Monthly Archives: February 2015

“Focus Daniel-san, Focus!”

I think perhaps the reason people still like the Karate Kid movie so much is that there are bits of wisdom in it.  This one from Mr. Miyagi when he was teaching Daniel a hand technique is one of those. Focus here meant to clear your head and concentrate on getting the technique correct.

jeff hutchings shotokan focus energy karate techniqueLast night in class, Sensei Lee used it a different way: he taught focus in terms of fine-pointing your energy, directing it correctly, having the right intensity on it and draining it without letting is dampen. Essentially he was teaching us to deliver a technique efficiently to the opponent: in a direct line with no loss of energy from sloppiness in the delivery. Sloppiness might mean an arm that leaves the chamber during a punch and waivers slightly off path before it meets the target. It might mean not tucking the foot up enough before delivering a back kick. In either case focus is lost, and so is the energy.

As a suitable example, Sensei Lee slapped the Dojo floor with the flat of his foot and simply said: “Splashing energy,” and used his hands to illustrate dispersing energy. He then set his foot down with the same intensity, but this time with the ball of his foot making contact first and said “Focused energy. Give your energy direction.”

“Splashing energy” won’t do the damage that focused energy will. As Sempai Howse said last night, it’s the difference between getting hit with a sheet of paper or nailed with the tip of the pencil.

Focus, efficiency, strength, directed energy, penetration after impact: That’s Shotokan.

Is the Yoko Geri Keage a useful late addition?

Yoko Geri Keage, or side snap kick.

I’v410.gife often wondered the value in the side snap kick. Is it effective? How strong is it? It is no doubt flashy and sounds and looks great, but how practical is it for real.

According to Bruce Clayton, the only sensible use for it is a snap kick to the groin when an opponent opens themselves up with a high kick of their own. I can also see it used as an in-close finishing kick if the opponent is down or on the way down, or as a vital point kick if you can land it somewhere like an underarm or throat.

Research has shown me that the kick was never an original kick in Karate, but came about in the 1930’s when tournaments disallowed kicks below the waist. Historically the side kick we now use in Kanku Dai, etc., was originally a front kick which can be seen if we study the Goju Ryu karate style.

As Dr. Clayton says, the Yoko Geri Keage is a Shotoism, then.

Karate, like life, isn’t about right or wrong – it’s about doing what you do well.


It’s the third principle of the Dojo Kun, the five guiding principles of Karate compiled from Funakoshi’s belief that Karate was as much a matter of the mind and character as of the body: Endeavor

Dojo Kun Jeff Hutchings Shotokan EndaevorA loaded word in itself that we typically associate with striving, trying to reach a goal, or progressing forward toward something we believe in. In most cases Endeavor is used in the sense of what we should be trying to do. But what about what we should be endeavoring not to do?

Endeavor, is eclectic, I believe. If we are to apply it as a guiding principle we ought to be aware of our behavior (inside and outside the dojo), not only in our attempts to do well, but in our attempts not to harm another.

Endeavor then: not to offend; not to slight; not to oppress; not to belittle; not to impede; not to embarrass.

Words, as R. Sharma said, can inspire or destroy.In the karate world, fortunately, for every one who uses the hammer of harshness as they see fit, there are a thousand more that choose tact and encouragement.

This then, is a shout out to the latter.

Oss! to the teachers who commend  rather than condemn, motivate rather than denounce.

Oss! To those who Endeavor…

Jiyu Kumite. Is it hurting our Karate?

I’m not one to try and sell anyone an idea or an opinion, but when it comes to Karate I don’t mind singing its praises. Karate has been beneficial for me on a series of levels and it is a significant part of my life. The physical benefits; the mental benefits; the bonds I’ve formed and the friends I train with; the fascination around karate itself, and it gives me excellent material for writing.

Oftentimes though, what I hear from potential Karate practitioners is that they have no interest in participating in a contact sport, and their understanding is that karate is just that. In most cases, of course, they are right.

kumiteFree sparring didn’t exist is traditional Okinawan karate, but became prominent as karate moved to Japan and became a competitive sport, especially between the universities of the day. Free fighting had a particular allure to it amongst the younger generations. One prominent Okinawan Sensei said that in free sparring we are simply trying to satisfy ego.

Shotokan in many dojos does promote Jiyu Kumite without protective gear – even dojos that no longer participate in formal competition. Herein lies the dilemma. Although Karateka are not supposed to make contact, the reality is that they do – and people get hurt.

Even if we accept that free sparring makes your karate better (I don’t), are we limiting ourselves in terms of attracting people to the Dojo because, as working stiffs like the rest of us, they can’t afford to (nor have any interest in)  getting knocked around in the Dojo? Are those of us already immersed in karate training opening ourselves up to unnecessary injury?

Karate…always something to ponder.

Good Karate: The illusion you can feel

Last night as I got to do some Jiyu Ippon Kumite (see picture of the legendary Stan Schmidt and Jeff Hutchings Jiyu Ippon KumiteNakayama Sensei) with a 4th Dan and a 5th Dan in my dojo I realized something: if your opponent is adept, he isn’t a moving target, he’s an illusion. Sound like a bit of a stretch? It isn’t.

Strictly speaking an illusion is a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses. The 4th Dan I worked with last night was shorter than me, a solid guy, strong, and with a stance rooted like a mature maple. The 5th Dan was taller, had more of a reach, and was also very strong. With both opponents I noticed something. We were doing serious Ippon – the attacker does exactly that: attack straight in to the middle – and I was noticing that as I launched my attack, my opponents weren’t moving right off the mark. I could launch in with my Jodan punch and I’d be into their action space before they’d actually defend. Here’s where the illusion was.  To me, already well into my attack, it felt like my target was right there in front of me. It wasn’t! With effortless movement they were, in an instant, outside my striking range with their counter already delivered, and my attacking arm feeling it!

Their movements were swift, supremely efficient and effective. They had moved very little, in fact, hadn’t moved until the last milli-second, and had delivered the block with absolute body connection: they weren’t counter attacking with their arms; they were doing so with their bodies.

As we were training, the senior belt teaching the class simply said, “don’t pop the attacker’s arm, simply redirect it. No big movement required.”

I left the dojo last night with two thoughts: I had come a long way, and I had a long way to go.

Morote Waza

Lately my fascination with karate – there is a new one every few months or so – is the open hand, and in studying and researching open hand methods and techniques I have become familiar once again with the obvious: we have two hands.

In Shotokan, at an early stage in our training we do fairly well in recognizing that the hand that is not the lead hand is the second half of balancing or leveraging a technique. We accept Newton’s third law here (for every action there is an equal and opposite re-action), and we generally tend to get it right; for example, we rip the draw arm back to the hip bone when we deliver a basic punch.

But this isn’t basic.

Prior to this renewed interest in karate being a two-handed Art  ( we often get caught up in the idea that one hand actually delivers a blow)  I got a little complacent with the second hand as Karate-ka often do, I think.  AJeff Hutchings Shotokan Karatet bottom, there is no technique in Shotokan where the hand not delivering the technique is not somehow either engaged directly or indirectly. It is protecting your body from a counter attack; it is ready to deliver the next attack; it is grabbing and holding the opponent; it is delivering its own force to a second attacker or to another part of the same opponent’s body.

Have a look at the picture. Musashi didn’t fight with one hand on the sword and the other one flailing in the air or tucked in his pocket. He used two weapons or he used both as a single weapon.

Interestingly, he never lost a fight…