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 Sparring

James Bond’s Systema

I recently finished reading the new James Bond novel ‘Carte Blanche’ by Jeffrey Deaver, which is well worth a read. In it Bond gets involved in a few hand to hand scrapes and it’s mentioned that Bond has learnt Systema. In the book it’s described as a combat system originating with the Russian Cossacks and then refined by the Russians.

In this post I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of Systema what provoked a bit of thought that the book describes it’s purpose as being to evade and block the opponent’s strikes with the aim of tiring them out and then to take control when they have exhausted themselves.

Now I accept what I’ve read is fiction when the author can enjoy creating something for entertainment safe in the knowledge that the hero is in actual danger, but still I found the approach interesting.

I don’t position myself as having any great knowledge about self-defence but what I’ve read from those far more educated than myself is that such encounters are frenetic, messy affairs and far removed from the more controlled to and fro of sparring in the dojo. I can’t imagine that it would be a good idea to prolong such an encounter by aiming to tire an attacker by seeking to successfully block each of their strikes. The odds of doing so against a determined attacker probably don’t stack up well.

So perhaps it’s an approach worth trying out in sparring. I know when I trained in Shotokan Karate there was a strong focus in sparring of not being wasteful, not throwing technique after technique that wasn’t troubling the opponent. Sparring bouts were much more cagey affairs and almost felt as exhausting mentally as physically because you were guarding against an attack that when it came would be serious in it’s intent.

Recently in my current club we’ve had a few sessions which have included sparring and as a more senior student we pair with the juniors and work with them to improve their confidence and techniques. Generally I would allow them to attempt to strike me more and so would spend more time blocking than striking. As a result after a couple of minutes I would have I’ve exerted myself less than them through this more defensive approach. So the Systema approach mentioned in the book seemed to ring true as a fighting strategy.

I have the benefit of being fairly tall so in sparring if I can keep my opponents at a safe distance they really have to work hard to land a telling strike. Perhaps as a result I think I do tend to have a more defensive style of fighting. But it still feels that I’m controlling the flow of the sparring by enticing them to commit to attacks.

I’m interested to try this approach more next time we have some sparring in training. Sometimes there can be a tendency to fall into a very polite you attack then I’ll attack kind of rhythm. Against opponents who do have a tendency to try and execute quite a few techniques it could be useful to let them tire themselves.

As fit as a butcher’s dog!

Well perhaps not quite, and I’m using the meaning of this old saying whereby the butcher’s dog wasn’t the fittest because it was treated to all the scraps and leftovers, but I was feeling the pace at training on Saturday.

We kicked off with a bit of sparring, which I kept quite light because I was partnering up with some of the junior grades. Then we had some padwork and I worked myself quite hard, working at a higher tempo then would be expected at a grading. Then we wrapped up working through combinations and kata and that was when I started to feel the fatigue a little.

The gradings at our club, particularly for the higher grades, have quite a number of different sections so a pretty reasonable level of fitness is required and I’m probadly a little short of that at the moment.

Training twice a week will help but in preparation for the grading I’ll switch my weekly weights session to a karate cardio session.

I gave it a go yesterday and am fairly happy I’ve got the start of a format that’ll work:-

  • I kicked off with 10 minutes on the Schwinn exercise bike to get warmed up.
  • A quick set of stretches.
  • Then four sets of basic combinations, 10 reps each side at a strong intensity.
  • Then basic techniques on my freestanding punch/kick bag. Gyaku zukis, mae geris, oi zukis, mawashi geris and uracken uchis, 10 reps each side again at a strong intensity.
  • Then I worked through some combinations at close range of the bag to try and replicate some of the focus mitt sections.
  • Finished with a final session on the bag but working from medium to close range to make it feel a bit like sparring.

The whole session lasted about 45 minutes and I was working up a nice sweat and feeling like I was testing my fitness at points so I’ll now add in more reps in future sessions to push myself.

While working on my fitness was the primary objective it was good to have an extra session working on different techniques on and off the bag.

What do you do to keep your fitness at a good level?

 

Developing my skills on the freestanding punchbag

Planning to have a session in the garage with my freestanding punch/kickbag tomorrow. I’ve used it quite a bit but it’s only been in the last dozen or so sessions I feel I’ve started to get a better understanding of how to use it to practise and develop my skills.

Some of the different routines I’ll run through are:-

  • Warming up – at about a quarter to half speed I’ll run through an improvised sequence of techniques, working to use the full range of stances and good execution of techniques.
  • Practising basics – I’ll run through the full range of striking techniques, doing about ten reps of each and practising on both sides of the body.
  • Working on kick height – My lateral flexibility isn’t great so I like to work on my mawashi and yoko geris to try and improve the height I can execute them at, I’ve got a couple of lines of tape around the bag to mark the level I’m seeking to reach with each.
  • Practising sparring combinations – I like to work on my footwork and putting a few techniques together with the last technique landing on the bag. It helps me to find technique combinations that feel comfortable and to try and improve execution of others.

I like having sessions with the bag. Having a session on my own gives me the opportunity to work on things following club training sessions or to prepare for future training.

You can feel and see when a technique connects well and work to improve it. My bag stands on a spring which gives it a certain amount of movement so I can build in some element of working with it’s movement and timing techniques. Plus I feel like I’ve had a good workout afterwards which always feels good.

Do you use a bag for practise? Got any good routines?

More than just a purple toe

We’ve done quite a bit of sparring in training the last few weeks. As well as a nicely bruised toe, due to an enthusiastic clash of kicks, from this weeks training I’ve been giving thought to how I can make sure my sparring is linked in with all the other aspects of my training.

I know countless times I’ve spent time in a lesson working on executing basics and then switched into doing something like padwork, focus mitt work or sparring and lost an awareness of executing my techniques as well as I can do. Working with some of the younger students it struck me that perhaps they didn’t yet have an understanding of the role sparring plays in their karate.

I find myself understanding how different elements need to link up and help my overall improvement. Sparring gives me a chance to develop my execution of techniques against a live opponent (I started to say unpredictable but then stopped myself). Against my fellow senior grades I definitely had to work hard to try and create create the opening to land a good technique.

Some of my opponents were more attacking than others which meant if I could block and counter well than openings were there. Others were more defensive so I decided to try and create some openings by moving their defensive arms.

I enjoyed the Shotokan system of kumite development which moves through a variety of fixed kumite drills into more free sparring. In Shukokai we have much more padwork and focus mitt work. I can’t quite put it into words but early on sparring felt like the endgame. Sparring was what we learnt the techniques for, so we could show off some snazzy kicks.

But for me now I feel I undertstand how it stands side by side with other learning techniques like basics, kata etc. in helping me get better.

Does that feel like a similar experience or did you get what sparring was all about?

The plan for Jan

I want to start polishing up katas in preparation for the July grading, so this month I’ll work on Bassai Dai and Pinan Shodan.

I’ll need to put together a combination and padwork routine for the grading and I want to use this as an opportunity to practise some kata applications.

I have a copy of Iain Abernethy’s Bunkai Jutsu so want to finish that to start to understand some of the concepts around practical karate.

I’d like to look at the applications of the Pinan/Heian katas so I’ll practise the shotokan versions of Shodan & Nidan.

I also want to continue my ongoing fight to get my mawashi and yoko geris to a respectable height and work on my movement in sparring to evade strikes and get into good striking positions.