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 Healthy Mind

What might not be for today may be for tomorrow

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.

Karate isn’t just for the Dojo No.1: the i.play

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 :-).

The way for all?

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?

Any thoughts?

 

The weekend starts here

I guess we all have times when we have a lot going on either with family at home, at work or school/college/uni. Now the main training session I attend with my club is on a Tuesday night. But a few weeks ago I had to work late most nights and so went to the Saturday morning session to make sure I got at least one training session in.

I had a really enjoyable session and afterwards I felt like I’d cleared away any remaining thoughts of work and was ready to enjoy my weekend. I’ve still been fairly busy since so I’ve kept going to the Saturday morning session and I find myself looking forward to getting up and getting ready to head to training.

I was thinking about what makes training on Saturday so enjoyable and one contributing factor I think is the venue. We train in a much more spacious hall with a high ceiling with the beamwork exposed and I think in some ways I enjoy the experience of training there more.

Anyway I’ll keep this post short as it’s Saturday AM and the clock is ticking. Whatever your plans are for the weekend I hope you have a great time.

Do you have a favourite venue to train in? And when’s you favourite training time?

 

If…

I had a bit of a Karate blog hop last week and found The Warrior’s Spirit blog. In one of the posts the author poses the question ‘If you were able to speak to yourself when you first began the martial arts, what would you tell yourself?’ as a discussion starter.

I had a quick think and then posted this comment ‘I’d tell myself to think of the kata as the key to Karate and to really explore the possibilities even the simplest kata contains.’. I’ve reflected more about the question since.

On one hand I’m still happy with my initial comment as it really feels like my eyes have been opened to the value of kata in recent years and restudying kata has really energised my karate study.

On the other hand I’m not sure I would want to shortcut what I’ve learnt or deny myself any of the experiences I’ve had over the last 15 or so years. I’ve met and learnt much from some fantastic people who have been very generous in sharing what they’ve learnt. And I’ve greatly enjoyed training. It feels good to pull on my gi and train.

At every stage I’ve valued what I’ve learnt as I’ve worked hard to build the knowledge and understanding to enable me to interpret different ideas. Recently it’s definitely felt like different ideas about kata and practical applications that felt hard to really get a handle on when I first came across them are starting to connect and make sense. But I think part of that connection is made easier because the foundations have been laid through the training I’ve had.

It feels like my journey to my current destination may not have been the most direct or the quickest but I’m not sure I’d want it any other way :-).

Christmas is just around the corner here so if that’s a holiday you celebrate then I wish you a Happy Christmas and please accept my best wishes for the New Year. I hope 2012 has been a good year and 2013 sees you in good health, with a peaceful mind, brings new learning and wearing a very contented smile.

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, thanks for sparing your valuable time to do so and if you’ve posted a comment then many thanks for pausing a moment to share your thoughts and have a chat.

 

Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!

Sensei David has a little Christmas tradition of his own. The last training session before Christmas he’ll have some ideas for some games for the club to play. It’s nice to put serious training to one side for one lesson and have fun with fellow karateka.

A couple of weeks ago I had the idea that playing a few games of Dodgeball might provide an interesting warm up at the start of a lesson. Then I remembered that Christmas was approaching so I asked Sensei if he wanted to give it a whirl in the last session before Christmas. Sensei agreed and we tried it out at Tuesday night’s training.

I fully expected all the junior students to enjoy the game as they always enjoy taking part in Sensei’s games. But I must admit to being surprised how much the seniors and other Senseis got involved. Though perhaps the old line about there being no kid like a big kid rings true :-).

It was good to see everyone having a great time and students of all ages and grades scampering up and down the dojo throwing the brightly coloured balls Sensei David had brought along.

I think being able to have fun together as a club now and again is a nice contrast to the hard work students put in throughout the year learning the art. It builds bonds between students and certainly shows them that the Senseis enjoy a good game of Dodgeball like everybody else!

Does your club have any fun traditions or unusual ways to get warmed up?

Serendipitous Saturday

It’s funny sometimes how similar ideas or themes can come from different sources on the same day.

I always enjoy Saturday morning training, it always feels like a really great way to put the working week behind me and start the weekend. The grading the following day was obviously the focus for those students taking part and the remaining students split up into groups based on grade. Sensei Kevin took the purple and brown belts and got us working on really rotating our hips into a variety of different techniques. This is an area were Shukokai differs from the other style I’ve spent time learning Shotokan.

Sensei Kevin made a point that I thought was really interesting which I guess relates more to the competitive sparring. He got us thinking about even when executing an attacking technique like a punch by really twisting our hip into the technique as well as allowing the delivery of a strong punch it reduces the target area available to your opponent.

Working on ensuring that hip twist was present felt pretty challenging. It felt very similar to the feeling of tiredness that follows executing a kata with correct form and focus. It might just be a lack of flexibility (very likely 🙂 ) but it did feel difficult to get that twist from a more deeper stance which is perhaps why Shukokai does have a slightly higher stance.

Sensei Kevin also pulled me up on some of my strikes looking a little short which I do feel myself in certain kata so something I’ll be looking to work on.

It struck me that Sensei Kevin was wanting us to really make use of the core of our body to deliver good techniques and I decided later on Saturday to catch up on some podcasts I’d downloaded. A martial artist I follow on Twitter, Steve Hodgkinson, has recently started producing podcasts. His first podcast talked about the centre line theory. Steve spoke about being centred in more general terms but it just felt quite serendipitous to be listening to another martial artist talking about the value of striking from the core/centre.

I greatly enjoyed Steve’s podcast because, like a great many lessons you can take from the study of martial arts into other areas of your life, the central idea wasn’t limited to just martial arts applications.

I’ve been thinking about those ideas since Saturday and I’m looking forward to working on them more in the coming weeks. Joe Hyams writes about being taught by Bruce Lee in his book ‘Zen in the Martial Arts’. He writes about Bruce telling him a story about the importance of having an empty cup, being ready to learn new things. It felt good on Saturday to continue to study with an empty cup and receive the wisdom of two learned martial artists.

What have you learnt recently?