Kumite

1st C.I.K.A England International Championships

CIKA England blue background

After recently joining Junior Lefevre’s C.I.K.A: The Ruach karate team gathered their competitors to make the journey from Birmingham up to Liverpool for the very first C.I.K.A England International Championships on Saturday 14th May 2016.  The prospect of joining the C.I.K.A was exciting, especially being directed under the guidance of Junior Lefevre Sensei.  I had read an interview that he did on the web not long before and he spoke about winning competitions in both kata and kumite.  Being brought up in a rough part of town in Belgium coupled with bullying at school; he had overcome struggles in life to become successful at karate.  What I particularly liked was the honesty in the interview when talking about kata.  He mentioned how he was not technically the best at kata, but he always put in 100% effort and the judges could see that he was fighting in his kata with every movement.  I found that inspiring and it helps to show others that you don’t always have to be naturally gifted to succeed, but continue to work harder than everyone else.  The link to the full exclusive interview by Jesse Enkamp can be found here. (opens in new window)

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Image from karatebyjesse.com

 

The C.I.K.A event was made extra special for two reasons, not only was it the 1st C.I.K.A England event, but in addition  Junior Lefevre Sensei was also in attendance to referee and brought with him a Belgian International team to compete along side the other competitors.  It was a long day that started with us meeting at the Cocksmoor Woods Leisure Centre at 6.45am in time to arrive for an 8:30am start at the Greenbank Sports Academy in Liverpool.

We arrived in good time and I proceeded to take a look at the facilities which offered 4 tatamis in addition to a good seating area for spectators and enough room for competitors to keep warmed up awaiting their respective events.  On arrival it was also nice to see that there were events for disabled karate athletes.  I have followed quite closely a gentleman by the name of Ray Sweeney via Facebook who is moving mountains to include disability karate in to the mainstream and the work he is carrying out is to be honest absolutely fantastic.  More information on the Disability Karate Federation (which is a registered charity and the largest karate organisation for disabled people) can be found at www.disabilitykarate.co.uk

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The turnout was pretty good, especially for the first C.I.K.A England competition and there were a confirmed 350+ entries.  It was nice to see that the competition had attracted a lot of attention with competitors from different countries, of which included Belgium, France and Denmark amongst others.  There was also a fantastic turnout from Ireland and the clubs representing from just over the water did themselves proud.  Specifically looking at our club Ruach we had a team of 10 competitors who travelled up together to take part.  What I found from this event which I hadn’t quite appreciated as much in the past was the spirit of togetherness that was amongst the team.  Within our group we had karateka from multiple Ruach clubs dotted all over Birmingham and the West Midlands and all of varying grades from 8th Kyu upwards.  Old, young, first competition or 100th, we were all there together as one representing Ruach and it holds a nostalgic kind of feeling that I can’t quite explain.

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With a lot of time before my first kumite match I found myself helping out the newer members and giving some advice about what to expect.  I see myself nowadays as more of a coach than competitor and feel a great sense of fulfilment helping the newer generation, almost to the same level as taking part myself.  This new responsibility bestowed on me however doesn’t come without its’ downfalls as I feel that I have an extra pressure by means of responsibility to do well within the tournament.  I mean, how can I positively critique our newer, less experienced members and help them to succeed if I go out there and take a beating myself?

The below video from my individual kumite match will kind of sum up what I mean…

 

It can at times feel a bit embarrassing.  I find myself questioning  what my fellow team mates will think about the fact that I’ve been well and truly beaten.  I wonder if they feel that they cannot use any advice I give as my own loss has shown that I’m no good myself perhaps.  These thoughts will play on your mind, but self negativity will get you nowhere.  A quick regroup with myself to gather my thoughts and I know what I can offer.  You see the thing is it’s not if you get knocked down it’s how you get back up that matters.  If I have to take a beating until the cows come home then so be it.  I only have to prove something to myself and fortunately for me I’m not a quitter.  That’s what I’ll pass on.  Full credit to Pete Watson my opponent in that fight above though .  He caught me with a cracking ushiro mawashi and I felt that for some days after.  He went on to become silver medalist at the first C.I.K.A. event in that category.  A feat that was made even more special in that he fought on with a fractured arm in the final.  Another non quitter and he has my full respect.  I wish you every success in the future Pete.

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I need to pay tribute to a former work colleague of mine who started up karate on my advice and since then hasn’t looked back . Joining Ruach only 1 year prior  he has gone at it full throttle with his son in law and full credit to them for their achievements and hard work that they’ve put in. It happened to be their first competition and not really knowing what to expect they entered both kata and kumite events.  I watched with part horror and part excitement as they fought their respective kumite bouts.  Not only can kumite competition be daunting at any level it is made even harder getting up there for your first competition; particularly as a 7th kyu fighting a black belt!  The thing is it is totally different to training.  This time you have somebody in front of you that’s looking to win and although it’s in a safe(ish) environment, it could never in my opinion be classified as safe as you would be training with fellow club members.  Both Tony and Richard did themselves proud.  They were beat, but more importantly they gave it a go and they didn’t back down.  It shows a lot about a person’s character to just sign up and I hope this will be the beginning of many competitions for them.

On to Tony’s kata performance and he amazingly got through two rounds to reach the last four and pick up a joint third bronze medal.  I watched in awe how this yellow belt got up there, did his kata and did it like he meant it.  Technically both were about the same level, but Tony’s aggression and determination in his kata got him through and that served as a gentle reminder to the interview of Lefevre Sensei only days before.

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In total Ruach managed to go home with approximately 5+ medals and everybody enjoyed the day thoroughly.  The event finished early evening and it was great to see the Ruach family competing together and generally just enjoying themselves.  One final mention must go to Jason Netherton who did a brilliant job organising and hosting the event as the face of C.I.K.A and to our Sensei Gary Beggan who works tirelessly blood, sweat and tears to teach us and motivate us to get involved in the competitions.  It may seem some as just a competition, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a confidence booster, an achievement for some just to get up there and a chance to make new friends, it’s about life skills and through karate we have that in which to thank.

Until the next competition my friends…

 

 

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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″

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.

 

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

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!