Shotokan Karate

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…

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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″

SEMINAR: KARATE KID MR. MIYAGI’S DRUM TECHNIQUE EXPLAINED!

I apologise for the lack of additional material on the site.  Since I last wrote I have acquired a black and tan Jack Russell, moved house and subsequently not found the time to fit everything that I wanted to do in to my schedule, including the updates to this site/ blog.

Incase you’re a dog fan, here she is…

Image of Lucy Jack Russell Terrier

In the same period of time; I have recently purchased my 3rd laptop charger as the dog has found it somewhat a caviar addition to her other food including socks, shoes and tshirts.  I do write again however in good spirit and pleased to say that my karate training and desire to increase my knowledge remains strong.  Anyone who thinks I’m making up the laptop charger issue I’ve also enclosed this for your viewing pleasure…

image of laptop charger

You may or may not have read my previous blog post from last year regarding a seminar with Sean Roberts Sensei, but Sunday 16th August gave me the opportunity to once again train with this Shotokan karate legend.  Sensei Roberts who now lives in Hawaii has spent a lot of time with Minakami Sensei who again during a 4 hour session based at both Cocksmoor Woods and Tudor Grange gave me the opportunity to work on karate back to it’s basics.

If i were to try and summarise the objective of the lesson in a brief sentence it would be:

To attack and defend using the body core (torso) by retracting, extending and retracting back to the original position.  This might seem like gobbledeegook so I’ll try and elaborate further….

If you have space and are alone (or in front of others and you won’t get embarassed) then stand up.

Now, If we were to think of the core of our body it would be the torso, the centre of us.  Now remember that our limbs are just extensions of our torso.  When we relax our arms they dangle to the side of us.  Now I want you to twist your body violently left to right and back again multiple times in quick succession.  What happens?

If your arms fling out in mad directions then congratulations you’re doing it right and you’re human!

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei explaining the body mechanics

So what does this all have to do with karate?  Well what if there were a way to control the limbs from the torso when it was engaged correctly?  What if the arm position on engagement of the torso were able to utilise the limb to perform blocks and strikes?

In karate, most karateka would be taught to twist the hips to utilise the power before punching out.  Imagine that but a step backwards.  Our arm not using energy to punch, but our arm merely being an extension of our torso and once that is engaged correctly it will fling out to attack or defend as one with our whole body.

I’m not kidding anyone now when I say this is hard.  Whether it is because we’ve been taught for so long to engage our body in a certain way that unlearning makes it more difficult I don’t know.  We then have to factor in that this isn’t just for one block/attack…  If we recoil the body correctly it will snap back the limb and a swift engagement the other way with our torso will be able to send the other arm or leg into action.

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei Seminar August 2015

After two hours what had we learnt?  I believe everybody in the seminar understood the explanation, but when it came down to applying practically the words in to motion it became difficult.  My determination was undeterred by one sentence from Sean Roberts Sensei,

“You’re getting the hang of it.”

This isn’t something that is learnt over night.  This is something that I can take away and continue to try and engage in my karate.  For some it will work, others it won’t.  It’s up to us as karateka to listen first and foremost to the knowledge and take on board what we can use whilst discarding the rest.

Image of Sean Roberts and Ronnnie Christoper Sensei

I went home with so many questions I wanted to ask and reaffirm my understanding of the concept, but had not asked at the time.  I then found my answer in the most unlikely sources like a light bulb shattering from a power surge through the mains electricity board…

Mr. Miyagi and the karate kid!  If you’ve seen it then no doubt you’ll know what I’m talking about but if not he once spoke about a drum, the small hand held drum with two pieces of string either side no more than 3cm-4cm and attached to the end of these pieces of string were a wooden ball.

So this was Mr. Miyagi’s family secret and at the time it made no sense.

If we were to twist from the drum handle left to right and back again, the string whips round and hit the balls on to the drum.  So, can it be that the drum is the body’s torso equivalent and the string are representative of the limbs?

To me it seems that this “drum technique” actually has real life value and wasn’t just wish wash for entertainment purposes after all.  Have a look below and judge for yourself.

And if that doesn’t convince you, this bloke is showing showing it how it’s supposed to be!

Please note the Miyagi explanation to Sensei Roberts’ teaching is my interpretation solely.  I’d welcome your thoughts on

this.  Happy karate-ing all!

An Interview with: KUGB England International Sensei Greg Hegarty

I’m happy  to interview a long time karate friend and Sensei who has been in the game for a very long time, 5th Dan Sensei Greg Hegarty who is currently on the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) England Squad.  He has won numerous titles with the below to name, but a few
 Sensei Greg Hegarty 5th Dan KUGB
• 5 Time Central Region Grand Champion ( KATA & KUMITE)
• 3 Time National Champion
• 3 Time Shotokan Cup Champion (British Individual Championships)
• 2 Time UK Grand Slam Champion
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Greg, could you tell us a little about how you got in to karate?

Yes,  I began training at the age of 6 years old, as you know Ronnie Christopher is my uncle, and my brother Stuart trained also, so I spent a lot of my early years watching Karate and attending competitions supporting them both. From what I’ve been told I would constantly nag Ronnie to let me start (I eventually wore him down). I was always interested in sports whether it be watching or participating. It didn’t matter what sport it was. But like most young boys I loved football and would spend hours over the park playing with Stuart and my cousins.
I also did a bit of gymnastics which I was reasonably good at. But it began to interfere with my Karate. So it had to go! Hahaha”

So would I be right in thinking that sports came naturally to you?
I don’t know about sports coming naturally to me but I think it’s the same with anything if you are interested in something you tend to put more effort into it.
You mentioned you eventually wore Ronnie down.  Did he not want you to start?
 Greg Heagarty competing in Kata at just 13 years old
I don’t think it was a case of Ronnie not wanting me to train it was more like I started asking as soon as I could talk! Hahaha. Remember at that time karate was very much an adult environment particularly at our club there wasn’t any children my age.
That leads me nicely to my next question because I always remember Ronnie saying that from a young age you were always treated with the same kind of aggression and ferocity as the adults. How much, if any did this benefit your karate to make you successful within the art.
Yes I think it did and still does benefit my karate because I believe you need to have that realism within your training particularly with competitions now focusing on the sport aspect over martial spirit.
Do you feel the tough love  approach to training you received benefited you for your karate successes?
I don’t really class it as “tough love” there was definitely a mixture. If I needed a kick up the backside I got one and if I needed encouragement or an arm round my shoulder that was there to. I was very fortunate that my Sensei knew me and my personality very well, sometimes better than I did myself.
 Winning the British Championship
Could you tell us a bit about your rise to the England Squad?
Yes I trained at Cocksmoor Woods from late 80s competing in Kata until I was 12 as they didn’t have Kumite for under that age.  I came 3rd in the central regions in my 1st competition in children’s kata.  My first Kumite event was the 1991 KUGB Nationals at Crystal Palace where I came 2nd in under 5ft category and I was subsequently invited to train on the junior squad at the age of 14.
Did you ever stop training at any point?
I never had a break from karate but relaxed my training a bit through my adolescent years with other distractions.  Before last year the last time I competed was 2003 due to the birth of my son Thomas and having a whole load of other priorities. Around that time I had also been told that I required hip surgery which I thought had put an end to me competing, but, some time after I got a 2nd opinion and was told that actually I don’t yet.  This gave me the hunger to compete again and now I’m back on the senior squad this year!
 Greg winning the Central Regions Kumite Championships 2014
Would you say that your hip replacement scare has given you a desire to seize the moment and not leave anything until it’s too late?
Yes it definitely has given me a wakeup call.  As I said before last year the last time I competed was in 2003. It was never the plan to retire back then, I was only planning on having a year off the squad, but various things happened in my life that made the decision for me. So when I got the all clear with my hips I started to up my training and got the bug again.
  
How is the training for the England squad and how do you manage to fit in whilst being a Dad and running your own club?
I am really enjoying the training, obviously it is very hard (mentally as well as physically) but after the time out I had I relish the opportunity to train under in my opinion two of the best karate exponents in the World Sensei’s Andy Sherry and Frank Brennan).  It is very difficult juggling family life, training, and running the club (as well as holding down a full time job), but if you want it bad enough you make time and put yourself out.  So it consists of training before work and teaching straight after.   It also helps that I have a very understanding wife ha ha.
 ESKA Championships England Team 2000
I bet it does!  Can you tell us a little about your club?
Yes I started the club just over 3 years ago in Solihull and its growing very nicely I now have over 60 members training at various venues 4 times a week. I have 7 students that have achieved Shodan all being graded by Sensei Andy Sherry 9th Dan (Chief Instructor of the KUGB. Watching the progress of all my students as they move through the grades is something I am extremely proud of but not only that, one of my students has gone on to win a KUGB National title which for such a young club is a fantastic achievement.
That’s fantastic and looks like the Solihull Karate Academy is going from strength to strength so congratulations!
Finally I’d just like to thank you personally for the memories of my first senior fight at 16. Ronnie told me that it wasn’t normal for most to fight at that age in the Seniors. He had to get permission off my dad for me to go in!  In that very competition before the fight you said wait for the attack and use gyakuzuki timing on the attack.  I did it and it  ultimately secured the wazari for the win.  I also have fond memories of the bronze in the team Kumite at the Central’s fighting alongside yourself and Harry.
Thanks for taking the time out for the interview Greg, Osu!
 

Thank you Matt

If you’re thinking about starting karate and live in the Solihull area Sensei Greg Hegarty is accepting new karateka at the Solihull Karate Academy. You can visit their club’s website at Solihull Karate Academy (opens in new window) You can also contact the club on 07879 242 793 or email them at solihullkarate@hotmail.co.uk

Reporter Edit* Since going to publish Greg Sensei finished 3rd at this years British Championships held on 2nd May at the NIA, congratulations!

Happy birthday to me!

Happy Birthday

Well… not me as such.  My own birthday was in December when I finally left the 20’s and hit the big 30.  Instead today marks the first anniversary of the Shotokan Karate Training website.

It’s been quite a year if I look back.  In a nutshell I’ve started to enter tournaments again, attended new seminars, met new karate friends and for the first time put my thoughts down in writing for the purpose of this site and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.  I’d like to say a thank you to everybody who has supported me with this over the last year and also followed the Shotokan Karate Training page on Facebook.  Without your support it wouldn’t be worth doing it.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Tipton Shotokan Karate and Matt Price Sensei for the seminar and content Matt allowed me to upload.  Also I’d like to thank my own club Ruach, Gary Beggan and Ronnie Christopher for their teaching and opportunities to enter various competitions.  In addition to this Sensei Sean Roberts who came over from Hawaii.  There were some extremely mind boggling lessons there that i;m still trying to implement in to my karate,  I’d also like to mention World Champion Luke Howard for his time for the interview for the site it is much appreciated.  I musn’t forget old friend and Sensei Tom Davies and his South Staffs club along with student Louis Powell for the excellent Kyu grading syllabus material permission to upload.

Finally I’d like to thank Sensei John Johnston for his publishing of my material to a wider audience stirring up quite a good debate earlier on in the year and the invite to Birmingham University to take on some of his students.

Here’s to another successful year and I hope to see you back to take on the journey with me.

Matt Cromwell

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.

 

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