Sensei Toru Shimoji Seminar
Sensei Toru Shimoji Seminar Part I
Recently here in NL, we spent Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday morning in the Dojo with Sensei Toru Shimoji, a world-renowned Karate teacher and a lifelong student himself.
Sensei’s thinking is that to progress, we all need to be “Martial Artists in Pursuit.” We need to be doers, thinkers, analysts, and testers - we need to seek knowledge. We need to test what we are learning, and we need to disassemble and reassemble every technique we have. We need to challenge what we know.
Blindly accepting what we are told as Karate truth doesn’t benefit us, nor the people we pass it on to. Born in Okinawa and having trained with a plethora of Karate Masters, including those we often refer to as some of the original teachers of the art, Sensei is able to discuss what was, and what is, in the karate realm.
Clear The Table
According to Sensei Shimoji, at the very outset of everything we do, we need to “clear the table.” Whether we are doing a drill up and down the floor, or learning a new Kata, we need to start with a clean slate: let go of what we think we know and see it as a brand-new endeavor. To learn something new, you need to let go of your preconceived notions and presumptions and test new theories. Start with the bare minimum and build up to the desired result. This applies to even the fundamentals, the basics. Just because we have been doing things a certain way forever doesn’t mean we are doing them right.
I understood this in my other work as a business analyst and in my hobby as a guitar technician, but I had never applied it fully to Karate.
For decades, the deep, wide stances were the first thing taught, and they were policed like they were the single hook that karate hung off.
Well, we were wrong, and we have countless hip and knee replacements to prove we were wrong. Yes, the stance is the foundation of our karate, but not the literal detriment of our joints. Further to that, techniques that make us work against our own bodies slow down movements and hinder fluidity.
As for clearing the table, for example, a few weeks back I started a restoration on a 1958 Harmony acoustic guitar. The guitar could have been given a new set of strings and made playable as it was, but without a full restoration, it would never sound like it was meant to. It had cracked tone bars inside, some of the old hide glue was brittle and the bridge that holds the strings was lifting from the body. To get back to the true musical capacity of the guitar it needed to be stripped and reassembled.
Sensei had us rethinking our front stance with oi tzuki – a fundamental technique in Karate but one I have never felt was efficient and clean. Prior to the step forward, he had us consider three areas: the hip/groin, the knee/hamstring, and the ball/heel of the foot.
The mastery of any technique comes down to the bottom half of the body.
In mentally considering the hip/groin in the front stance, we were forced to ‘feel’ where the tension was. In a left front stance for oi tzuki, it isn’t enough to just have the right hip forward; the left hip/groin has to be engaged to create a symmetrical balance. Sensei also encouraged us to think of the knee/hamstring as a unit. He brought to our attention the image of a horse’s front leg pawing at the ground to get us thinking about how the hamstring works. With this in mind, it was easier to practice engaging the hamstring in order to balance the front knee as we stepped forward for the technique.
So, was this depth of analysis necessary in order to practice a seemingly easy-looking technique?
Yes. For anyone interested in making techniques more fluid and efficient, this kind of analysis is crucial, and it has been missing from our Art by many of us for far too long. Learning not to fight your own body when practicing karate is the next level of understanding.
We also looked at the position of the foot and weight points. Again, we were encouraged to attempt the step and punch while experimenting with the foot in different positions and putting weight on various points. It became clear that having the weight more to the ball of the foot and the outer edge of the bottom of the foot meant a more fluid transition in the movement, making it easier to maintain balance and not have the knee ‘fall in.’
Particularly as we age, this sort of knowledge will allow us to generate power and speed without requiring enormous energy.
Professional golfers spend their lifetimes cutting ‘fat’ from their swing, including finding a means of generating power and following a natural path of least resistance on the follow-through. They can spend a lifetime swinging the golf club without this sort of analysis and never get much better.
Karate is no different. I believe we have a duty to refine the art, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of those we intend to pass it on to.
So, old habits may be hard to break, but they are a little less so if we begin by clearing the table.