I really want to use this blog as a way to communicate with fellow martial artists.
With this in mind I thought I’d try posting a question and hopefully you’ll be generous with you time and share your thoughts.
So to get the ball rolling…What do you enjoy about the particular martial art, or specific style, you practise?
Or ‘The lessons that take longer to learn can be more worthwhile’
Autumn is here now and winter not far behind. I picked up an American collegiate style cardigan I have to put on and remembered how for a while it wasn’t really a piece of clothing I really favoured. Now it’s something I enjoy wearing which got me thinking about how things can change over time.
It got me thinking about how for quite some time the roundhouse kick, mawashi geri, was a kick that when it was announced in class as the next thing to practise I would groan inwardly. It felt uncomfortable to try and execute the kick as I lacked the lateral flexibility to execute it correctly and still achieve a reasonable height. I wanted to be able to kick at the same height as my fellow students so to do so I would cheat and manage something of a halfway house that I was content with because it at least allowed me to kick the pad with power.
Training at the Shotokan Club I attended for several years helped me with my technique as the Sensei there would not accept my halfway house. The quality of the technique was the more important aspect and was not to be sacrificed. Once the technique was correct at the maximum height possible then, and only then, should effort be directed to improving it’s height.
There is still a great deal of room for improvement with my mawashi geris but no longer do I groan inwardly when I have the opportunity to practise them. In fact when I train at home they are the kick I enjoy practising the most. Having worked hard to improve the technique it almost feels like a gift to myself when I have the chance to practise it.
I also thought about some of the strength exercises I now do. Now if I find an exercise that initially feels difficult to do I realise that is the very exercise I need to spend time working to improve as it indicates a weakness in a particular area. In the past I would perhaps simply have avoided doing that exercise again in favour of one I felt comfortable with.
And again it is a case of not having unrealistic expectations in terms of the number of repetitions or level of weight I expect to lift initially. It’s often about starting with something manageable but then working to make steady improvement.
So whether it is the fact that it can take a while for the penny to drop and understand how you need to approach a problem. Or simply that you have to take a greater number of smaller steps to get to the same end goal. I’d say it feels better to achieve something that demands a greater focus or commitment.
The choice of two of my fellow students to leave our club and continue their martial arts studies at a different club has had me thinking this week. It will be a shame not to see them training at our club any more. Our club has a nice friendly atmosphere and that feeling is generated to a large part by it’s students so to see students who have been a part of that for a number of years moving on is a little bit sad. But my reflection has been more about the decisions I’ve made in terms of my own karate studies.
When I came back to the club it felt good to be back. I guess each style and club has it’s individual mix of how they do things. Personally I’ve always enjoyed the use of impact pads and focus mitts as part of practising our strikes. At our club as part of our later gradings we’re asked to develop our own combinations and focus mitt routines. And I’ve enjoyed the opportunities this has brought to think about kata and their different applications and practise them in different ways.
I’m happy to take some ownership of my own martial arts learning, which I imagine is the same for many of us. In the main this has taken the form of picking up and reading different martial arts books. But in the last couple of years I’ve also attended a few seminars. I’ve really enjoyed the flexibility they offer to spend some time training with different instructors. I like that I can learn something new but then have the time and space to think about what I’ve learnt, explore it and figure out how it can blend in with everything else that I’ve learnt.
I like the fact that our club does give it’s senior students the chance to lead classes. If we’re all following our owns paths and learning different things then we also have the chance to bring back what we’ve learnt and share it with our fellow students.
For me it feels like being part of the club becomes more of a two way street. I’m certainly grateful for what it’s given me over a good number of years and it feels like I have an opportunity to put something back in.
I’m 6 foot 5 tall which has a lot of plus sides but occasionally some things aren’t quite set up to cater for the taller person. The mirror in our bathroom isn’t that big so when I’m having a shave I have to hunch down a bit to take a look and make sure I’ve done a thorough job. But again karate comes to the rescue with the shiko dachi stance. By dropping into shiko dachi I can lower myself down to just the right height to ensure I get a good view in the mirror without an uncomfortable hunch down.
So Karate isn’t just for the Dojo.
Just a bit of fun this one. I’ve been enjoying a couple of weeks holiday during which we’ve had a few day trips out. Yesterday we went to one of my favourite places to visit, Grange Over Sands in Cumbria. It has a nice promenade (a paved place to walk down) which has various recreational areas alongside it. Towards the end there is a skatepark and next to it something I’d never seen before called an i.play. It felt like a cross between a Batak wall and a bopit toy, with six points you had to push, pull, turn, spin and stomp.
The stomp button, i.stomp, was a few inches off the floor and I found the best way for me to strike it was to make use of a fumikomi kick, and it was a nice feeling making that motion. A younger and more limber Karateka could probadly use other kicks to hit some of the higher buttons but limping down a promenade isn’t as much fun as strolling😉.
So Karate isn’t just for the Dojo.
This post is rewriting itself as I go. It’s initial starting point was that it was nice to see a fellow Karateka who has returned to our club after some time away on Tuesday night. I was going to write that it says something about the value Karate can have to someone that they want to return and have that enjoyment of training back in their life. And I was thinking about all my fellow students, each of them very different from the next.
This was very visible on Tuesday in a way. Sensei David had the focus mitts out and, working with a partner, we were asked to put together our own routine but including some common techniques. Each pair then demonstrated and it was good to see the very different routines and see how they were executed differently also. Some students for example looking very graceful and poised, others struck with more vigour and power and it was also good to see some students including some grappling which made their routines feel a rougher round the edges.
And I was thinking about beginning as a student of the club back in 1997 and I’m not sure any other students from that time remain with the club, and admittedly I’ve had a break in training with the club also. So I was writing a post about how Shukokai means the way for all and how I think it’s one of the strengths of Karate that a club can be made up of men, women and children of all ages and physical capabilities all having a very positive experience.
But when I look at the evidence of the membership of our club over a 16 year period clearly a good number of people haven’t fell it was the way for them enough to maintain their training. I suppose I find myself feeling that I have no choice but to place a question mark about it being a way for all if it’s students would appear to lack longevity in their training. Or is that less about Karate and more about it’s students and the challenge of balancing life and that commitment to Karate?
Against that I weigh the evidence that I’ve seen a great many of people enjoy training and develop from being novices to very good Karateka so does it matter if that training is finite in it’s duration?
There is a classic comedy sketch from the two great British comedians Morecambe and Wise. In front of the renowned conducter and composer, Andre Previn, Eric Morecambe astounds Previn by playing the wrong notes to a Grieg concerto. When challenged he responds that he’s playing the right notes just in the wrong order.
Hopefully the title of this post gives a hint to where I’m going with this. A challenge I’ve received from senseis on more than one occasion in my martial arts training is that I’m too tensed up when I’m getting ready to move, particularly if I’m punching. I’ve read a few different articles and listened to podcasts that mention power generation, Chris Denwood’s ‘Respecting the old, Creating the new’ featured some really good chapters and there is an excellent Iain Abernethy podcast about power generation.
So I started to think about trying to take that tension out and have a more relaxed, looser movement. From what I was reading and listening to a consistent message was it was important to have a good sequence of movement to have powerful strikes. Movement should start in the legs, be followed by the hips, through to the shoulders and then end with the strike being released.
Now at both clubs I’ve trained at, Shukokai and Shotokan, hip movement has been emphasised but in all honesty the sequencing of it wasn’t something I’d grasped. For me I think I had the hip and arm movement happening in parallel rather than in sequence.
When I started to work on my movement with my punch bag for some reason it didn’t feel like the sequence was coming together when I tried to start with the hip movement so I worked on it in reverse. So I worked to get the shoulder twist working first then once I was happy with that incorporated the hip twist as well. Rightly or wrongly I kept my hands loose but made sure I was striking with the knuckles. The looser movement felt really good and it still felt I was getting a good impact on the bag despite not feeling like I was mentally trying to whallop the bag if that makes sense.
Some time ago I found a video of Shigeru Kimura, in it you see him striking a pad and you can hear the power of the impact. There was something about his body movement as well that felt interesting but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I think part of it was the sound of the impact, it felt like it was really penetrating the pad. I have one of those squeezable stress balls, it’s about the size of a tennis ball, filled some kind of gel with quite a thick rubber skin, that when you squeeze it takes a second to return to it’s original shape. If I throw it from hand to hand it slaps into the catching hand with a very similar kind of sound, I think the key is the throwing motion, it’s nice and loose but happens in sequence a bit like a bowler in cricket or pitcher in baseball. Their movement releases the ball at tremendous speed and if it strikes the body can potentially break bones or at the least a very painful impact. That feels like the difference in using this movement to throw a punch, or kick, when I get the shoulder movement following the hip movement it feels like the arm is thrown out of the body on the back of that movement.
I’ve been thinking about the sequence of movement for other techniques and how movements can increase the speed you can move the natural bodyweight and through it achieve that power of impact. Thinking about my mawashi geris, getting a sharper pivot off the supporting leg and into the hip then finishing with the flick of the foot out from the knee has felt like I’m achieving a similar looser but equally impacting movement.
It’s been something I’ve been working on for the past few months and so in a way this post has been some time in the writing. As always I’d be really interested to hear any thoughts.
PS This Chris Denwood video on Body Dynamics for Close Range Striking in Traditional Karate is well worth a look also.