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Hyper Japan 2011, Kensington Olympia

To quote the flier, Hyper Japan was billed as “the UK’s biggest J-Culture event… showcasing everything that’s creative, cute and crazy about Japan today”.

I have been studying karate for some years now which has certainly fuelled my interest into Japan’s fascinating and diverse culture. Events like this give a little flavour of what it’s like to visit Japan and in this case the themes on display were a contrast to Japan’s more traditional offerings.

People arriving at the Hyper Japan 2011 exhibition who hadn’t pre-booked, were being turned away because its popularity went far beyond expectations. Fortunately though, one of our club members without a ticket was able to employ their emerging Jedi mind powers to still get in!

Inside the exhibition, there were lots of shop stalls selling toys, plush character goods, books, DVDs and fashion including the famously frilly Baby, The Stars Shine Bright clothing brand (as featured in cult film Kamikaze Girls, released in Japan as Shimotsuma Monogatari). In fact, there was so much on offer that it was difficult not to get carried away, like I did with the Nano Block stand.

As well as the fun stuff, there was also consideration for the earthquake and tsunami stricken Tohoku region of Japan. There was fundraising, a photo exhibition, written accounts from those who have been directly affected by the disaster and a large white sheet for attendees to draw and write messages of encouragement.

The food court was very popular with its reasonably priced bento, hot noodles, tempura and traditional sweets and cakes – yum! Alongside this was the Eat Japan Sushi Awards 2011 final with tasting session and voting. Yakult were nearby too with lots of free samples (thanks Yakult!).

So what else…? Well, there was a J-Pop dance troupe, an interesting aikido demonstration (interrupted a few times by shenanigans inside the Maid Café), a technology showcase featuring a fully articulated robotic hand, a duet of Tsugaru shamisen and electric violin where the two instruments worked surprisingly well together, drawing a large crowd. The console games area featured Nintendo, Bandai-Namco and Konami offering hands-on demonstrations and product launches.

The last place we visited was the Maid Café. It’s difficult to explain in context outside of Otaku (nerd) culture in Japan (and many people would find it just plain weird). But essentially, on visiting a Maid Café you are welcomed and treated (light-heartedly) as if you were a lord or lady in your own home! Simple food is served quickly and comes with handwritten messages or cute drawings in caramel sauce. For a few extra pounds, your maid or butler will even play a few silly games with you and if you win, you get to have your photo taken with the maid or butler as a prize!

If all this looks interesting, you don’t have to wait until Hyper Japan 2012 because our next outing is coming up very soon.


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 2011 National Championship


They say things happen in threes. One week ago I had a puncture and ended up buying a new set of tyres. On the eve of the competition, I got a call from a stressed parent who needed a lift because they had a flat tyre. Then, no sooner than we had arrived in Crawley, I received a text message from another student who had a blowout en route and wasn’t going to make it!

Still, the rest of us who got there early had plenty of time to check registrations and relax before the start. First up was Dharvi for kata, one of the youngest in a large category. This was a close call in an even match but she went out to a higher grade.

Shivani was pitted against a much bigger girl for kumite who went on to take gold. Although under pressure defending first, she recovered well to put in a good performance. A hesitation towards the end of an otherwise good Heian Nidan counted against Parth in another large category. Anthony went out to the same yellow belt medalist in both kata and kumite. But he showed long stances and looked strong.

Sasha got to the semi final of kata but was just 0.1 point behind the finalists to place 5th – the same situation as last year! In kumite, she went out to the gold medal winner. I missed out on a place in the kata semi-finals against a stronger opponent and was in the loo when my kumite category was called. With 580 entries to get through, there was no waiting for latecomers. Still, if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. The kids’ categories were very large. There could be as much as six years age difference between the youngest and oldest kata competitors which is a big jump for children. Also, for those first to be eliminated, one and a half hours is a long time to be sat on the floor waiting for it to finish.

The event itself ran very smoothly overall. There were seven areas, each with a JKA England senior and a full contingent of judges, referees and timekeepers. This was a big improvement over the last two years. With no lunch break or finalists’ parade and Ohta Sensei presenting the medals after each category, everything kept moving.

We didn’t stay until the end, it finished a little after 8 o’clock. By this time I had already eaten dinner and was tucking into some ice cream and a cup of tea. So no medals, but everybody kept smiling which was great. Sasha and I are very proud of those who took part and are extremely grateful to Suzanne and Sheila who gave up their Saturday in order to help out. Let’s keep up the momentum for the next club grading which will take place on Tuesday 9th August.

The next association event is a training course in Walton on Thames on 17th July which everybody should try to attend.

See you at the next lesson!


Ohta Sensei Appears on TV

A special introductory episode to the new series of Ninja Warrior (which is also aired in Japan under the title ‘Sasuke’) featured JKA England’s very own Chief Instructor, Ohta Sensei!

The new voice of the show, Jim North, turns up at Europe’s oldest martial arts club, The Budokai, to ask Sensei to help him become a ninja. But as you will see, it’s going to take a lot more than one class!

Ninja Warrior is on Challenge TV Friday evenings and repeated during the week. (Freeview ch46, Sky ch125).

Limited Edition Shiranamikai T-Shirts

We have some more long sleeved club t-shirts available!

If you would like to order, please email us your preferred colour and size. The new, special edition ones come in a choice of dark blue or grey with a white Shiranamikai logo. Prices are just £10 for children, £12 adults.

Wearing your club t-shirt would also be a great way to show your support for friends and family who take part in this year’s all grades competition on 2nd July. The first edition, seen here in white with royal blue logo was worn at the 2010 Kyu Grades Championship.

Adult sizes: M/L/XL. Child sizes: 9-11, 12-13, 14-15

Karate Girl World Premier, Starring Rina Takeda, London 2011


Authentic karate films are so few and far between that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the World Premier of Karate Girl, starring Rina Takeda, showcased as part of the 2011 Terracotta Film Festival. Although this film was released in Japan back in February, the UK audience had to wait for Terracotta to bring it to London. What’s more, Rina was scheduled to be there in person to introduce the screening and for a Q&A session afterwards!

Rina arrived wearing her karate gi and greeted us all with a big “OSS!”. She quickly endeared herself to the audience with a short speech in English where she talked about her dream to try fish and chips and by revealing a royal wedding souvenir t-shirt beneath her dogi! After the film, Miss Takeda took the stage again, having changed into one of her other outfits from the film. “This is typical Japanese High School Uniform!” she announced – before proceeding with a karate demonstration for us. She kicked a pad held high by a tall, nervous-looking member of the Terracotta entourage, followed up by some nunchaku action.

At the Q&A, Sasha managed to grab the mike and pose a couple of questions (one of them being typically off the wall); Q1: How did she find working with Naka, and did she find him as charming off-screen as his character in the movie? Rina’s answer was a bit indirect, but she outlined a memory of Naka sensei having been rather amused at the injuries that the supposed action heroes had picked up during filming! Q2: Among our club students, are two sisters. If they want to be as successful in karate as the two sisters in the film are, what should they do? Rina answered that the most important thing is to keep training! Good advice. When Rina herself had started karate, there were ten others who joined at the same time but she was the only one to have kept it up.

Karate Girl: The Film

The plot revolves around a 200 year old black belt which once belonged to renowned karate master Sujiro Kurenai. Kurenai karate has been passed down through successive generations of their family and the belt stands as shomen at the front of the dojo.

The opening scene is set with Tatsuya Kurenai (Tatsuya Naka) teaching the last of the bloodline: his two young daughters, Ayaka and Natsuki. Enter sinister Tagawa Shu (Horibe Keisuke) and his gang who storm the dojo, steal the coveted black belt and kidnap Natsuki, the youngest daughter, leaving Ayaka and her father for dead.

Forward ten years to the present day: Ayaka (Rina Takeda) survived and has been living with an adoptive family, keeping her true identity and karate secret.

Meanwhile, Tagawa had been using the Kurenai belt as a symbol of strength to empower members of his gang and increase their profile as elite assassins for hire, but he has known for some time that the black belt in his posession is a fake and not the original Kurenai belt. The most feared of the hitman is the imposing Keith (Richard Heselton) who calmly does away with any gang member who fails a mission. Tagawa has also raised Natsuki (Hina Tobimatsu) as an ‘assasin in training’ within the confines of this brutal regime.

Ayaka unwittingly attracts the attention of Tagawa after using her skills to apprehend two thieves at a cinema where she has a part time job. When he finds out that she is still alive, he suspects that she must also have the real Kurenai belt.
Now that he knows where to find her, he will stop at nothing to finally get his hands on the belt and so dispatches Natsuki to finish things off…

About Rina Takeda

Rina Takeda 2nd Dan Shorin Ryu, first came to our attention in the 2009 film High Kick Girl, where she played the part of Kei Tsuchiya, a keen but impetuous student of Yoshiaki Matsumura (Naka Tsuyama). Disliking kata and seeing little point in practising it, she sets out to prove her skills (and gain the attention of her instructor) by challenging the best male students of various karate schools. In Karate Girl, Takeda’s character is more grounded by her father’s tuition, stressing from the outset how karate should be used only for defence of oneself or the protection of others.

Takeda is joined again in Karate Girl by Naka Tatsuya 7th dan JKA who plays her father. He brings with him more of his convincing, realistically choreographed JKA-style action sequences which should satisfy Shotokan fans.

P1020019_Rina_CutoutRichard Heselton 4th dan, who also appeared (briefly) in High Kick Girl is another JKA practitioner. Heselton is a big chap who is more than capable of handling the big, burly types. Yet the storyline has him fighting young women who are a fraction of his size. Perhaps on account of this mismatch, Heselton seems to hold back and there are a few occasions where he is motionless for a second too long – and it’s a bit too obvious that he is waiting to be hit. The girls should have enjoyed this opportunity to lay into him a little bit harder. Look out for his ‘surprised’ expression at a key point late in the film – it’s a classic. Furthermore, if you know what’s going on with Horibe Keisuke’s gloved hand, please drop me a line.

Many people will see this film as a follow-up vessel for Takeda and Naka after High Kick Girl, while also introducing new girl Tobimatsu. Both girls bring a great deal of energy to this film, but Rina clearly has the personality edge over the mono-expressive Hina – but that might well be intentional. Her character probably would be a little emotionally maladjusted after having such a disfunctional upbringing.

This really is a cracking, karate action film with slick, realistic fighting. Highly entertaining. More is to come too, with Rina’s next film ‘Kunoichi’ due to be released soon. Rina says that Kunoichi means “Japanese Ninja Action Film!” – a quick bit of googling suggests that specifically, Kunoichi is the term for a female ninja.

After the film we headed off to eat some cheap noodles, tea (etc) and ice cream with a few club members, before heading back to the cinema for a quick photo with Miss Takeda!

Oh, if anybody was wondering whether Rina favours fighting or forms, she was quite clear: “I prefer kumite”.


Movie stills courtesy of Terracotta Film

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.


Club Training & Grading, April 2011

On Tuesday 5th April we held the first of our 2011 special training sessions with Ohta Sensei.

As usual, everyone dug deep into their energy reserves and enjoyed a challenging class.

After the training, we held the club kyu grading which saw all candidates successful in moving up to the next level. On the day we had run out of time for the group photo – so the above shows students at the next class.

With a number of exciting events in the club calendar as we move through spring and on to the rest of the year, now is a great time to get set up for your next karate goal.

Congratulations to all!

JKA 2011 European Championship, England

With sword fighting, drumming and magic tricks on the programme, it might well have been the script for a Takeshi Kitano film.

You would also have been forgiven for thinking that the competition had taken place in France as they had by far, the largest supporter! But the reality was that this was in Crawley, Sussex. England was playing host to the 2011 JKA European Championship.

Jörgen Bura, JKA Europe Technical Director delivered the opening message and initiated a one minute silence out of respect for those affected by the earthquake in east Japan.

Then the event was underway.

Elimination rounds for individual kata were first, followed by team kata, individual kumite and team kumite. After a break for stage assembly, all the competitors entered the arena while a live drumming performance took place. We then experienced a demonstration of medieval sword and stave fighting with Robin Hood and Shakespeare characterisations, before getting back on track with the finals.

There were some exciting performances. Of particular note was the male cadet team kumite where some lightening quick scoring by Serbia helped to secure first place. A member of the Norweigan team showed great spirit and technique during his kumite matches and went on to take gold. The England female cadet team performed a sharp Unsu, missing out on gold by a mere 0.1 point!

It was great to see the JKA England squad competing amongst the best in Europe and with competitors evenly matched in so many face-offs, a number of the bouts could have gone either way. Although the largest contingent, Germany, clearly dominated the results tables, JKA England have proved its high standards on the world stage, finishing joint 3rd place with Italy in the medals table overall – out of the 21 nations who took part.

If you didn’t make it to the event, there is a DVD in production which should be ready to buy within the next couple of weeks (we’ll post an update once it is released). With performances of all the Heian katas and Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Jion and Empi, plus a variety of kata being performed as choices for the finals, it might be a useful reference aid. The kumite should also prove exciting!

Overall medal ranking:
1. Germany – 12
2. Serbia & Belgium – 7 each
3. England & Italy – 6 each
4. Hungary – 5

Top three gold medal winners:
1. Germany – 5
2. Hungary – 4
3. England, Sweden, Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway, France & Serbia – 1 each

The next international karate event is the JKA Junior European Championship to be held on 23rd-25th May 2011 in the Netherlands. Then three months later, the 2011 JKA World Championship (12th Funakoshi Gichin Cup) will be held on 18th-21st August in Thailand.


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…