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 zen

The quest for infinite precision

I read ‘The Pyjama Game: A Journey into Judo’ by Mark Law a few months ago. I’m always interested in reading about other martial arts and Mark did a really great job of combining the history, the important figures and his own study together to make an interesting read.

Early on he was talking about the zen-ish concern with detail and style. He talks about how the sensei’s unrelenting demands for infinite precision challenge the student by making everything as difficult as possible. This process crushes the student’s pride and ego, allowing the subconscious to take over and absorb the learning.

The focus on trying to get everything absolutely spot on has certainly felt challenging at points throughout my study of Karate, both Shukokai and Shotokan. I don’t know if that is because sometimes my tall and somewhat inflexible frame doesn’t necessarily lend itself to low deep stances. Or perhaps it is because having never studied any other physical activity to such depth I was unused to the idea of developing my body control to such an extent.

As a higher grade who sometimes assists with teaching students I’ve seen the challenge from the other side. Trying to instruct fellow students to move their feet into the right positions, execute a block in the right way etc. can feel hard work at times. I understand what Mark Law means when he talks about the student’s pride and ego and how it can be a blocker to the student having an open mind to the instruction they are being given.

I can remember those moments when I was filled with anger at my sensei for being worked through set after set of basics because I wasn’t executing one aspect or another as it should. And yes, my sense of ego was tamed and you learn to respect and take on board the instruction and advice being given. The ability to listen to advice and refine your techniques accordingly in a calm and respectful manner is an incredibly valuable one, and one which can be taken away from the dojo and make you a better person in the wider world.

But sometimes it isn’t a skill that comes quickly or easily and often comes through what feels like a very uncomfortably experience. Some nights when I attended Shotokan training  I would be glancing at the clock on the wall willing the minutes to pass more quickly because it was tough, energy sapping work. But the feeling of achievement when you’d stayed the course for another session was a fantastic one.

As a senior grade Karateka taking on more tuition of students I find myself understanding the challenge and the dilemma of teaching fellow students. Having learnt through lesson after lesson of hard work you understand how it feels for the student when the training is tough. But when you know the value of the prize on offer that can be gained through perseverance and dedication I think the responsibility lies equally with student and teacher to work in partnership to help each other.


Me, myself and I…Day 1

I read Moving Zen by CW Nicol recently and there was a little bit of envy in the situation he’d found himself in. Him being in Japan and being able to train every day. Well I’ve got a few days off work this week and I got myself in my garage this morning before breakfast to have half an hour on my bag. I’m going to aim to train every day this week, if there isn’t a Day 2 post you’ll be able to gauge my commitment to this exercise!!! Now having read other martial artists blogs and social media posts I know fellow martial artists put in some serious training time on a weekly basis and I know I’m more of a slow and steady kind of guy but for me my training needs to sit in balance with all the other aspects of my life.

It was really great to work through a few different things in just thirty minutes or so.

To warm up a bit I started by blocking an imaginary attack and then moving through landing some counter attacking moves on the bag at half speed. Just working on finding some counter attacks that worked for me in response to an attack. One thing I tried to incorporate was evasive movement as well as the blocking and countering. I know all too often my path of evasion is straight back rather by moving inside or outside and keeping in a better striking range.

Then I worked on some attacking combinations. Using quicker half steps with feinting punches to tee a strong technique to land on the bag. I always feel pretty clumsy because unless I work it up from a slow speed when I try it fast I lose the flow after the first couple of steps. After getting the steps and punches sorted I worked on making sure I was starting to really use the hip rotation to bring more power. It felt good to make the realisation that I could bring that in and get more power. It made me realise I could bring in an extra feinting strike through using that body rotation.

Then I ran through some basic strikes and kicks. I positioned myself side on for the yoko geris and that got me thinking about using an ushiro geri in response to an oncoming attack from the side as it would be far more powerful so I practised a few of those.

So it felt really energising to not just practise quite a few different things but to spot some improvements and have some extra ideas popping into my head.

Who knows maybe there’s something in this everyday thing :-).