Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dig Deep

karate

“A primary principle of Budo is the destruction of a person in one blow. Given that karate is no exception from this rule, it is therefore that the training must be severe.” Budo the Art of Killing 1978

Severe training? How many of us would consider our training as severe? Does it need to be? Are we pushing ourselves enough? Should we find a balance?

Sensei Wayne Lee, 7th Dan, says that there are times when we need to push ourselves to exhaustion and then still find a way to continue, that this is where we cultivate a Budo spirit.

I think it’s possible to cheat in terms of the physical element of modern Karate, but in doing so, we’re only cheating ourselves.  In reality Musashi was right when he said ‘You can only fight the way you practice.’

Fight here not only refers to physical confrontation. Fight is the stance you take when life throws you a curve ball. Once or twice a week in the dojo where you’re simply going through the movements without any concerted effort won’t develop your karate much, let alone anything else.

In terms of training yourself to be strong, I know a man who underwent major, multiple surgeries that would have left most men barely mobile, let alone active. How do I know this guy? He’s the Sensei in my Dojo.

It is my experience that you’ll never find your personal treasure if you don’t dig deep.

Balance

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Karate is Kata. Kata is Karate. That’s my own opinion, of course. An element of justification for this comes in the principle of alternating body mechanics: fast and slow, hard and soft, or compressed and relaxed. In Kumite we see these, just as we do in Kata. There are times when we need elements of speed, followed by compressed muscles, followed by relaxation. Then there are times when we see slower, softer, more deliberate techniques, sometimes followed by muscle contraction and relaxation again. These are elements of the complementary early-day karate styles of  Shorin-ryu (forms linked to natural movements and natural breathing, and Shorei-ryu, characterized by strong, rooted movements.

Yin and Yang Perhaps? I see Yin and Yang, in part, as the complementary (not opposing) forces of hard and soft.

In my own training I tend to go all Shorei and end up looking choppy and over-strong. I am constantly reminded that Shotokan is unorthodox in some of its principles in that being too tense reduces your speed and fluidity, and yet being too relaxed lessens your power.  You have to find the balance, and there is no better way to do that than find the right tempo in your Kata.

A never ending learning process, this karate stuff!

Martial Arts – Still Relevant?

Have a look at the following statement about Karate from a 15 year old Karate student in the Dojo I train in:

It doesn’t only teach you self-defense, it also has side benefits such as self- discipline and patience and also it makes you physically and mentally stronger.

Self-discipline, patience and physical and mental strength – not things he’s going to get from his iPad or online gaming. For a couple of times a week this young man enters the dojo where there’s no texting, surfing, browsing or YouTube. Now, it goes without saying that there is a place in his life for technology, but as of late technology is turning younger people into one-dimensional life-surfers: it’s becoming their identity.

In my opinion, this is one reason the Dojo is more relevant and necessary now than ever. A true Dojo (there are plenty of pseudo-dojos out there) is a place where you commit yourself to being taught, to respecting others, face time is human to human, and there is a common goal: being better at Karate – being better yourself.

As a friend of mine who is a green belt recently said: “Not everyone gets it, but MA changed my life. This is what I needed.”

Sometimes we get lost in the thinking that technology is our only means to progress, but what is it exactly were trying to progress toward? Satisfaction isn’t attaining a goal that exists in the future. Success is immersing yourself in this moment and enjoying the step you are taking right now.

See you in the Dojo (where we keep it real)…

“Bunkai is the imagination in motion” Peter Lindsay

My obsession lately is with Bunkai, and the breaking down of Kata and examining its limitless number of possible applications. Quite simply, the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. I study the videos of Iian Abernethy and Didier Lupo and I am enthralled. They take what looks to be a simple technique ‘out of the box’ and give it combat application – a new life.

Take for instJion 22-25ance the series of moves in JION pictured here. Defense against a Bo staff? Defense and palm-heel strikes while barreling into an opponent? A block, arm grab, arm break and a throw as pictured below?

Jion

In my humble opinion the answer is Yes: all of the above.

The study of Kata is a whole new world of Karate.

I have two criteria when looking at and applying an application to a move (or moves) in Kata: it has to be simple, it has to work. Face it, tying to apply some fancy move in a competition or a street confrontation will probably get your arse kicked.

I tend to stick with the fighting advice of Sensei Bruce Lee. ‘Avoid it, but if you can’t, get it done!!”

Can you stand up to it?

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It is said that the stances in Shotokan got lower as Yoshitaka Funakoshi (pictured in a kokutsu dachi here) started to put his own touch on Shotokan Kata. Gichin Funakoshi (also pictured here) was said to use a higher, shorter stance.

Either way, we often train in lower stances for a couple of reasons: it strengthens our lower bodies and it drives home the principle of solid contact with the ground.  It’s no secret that a flimsy stance makes for crappy karate, but a rooted, solid stance is a Shotokan hallmark.

I have the pleasure of training with several Karate-ka who are 5th Dan and above, and it becomes immediately clear that when they assume a good Shotokan stance they are essentially immovable, and yet, through years of conditioning the lower body and the body core, can shift and step with impressive speed.  

I liken this to a palm tree that stands strong in gale-force winds. The reason it remains upright? It’s very well rooted.

“When we walk into the Dojo, we’re white belts again.”

This is a statement often reiterated in my Dojo and it makes sense.

WhitebeltThe Dojo is a place of structure and respect. In there, becoming a white belt again has a number of realities. In Kihon (basics) we need to practice the way we did as white belts: long, low stances, FULL sets and big movements. Why? For strengthening and muscle memory; the fact is, if we can get fairly efficient and quick in doing traditional, full techniques, in time our techniques in combat or Kumite will be shorter, faster and more effective.

In listening and copying we need to always be white belts, because the fact of the matter is, our learning doesn’t end, and there is only one true way to listen: with an empty mind: with no preconceived notions or judgments. There is no place in a Shotokan Dojo for attitudes of I know this, or I’ve heard that before. Shunryu Suzuki said that there are few possibilities in the mind of an expert, but many in the mind of a beginner.

Not the least important in the concept of always being a white belt is this: respect. Typically, a white belt in the Dojo exhibits characteristics of such things as always being attentive, responsiveness and an eagerness to learn. This should never change. So, the next time you’re in the Dojo and Shugo is called, run to the line, look prepared and aware and become a sponge, because the next hour or so will be filled with Karate golden nuggets…That is, if you listen.

“Your arm is a stream; your fist becomes a stone” Nishiyama Sensei

Makiwara_21In any Karate fight chances are you’re going to deliver your attack with your fists. Jab, reverse punch, etc., projected in the classic linear Shotokan fashion directly to the target. What you make contact with will be determined by a number of factors including your opponents ability to protect himself, your aim, or perhaps even your choice of target. As far as your fists are concerned, there is a great difference between making contact with a skull versus the solar plexus.

The question is what happens when you make contact?

In most Karate classes we stress control and barely, if ever, make full contact (for obvious reasons). This begs the question as to what happens when we are in a situation where we have to start landing the strikes that we so arduously practice in the Dojo.

One of my Senpai always comments “You’ve got to be hitting something.” And he is right. Without training with a heavy bag or a Makiwara, how can we test our sense of distance or balance? How do we train our bodies in terms of bone alignment and muscle contraction without the resistance of a striking bag or board?

Simpler still, how do we know the fist we’ve been punching the air with for hours on end will stand up to the jolt we send through it when we make contact with something as dense as an opponent’s jaw bone.

Of course, Makiwara or bag training comes with its cautions, but without ever driving our punches into something with significant resistance, how can we know anything about the power we’re projecting or the way our bodies are handling the feedback.

Pretty punches and nice form look great, but you might want to think about what happens when it comes down to real hand-to-hand combat…