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.

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?

 

Searching for Shukokai (2) – Mabuni and the best of two towns?

I was chatting to Sensei David and another Sensei, also called David (so no possibility for confusion there then :-)), after training last night and we touched on Shukokai’s relationship to the Shotokan style. Now I’m not entirely sure why but for some reason my early assumption was that Shotokan was a parent style to Shukokai.

In one of my early posts, Following the footsteps of masters, I mentioned the geneological tables in Robin L. Reilly’s ‘Complete Shotokan Karate’ that showed that Shukokai is more of a sibling to Shotokan. The founder of Shukokai Chojiro Tani was taught by Kenwa Mabuni and Miyagi Chojun. Miyagi Chojun was taught by Kanryo Higaonna (and he followed Higaonna’s path in spending some time studying fighting styles in China) and Kenwa Mabuni by Higaonna and Anko Itosu.

Certainly before I started to learn about the history of Karate I saw it more as a Japanese martial art. Learning more about Okinawa’s  geographical and historical relationships with Japan and China has given me a better understanding of Karate’s evolution and it’s influences.

When I read about the personal histories of Higaonna, Mabuni, Chojun and Tani I find it interesting to see how their studies exposed them to the different styles of Chinese and Okinawan martial arts. We’re told Higaonna was a master of the Naha-Te style of Karate and Itosu the Shuri-Te style. Reilly provides the following characteristics of the two styles.

Naha-te

  • combined Chinese hard and soft techniques
  • used rational, dynamic movements
  • emphasised breathing, flexibility and strength

Shuri-te

  • an exoteric system
  • emphasised speed
  • combined techniques with rational (practical) movements

In ‘The Essence of Karate’ Gichin Funakoshi writes about the styles using their later names Shorei-ryu (Naha-te) & Shorin-ryu (Shuri-te) and discusses what he sees as their strengths (which I’ve written about in ‘Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2′). Which brings me in a round about kind of way to the title of this post (Naha-te and Shuri-te were named after the Okinawan towns from which they originated). That, in a very crude sense, Shukokai is actually more of a step sibling to Shotokan as it enjoys the influence of both the Naha-te style, through Mabuni’s and Miyagi’s studies with Higaonna, and Shuri-te, through Itosu’s teaching of Mabuni.

In my search for what the Shukokai style is all about it’s interesting to be learning more about key figures in it’s development. I know the history behind the martial arts we study, and the insights it can provide, is valued to differing degrees by it’s students and I’m not making any kind of judgement on whether one way or another is best. Personally I am interested to find out more about the masters who have shaped Karate and in particular the Shukokai style to get a deeper idea of what the style I study is all about.

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.

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?

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?