The most recent Black and Brown Belt Course took place in Nottingham on the 1st September and was followed by an Open Squad and a Referee Development session. Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England warmly welcomed everyone to the course and proceeded to make a number of very pleasing announcements.
Alan Sensei began by congratulating the JKS England Squad on their success at the recent World Championships in Dublin. The report is available but a second place finish (pipped only by one gold medal to Japan) is always worth celebrating. It is also easy to forget that with only some minor results differences we might have seen JKS England on top of the world! This is a brilliant achievement and has been engineered by the Squad Coaches who deserve a special mention and who are supported by Club Instructors, fellow students and family members, a true team effort. A huge amount of praise therefore goes to Matt Price Sensei, Nick Heald Sensei and Ashley Scott-Heald Sensei who have made such progress in recent years. Unbelievably there is no sign of the ever increasing accomplishments of the team which they are invested in slowing down.
Alan Sensei then honoured Geoff Dixon Sensei from Grantham who passed his 6th Dan grading in Dublin and who is the JKS England Chief Referee, leading the Officials Development Programme. Geoff Sensei affords a special insight into the other side of competitive karate and was accompanied by Alan Sensei and Rob Edwards Sensei in Dublin as Referees in the intense environment of tournament officiating. Alan Sensei thanked Geoff Sensei for his knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to match the improvement of the JKS Squad with the quality of judging from JKS England. To this end, Geoff Sensei took the first session of the morning with a look at karate from a refereeing perspective which he made very enjoyable with a clear and interesting exploration of the details being assessed on the tatami.
Geoff Sensei started by looking at how kata is judged, which raised a number of vital learning points at the same time. Students performed Heian Sandan to warm up and then would stick with this for reference and consistency, giving them the ability to appreciate the extent of what is being examined by those in charge of the results. Geoff Sensei eased students into the weighted system used to score the karateka’s performance by encouraging students to work on elements of their athletic performance such as strength, speed and balance. These characteristics account for only 30% of the score. Students practiced the kata with another student casting a watchful eye and giving feedback on how best to make positive adjustments. This assessment of another individual not only helps the one receiving feedback but also helps the spectator query their own karate with a much greater deal of scrutiny.
Geoff Sensei then reviewed the remaining 70% and discussed how this is calculated. This proportion relates to technical performance which includes stance, technique, transitional moves, timing, appropriate breathing, kime and conformance to the style being showcased. Geoff Sensei explained all of these items and their specifics, showing how they can both add to and detract from the performance depending on how they are done. Once more, students repeated the kata with their partner letting them know where tiny improvements could mean a small but significant difference in how the kata is viewed. Geoff Sensei did much more than allude to certain moves within Heian Sandan where progress could be made to increase the risk with speed in transitional moves
especially. This links sections of the kata to give the kata a valuable rhythm and timing, meaning the best presentation possible.
Geoff Sensei then moved on to look at kumite and how points can be successfully scored. This encompassed how competitors can meet the criteria to ensure no effort is wasted when the openings present themselves. Geoff Sensei used line ups where students would take it in turns to be the inactive defender to enable those attacking to correlate the points being made by Geoff Sensei to their striking techniques being practiced. Geoff Sensei covered the target areas and variations between age groups in competition in terms of distance as well. Covering the other requirements involved, Geoff Sensei discussed just how many principles need to be observed in order to persuade the judges to flag for a point. There are six which all need to be met; good form, sporting attitude, vigorous application, zanshin (awareness) and good timing, which are in addition to the correct distance mentioned earlier. An explanation of these is available in the WKF Rules but it is much easier to learn to understand them when hitting someone!
Revealing a number of the finer points will have given many students a much more comprehensive understanding of why sometimes techniques which look obviously to have scored do not manage to do so. Often this relates to zanshin where students need to maintain their focus before, during and after the exchange, ensuring that they do not turn away to “break” this commitment as this would suggest they have lost the ability to deal with an attack from the opponent for the sake sometimes of celebration.
Students were then given a short break before the course resumed with Alan Sensei leading the second session. Alan Sensei would spend the second half of the course with a very in-depth look at Kakuyoku Shodan. Alan Sensei offered insight into the Asai Ryu kata system which encompasses many more katas than the standard Shotokan list and how Asai Sensei used to use kata prescriptively to enable students to improve certain aspects of their karate. Some are very specific to certain body parts or themes and others quite generalised. All however, promote a relaxed approach to performance with whip and body action central to trying to emulate what Asai Sensei was advertising with his only unique style.
Alan Sensei demonstrated how the class could loosen both their shoulders and wrists, vital elements which need attention when executing certain movements within Kakuyoku Shodan. Alan Sensei had anticipated doing Shodan and Nidan but found the content and improvements being made meant increased concentration on the former would give students enough on their plate and greater value! Trying to utilise the whole body in a relaxed whipping action mentioned earlier, resulted in a flow which Asai Ryu katas should observe and prevent a robotic and stiff routine.
Alan Sensei also looked at the timing to complete the kata globally, marrying the sharp dynamic movements with the slower controlled ones to perform Kakuyoku Shodan as intended. Alan Sensei made certain that students did not have the impression however that anything is set in stone. Referencing different body types and abilities, this will impact how a student develops and improves on a kata through focused practice.
When Alan Sensei brought the session to a close he reminded students of the benefits of the following sessions; the Open Squad with Matt Price Sensei and Referee Development with Geoff
Dixon Sensei and how fostering an interest in either has a consequence of bettering understanding, teaching ability and fighting strategies.
Matt Sensei began the well attended Open Squad session with light sparring in small groups. This allowed students to keep warm and also closely watch the other student’s exchanges. Later, Matt Sensei would remind students how knowing how a karateka fights by watching them in earlier rounds can give an advantage when meeting them later in the competition. Encouraging students to work with control and vary their approach for attacking and defending to get their eye in, this provided a fitting platform to move on to more intensive and spirited drills.
The first exercise would involve one attacker aiming to score a point and meet the criteria laid out at the start of the day by Geoff Sensei. The opponent being scored upon would begin by being static with the additional group members acting as judges. Either totally convinced by the scoring technique or be dishing out press ups for the lack of clarity in the attack it’s not easy to say which position was most comfortable to be in! This would cycle around with each student attacking, defending and refereeing the situation. Students were free to choose their attack but must be wary of a degree of carelessness as the opponent was free to “tag” them on the nose should the distance close too much without the attacker striking.
After the single attack, the defender then had the choice to stay still or slide off to one side, replicating an evasive manoeuvre. This anticipation was very helpful as if the first attack did not score properly or was not scored by the judges students would be programmed to chase quickly and continue their momentum and pressure. This subtle change was very effective in challenging the student’s reactions to prevent any hesitation which may squander the chance as it unfolded.
Matt Sensei then moved on to demonstrate a number of strategic skills with the intention of manipulating the opposing fighter’s mentality. These are skills which Matt Sensei has used to great effect and he accompanied their explanations with some very interesting anecdotes from his time in the competitive arena at the very highest level. These “secret” strategies cater for times at the conclusion of a fight or when students are wanting to portray an attitude which they then immediately switch to take advantage of their opponent after filling their head with ideas of what might transpire. Matt Sensei ended the day having given students and enormous amount to think about and practice in their home dojos.
Please keep an eye out for details of the Autumn Seminar and other upcoming course events on the JKS England website and Facebook pag