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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 2010 Kyu Grade Championship

This year’s Kyu Grade Championship was held at the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex. With this being the regular venue for the annual JKA England special courses in spring and summer, it was familiar territory. A few of us met bright and early at what is becoming our usual table in the Costa coffee bar before grabbing some seats in the main arena. We then took time to affix competitor labels, try out the mats together and settle a few nerves.

The Shiranamikai representatives were Sheila, Rupert, Peter, Parth, Danny, Mo, Connor and Jeremy. All made us proud, through giving their best efforts on the day and through the dedication they had put into training for the event. For most of the group this was a first experience of taking part in karate competition. It was also nice to have a few supporters in attendance.

Adult purple belts Sheila, Rupert and Peter were in a difficult field, with some very experienced karateka being positioned in this category. Our bunch distinguished themselves with clean technique and excellent posture. With the benefit of experience and knowledge of what to expect, I am sure we will see this group go from strength to strength in future events.

Parth (green to purple belt age 9-11 category) performed a solid Heian Nidan in the first round of kata but unfortunately missed a kiai which may well have cost him the match. In kumite he reached best 8 and narrowly missed out on a place in the finals. Well done Parth – a big improvement on last year.

Yellow belt Danny (orange to yellow belt age 13-15 category) made his way through the kata elimination rounds in style with a powerful Heian Shodan, earning a place in the finals. However, a missed kiai point in an otherwise strong Heian Sandan unfortunately cost vital points leaving him in fourth place. In kumite, Danny came away with a Bronze medal. Bravo Danny!

Red belt Mo (adult orange to yellow belt category) gave spirited performances in both kata and kumite, making his way through a couple of rounds in each. “That bloke’s actually quite good!” said an onlooker watching Mo perform. Yes, we know! But unfortunately the decision did not go Mo’s way.

Our orange belts Jeremy (also competing in the adult orange to yellow belt category) and Connor (orange to yellow belt age 13-15 years category) should feel proud of how they performed. Connor’s nice long stances and Jeremy’s much improved posture were a pleasure to see.

We had a feeling that we might pick-up a little bit more metalware this year, with a number of competitors looking sharp and strong in the elimination stages. But despite the team displaying technique and spirit in abundance, it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, everyone came away with something valuable: an improvement to be proud of and the ambition to do even better in the future. We look forward to seeing everyone continue to develop. Well done to all!

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!

Sasha

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.

Club Training & Grading, September 2010

Sensei Austin and I had our fingers crossed on 7th September, given that tube strikes were expected to cause transport mayhem. As it turned out, the majority of our group were able to arrive at the O2 in very good time for the special training and kyu grading with Ohta Sensei.

We started with the choku-tsuki (straight punch) in parallel stance, with special attention to using the core to create stability and also to tidy rotation of the forearms and fists. From there, we practised gedan-barai, with emphasis on hip twist. It wasn’t long before Sensei has us combine these techniques with the different kinds of transition needed for Kihon kata. Sensei confirmed that it is possible to understand a lot about a person’s karate ability just by seeing them perform Kihon. As straightforward as this kata may seem, a high skill level is needed to execute the different turning movements correctly and cleanly. It is a kata in which there is nowhere to hide!

The training moved on to incorporate further exercises to help students refine their basic movements as well as dissections of each of the Heian kata. We also enjoyed practising the kumite sequences for each grade, with Sensei encouraging us all to take care with the distancing and timing. It was an action-packed session requiring energy and mental focus. Sixth Kyu and above had to work particularly hard, staying on the dojo floor for the entire 90 minute training session and enduring a challenging exercise in pairs to develop strength, flexibility and targeting skills for the various kicks.

After a short break, students dug a little deeper to find stamina and concentration for the grading itself. There were a number of strong performances despite signs of a few nerves having crept in here and there. But what really stood out was the determination and spirit from each person to give his or her best.

Those who had taken the Kyu grading left with a change of belt colour and some positive comments from Sensei on how to improve further. Congratulations to all!

Sasha

JKA European Champions Visit Shiranamikai, September 2010

On Saturday morning at John Lyon Sports Centre, we were very lucky to be visited by the current JKA European Karate Champions: Roisin, Rachel and Jana.

At this year’s Championship held in Bochum, Germany, the three took European Gold in the Junior Ladies Team Kata event. Roisin also won Gold in Individual Junior Ladies Kumite and Silver in Junior Ladies Individual Kata, while Jana won Bronze in Individual Junior Ladies Kumite.

Roisin led the class stretch at the beginning and we stayed together through a selection of kihon-waza until everybody was warmed-up. Then our guests each led a group through kata. With the club grading coming up in 3 days time, this was a great opportunity to pick up some helpful pointers from some very talented, young karate-ka.

At the end of the class, Roisin, Rachel, Jana and Sensei Jeni each performed their own favourite katas: Sochin, Nijushiho, Gankaku and Chinte. All were impressive, but judging by the gasps of excitement from the audience, the most favoured part of the morning was a demonstration of the winning team kata, Unsu. With its assortment of fast and slow techniques and a dramatic 360 degree aerial manoeuvre towards the end, this is one of the most demanding kata in the Shotokan repertoire.

A special thanks to all our guests for taking the time to come and visit our club, and the very best of luck to Roisin, who left the UK for Japan the very next day, to further her karate training at JKA Honbu dojo in Tokyo.

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:

Original_Karate_kid_poster

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Karate_Kid

*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.

Sasha

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.

Austin

*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.