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 February, 2012

Practical Karate 101?

A few weeks ago I was feeling a little like I was awash with great information that was exciting because it opening up new opportunities to train but I felt I was struggling to make it all slot together. Lately it’s felt like some of those pieces are starting to fit together a little.

For my next grading I need to put together a combination and padwork routine. I’m seeing it as a great opportunity to practise some of the practical karate ideas I’ve been finding out about.

I really want to start to get my head around the thought processes of thinking about the information in the kata and exploring different possibilities and practical applications. I was planning to start with the kata of the Pinan/Heian series but looking through a book I saw an application for Kihon, or Taikyoku Shodan, kata and there didn’t seem a better place to start than the very first kata. The simplicity of the kata gives me a better opportunity to work through the process.

Last night I was listening to one of Iain Abernethy’s podcasts about how a kata records a complete system and he was talking about the idea of principles being the key thing to grasp rather than simply those techniques detailed in the kata.

The idea of underlying principles has been something new for me to consider and I think I’m just starting to understand. If I think about our first Shukokai kata, Shiotsuki No.1, which is like a shortened version of Kihon kata I think I can start to see what some of the underlying principles would be:-

  • Evasion – after looking to the left the next move is to step forward with the right leg and then turn into gedan barai to the left. This step forward shifts my body away from the line of attack.
  • Blocking as offense as well as defense – the down block is a strong block but with the hand striking like a tetsui uchi if targeted well it will have a real impact on the opponent.
  • Putting everything into the counterstrike – the kata could just use a reverse punch but by using a stepping strike the karateka adds their body weight to the counter.
  • Defensive mobility – there are two 180 degree turns to again block with a gedan barai. For me this seems to fit with Anko Itosu’s first precept ‘Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used to protect one’s family or master. It is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.’ Having to respond quickly to an attack from the back seems like a real possibility so starting to understand how to shift my body makes sense.

All of that feels like it makes sense to me but I’d welcome any of your thoughts. Am I on the right track or do I need a few more pointers?


Inspiration comes from many places…Azerbaijan!

I work on a computer at work so for a long time it just wasn’t a big priority to have a computer at home. But since getting online properly at home last year I’ve enjoyed having the internet available to me to find useful resources about Karate.

I’ve really enjoyed looking through the wealth of videos on YouTube from all styles of martial arts but particularly those about karate. I’m sure we’ve all seen videos that really inspire us to work that extra bit harder as we aspire to emulate the skills we see.

I found a video of kumite between Keinosuke Enoeda vs Hirokazu Kanazawa and it really seemed to show the full range of techniques available in karate being executed in a way I hadn’t really seen before. Sure I’ve practised the techniques in class or read about them in books but to see them being used so fluidly was a real lightbulb moment.

A couple of weeks ago a karateka I met and was fortunate to train with at a seminar called Pete Watson shared a link to one of his kumite bouts and again I found it really energising to see that fluidity of following the feints with the ura mawashi geri. Now if I can get even partway to executing that kick with the control and precision Pete does I’ll be very happy but seeing it done well makes me want to work harder.

Finally a few days ago Pete also shared a link to a video of Rafael Aghayev, a karateka from Azerbaijan, which I thought was fantastic. The speed of his attacks are just breathtaking and what I take away to want to incorporate more are the fluidity of his punching attacks and his use of takedowns and grappling and taking control of the bout in general. In a similar way to the Enoeda vs Kanazawa footage it’s inspiring to see the whole range of karate techniques being used.

At the moment I’m referencing Funakoshi’s Karate-do Kyohan in working on a combination to demonstrate as part of my next grading and it includes some great sections on grappling. It just seems to fit really well that I can see those techniques being used so effectively whether it be decades ago or now in the present, and be it by karateka from Japan, Azerbaijan or closer to home down the motorway from good old Liverpool.

Developing my skills on the freestanding punchbag

Planning to have a session in the garage with my freestanding punch/kickbag tomorrow. I’ve used it quite a bit but it’s only been in the last dozen or so sessions I feel I’ve started to get a better understanding of how to use it to practise and develop my skills.

Some of the different routines I’ll run through are:-

  • Warming up – at about a quarter to half speed I’ll run through an improvised sequence of techniques, working to use the full range of stances and good execution of techniques.
  • Practising basics – I’ll run through the full range of striking techniques, doing about ten reps of each and practising on both sides of the body.
  • Working on kick height – My lateral flexibility isn’t great so I like to work on my mawashi and yoko geris to try and improve the height I can execute them at, I’ve got a couple of lines of tape around the bag to mark the level I’m seeking to reach with each.
  • Practising sparring combinations – I like to work on my footwork and putting a few techniques together with the last technique landing on the bag. It helps me to find technique combinations that feel comfortable and to try and improve execution of others.

I like having sessions with the bag. Having a session on my own gives me the opportunity to work on things following club training sessions or to prepare for future training.

You can feel and see when a technique connects well and work to improve it. My bag stands on a spring which gives it a certain amount of movement so I can build in some element of working with it’s movement and timing techniques. Plus I feel like I’ve had a good workout afterwards which always feels good.

Do you use a bag for practise? Got any good routines?

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2

Funakoshi mentions two styles of Karate in the first chapter, Shorin-ryu & Shorei-ryu. He describes how Shorei-ryu sought to be supple in body and strong in mind with Shorin-ryu strong in body and supple in mind.

In Chapter 2 he looks again at these two styles. He felt the Shorei style with fine technical skills and agility was superior fighting at a distance while Shorin was stronger close in particularly taking hold of an opponent.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate also mentions the terms  Naha-te, Shuri-te & Tomari-te and it appears the terms Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu came from these. It looks like the founders of todays modern karate styles were influenced by masters of both Shorin and Shorei. For example Anko Itosu, who taught Funakoshi, is refered to as a master of Shorin-ryu/Shuri-te and Kanryo Higaonna, teacher of Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni, Shorei-ryu/Naha-te.

That said having studied both Shukokai and Shotokan it certainly feels like each style is influenced to this day by one of these old styles. Shukokai does feel more agile and supple through it’s slightly higher stances like Shorei-ryu while Shotokan feels more muscular like Shorin-ryu. As Funakoshi states, Karate should have a combination of both of these styles, and I certainly feel I’m a better karateka for experiencing the approaches of both styles.

It seems to make sense to me that to be a more complete student of karate I’d want to be able to combine flexibility, agility and precise techniques with strength of body and a capability to control and manipulate an opponent.



More than just a purple toe

We’ve done quite a bit of sparring in training the last few weeks. As well as a nicely bruised toe, due to an enthusiastic clash of kicks, from this weeks training I’ve been giving thought to how I can make sure my sparring is linked in with all the other aspects of my training.

I know countless times I’ve spent time in a lesson working on executing basics and then switched into doing something like padwork, focus mitt work or sparring and lost an awareness of executing my techniques as well as I can do. Working with some of the younger students it struck me that perhaps they didn’t yet have an understanding of the role sparring plays in their karate.

I find myself understanding how different elements need to link up and help my overall improvement. Sparring gives me a chance to develop my execution of techniques against a live opponent (I started to say unpredictable but then stopped myself). Against my fellow senior grades I definitely had to work hard to try and create create the opening to land a good technique.

Some of my opponents were more attacking than others which meant if I could block and counter well than openings were there. Others were more defensive so I decided to try and create some openings by moving their defensive arms.

I enjoyed the Shotokan system of kumite development which moves through a variety of fixed kumite drills into more free sparring. In Shukokai we have much more padwork and focus mitt work. I can’t quite put it into words but early on sparring felt like the endgame. Sparring was what we learnt the techniques for, so we could show off some snazzy kicks.

But for me now I feel I undertstand how it stands side by side with other learning techniques like basics, kata etc. in helping me get better.

Does that feel like a similar experience or did you get what sparring was all about?

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.1

I’m reading a couple of Karate books at the moment, Iain Abernethy’s Bunkai-Jutsu and The Essence of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi.

The Essence of Karate is a slim little book and I’ve been reading a chapter and then having a think about what it’s important messages were. I read a chapter last night and Funakoshi was quite explicit at the end in setting out what he wanted martial artists to take on board.

I thought each chapter would provide good inspiration for blog posts so I decided to start reading again from the first chapter. The initial chapters set out how Karate originated so I was a little disappointed there didn’t seem to be an explicit idea to take away from the chapter.

In Chapter 1 Funakoshi writes about how Bodhidharma traveled from India to China and taught the priests of a Shaolin monastery. It seems that he was frustrated at his lack of progress which he felt was due to their poor physical strength. He came to realise that strength of mind and body was important to enable their studies.

I’m sure getting fitter is one of the things new students to Karate have in their minds as one of the benefits they’ll receive from their studies but perhaps it’s only later you start to realise that it extends further than just being able to do reps of punches and kicks. And for me it’s the development of mental strength, that wasn’t something I was looking for when I walked into the dojo, that is something I value greatly.

I’m not a priest but in my own way I’m looking for enlightenment. I want to be as good a person as I can be and my karate studies have given me strength of mind and body that help me every day to live my life. And perhaps Chapter 1 is giving me another lesson. Karate doesn’t yield all it’s benefits at a first hasty glance, it rewards it’s students who embrace it’s many facets.