Observations

General items of interest that are useful and relevant to Shotokan Karate Training

Never give up 

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted but an old friend of mine who got in to karate roughly 2 years ago has reminded me of something so important that I’ve had to write about it.   You see a lot of us will have watched the karate kid back in the day and had grandures of being the next Mr. Miyagi. I too was one of those kids and although trying my best I never made it.  You see to be good at karate or any martial art you need to not only be naturally talented but you also need to work hard too.

I will always remember my Dad’s words when he spoke about boxers. . He said the best ones were the naturally talented and also trained hard   As an example for this I’d say Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.  Both naturally gifted and hard workers.   Then you get your boxers who werent naturally talented but worked hard at their craft like Frank Bruno. Thie bloke was never as naturally gifted as the two forementioned but he wanted it so bad and suçceeded. I remember watching him as a child winning on points and holding on tactically in the last round against Oliver Mccall. 

A good friend of mine and I don’t think he’d hold it against me for saying this is basically past his peak in the karate World  He’s started karate very late and it will be hard for him to gain the benefits as if he were to take it on as a child.  One thing I will say for him though is that he is a grafter and a hard worker.   If anyone can prove to you that it’s never to late then it’s him 

All I want to say to anybody  that may come across my blog is this. .. Do your best and nobody can ask anymore from you than that.   Win or lose it DOES NOT MATTER.  If you finish your kumite or kata and lose to your opponent then hold your head high.   All you can do is your best and as long as you’ve done the best that you can do then nobody can take that away from you. If you get the oppotunity to spa with somebody better than you then grab it with both hands,  do not be afraid. If they are better than you then they will improve you.  You have nothing to lose and the pressure will be on them. 

A final word : You can only be the best you can be. Win or lose at the end if you can hold your head high and say i couldn’t have done anymore then that will always be a win. 

Forget everybody else , just work on making yourself a little bit better than you were the day before.

With you all. 

Matt 

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2015 in review

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JKS England Championships: 1st November 2015 Wildcats Arena, Nottingham

Logo Image for JKS England

The JKS Championships were held this year on Sunday 1st November at the Wildcats Arena in Nottingham and a few of us from Ruach karate club took the journey up from Birmingham to take part.  I was particularly looking forward to this tournament as it was the first since our Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) days that I had entered using Shobu Ippon rules.

For those that aren’t aware: Shobu Ippon is whereby a competitor must score one full point (ippon) in order to be declared the winner.  For less decisive strikes, half a point known as a wazari may be scored and two of these will combine to make ippon.

I don’t know about you, but I love this rule.  I personally think it’s much better than the three or four ippons to win that you see predominantly in sport karate.  I can’t tell you exactly why this is but I have a few possible ideas.

Maybe because it’s what  I was brought up with from the KUGB.

Maybe it’s the extra realism that projects through, the age old vision of one killer blow to finish off your opponent.

Maybe I’m just getting old and going through 3 or 4 ippons for the win will put me in recovery for about 12 months!

The Ruach clan left from Cocksmoor Woods Leisure Centre around 7:15am made up of around 7 of us and headed up to the Wildcats Arena on what turned out to be a very foggy Sunday morning.  After arriving at approximately 9am, the juniors got changed and ready to get going whilst took a sneak peak at the venue.

I was pretty impressed with the venue at the Wildcats arena.  It boasted a nice modern hall with enough seating on one side to fit all the spectators.  The arena consisted of 5 tatamis and boasted electronic scoring systems and time keeping to add an extra quality feel to the event.

Image of the Wildcats arena

What I really enjoyed about this location though was the large room situated adjacent to the competitor area that gave ample space to warm up and prepare.  Other events I’ve attended have unfortunately lacked proper warm up space and has put a hindrance on performance.  Another added bonus of a segregated training area allows karateka to warm up without impeding the view of spectators watching the event.  I remember an event fairly recently and it was a big pity that the facilities made it near impossible to prepare and gave me a sensation of a couped up chicken, definitely not free range!

Ruach group image after arriving in Nottingham

With a lot of events before taking part myself; I utilised the time taking a look around at some of the kata events and managed to see Lloyd Birt who looked on form with some crisp performances.  It was also a time for me to be passing on some advice to the younger participants that had travelled down to make up the Ruach team.  It reminded me of times when I was at that age just starting out taking part in KUGB central and National competitions and reminded me of the sense of anticipation before the event.  20 years on and I find myself passing on bits of knowledge that I’ve picked up from my various Sensei and so the teachings are passed down.

Of the Ruach team that participated all did really well with a lot of medals in proportion to the amount of competitors we had.  I didn’t manage to catch all the events due to competing myself, but I must give special mention to two of our team that did fantastically well.

Dan Tuohey took gold in his kumite category after a cracking ura mawashi geri in the final for Ippon.  He competed last year where he took silver, but managed to better it this year and claim the top spot.  What is so special about Dan’s situation he’s extremely new to karate having taken up the art around 18 months ago.  Dan is still young though, mid teens so technically in my opinion what I’d classify as a late starter.  He has a lot of raw talent, a natural ability that you either have or you don’t and to top it off he works hard in training.  To win his final match he needed not only a technical ability, but to use his head and work well under pressure which he managed to deliver and for that kind of mind set on such young shoulders I’m confident he will go very far in the karate world.

My other mention goes to Danny Wild.  He’s a young lad who battled through a very large group of competitors to take 3rd place.  All in all he fought 4 hard rounds and thoroughly deserved his 3rd place finish with some good combinations.  For such a young competitor he also had some moments whereby his mental strength needed to push through beyond his years.  He unfortunately had to retire through injury, but there was nothing in my mind that suggested he could not go on to win the competition.  You can see one of Dan’s fights below.

 

For myself I entered the individual and team kumite and found myself getting a bye in the first round before being knocked out (not literally) in the 2nd for the individual kumite.  In the team event we had problems from the start.  Unfortunately one of our lads was injured a week prior to the competition and Chris stepped in at short notice to make the team of 3 along with myself and Artur.  The problems didn’t end there and Artur had an accident on the way up to the event and couldn’t make it either.  Thankfully he wasn’t hurt.  Our team of three was  reduced to two and after some conversations with the referees we were allowed to enter as a 2 man team hoping to win both bouts and to progress with a 2-1 victory.

I decided to put our bye as the 1st man before stepping up to fight coincidentally the same lad I had fought in the individual kumite.  I felt as though I fought better in the team event than the individual, but didn’t manage to beat my opponent at the second time of asking missing out on an ippon with a foiled follow up from my ashi sweep.  My opponent fought well.  He was quick and sharp and proved that with his 3rd place finish in the earlier individual event.  The defeat meant that there was no way of progressing and Chris didn’t get to fight.  My team kumite fight can be seen below.

 

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this event and look forward to taking  next year.  The event was well run and a good time was had by all from Ruach and from what I could see the spectators.

I continue to test myself against new competitors whilst looking to give back to the younger generation as I was helped so many years previously.

Until next time…

Karate Squad Training with Julian Cunningham Sensei: Sunday 4th October 2015

In preparation for the JKS England Karate Championships on Sunday 1st November, Ruach Karate had a special guest in 3rd Dan Julian Cunningham Sensei to come join us for our session at Tudor Grange Sports Centre, Solihull.

Sensei Cunningham is a man that doesn’t need introduction if you’re familiar with the Karate Union of Great Britain organisation (KUGB), but if not his achievements within the World of Shotokan Karate are as follows:

  • European Team Champion
  • JKA Team Silver Medalist
  • WSKA Team Bronze Medalist
  • x 5 Senior KUGB National Kumite Champion
  • Shotokan Cup Champion
  • Junior European Team Champion
  • Junior European Individual Bronze Medalist
  • Junior Shotokan Cup Champion

Biography

Sensei Cunningham began his Shotokan karate training at Benson SKC trained by Sid Gordon Sensei at the age of 12 and found a natural aptitude for kumite.    After winning his first tournament in the over 5ft 3, 12- 15 years category at an open event the very year he began karate gave him the competing bug in which the Shotokan journey started.

Whilst taking his 1st Kyu at 15 he was noticed by Andy Sherry Sensei who invited him along to the Shotokan Cup with a view to a possible spot in the Junior England team.  This time aged 15 Julian Sensei again fought in the same category that saw him gain success at an open competition aged 12.  After making it through to the semi finals he was well on his way to impressing to gain a spot on the Junior England Squad.  It was in this round that he found himself fighting one of Sherry Sensei’s students and during this fight found himself disqualified for excessive contact to the face.  For now his England ambitions would have to be put on hold as he heard nothing after.

Undeterred, Sensei Cunningham kept his head down and remained diligent in his karate efforts and just over a year later was noticed by the late Enoeda Sensei who invited him on to the England Squad.  It wasn’t long after when Sensei Cunningham represented England at Junior level and was successful in the team kumite event taking home gold.  From here the success continued to follow.

Image of Julian Cunningham Sensei Group Photo

Personal Memories

I remember Julian fighting during his days at Kaizen in the West Midlands and he was a pleasure to watch at Central and National tournaments boasting his strong, powerful kumite technique.  Anybody that would face Julian would very well have ha a sense of anticipation due to the sheer presence of this fighter.  I personally never fought Julian during a tournament.  The closest I got was during a Team Kumite event at the Central Regions where our team Ruach comprising of 2015 Silver World medalist Greg Hegarty, Harry Kavanagh and myself faced Kaizen made up of Julian Cunningham, Austin Shields and one other for a spot in to the finals.  I remember Greg deciding the order at the beginning.  Greg was confident Julian would be going up first and I asked him to put me against him.  Not thinking I had a chance of winning, more so hoping to use myself as cannon fodder, let Greg hopefully take out Austin and let Harry fight the remaining fighter for Kaizen.

It wasn’t meant to be.  Greg wanted to fight Julian and that was that.  I don’t blame him.  If I was at the top of my game then I’d want to be fighting the best too.  A chance to test myself against one of the best fighters in the country.  Back then I was only thinking of tactics and progression to the final.  Putting my body on the line against a better fighter to help the team push through to the next round.  From what I remember we lost that semi final 2-1 with Harry winning and myself along with Greg succumbing to defeat.  Austin gave me a good mawashi geri chudan kick in that match that I felt for a good day or so after!  Fast forward around 12 years and now Julian had come to help out Ruach.  Kaizen had since shut down and reopened fairly recently in the last few years under the guidance of Rahela Gordon and Junior Laing Sensei.

Sensei’s lesson overview

The lesson focused around speed reaction and multiple attacks.  It was also worth noting that Julian emphasized on feinting with the opponent.  The idea of drawing an opponent’s guard away from the target area with a feint before delivering one, two or more attacks in an unguarded area.  From my own perspective the lesson was reaffirming information that we are taught with Ruach, which in turn is comforting to know that we are on the right lines with regards to the emphasis we put in to our Kumite training.  I’d almost go as far as to say it was going back to basics, even with little things such as attacking when an opponent is on the back foot as opposed to coming forward.  It seems obvious when I think about it now, but it’s funny how these seemingly minute elements help to create the difference between winning and losing.  To take it further the difference between a possible black eye or not in the outside World.  We train week in week out and sometimes forget the fundamentals and without these we have no solid base in which to progress.

Image of Julian Cunningham Sensei Gyakutsuki

The 2 hours spent with Julian Cunningham were extremely hard work pushing our stamina levels and mindsets to the limit.  Anybody that has taken part in a Kumite event will know that bouncing around on your toes for 90 seconds may not sound a lot, but when incorporated in with techniques and reaction times for attack and defenses it can really start to take its toll.  Doing this for a couple of hours had multiple benefits as our karate is only as good as the delivery of our technique and determination to succeed.  Julian Sensei is a firm believer in being the best you can be and this is something I agree with totally.  As the stamina levels drop and the technique starts to fade, the mental side kicks in.  You come to a cross roads and at that moment have to decide whether to push through the pain barrier and “fight” on or give up.  This lesson definitely tested me for that very reason and I’d like to thank Sensei for pushing me with the lesson he had planned.

People ask me if karate is good for fitness as a beginner.  It’s a tricky question to answer, but let me try to explain.  If we look at the syllabus for a newcomer, in essence it could be one block, one punch, one step.  It doesn’t sound a lot and technically speaking it isn’t, but I tell them that it’s how you move and the determination you put in to succeed and move fast.  Karate can be as relaxed or as tough (fitness wise) as you make it, although the first tends not to be in my dictionary!  Although our lesson with Sensei was specifically for higher grades I mention the above as it is important to remember that just because the basics may come across as boring or unexciting, they are inevitably an extremely important part of our karate and it is my opinion that you should put 100% in to everything you do.  With regards to any sport or karate we then have an added bonus that if we lose then we know that we could have done no more, our heads can be held up high.  Julian Sensei thanked me for taking the warm up prior to his arrival, which he did not need to do, but to me displays an extra element of a down to Earth humble guy to add to his repertoire in addition to his Kumite skills.

Image of Julian Cunningham Sensei Mawashi geri

Advise for karateka entering competition

Sensei Cunningham has kindly given advice to all karateka who are currently entering or are thinking of entering competition:

” Be totally ready on the day you not only train in club sessions but train at home/in a park/a room/wherever by yourself and with other motivated people as training in this way enables you to work on things that you especially want to work on and you will see great improvement. I also advise that you have your routine on competition day to get in the zone so warm up, practise some drills with a partner etc, get the body warm, the rhythm going and the mind right to get rid of the first fight jitters. The biggest battle when competing can be against yourself so as well as what I have said remember to relax and enjoy yourself to compete at your full potential.”

Thank you Sensei on behalf of myself and other karateka for the words of wisdom!

The morning after!

The next day was a 2nd battle I had not expected;  Stiffness in the joints which preceded to go from bad to worse as the day went on.  Whilst working in the GP Surgery I found myself getting to a stage whereby patients were asking if I was alright, the hobbling showing signs of a beating or another age related problem 😉  As they say however, no pain no gain and from this lesson I definitely gained so thank you again Sensei Cunningham.  It was great to see you and hopefully we get to do another session in the not so distant future.

Forever

When Sensei Cunningham isn’t doing karate, he promotes his range of Forever products which are aloe inspired.  In his own words:

” I offer a range of natural products to help people get more out of their training, these products are used by people at all sports levels from Amateur to Professionals, also an increasing amount of our products are HFL Sports Science Approved. This is the link to my webshop –
www.julian.myforever.biz/store. Should anyone want any further information on the products then please feel free to contact me on 07581 076 265″

New Year, New Beginning

I’ve finally managed to find a few moments to get some much needed writing down on my blog.  I hope everybody had a great Christmas (if you celebrate it) and New year.  It’s been 6 weeks of major changes personally for myself.  Early December saw me hit the big 30 and since then everything seems to have changed.  They say life begins at 30 and if that saying was written for anybody it seems quite fitting when I look at my own life.

I only mention this as I feel it has a link to my karate (so bear with me!)

Without getting too detailed I made a big decision which in essence has cost me what I consider to be my best friend.  I had a choice to make and that was to either continue existing in a relationship that was just comfortable or dare to dream that there was something more out there waiting for me.  In short this decision would take me out of my comfort zone and lead me in to an insecurity of the unknown, some may say exciting, but nevertheless scary.  This decision was so hard to make, I wanted to have my cake and eat it.  To have somebody in my life that I loved, but in the capacity of a friend and I knew that I couldn’t have both.  Either way, I took the plunge and made myself vulnerable. Now call it coincidence, luck, fate or whatever but I now find myself in a position with so many opportunities opening up.  I feel for the first time in a long time a sense of purpose of what I want to achieve, more importantly a plan and support to achieve my goals.  I’m not looking back and continue to ask myself how is this possible?  Is it luck?  And then I realise, it’s not luck, it’s because of me.  It’s  because I made a choice to be brave and to trust my instincts. So what has this got to do with karate?   Well it has got me thinking about my karate training as a whole.  If I can reap benefits by pushing to better myself in one aspect then why am I not following this through with my karate?  Sure I’ve done it to a certain degree, but if I take a step back and ask myself honestly now if I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone with new combinations then I don’t think I can answer that with a positive yes.  I always give my all when training, pushing my fitness levels and heart rate to its’ limit, that for me has never been in question, moreover it is during times that I face up to a partner for Kumite.  Deep down I feel as though I confine myself to an (albeit large) artillery of attacks, they nevertheless remain the same.  It’s time for me to try new things and to add new tools to the shed.  Attacks I’d never have dreamed about previously, reverse ashi barai for example after let’s say a mawashi geri.  It might work, it might not, it might have potential and I’ll practise it some more.  I could fall over flat on my backside but so what? I ask myself,

“What am I going to lose, my pride?”

Not possible as my training is to develop me, not impress someone else.

“My ego?”

I can’t lose what I don’t have, even if I did have one Sensei would tell me to leave it outside the dojo anyway. If we don’t put ourselves in the vulnerable position to find out then we’ll never know.  In years to come I’ll end up regretting it and I don’t want to live a life filled with regrets and what ifs.

My karate new year’s resolution?  To try at least one audacious new combination when given the opportunity during jiyu kumite.  I’d like to hear some of your resolutions.  Knowledge is power, let’s get learning!

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.

 

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.  

Ronnie Christopher: Thank you

Over the years I’ve been taught by many instructors in the art of Shotokan karate.  All of them having different teaching styles and all bring something new to offer, but one in particular will always stand out above the rest.  It was and still is his club that I train at today 22 years on and although I don’t see him as much as I used to, the techniques and advice he has given me stay with me.  What makes him so great isn’t just the number of National, European and World titles he has won, but also the down to Earth, good hearted nature within which you feel comfortable in his presence.  The fact that he is approachable is shown by the feeling that you get with the mutual respect in conversation.  There is no me and you, but a sense of equality.  If I try to explain it better I could only liken it to when you go on a night out and you see the small minority of door men or bouncers as you were giving it the big “I am.”  This attitude comes across as cocky, negative and can spoil a night out just because some idiot wants to use their job as an excuse to show off and cause trouble.  Being able to handle yourself looks a lot better and gains a lot more respect when it is kept on the quiet.  When you are at your best, you don’t need to prove anything to anybody except yourself.  This is Ronnie Christopher, a man I’m proud to call my instructor, somebody I’m proud to say that I’ve been taught by one of the best in the world.

I remember turning up for my first lesson at 7 with you standing in front of me, me with a pair of shin protectors (God knows why) telling us how karate is for self defence only and showing me how to clench a fist properly.  Over the next few weeks you started started to show me my first (Kihon) kata and more techniques, but you didn’t just teach me karate.  You taught me my left and right!  You used to say, step forward with your left leg!  I’d duly oblige before you told me you meant my other left.  I still remember years ago you saying which hand do you write with? Before I’d even lifted my hand you said to me you write with your right so the other one is your left.  I use this still today when I pass down what you have taught me through teaching and it’s amazing to think how these little mannerisms have stayed with me all these years.  These are things that will live on from generation to generation when we both inevitably draw to the end in the circle of life.

Confidence is something that I lacked as a child.  Even today I struggle to find the balance between confidence and not appearing to be cocky, airing on the side of less confident as to not offend others, but within the dojo or competition it is a different story.  You always believed in me and when you tell me I can do something, I believe you.  Sometimes I think you have more faith in me than I have in myself.  It’s really hard to explain in words what you have done for me, but for everything I am eternally grateful.

You may never end up reading this, but if you do then I’d like  to say from the bottom of my heart; Thank you for believing in me, thank you for inspiring me and it is an honour to call you a friend.

Is karate developing a soft persona?

Times seem to have changed plentiful since when I started Shotokan karate over 20 odd years ago.  Back then in the Karate Union of Great Britiain (KUGB), head guards were unheard of, let alone mitts.  Why then the change over the years to how karate looks to be heading?  Or is this the segregation and introduction of a karate sport that has driven wedges between traditional kareteka and “new wave”  practitioners of the martial art.

I cannot say that I definitely know the answer, but do have an opinion on the matter.  Over the years in my opinion we have adopted some negative traits from our American friends across the pond, one being a suing culture, which has spread to the UK like wildfire.  If you turn on the TV nowadays you have little or no chance of watching a programme without seeing some compensation no win no fee, injury lawyer advert, which I believe has had a negative impact on our culture.  The trouble is that I see a lot of these companies as driving out the very worst in our human nature.  A chance for a solicitor business to make money and hone in on individuals prompting them to act in a way that is very much money orientated and that makes me sad.  Call me an idealist, but trying to see the very best in people makes it difficult when temptation of money through false claims are so transparently advertised and splashed all across the media.  Now I’m not saying that all cases aren’t genuine, some are.  However if we genuinely feel that we need compensation for loss of earnings through ill health resulted in an accident that isn’t our own then I don’t believe we need to have such forceful advertising campaigns being pushed on to our telly sets.

What has this got to do with karate?! I hear you ask.  Well this very culture of suing has transformed the way karate instructors have to operate in order to cover their own backs.  This transformation in the sport of karate with regards to safety has come in to place to directly protect instructors teaching their pupils.  What is ironic about this is that the formation of a good teacher pupil relationship is based on that very thing, trust.  Unfortunately the safeguards being put in place almost seems as though that trust bond has immediately started on the wrong foot as every instructor is compelled to protect themselves from a financial claim.

For me personally all this health and safety has taken a negative impact on the way I feel.  I understand that times change and adaptations need to be put in place to progress with these changing times, but this change has been built entirely on the very worst in human nature.

Looking from the other side; Are these changes in fact a good idea?  Am I being too judgmental personally and seeing the very worst in people?  Maybe it is a case of safety implementations making karate more accessible to all.  The chance to give parents another option when choosing a martial art for their children to say “Hey! Look! We’ll make sure your child learns to defend themselves in a safe environment.”  This may very well be true and helps to lower the fear threshold of people looking to take up karate.  All I can say is that when I started I was still kept safe, techniques were and still are semi contact.  It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world up until now so why the need for change?  It’s not to say I’ve never been caught and injured slightly with a little bit too much lack of control with a side serving of my fault, however I can count the amount of times that has happened on one hand.  Incidentally, the three I can think of in 22 years has also taught me some of my most valuable lessons and has changed the way I do certain things in karate forever.

In conclusion there are various factors that have brought around this change.  When looking at it from one perspective it looks detrimental to the art, the other gives it a more accessible, karate for all outlook promoting inclusion.  To me though karate is, and always will be a fighting art.  That is was it is and one should take it up with the understanding that you may very, very occasionally get hurt.  If you don’t like it then there are many other sports out there to choose from.

I look forward to hearing everyone’s views on this.

 

Osu

Hats off to this cat

I read an article in the Daily Mail last week that inspired me with the bravery and courage shown to write this short piece.  A tiny wildcat took on 4 lionesses in a wildlife park in South Africa after they ganged up on the creature reportedly 30 times smaller than themselves.  Unfortunately the wildcat ended up the worse off paying with its’ life, but that didn’t stop him from getting a good scratch to the face before his inevitable end.

 

Images sourced from the Daily Mail

 

ImageA wildcat is approached by a lioness in a wildlife park South Africa

 

Image3 more lionesses surround the wildcat

 

ImageThe wildcat snarls and hisses at lionesses putting up a tremendous display of courage

 

ImageThe wildcat gets a scratch in across the face of the lioness

 

The sheer bravery this cat showed is an example to how we should be when doing karate or any other martial art for that matter.  In this “game”; bravery and determination is half the battle.  If we don’t believe in ourselves and make it easy for our opponents before we start then we may as well not show up at all.  It is important for us to not give up and to fight to the bitter end.  If we fail ourselves in this respect and don’t have the confidence to not go down without a fight, then how can we expect anybody else to respect us come the end.  As sensei Ronnie Christopher so correctly puts it:  “It’s you or me, and it’s not going to be me!”

 

Full story can be found here (opens in new window)