was this influence and experience that increased the importance of knowing the laws regarding self-defense.  Working as an armed officer also introduced me to training in the use of, retention of and defense against handguns and long-guns.  Since handguns are a modern tool, I felt it important to develop and work on techniques beyond what I learned in security training classes.  These techniques and principles are taught as part of the curriculum.

Though I prefer to be practical when it come to martial arts training, I have always loved the sword, even though it is not a practical weapon by today’s standards.  I studied it for a short while and have added the basics as a traditional piece.  Though it is not a practical tool when placed next to a handgun, rifle or knife, it is an elegant and classical weapon that students should at least be introduced to.  Plus it will be very handy in a zombie apocalypse.

I have been training since I was 18 years old.  I would have started sooner, but my parents wouldn’t let me, “You’ll hurt yourself” I was told.  Since then I have explored many arts, taking what I believed to be the best part and making it my own.  However, one thing that I have noticed is that regardless of the style, most martial arts are based on the same principles. In a general way the locks are the same, the kicks are the same, the falls are the same, the punches are the same, it is just that each style focuses on one thing more than another.  This is where styles start to look and act different.

Everyone has a personal style whether they realize it or not.  You can’t be an exact copy of your instructor.  A personal style is influenced by your own beliefs and biases as well as your own experiences, training and intelligence.  Since I actively teach martial arts, based on my eclectic background of training and experience, I decided to give it a name; Shokunin-Ryu.

When I decided to name my style, I went the traditional route and used my own last name; Handwerker.  Again a little bold, and yes I got flack from my peers, but in Okinawa there are some styles known by their family name or the name of the head instructor.  I went to translate my last name into Japanese and kept getting phonetic spellings in kanji.  I was hoping for something short, but it was no different than spelling it out in English.  I then decided to try the translation from its original German meaning which is “Craftsman” instead of from it general English spelling.  The result was Shokunin.

Little did I know that in the Japanese culture the term shokunin has a pretty deep meaning.  I came across this quote when I did a little research on the word.

 “The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness.”

– Tasio Odate (master sculptor/woodworker) 

Wow.  I was blown away.  What an awesome quote, and it resonates so well with martial arts and my personal view points.  It’s not just what we learn in the dojo, but how we take that knowledge and use it outside of the dojo.

From there on out, my system was going to be called Shokunin-Ryu Kempo Karate-Jitsu; translated Craftsman Style of Chinese/Empty Hand Fighting.

Sensei Mish Handwerker
Master Chief Instructor – Handwerker Martial Arts