shotokan

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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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!

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

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

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

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

 Corey Griffin (right)Corey Russell (Right)

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

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

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

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

 

Good luck with your challenges!

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

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

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

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

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

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei explaining in detail.

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

So now what…?

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

 

Image of Sean Roberts Sensei at Bromsgrove Ruach Karate Club

 

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

Image of Matt Price (6th Dan) Seminar Poster

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

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

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

Image of Louis, Sensei Matt Price and I

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

Image of Matt Price Sensei giving some words of wisdom

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

Image of all Matt Price Sensei seminar attendees

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

24/7 training, is it possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is dedicated to somebody very close to me for when they say “i can’t do that.” I’ve heard for almost 10 years this person talking about my karate to me saying “i wish i could do that”, “i want to try”, “i want to do it.” Truth be told nothing would make me happier. I talk about karate in conversation as though it is my only lifeline in a bleak world, as though it is the oxygen that helps me breathe and takes my mind off everything that squeezes me tight in the stressful situations that come from life. The problem arises every time i get closing to getting this person to their first lesson, they back down at the last minute. To be honest i find it frustrating. The reason given is that people will laugh, they think they will be no good, they are too self conscious. I personally see it as a fear of them stepping in to the unknown, a fear of failure, a fear of worrying about what everybody else thinks of them.

I’d like to introduce you to two more people; They are completely unrelated to the person above.

What if i told you i have two friends from very different backgrounds. For the purpose of this post i shall call them A and B.

What if i told you A was born to a broken home, she was unplanned by her parents and life from the start was, shall we say difficult to say the very least. Her mother a drug user, her father in and out of prison. Whilst totally dependent upon her mother; A good day would be classified as not going to sleep hungry.

What if i told you friend B was born in to a life of luxury. Never needed, nor had to ask for anything. Two loving parents with good jobs and not a need to worry about finances. This friend was private school educated, the latest designer clothes, gadgets and anything else you could think of at the click of a finger.

What if i told you A was taken away at age 10 after her mother left her in the house for 2 days. Social services were called with her mother being put in prison, a final straw after a long string of offences. With no family to take care of her she ended up being put in to state care. The following years of her life saw her being expelled from two special measure schools and not having a GCSE qualification to her name, let alone being able to read or write. She had brushes with the law for shoplifting and later it progressed to dealing in drugs. She was subsequently caught and at age 17 she was put in to a young offenders institution.

What if i told you B went on to get top grades at GCSE and 5 top grade A-Levels earning him a place at one of the most prestigious universities to study Maths. He went on to graduate with a 1st and now works in one of the highest ranked schools according to OFSTED in the country. He is happy, he is content and he has recently bought his own house with the hard earned money that he has saved.

What if i told you that A spent a lot of time battling her inner demons during her sentence and decided that things need to change. She spent a long time learning to trust, but eventually found a confident in a support worker. During her 5 years with this team she learned to read, write and got a foundation GCSE in English Language and foundation Maths. She’s managed to get a part time job as a waitress in a restaurant and is also gaining an on the job qualification within the kitchen.

Now, what if i ASKED you who is more successful? I personally cannot say. I don’t have the answer. Success to me is based on individual experiences, their lives and history. Success to one person is not tangible to another. We all have different strengths and weaknesses; We are all individuals and this is what makes us human. If we were all the same then the world would be a boring place and that is what makes it so special.

As Gichin Funakoshi once said:

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

So i say to you my dear friend; Do not worry what others think, do not get embarrassed, work your hardest and be the best that you can be. If you’re true to yourself then you cannot ask anything more than that. I’ll support you next week at your first lesson.

A bit of Shukokai when Shotokan isn’t looking!

I was speaking with a friend of mine a few weeks ago and we got talking about karate. He mentioned he trained at the same leisure centre as myself, but on a different night. “You should come down” he said.

My first reaction was a mixture of curiosity and disgust at the thought. Knowing it wouldn’t be Shotokan, I thought I’d be “cheating” on the only style I’d ever known. I pondered the idea for a couple of weeks until last week I found myself calling the instructor about popping down to have a lesson with him. This wasn’t because I was thinking of permanently leaving Shotokan for another style, but moreover I knew that work commitments this week would see my training drop and I didn’t want to end up in that position. For all my years training it was actually a little nerve racking walking to the leisure centre.  Would there be a lot of differences between the two styles? Would the instructor and students be friendly? Was my own karate good enough to hold my own with this bunch?

When I arrived any nerves were quickly put at ease as I was warmly greeted by the instructor. We had a bit of a chat about my background and training before being put through my paces with the others. We started going back to basic block and punches, something we tend to do a lot less at my normal club before moving on to punches and kicks from free style and finally testing these out on the bag.  Anybody that knows me would know that I thoroughly enjoyed this.  There’s always a sense of satisfaction hitting and kicking something as hard as you can;  Especially when one spends so much time with sparring partners exercising very good control!

I became very interested to see the differences between the two styles and to be honest from what I could find in my two hours training? There wasn’t a lot. Techniques tended to break away from the traditional Shotokan full movements with shorter techniques when doing blocks such as gedan barai and some of the kicks were more karate sport, such as the ura mawashageri where the kick stopped then came back round the other way. I’m not sure if this was specific to Shukokai or structured due to the karate sport competitions that most people fought in who study that style. Either way it felt a little awkward. The thought of stopping the leg upon touch to score a point as opposed to following through made it quite a weird feeling. I wondered afterwards whether if I’d been taught like that it would subsequently affect my power on the street if the worst were to happen. An inevitable stop on impact creating a soft move, which subsequently would defeat the point of the kick in the first place! The instructor may have had a point though when watching my ura mawashageri; Mentioning that he could see why I had been disqualified at the previous Kizuna World Championship with the follow through on my kicks!

All in all I enjoyed the session and definitely lost a few pounds from the gruelling pace. As our own club continues to enter more karate sport kind of competitions as opposed to the more traditional KUGB style tournaments, it was good to train with the Shukokai club as it gave an insight in to techniques used specifically to win these kind of WKF tournaments. Most importantly of all though it was nice to meet new people and make new friends who share a common interest.

I’ll definitely be popping back down again very soon!