Category Archives: JKA Courses

JKA England Spring 2012 Gasshuku

This Spring, visiting instructors Tsuyama Katsunori 8th Dan, Osaka Yoshiharu 8th Dan and Hirayama Yuko 6th Dan joined Ohta Yoshinobu 7th Dan for JKA England’s four day special international course.

Enroute to the K2, we hit heavy traffic because of someone’s caravan having swung across the motorway, so we had to take a detour along the A-roads and through some villages. We arrived at the sports centre just after the warm up and bowed straight in. While it was frustrating to arrive a bit late, at least the detour had allowed us to spot a few foodie pubs where we would be able to refuel between training sessions!

The four day course was, as always, carefully planned. Content from each day complimented the other sessions. Participants were split into groups according to grade with the course instructors rotating between the groups. For the sandan and above group, the first part of day one included repetitions of punches, mae geri and combinations of the two. These seem to be trademark basics of Tsuyama Sensei, who taught at the famous Takushoku University club for four decades. But as we all know, ‘basics’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘simple’ or ‘easy’. What we learned from these exercises regarding points to pay attention to was echoed over the next three days.

Both Senior Sensei; Tsuyama and Osaka were very specific about the quality of movement that more experienced karateka should be aiming for. For instance, each had us finishing a sequence with choku tsuki. We had to make sure we used the action of our ankle pushing the heel down onto the floor to direct the energy upwards through our legs, to our hips, body, arms and ultimately fists. Rather than simply dropping or falling into a stance both instructors wanted precise control, correct transfer of energy and the feeling of keeping the Jiku ashi and core active throughout the sequences.

Kata was reserved mainly for the second part of each day but the first session for sandan and above on Friday covered Bassai Dai and Jion with Osaka Sensei. We followed this in the second session with Hirayama Sensei’s Bassai Sho, a kata which has taken her to the final of the All Japan Championship and the Funakoshi World Cup on numerous occasions.

On Saturday, we studied Chinte and Gojushiho Sho with Ohta Sensei by request of those who were due to take a dan grading. Time was spent working through Chinte with detailed explanations and lots of bunkai partner work. Sensei highlighted the use of a variety of different circular movements in Chinte, before demonstrating this beautiful kata to us, with incredible control and smoothness.

Both Osaka Sensei and Hirayama Sensei are well known for being excellent exponents of the kata Sochin. With this in mind, I was hopeful, that we would get to study it at some point, and was not to be disappointed. Hirayama Sensei led us dynamically through Sochin on Sunday and we finished off by having two halves of the room divide and perform the kata in turn. What exactly Hirayama Sensei said afterwards is lightly disputed between Sasha and me, who were on opposing sides. Suffice to say we both think that our own side’s performance was preferred!

Sochin is characterised by its deep-rooted fudo dachi stance, powerful arm techniques and the contrast between slow and fast. The challenge is very much in maintaining smooth, controlled movements, keeping the heel down, back straight and rotating the hips.

Finally on the last day, we were back with Osaka Sensei for Gojushiho Dai, some wrong turns (er… by me) and a very achey left leg (me again).

There were some exciting kumite matches during the International Team Friendly Tournament on Saturday afternoon. Teams consisted of two female and three male competitors. The results were 1st place: England Team A, 2nd place: Norway, 3rd place: England Team B. But it wasn’t just the competitors who had their work cut out because Osaka Sensei and Hirayama Sensei were scrutinising the judges and referees as part of their JKA World Federation qualification test! Well done to all, I think!

There was a very good turn out from Shiranamikai over these four days (fifteen of us in all!) which was great to see. However, a special “well done!” goes to Sheila, Beth, Yassin and John who along with Sasha and myself, attended every possible day, receiving a special certificate at the end. I’m told that in total, there were around five hundred attendees over the four day period!

This year, there was even a buffet and party at the designated event hotel: Arora. Thankfully speeches were few and short but the highlights included a presentation to Mrs Chieko Buck and an impromptu (Norweigan) song by Geir Larson, Chief Instructor of Norway! A disco followed, where everybody had the opportunity to let their hair down and where Yassin could be found, right in the middle, for the majority of the evening!

This spring’s special course was a great event – everybody who I have spoken to since has said the same. I for one am very much looking forward to the next one.

Roll on, September!


JKA England All Grades Course, February 2012

When I reached the car I realised that I’d forgotten to pack my dogi and belt (the only essential items for a karateka). Factor in the McDonalds breakfast, petrol, snack stops etc. and all of a sudden, we’re cutting it fine. Fortunately when we arrived at Bath Sports and Leisure Centre, the course had not yet started. So there was still time to register and have a chat beforehand.

After a moment to estimate the numbers of different grades present, brown belts were relocated to another studio upstairs with Adel Ismail, a JKA England senior instructor. Kyu grades stayed in the same area as black belts but were taught separately by a rotation of different instructors. The dan grade session is what I have summarised.

Gary Stewart, JKA England Squad Coach, warmed us up and later on delivered an engaging kumite lesson with reaction timing training against a partner. One exercise involved responding to a partner’s attack by cutting in with the same technique and trying to score first (sen no sen). We also tried applying the same principle to contrasting techniques, like mae geri versus gyaku tsuki. We finished off with some strength and stamina exercises, one of which was burpees with gyaku tsuki to improve speed and overall fitness.

Ohta Sensei, in his first session, started off with hip rotation before adding a combination of gyaku tsuki, kizami tsuki, uraken and step. We were soon facing each other and using soto uke, age uke, and nagashi uke as the corresponding defence, with gyaku tsuki as the counter attack. Sensei focused a lot on the idea of ‘blocking on the way’, for example making the block during a change of stance rather than timing it to coincide with the end of a step. This was most apparent with his near simultaneous mae geri, oi tsuki combination: the defender had to start the first block early while beginning to transfer their weight and leading leg back. At the moment when nagashi uke was used to block the punch, the step backwards was already in motion. Then immediately after landing the back foot, we had to push off from it, spring forwards to close the distance and counter with uraken.

After a five minute break, referees and squad were off to practise together, while Ohta Sensei worked through choice kata for those who were attempting their Nidan gradings: Jion, Empi and Nijushiho. All were explained and demonstrated skilfully by Sensei as always.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to take any photos of the course itself. But to prove we were really there, I did take a few snaps in Bath afterwards!

The next JKA England event open to all grades will be the international course held over the May Bank Holiday weekend and lasting four days. Why not join us there? You could book the Friday afternoon off work and make a weekend of it! More details to follow soon.


JKA England All Grades Course, December 2011

Course with Sensei Daniel Lautier 7th Dan, Chief Instructor of JKA France and Ohta Sensei 7th Dan, Chief Instructor of JKA England

Sensei Lautier advised our group of more than a hundred dan grades that we would be doing “just five basic moves – easy”, but his wry smile suggested this wasn’t the full story. Sure enough, Sensei had thoughtfully choreographed five sequences combining front, side and back stance with multi-directional turns; first accompanied by hand techniques, then with the addition of kicks.

I think it would be fair to say that most of us found this session to be a challenge. However Sensei Lautier was patient and in between sets, gathered us around for a recap and additional explanation. But he also took these opportunities to make the task more difficult each time! With so many other people moving and turning around you, it’s easy to become distracted, then end up copying people in your periphery instead of persevering on your own. So Sensei had each row of students start the combination with a different leg forward.

Cendrine’s characterful translations were superb – her colourful explanations really added to the day’s positive atmosphere. “Pardon my French!” she said afterwards.

We rounded off Lautier Sensei’s session by practising Jion, with all those intending to grade lined up along the front row for Sensei to scrutinise.

After a short break, Lautier and Ohta Sensei swapped groups. Ohta Sensei had our group working through kumite drills: the attacker (from uchi uke, back stance) shifting their weight forwards into front stance, attacking kizami tsuki, gyaku tsuki; the defender shifting their weight rearwards into back stance and defending age uke, soto uke (then countering gyaku tsuki, front stance to repeat the cycle). Another exercise used mae geri as the attack with the blocker shifting sideways (with a cover block) to avoid its path and counter-attacking with kekomi, gyaku tsuki.

Ohta Sensei’s method of introducing a kata often starts with basics and kumite combinations inspired by the movements in that kata. And in this case the exercises we had been working on were preparation for Nijushiho. It’s always impressive to see Sensei ingeniously break down a kata then build it back up bit by bit. He then treated us to his own performance of Nijushiho, explaining key points along the way.

To end the course, we each chose from Empi, Jion, Nijushiho and Meikyo, forming groups to work on our preferred choice.

This was the last JKA England course of 2011 but there is already a full schedule of events planned for next year with opportunities to train with Ohta Sensei and other world class instructors.


JKA Norway 25th Anniversary Gasshuku, 2011

In November 2011, JKA Norway held a special 4-day Gasshuku in celebration of a successful 25 years. Larsen Sensei 7th Dan and Ohta Sensei 7th Dan were in attendance, as were a line-up of no less than 11 instructors from the JKA Headquarters dojo in Tokyo, Japan. To see this many Honbu instructors together at an event outside of Japan is probably unprecedented! The course was attended by karateka from over 17 nations and on each day of the training there were over 600 participants.

Memorable sessions included studying Sochin with Taniyama Sensei and Nemoto Sensei. We paid particular attention to smooth transitions from stance to stance, effective use of the supporting leg and also on making precise, quick Shuto Uke.

A kumite session with Ogata Sensei provided some useful drilling on the use of yori ashi. The exercises we practised were simple yet the concentration needed to apply the techniques with correct distancing, timing and control created an intense atmosphere. On ending his session, Ogata Sensei reminded us that care and respect for others was one of the most important responsibilities for a karateka to uphold. He explained that while the techniques we develop through karate training can potentially be used to devastating effect, there was nothing uglier than hurting a training partner through a lack of consideration. There was far more beauty, said Ogata Sensei, in having the mental and physical skill to perfectly control what would otherwise be a lethal technique. It’s the same idea in our everyday interactions outside the dojo – where we should take care that our actions and words do not cause offence or hurt to others.

Naka Sensei’s ability to create whip-like power through fluid use of his body was awe inspiring. We practised Tekki Sandan and with our minds occupied on remembering the sequence itself, many of us struggled to get anywhere close to Naka Sensei’s quality of movement. The lack of repetition and sequencing in this kata, coupled with the inclusion of some familiar movements that also appear in Tekki Shodan, make for a mind-boggling combination!

Imura Sensei worked through a number of exercises to help us develop the strength and flexibility needed for Jitte. Some of these were very hard work yet great fun. One challenging exercise involved working with a partner. With one person maintaining a strong and stable kiba dachi, the other would suspend themselves in an almost upside-down position by wrapping their legs around their partner’s waist. Then, while hanging on for dear life, the suspended partner had to perform sit-ups!

On the penultimate day of the course there was a team kumite match between Japan, England, Norway and Germany. England were represented by five JKA England squad members: George, Chris, Twanda, Rachel and Jana. There was a fantastic atmosphere, particularly with the host country cheering on their national team and with strong spirit being shown by all the competitors and their supporters. Japan, fielding a team of recent and current All Japan and World Championship medallists, were the eventual winners. Watching the Japanese fighters, I was impressed to see Okuie Sensei’s direct and postitive lines of attack and by Shiina Sensei’s intuitive sense of timing. But the outcome of the match was by no means a foregone conclusion, with some strong performances put in by the European teams too.

On the last day of the course, we were treated to a rare display of free fighting by Japanese instructors. While this is incorporated into their daily instructor training, it is unusual for non-Honbu instructors to be allowed to observe it. The exchanges were fluid and skilful, and it was interesting to see the instructors experimenting with holds and takedowns.

Bergen is a beautiful city, and aside from training, it was fun to be able to explore it with friends. We took a ride on the Fløibanen cable car to take in some wonderful views of the city and ate some mouth-wateringly fresh seafood.

Congratulations to JKA Norway on its Jubilee Anniversary!


JKA England Autumn 2011 Gasshuku

This was JKA England’s second international course this year, with guest instructors Imamura Tomio 7th Dan and Izumiya Seizo 7th Dan from JKA’s Tokyo headquarters joining Ohta Yoshinobu Sensei 7th Dan.

Izumiya Sensei led us through a session on how to check that techniques follow the correct path. Generally, the correct course for a technique involves the foot or fist travelling the shortest possible distance, from the start point to the goal, yet with the maximum amount of power delivered to the target. For a series of exercises aimed at helping us check and tidy up our techniques, Sensei used a few props – including a small towel, a karate belt and a broom handle.

Imamura Sensei provided us with some pointers on posture, including an impromptu demonstration of the meaning of ‘shime’ (which comes from the verb ‘shimeru’ meaning ‘to close’ or ‘to squeeze’). This involved Sensei energetically scrambling up the student who had posed the question and standing on his upper thighs whilst he was stood in kiba dachi.

Another highlight was seeing Izumiya Sensei demonstrating a number of possible applications for the kata Unsu. The takedowns drew gasps from all those watching.

As usual, this course was aimed at all levels. Different grades were split into groups and there was something for everyone, from beginner through to advanced dan grades. Brown belts had a particularly useful session on Sunday which saw them work through their grading syllabus with Ohta Sensei.

Check the events page for details of the next special course.

JKA England Kata Course, July 2011

The July course at Walton on Thames was billed simply as the “All Grades Course” and I was expecting the usual mix of kihon, kata and kumite. As it turned out, the training was 100% kata. Great – my favourite! And a useful way for Shiranamikai students to polish their kata for the forthcoming summer grading.

What are kata, anyway? There’s a lot more to them than simply memorising a sequence. Firstly, their purpose is to set out a framework through which karateka can develop physically and learn the techniques of karate as well as how they can be applied. So much so that when you perform kata, you should build your understanding of the meaning of each technique and imagine you are fighting a series of opponents. Kata is also a form of performance art. As such, karateka should not only try to master the techniques, but should also use the kata as a vehicle for expression of their own emotions and personality. After in-depth study, the ideal is for your body to move effortlessly and efficiently, leaving you free to enjoy the dynamics of the movement.

But back to the course itself – which presented an opportunity to move bit by bit closer towards that ideal performance. At the start, Ohta Sensei outlined the kata that we would be studying. Brown belts would focus on Empi and Jion. Black belts could choose 2 kata for in-depth study out of Empi, Jion, Chinte and Gojushiho Sho. Grades from 9th to 4th Kyu would be focusing on Heian kata.

First up for me was Chinte. Ohta Sensei encouraged us to balance the apparent softness in this kata’s character with an assertive mentality. As I settled into fudo-dachi I caught a glimpse of Austin, Sheila, Will and the rest of the Jion group being put through their paces. It looked like a tough session!

Next was Gojushiho-Sho, a kata characterised by smooth, flowing defences in back stance, interspersed with sharp open handed attacks. We were reminded that this kata needs seemless transitions in order to maintain its momentum.

During the last part of the course, Ohta Sensei asked those intending to take Dan gradings this year to state which kata they were planning to perform for the exam. Then various stations were set up throughout the hall – each one focused on one of the choices. I joined the group performing Kanku Sho. Austin returned to Jion. Sheila and Will opted for Bassai Dai.

Meanwhile, Danny, Suzanne, Mo, David and Aidan systematically worked through all the Heian kata. In the breaks, it was great to see our group sweating profusely and reviewing what they had learnt. There was also a chance for me to sample the Shiranamikai haul of sugary snacks. I’d say the Rowntree’s Sour Pastilles have a slight edge over the Jelly Snakes.


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.