The 2019 JKS England Summer Course took place at the Djanogly Academy in Nottingham on the 13th and 14th of July. It was to be a very interesting, energetic and varied course which promised a lot and delivered completely. Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England made the welcome to those in attendance and introduced the guest instructors for the Saturday. These were legendary UK martial artist Phil Norman who is founder of the Ghost System as well as a former Gladiators Champion and Paolo Arlotti 5th Dan, Head of JKS Italy.
The first session of the Saturday was taken by Alan Sensei who set up the weekend brilliantly. Alan Sensei began with punching and the need to focus on releasing the shoulder. Working slowly to begin with, students concentrated on isolating the joint. Affording both power and the ability to increase the striking distance, controlling and relaxing the joints would later be referenced in the same way with kicking through the correct use of the hips. Alan Sensei encouraged the feeling of forward progression and focus into a target, even when practicing alone. Illustrating how to drive from the punch and co-ordinating the leg movement the exercises allowed students to recognize all the vital elements involved. With Alan Sensei making sure students grasped the principle of trying to engage the whole body for maximum impact, students had been provided with a valuable foundation of technical detail.
Alan Sensei then looked at driving from the hips, through the legs, by ensuring the heel of the foot was planted firmly. This explosive power would be a theme of the weekend and be mentioned in all of the classes. Adding the arms to this, students then practiced with a partner to feel the technique when employing a combination of hip and shoulder action. Before moving onto the kicking section, Alan Sensei asked everyone to appreciate the differences between javelin throwing and bowling. Students practiced these movements in order to cement the shoulder motion being closely scrutinized.
Mae geri was then worked in a systematic way to ensure each part of the kick was optimised and linked smoothly. To begin, heel and knee lifts were used, aiming to keep the foot chambered until it was time to release the kick. Hands were then used behind the students to ensure a swinging action was not creeping in, before the other hand was added as a target for the knee lift to the front. Culminating in a fast, smooth action, driven from the hip, this kick had been broken down so that all grades could identify areas needing attention when back at their home dojos. It is training like this that can never be underestimated and Alan Sensei did not spare any detail.
It was then over to Phil Norman and the introduction of his Ghost System. Phil has an exceptional level of experience in a number of martial arts in both study and competition, meaning that he is able to understand the similarities which permeate all striking arts competitions. It is around this knowledge of engaging an opponent that the Ghost System excels. Beginning with a clock face footwork exercise, Phil showcased the elusive nature of the system, always conscious of safety and readiness to counter attack or defend. This drill also had students considering their head position and the increasingly limited number of attacks which the instigator could make as footwork moved the student to a more optimal position. The ease of escaping to safety and maintaining a specific, intentional distance always resurfaced as key ingredients of the system. Working to strike and evade, Phil Sensei made many comments which would be very familiar to karate practitioners and these were explained very clearly. Good balance and body control was mentioned by Phil in his
demonstrations and he showcased how mastering these can lead to effective strikes, even when it looks as though you are in danger.
After working the feet, Phil added in a punch from the side, which enabled the students to move to a safer position. This movement away, allowed compression of the back leg so a side kick defence was a clear opportunity should the opponent start to close the distance.
The punch was then followed with a mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) to keep the opponent occupied. The final strategy would see three punches being used with the footwork being expanded to capitalise on quick pivoting. Phil also covered how to cut through the opponent’s guard by manipulating their hand position and stance to deliver the techniques at the most favourable time, moving smoothly and transferring the weight to strike effectively. Phil’s class was an excellent example of thoughtful sparring and was delivered so that all students could benefit from his deep understanding of combat sports.
The final session of the Saturday was taught by Paolo Sensei after a short break. Paolo Sensei has an infectious energy and it is clear there is an unwavering focus at the heart of all his karate practice.
Paolo Sensei began with some common exercises to work hip movement between shomen and hamni, beginning slowly and then moving fast, snapping into and out of each resting point. Kizami-tsuki and gyaku-tsuki then followed, driven by the hip action movements just practiced. Paolo Sensei then worked combinations of two and later three punches to pressure fast hip movement and strong core involvement. The basic kihon blocks then completed this sequence to make certain that the basics were reinforced. Counting at a good tempo to sometimes make up for his limited English, Paolo Sensei always wanted speed to be at the heart of technical repetitions. There was never any problem in understanding the teaching points Paolo was keen to make, in fact it was very close in both mannerism and content to any Honbu Dojo instructor!
Paolo Sensei then looked at how to drive into front stance. Squatting first to replicate the midpoint of the stance transition the explosive theme of the weekend resurfaced. Punching to multiple angles then challenged the students to turn quickly and directly whilst aiming to keep at the same height. Paolo Sensei then paired students so that they could feel the pressure needed into the front knee to make a quick and effective step. This was done by pulling the hand of their partner and making sure they weren’t in the way. The foot and knee position Paolo advised are crucial, not just in the immediate but for years into the future for safe, effective karate practice.
Paolo Sensei then also looked at mae geri, to augment the technical points stressed by Alan Sensei in the first session. Paolo Sensei wanted students to train their fast twitch muscle fibres to ensure efficiency kicking with no wasted time or energy.
Paolo Sensei next covered the kata Heian Nidan. After a few rounds of practice and covering some important sections of the kata, bunkai with partners naturally resulted. Paolo Sensei guided students through the kata without the partner present first and then introduced the defensive combinations to be performed. This study of the kata is how Paolo Sensei says he learns to delve deeper into the secrets within, working out how applications of the kata can benefit against multiple, fast flowing realistic attacks. Linking certain sequences and then performing these with speed and fluidity Paolo
Sensei moved at great speed and showed how the earlier basics and body control principles lead to improved kumite skills.
To complete the day, Paolo Sensei worked a simple kumite drill for reaction and explosive counter attacking. Students blocked an attack by replicating the earlier compression of the back leg and deflecting with the hand before striking the opponent fast with a gyaku-tsuki (reverse punch). This plyometric exercise showed exactly how Paolo Sensei trains speed which was ever present in his session. A kizami-tsuki (jab punch) was quickly blocked and countered by the fast hands and legs which allowed a double gyaku-tsuki counter to end on top. The difficulty level was then heightened with students adding aspects of strategy and feinting before the attack to increase the need for sharp reactions. A brilliant first day then was then at a close. Ending with some sore feet and lots of calories having been burned it had been a real treat for students to work hard physically, be challenged with new ideas mentally and cover the vital foundations of our martial art.
The Sunday would start with another introduction by Alan Sensei who again highlighted Paolo Sensei’s presence and who was to be accompanied by Steve Carless Sensei 6th Dan JKS. Alan Sensei reminded students of Steve Sensei’s successful Walsall Karate Dojo who are going from strength to strength within the JKS and also on the competition circuit both nationally and beyond.
Steve Sensei began the day with a testing warm up which emphasised hip strength, flexibility and mobility as a central part of Shotokan practice and the athleticism needed. A number of gymnastic stretches and exercises showed students how to improve at home with the ultimate aim of supplementing power and reducing the risk of injury through calisthenics and conditioning training.
To follow the warm up Steve Sensei worked some basic techniques and stance points, fully utilising the loosened hips. Front stance and the compression needed in the legs were central to these exercises and as a number of the themes were much like Saturday’s, a consistency reinforced the crucial element of this training. Steve Sensei limited the hip action drills to working in a straight line at the start before explaining how a well rounded karate-ka must also have the ability to perform circular movements in both offense and defence.
Steve Sensei then gave some excellent illustrations of the next part of his class. Students were to observe this circular motion and ensure they were co-ordinating the hip and hand in the drill to generate maximum disruption with the block and impact with the strike. A jodan (face) attack was met with a deflecting block before an instantaneous haito (ridge hand) strike was delivered after setting the hip. Steve Sensei pressured students to wait to use their hip at the prime moment to see the effect this timing had on the control of the opponent’s attack. Entering a close distance, Steve Sensei then covered a number of options for moves to use next. These controlling sequences would cater for times when the attacker is a different size and give students the chance to work out what works best for them in the individual altercations.
Students were shown sweeping and how the students needed to concentrate on foot placement and posture for success. Steve Sensei also showed how to control the body through manipulation of the head as part of a takedown which either worked against the other student’s line of weakness or with their momentum to manoeuvre their partner into a controlled position.
Fostering this relaxed, circular whipping action, students were fully prepared for the kata to be taught next; Junro Yondan. Practiced with the idea of threes in mind, students were shown three times and then practiced three times to give a reliable platform to learn the kata. Steve Sensei was always informative and clear on how the Junro kata system benefits performance of other Shotokan katas, but also how the advantages they create permeate kihon and kumite as well. A very enjoyable lesson, executed with patience and dynamism allowed students to learn quickly and gain as much as they can from the session. Concentrating on turns, body control and relaxed movement with a strong focus on hip action, this difficult kata was made to feel easy to learn by Steve Sensei. Partners were then used to check how well the performance matched with Steve Sensei’s teaching before the short lunch break. Steve Sensei had covered a huge amount at a great pace, maintaining and building on the interest and enthusiasm of everyone in the dojo.
After the rest period it was back to Paolo Sensei. Working stances slowly, maintaining the same height and front knee position, front stance, back stance and horse-riding stance were all repeated. Blocks and strikes were then added to this stance drill, reflecting some the grading syllabus combinations which can never be overlooked. Spinning was then added for some of the basics by Paolo Sensei. Shuto-uke was executed in back stance with sliding, stepping and backwards turns, reminiscent of sections of different katas and which tested a number of skills such as control of posture and the centre line. Paolo Sensei also led training drills which saw students jumping into kiba dachi with punches to improve leg strength and make a strong connection with the floor.
Bassai-dai and its bunkai was the last gift of Paolo Sensei’s instruction. The approach was similar to the Saturday, broadening the knowledge base of kata application for all students and a fantastic insight into how Paolo Sensei uncovers a limitless appreciation of kata.
The final classes of the summer course saw Steve Sensei teach kumite whilst Alan Sensei took the Sandan and above students through Junro Godan. Alan Sensei covered a wealth of information on how and why these katas should be specific to the person whilst trying to be as true as possible to Asai Sensei’s unrivalled tutelage and karate-do. Steve Sensei took the rest of the group through kumite drills which were very timely as a dan grading took place after time was up on these sessions.
Huge thanks must go to all those involved and especially the instructors for providing a blockbuster summer course. With such talent inside JKS England and relationships outside of this allowing Phil Norman and Paolo Arlotti to impart their wisdom, not many training weekends can come close!
A dan grading then followed the training course and congratulations to those successful at this attempt. All those who passed are listed below.
Emily Frew - JKS York
Warrick Howarth - Walsall Karate Dojo
Eddie Johnson - Grantham Shotokan Karate Club
Daniel Mathew - JKS Shotojuku
Isobel McGowan - JKS York
Sam Neep - Leeds Karate Academy
William Rogers - Torbay Karate Club
Claire Romenuik Jones - JKS York
Sam Watson - JKS York
Harry Fairess-York - JKS York
Catherine Hartley - Can Do Martial Arts
Christopher Halsall - Zanshin