Karate Do: Is My Way Of Life

•July 8, 2012 • 5 Comments

Well it’s been far too long since I last blogged anything on here…

In the last five months or so, lots has happened, as ever in life these are a mix of both good and bad, but as Karate teaches us, you have to control your mind in every aspect of your life & not let your mind control you! A simple maxim which is hard to master.

I’ll get the sad news out of the way, a great Karateka passed away last month, a lady by the name of Suzanne Genery who dedicated her life to sport. Suzanne’s love of Karate was second to none, I remember speaking with her regarding Karate becoming an olympic sport and to be taken seriously as an art. Suzanne spoke very passionately about this and told me that she could easily be pushing Karate towards these goals and would rather be doing so in some aspects. Overall, Suzanne came from a family who I highly respect and as part of that family Suzanne was a driving force in our Dojo & association (BWKU). Suzanne, you will be greatly missed and you will never be forgotten.

Over the past few months I’ve hit another plateau in my Karate (I’m due to take my 1st Kyu in the next couple of months) and this challenge which is now staring me in the face, brings my biggest fear which is remembering the whole syllabus for this, it’s as big as the syllabus for black belt (which I’m hoping to take late next year).

For those who know me, it’ll come as no surprise when I say that I take my Karate very seriously (summary: to me Karate is a way to peace, peace of mind, enlightenment & zen – it is not about mindlessly fighting, ‘scrapping’ or proving how tough you are, on the contrary. I could write a book on those mind sets).

So, I feel the biggest challenge right now is myself and my life(style) I have far too many distractions in my life, I let distractions distract me, and have had these for far too long. Part of me argues that it’s because I let these distractions & challenges take over my mind and life. The other part of me can see that most people have  a certain amount of distractions though I suspect it’s how you handle and manage these – I guess as a civilisation we’re naturally lazy. I want to break this cycle – Now.

All that said, the path of Karate I’ve taken is a pure traditional Japanese route, there’s no black belts within 12 – 24 months or ten year old kids who are 2nd Dan etc, those to my mind are a huge false sense of security, but then who polices the police? I’ve stopped caring about the arm chair martial artists or those who talk a big game or those who’ve maybe tried martial arts for a few months some ten years ago. Put simply, It takes dedication and hard work. I’m also lucky that I have a great club where people are supportive & helpful.

I’m currently running 5 – 10 miles per week, in the Dojo twice a week – so I’m mostly working hard and with this come plateaus. For example, I feel my mawashi geris are worst than ever, from my back leg in any stance, it’s a struggle to execute correctly, never mind any kind of proper technique, height or speed, and speed is power. It’s these two things that are *hugely* important to me, 1. correct technique and 2. power, both irrespective of how high the kick is, that’s superficial.

If repetition is the mother of all learning, what about kinectics or your age? I didn’t discover the art of Karate until I was around 36, I’m not blessed with any kind of height and I’m as flexible as a plank of wood – the positive for me is that I’m determined to smash down all the barriers and be the best, dynamic karateka I can.

Lately, I’ve been reading as many interviews with Tatsuo Suzuki as I can, and two very important anecdotes ring true with me, both are from the book Budo Masters – Paths to a Far Mountain and these are:

1. “As you see, I am not very tall or heavy and this influenced my thinking. It seemed to me that with my build, if I trained just like everyone else I would never be any good, never compensate. This is why I trained harder. It is through this hard, disciplined training that my body knows the right way to do pure Wado-ryu”

2. “‘Zen’, said Suzuki, ‘is just like karate in the sense that they are both mental processes that should be done everyday. And it is very important to continue once you have started”

I feel I really need to get more of a handle on these two things plus to ‘master’ Tai Sabaki – I really need to mix up my style, approach, practising and execution of Tai Sabaki.

Relatively  I feel that my tai sabaki has come on ten fold, problem for me is, with every punch or kick I release, I’m constantly around 5″ short. I appreciate most (all?) of this is down to distance & timing, (the correct way to achieve maximum effect is to punch behind/through your target) obviously not in sparring but if you are ever attacked.

I’ve been told to fight closer, break a person’s personal space, break their rhythm, surprise them & overall, if you don’t know what you’re going to do, how do they? All great advice, but when I spar with regulars in my dojo, get in close and by the time you blink there’s a kick coming to your head or they’ve delivered a gyaku zuki or are on top of you that you’re being physically forced back. Plus, you do need some kind of plan I guess.

Everything seems to be a whole controlling the mind ritual, which I recently put to the test during sparring. I’ve started to continually face my opponent head on and not move back as much & to either attempt to evade and counter or attack more aggressively as opposed to ‘passive’ sparring. In the main, this has mostly worked, as you can see more doubt and uncertainty in your opponents eyes, more than I’ve ever witnessed in my opponents.

More recently, I trained with England’s squad coach Willie Thomas which covered many ‘basic’ drills for kumite. Like most good karateka the focus begins with good basics and adding onto these to make various combinations that can be used during sparring. We then paired up with random opponents to spar with and to try these techniques out, we then rotated partners, whilst in-between Willie would show us new techniques to continually practice, again all the foundations for each came from our basics.

Towards the end of the session we were ‘punished’ by a heap of cardiovascular exercises to repeat over and over. Then came the big finale – we were put into several groups which had one person at the very front of a line-up sparring non-stop. By this time everyone was pretty much exhausted be we all seemed to pull out enough energy to spar, though this was pretty intense and some hard contact was made. All in all a great session and another eye opener on my winding path to my far mountain!

Finally, I attended my club’s black belt grading/exam day (as a spectator). This gave me a real taste of what it is like on the day plus the physical and mental expectancy a karateka needs to pass on the day. I have to admit, I was nervous and I wasn’t grading, so more need for me to make sure that I’m controlling my mind and to not let it control me.

Right, I’m off to practise my katas, ohyos and then off for a run.

Yours in Karate,

george@wayoftheexplodingfist.co.uk

ps…Feedback always welcome!

Advertisements

Kata Course, Seishan and Even More Nuances.

•January 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

First of all, thanks for the emails, messages, posts, re-tweets on Twitter and general referrals to here, I’m very, very grateful. I sincerely hope that by documenting my journey through Karate it helps other to realise that there’s constant growing pains when you train in martial arts.  In addition to which, how I learn to deal with these ‘pains’ or my way of tackling them. Overall, one thing any Karateka realises after time is ultimately it’s about you controlling your mind, and the only thing that’s stopping you achieve your Karate goals lies between your ears. This is something that my Sensei has drilled into us and I’m now cognitive of this everyday, and not just in Karate.

Anyway, please keep all communication coming through as it’s a motivator for me too.

Here goes…

OK, so…my next blog post was meant to be on the subject of Tai Sabaki, but I felt I had to write about the Kata course I attended yesterday. For those of you who don’t know the prominent Sensei’s in the north of England, you are really missing out. In fact, you are really missing out on some very important Karate teachings if you miss anything by Sensei Andrew Genery, who is the Vice President of The EKF (http://www.englishkaratefederation.com).  Like any good Sensei, he is humble in his manner and approach, this is the reason for this blog post, as today even more gems were uncovered on the understanding & nuances of my current Kata – Seishan.

The event started off by the understanding and reiterating that the most important stance in (Wado Ryu) Karate is Kiba Datchi, as all other stances are derived from this. This stance is used throughout the Kata Nai Hanshi and what was highlighted even more today, was that this is a difficult stance to hold correctly for any for any length of time. The aim is to push your knees pointing outwards (facing the same direction as your toes) whilst both feet are turned slightly inwards.

We spent most of the course going through the various sections of Seishan and apart from the section where you initially turn and the few moves after that, I’ve almost remembered all this Kata in its entirety thanks to the reinforcement of it all during the session.

With regards to that section (where you first turn direction), we were told to walk/step on the on the side of our feet, this is due to the fact that historically Samurai wore the hakama (during the Edo period) and this action avoided it being stood on. Frustratingly, I’m still struggling to get the hand movements correct during this part of the Kata.

With the first half of the Kata containing so much dynamic tension – Waza no Kankyu (see last blog post) this tension should only be in the arms & hands, so it’s important to keep the rest of your body relaxed, especially the shoulders, this can be achieved by tensing your stomach as doing so prevents your shoulders from tensing upwards.

The very last move on this Kata is a block, an unusual one, and it needs to be held towards the left of the body, whereas mine was aimed more central as this was highlighted to me.

Sensei told us of a Japanese saying that goes “Hito kata, san-nen” -“One kata, three years” meaning to master each Kata takes three years of practise. I’d argue it could probably take much longer. I’ve read that beginners would not understand this saying, as they would say that they know a Katas moves, but knowing just the pattern has no gauge on the knowledge of Karate. A statement I fully agree with.

We did learn several other nuances for Seishan that sadly I can’t recall (there wasn’t many breaks during the session, and the few we had were short, so I didn’t get chance to take notes), that said, as and when I get some flashbacks, I’ll add them here.

Moving on, there was a lot of discussion about Dan Gradings, preparation and expectations. In addition to a dedicated regime of practising all your Katas, you need to know all your pair work (Ohyos) and so on. The biggest over riding factor is the three K’s (Kihon, Kata & Kumite) and like building a house, if the foundations are strong (your basics) then you build upwards and everything else should resemble the same level of quality.

One point on this that really intrigued me was that the Dan Grading panel look for a ‘fire in your eye’ and that it’s up to the student to take the black belt, it isn’t given to them. Who is most hungry for this? – On the day of grading, if your Kata is more polished than everyone else’s and it’s the best it can be to your ability, then there’s nothing more that you can do and you should, EDIT: will, definitely get back what you put into Karate and the effort of your training.

That concludes my snapshot of the course, I’ll be sure to highlight any further courses for those interested, as they are invaluable as Sensei’s can focus on particular areas giving us so much more rich information that isn’t always possible in a regular class due to time constraints or when teaching such a wide range of grades.

Next up, my thoughts on Tai Sabaki (promise) plus some words on my latest martial arts read, a book called Yoyogi Dojo ’74 and how it sparked some realisation (enlightenment?) in my mind.

Yours in Karate

George

george@wayoftheexplodingfist.co.uk

Waza no Kankyu

•January 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When you begin to learn Katas, for me, they were robotic, awkward and mostly clumsy. As you progress and learn about areas such as Bunkai & the timing of the Kata, you can begin to give a visual representation to the audience of the true meaning of the Kata. A Kata done correctly in the true spirit and timing is as good as any ballet or play.

My personal rule of thumb for Kata right now is a few basic points such as always pause before changing direction, visualise opponents attacking you and make every move count as if you were in a ‘combat’ situation. Try to control your breathing and focus on the moves at hand, don’t try to think too far ahead as for me this can lead to you either getting confused or missing out parts of the Kata. As I mentioned in my last post, repetition is the mother of all learning and to add to that, there’s no easy route or magic in karate, no short-cuts, it all boils down to hard work.

“Karate, like hot water, will return to the original cool water if you don’t continually give it a degree of enthusiasm.” – Gichin funakoshi

So, the new mountain facing me is a Kata called Seishan and with this Kata the technique Waza no Kankyu is truly realised. I did some quick research on this Kata, and this is what I found.

The Kata Seisan (alternate names: Sesan, Seishan, Jusan, Hangetsu) literally means ’13’, however some people refer to the Kata as ’13 Hands’, ’13 Fists’, ’13 Techniques’, ’13 Steps’ or even ’13 killing positions’. However, all these names have no historical basis.

Seisan is thought to be one of the oldest Kata quite spread among other Nahate schools. Shito-ryu has its own version and different versions are now practised even in Shurite derivatives like Shotokan (called Hangetsu) and in Wado-ryu (called Seishan).

There are numerous theories as to the naming of the Kata. These include the number of steps originally in the Kata, the number of different types of ‘power’ or ‘energy’ in the Kata, the number of applications, or that the Kata represents defence against 13 specific types of attack. The most likely explanation is the number of non-repeating techniques contained within the Kata.

The Shotokan version was probably renamed when Gichin Funakoshi formed his school in Japan. Hangetsu translates to ‘Half Moon’ or ‘Half Month’ a reference to the half-moon stance used extensively and the semi-circular stepping actions in this Kata. It is interesting to note the name Seisan could have been a reference to the 13-day cycle of the moons phases, and knowing this Funakoshi named the Kata ‘Half Moon/Month’.

So, Waza no Kanku which means ‘Technique’ + ‘Relative Speed, Slow/Fast’ and with Seishan it comes to the fore and into a league of its own for Kyu grades. This initially comes in the form of dynamic tension (which is movement while tensing your muscles). Until now, all other Katas have been pretty much medium/fast movements, flowing, with a series of maybe 3 – 5 moves at a time, so in theory, the odd mistake would go unnoticed or maybe covered up. With Seishan and probably Nai Hanchi, you are left totally exposed with no room for error. If you are true to your art, and practise, practise, practise, then this is greatly reduced so after a lifetime it might be eliminated totally.

One important lesson that Waza no Kanku has taught me, is to re-explore and in-fact re-discover all your previous Katas again with this in mind. It not only makes them much more enjoyable,  but adds a new dimension to them, bringing a new understanding to each Kata. Try it!

One thing I keep trying to remember when I practise all my Katas now, is Waza no Kankyu, to keep the mind & body working in unison, a sprinkle of Kime plus a lifetime of practise should get me nice results.

My next post will be my thoughts on Tai Sabaki (my saviour).

Yours in Karate.

~g 😉

Ku Shanku クーサンクー

•January 6, 2012 • 4 Comments

Katas to me are the very soul of Karate-do and so many practitioners of Karate seem to forget how important they are to the art, not only for technical perfection but the co-ordination & complete control of the mind + body in harmony.

Oddly, when I started my Karate journey in the mid 2000’s, I cut my teeth in the style of Shotokan, unfortunately the Dojo I trained at closed down after I’d been training for about a year. One thing I do miss with Katas in Wado-Ryu is the strong shout announcing the Kata before you perform it. It’s almost a war-cry type Kiai as you’re preparing to ‘do battle’.

So, Ku Shanku.

According to my brief research, Kushanku was a Chinese military envoy from Ming dynasty period. He was sent to Okinawa in 1756.

Kushanku was a well known Kempo expert (Shaulin Quan-Fa) and his influence on Okinawan Martial Arts (the local “Te”) is very significant regarding to knowledge transfer as well as style influence. Kushanku taught a lot of Martial Art people in Okinawa, among them Chatan Yara and his famous student, Sakugawa Kanga.

Ku Shanku means ‘to view the sky’.

As I type this, the Wado-Ryu Kata Ku Shanku to me, is one of the most physically demanding of Katas (bearing in mind I’m currently 2nd Kyu) and it encapsulates everything we have learnt in the Pinan Katas previously. Hence, I see this Kata as the staple diet of Wado-Ryu.

I vividly remember looking at my Kata book when I was attempting to learn this huge, huge Kata. All I could think was that I’d never learn it, and that this mountain in front of me was unsurmountable… Ironically, it’s currently my favourite Kata!

My Sensei has some great quotes and anecdotes, but one he used recently was ‘repetition is the mother of all learning’ is something that definitely rings true when learning a Kata. One other thing I immediately do, and this might be obvious to higher grades, I always try and break any new Kata down into manageable chunks and practice each one individually, and then start joining them all together gradually.

Speaking of which, I have another mountain facing me, this one is called Seishan. More on that and something called ‘Waza no Kankyu’ next time…

Yours in Karate.

~g

Wado Ryu 和銅流

•December 30, 2011 • 1 Comment

After a dormant period (in writing), I’m determined to keep this blog active as I’m still training in Karate.

As we know, Karate starts with courtesy and finishes with courtesy. Though, to my mind, courtesy can be very distorted. I strongly believe in the words of Sun-Tsu from The Art of War that the strongest Karateka would follow this maxim “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.” – Unless there is no other choice or option.

I digress.

Wado-Ryu is the style of Karate that I train in. For me, it’s one of the better styles as it doesn’t rely so much on pure physical strength, as not only will the fastest actions happen when your muscles are relaxed, but for me, Wado Ryu techniques are thrown rather than forced or thrust upon an opponent, where the muscles only tighten upon impact. Another huge plus I feel, is that Wado Ryu strongly utilises body evasion, where the opponent’s attacks will miss, leaving one close enough to immediately counter-attack.

With that in mind, I read that the best way to describe Wado Ryu techniques is the Japanese analogy of a fast flowing river approaching a rock. The water does not hesitate, it simply divides itself around the rock and rejoins smoothly afterwards. Akin to the evade and counter which encapsulates Wado Ryu’s principles. Again, with all this in mind, whenever I ask my Sensei how to defend from say a mawashi-geri where he replies with answers such as “whatever comes naturally” or “whatever feels best for you”. As you progress through the higher grades this becomes much more clear. We are given the tools to handle a situation and it is up to us to practise, practise, practise and practise some more to make use of all this.

Finally, one article I read regarding all the different styles of Karate covered the style I originally trained in, Shotokan. I trained in this for just over a year and as much as it’s a style I’d recommend, you definitely have to have very strong upper body strength, as it’s very direct and you have to kind of punch holes in your opponent.

Next up: My thoughts on Ku Shanku, the staple diet of Wado Ryu.

Positive Distractions, Zen and Getting Organised (Albeit Slowly).

•June 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Has it really been more than three months since I posted here? Ouch!

Since I last posted I’ve successfully earnt my brown belt, on the path to my 2nd Kyu, semi-addicted to running, writing up notes from every karate lesson & slowly getting an organised lifestyle which allows me to train regulary outside of the dojo. I know all this combined will make me not only a better martial artist but will improve my inner & outer character in life too.

There’s lots I’d like to write on what I’ve been up to in detail but for the sake of my sanity I’m just going to write up some random notes and then get back on track with updating this from my next lesson onwards (again).

Last Sunday we had a black belt syllabus course as it is changed slighly every twelve months, so such courses really help me trying to get to grips both mentally & physically on the expectations for my black belt grading. Speaking of which Sensei has indicated that he’s pencilled this in for a year in November (so Nov’ 2012). This might seem like an eternity but it definitely gives me a roadmap to work to and fingers crossed, if I put enough effort in and train enough then I can see this as achieveable.

During the course I was pleased to learn that part of the new syllabus consists of very traditional karate techniques. That part is using the foundations of junzuki no tsukkomi, mae geri junkzuki etc. Also, the compulsory kata for this year is kushanku, which is great as it’s my favourite kata (even though I used to curse it whilst learning) but the downside is that this will change in a years time, the run up to my black belt grading.

Finally, a suggested daily fitness routine (which we did towards the end of the course) was to go through all the kick blocks then do some exercises eg. 10 x press-ups, 10 x crunches, 10 x burpees, then go through all the punch blocks & excercises, finally going through every kata up to & including kushanku with exercises inbetween each one. Doesn’t sound too much but it certainly drains you, and the biggest dilemma I found was that your mind starts to tire, you forget your katas or parts of them, finding it difficult to focus mentally. This is certainly a big hurdle to over come.

That’s all for now, eager to keep this blog more regular, so will update after my next karate lesson. Feedback & comments very much welcomed.

Yours in Karate.

Better Late Than Never – (Adventures in Kime 決め).

•February 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Apologies for the late posting of this update!

From time to time we have Sunday lessons which will cover something in more detail, from Katas, Kihons to Kumite. This particular Sunday (20th Feb) session was mostly about focus (Kime 決め) and I felt some aspects of Zanshin 残心 too.

Sensei began the lesson by asking us to choose an area at the front of the Dojo or directly ahead of us, and to focus on that particular point through-out the warm up. Before the warm up began, Sensei stood eye to eye with each of us individually to gauge our attention level, later on, he explained to a student who is to be grading for his 1st Dan soon, that he wanted to make him almost ‘hate’ Sensei, and this was said semi-tongue in cheek as when we got down to Kata later Sensei’s point was magnified. Which, on that note, both Sensei and the student in question both performed Naihanchi and we were asked to gauge which display would be good enough to pass for Dan grade. The answer was unanimous.

Whist you’d expect your Sensei to do everything with pure focus and spirit, I felt that the student let himself down with basic errors such as limp punches and non committal moves and actions. Our analysis was not to ridicule the student, far from it, but to help him think about his Kata and as Sensei constantly drills into us, you have to show a story in your Kata – The person watching must understand, and be able to visualise the performance as if you had opponents attacking you during every move & turn. Sensei once told me that a Kata performed correctly, is equivalent to a royal ballet or an opera. One other point I’ve always heard & read is that Katas are mastered during your life…….not in a week, a month or a year, but a lifetime.

I digress. The warm up began and within ten seconds someone moved their eyes away from their line of focus so the whole class was forced to do ten sit-ups, and we then continued. This is when horror struck. I don’t know whether it was down to laziness or a moment of non-focus, maybe madness…but for some reason my gaze averted, I was singled out, and the whole class was made to do ten press-ups. Suffice to say, my eyes and my mind remained fixed & truly focused for the rest of the lesson.

One point regarding Kime/Zansin that Sensei made was the fact that experienced Karatekas could definitely compartmentalise their mind, and actually control their mind as opposed to their mind controlling them, and even more interestingly, they could control a mental switch within their mind. This switch, for the want of better term, was an aggression switch, which they could turn off and on at will. In regular life, they were calm, polite and unassuming, though faced with an aggressive or potentially violent situation, one that they could not escape from, then their minds can trigger the need for them to go into full Karate (combat/budo) mode I guess, where they would do enough to end a violent situation. He went on to say that this switch applied within the Dojo and at Karate tournaments – where the most gentle Karateka could turn into a raging beast on the mat. I get this, but I struggle to have full control of that switch, though I’m sure time will correct that.

Towards the end of this particular lesson we had around ten minutes of Seiza & Moxo. Where we had to remain not only focused, but in a relaxed Zanshin state……Zen-meditation if you like, but we had to keep our Seiza posture or in traditional Japanese Karate style, we would get a crack on the back with Sensei’s belt. Only one person failed this exercise, a Dan grade student. This was good conditioning for mind, body & soul.

One of the final parts was to go through the Kata I need for my brown belt grading, Kushanku, and whilst I now know the moves, it was good for me to go through the Kata with the whole class, from start to finish & with students who were all a much higher grade than myself – To me, you cannot practice *all* your Katas enough, no matter what grade you are!

Overall I felt that this was a very good lesson, and the Sunday courses, I feel, put me in good stead as I steadily progress in my Karate. One thing I am finding is that I can now ‘generally’ keep up with what’s being taught or demonstrated, I’m no longer ‘that guy’ who always fluffs his moves or doesn’t get it. That said, (if you read this Sensei) that’s *not* a challenge it’s compliment to your teaching and hopefully, to my work rate & dedication, as I appreciate I have so much to learn still.

Roll on the next Sunday course which is on the 6th March.

Yours in Karate.