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 Shukokai

The way for all?

This post is rewriting itself as I go :-). It’s initial starting point was that it was nice to see a fellow Karateka who has returned to our club after some time away on Tuesday night. I was going to write that it says something about the value Karate can have to someone that they want to return and have that enjoyment of training back in their life. And I was thinking about all my fellow students, each of them very different from the next.

This was very visible on Tuesday in a way. Sensei David had the focus mitts out and, working with a partner, we were asked to put together our own routine but including some common techniques. Each pair then demonstrated and it was good to see the very different routines and see how they were executed differently also. Some students for example looking very graceful and poised, others struck with more vigour and power and it was also good to see some students including some grappling which made their routines feel a rougher round the edges.

And I was thinking about beginning as a student of the club back in 1997 and I’m not sure any other students from that time remain with the club, and admittedly I’ve had a break in training with the club also. So I was writing a post about how Shukokai means the way for all and how I think it’s one of the strengths of Karate that a club can be made up of men, women and children of all ages and physical capabilities all having a very positive experience.

But when I look at the evidence of the membership of our club over a 16 year period clearly a good number of people haven’t fell it was the way for them enough to maintain their training. I suppose I find myself feeling that I have no choice but to place a question mark about it being a way for all if it’s students would appear to lack longevity in their training. Or is that less about Karate and more about it’s students and the challenge of balancing life and that commitment to Karate?

Against that I weigh the evidence that I’ve seen a great many of people enjoy training and develop from being novices to very good Karateka so does it matter if that training is finite in it’s duration?

Any thoughts?

 

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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.

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?

Lyoto Machida’s Karate Style

I’ve watched a couple of Lyoto Machida‘s UFC bouts because I was interested to see how he fought given his karate background. He certainly seemed to have a distinctive style. I didn’t see his last bout against Ryan Bader but I came across this really interesting Bleacher Report breakdown of his karate style. It resonated on a number of points perhaps unsurprisingly given Machida’s father is a Shotokan Karate Master.

The first aspect of his style they look at is Machida’s stance and how it makes it more difficult for his opponents to strike him as it keeps his head further back and his torso turned more side on so that it represents a narrower target area. I can almost hear both my Shukokai and Shotokan senseis telling me to twist my hips more when in front stance for just that reason.

Next up they look at his evasive footwork. They describe how when an opponent launches an attack he simply pivots to the side on his lead foot to move off the line of attack. We practised a lot of this type of movement in our Shotokan fixed kumite (sparring), mainly in response to front and side kicks. In one quick move it took you out of danger of the strike while still leaving you in perfect range to launch a counter strike.

The breakdown looks at his ability to place all his weight into a counter strike by using the classic stepping punch. Launching strongly off his back leg, stepping through and letting all that momentum and power flow through into his punch. When we’re practising reverse punches, gyaku zukis, on the pad we strike it from a stationary stance. You really see the difference in the power of the impact when you swtich to stepping punch, oi zukis, and the extra momentum and shift in bodyweight is added.

They actually then move on to look at Machida’s reverse punch. The twist of the hip is an important aspect in giving the reverse punch it’s power. The other thing the writer mentions is that the punches’ starting point low down by the hip makes it difficult for the opponent to spot which isn’t something I’d really thought about before but it seems like a reasonable idea, especially if you occupy the attention with the leading hand.

Lyoto Machida’s kicks then come into focus, particularly how he will start to throw a front kick and then shift it into a roundhouse. It’s a technique both my Shukokai and Shotokan senseis can perform far more smoothly than I. I find it easier to fully perform the front kick, drop the leg back and then perform a full roundhouse. But again it’s a technique I recognise easily from the dojo.

Finally the report references the spirit of the more traditional martial arts and how if you choose it can stay with you throughout your life. After being a student of Karate for over 15 years I certainly recognise that longevity. In some ways I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I can learn.

It was great to see the article report on how techniques I recognise from the Karate I’ve been taught are being used to great effect by Lyoto Machida in the UFC Octagon. To me it reaffirms that when done well Karate has some extremely effective techniques.

 

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?

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?