exploringkarate

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 August, 2012

The need to practise what you preach

Wednesday night was my first training session since being on holiday. Wednesday nights at our club are geared more towards beginners and it was great to see the Dojo full and a good number of new students on the front row. We kicked off with running through some basic techniques and it didn’t take long to feel a bit of fatigue in my shoulders so a mental note to try and work on building a bit more stamina.

Then the senseis split the class into smaller groups amongst themselves and the senior grades including myself. I was taking two of our junior orange belts through some of our set combinations of techniques. I find these opportunities to teach junior students a really valuable learning experience for my own study of martial arts.

Both the students I was teaching had a really good attitude but they were at slightly different levels in terms of their knowledge of the combinations we were working on. For one student it was more about the first step of teaching them which techniques made up the combinations. The other student had that knowledge and for them it was about looking at their execution and identifying some points that could be worked on and improved.

We worked on making the execution more dynamic and with a stronger execution of the techniques. The first moves of one of the combinations is to move from a traditional fighting stance, zenkutsu dach, into a front kick, mae geri, with the leading leg by bringing up the rear leg alongside the leading leg and then bringing the leading leg up into the kick.

We worked on making that starting movement with the rear leg quicker to bring more momentum and bodyweight to the kick and make it more effective. Later on the class came back together and we ran through the combinations. When we ran through the combination I’d just been working on I realised I was being a bit casual and not bringing that quicker level of movement myself!

I suppose it was a case of familiarity breeds a bit of contempt and it was certainly a bit of a mental slap on the wrist! As your capability develops you need to make sure you bring that higher level of performance to kata and combinations already learnt.

So a change of roles from student to teacher and back again certainly gave me value in a number of areas:

  • it gave me the chance to identify what some of the important combative aspects are within a combination of moves.
  • I had to find a way to communicate how those aspects are important, demonstrate their application and find a way to break the practise down into smaller parts to focus on key movements.
  • and it was a important reminder to make sure I’m executing those movements effectively myself :-).

Sometimes it really does need to be a case of do what I say and do! Not just the former.

As usual, I’d really welcome any thoughts and experiences you might have :-).

Learning in the land of the red dragon

As much as I enjoy martial arts training I don’t think it does any harm to give my body a little break when summer holiday time comes around. The last couple of years a place called Tenby in Wales has been our destination for a great British beach holiday.

Tenby has got a fabulous set of beaches and despite being on holiday I enjoy going for a morning run down to the end of the south beach and back. At the end of the beach it starts to give way to the land as it slopes down from the coastal high ground. It’s here I take a few minutes to enjoy the view and have a bit of a stretch before setting off back down the beach.

On the second morning when I was stood on the higher ground after running the 1st length of the beach I started thinking about Chinto the shipwrecked Chinese martial artist and the kata said to be named after him. It’s a kata I’ve been looking forward to studying after reading about the story of him being challenged by the Okinawan martial arts master Matsumura.

The kata features some interesting techniques and standing there I thought about the moves and techniques and what some of their practical combative applications might be. I wouldn’t say I came to any concrete conclusions but looking at the beach I started thinking about the impact of the terrain on the ability of a martial artist to execute different techniques and also how that terrain could offer opportunities to disadvantage their opponent.

I’d also taken along a book on Phoenix Eye Fist Kung Fu I’ve had for a while but hadn’t had a chance to take a really good look at. Phoenix Eye Fist Kung Fu or Chuka Shaolin originated in South China. Okinawa’s position relative to China means that it had connections through trade etc. with China. When I’ve read about Okinawan martial artists who played a part in Karate’s evolution many had received instruction in Chinese fighting arts or had even travelled to China and studied there.

It was interesting to take a look at Chuka Shaolin and see similarities between some of it’s techniques and those of Karate. For example the book, The Secrets of Phoenix Eye Kung Fu by Cheong Cheng Leong and Mark V. Wiley, concentrated on the techniques contained in a two person fighting form. In terms of stances it showed the Horse Riding Stance and Hanging-horse stance. The Horse Riding Stance was just like Karate’s Shiko dach, known as horse stance, while the Hanging-horse stance matched Nekoashi dach, known as cat stance.

The similarity would certainly seem to support the transfer of fighting skills from China across the water to Okinawa and from there into Karate. I think it’s interesting that as a new student of Karate in your ignorance you believe it to be an art wholely originating in Japan. Then you learn about the nature of Japan’s relationship with Okinawa and then the influence of the fighting arts from other regions.

So taking a holiday from the Dojo hasn’t meant a break from my martial arts learning.

Have you learnt anything interesting about martial arts this summer?

Lyoto Machida’s Karate Style

I’ve watched a couple of Lyoto Machida‘s UFC bouts because I was interested to see how he fought given his karate background. He certainly seemed to have a distinctive style. I didn’t see his last bout against Ryan Bader but I came across this really interesting Bleacher Report breakdown of his karate style. It resonated on a number of points perhaps unsurprisingly given Machida’s father is a Shotokan Karate Master.

The first aspect of his style they look at is Machida’s stance and how it makes it more difficult for his opponents to strike him as it keeps his head further back and his torso turned more side on so that it represents a narrower target area. I can almost hear both my Shukokai and Shotokan senseis telling me to twist my hips more when in front stance for just that reason.

Next up they look at his evasive footwork. They describe how when an opponent launches an attack he simply pivots to the side on his lead foot to move off the line of attack. We practised a lot of this type of movement in our Shotokan fixed kumite (sparring), mainly in response to front and side kicks. In one quick move it took you out of danger of the strike while still leaving you in perfect range to launch a counter strike.

The breakdown looks at his ability to place all his weight into a counter strike by using the classic stepping punch. Launching strongly off his back leg, stepping through and letting all that momentum and power flow through into his punch. When we’re practising reverse punches, gyaku zukis, on the pad we strike it from a stationary stance. You really see the difference in the power of the impact when you swtich to stepping punch, oi zukis, and the extra momentum and shift in bodyweight is added.

They actually then move on to look at Machida’s reverse punch. The twist of the hip is an important aspect in giving the reverse punch it’s power. The other thing the writer mentions is that the punches’ starting point low down by the hip makes it difficult for the opponent to spot which isn’t something I’d really thought about before but it seems like a reasonable idea, especially if you occupy the attention with the leading hand.

Lyoto Machida’s kicks then come into focus, particularly how he will start to throw a front kick and then shift it into a roundhouse. It’s a technique both my Shukokai and Shotokan senseis can perform far more smoothly than I. I find it easier to fully perform the front kick, drop the leg back and then perform a full roundhouse. But again it’s a technique I recognise easily from the dojo.

Finally the report references the spirit of the more traditional martial arts and how if you choose it can stay with you throughout your life. After being a student of Karate for over 15 years I certainly recognise that longevity. In some ways I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I can learn.

It was great to see the article report on how techniques I recognise from the Karate I’ve been taught are being used to great effect by Lyoto Machida in the UFC Octagon. To me it reaffirms that when done well Karate has some extremely effective techniques.

 

Searching for Shukokai (1)

I’m a bit of a bookworm and whenever I pop into a book shop I’ll always have a browse in the Sports section to see if there are any martial arts books I haven’t managed to get my paws on yet.

I think this thirst for martial arts knowledge moved up a gear about the same time I decided to widen my Karate training by going along to a Shotokan club to see how that style differed from the Shukokai style I’d being studying. The Shotokan style seems to be pretty well represented in terms of book publication and I’ve picked up a few in recent years. Perhaps it helps when the founder of the style, Gichin Funakoshi, was a prolific writer, and every credit to him for sharing his knowledge so that it is still available all these years later.

Having returned back to my Shukokai roots I really want to learn more about the history of the style, the people involved in shaping it’s development and it’s particular traits.

My initial research didn’t produce quite as much information as I would have hoped. That old favourite Wikipedia did give me a quite a good start and amongst other things gave me Chojiro Tani’s name as the founder of Shukokai, his teachers Miyagi Chojun and Kenwa Mabuni and Shigeru Kimura as one of his pupils. I looked into Kimura a little and found a few YouTube films I enjoy watching. But there didn’t seem to be quite as much depth of information available that I’d found with Shotokan.

I was catching up with one or two of Iain Abernethy’s great podcasts while enjoying the views on the way to Sheffield on the train and he mentioned an interview he’d done with Haruyoshi Yamada. It’s a great interview and provides some really good insights into both Shukokai and it’s founder Tani.

Every time I read it I find something new to think about. Some of the things I really like are:

  • the mention that Shukokai is a dynamic style. Sometimes you can get a bit wrapped up in the more aesthetic side and lose a bit of that dynamism.
  • the fact that Yamada was drawn by word of mouth to see what Tani was about, it just seems timely when a previous post of mine was thinking about the importance of giving a good service which leads to your students being evangelical about what they’re being taught.
  • the mention of Tani’s logical analysis of Karate and his teaching of the applications of Karate.
  • the focus on how the techniques felt to the individual.
  • and the emphasis on going forwards and not letting the opponent dominate you.

And those are just a handful of the things I really enjoyed. It really feels like this article is a good place to restart my research of what Shukokai is all about so expect future posts about my search for Shukokai.

If you’ve taken a look at the article I’d really like to hear what are the stand out points for you? Or if you’re a Shukokai Karateka and have some nuggets of knowledge to share I’d love to hear all about them.

The school of hard knocks vs

I’m always coming across new martial arts websites full of great articles. This week’s discovery is ’24 Fighting Chickens’. It’s full of thought provoking articles and is certainly worth taking a look at.

The section of articles that really grabbed my attention was the ‘Instructor Training’ area.

Our senseis like to give senior students the chance to teach fellow students. I guess it allows for a better teacher to student ratio. Perhaps more importantly the student teachers, for want of a better name, have more recent experience of learning the same techniques, katas and applications that their fellow students are studying and can offer valuable insights.

‘The Service-Oriented Instructor’ got me thinking quite a bit. Perhaps because I recognised elements of the performance oriented & customer service oriented clubs. The Shotokan club I was a member of for a good few years felt like it had a strong performance focus. That’s not to say that the Shukokai club I started at and have returned to doesn’t care about the quality of the karate. But I do feel it has a good feel for creating a friendly, family atmosphere that provides a positive learning environment for it’s students.

The idea of thinking about offering a good customer service or the ‘experience’ encountered by the students does feel like a more commercial activity. But for any club, not just Karate or martial arts, to remain strong and vibrant it needs a healthy membership.

While word of mouth recommendation from it’s current members is an important way to bring in potential new students the majority of clubs use marketing in some form or other to create interest and attract potential new members to try out an introductory lesson.

Once through the door a club with a sensei/s that is aware of the members needs and provides an environment that meets them has a fighting chance of having more new members stay around for the medium to longterm.

I struggle with the author’s view that an instructor cannot be both performance and service oriented. Perhaps I misunderstand what he’s saying but I think it’s the student’s engagement with Karate and a desire to further their study that maintains that longer term interest.

What do you think? Is providing a good service important for a Martial Arts club?