Competition Karate: Just One Big Friendly?

Sunday the 23rd November saw Birmingham University’s karate club led by John Johnston Sensei invite a few of us from Ruach karate clubs for a Kumite event.  So after making some apologies to my Dad on his birthday (sorry Dad), I jumped on a train to go join up with 5 others making up a team of six to fight for a couple of hours against some of the Birmingham University bunch.  During the build up in training the week before, the word “friendly” was mentioned by our Sensei and upon arrival on the day, John Johnston Sensei also reaffirmed this concept of a friendly between the two clubs.  This word had, and still has left a sour taste in my mouth due to what I can only relate as a personal failure to grasp this term when thinking of semi contact karate.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say all semi contact martial arts as a collective.

Image of new friends: Ruach and Birmingham University karateka hosted by Sensei John Johnston

I write with the vision that relaying my thought process on web space will aid in answering some questions and finally give my brain a much needed break.  What differentiates a friendly and non-friendly with regards to karate, specifically in a semi-contact setting?  If I took one definition of a “friendly” from Google, I could probably put this to bed (but that would be too easy wouldn’t it?)

Friendly: “A game or match that does not form part of a serious competition”

With this definition then yes:  The event was not part of a serious competition.  There were no medals to be won, just a fight to try techniques and give us a chance to fight others.  There were winners and losers, but not a competition in the way we’d usually look at it.  So what’s still bugging me?  If we exclude the medals, then in my opinion there were to be no difference between this “friendly” event and a serious competition.  All techniques in both “friendly” and “non friendly” concepts are semi contact.  We are never out to hurt or injure our opponents in this event, nor any competition in the past, present or future.  So the point I make; What is the difference (bar a medal or trophy), that constitutes this “friendly” label when our attitude, aggression and control of technique never changes?

If I look at friendlies in other sports and take football for example then this gives more understanding.  The idea of playing a match with no bearing on league tables nor any points towards competitions.  This could be argued to bear a resemblance to karate by giving an opportunity to try out new techniques whilst not sacrificing anything from mistakes.  However this is where I find a big difference with regards to “mainstream” sports vs karate and the hint is in the highlighted word above.  When I go to karate, I am “doing” it, not “playing” it.  Because of this single word it changes the concept of karate for myself and the result being that the term “friendly” in this context doesn’t seem to compute.

 

It could be argued that karateka or martial artists start for many different reasons; Some to get fit, some to learn self defence, some to learn discipline, others to make friends to and some to compete in competition to name a few.  However for all these reasons, the question I ask is why choose karate or why martial arts in particular over something else?  The reasons can be transferable in all non-combat sports, all bar the one of self defence.  For this reason I can’t see martial arts as a friendly.  After all, the only time martial arts doesn’t become a friendly is when you’re faced in a real life dangerous situation.  So thinking about it, I guess all karate competition must just be friendly, right?

Now I dare hazard a guess what some of you may be thinking, I’m starting to see it to as I type.  A feeling that I believe martial arts not to be classified as a sport, that karate is supposed to be traditional blah blah blah.  If you’re thinking this about me then I’ll save your breath.  I don’t much care for the politics.  I don’t much care for the reasons why people start, whether you prefer traditional, competition, no competition.  Whether you like to focus on bunkai, kata, kumite, both or all.  Don’t take it the wrong way, but I really just don’t care.  To me if you’re involved in martial arts and train hard then you get my respect for whatever reason you decide to do it in a similar essence that armed forces would show each other respect for serving his or her country.

Remember my opinions are my own, as are yours.  I send my thoughts out to make a better understanding for myself.  A chance to reread back all these thoughts and emotions going on in my own head that until I make static just seem to shoot past to quickly for me to grasp.  I would like to hear your opinions and after all, respectful discussions with reasoning are what we are about.  A chance to learn from each other, the choice we have as individuals to use what benefits us and discard what doesn’t, but to discard respectfully.  Why can we do this?  Because we are karateka, we are martial artists and we are disciplined to know that respect is brought up in us to become the best self we can be.

I won’t drag over this anymore, but will add that I’m happy to have met John Johnston Sensei.  He helped me very early on sharing some of my blog posts to you all and created great discussion, in particular with regards to my thoughts on another blog post of mine Is Karate Developing a Soft Persona? (opens in new window).  I take great enjoyment in reading his own blog around adaptive karate that can be found at Adaptive Karate Blog (opens in new window)  Sensei Johnston, like Sensei Beggan is doing his bit to help others and pass down his knowledge so that karate can continue to live strong through generations.  I’m thankful for meeting the Birmingham University karate club students and being given the opportunity to develop my karate.

November has arrived and further along my journey I travel, new techniques, new clubs, new ambitions in the aim to develop a better self and transfer karate discipline to aid me in a real life existence.  It’s a long way to go, but as Maslow would say, everybody tries to achieve self actualisation, although nobody will.  I best keep going forward.

 

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An Interview with: Welsh World Champion Luke Howard

My first interview is with respected Karateka, Welsh International Luke Howard who is the current IKU Senior World Champion. Many thanks for taking the time out to speak with me.

Image of World Champion Luke Howard

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I started karate around 15 years ago at the age of 6. My parents thought it was very important to be involved in sport and had me try out various sports, but once I tried karate I seemed at home and we knew it was the sport for me! Karate has been an important part of my life as I have travelled, fought in and seen many countries around the world such as Brazil, Italy, Slovenia, Romania and Portugal to name a few. Karate has also developed and disciplined me as a person as well as an athlete and has prepared me for many aspects of everyday life.

What are your upcoming plans within the karate world?

With karate Wales being affiliated to the IKU, WUKF and now the UWK (United World Karate) we have many opportunities and events available to us over the upcoming year and future! I plan on attending many of these Events next year, especially the 1st UWK World Championships which will be held in São Paulo, Brazil and will be a big step forward for the karate World. In the future I would also like to continue my karate career into teaching and coaching karateka to enjoy the lifestyle and success that I have had myself!

You’ve recently come back from Poland, can you tell us a bit about your visit?

My visit to Poland took us to the city Szczecin for the WUKF Junior World Championships. Having turned 21 in August earlier this year, I was unable to enter the event, but still travelled out to support and help coach the squad. It was a different experience being on the coaches side of the squad, but was as rewarding helping to coach some promising young athletes to World medals and titles!

Image of Luke Howard winning  the IKU World Championship

What is your proudest moment throughout your karate career?

My proudest moment in karate so far has to be winning the IKU senior world championships earlier this year in Brazil! After winning the under 21 World Championships just 6 months earlier I thought it would be a hard feeling to beat, but after some extremely tough and challenging fights with athletes from all over the World, to come out as IKU World Champion, especially in Brazil, was a very proud moment for me! Another very proud moment was just recently in London at the IKU Junior European championships where I was coaching with karate Wales. I was honoured to present medals to many talented fighters including some friends such as European and World Champions Maddie Moore and Shauna Carroll.

You recently did a seminar with an old training friend of mine Sensei Tom Davies at his South Staffs Karate club, was that your first seminar?

Tom invited me up to South Staffs Karate to take a seminar shortly after Brazil and it was an honour to be invited up for my first seminar! There was a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere and I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students there seeing plenty of potential showing through. I look forward to taking many more seminars and helping aspiring young karateka to achieve their goals and dreams!

Image of Luke with Stephen and Unel Wellington SenseisHow often do you train?

I train 5 nights a week at the KenBuKan Martial Arts Centre in Swansea under Welsh karate legends Stephen and Unel Wellington. In addition to this I am busy being away most weekends to compete at various events in Britain and Internationally!

 

Do you have a favourite technique?

Ura Mawashi geri is my favourite technique although I understand the necessity of being proficient in all aspects and techniques in Kumite, I’ll always have a soft spot for kicks in general but most of all hook kicks!

Image of Luke Howard performing kick

Do you have any viewpoint on karate being in the Olympics?

I think it would be great if karate achieved the Olympic dream, but with the division it faces at the moment I don’t think there is much hope for that. A great chance for unity in karate comes with the recently formed United World Karate (UWK) having been formed by 7 major World bodies working towards that Olympic dream! It would benefit karate and all karateka greatly if it achieved inclusion into the Olympics, but the only way forward is through total unity.

Do you prefer Kata or Kumite?

I only compete in Kumite at competition as fighting is my passion, but I also thoroughly enjoy kata as well. I think Kata and basics are very important in helping fighters develop. I train frequently in Kata as well as Kumite.

There will be a lot of young Karateka hoping to be the next Luke Howard, what advice can you give them?

The main advice I can give to young karateka is to train hard, compete frequently and keep challenging yourself! It’s good to practice and try out new strategies and techniques so you have a wider range of techniques to use in Kumite.

Thanks for taking some time out to give us an insight in to Luke Howard, it is much appreciated. Osu

Until the end of time

My name is called, up to the mat once more,

The tingling sensations again unfold.

It’s time to be brave,

no way I’m gonna lose this race!

It’s me or them until the end of time.

The war paint is added, they are my enemy now,

I’ll push and fight, sweat drips off my brow.

All that matters is winning the show,

At the end we’ll take a bow.

It’s me or them until the end of time.

A kick or a punch, a feint or a stomp,

What will be in store during this furore.

Attack or defence, a counter or sweep,

No time to sleep now! Don’t be counting sheep!!

It’s me or them until the end of time.

The audience cheer,

Half of them know not this fear,

But we can control it or at least tame the beast,

The years of training, hours of practise.

It’s me or them until the end of time.

A hug and an embrace,

No winners, no losers, there is no disgrace,

We gave it our all, the mighty do not fall.

We are karate-ka, one and for all.

It’s us together until the end of time.

Times change, time to adapt: From KUGB to everything else

I realise it’s been a while since my last post. In fact the whole site has unfortunately had a bit of a go slow with regards to updates and for that I apologise. It feels like I’ve hit the time again that I once remembered as a teenager entitled “Not enough hours in the day.” In the past this used to be a case of two rugby training sessions a week plus match day whilst adding in karate 3 or 4 times a week. Add to this a sprinkle of badminton training and a bit of scouts and before you know it something had to give. I wish I was in that same position; Instead I now find myself juggling not only hobbies that I love, but work commitments in order to pay the bills and a new venture in band practice. I guess with this I notice that times change in day to day life and coincidentally so has my karate.

From the age of 7 all I’ve known is Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) and whether this is due to an ignorance on my part or not feeling the necessity to have to venture further afield than within those 4 walls, I don’t know. My knowledge of anything external was unknown. People I would call as the greats consisted of the likes of Sensei Enoeda, Andy Sherry, Frank Brennan, Ronnie Christopher, Terry O’Neil to name a few. In fact I could probably have just grouped any instructor from the Red Triangle from back in the day to just one collective to save writing space. The competitions for me consisted of the Central Regions (usually held at Grantham or Chesterfield), the coveted National Championships held at the NIA in Birmingham and occasionally the student championships. In these times I had some moderate success with a few third place finishes. I was never a renowned great at karate and never will be, but I give my all and most importantly I learn from competition and any mistakes. It’s comforting to know that karate isn’t about you vs everybody else, it is you vs yourself. A personal development and acknowledging that you can only be the best that you can be.

Anyway to get back on track, the KUGB set up for me worked well, maybe it was for an ignorance that I didn’t see anything outside of this organisation. If it wasn’t for my training club’s directional change outside of the KUGB then I would still have been just as ignorant. Never had I heard of the names Wayne Otto, Junior Lefebvre or anybody else. I’d go as far as to say that my mind has a problem with change, the thought that there is something different to KUGB and to be able to accept it. I lived in a comfort zone that the KUGB was the biggest Shotokan karate organisation in the UK. I was fighting to 1 full ippon, if it’s over it’s over. Back then there were no mitts, a gum shield and a groin guard and your karate then separated the “men from the boys”.

Image of Ruach Karate club group photo at Paul Campbell's open karate competition at Ellowes Hall School in Sedgley. (Left to right: Dave Farrance, Matt Cromwell, Russell Dobbins)

Ruach Karate club group photo at Paul Campbell’s open karate competition at Ellowes Hall School in Sedgley. (Left to right: Dave Farrance, Matt Cromwell, “Not stated”)

Now I find myself almost lost in a world of karate sport.  Competitions with 3 full Ippons to decide the winner.  With this allows room for error and a completely different style of competition to what I was once used to.  Another thing I’ve noticed has been the difference in control and no longer is there any room for moderate contact.  I’ve entered two competitions so far and been disqualified from the first in the team Kumite before being beaten very fairly by Wales and European squad member Luke Howard (another unknown to me until after the event.)

Another item on the agenda?  All this equipment I’m having to carry around (borrowed at the moment).  Blue mitts, red mitts, white mitts, this colour belt, that colour belt, shin guards, foot guards.  A weight training session has definitely been ensured by just arriving to events!  I find myself questioning is it a ploy for money as these pads aren’t cheap when looking at sets of 3 different colours?  I really don’t know,  so what can I do about all these thoughts spiralling on through my head?

I guess I could moan about it.  Make excuses and put it down to a different kind of competition that’s holding me back, moan about the costs and argue the politics.  Or better still?

Embrace the change.  My old KUGB is not coming back unless I want to relocate a good 25 miles away.  This organisation to me may be gone forever, lost in to a vortex that unless I chase will be a thing of the past.  Relocating isn’t an option, leaving Ruach karate clubs isn’t either so I’ll stay here and think positive.  What have I gained?  A chance to broaden my karate horizons, learn that there are other practitioners out there that aren’t just KUGB.  A chance to pit myself against karateka of all different styles.  Longer rounds or more explosive rounds owed to more points giving an opportunity to improve my stamina further still.  The added bonus to experiment more with techniques knowing that a failed attack may not have worked, but I tried, I experienced, I learnt.  The multiple opportunities I now have to enter tens of hundreds of competitions all across the country.  A chance to build my mat experience up even further.

So, I may have lost the KUGB, but I’ve just started to appreciate that I’ve gained a lot too.

 

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for Dummies, a load of cold water over nothing?

As you’re reading this, it is certain that you’ve had to connect to the internet via one device or another and if so then I’m pretty sure that you’ve seen or heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that has been sweeping social media sites such as Facebook and Youtube.  Everybody’s getting involved from Bill Gates to Kermit the Frog!  I had my nomination last week from fellow karateka Russell with an additional challenge to write about it for the Shotokan Karate Training blog.  Guess what Russ?  Challenge accepted!

If in case you have actually been living under a rock for the last few weeks, it’s time to get to grips with this challenge as it doesn’t seem to be disappearing anywhere anytime soon.  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) also known as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a progressive degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system over time.  Early symptoms can include but are not limited to cramps, muscle weakness affecting arms or legs, slurred and nasal speech in addition to problems when chewing and swallowing food.  The challenge involves the nominated person pouring ice cold water over their heads and then nominating more people to take up the challenge.  At the moment there are currently around 5000 sufferers within the UK and there is no known cure.  The ALS association have asked posters of their challenge videos to hashtag in #icebucketchallenge, #alsicebucketchallenge, and #strikeoutals in order to further spread the word.  Donaters can text the word ICED55 followed by the amount eg (£5) to 70070

So why has this Ice bucket thing gotten so big now?  Well one of, if not, THE founding member of the challenge Corey Griffin decided to do it to raise awareness for fellow friend and MND sufferer Peter Frates.  Griffin was 27 from America and has since sadly passed away a little over 2 weeks ago after an accident whilst diving in to the Ocean from a building in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

 Corey Griffin (right)Corey Russell (Right)

I must admit three weeks ago I’d never even heard of ALS.  If it had have been described to me as MND I’d have had some clue, but I guess that’s the whole idea of these campaigns; to raise awareness.  I’d seen countless Ice bucket challenges done and plastered all over Facebook, but wasn’t sure what they were in aid of until I saw a video that really touched my heart.

Until this point it didn’t really bother me if I was nominated or not, but I guess I was hoping for the chance.  It sounds strange really, a hope that somebody will think of you enough to actually nominate you within one of their videos, a sense of feeling wanted I guess.  I know it’s possible to just donate without getting involved in the challenge.  I’ve seen this comment made plenty of times on Facebook, but the point is that there is an idea behind the challenge specifically involving ice in that the paralysing effects of ice cold water is supposed to reciprocate the same kind of sensation that an ALS sufferer endures.

According to http://www.express.co.uk, the Ice bucket challenge has raised in excess of £18.9 million and continues to climb.  Due to a big charity fund raising event within the Ruach karate clubs for MacMillan Cancer support, I decided to do two buckets.  One for ALS and one for MacMillan and keeping within the theme of karate I thought it only right I donned my Gi and tried to perform Kihon Kata.

If you do decide to do the ice bucket challenge and whoever you decide to do it for it doesn’t matter.  I cannot imagine one charity begrudging another’s fortune for using awareness to help us all do good for charity as a collective.

 

Good luck with your challenges!

Seminar: Sean Roberts Saturday 9th August hosted by Ruach Shotokan Karate Club

After attending Sensei Matt Price’s seminar the other week, I managed to make it a double whammy by joining my own Ruach club in a visit to meet no other than Sean Roberts Sensei.  Sensei Roberts lives in Hawaii and has had a strong link with the Ruach Karate Clubs and Sensei Ronnie Christopher dating back to at least 2002 where both collaborated on a joint project entitled Inspirational Karate.  A production that is widely regarded as the pinnacle in karate training incorporating (at the time) new and old school  karateka.

The last time I saw Sensei Roberts was around 10 years ago if not longer and I have to say the stuff Sensei was teaching was on another level.  I’d made the session bright and early for 8am in Bromsgrove all ready for the 8:30 start.  Upon arriving, Sensei Christopher and Sensei Roberts were already there and this gave me a bit of time to have a catch up with Ronnie and listen to Sensei Roberts before we were to start.  What continually strikes me when I meet these great Sensei’s is the down to Earth, humble attitude in which they carry themselves.  To be honest, I don’t know why it keeps surprising me.  After all, the very art in which we do teaches good ethos and etiquette so why should these great teachers be any different?  I guess for me personally it’s the high pedestal upon which I find myself putting them.  You watch these guys competing or training with a mixed emotion sense of fear and curiosity at the same time.  I keep on having to remind myself that these people are human beings like the rest of us.  One day I may be able to disassociate this Super Hero label I give out and view these guys as one of us, but for now I won’t hold my breath.

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei showing us how it's done.

Training began at 8:30 sharp and after a good warm up we got to work.  If somebody had of walked in off the street and saw us in the distance for the hour they would have concluded that all we had done was stand on the spot and throw about 50 reverse punches.  Pretty boring huh?  WRONG!  What we listened to and subsequently tried to digest from Sensei Roberts involved so much more.  A fountain of knowledge being given, too much for the brain to take in leaving us all in a state of brain overload!  As karateka, especially in a traditional Shotokan form we have always been taught the art of finishing fights with one killer blow, but this isn’t always possible is it.  As a club we’ve touched on the subject; pushing through our front knee to move faster and thus keeping the centre of gravity low, using our arm to increase directional rotation causing us to almost fall over, twisting our hips to ensure we hit with power, but what Sensei Roberts was showing us made our fundamental knowledge of body movement look like something from a pre-school production.  I still have words ringing through my mind, “contract” “recoil” “extension”, so much information that it makes me question every technique I’ve previously learnt.

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei explaining in detail.

It’s hard for me to explain in words the teachings of Sensei Roberts. What makes it harder is that without being able to fully incorporate it in to my karate at a drop of a hat, the task becomes twice as difficult.  After practicing techniques a certain way for so many years; unlearning or relearning new techniques becomes difficult as the old ones must first be broken down.  The lesson seemed to finish as quickly as it had began and I made a quick dash down from Bromsgrove to Stourbridge with Sensei Beggan.  On arrival I immediately started to try and put in to practice what I’d been told just an hour before and the results were to say the least pretty shocking.  In that one hour I must have looked like I’d never done a karate lesson in my life.

So now what…?

Do I disregard the one hour crash course I’d just had and stick with what I know?  Or do I take the tougher, unknown road; take a few steps back and embrace my new found karate knowledge to achieve a better standard in the long run?  Well, I’ve never been a fan of the easy option and karate is a life time of learning.  I best get started!

 

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei at Bromsgrove Ruach Karate Club

 

Seminar: Matt Price Sunday 3rd August hosted by Tipton Shotokan Karate Club

Image of Matt Price (6th Dan) Seminar Poster

Last Sunday saw me attend my first Shotokan karate training seminar in a long time with no other than Matt Price Sensei (6th Dan).  Sensei Price has previously been a big name in the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) organisation and has an impressive honour’s list of:

  • KUGB Grand Champion
  • 9x KUGB National Champion
  • 16x Grand Slam Kumite Champion
  • European Champion
  • World Team Champion
  • 2x Voted Competitor of the Year

After watching Sensei Price at the KUGB Nationals for a few years the thing I remember the most in fact was this menacing mohican style haircut and goatee beard.  Add this to a bloke that seemed to destroy opponents for fun and the making of a champion was plain for all to see.  Back  then I was in a younger age category, which to this day I’m pretty thankful for!  After hearing of Sensei’s visit to Coseley hosted by Tipton SKC, I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  I confirmed my attendance and greatly anticipated the date to arrive.  Apart from a couple of brief facebook chats and some kindly donated uploads for the site, I’d never actually spoken to Sensei in real life.

Image of Louis, Sensei Matt Price and I

The days drew nearer and I started to ponder over what Sensei would be like as a person, what the training would entail and if he was as scary as I remembered all those years ago.  Back then watching Sensei at the nationals with that mohican, goatee beard and demonic eyes; it seriously brought a sense of fear.  Obviously I was just a kid back then, but the thoughts have remained to this day.  I can only think of one reoccurring karate event in my life that has brought the same kind of fear to me and that involved the Thursday night Cocksmoor Woods training lineups of around 15 blackbelts.  These guys would be baying for blood, any one attack and believe me these guys were seriously out to get you.  Not only did it push you to the very edge of your physical fitness, but also it would mentally beat you to within an inch of your existence.  Absolutely knackered at the end after being swept left right and centre; you’d have the “privilege” of facing Greg Hegarty and Ronnie Christopher just to finish you off for good measure (before doing it all over again!)  Now I’m not complaining, it’s training like this which helps to determine your mental character and proud that I was studying karate at a time where this was more acceptable with less worry of all the health and safety rules that are in place today.

Image of Matt Price Sensei giving some words of wisdom

After jumping on the train with postcode set on Google Maps, I arrived at 12:30 in preparation.  I was warmly greeted by the instructors of Tipton Shotokan Karate Club and given a tour of the facilities.  After quickly setting up the camcorder I got changed and began to warm up.  Slowly but surely, others began to arrive and all stretched off getting ready to start the 3 hour session.  I’d turned up on my own not knowing anybody there and pretty much kept myself to myself.  As more and more karateka arrived, I started to recognise a few faces from the Kizuna World Championships that I’d taken part in back in May, which was nice to see.  A fellow karateka approached me before the beginning of the session and introduced himself as Barry, a member of the Tipton Karate Club.  He said he’d seen that I was on my own and thought he’d say hello.  He might not realise it, but that was to me personally a really nice thing.  It epitomized the essence of a true karateka showing a sense of care and a thought for others.

Image of all Matt Price Sensei seminar attendees

Sensei Price arrived not long after and after a slightly nervous wait we lined up, 35 participants strong originating from both Shotokan and Shukokai styles.  And so it began!  Any apprehension or nerves previously running through my mind were soon blown away as Matt Price Sensei actually turned out to be not just a genuinely nice bloke, but a bit of a comedian!  The 3 hour class was broken in to 3 hourly sections incorporating kihon, followed by kata then lastly some kumite techniques.  Now there was one main factor that I realised after the lesson that cropped up in the kihon section.  No matter how simple the technique is (or appears to be); with a lack of concentration it can seriously go belly up!  Here we had what you would presume as some  relatively simple combinations being taught in the kihon section.   This drill incorporated gedan barai in kiba-dachi, then in to shutouke and gyakuzuki reverse punch.  Three simple forward steps then going backwards utilising good preparation at the halfway point and same leg leading both forwards and back.  Simple yes?  Well, it should have been, but for some reason there was a bit of struggling at the beginning and by more than one of us!  At the end of the drill everybody was pretty comfortable with it, but it served as a gentle reminder that even the most fundamental steps learnt from the beginning of karate can get a little muddled to say the least and re-emphasized the importance of practicing different Kihon combinations to get the mind warmed up.  Without strong kihon, what can we expect our kata or kumite to be like?

 

Sensei Price moved on and demonstrated through various techniques the need for utilising the hips, transferring the body weight and the art of relaxation in order to focus the transfer of energy from one technique to the next.  Now I’m not an expert on it, but it was a reassuring feeling that the lessons he was teaching us were being taught week in week out at my local Ruach Karate club under Gary Beggan Sensei.  During a reverse leg maegeri, step back gyaku tsuki, I felt comfortable and relaxed in the technique and this aided speed and strength from a good hip rotation.  With this relaxation and good hip rotation in mind it was time to partner up.  Barry who’d introduced himself to me before the seminar partnered myself and we looked at a gyaku tsuki punch with the other side being a target.  The purpose was to use the hips, but ensure that the punch was maximising complete transfer through the body core so as to not lose strength (all whilst remaining relaxed).  Sensei Price gave us some free range and basically gave us the all clear to put some power in to it.  I must say, you don’t have to ask me twice!  Having the opportunity of using a little force with your partner in a controlled setting personally serves me two purposes.  1,  Are my attacks strong enough to hold their own in a real life situation?  And 2, Can I take the punch to the stomach that I’m about to receive?

 

When focusing on kata; Sensei pondered what to look at and decided upon a kata that almost nobody knew.  A good way to put us all on the same playing field!  The kata entitled Junro Shodan is one of 5 additional katas created by the late Asai sensei, founder of the JKS.  According to York Karate Website (opens in new window), Asai Sensei “believed that there were gaps in the original 26 Shotokan kata and so filled those gaps with the Junro series. The Junro series also helps to prepare the student for the more advanced Shotokan kata that follow the earlier ones. The Junro kata are assessed at Shodan level and beyond.”  Now we went through this kata fast!  It was originally broken down in to sections before adding the extra parts to the original section learnt.  It’s amazing when you think you’ve learnt the first part to only find how quickly it evades you when you comprehend the task of putting it all together!  Needless to say we had a go and it was interesting to see a new kata that to me at least was unheard of in my karate education.  Below you can see what it “should have looked like.”  Our variation on the other hand was a little different to say the least!

 

The course inevitably drew to a close and the time flew by extremely fast.  Given half a chance I’d have probably done another 3 hours on top.  Saying that I should probably be careful for what I wish for as I might be seen as not having worked hard enough in the first 3 hours!  Sensei Price finished off with a question and answer session and participants were eager to know in particular about mentality towards competition, training regimes and lifestyle exercises and diet to peak them in preparation.  The final question particularly stuck with me, “How do you set aside doubt in competition?”  The answer will not only help me personally, but also made me laugh.  The response?

“There are two mes. When I see this guy off the mat I’m like he’s good, I know he’s good,  There’s no way I can beat him. When I step on the mat I’m like he’s good, I’ll destroy him, you’re on my mat now!”

When I think about all we went through during the seminar in addition to the time Sensei took with us to answer questions (not to mention his time for autographs and photos), I cannot praise him enough.  Sensei was a funny, down to Earth guy and in particular he was approachable.

So on Sunday 3rd August I could have gone down the pub and had 4 pints.  I didn’t.  What did I get instead?  3 hours with a world champion, extra karate knowledge that will stay with me forever, a chance to meet a personal hero and dozens of new friends that I look forward to seeing again.  Would I swap it for a trip to the local?  Nah!

 

Be the best you can be: What if i told you? UPDATE

This relates to my original post about someone very close to me that has been looking to start karate for a very long time now, but has backed out for various reasons and the advice I have given to try and tip that willing soul over the edge slightly in to the unknown in to a life changing experience.  If you haven’t already read the first Blog, it may be worth a look which can be found here.

Well I thought it was time for an update;  After writing the previous post and showing it to the lady in question she again came down prepared.  A determined mind laughing and joking about her first session.  All kitted out in comfortable shorts and t-shirt to start her 20th “first” Shotokan karate training lesson.  Again she got to the door, but unfortunately it was to no avail.  After seeing the huge array of people ready to train, coupled with the daunting effect of so many people in such a small training area; fear inevitably kicked in.  Like I said before, to me it is frustrating.  Not because I want her to do it for me, but for her to do it for herself.  I guess it’s easy looking in from the other side seeing it from both perspectives, knowing both sides of the coin.  One, a scared, but curious beginner venturing in to the unknown.   The other, seeing the benefits of not only learning a self defence, but also an art form, a mind set, a focus and a fitness regime all being rolled in to one.

For another evening we went home, so many thoughts going through my head knowing that if only that first step was taken it would be the start of something spectacular.  My hopes raised just before each lesson thinking this is it!  This will be the time that when LINE UP is shouted, there will be an extra addition to the family.

Tuesday comes and another karate lesson, another window of opportunity, again she arrives with me, tshirt and shorts all ready to go.  This time i’m asked to start the lesson and look over to see a firm shake of the head.  By now I’m used to it, I’ve accepted the fact that this person may never give it a go.  As I lead the warm up I see her talking with Sensei and a minute later he’s off out of the Dojo.  Where he’s gone I haven’t got a clue.  Minutes later and Sensei returns clutching a brand new Giko gi in its plastic wrapper and complete with compulsory white belt as standard.  Now I know what’s coming, off my friend trots gi in hand and minutes later the Shotokan family has its’ newest member.  At last! It’s been a long time coming, but as they say, better late than never.  I held back the smiles whilst completing the warm up with the need to be professional and during the lesson I couldn’t help but look over to check on her progress.  I must say she did pretty well for her first lesson.

After the hour lesson was complete I asked her about the conversation with Sensei and it transpires that it was my fault for not bringing her my spare gi to train in! Apparently it was a  fear of looking out of place compared to the rest of the group.  It has never crossed my mind that a little thing like this would have been an issue.   For me personally I’ll train in anything and anywhere, but then again not everybody’s the same are they?  And so the journey for another has begun, Sensei’s final welcoming words on handing the Gi?  “Hurry up and get in line.”  I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Advertising to the masses; Quality vs Quantity

I want to talk today about what factors are the most important with regards to karate training for instructors and students.  From an instructor point of view; Is it the quantity of students or the quality? There are many reasons why students decide to take up martial arts.  These include, but are not limited to keeping fit, to gain confidence and to learn self defense.  With this in mind an instructor has a lot to consider when teaching as he must take in to consideration the individual needs of students, whilst still pushing through the ethos that (in this case) karate is first and foremost, a fighting art. In an ideal world, the instructor would train his or her students to be the best they can be.  After all, nobody can be better than reaching that self actualization.  If I talk specifically from a kumite perspective with a goal to winning competition in this scenario, then what can be considered the maximum an instructor can push his students to achieve their full potential? When we train in a controlled setting, working together with our partners to ensure safety; Does this really develop us to our maximum in order to achieve our best?  In my opinion, the struggle of the instructor is that the club is made up of its’ students and whilst pushing some to breaking point is acceptable and beneficial to one student, it could possibly lead to driving another student away.  So the question then is, what is the purpose behind a club from an instructor’s point of view? Is it to have as many students as possible that are enjoying themselves having fun that may necessarily not be as good as they could be if pushed harder?  The benefits of this approach however would be promoting karate to a wider audience.  This in turn could help to advertise karate to more potential karateka creating a snow ball effect if you will.  Or is this approach in fact doing a disservice to the art, promoting quantity over quality as the order of the day. What draws me to karate is its’ uniqueness.  It’s not like playing football or rugby or another mainstream sport.  If you were to compare practicing and working on skill, technique then yeah, you’d find similarities, but karate goes much deeper than that.  It’s a mindset outside of the art and to an extent a way of life.  The Dojo Kun principles of karate transfer in to valuable life skills.  How one presents themselves, their conduct, their attitude, their discipline, their ego (or lack of). I’m personally all for seeing the art develop and grow and would love to see as many students taking part in karate as possible.  Would I want this to happen at the expense of the overall quality of its’ students development though?  Most definitely not.  Allowing this free for all, any attitude accepted approach would in turn see black belts being given out like free sweets and the thought of this churns my stomach.  I’m sure it does happen in some clubs and organisations.  Instructor’s whose main aim is to make as much money as possible for personal financial gain, I’ve heard these referred to as McDojo’s but I cannot see this in any shape or form as being acceptable.  If a true karate instructor had learnt any moral values through the art then this practice would not come to realisation in the first place! Thankfully, all the clubs I know and have trained with have kept to the discipline whereby if you’ve earned that black belt then you’ve bloody well earned it properly.  My Shodan was awarded by the late Enoeda and Sherry Sensei.  These two aren’t giving black belts out!  If you don’t cut it, you don’t cut it and that is something i’m proud of;  To have stood up in front of some of the very best and shown that I have a good standard and thus being recognised for the work I’ve put in over the years. I talk from a completely honest and personal point of view when I write this.  If we focus on a balance of mundane, but gut busting high quality training vs quality training mixed with fun (excluding McDojo’s) then which approach is more valuable to the student?  All I can go are my own feelings.  My instructor’s are top notch.  When I say good, I mean really good.  I enjoy my training to the maximum and give 100% every lesson.  There’s always a burning question in my heart that is left unanswered though.  If I enjoyed it a little less and trained with others to the tune of a bootcamp, blood, sweat, tears and all;  Would this make me better at what I did?  Would the beatings I could potentially, in fact, inevitably take in training toughen me up further to prepare me for a real life situation?  My answer to this?  I honestly don’t know.  They always say grass is greener on the other side and for now at least my teeth, nose and other vitals are (touch wood) still in tact.  Would I be writing this with the same perspective if i were to be getting my backside kicked each week?  Who knows! From a new starters point of view; I’d suggest a happy medium between engaging, fun karate and quality teaching.  This feels like a good balance to begin with.  From there on in it is up to the student to decide the way in they want to take their training.  The only person that can decide if their club is truly beneficial to them is the student themselves.  Stick to your guns, feel with your heart, give it your all and the rest will follow.  

24/7 training, is it possible?

How often do you train?  Once a week? Twice a week? Three times or more?  Some of you may say you train for an hour a day, every day.

What if i were to tell you that you’re probably always training and if you’re not, it is possible to.  I know i am.  When you go to the dojo, put on your gi and do an hour or two under the guidance of your Sensei, this is primary training.  Practicing on your own at home, in the garden or wherever else you can get a bit of space is also beneficial, but there are opportunities everywhere you go.

Now i’m not saying we should walk down the street and do our kicks to get from a to b, but we can use our minds to focus on danger prevention.  Allow me to explain a little more…

There are a lot of subway underpasses around where I work and live, not places you want to be hanging around late at night.  However these are necessary to get to where i want to go.  By force of habit before i turn that corner i’m looking to see what is behind me, then  If you were to watch me you’d also see me taking the outside line so i can see at the earliest opportunity any possible danger.

When I buy jeans and trousers, I’m making sure these fit well around the waist, but also give me enough flexibility to make sure i can use my kicks if i need to.  It’s highly unlikely, if not near impossible that you’ll be wearing your gi come a real life fight on the streets.  To be honest, if you’re wearing your gi in situations that you don’t really need to then you could be asking for trouble.  You’ll never be short of a few air heads looking to prove a point so don’t give them the opportunity in the first place.

When I’m out and about for in a bar or restaurant, especially in places i don’t know; i’m looking to be sitting with my back to the wall.  Why?  Because behind me will be one less place i’ll be having to look if something kicks off.

Have you ever been stopped in the middle of the street by somebody you don’t know?  I personally don’t like it.  I get that awkward feeling.  What does this guy want?  Money?  Directions? The time?  In an ideal world to avoid any chance of possible confrontation I’d walk off and ignore, but then again being kind, friendly and with a innate need to respect other people I stay to find out what is needed.  The way in which I look to help however may come across as a little intimidating.  My eyes will scrunch as though i’m ready to kill putting the other person on edge.  My voice when responding becomes sharp and aggressive with my hands coming out of my pockets.  Why do I do this?  It’s not because i’m a bully, it’s not because i want to intimidate anybody, but more so a need for self preservation.  99 times out of 100 we will be stopped in the streets by strangers for genuine reasons and all is fine.  Let us imagine this person is stopping you for alternative reasons and they’re sizing you up to take your phone.  There is no way on Earth i’m going to make myself look like an easy target by being all nice.  As soon as this stranger acknowledges my response its intention should be to ask themselves the question, “Do i really want to be picking this target?”

  Some may say i’m over cautious, some may say i’m paranoid.  I say that i’m training my brain and focusing on little things I can do to give myself every extra chance of survival if put in to a situation that i’d rather not find myself in.

So, 24/7 training.  Is it possible? I think it is albeit not your standard training that you use in the dojo.  I’d be interested to see other people’s take on this.  Do you have little things you do for self preservation?  Do you think I’m barking mad?  Let me know in the comments section.