Whilst in lockdown, the JKS members throughout the association and also across the globe at the headquarters have made incredible strides to continue training in the face of the unavoidable restrictions amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Club members have utilised online training from their instructors, students have trained outdoors and the Honbu Dojo have provided an astounding stream of seminars right to our doorstep which I think many people would have found hard to imagine at the start of 2020. Since some face to face training has resumed, clubs have also worked tirelessly to meet the regulations imposed, giving students the best possible teaching where facilities allow and support the progress many will have used for positivity in these different times.
On the 13th September, JKS England hosted a training course which took place in the JKS Grantham Dojo. The event was held in this set-up as a trial to offer training from the Head of JKS England, Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan both online and also to students within the dojo physically. I am extremely pleased to report that it ran very smoothly with some excellent feedback after the course about future interest to support this format.
Geoff Dixon Sensei, 6th Dan and Chief Instructor of JKS Grantham welcomed everyone to the course and introduced Alan Sensei who then took to his allocated dojo space. The course would run as a kyu grade lesson first, followed by a dan grade lesson, allowing for time in between for the dojo to be cleaned as required.
A warm up was completed before choku-tsuki and mae-geri were delivered from a static stance. This allowed Alan Sensei to more easily illustrate the relaxation needed to execute a greater number of techniques and maintain an effortless rhythm. This repetition is akin to a runner’s or cyclist’s cadence, where the trained body can perform naturally and fluidly without observing the jerky, tense motions which hamper the ongoing search for technical perfection.
Alan Sensei commented on the feel of the dojo and how the effort seen both inside and online gave a great environment within which to motivate. Subtle glances may also have been witnessed to apply that little bit of added pressure and eke out training improvement of those in the dojo where no-one is able to hide! Benefitting from a large screen for online visibility this also extended to those in the comfort of their own training areas where Alan Sensei also offered critique and advice.
Kizami-tsuki and then gyaku-tsuki were employed to show how a more exaggerated body action and hip drive can result in a straight, fast and efficient striking force. Alan Sensei likened parts of this drill to the drawing and releasing of an arrow from an archer’s bow, and with Robin Hood having famously resided nearby, showed how a combination of factors need to work in harmony to deliver an accurate and destructive punch. Attention to detail was also given to keeping the hip joints level horizontally and releasing the shoulder joint for maximum reach and power.
Alan Sensei then proposed that the simplicity of the common techniques which Shotokan emphasises can be considered in the context of how language is learnt, used and perfected. These building blocks can never be forgotten or abandoned as they are essential to all of karate much like letters, words, punctuation, sentences and on have parallels with martial arts study. Students would then cover yoko-geri and mawashi-geri (after mae-geri) in a kicking sequence where the pathway of the kick would be scrutinized. Squeezing the core to bring the knee up rapidly would allow students
to ensure power generation in the correct plane. Kicking to the front, side or round meant the leg needed to be snapped or thrusted from, and crucially back to, the preparation position to observe the technical difficulty which the kicks require. Alan Sensei wanted to ensure the leg was not being “thrown” into place and thus lacking in delivery of the finer points of kicking which had been carefully mentioned. Managing the twist of the supporting leg and timing the hip action were all additional teaching points which Alan Sensei ensured the kyu grades grasped thoroughly, as their inclusion increases in the grading syllabus kihon and katas.
Alan Sensei then discussed how other striking points of the body should not be neglected. With the knuckles and wrists needing correct alignment and good strength development they can be trumped by the hard and readymade bony prominence of the elbow, save for the stimulation of the ulnar nerve (responsible for the “I will never get used to this” feeling of the funny bone). Alan Sensei engineered the empi strikes to mimic comparable directions to the front, side and round kicks covered prior. Working yoko-empi, mawashi-empi and age-empi the chest and shoulders would be at the forefront of needing to meet the relaxation Alan Sensei had defined earlier. The shoulder would become a tool with which to whip the arm into place and articulate the joint to its maximum range of motion in order to refine the strikes. When looking at the features of the rising elbow strike Alan Sensei also qualified the need to adjust the hand position to prevent bicep tension, reducing the chance of injury and limiting the extension. Twisting the hand palm to ear, would protect against this and when coupled with expansion of the side elevated the stretch considerably more. This reinforced the importance of only recruiting the muscle groups required and not hampering a technique with a feeling of tension and strength which can increase with age as the younger student’s mobility is frequently more easily unimpeded. This neatness became a theme throughout the course and students had also covered a number of footwork exercises when coupled with the elbow sequence without realising it; stepping, half-stepping and sliding meant a huge amount had already been explored inside the one hour session.
Alan Sensei reminded students of how their imagination is needed more than ever to replace the contact element of kumite which we all find ourselves missing fiercely. Tekki shodan would finish the session and allow Alan Sensei to reveal how the lesson’s content correlates to all aspects of karate-do. Finishing with the essential zanshin to bring the kata and lesson to a close and after the bow, Alan Sensei was thanked by all in physical or virtual attendance with a round of applause and paid the same thanks himself to all those supporting the first JKS England course of this nature.
The second session then started with fresh faces in the dojo as new students took to their spots. Once again, Alan Sensei was welcomed and began with an onus on flexibility and relaxation right from the start. Grounded choku-tsuki punches would warm up the body and arms before stances would be integrated. To address the stiffness and tension which can be found all too easily with hand techniques Alan Sensei demonstrated how students should deliver fast and relaxed movements with core control and bodyweight behind them without the limitation of matching the timing of the hand to the foot. Continuous punches and front stance changes were incorporated to provide the natural flow and rhythm desired. The speed was then increased with the changing punches not having to conform explicitly to the landing of the foot, meaning that students could find their “groove”.
The first exercise was then followed by mae-geri with the added intensity of a squat before to establish the same looseness and snap that the arms had achieved. Not wanting to be rude and feel like yoko-geri and mawashi-geri had been left out, a few more squatting kicks lay in wait. Alan Sensei then looked at how these leg techniques can feature in kumite exchanges. Students would move off the line to 45 degrees with a knife hand into cat stance before lifting the front leg for yoko-geri and visualising attacking an opponent’s knee or hip joint. This flowing drill tested student’s ability to manage their weight distribution into the stance through the back leg, raise the knee correctly and drive in smoothly with the hip before completing the sequence with gyaku-tsuki. A similar evasion and counter-attacking drill was then connected to this with gedan-barai, mae-geri and nukite as the respective techniques involved. Posture became vital to control in order to generate maximum power in both the kick and hand technique counter-attacks as speed increased with students trying to find the same rhythm they had cultivated at the beginning of the lesson.
Alan Sensei then upped the ante with some kumite drills which would reflect the basics which had been practised. Encouraging the student’s imaginations became important once more to exploit the speed and fluidity which students needed to draw upon for kumite skills. A slide to the side with a front leg sweep was immediately followed by a mawashi-geri and gyaku-tsuki. Anticipating the line and movement of the attacker meant those training could work to chudan or jodan level heights, depending on foot placement and angulation. Alan Sensei demonstrated how hip flexor strength need not be neglected in spite of the lack of a partner. Solidifying the leg structure through the knee and ankle and engaging the oblique muscles would result in an ideal platform for an ashi-barai to disrupt the phantom opponent’s balance and envisage their reaction in response. This level of critical thinking was then advanced to encompass a situation where the initial technique was unsuccessful; a back leg sweep would begin the combination before the realisation that it was evaded or missed its mark. The student would then need to react immediately in a natural way to capitalise on the momentum gained from the body action by stepping through to deliver an ushiro-mawashi-geri before hitting gyaku-tsuki. These reflex kumite exercises were repeated a number of times with Alan Sensei giving feedback to how reality may unfold and how to modify the foot placement and kicking path to hit the target which could present itself.
A special treat was left in store for the final part of the lesson and it saw Alan Sensei debut the kata he recently created to provide a platform to develop open hand techniques. The kata revisited many of the day’s details in terms of basic principles, such as contraction and expansion, as well as relaxation and tension. The most significant focus of the kata however, is how it deviates from involving the more commonly found tsuki and has a huge amount to offer with its freedom by moving away from this. The kata channels a co-ordination of both sides simultaneously and contains many exciting variations of open hand techniques, stance transitions, bodyweight management and footwork. The name of this kata, Alan Sensei revealed, is Aita-te no kata (the kata of open hand) and I’m sure there was no one practicing alongside Alan Sensei who didn’t want to see more explanation, application and detail. I’m sure this will be visited all in good time but for now though, anticipation can build before the deeper understanding can be gleaned at a later date. It certainly was a very enjoyable and enlightening way to cap a great day of challenging and rewarding training.
Geoff Sensei then showed his appreciation, along with those training, with a round of applause for Alan Sensei. Alan Sensei proceeded to return the thanks to those who trained and reminded everyone how significant it is to support each other at the moment and keep up the hard graft which yields results. Recalling the precept of Gichin Funakoshi; “karate is like boiling water, if you do not constantly heat it, it will cool” so continue to keep the proverbial kettle of karate turned on!