Shotokan training

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″

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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

Until the end of time

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

The tingling sensations again unfold.

It’s time to be brave,

no way I’m gonna lose this race!

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

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

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

All that matters is winning the show,

At the end we’ll take a bow.

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

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

What will be in store during this furore.

Attack or defence, a counter or sweep,

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

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

The audience cheer,

Half of them know not this fear,

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

The years of training, hours of practise.

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

A hug and an embrace,

No winners, no losers, there is no disgrace,

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

We are karate-ka, one and for all.

It’s us together until the end of time.

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

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

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

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

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

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei explaining in detail.

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

So now what…?

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

 

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei at Bromsgrove Ruach Karate Club

 

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

Image of Matt Price (6th Dan) Seminar Poster

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

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

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

Image of Louis, Sensei Matt Price and I

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

Image of Matt Price Sensei giving some words of wisdom

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

Image of all Matt Price Sensei seminar attendees

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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.