The weekend of the 12th and 13th October saw an electrifying autumn course take place which showcased the depth of talent that JKS England possesses in its instructors.
A warm welcome from Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England was followed by the most recent presentation of dan diplomas from the headquarters in Japan. There was also a very special presentation to Nick Heald Sensei, 7th Dan JKS, as a celebration of the coaching and guidance given to the JKS England Squad which has continued to make major improvements and achieved some amazing results in recent years. It just so happened to be Nick Sensei’s birthday as well and befitting this special day, Nick Sensei was awarded a personalised commemorative sword as well as a sizeable home brewing kit, hopefully two items Nick Sensei will keep separate! He has been succeeded as Squad Coach by Ashley Scott-Heald Sensei who is more than qualified and experienced enough to capitalise on the input which the squad have been so lucky to receive.
Alan Sensei began the technical seminar with everyone training together after a thorough warm up. Narrow and wide press ups would prepare the arms for the blocking and striking drills to follow. Alan Sensei spent time considering the learning method for technique and the presence of an ideal “blueprint”; however Alan Sensei encouraged students to break free from this often tense and restrictive ideal. Utilising uchi-uke to do this, a smooth, relaxed and fast preparation propelled the block in a whipping motion. With the body able to move naturally and with the hips engaged at the vital moment this would set the tone for an understanding of technique which was much deeper than just moving from preparation to the finishing position. With this reference students then worked to block rapidly into stance backwards and then made immediate and reactive movements forwards to kick and punch their partner as a target and cover different heights with their attacks.
It was then the turn of Nick Sensei to put the higher grades class through its paces. Turning and delivering kizami-tsuki was the start of a combination which Nick Sensei expanded upon, adding gyaku-tsuki and then mawashi-geri, this exercise tested the ability of the students to use their hips, correctly time their attacks with body evasion and work smoothly to connect the punches to the kicks. This was then repeated by changing the order of the techniques before similar skills would be tested against an attacking opponent.
After partnering up, Nick Sensei demonstrated different approaches to dealing with incoming attacks. Proposing to take the initiative through quick reflexes, Nick Sensei illustrated ways to suppress the strike with specific body movements. Meeting oi-tsuki jodan and chudan attacks immediately on recognition with deai and then repeating similar movements to prevent mae-geri and mawashi-geri attacks hitting their intended targets, the speed and vigour of this training became amplified. This valuable ability in how to respond to the attacks with precise and direct shock was then challenged under much greater pressure in a line up situation. Students in lines of ten would repeat the same attacks in order and on rotation, meaning they had to be on the ball, as well as the defender who needed concentration, speed and commitment to capitalise on the elements of Nick Sensei’s session and contextualise the studied drills at maximum speed. This culminated in a high intensity atmosphere which saw all students pushing the boundaries of their limits. After the fast and furious kumite drills had been practiced by everyone in the line it was time for a short break for lunch.
Matt Price Sensei resumed the course with more kumite practice, examining a great variety of strategies to manipulate an opponent. It can be true that a picture is worth a thousand words but in karate, if you know what you are looking at, a video can be worth so much more. It is very hard to describe some of the intricacies of the strategies employed and equally hard to practice and deliver them without bad habits or “tells” creeping in. Matt Sensei had students get their eye in by attacking a static partner before he would show some of the combinations and distraction techniques which could be exploited in kumite exchanges and competition. Matt Sensei also reminded students that most of the infamous Shotokan practitioners of the past had distinguished careers in kumite competition and covered in depth training which involved the practice of such skills.
Some of the ideas Matt Sensei demonstrated at first appeared counter-intuitive but only seemed this way if the partner was slow to respond or moving unnaturally because of knowledge of the drill. This is why watching the instructor’s first example is always glorious as the attacking student has no expectation of what is going to happen! The sometimes subtle approaches worked to exploit both natural and trained reactions in order to afford an opening for the delivery of a technique which followed the initiation of the movement effortlessly. Matt Sensei showed how to use the front hand and also leg techniques to initiate these arrangements.
Nick Sensei then closed the day with the second session after the lunch break. Students were guided through Tekki Sandan, a kata not often getting the attention it may truly deserve. Structuring the learning , Nick Sensei built up the kata in sections and repeated so that students were able to quickly use their previous knowledge of other Tekki kata to get to grips with it.
Nick Sensei then moved onto the bunkai, generating some fast, responsive interactions which required the students to switch on for this close range fighting system. Nick Sensei always made certain these interactions developed speed and intent to allow students to feel the pressure and mimic an aggressive exchange as much as possible, whilst keeping both partners safe. Nick Sensei also covered the need for consistency when he noticed that some elements of the bunkai being practiced were losing concentration as other parts were dominating the student’s thoughts. A gentle reminder meant students appreciated that all of the sequence was vital and made more enjoyable by finishing with a solid, sometimes jumping hiza-geri (knee strike).
With only a few minutes let, Nick Sensei used squat pulses and stretching to the side with the back foot as a warm down. Ending with plank, the pressure of Matt Sensei’s foot meant most students stayed locked still for the duration although those unlucky enough to move even slightly from this position got the encouragement they needed to return very quickly.
A grading concluded the first day for those attempting Shodan and Nidan and congratulations to those who succeeded in achieving their new grades. All dan passes are listed at the end of this article.
The Sunday session began with a warm up from Sensei Steve Carless 6th Dan JKS who joined Matt and Nick Sensei from the day before. Steve Sensei began with some basic sequences and covered essential technical points related to them. Punching first, then moving to knife hand blocks and counter strikes and ending with a kicking combination, this kihon practice had worked the necessary muscle groups to prepare everyone for the main aim of the class. Steve Sensei was keen to address stance transitions, vital in kata but necessary in all areas of karate for effective practice. Students were provided with a sheet of paper and this was used as a visual aid to monitor correct
performance and highlight areas needing attention. The group was split into pairs so students could give feedback to each other, this extra pair of eyes also helped to make sure students were not just ending in the right position but pivoting and driving as they should be into the new stance. The detail of these movements Steve Sensei demonstrated first, before the class was given the opportunity to practice. Steve Sensei selected a number of specific turns at varying angles and into other stances to provide the class with a consistent and holistic explanation of the technique needing to be exercised below the belt. This was a very thorough class and could sometimes foster frustration if students did not find their foot in the correct place, meaning that Steve Sensei had found a very constructive principle to teach in a very understandable way.
It was then over to Nick Sensei who started with a high tempo, students were running progressive interval sprints to keep the body warm and purposefully getting students to operate on the edge of their fitness, trying to stay relaxed and challenge concentration as well as character when fatigued.
Nick Sensei then introduced the vast majority of the group to a new kihon sequence which was identified as one of “Enoeda Sensei’s special combinations”, used as a grading examination sequence which comprises common groups of techniques derived from other elements of the grading syllabus and kata. This was a great set of basics which enabled the class to implement correct foot position, heel drive and rotation addressed earlier by Steve Sensei and this theme of thinking about working from the ground up was never far from the rest of the items practiced on the autumn course.
Nick Sensei then got the group in a circle and trained gyaku-tsuki, moving the front foot to cover distance whilst staying relaxed and snapping the punches at full speed. Nick Sensei warned the class that this would come back to haunt the students and he got this absolutely spot on!
To complete an energetic morning and leave the students reaching the lunch break puffing and panting. Students were split into groups of four with two acting as markers and two students completing the exercise. Nick Sensei had the class move side to side, aiming to be quicker than their counterpart facing them. Needing nimble feet and touching level with the inactive students position this exercise meant all students could operate at their maximum, helped a little by other instructors looking on! The students then cycled through rounds of sixty, thirty and fifteen seconds, changing pairs each time for some brief respite to catch breath before finishing with a fast set of the punches repeated just before this setup. The final gyaku-tsukis were much easier said than done and allowed students to end on a high with kiai. The lunch break then came to allow students to recover and reflect on this fantastic morning.
After the break, Steve Sensei expanded on his lesson at the start of the day and taught Bassai-Dai. With a gentle but constant reminder of the importance of precise stance transitions, students were able to put into place the technical content emphasized with the paper into complete kata practice. The bunkai for this then followed with students starting to appreciate how correct stance transition can place the karate-ka in a position of safety, be ready to counter-attack or be able to manipulate the opponent’s body or limbs by being in a strong, commanding position. Always allowing the body to be engaged completely through the management of weight distribution and posture, students made these movements fluid and effective to add a greater wisdom to the katas covered.
Steve Sensei then took students through Kakuyoku Nidan and with students switched on mentally and concentrating on the body control principles of turning/spinning and rotating becoming ingrained, were able to swiftly receive the kata with their mind remaining on possible applications and benefits.
Matt Sensei then concluded the day with a session he calmly termed “violence”. Tekki Shodan was to be the gateway for this and with the majority of the students having prior knowledge of this kata, Matt Sensei analysed closely the distance and interactions that this kata can serve to impact positively. Repeating the kata in the original form and then out of stance allowed students to feel the slight variations and intention of the movement and how this may translate into application. Practicing out of the kiba-dachi stance so crucial to the kata meant the hips could be twisted and driven much more and the timing could be modified as for maximum power generation.
Matt Sensei proceeded to cover the bunkai which he appeared to enjoy too much at times! Closely examining the range of the techniques involved and how to create speed and therefore impact to relevant targets, Matt Sensei paired students to run through the sequences drawn upon from the kata in this close combat situation with many points reinforcing Nick Sensei’s Tekki Sandan session from the day before. The pace of the final session was a little calmer than some of the others over the weekend but this was made up for by the content. Students practiced delivering strong and sharp techniques but also received as many as they gave, working a strong core to be able to feel how power can be created from a very small distance and the body connected with punches such as a hooking kage-tsuki or the open hand strike found as the first movement of the kata.
A resounding thank you must go to all of the instructors for an incredible weekend of karate which covered extremes of simplicity and sometimes complexity, as well as being physically and mentally demanding. The course gave everyone in attendance a wealth of technical expertise to absorb into their brand of karate and take back to their dojos with enthusiasm and inspiration. With a greater pool of knowledge and items to practice at home a great weekend will have a much longer lasting impact on those who trained. Please take a look at the upcoming events and see some snippets of the course on the JKS England Facebook page.
Philip Barker - Leeds Karate Academy
Maya Degan - Walsall Karate Dojo
Ian Dudley - Selby
Karl Eling - Leeds Karate Academy
Berhan Haker - Selby Shotokan
Katherine Hambleton - JKS York
Cameron Nakagawa - JKS York
Leonardo Roque Henriques - Walsall Karate Dojo
Sophie Thompson - TKF
Brooke Wren Stringer - Kaizen No-Michi
Oliver Holyoak - Can Do Martial Arts
Campbell Watt - Selby