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 Teaching

We all choose our own path but perhaps it’s good to come back home with what we’ve learnt

The choice of two of my fellow students to leave our club and continue their martial arts studies at a different club has had me thinking this week. It will be a shame not to see them training at our club any more. Our club has a nice friendly atmosphere and that feeling is generated to a large part by it’s students so to see students who have been a part of that for a number of years moving on is a little bit sad. But my reflection has been more about the decisions I’ve made in terms of my own karate studies.

When I came back to the club it felt good to be back. I guess each style and club has it’s individual mix of how they do things. Personally I’ve always enjoyed the use of impact pads and focus mitts as part of practising our strikes. At our club as part of our later gradings we’re asked to develop our own combinations and focus mitt routines. And I’ve enjoyed the opportunities this has brought to think about kata and their different applications and practise them in different ways.

I’m happy to take some ownership of my own martial arts learning, which I imagine is the same for many of us. In the main this has taken the form of picking up and reading different martial arts books. But in the last couple of years I’ve also attended a few seminars. I’ve really enjoyed the flexibility they offer to spend some time training with different instructors. I like that I can learn something new but then have the time and space to think about what I’ve learnt, explore it and figure out how it can blend in with everything else that I’ve learnt.

I like the fact that our club does give it’s senior students the chance to lead classes. If we’re all following our owns paths and learning different things then we also have the chance to bring back what we’ve learnt and share it with our fellow students.

For me it feels like being part of the club becomes more of a two way street. I’m certainly grateful for what it’s given me over a good number of years and it feels like I have an opportunity to put something back in.

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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 :-).

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?