I've seen many, many debates about "which martial art is best." For me, there is no comparison to Kosho Shorei Ryu. The wikipedia article does little justice to the history of this magnificent art form. It also carefully skirts the truth of James Mitose, the man who left Japan for Hawaii, bringing Martial arts to the United states. More on all that some other time, lets get to the meat and potatoes. Note: Most of this is from personal experience, so in the west coast or another dojo things can be quite different.
What is it?
Kosho is a highly defensive martial art, with a solid foundation of philosophy, cultural, and healing arts. You cannot get a blackbelt without knowing a healing art and a cultural art. Healing arts include Reikki, acupuncture, shiatsu, and some let first responder training count. Cultural arts are any of the Japanese cultural arts like flower arraigning, or the most popular calligraphy.
What do I mean by defensive? Exactly that. Technically I cannot do squat to someone unless they are trying to attack me. Although punches and low kicks are taught with throws, grappling, etc., unless someone actually attacks me I have to revert to non-Kosho training to fight.
What do you learn?
The first thing you learn is awareness. This is half of the key to unlock all that Kosho has to offer. Kosho stresses peripheral vision. You unfocus your eyes, and use your peripheral vision for everything. Once you can do this, it's amazing how slow everyone else seems to move as you see the shift of a foot which telegraphs the opponent's punch. With all the adrenaline, it honestly seems like it takes 10 seconds for the guy to punch. It's actually frustrating, as you got to wait for him so you can then do whatever you want to to the guy.
The second thing you learn is movement. I still remember getting yelled at over this. "Move twice" Sensei would yell! If I didn't learn that, I think he would beat with a rubber hose until I did (kidding). Moving twice, and these are not large movements by any stretch of the imagination, locks the opponent into attacking where you will be, not where you are. Kosho breaks it into 8 directions of movement, and your second movement is directly opposite of your first movement. This is called the Octagon, and this is the family secret that was never taught to anyone in America before Bruce Juchnik. It's the second key of why the art is so effective.
Notice I haven't even gotten to the ass-kicking part yet? If your opponent cannot hit you, then he cannot hurt you.
There are three levels of response from Kosho-Shorei Ryu. the lowest is the destructive arts, symbolized by a clenched right fist covered with the left hand. The next level is the Controlling arts, symbolized by open hands with thumbs touching and fingers in front of each other held together. Finally, is the Escaping arts, which are symbolized by hands in prayer.
The destructive arts are the lowest form because anyone can hurt another person. For any Kosho practitioner this level is the last resort. Your personal safety is the whole reason for all this, so if a weapon comes out, a Kosho guy will start snapping bones faster than you can say "Karate Kid". All this is done for you to get to the highest level of escape. Parts of the Destructive arts are joint and bone breaking, weapon use (Japanese traditional, with knives and weapon disarmament), killing strikes, organ destruction, etc. A friend almost had a kidney removed because he ran into a kick while being an uke.
The controlling arts are just that, your actively controlling the opponent into doing what you want. Joint locks, checks, throws and my favorite the skeletal freeze, are used to get you to the highest level, escape. Unlike most martial arts, Kosho has learned that you can only keep a joint lock cranked down for a brief time before the opponent's endorphins kick in and he no longer feels pain. So we keep adjusting the pressure, preventing his body from getting used to the pain. Checks are small pushes or pulls to stop your attacker from doing what they want to. See below for what it's like in a RL engagement. Muscle strikes are very effective in limiting movement, allowing you to escape.
The highest form of Kosho Shorei Ryu, what very practitioner is striving for, is to not get into a fight at all. Even if someone takes a swing at you, you don't have to kick his ass. That's a novel concept for a lot of the hard line kempos. The best is by not getting into a conflict at all because you saw the trouble before you got near it. By talking to a guys buddy to get his drunk friend out of the bar before he starts something the bouncers will stomp on him for. Or leave the bar yourself.
In escaping arts you learn how to breakfall - on hardwood or concrete floors! Rolling, "walking tricks" (forgot japanese name), all sorts of blocks and movements to get away. How to escape jointlocks, how to choke someone out with two fingers, all kinds of neat stuff.
Why learn it?
I have a big chip on my shoulders when it comes to martial arts. As a youth, I got sick of kids taking the typical strip-mall karate/kempo/jujitsu/etc. and trying to kick my ass because they are so tough. Well not a one of them won a fight with me, although the jujitsu guy gave me a run for my money until I grabbed his balls while he was choking me out.
These strip-mall martial arts lack two things by and large. The lack a good philosophy, and therefore they lack self-discipline. Youth need discipline, or they will get into trouble. I've seen kids that take Karate become the bully's they were taking martial arts to stop.
There are NO forms in Kosho. There are no set patterns taught at all. We do have katas, but these are out of respect to other martial arts. I hate them and think they are stupid, but they are a valid teaching tool. Because there are no set actions every time an attack comes I have a selection of actions I can take depending on the situation. We are continually tested to come up with an Escaping, Controlling, and Destructive response for every attack. then we usually have to do it again. Sensei's are never happy are they?
Kosho has a solid foundation of philosophy. It also broadens your horizons by making you learn more than how to hurt people. Part of the Blackbelt test is to name every bone in the human body. We study how the human body moves, in order to become better at defending ourselves. Kosho teaches confidence, but not over-confidence.
I love Kosho Shorei Ryu, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. If you can ever see a demonstration with Bruce Juchnik, you got to do it! I've seen him toss a man to the ground while sitting on a chair, drinking a cup of coffee, and giving a lecture without a pause. Amazing. There is a YouTube video, but I haven't watched it because work has it blocked.
One of the issues I have with Kosho is what they are doing to try to grow the art. Any blackbelt with an established school can switch over to Kosho. The Teacher gets training, on converting over to the Kosho mindset and style, and passes this along to his students. I don't like it. I was a whitebelt, but I was going super-traditional (i.e. 3 belts - white, brown, black) and I met a blackbelt at a seminar and he knew nothing, I mean, nothing about anything we were doing. Now Kosho has a new representative who knows fuck-all about Kosho... great.
The other disadvantage is it's greatest strength. It's purely defensive. So If I need to initiate an attack I'm SOL.
I haven't taken any lessens for a long time because finding a teacher is a WICKED pain in the ass. I just found that Bruce has lessons online, so I might have to check that out.
I was out in the patio area behind the bar hanging out with my friends when a very intoxicated fellow bumped into me spilling his drink all over my leg. If I was paying attention, as I should have been, then it wouldn't have happened. He loudly accused me of spilling his drink. I slid around him towards an open area, in case I needed to do something drastic. I tried placating him with an appology, even though he ran into me and offered to buy him a drink. The drunk decided to have a go at me.I'm not in the military, I have no need of an offensive hand to hand style. Nor does anyone in the civilian sector, including cops or correctional officers. This is why for anyone outside a tournament ring or the armed forces, there is nothing better. From good philosophy comes self-discipline which will keep your butt out of a sling. Humility, honor, compassion, and justice are some of what I learned as a student. Damn, I wish there was a teacher near me.
I had already assumed the Kosho fighting stance, which is like a bent old man. Shoulders slumped, hands somewhere in front of you, feet about shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Back is straight. I saw his front right foot slide forward and I knew it would be a punch. Impatiently I waited for him to wind up to to deliver the strike. I honestly felt I could read War and Peace while waiting. finally he committed. I leaned to my right rear, then shifted quickly left front and took a step as his punch went past me with a little help from a check, a push on his right arm as he attacked.
To the drunk I had disappeared. Vanished. As he spun from missing his target it put me squarely behind him. Loudly the drunk is screaming where did I disappear to while the crowd was laughing. Like a cartoon I just stayed behind him a few feet while he looked for me. He gave up and wandered back inside the bar where the bouncers beat the piss out of him and tossed him out.
I drank the rest of the night for free. Evidently the guy was a real prick.