traditional 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!

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

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!