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 June, 2012

As fit as a butcher’s dog!

Well perhaps not quite, and I’m using the meaning of this old saying whereby the butcher’s dog wasn’t the fittest because it was treated to all the scraps and leftovers, but I was feeling the pace at training on Saturday.

We kicked off with a bit of sparring, which I kept quite light because I was partnering up with some of the junior grades. Then we had some padwork and I worked myself quite hard, working at a higher tempo then would be expected at a grading. Then we wrapped up working through combinations and kata and that was when I started to feel the fatigue a little.

The gradings at our club, particularly for the higher grades, have quite a number of different sections so a pretty reasonable level of fitness is required and I’m probadly a little short of that at the moment.

Training twice a week will help but in preparation for the grading I’ll switch my weekly weights session to a karate cardio session.

I gave it a go yesterday and am fairly happy I’ve got the start of a format that’ll work:-

  • I kicked off with 10 minutes on the Schwinn exercise bike to get warmed up.
  • A quick set of stretches.
  • Then four sets of basic combinations, 10 reps each side at a strong intensity.
  • Then basic techniques on my freestanding punch/kick bag. Gyaku zukis, mae geris, oi zukis, mawashi geris and uracken uchis, 10 reps each side again at a strong intensity.
  • Then I worked through some combinations at close range of the bag to try and replicate some of the focus mitt sections.
  • Finished with a final session on the bag but working from medium to close range to make it feel a bit like sparring.

The whole session lasted about 45 minutes and I was working up a nice sweat and feeling like I was testing my fitness at points so I’ll now add in more reps in future sessions to push myself.

While working on my fitness was the primary objective it was good to have an extra session working on different techniques on and off the bag.

What do you do to keep your fitness at a good level?



Put your bodyweight into it!

We spent a lot of time working with the impact pads on Tuesday night at training. I always enjoy a good session on the pads. It feels great to be able to put everything into a technique and get the physical feedback of feeling it strike the pad.

One thing that really came through was the extra power that is realised when you make sure you’re moving your bodyweight in the right way. While my reverse punches, gyaku zukis, felt a bit off par to begin with (note to self to work on those) I could really feel the difference in the impact of the stepping punches, oi zuki.

Getting the push off the ball of my back foot to get that acceleration, a bit like a sprinter (note the use of ‘a bit like’ in my case 😉 ), and really propel my bodyweight towards the pad and focus it’s impact through my arm onto the pad. It reaffirmed the value of maintaining the same height level throughout the technique so all the power is moving straight forward and not rising and falling as you step through.

Trying to get that same explosive movement and thrusting impact came into play for both the front kick, mae geri, and side kick, yoko geri.

It felt like another of those moments when the principles of karate just came together in a really tangible way and you realise this is why you’ve be learning techniques a certain way.

The quest for infinite precision

I read ‘The Pyjama Game: A Journey into Judo’ by Mark Law a few months ago. I’m always interested in reading about other martial arts and Mark did a really great job of combining the history, the important figures and his own study together to make an interesting read.

Early on he was talking about the zen-ish concern with detail and style. He talks about how the sensei’s unrelenting demands for infinite precision challenge the student by making everything as difficult as possible. This process crushes the student’s pride and ego, allowing the subconscious to take over and absorb the learning.

The focus on trying to get everything absolutely spot on has certainly felt challenging at points throughout my study of Karate, both Shukokai and Shotokan. I don’t know if that is because sometimes my tall and somewhat inflexible frame doesn’t necessarily lend itself to low deep stances. Or perhaps it is because having never studied any other physical activity to such depth I was unused to the idea of developing my body control to such an extent.

As a higher grade who sometimes assists with teaching students I’ve seen the challenge from the other side. Trying to instruct fellow students to move their feet into the right positions, execute a block in the right way etc. can feel hard work at times. I understand what Mark Law means when he talks about the student’s pride and ego and how it can be a blocker to the student having an open mind to the instruction they are being given.

I can remember those moments when I was filled with anger at my sensei for being worked through set after set of basics because I wasn’t executing one aspect or another as it should. And yes, my sense of ego was tamed and you learn to respect and take on board the instruction and advice being given. The ability to listen to advice and refine your techniques accordingly in a calm and respectful manner is an incredibly valuable one, and one which can be taken away from the dojo and make you a better person in the wider world.

But sometimes it isn’t a skill that comes quickly or easily and often comes through what feels like a very uncomfortably experience. Some nights when I attended Shotokan training  I would be glancing at the clock on the wall willing the minutes to pass more quickly because it was tough, energy sapping work. But the feeling of achievement when you’d stayed the course for another session was a fantastic one.

As a senior grade Karateka taking on more tuition of students I find myself understanding the challenge and the dilemma of teaching fellow students. Having learnt through lesson after lesson of hard work you understand how it feels for the student when the training is tough. But when you know the value of the prize on offer that can be gained through perseverance and dedication I think the responsibility lies equally with student and teacher to work in partnership to help each other.

Keep taking your daily actions

I wouldn’t say great flexibility is something that comes particularly naturally to me. A few weeks ago for instance my lateral hip flexibility was feeling particularly unresponsive when I was running through warm-up before we really got started with training. We’d also not done kicking on the pads for a while and when we did my mawashi geris felt very rusty.

Now I didn’t think I had to put a plan in place right that instant to address that feeling of rustyness but it has been something I’ve tried to work on.

If I find myself with half an hour or so in a morning I’ve been fitting in a little session on my punch/kick bag to work on my kicking techniques. I haven’t been worrying about speed or power, more about getting the technique right, particularly getting the knee on the kicking leg up nice and high to enable the rest of the kick to work as well as it can.

I’ve also been spending time exclusively on my lateral hip flexibility. Giving myself the time to slowly increase the stretch to let the muscles relax in each position before widening and stretching a bit more.

I’ve definitely noticed a feeling of greater flexibility, for me at least, and a return of confidence in my kicking techniques. It reminded me of a tweet the author of the book SUMO, Shut Up and Move On, Paul McGee had posted. ‘Remember success is a process not an event. So stop looking for the magic answer and keep taking your daily actions.’

I’m certainly feeling the benefits of spending time working regularly on flexibility and technique. I’ll be making every effort to keep taking my daily actions. What are yours?