I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

Archive for January, 2012

What keeps me coming back?

I sometimes find myself wondering what answer I would give if I was asked why I study Karate. Perhaps I don’t need to bother as I don’t think I’ve ever actually been asked. But what has kept me returning to the question was the fact that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was specifically that I must enjoy so much to have kept me hooked for the past 15 years and I’m sure for many years more.

Recently I think I’ve come to a realisation that it’s not just one of two specific elements that I enjoy it’s a whole range of different things.

At a more superficial level I enjoy the more physical aspects, padwork, focus mitt work & sparring, for the surge of endorphins they provide and the opportunity to let rip a little.

I enjoy the physical challenge Karate training provides. Both the fitness to be able to execute multiple reps of combinations and kata to a high standard but the precise control of your body to get your body placement right all the way through a technique. That’s given me plenty of work to take away, particularly with my flexibility which is a big challenge.

I enjoy the mental and character building side. Whether it be having the mental determination to push a tired body to raise it’s game for the next kata. Or in response to more traditional training to accept the bashes youve taken and return with the determination to spot the punch or the kick coming earlier and improve my evasion and blocking.

I enjoy being a bookworm and researching different aspects to get new insights into how I can improve.

And I love the feeling that after everything I’ve learnt it feels like I’m still only just getting started and there is so much to learn and try and master.

What’s keeps me coming back is the fact that Karate feels like it’s become a big part of who I am day to day, week to week and has taught me so much more than simply how to punch and kick.

What keeps you coming back?


Moving targets

Last night’s training included a good session using focus mitts. Writing this blog gives me an opportunity to think about the different training techniques and equipment you come across and how they’re useful.

Using focus mitts gives you a different challenge to using the bigger pads.

  • You have a smaller and more mobile target area to aim.
  • You get a different sense of feedback when you strike it in the right area.
  • It’s mobility allows either mitt to be placed to represent different target areas of the body.
  • Your partner has both greater mobility and the chance to throw counter movements to allow incorporate the practise of evasive movement.

Last nights session was a great workout, it got the blood pumping and I had a great partner to work with. As I worked through the sequence and started to feel a bit of tiredness I consciously didn’t take the easier route of having a longer breather and got back into it. I also switched my lead striking hand to make sure I worked both sides through the focus mitt sequence.

It’s another example of how in every training session there are plenty of opportunities for you to take control of how you’re training and get the most of your time in the dojo.

How do you rate focus mitt use in your own training?

Senseis, senseis everywhere (and that’s a good thing)

I wrote a post recently about how I’d started to identify some of the karate masters who have played important roles in shaping the two karate styles I have studied, Shukokai and Shotokan. And in reading some of Gichin Funakoshi’s books you start to get a feel for the environment in which they lived and studied.

I contrast that with the availability we all seem to enjoy now of a wide range of different martial arts clubs and instructors often within walking distance. But we also have a rich feast of information from other martial artists to enhance our knowledge. I can listen to podcasts by Iain Abernethy and Kris Wilder, follow the tweets of Pete Watson (@pistolpetewato), Rakesh Patel (@KataCombat) & Steve Hodgkinson (@HealthandCombat), to name just a few and read blogs like needtostretch & ZZ Ninja to see how other martial artists are approaching their studies. And of course I have my pick of videos on YouTube of katas being performed and having their bunkai demonstrated.

The challenge I have at the moment is working out what to do with all this information. To find ways to incorporate it with my karate training and improve as student of martial arts. To take the time to work through new ideas and principles.

And also a question will some of the highly skilled martial artists we follow now in time become regarded as masters in their own right?

To storm a fortress

After spending more time on Bassai Dai tonight and trying to get a handle on some of the application I took another look at Didier Lupo’s bunkai film while doing the kata was fresh in my mind.

I thought I’d do a quick post so wanted to check to see if the meaning of the kata’s name did mean ‘to storm a fortress’ as I’ve heard it refered to. I found this really interesting set of notes by James James on theshotokanway.com. He states the correct meaning is ‘to extract and block off’ but I agree with him that the idea of a storming motion really suits this kata.

I really enjoy Bassai Dai, to me it’s a kata that when I do it I can enjoy the movement and the focus and feel like I’m connecting with what karate is about.

Following the footsteps of masters

I came across the Sir Isaac Newton quote ‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ and it got me thinking about the masters of Karate who shaped the karate I study.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate has some geneological tables for the main karate styles so you start to see who different masters studied under. Having identified Shigeru Kimura as a key figure in Shukokai I’ve found he was taught by Chōjirō Tani who in turn was taught by Miyagi Chōjun & Kenwa Mabuni.

For Shotokan I was a member of the KUGB for whom Keinosuke Enoeda acted as Chief Instructor, he was taught by Masatoshi Nakayama who was taught by Gichin & his son Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Gichin Funakoshi was taught by Yasutsune Azato & Anko Itosu. As a curious student straight away that gives me a great many masters to look into further and I’ve already picked up a number of Gichin Funakoshi’s books.

Newton’s quote isn’t really appropriate to my case as I will never attain the level of skill these masters developed but I find the opportunities to try and learn from them just one of the exciting aspects of Karate.

Up and running

It felt really good to get the first training session of 2012 under the karate belt. Nice to feel the first few chudan zukis zippin out though lateral hip flexibility felt a bit creaky!

I spent some time running through Bassai Dai with a fellow karateka and we had a bit of a chat about the application of some of the moves so hopped on the internet later to take a look at some bunkai videos. It’s great to be able to watch different bunkai videos and see different thoughts on potential applications, one set I’ve found and like looking at are by Didier Lupo, for example this one for Heian Shodan. Let me know if you’ve seen any other good bunkai videos.

The plan for Jan

I want to start polishing up katas in preparation for the July grading, so this month I’ll work on Bassai Dai and Pinan Shodan.

I’ll need to put together a combination and padwork routine for the grading and I want to use this as an opportunity to practise some kata applications.

I have a copy of Iain Abernethy’s Bunkai Jutsu so want to finish that to start to understand some of the concepts around practical karate.

I’d like to look at the applications of the Pinan/Heian katas so I’ll practise the shotokan versions of Shodan & Nidan.

I also want to continue my ongoing fight to get my mawashi and yoko geris to a respectable height and work on my movement in sparring to evade strikes and get into good striking positions.