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.

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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.

What keeps me coming back?

I sometimes find myself wondering what answer I would give if I was asked why I study Karate. Perhaps I don’t need to bother as I don’t think I’ve ever actually been asked. But what has kept me returning to the question was the fact that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was specifically that I must enjoy so much to have kept me hooked for the past 15 years and I’m sure for many years more.

Recently I think I’ve come to a realisation that it’s not just one of two specific elements that I enjoy it’s a whole range of different things.

At a more superficial level I enjoy the more physical aspects, padwork, focus mitt work & sparring, for the surge of endorphins they provide and the opportunity to let rip a little.

I enjoy the physical challenge Karate training provides. Both the fitness to be able to execute multiple reps of combinations and kata to a high standard but the precise control of your body to get your body placement right all the way through a technique. That’s given me plenty of work to take away, particularly with my flexibility which is a big challenge.

I enjoy the mental and character building side. Whether it be having the mental determination to push a tired body to raise it’s game for the next kata. Or in response to more traditional training to accept the bashes youve taken and return with the determination to spot the punch or the kick coming earlier and improve my evasion and blocking.

I enjoy being a bookworm and researching different aspects to get new insights into how I can improve.

And I love the feeling that after everything I’ve learnt it feels like I’m still only just getting started and there is so much to learn and try and master.

What’s keeps me coming back is the fact that Karate feels like it’s become a big part of who I am day to day, week to week and has taught me so much more than simply how to punch and kick.

What keeps you coming back?

Looking back at 2011

I returned back to my original Shukokai karate club in the autumn of 2010 after a number of years as a member of a Shotokan club. So I really enjoyed spending 2011 getting back into training, remembering the little differences in kata, working on combinations etc.

I also started looking at some different resources on the web and looking at what was happening karate wise on social media like Twitter. I found some footage of Shigeru Kimura which fired me up to really find out what the Shukokai style was all about. I also came across Iain Abernethy and his emphasis on studying kata in a more practical and integrated way

I attended a great pair of seminars Iain taught and it really made sense and he showed there was a structured way to get more out of kata, something I’d been looking to do but had been struggling to really know how to. I’ve been reflecting on all of this over Christmas and New Year and planned what I want to study more in 2012, I’m looking forward to using this blog to share where that takes me and hopefully get some comments that might help me along the way.