This autumn JKA England’s guest instructors were Ueki Masaaki 9th Dan and World Chief Instructor; Sawada Kazuhiro 7th Dan and Chief Instructor of the Sawada Academy in Belgium; Shimizu Ryosuke 5th Dan, Tokyo Headquarters Instructor and former All Japan Kumite Champion all alongside Ohta Yoshinobu 7th Dan and Head of JKA England.
Ueki Shihan started off the first day’s basics with somewhere in the region of 500 gyaku tsukis and mae geris to warm us up. “Ten more!” shouted Ohta Sensei enthusiastically just as everyone thought they were finished. With everybody clearly showing the strain, Ueki Shihan explained that this was typical practise for Honbu instructors: 25 would each count ten of a technique. The message behind his warm smile was clear – in budo, even when things get difficult, one should never give up. He kept a keen eye on everybody as he worked us through core Shotokan stances and basic partner work. An hour and a half seemed to pass quickly. Time for a five minute break.
Senior grades spent the second half of the day in the company of Sawada Sensei studying Nijushiho with lots of bunkai work. He had so much positive energy and showed a genuine enjoyment of karate that it was impossible not to be drawn in by his lesson.
On Saturday curtains were drawn straight after the warm up and 2nd Dan+ ushered back toward Sawada Sensei. He’d already told us the previous day we’d be practising Sochin but there was lots of preparation work including bunkai to get through beforehand. He focused on techniques suitable for use at three different distances – close, regular and far away. Hands first with ura zuki and hineri uke simultaneously; oi zuki with york ashi and uchi uke and stepping punch. Kicks followed: mikazuki geri from standing; mae geri off the back leg and keage geri delivered after spinning backwards and finishing with empi. When it finally came to moving through the kata at its regular count, it was with a much deeper, practical-led understanding.
After a five-minute break and quick catch-up with ‘Team Shiranami’, it was back into line. This time Shimizu Sensei was poised ready to deliver a multitude of drills. One example was defending using soto uke then countering with a barrage of empi techniques: sideways, around and rising. But for me his most memorable exercise was undertaken domino style within a group of three, turning inwards and punching gyaku tsuki while the next person blocked soto uke and so on. It was challenging and great fun! We wrapped up the session with Hangetsu.
On Sunday, the World Chief Instructor had a further test in mind for us. Given that many Nidan-graded karateka and above are instructors, he had decided to check our knowledge and technical ability. He called people out individually and asked them to explain or demonstrate various techniques. I was last to be called up. “Neko ashi dachi.” said Shuseki Shihan. In my own mind it seemed to be going ok, Sensei nodding occasionally as I explained and set my form. “The book says one foot length…” Shihan began, introducing a moment of unease, “…but I also do one and a half” he concurred to my relief. “What’s the most important point?” he asked. “Keeping the weight over the back leg.” was my reply. The cloth at the front of my dogi instantly became the target of an impeccably controlled mae geri. “Protect the groin!” he said grinning and we were surrounded by laughter. So, a little more inner tension then – in more ways than one!
Finally, well done to Will, Peter, Jeremy and Sheila who themselves underwent a gruelling test under Sensei Roy Tomlin and Gary Stewart of the JKA England Technical Committee. All four were successful in gaining their Coaching Licence!