Kagawa Shihan’s annual visit took place on the evening of Friday 6th March and on Saturday 7th March. This seminar is incredibly popular and sees all grades eager to learn from the very best. Kagawa Shihan continues to spearhead the success of the JKS at all levels, with an approach which marries both the valuable traditional aspects of martial arts with the modern athleticism, showcasing technical perfection at the fastest possible speed. As part of an organisation redefining the pinnacle of karate, the ability for students to access training like this is an occasion not to be missed.
The introduction would begin with Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England thanking Kagawa Shihan for his presence and to all those enthusiastic students in attendance. JKS England is very lucky to be able to host Kagawa Shihan and the course is always oversubscribed which is a fitting testament to the quality and character which he possesses and displays at all times.
A warm up the course and with Kagawa Shihan looking on, this always prompts just a little more in the way of stretching and mobility exercises as preparation to use the one’s entire body in the training ahead. The course began with some static punches where the onus was on the co-ordination and timing to maximise the hip involvement without making this unnecessarily big and wasteful or slow. This task was then repeated when walking to help students understand how technique can never be neglected even when moving. Students practiced walking smoothly and punching out of sync, trying their hardest to prevent the robotic marching which many students struggled to avoid initially.
Kagawa Shihan then repeated this with mae-geri to match the body control which has crucial relevance in all aspects of karate-do. The exercise saw students lift their knee when stepping to contract and stabilise the core, before releasing this when kicking and swiftly returning to this preparation on the next step.
Punching practice was then directed to different angles to imitate a more active kumite feel and escape the restriction of just linear movements. Kagawa Shihan endeavoured to check that students’ techniques were finished in a fluid and relaxed manner. As with many of the kihon combinations practiced, kicking would also be involved and cover a considerable amount of repetition, sharpening the basics within the Shotokan system without the tedium of doing each move in isolation. Kagawa Shihan has a unique ability to convey exactly what he is thinking with just a subtle facial expression, guiding students to push a little bit further, dig a little bit deeper or move a little bit faster. These small increments make all the difference in terms of progress and with Kagawa Shihan helping students to recognise where changes are achievable or necessary helps to establish only good habits in the longer term.
The chambering of kicks and hip relaxation became central to the next sequence which allowed students to develop their understanding of Kagawa Shihan’s intentions. Mae geri to the front would be immediately followed by yoko geri with the same leg to the side, before mawashi geri was made to the front and leaving just a gyaku-tsuki as the icing on the cake. Stability and posture management here was fundamental to maintaining balance and generating the forces needed for powerful kicks. There is no one better than Kagawa to demonstrate this, although throughout the
weekend he also brought in many students to examine teaching points relevant to many and enhance his explanations. One of the hardest elements of this sequence was kicking mawashi geri, straight from the extended side thrust kick. Full hip engagement proved a difficult task as the technique began from a different position than most are familiar with. This showed the importance of hip timing and relaxation in the mastery of technique which Kagawa Shihan continues to strive for, as well as the need for good flexibility and leg strength.
Appropriate core body control was again covered in great detail as students combined this with some leg conditioning simultaneously. From a half squat position and keeping the body upright students would punch or strike whilst moving forwards, backwards, sideways, behind and dropping down into stance. This set of moves is something which Kagawa Shihan has developed lately to give all students a handle of JKS kihon and the attention to detail it demands. It also features in the JKS Hombu Dojo Home Training Videos which have recently been released to aid those in the difficult times, beginning just after Kagawa Shihan’s brilliant course.
The kicks practiced beforehand would then merge nicely with the strikes to create not unlike a mini kata which is a useful vehicle to practice many combinations found throughout the syllabus. This would later also unintentionally give students and instructors many ideas for online training where space is limited, as is often the case when training at the Hombu Dojo in Japan.
Kumite was the next item on Kagawa Shihan’s agenda and much time was spent over the weekend on the concepts raised on Friday evening. Students would pair up for Ippon Kumite and utilise fudo dachi (rooted/immovable stance) as part of their defensive armoury. The weight transfer that this stance affords when blocking is an ideal platform to then respond with the delivery of a sharp and effective counter attack. Kagawa Shihan very clearly explained why front stance helps lower grades develop, evolving into the ability to increase the range over which the hips can be used for maximum power, something which the more advanced karateka should be working towards. The safety which fudo dachi affords in how the student receives the technique, either through a block or tai sabaki (body evasion) is very beneficial and students worked hard to manage the distribution of their energy in order to be able to respond efficiently. Kagawa Shihan then explained how the body acts as a coiled spring to unleash the tension loaded in the legs and hips as well as throughout the core and upper body. Combining the snap of these with a relaxed shoulder action means that the technique can be propelled forwards and also snapped back into place with ease, provided the whole body does as it’s told to work in unison! To do slowly was manageable for many students but replicating at full speed was something which posed trouble and definitely gives something to be practiced at students’ home dojos.
A jodan oi tsuki was met with age uke to ensure the use of common techniques would not generate additional complexity as students tried to isolate and connect the body trains to emulate Kagawa Shihan. Blocking and escaping to different angles was also enveloped in this basic kumite exercise which Kagawa Shihan never overcomplicated. The essence and often simplicity of his teaching constantly recognises how basic principles deserve the most attention and how this impacts the more advanced aspects of karate. This was a point which Alan Sensei stressed at the end of the evening and something which JKS England members should be fully aware of in their pursuit to raise their level and harmonise their technique.
Heian Shodan would finish the evening and a few repetitions of this allowed Kagawa Shihan to view if many components of the evening’s course had been grasped. Kagawa Shihan would comment that especially the turning transitions impact how the kata is viewed. If they are slow and “safe” then the student is not demonstrating how dynamic these can be when delivered with a whipping motion and operating at their limits of speed and stability to foster improvement. This brought the first session of the seminar to a close along with many happy faces and sweaty bodies visible around the training hall.
Kagawa Shihan would be back for more of the same on the Saturday. The session could not have exemplified Kagawa Shihan’s attitude to karate any better. It was a fantastic Friday evening which undoubtedly left an impression on all students as to where their focus should be. Kagawa Shihan advised the students that Gojushiho Sho would be covered tomorrow to balance the kata level practiced on the first day.
The hall would once again be filled with many excited students for the second day of the seminar and Kagawa Shihan would cement and expand upon his session from the night before. The foreword by Alan Sensei and warm up would take place first and some dan certificate presentations were also made before the training started.
Whether it is happiness or humour, Kagawa Shihan never stops smiling and this light-hearted approach is the polar opposite to the effort and energy he embodies in his practice. This motivation for students to give just a little more was ever present on the Saturday of the course and his laughter at times, suggestive that sometimes a bit more practice is often required!
Kagawa Shihan started by loosening of the shoulders. Keeping the legs static in front stance, elbow strikes would be used in all manner of paths of motion to the target with each student working to their full range of mobility and flexibility. The significance of shoulder involvement would make the difference in how students improved when performing the next group of exercises. Working to punch in front stance, make a back fist to the side in kiba dachi and then finish with shuto-uke in kokutsu dachi was repeated with an awareness of the role the shoulder can and should play if relaxed and controlled. Kicks were then integrated to the same directions as the strikes, increasing the level of difficulty and needing students to manipulate all aspects of their body to achieve success with speed, power and balance in the sequence.
Next would see some shiko dachi squats. Opening the hips and readying the legs for more kicking resulted from students pulsing with small hops forwards, backwards and to the sides. A punch was then added as students would compress one side before driving back up to synchronize with the attacking fist.
Kicking then dominated the next part of the session and the ability to preserve good posture to return the kick by controlling the hip and allow this to snap into a new stance was central to this drill. Students would use mae geri to the front, yoko geri to the side and mawashi geri to the front and then be challenged to return the rear leg used to its original position or adopt new stance. Returning mawashi into back stance was definitely the trickiest of all the three kicks but gave students the perfect opportunity to concentrate on how to recruit the right muscle groups to maximise the withdrawal and initiate a solid stance.
After the kihon drills had finished for the morning it was back to some partner work and Kagawa Shihan echoed the vital comments from the Friday night’s session. Kagawa Shihan would however widen the attacking techniques here as students worked in their pairs up and down the hall to allow them enough room. Jodan, chudan, mae geri, mawashi geri and spinning uraken attacks would be done on both sides with the defender executing blocking techniques and then counter attacking with gyaku-tsuki to solidify the transition and hip action Kagawa Shihan had highlighted throughout the course so far. This was taxing mentally to ensure that Kagawa Shihan’s advice was at the forefront of everyone’s minds as they were being pressured by the incoming attack.
Another kumite drill would then have an attacker begin the exchange with a gyaku tsuki before then blocking the attack and countering with a jodan front leg mawashi geri to meet the attacker with only a split second timing point to execute, before finishing with a gyaku tsuki. Students practiced this and increased the speed to replicate more realistic kumite, trying to forget that there is knowledge of what is coming and train to react to this naturally.
After the well earned break students would return with some further basics which were completed in kiba dachi. Kagawa Shihan encouraged students to ensure they kept a strong base when delivering the arm techniques. Steadying the knee position whilst engaging the hips and upper body was something which was discussed comprehensively as Kagawa Shihan explained how this should be done. An imaginary square would be used by students to further practice kiba dachi and build on the static practice initially. Students would drive out to one side and punch at the same time and then return to the original position. This mimicked the movement which exists in some kata and would later relate to the kata covered towards the end of the session. Snapping the hips into position and tempering both sides of the body to ensure the hikite and kime were supported by the stance was something which Kagawa Shihan guaranteed students were aware of as a partner was employed to give constructive feedback.
Gojushiho Sho was then taught in its entirety and Kagawa Shihan once more qualified many of the teaching points throughout the seminar as to where they correspond with the kata. Sections were explained thoroughly and students practiced them to establish proper technique. Kagawa Shihan also covered the difference that kiai can make within kata. Perfectly illustrated and with an enviable smoothness, Kagawa Shihan showed how the kiai can supplement the techniques over which it stretches both internally and externally.
Kagawa Shihan would complete the seminar with some kumite where the defender was positioned with their back to the wall. Hand position would be examined and the ability to quickly and effectively deflect or meet oncoming attacks practiced with interest paid to the elbows in particular. These strategies would allow students to appreciate how kumite benefits from a systematic approach to defence and kamae which Kagawa Shihan only had time to touch on the essence of.
The course was then brought to a close and with rapturous applause as Kagawa Shihan was thanked by Alan Sensei and the entire class for his mesmerising and stimulating instruction. A grading would then follow the course and congratulations to those successful at this attempt.
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