Category Archives: JKA Courses

JKA England Spring 2011 Gasshuku

Course instructors: Tanaka Masahiko 8th Dan, Osaka Yoshiharu 8th Dan, Sawada Kazuhiro 7th Dan, Inokoshi Yusuke 3rd Dan, Ohta Yoshinobu 7th Dan

Unlike previous international courses where we have studied several of the kata, the emphasis this time was more on basics and combinations which then flowed into kumite drills. Of the kata which we did practise, the application of the moves was carefully explained and demonstrated.

Each day’s training was split into three lessons. The first hour consisted of high repetitions of physically demanding basics. The second and third sessions featured either basic technique, kumite or kata. Bassai Dai, Jion and Empi were the main focus for brown/black belts. Nidan also covered Hangetsu and Gankaku; Sandan and above studied Sochin with Osaka Sensei.

For our first day, Osaka Sensei led us through sets of basic techniques which were great exercise for both mind and body. Stepping with gyaku zuki in different directions, importance was placed on when to pivot on the heel or ball of the foot and use of the inner thighs to accompany hip rotation. Osaka sensei also reminded us of the importance of using all parts of the body in harmony, avoiding the mistake of ‘disjointed technique’. The latter point was reiterated often throughout the course.

Sawada Sensei demonstrated applying pressure when facing an opponent during kumite – continually pushing oneself forwards until the other person felt forced to launch an attack, thereby creating an opening in their own defences. Sensei had us practise lots of combinations with different partners, the final one using gedan barai with a step-in to take down the opponent. Great fun.

Tanaka Sensei gave the impression of being rather displeased by the black belts. After informing us on day two of the course that he had been “secretly” watching each of us practising Jion on the previous day (cue the miming of binoculars… finger wagging and head shaking), Sensei made us do Heian Shodan – “Back to the beginning!” But while he was firm and often scolding of the senior grades, kyu grades spoke of how inspiring Tanaka Sensei was and how much they had enjoyed his lessons.

We enjoyed an upbeat lesson with Inokoshi Sensei taking us through the kata Enpi – demonstrating correct technique while highlighting common mistakes to be avoided.
He also took the first lesson of the last day for basics and kumite exercises. It was already clear by now why Inokoshi Sensei is a world kumite champion. But if there was any doubt at this point, there certainly wasn’t afterwards. With his deep stances, fast, clean, committed attacks and slick footwork, we could all but try to keep up with him.

If you didn’t attend this time and haven’t been to one of these courses before, you are missing a great training opportunity which is impossible to recreate at club level.

Three hours training per day for four days might seem a little excessive for some people and it is quite a big commitment – karate does require dedication. The first hour of basics every day was exhausting for all of us, but there is great camaraderie to be had in getting through that challenge together. Hundreds of students, senior grades and instructors alike, pushing themselves past what they thought was the limit of their ability.

There is a vital lesson here for our karate training, which will help us face the challenges of life itself:
No matter how hard it gets or how tired we feel, we must never give up.


JKA England All Grades Course, March 2011

Two hours of sensible driving brought us to Bath University for three hours training.

As usual, Ohta Sensei led us through some very challenging basics, emphasising how the whole body moves with a technique and how this can best be applied in different directions. Then partner work, defending against a range of different punches and kicks.

After a water break, we were split into several groups. Sensei kept the dan grades together for more kumite: one combination involved twisting the body with a punch to make distance, an accent punch mid step and yet another punch to finish. The key was in the rhythm and the timing – breaking the rhythm but keeping the timing.

Sensei also explained different ways of moving and the trends being seen among the younger generation of JKA kumite champions in Japan.

After telling us we could counter with any technique in response to one particular combination, Sensei demonstrated using mawashi geri AND ushiro mawash geri (both jodan). This was seemingly effortless as always, with perfect technique and a big smile! (Like most of the other participants, I had to keep it simpler.)

After some more water (lots, actually) and a banana, came kata. Groups were subdivided yet again for Heian through to Tekki, Bassai Dai, Jion, Empi, Nijushiho and Bassai Sho.

So there goes another great course. One pizza (each) later and we’re back in the car, on the way home. Unfortunately, the nice looking ice cream farm and tearoom which we saw on our way in was closed by the time we made our way out of Bath. No matter – you can’t beat the motorway service stations…


JKA England All Grades Course, December 2010

Takushoku Daigaku Karate Club (or ‘Takudai’ for short) is renowned for the intensity and quality of its practice. This Japanese university club has produced numerous champions and JKA instructors. At the December course in Hatfield we were fortunate to have a special visitor present in Tsuyama Katsunori Sensei 8th dan – the head karate coach of Takushoku, a director of the Japan Karate-do Federation and special advisor to JKA.

Takudai can count JKA England’s very own Ohta Sensei 7th dan among its alumni. We were spoilt for quality in that he was also delivering instruction at this course. In addition, Tsuyama Sensei was ably assisted by Richard Heselton 4th dan, who hails from Yorkshire in the UK but who has lived in Japan since 1995. Richard Sensei captained the Takudai club from 2002-2004 and was this year’s 3rd place winner for Kumite at the JKA All Japan Championships. The more observant might also have spotted Richard Sensei appearing as one of the baddies in the karate movie ‘High Kick Girl’ !

We started off by practising kihon (basic techniques) together, progressing from single techniques to longer combinations. Then participants were split into groups according to grade. Tsuyama Sensei and Richard Sensei led the Dan grades through kumite drills, after which there was an opportunity to focus on kata. Those who were participating in the dan grading due to take place later in the day had chosen to perform Bassai Dai, Jion, Empi and Niijushiho. Therefore, each senior instructor was allocated one of these kata and asked to lead a group. Kyu grades were taught separately and practised kata from the Heian series.

After the course had concluded, it was rather tempting to pop to nearby Hatfield House to inspect some fine examples of Jacobean craftmanship. Or, let’s be honest now – perhaps the bright lights of the Hatfield Galleria shopping centre were even more appealing. But we decided to forego these delights and instead stayed back at the sports complex for awhile to watch the dan grading, which provided a useful insight for our kyu grades.

JKA England All Grades Course, October 2010

According to Wikipedia, Walton on Thames was used as the location for a number of Monty Python sketches filmed during the 1970s. I’d like to think that this might have included the “Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit” sketch, in which John Cleese advises a group of martial arts students on how to deal with unorthodox attacks.

Rolling forward to the year 2010 and the 24th of October, the combination of fruit and martial arts could again be found in Walton on Thames, specifically at the JKA All Grades Course held at the Elmbridge Excel Leisure Complex. However, on this occasion the bananas and dried mango slices were strictly for snack use only. After all, when you are exerting yourself with an intensive session of kihon, kata and kumite, you need all the energy you can get.

The 1st hour’s worth of training was led by Ohta Sensei and other JKA England instructors assisted with the teaching as the afternoon progressed. The acoustic in the room made it a little difficult to hear all the instructions, but as usual it was possible to learn a lot from Sensei’s fluid demonstration of how to use the hips, ankles and body weight efficiently. For 9th to 4th Kyu students, there was a chance to practise the kata and sparring sequences that will be needed for the forthcoming JKA England Kyu Grades Championship. A feature of the training for those from 3rd to 1st Kyu was a chance to practise katas Empi and Jion, providing a refreshing change from Bassai Dai.

We had an enjoyable day training together at this course. Well done to all who attended!


P.S. As for the topic of ‘Self Defence Against Fruit’, those who are interested to learn more can take part in a virtual lesson via this link.

JKA England Summer 2010 Gasshuku

In karate, when we are trying to get things right, we often focus on trying to achieve a perfect final position. This is particularly the case in JKA karate, where there is particular emphasis on attaining correct form. But what is just as important as the end ‘snapshot’, is consideration of how one gets there – i.e. how we make the transition from one posture to the next. With this in mind, one of the themes set for this year’s special JKA England summer course was ‘correct movement’.

This year the guest instructors were Ueki Sensei 8th Dan, Kawawada Sensei 7th Dan and Imamura Sensei 7th Dan.

Through the various sessions led by our visiting instructors from JKA Headquarters and by Ohta Sensei 7th Dan, we paid particular attention to the different ways in which we could move our bodies efficiently from the start to finish of various techniques. Expansion and contraction of the body, inner thigh tension and balance transfer were some of the concepts we worked on. We also considered the most effective ways of using the ankle, heel and forefoot, including some ‘workarounds’ to use for those with less flexible ankles.

Sensei Ohta explained to the kyu grade students that when trying to learn the correct path to a technique, it can be useful to think of it as composed of multiple frozen pictures from a movie. For example, during Sensei’s earlier studies, while there wan’t much around in the way of karate video, he was able to study ‘cine-camera’ footage that provided a frame by frame view on the movements. Breaking down a technique into a series of well-defined intermediate positions, and blending these together smoothly, can be a useful method of training the body to follow the correct course of movement.

Through polishing our basic techniques we were able to set the groundwork for a better quality of movement in kumite and kata. Kumite drills incorporated adjustment of distance through changes to stance and angle of attack. Kyu grades studied all Heian kata plus Tekki Shodan in depth, and Dan grades worked on Bassai, Kanku, Chinte, Gojushiho Sho, Sochin, Empi and Jion.

A handful of Shiranamikai students joined us on every day of the course, some training for a day’s training and a couple opting for the full three day course. It really pleased us to see club members getting the most out of this opportunity. Regular training at club level is the core of our karate training, but the wealth of knowledge and inspiration gained from these courses will really help you to advance to the next level.

JKA Czech Republic 2010 Gasshuku

In July my friend Sarka and I attended the Czech JKA’s annual summer camp: ‘Gasshuku Czech Republic’. ‘Gasshuku’ 合宿 is a Japanese term meaning ‘a time of lodging together’. In karate, you can think of a gasshuku as a sort of mini-break, where we get together in order to train a little bit harder than usual. Eating, drinking and parties usually form a very important part of the programme too.

The Czech Gasshuku 2010 was held in Sporice, near Chomutov, which is about a 40 minute car journey from Prague airport and in total lasted 6 days. Our commitment to compete in the JKA England Nationals over the 1st weekend of July meant that we could only attend the final 3 days. But what an action packed 3 days they were! The training schedule was divided by grade into groups, with each group scheduled to take part in a morning and afternoon session, each session lasting 90 minutes. Dan grades had the option of participating in all the sessions, so for the super keen there was the opportunity to attend 6 sessions per day. On arrival at the Gasshuku, it was a pleasure to meet Sarka’s first instructor, Michal, and other members of his club. They welcomed us into their group during the Gasshuku, making the experience all the more enjoyable.

Visiting instructors from JKA Headquarters were Naka Tatsuya Sensei 7th Dan JKA, Okuma Koichiro Sensei 5th Dan JKA, and Takahashi Yuko Sensei 3rd Dan JKA. Naka Sensei had visited England earlier in the year for the JKA England Spring International Course. We were excited to have a chance to learn more from this talented instructor and former karate champion. Okuma Sensei and Takahashi Sensei have both had considerable success in international JKA competition in recent years and we were eager to experience their training methods.

There were many memorable lessons. I particularly enjoyed practising kata Nijushiho led by Naka sensei, developing the wave-like rhythm of the opening sequence and the control and coordination needed for the tsukami uke – yoko kekomi – gyaku tsuki sequences.

A kumite footwork session with Takahashi Yuko Sensei was also enjoyable, where the emphasis was on moving naturally and quickly. Sensei also inspired us with a reminder of the importance of positive thinking and self-belief. She urged each of us to treat every new day as an opportunity to improve, remembering that we all have the capacity to get better. Yes, we lose some speed and muscle power as we age, but we can more than make up for this with knowledge, spirit and better application of technique. With this in mind karateka of all ages should view our best days as yet to come!

We practised some drills with Okuma Sensei to give us the courage to execute various ‘de-ai’ attacks in kumite. ‘De-ai’ is a strategy that involves meeting the opponent’s technique as he executes it, by launching a counter-attack to reach him before his attack lands. If you can pick up on your opponent’s intention to attack you at an early stage and are able to respond immediately, you can strike before he has an opportunity to change the course of his initial movement, his psychological commitment to the technique already having been made. These drills involved decisively moving further into the attacker’s path. A bit scary, but what a feeling of exhilaration when one was able to get the timing just right!

This Gasshuku was attended by karateka from all over Europe, including quite a few participants from Germany which is just next door to the Czech Republic. It was a really nice surprise to bump into ‘Mukki’ from Tübingen University Dojo near Stuttgart, who Austin and I had met briefly at JKA HQ in Tokyo during 2009.

On the last day of the course, there were probably a few sore heads and tired feet after the previous night’s end of Gasshuku party, which was most enjoyable but had reportedly finished at 5am. Nevertheless, everyone was in place early the next morning for photographs with the visiting instructors followed by training. The session culminated in a team kata competition, each team made up of a mixture of different grades and performing a Heian kata of choice. Okuma Sensei then took in the votes for an overall winner, after which he congratulated everyone on how well they had worked together.

Once the course had ended, Sarka and I were off to Prague for a couple of days where I enjoyed meeting her family, took in some of the the sights and had the chance to sample the flumes of ‘AquaParc’ as well as some more traditional Czech foods and beer.

The high-calorie content of Czech dumplings seemed the perfect way to recover from the exertion of Gasshuku.


JKA England Spring 2010 Gasshuku

We always look forward to the special karate courses held at Guildford over bank holiday weekends. These present an opportunity to catch up with friends, enjoy a few days of intensive karate training and to benefit from the tuition of some of the finest instructors in the world.

This spring’s course featured JKA England’s Sensei Ohta, as well as visiting instructors Naka Sensei, Osaka Sensei and Mori Sensei. Osaka Sensei delighted us with refined technique, good humour and an endearing variety of facial expressions. Naka Sensei also inspired us, combining charisma and physical talent to share JKA’s highly technical approach to concepts such as hip rotation, body alignment and moving centre of gravity.  Mori Sensei, Chief Instructor of JKA New York, reminded us of the importance of putting maximum effort into everything we did.

With Naka Sensei having recently starred in two martial arts movies, Kuro-Obi (‘black belt’) and more recently High Kick Girl, there were quite a few self-confessed fans among the course attendees, keen to see if their hero was just as dynamic off-screen. They were not disappointed!

As ever this course provided a wealth of information to assist our karate development and further knowledge to be shared at Shiranamikai. Some of the highlights of the course for Austin and myself were:

  • Naka Sensei’s session concentrating on correct posture, maintenance of centreline and awareness of the tanden (the physical centre of gravity). Throughout basic training we often try to think of the centre of gravity as sitting at a fixed point as a means to maintaining stability. At a more advanced level, Naka showed us the dramatic effect of becoming aware of the changes in the balance point as we move, creating instability temporarily to result in a smoother and faster technique.
  • A variety of detailed kata practice sessions, including detailed instruction in Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi, Jion, Unsu and Gojushiho Sho. Kyu grades were treated to sessions focused on the Heian katas. Ohta Sensei’s Gojushiho Sho was smooth, flowing and with beautiful variations in timing. Osaka Sensei’s signature Sochin featured a dynamic and elastic hip rotation that he made look so easy!
  • An assortment of lengthy combinations to exercise the brain and body, with the detail presenting a challenge for both senior and junior grades alike.

These international courses are open to all grades and participants are put in groups according to grade. Kyu grades were taught in their own group, allowing Shiranamikai students Sheila, Rupert, Peter and Mo to benefit from lessons fully tailored to their needs.

The next JKA International course takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend with another impressive line up of instructors flying over specially from JKA Headquarters. Check the events page for full details!


JKA England All Grades Course, March 2010

Course & Grading
 with Ohta Sensei, assisted by JKA England Seniors Adel Ismail and Roy Tomlin

Ohta Sensei started with a useful measure for approximating front stance: by stepping three and a half foot lengths, bending the front knee to cover the big toe, keeping the foot’s outer edge pointing forward. The first hour was basics and upper body work. After hip rotation exercises came punches and blocks. Jun tsuki progressed to sanbon tsuki which brought the hip exercises into their own. Sensei stressed the importance of cushioning the energy of the first punch using the back knee and hip, rotating further into full front-facing to generate energy in the second and vibrating again to make power for the third. At the outset Sensei’s comment was that everybody’s hips looked the same from one punch to the next! Hopefully there was some improvement with further repetitions!

A partner kumite exercise was next, using these basics: Both sides from left leg forward, hands kamae position. Attacker: left kizami tsuki, step sanbon tsuki. Defender: left age uke, step backwards with right soto uke, gedan barai, shuto uke and countering nukite.

During the second session, we moved on through kicks: mae geri, yoko geri keage and kekomi then mawashi geri, before working through the complete basics syllabus required for 1st Dan.

Ohta Sensei chose to focus on the kata Heian Godan which he broke down into sections, indicating key points and incorporating exercises to help ‘get the feeling’ for each position. Partner work followed for application. Then, before it was our turn to practise the kata in its entirety, Sensei demonstrated it beautifully for us.

For a Dan grading, as well as a candidate’s own choice of kata, JKA examiners pick either a Heian or Tekki Shodan kata to perform too. Often, this kata is taught on the same day as the grading.

After another short break, kata groups were formed for Bassai Dai, Jion and Nijushiho, with Ohta Sensei teaching the latter. After practise and some more bunkai explanation, each group got up in turn, to perform in front of everybody, with a Squad team kata demonstration to round off at the end.

This course was a superb taster for the forthcoming international course in May, which will feature Ohta Sensei and other top JKA instructors from around the world.
The long drive home featured a brief stop off at Stonehenge and a sneaky trip to McDonalds! (Perhaps not the healthiest post-exercise snack in the world but when you’ve trained as hard as we did, you can easily accommodate a few extra calories without feeing guilty.)

JKA England Summer 2009 Gasshuku

JKA Summer Training Course & Grading, 28th–30th August 2009, Guildford with Ueki Sensei 8th dan Japan
, Taniyama Sensei 6th dan Japan and 
Ohta Sensei 6th dan England

This weekend was an enjoyable one for Shiranamikai Harrow. Sheila, Daniel and Parth all attended the JKA England Summer International Course at Guildford, alongside Club Instructors Austin and Sasha.

The course featured top level instruction and as always we learnt a lot and came away inspired. Sensei Austin was really impressed with the energy and enthusiasm that everyone from our group put into the training. Each day of the course started with an hour of energetic practise involving the whole group, after which students were split into groups. While Shiranamikai students were among the least experienced of the course attendees, they showed true karate spirit by giving 100% effort to everything that was asked of them.

Daniel did a great job of keeping up his energy levels over all three days of the course. There was also great determination from Parth, who at age 6 was probably the youngest course participant!

On the Saturday there was a kyu grading. Parth and Daniel were successful in passing their first grading for 9th kyu. Sheila moves up to red belt having passed 8th kyu. Congratulations to everyone. We look forward to seeing continued progress.