The first JKS England course of 2019 took place on Sunday 19th January at the Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham. Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England warmly welcomed everyone after greeting the students with a Happy New Year as many anticipated a very physically demanding session which has become par for the course in recent years.
Alan Sensei also presented some recent dan diplomas before the session began. Following on from the very necessary warm up, Alan Sensei took the time to address the students with some wise words, a good degree of which coming from personal experience. The approach to training for all karateka was at the forefront of Alan Sensei’s thoughts and he conveyed this at the ideal time, at the start of a session and the start of training for a new year and decade. It was the concept which became central to the teachings for the session.
Alan Sensei covered the target of working towards perfection. This endeavour, he expanded upon, needs a consistency and concentration only afforded by effort with both the mental and physical pieces of the martial arts puzzle as vital as each other. Diligent training, Alan Sensei advised is key to learning and making sure that a student’s best is always given is the most any teacher can expect. Alan Sensei continued to elaborate on his thoughts and especially how this attitude can reduce the impact which both age and injury can inevitably have karate practice. Where meeting the blueprint which begins the karate journey is no longer possible, a deeper understanding should allow students to personalise and tailor their movement with this original biomechanical familiarity influencing any adjustments required. Alan Sensei imparted this knowledge with explicit relevance to the training to come.
The session started with some conditioning exercises, which, as is often the case, are a lot more demanding than expected! Taking squat pulses as the initial tool, students would alternate a count of ten of these (maintaining a right angle with the legs) before then holding strong in a static position to another count of ten. This set was repeated four times over and for two rounds and certainly provided a more than gentle reminder of how crucial leg strength is to provide a solid base for karate technique.
This template was then utilised with the arms. Alan Sensei alternated press-ups which saw the arms kept tight into the body and wide crucifix holds with the nose raised from the floor by the tiniest of margins. This is a very difficult position to maintain and works a range of muscle groups and postural elements which every karateka will be constantly working on, whether they know it or not.
After these challenging exercises, Alan Sensei looked closely at some basics, spending however much time was needed to allow a much finer breakdown of the principles called for than is often able to be provided. This was the exact reflection of Alan Sensei’s earlier deliberations and illustrated how perfection is an ongoing battle to establish. Students began with oi-tsuki, gyaku-tsuki and gedan barai. Alan Sensei gave a few pointers but allowed students to become comfortable with this sequence even though they are often thought of as white belt techniques. Speed was added but the next step certainly ensured there was no complacency as students paired up to repeat the sequence with their partner watching on. With hawk like eyes in order to check their every move and breath, the sequence was performed in turns and critiqued. Alan Sensei covered how in depth the feedback
benefitted from being and discussions were varied; from assessing the whole body to the smallest facets of timing and co-ordination. This ability to identify in others what students would profit from in identifying in themselves is a notion which gained many disciples of as the course progressed. Alan Sensei helped students to understand that the focus is the same for everyone training, regardless of grade but that the value in striving for perfection should not be lost even if the capacity for change is less marked.
Alan Sensei would then take students through a new kihon combination of shuto-uke, gyaku-nukite and shuto-uke to deliberate on new ingredients in the huge cookbook of karate-do. Feedback was also given here with even student’s thumbs not escaping worthy discussion. Alan Sensei also selected some students to cross-examine this level of hyper-measurement of detail. Alan Sensei gave clear explanations of the power trains of technique where energy is driven from and how it can be released and also looked at how simplistic certain advice can be but for much more advanced reasons.
The remainder of the lesson gave Alan Sensei the opportunity to maintain the level of attention on targeting perfection in training. Reminding students that some things may not be able to be done forever, Alan Sensei championed why focus on achieving when possible is a priceless mindset to have. The kata Kanku-Dai was the platform for Alan Sensei to continue his thought-provoking teaching. Looking at subtle aspects in the opening sequences and slowly and considerately working through the kata meant Alan Sensei’s advice was always pertinent and in demonstration emphasised where tweaks can advance the skill level. This recognition of the finer points of karate can give everything a very fresh look and help motivate students who may otherwise fall into the trap of stagnation through repetition, if their mind is not attuned to the lessons being taught.
The course had flown by and the engaging presentation of Alan Sensei’s musings matched brilliantly with generating a jump start to the New Year. For only a few, it would be off home but for many, Matt Price Sensei’s Open Squad Session lay ahead.
With one of the best ever turnouts, Matt Price Sensei wanted to continue the themes Alan Sensei had raised and relate them to kumite competition and the need for clarity in training and performance for success.
Matt Sensei 6th Dan and JKS England Squad Coach partnered students up, initially to deliver scoring techniques to a static opponent. Students alternated various scoring strategies and then changed partners, setting the tone for a lively and enjoyable atmosphere. This was then repeated with the defender being attacked now moving on the balls of their feet, more reflective of a kumite bout. This meant the timing which students needed to finesse became more difficult as decisive, energetic and accurate techniques were delivered throughout the dojo with kiais ringing around.
Matt Sensei always has a clear goal in mind when developing his kumite drills and the next development ensured that the attacker would be encouraged to move swiftly to a position of safety after delivering their attack. Matt Sensei utilised JKS England squad members in attendance to show the footwork options most advantageous to succeed in the exchange or, if having not scored a point, move to a position where strong defence or further attacks become alternatives.
The next escalation of this exercise meant students had to stay relaxed and move very precisely to maintain the most suitable distance as they were required to response with a block and counter or just counter if their footwork enabled this.
Matt Sensei then looked at the need for a high level of awareness and understanding in points based scoring competition. This included what techniques result in which scores and many factors which need to be observed to allow officials to correctly award points. To reinforce the need for this a reaction drill was introduced where students had to respond immediately with an attack to score the number of points which echoed throughout the hall as Matt Sensei loudly voiced them for all to hear. There are a lot of variables with this sort of drill and concentration needs to be maximised for students to ensure not only the right height of attack but also not sacrifice speed and quality of technique as they process the number of score which they must meet the criteria for. This ability to process what is happening not only before a movement is made but as the fight unfolds is a particularly complicated aspect to both train and then execute.
Matt Sensei would illustrate this following the use of a sweep to manipulate the opponent to the floor. Students had their partner (very graciously) lying on the floor to mimic a takedown and students had to deliver a strong fast punch to their face before swapping places. This was a very easy shortcut to a supine opponent but Matt Sensei did not fail to cover how to realize this shortly after.
The next step from just punching the partner saw students react to Matt Sensei’s count again. Ensuring good distance and withdrawal after the punch Matt Sensei was keen to ensure this trained response allows students to deliver the appropriate technique, rather than be surprised if they affect a successful sweep in competition or grading kumite for example. The final challenge was to use the closest hand to the target as the unlucky floor based student chose to cover either the head or torso with their hands and arms. This is a very easy exercise if students wait for their willing counterpart to position their arms before deciding where to punch but this, Matt Sensei showed, changes the benefits of the drill drastically. The skill and maximum benefit is gained in reacting immediately to the count and whilst dropping the bodyweight down to realise which target is being covered and use the hand closest to the open area to take the scoring opportunity present. Press-ups were used here as a very helpful penalty if the student hesitated or attacked the arms and hands.
The previous exercise was then practiced in a sequence which imitated what could transpire in a real bout. The attacking student swept the opponent, who Matt Sensei requested fall to different angles and distances, whilst the attacker had to keep close, work simple but direct footwork and engage the opponent on the floor as soon as they could to practice the finishing punch. This tracking, means the attacker has less chance of being kicked from the floor or missing the opening made. Matt Sensei described this as “sniping” and is a tactic and ability which differentiates the more successful kumite practitioners from those unable to capitalise on elements of their fighting.
Matt Sensei ended with technical points and a number of popular and very effective sweeping techniques which tied in to the session just coming to an end. Matt Sensei looked at the ability to manoeuvre to a position where either the front or back leg could be swept and how different initial foot placement, hip use and paths of trajectory of the leg need to be accurately executed to make the movement effective. This brought two quite excellent sessions to a close and there will be much more of the same to come in the courses ahead. Please check out the JKS England Website and Facebook Pages for the latest details to make sure these special session are not missed!