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 Kumite

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.

 

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James Bond’s Systema

I recently finished reading the new James Bond novel ‘Carte Blanche’ by Jeffrey Deaver, which is well worth a read. In it Bond gets involved in a few hand to hand scrapes and it’s mentioned that Bond has learnt Systema. In the book it’s described as a combat system originating with the Russian Cossacks and then refined by the Russians.

In this post I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of Systema what provoked a bit of thought that the book describes it’s purpose as being to evade and block the opponent’s strikes with the aim of tiring them out and then to take control when they have exhausted themselves.

Now I accept what I’ve read is fiction when the author can enjoy creating something for entertainment safe in the knowledge that the hero is in actual danger, but still I found the approach interesting.

I don’t position myself as having any great knowledge about self-defence but what I’ve read from those far more educated than myself is that such encounters are frenetic, messy affairs and far removed from the more controlled to and fro of sparring in the dojo. I can’t imagine that it would be a good idea to prolong such an encounter by aiming to tire an attacker by seeking to successfully block each of their strikes. The odds of doing so against a determined attacker probably don’t stack up well.

So perhaps it’s an approach worth trying out in sparring. I know when I trained in Shotokan Karate there was a strong focus in sparring of not being wasteful, not throwing technique after technique that wasn’t troubling the opponent. Sparring bouts were much more cagey affairs and almost felt as exhausting mentally as physically because you were guarding against an attack that when it came would be serious in it’s intent.

Recently in my current club we’ve had a few sessions which have included sparring and as a more senior student we pair with the juniors and work with them to improve their confidence and techniques. Generally I would allow them to attempt to strike me more and so would spend more time blocking than striking. As a result after a couple of minutes I would have I’ve exerted myself less than them through this more defensive approach. So the Systema approach mentioned in the book seemed to ring true as a fighting strategy.

I have the benefit of being fairly tall so in sparring if I can keep my opponents at a safe distance they really have to work hard to land a telling strike. Perhaps as a result I think I do tend to have a more defensive style of fighting. But it still feels that I’m controlling the flow of the sparring by enticing them to commit to attacks.

I’m interested to try this approach more next time we have some sparring in training. Sometimes there can be a tendency to fall into a very polite you attack then I’ll attack kind of rhythm. Against opponents who do have a tendency to try and execute quite a few techniques it could be useful to let them tire themselves.

Me, Myself and I…Day 5

I grabbed a quick half an hour to practise a few things on the bag.

Continuing the theme of awareness that has come into focus this week I started off by ‘seeing’ an attack from first the front, moving and blocking and then hitting the bag with a counter strike and then repeating for the right hand side, left hand side and rear. I was imagining the strikes were normal attacks you would imagine a non-martial artist might throw so a face punch, swinging hook like punch etc.

It was interesting to start to get a bit of a feel how I preferred different responses to attacks from different directions particularly from the right and left hand sides. I then worked on taking my response beyond just a single counter for frontal attacks. My bag is mounted on a sprung base which means I can grab hold of it and pull it down onto knee strikes and practise trying to get a bit of a grip for some throws like Kubiwa (to encircle the neck).

It did bring to back to my mind an exercise we used to do at my old Shotokan club. We’d open up one of the fixed kumite routines to give us the choice of any counter as long as it would be effective in hurting the assailant. It taught you that the simple straightforward techniques would be quick and effective assuming they were well targetted at the assailants vulnerable areas.

Then I worked on my Shiotsuki inspired combination a bit more. The Shiotsuki series is the same simple kata but just using a different block so down block for No.1, inside block for No.2 etc. I was thinking about simplifying my combination to focus just on expanding the applications from the down block and stepping punch but it didn’t seem to work very well. Again it was good to have a bit of time to try out a different approach to see if it worked.

I’m certainly enjoying using these little practise sessions to try out different ideas at my own pace. Iain Abernethy uses the example of an acorn containing everything needed to ultimately become a tree with it’s many branches to try and describe how a kata can represent a whole system of combat. It feels like a similar idea can represent the wealth of information I receive through my club training that then needs to be unpacked further, examined and practised.

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.