Category Archives: News

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.

The Karate Kid

Those who have seen the original Karate Kid film starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita as Mr Miyagi may well have been surprised to find out that it has seemingly been re-written specifically for Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

Interesting that the film was produced by Dad Will Smith and Mum Jada Pinkett Smith but let’s not jump to too many conclusions – Jackie Chan is a living martial arts acting legend and Jaden Smith has been credited with convincing acting talent.

The plot seems to be loosly the same: boy moves to different area with his mum, reads karate books, meets a girl from the new neighbourhood, local boys don’t like this and the bullying starts. Enter Mr Miyagi… sorry, Mr Han (Chan), who at first appears to be just a humble janitor but in actual fact is a talented martial artist who takes the boy under his wing and teaches him kung fu (not karate).

With the original film, Miyagi was a physically unassuming old man who liked to keep himself to himself. In the acting world too, Noriyuki was relatively unknown. When I first saw this film some years ago aged (nearly) 15* and Mr Miyagi jumped into the scene to save Daniel from yet another, more serious beating, I was blown away. Who would have thought that the nice old man could fly? Of course, he did have help from his stunt double: Fumio Demura, an authoritative Okinawan Shito Ryu instructor.

So why not call it The Kung Fu Kid?

They’re the same, aren’t they?! Well, yes and no. While karate was developed in Japan, it can trace its early roots back to China. More recently, in the 1930s/40s, Nakayama Masatoshi (Head of the JKA for 30 years until 1987) spent time studying and training there. But those who practise either Karate or Kung Fu will know that there are also fundamental differences.

Financially, it could well make sense to use Chan because he is already an international star and people would go to see the film just because he is in it. Also, with the new film’s production budget purportedly in the region of $40m, this will no doubt dwarf that of the original, low budget film. But have the film backers overlooked the charm of the original? There were lots of important messages in the original and the unknown cast allowed their characters to be built without any preconceptions. In contrast, we all know that Chan is a superb martial artist, while young Smith certainly doesn’t appear to be shy around cameras!

Whatever the verdict, this film will surely help to raise the profile of both Karate and Kung fu, attracting too, those who might not enjoy mainstream physical activities and this can only be a good thing.

The new film is on general release now. The Sony trailer is below, along with a link to the official website:


For fans of the original films, you can find some more information here:

*The original film is rated 15, so I had to wait a few years before I could watch it on video.

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 2010 National Championship

Although entering the competition this year, the commitment of teaching in Swiss Cottage at 2pm meant that there was little chance of my competing before having to leave at midday latest – adult categories don’t normally start until around this time. As it happened, events seemed to be underway quicker than usual this year and I could see that it wouldn’t be long before the men’s kata would start.

After getting my dogi out of the car and throwing it on, I still had 10 minutes to warm up and stretch before the Men’s Kata category came up. I saw from the order sheet that initially, I had a ‘bye’* before being up against last year’s winner.

I managed to push through the nerves and clear my mind before being called. Unfortunately, I cleared it a bit too much and whilst drawing back for the hammer fist in Heian Shodan, realised that Wayne Maliszewski, my fellow competitor, was performing Heian Sandan (the correct kata, as called by the judge)!

Now, at this point there were a number of options that flashed through my mind:
1. Continue with Heian Shodan and at the end apologise, saying I thought they had called Shodan.
2. Pull back, re-announce and perform Sandan.
3. Pull back and bow, allowing my fellow competitor to continue without any further disturbance.
At the time, option 3 seemed the most appropriate and we did have a laugh about it afterwards. So congratulations to Sensei Wayne, who went on to win gold!

Before dashing off, I did get to see Sasha through several rounds of kata. She did well; placing 5th overall, just missing a place in the Final by 0.1 of a point.

So, no medals this time for our club but we still have the kyu Nationals to look forward to in October.


*A ‘bye’ occurs when there is an amount of entries at any round, that are not divisible by four. In order to make up the numbers so that ultimately, the final has two competitors, blanks are entered into the draw along with names. If your name is randomly drawn against one of these blanks, you automatically go through to the next round.

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!


Club Training & Grading, April 2010

Congratulations to our students for their success at the recent kyu grading at the O2 Centre, Finchley Road. Despite the slightly unfortuitous date, everyone turned up on time and passed!

Prior to the grading, club members were inspired by a one hour special training session with Ohta Sensei, 6th Dan and Head of JKA England.
Sensei worked us hard through kihon (basic movements), kata (formal exercises) and kumite (sparring). Throughout, the focus on hip rotation, smooth footwork and correct form provided a challenge for Shiranamikai students and instructors alike!

It’s great to see club members making progress through the ranks and we look forward to seeing continued effort in the dojo.

Another great opportunity to train with Ohta Sensei is coming soon. It’s the Spring 2010 JKA England International karate course at the Guildford Spectrum, which will also feature visiting instructors Osaka Yoshiharu and Naka Tatsuya from JKA HQ in Tokyo and Mori Masataka from JKA New York. See our events page for further details.

JKA 2010 European Championship, Germany

JKA England’s Senior Squad recently participated in the European Championships held in Bochum Germany. It felt great to be part of the team and embarking on my first International competition.

Although eliminated from individual kata much sooner than I would have liked (!), I enjoyed being part of the senior ladies team kata – which achieved a respectable 4th place with Jion. Overall, the England team achieved some excellent and truly inspiring results, which you can read about in my more detailed write-up at


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.)