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 Practical Karate

Feeling is believing

Yesterday I travelled down to the dojo of the Midland Shotokan Karate Federation to attend a seminar with Iain Abernethy. The seminar looked at joint locks, counter locks and some flow drills (to help practise applying a lock on an opponent, your opponent escaping from that lock, applying a lock of their own which you then escaped and re-established a lock on them etc.).

Yesterday’s seminar, like Iain’s others I’ve attended, was packed full with combative principles and techniques delivered in a really engaging style. Iain brings an incredible depth of knowledge about Karate to his seminars in terms of the:-

  • history of Karate and it’s key players.
  • it’s practical applications and their value in self protection.
  • exploring different techniques from a martial arts perspective.

We have studied some joint locks at our club, but it is something we do quite infrequently so it was really good to have a good look at them during the four hours of the seminar.

When I was thinking about what to write in this post what I started thinking about was how I’d felt during the seminar.

Firstly on several occasions when I was practising the techniques that Iain had demonstrated I had a real feeling of it resonating with the movements from kata and combinations that I’ve practised many, many times over. For example we were practising using an arm bar elbow lock with a shift in stance and the use of the hikite (pulling hand) combined with the overall movement of the body felt like a really natural fit for a movement very similar to a reverse punch.

And I think it’s working at a closer distance that also feels good. It felt good to be close in with my training partner, working on controlling their arms, moving into locks and then using them to create the opening for a strike at their head or body.

One of the two katas I’m learning for when I grade to 1st Dan is Chinto and at the same time I’m looking back at the Pinan kata series and studying their practical applications. So it was good to look at how techniques that they feature like the lower and upper cross ‘blocks’ represent wrist locks.

Secondly, in a strange way, it also felt good to be on the receiving end of the locks and counter locks we were practising. Having really felt how applying the lock allowed my training partner to control my movement it gives me a real appreciation of the techniques. And with me having a few inches height wise and a few extra, post Christmas party (obviously :-)), pounds on my training partner it also showed how good technique can bring a more sizeable opponent down to size, or the matt depending on your preference!

Plus I think I fall into the group of martial artists that quite enjoys being thrown about a bit so I don’t mind playing the role of the attacker.

So overall it was a really enjoyable seminar. Plenty to take away and explore further as well as a reaffirmation of the maxim that the best way to learn and develop your understanding of karate is to get hands on and enjoy how karate feels.

Many thanks to Leigh Simms for being an excellent host, the fellow karateka I trained with for their patience when I was fumbling my way through some of the techniques and to Iain for sharing his knowledge in his unique affable style.

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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.

 

Learning to to see the whole picture

In Chris Denwood’s excellent book ‘Respecting the Old, Creating the New’ there is a Chapter called ‘Transitional Aspects of Kata‘. When I read it a couple of weeks ago late on a Friday night the mental fatigue from time spent on the day job drained away and the excitement of some fresh aspects of Karate to explore and understand further replaced it. What I took from the Chapter was the value in looking at everything held in the kata which includes the movements that connect the techniques.

Thinking about that idea in relation to the first Shukokai kata I learnt, Shiotsuki No.1, made me think about a video I’d seen of Keinosuke Enoeda demonstrating Kuzushi Waza. In Shiotsuki No.1 after a down block, gedan barai, you step forward with a punch to the body, chudan tsuki. I’d understood that the stepping movement brought the added shift of body weight to the punch but perhaps that doesn’t make full use of using the knee at the end of the step to strike the opponent and disrupt their balance.

It also got me thinking about about the crescent shaped path of the stepping foot we use in Karate. This was emphasised in my Shotokan training as being important in preventing unnecessary rising of the body when stepping. And I love the feeling of that strong forward motion. But maybe that motion also allows the foot to manoeuvre round lower leg of your opponent to  place you leg behind theirs to have the option of a throw like Byobudaoshi (to topple a folding screen) or Kubiwa (to encircle the neck).

I’ve deliberately used ‘perhaps’and ‘maybe’ above as I could be on totally the wrong track but they were thoughts that struck me and I’ve enjoyed taking a bit of time to see how they feel when I try them out in a bit of solo practise. Even on a frosty December night it was good to spend a bit of time seeing how different combinations from the variations of Shiotsuki seemed to work with a free standing bag as the focus.

So I find myself very thankful to Chris for sharing his thoughts and suggesting a different way to look at kata and find new applications to practise.

Has anything given you a fresh perspective on Karate recently?

Beginning bunkai

I speak only for myself when I say that trying something new normally feels a bit clunky and uncomfortable, and Karate is no different. As a white belt learning stances, blocks, strikes, kata etc. I felt very much like I was floundering about struggling to know what I should be doing with my limbs. Fast forward 15 years and starting to take a deeper look at the practical applications of karate left me scratching my head and feeling a very similar sense of being at the start of a learning process.

So after attending a third seminar looking at the practical applications of Karate kata it was good to have a greater feeling of competence in terms of understanding some of the key ideas and physically running through the drills. I thought it would be good to revisit my first steps in learning about Bunkai and how we can learn from kata.

I think returning to the Shukokai Karate club where I started learning Karate was one of the factors in creating a greater interest in what kata was all about. For gradings we’re asked to develop our own little routines of techniques to demonstrate. Rather than just combine a set of my favourite techniques I wanted there to be some kind of underlying idea to get the most out of the process.

At the same time I started to do more research about Karate in the internet and came across Iain Abernethy who has done a tremendous amount of work looking at the practical applications of kata. I think I watched a few of his videos on YouTube and then had the opportunity to attend one of his seminars. The seminar was really good but the transitions between the moves felt a little bit clumsy as, despite them being based on kata I’d run through hundreds of times, I was working with a live partner. Trying to take what I’d learnt and apply it to other kata also felt like a very daunting task.

I decided as Iain advises in one of his podcasts to go right back to basics and look at the first kata I learnt, Shiotsuki No.1, which is very similar to the Shotokan Kihon Kata. As it features the same set of techniques repeated it was an ideal place to start. I’d also received advise from another Karateka well versed in looking at practical applications, Rakesh Patel. Rakesh advised looking for similar actions in the kata and thinking about how they might share underlying ideas or principles.

In Shiotsuki No.1 we start with a look to the left and then step out on the right foot to then pivot on the left and execute a down block with the left arm. Having blocked an attack we then execute a stepping punch.

I looked at each of those actions to try and understand what the underlying combative principle could be:

  • I took the sideways look to be all about having an awareness of an attack being launched.
  • The step out showing the importance of taking an evasive movement but one which leaves you in range and well placed in relationship to your opponent to make a counterattack.
  • The downward block striking the opponent strongly with the hard striking surface of the bottom of the fist to not just deflect the attack but cause some pain.
  • And finally the counter attack made as effective as possible by bringing all of my bodyweight into the punch through it’s stepping motion.

In a very small way I felt I was making some progress in looking at the movement of a kata. Another piece of advice from Iain was that different sources would provide different little snippets of practical applications. Ashley Martin’s ‘The Shotokan Bible’ showed a different application which I explored and found very interesting as it made greater use of what are explained as preparatory moves.

In this application the preparatory hand was the one actually making the block and what is generally taught as the blocking motion was a strike. I explored the idea with different preparations and blocks in my grading routines. In part they felt effective but lacked the simplicity of the block and counter strike. Now I fully accept that part of that feeling of simplicity probadly stems from having spent years blocking and countering and less time closer in using both hands in this manner.

I’ve continued my learning by listening to Iain Abernethy’s excellent podcasts about all aspects of studying Bunkai and practical applications. I’ve attended more seminars and so got more hands on experience of the doing different drills. Because the focus is on learning how the techniques in kata are useful against attacks from non-martial artists they often look at dealing with an opponent within arms length which is the more likely range of the attack. This felt new to me because more conventional karate sparring occurs at a longer range. With your opponent closer the space is more cluttered so you have to start getting used to dealing with the opponents arms getting in the way, and learning to control them and move them out of the way.

I’ve picked up a couple of copies of Iain Abernethy’s DVDs about drills for the Pinan/Heian katas and so want to spend more time working through some of his drills on my own without a partner to become more accustomed to the movements to take control of the opponents limbs and also position myself away from their most likely attacks.

It definitely feels like another occasion when initially the problem as a single entity seems too much to tackle but break it down into smaller simpler parts and you start to make progress.

I’m sure we’ve all had problems that seemed initially beyond us but we’ve found expert input and learnt how to break them down, work through the problem slowly, refine technique and then develop our skills from there.

The fine, practical, points of storming fortresses

On Sunday I had a fantastic 4 hours taking part in a seminar about the practical applications that can be found in the Bassai Dai kata. The seminar was lead by Rakesh Patel, 5th Dan, a fellow Karateka who I’d met through Twitter.

I’m fairly new to the world of martial arts seminars. Previously I’ve attended two seminars lead by Iain Abernethy, who I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions already in this blog and I’m sure needs little introduction, which I’d really enjoyed. I found Rakesh’s seminar equally enjoyable and informative, and I recommend attending one of his seminars if you ever have the opportunity.

Like Ian, Rakesh has a friendly and easy going style but it was interesting to get a sense of how Rakesh’s take on looking at a kata and their applications differed somewhat. In Iain’s seminars it feels like Iain has used his extensive historical research into Karate and it’s masters alongside his combative knowledge to inform his views of what the practical applications of the kata are. Rakesh could perhaps be said to take a more contemporary approach, feeling , as he stated, that the depth of explanatory material into the original applications isn’t available. Rakesh has an approach which looks more at the themes that exist within a kata, in the case of Bassai Dai in this seminar he focused on the use of the pulling hand or Hikite.

The seminar explored how the pulling hand could be used to break an opponents grasp and also increase the effectiveness of striking techniques. Rakesh also stresses the importance of integrating the practical applications with your default attacking technique, the striking technique you feel most comfortable and confident with and so therefore are most likely to use in the scramble of defense against an aggressor.

The seminar group was a really friendly one and it was really good to get involved in working through the seminars various drills. The person playing the aggressor in the drill would respond in a very direct manner which felt like a very likely response so it very much felt that I was feeling the value of the kata techniques in responding to a realistic scenario.

Bassai Dai feels like it’s a kata I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying as in Shotokan it’s the kata you study at two levels of Brown belt and it was one of the katas I had to study for my most recent grading. So it was really good to have the luxury of looking at how it’s techniques can be used. The study of the bunkai of kata in much more depth is something I’ve only started to look at relatively recently in my karate studies but I’m certainly finding it has further energised my interest in both kata and in karate overall.

To have that connection from working through the seminars drills of how it feels to both execute Bassai Dai’s techniques on a training partner and receive them in return certainly gives me a greater appreciation of their value. To feel the discomfort of a knife hand block for example against my neck, and in this context delivered in a very controlled manner, gives me a much greater understanding of it’s value offensively as well as defensively. And this greater appreciation in turn gives me an even greater respect for the kata and a renewed commitment to executing it to the very best of my ability.

So I’m sure it’s evident I brought away a great deal from the seminar. So thanks again to Rakesh Patel for a really informative and enjoyable seminar, Andy Chapman for being a great host in West Hallam on a beautiful sunny day and all of my fellow martial artists who attended.

Have you been to any great seminars, who were they with and what did you enjoy?

1st Kyu, another step on the ladder

Yesterday I successfully graded to 1st Kyu. This means I’m the highest rank of Brown belt and my next grading will be to become 1st Dan, a black belt.

The 1st Kyu grading has been my focus since the end of last year. It’s has felt really good to have a definite goal to aim for and for it to be a part of my training in lot’s of different areas:

  • For the grading I had to put together both a combination of moves to demonstrate and a focus mitt routine. It was a great opportunity to try and apply some of the practical karate ideas I’ve come across in the last 12 months or so. I went right back to the first Karate kata I was taught, Shiotsuki No.1 and explored what it was all about and how the basic moves could be used in different situations and  added to.
  • I’ve really worked hard on my lateral hip flexibility. Most Monday night’s I try and have a really good stretching session and I’ve incorporated more flexibility work with my hips and I’ve really felt the difference. By no means have I attained a Jean Claude Van Damme level of flexibility but it’s improved all the same.
  • I’ve worked on my impact work, particularly my Mawashi Geris (roundhouse kicks). I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that for many years it was a kick that felt like a real bane but now it’s a kick I really enjoy practising on my bag.
  • I started to use visualisation techniques to ‘train’ without having to work my body. I definitely need to refine how I apply this technique but it was certainly useful and highlighted parts of kata or combinations where I wasn’t totally sure of the sequence of moves and so flagged up areas were I needed to spend more time.

In the run up to the grading I felt pretty confident as I knew I’d put the hours of training in and worked on all the right areas. However on the morning of the grading the butterflies were there in my stomach.

But it really felt that all the preparation and training paid off. There were still areas that on the day I didn’t quite execute as well as I would have liked but overall it was a good solid performance.

It’s a really great euphoric feeling after a grading. You’ve made a real commitment towards a goal that you can be working to for the best part of a year sometimes. To reach that goal obviously feels good. But I think what I’ve really learnt this time is that working towards that goal provides great opportunities to work on different areas and learn great techniques to improve your knowledge and ability.

I guess it feels like as well as enjoying reaching your destination it’s important to really savour all those smaller challenges you’ve worked through along the way and ensure you learn as much as you possibly can.

What have working towards your goals taught you?

Me, Myself and I…field trip…Day 4

After writing last nights post I hopped onto Twitter to take a look at who might be able to provide some information about awareness. I scrolled down to the bottom of my following list and saw that Iain Abernethy was the first person I’d chosen to follow. I’ve visited Iain’s website a number of times and know he has articles that he has written on there so thought it was as good a place to start as any.

Sure enough a brief look through his articles uncovered an article called ‘Awareness: The Key to Karate for Self Protection’.

Iain suggests an exercise to develop your awareness. He recommends engaging in a conscious internal dialogue anout the dangers and potential dangers that could arise in our day to day activities. Rather than drive into work today I was travelling there by train and then walking approx. 20 minutes upto the site. I thought this was a great opportunity to try our Ian’s suggestion.

When I got on the train I discreetly checked out each of my fellow passengers, as part of this I made use of window reflections. Then on the walk upto site I was conscious of identifying upcoming blind spots and quickly making sure no danger lurked there.

I thought it was a really easy but useful exercise. Generally as a person I’d say I have pretty good awareness but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek to improve it further.

Iain’s article is well worth checking out.