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 Kata

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.

 

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Me, myself and I…and the rest of the club…Day 2

Having training on a Tuesday night helped me achieve today’s karate commitment. Some of my fellow students had been successful at Sunday’s grading so congratulations to each of them and every credit to those that didn’t take the night off and turned in for training.

Sensei David has a little game were we all close our eyes and then have to execute the stance he shouts out. Traditionally I’m pretty poor at this and am normally out of the game and seated by the second or third call but of late I seem to be doing better. Previously I wouldn’t have placed knowing the names of the various stances as any kind of priority but now if feels like it’s important to have a handle on all aspects of karate.

I think that’s because I see how it has value in a couple of ways. Firstly I see how knowing how the names translate can give clues to what the techniques are about. And secondly as you become more of a senior member of a club you find yourself coaching newer students and I think knowing the correct names and not going ‘um, you know that one with your right leg over here and the left….’ helps you teach in a credible way. If I look a bit unsure about the name why should anyone trust what I’m saying about anything else.

After running through some basics we spent some time on the kata for our next grading. It was great to have Sensei Colin take us through Bassai Dai and Niseishi. We touched on what a couple of the moves are all about and he showed us what was happening in that situation. Understanding what’s happening really helps to understand how those techniques need to be executed.

What seems clear to me is that I’ve done what probadly a great many karateka do. I placed more importance on being able to do the basics and to feel like I was doing well at the kumite. Subsequently I left my study of kata at understanding the flow of moves, being able to do those moves well and perhaps knowing a few bits of the bunkai.

Now it feels like I’m getting a greater sense on how all the elements fit together and by understanding the value of each you can progress you study in other areas. For example by looking and thinking about what a kata is about and what it’s trying to teach beyond just a set of moves it gets me thinking about how I can be more aware in situations, how I need to work on evasion through my footwork, how I need to look at fitting blocks, strikes and throws together that suit me to list just a few.

I suppose I could dwell on the negative and think ‘well why didn’t I understand that sooner’. But I want to see it as another lesson learnt, new awareness that I need to apply to karate and be able to step back or revisit training and say what else do I need to understand about that, what else is there here that I need to incorporate.

 

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.3

Funakoshi starts by talking about a number of masters who had skills enabling to achieve great feats. Like the fantastically named Makabe the Birdman who he recounts could leap, from a seated position, and plant a kick on the ceiling 8 foot above. He recognises that everyone has natural strengths but he regards a focus on practising feats of skills they enable an avocation, a distraction or diversion, from the true meaning of martial arts. Which I suppose raises the question of what is the true meaning? In this Chapter Funakoshi doesn’t address it explicitly so it’s left for us to ponder.

That feels like a question that we could all have a very different answer for based on our experiences. If practising feats is a distraction, and the practise of feats isn’t something you see mentioned in the lessons or texts of masters or indeed practised in your own clubs then is it a logical step to say that true meaning of martial arts has it’s roots in the training we do, basics, kata, kumite etc. I think so.

So what have I found so far in such training. Well initially it’s a challenge to the body and mind in learning the techniques. Developing the strength, flexibility, stamina, body awareness and muscle memory etc. to execute techniques individually, in combination and in response to opponent’s movements. Developing the mind to overcome the bodies weakness to keep executing when fatigue starts to set in and developing the resolve to keep refining techniques. Then developing the thought processes to move beyond being a student who lets his sensei drive his learning to be somone who searches for his own understanding.

I think that’s were the true meaning lies, in working to perfect the mind and body and gaining so much more than the ability to deliver a strong punch or kick.

One of the stories he tells is of the master Matsumura and his wife Tsurujo. He explains how they met from her being a truly great martial artist and challenging him as she sought to test her own skills. I wonder why he includes this story. I think Funakoshi wanted to provide an equally strong female role model to show that Karate is for everybody.

The story of Matsumura and Tsurujo also mentions the towns of Shuri and Naha. He describes how the redlight district of Naha was the place were young students would go to test their new fighting skills. I’m intrigued why the karate styles of Shuri and Naha differed, see Essence of Karate No.2. Perhaps the reason why will reveal itself.

What do you think? What’s your true meaning of martial arts?

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.