A free of charge JKS England Course week provided a very physical and exciting group of seminars at the end of March 2021. The following report really cannot do justice to the instructors and their lessons, with vast amounts of information and training ideas densely packed into five creative and engaging sessions.
Hans Rana Sensei 6th Dan from JKS Loughborough kicked off the training week in style. Hans Sensei began with a fast paced warm up and couldn’t have displayed more energy or hunger for karate-do throughout the lesson. There were in the region of 250+ karateka training and with many joining from far and wide it was a fantastic turnout that set a brilliant precedent for the week to come.
Nothing focuses the mind quite like the mention of sumo and the focus needed for this discipline was ever present in Hans Sensei’s training drills and then later kumite practice. The sheer passion Hans Sensei brings to karate is unparalleled and the effort given to every aspect is hard to match, so if Hans Sensei’s encouragement doesn’t get you moving your fastest then nothing will!
Hip loosening exercises, shoulder mobility drills and slow kicking were tested, then the speed of kicking rose and kumite practice followed. Hans Sensei’s signature meet and great style 10 second free sparring pushed everyone to recreate a real exchange with an opponent and make sure online training suffers but the minimum of limitations. With students and Hans Sensei Zooming around their front rooms or training areas, it really felt like a bustling class was in full swing. Ippon kumite and later jiyu ippon were enlisted to cover the progression required within the JKS syllabus. The attitude and concentration the techniques benefit from was crucial to Hans Sensei’s teaching points when a partner is present, virtually or otherwise. Hans Sensei gave students the opportunity to both attack and defend to pressure fast strikes or reactions and his exciting tempo meant the class worked hard in every minute of the hour. It becomes a cliché, but it couldn’t ring more true that Hans Sensei’s enthusiasm really is infectious and he bridged the gap of technology in the most compelling and upbeat way.
Finishing with a number of instructional tips for Bassai-Dai and lastly a spatially challenged version of Heian Shodan (affectionately renamed Corona Shodan and engineered by Matt Sensei), it was a reminder how impressively the JKS and its clubs have combatted the ongoing situation with innovation and perseverance.
A huge thanks to Hans Sensei for the demonstration of how there is no substitute for hard work and with his resolute positivity there was something for everyone to learn from both the karate practice and mental attitude displayed. An electrically charged class which didn’t give students the chance to think about how much they were sweating, it was conducted in the most enjoyable fashion. The commitment and passion shown in abundance was something that would continue to be exhibited throughout the week.
The second day of the JKS England course week was taught by Alistair Mitchell Sensei 7th Dan, who shared a wealth of knowledge and experience throughout his session. With lockdown beginning a year to the day, it marked an exploration of how engaging with the correct process of training leads to improvement. The attendance was excellent once again and broadcast to many countries, aptly crossing many borders and mimicking Alistair Sensei’s club name of Borders Shotokan.
Alistair Sensei is a truly inspirational karateka who moves gracefully whilst supporting every technique with absolute conviction and power. He has developed a clinical approach to training, focusing on its architecture following extended training periods throughout his career, including huge success in competition combined with a strong Japanese influence to maximise the potential which the martial art contains.
Alistair Sensei started the course by illuminating the need for relaxation to achieve power in technique and add the ability to flow from kime to kime. It was this tenet which resonated throughout the session and Alistair Sensei showcased how this can be achieved. Illustrating the essence of body movement to generate raw power, Alistair Sensei referred to crucial muscle and joint biomechanics as well as postural setup to recruit pressure through the stance and utilize the whole Musculo-skeletal system for the greatest impact.
Alistair Sensei worked kihon drills which encompassed the movement principles detailed earlier and students were encouraged to simulate the same speed of technique both with and without the involvement of a stance transition or step. The energy transfer and smoothness were demonstrated clearly, with every technique Alistair Sensei performed always supported by the core and powered from the charged legs.
Alistair Sensei then continued his theme into a kumite combination which progressed to cover different aspects of potential timing in the conversation of a kumite bout. Flowing through the techniques Alistair Sensei imagined the opponent's reaction to the initial attacks and how flexibility within the body needs to be matched by the mind to enable any openings to be scored without hesitation. The benefits of correct timing were also highlighted by Alistair Sensei, especially in relation to how training and execution may change with age but how direct, efficient techniques remain the best route to success.
Nijushi-ho then concluded the lesson with Alistair Sensei continuing to impart his rich understanding of the fundamentals which the martial art comprises. Performing with contrasts in technique, Alistair Sensei suggested how relatable comparisons can be found in the flow of water and how nature does not suffer the jerkiness which can sometimes materialize in karate if the tension and stiffness is too great. A thought-provoking lesson with clear-cut objectives brought all of karate together in a comprehensive and very valuable way.
Matt Price Sensei 6th Dan, Leeds Karate Academy instructor and JKS England Squad Coach was tasked with the mid-week session and could not have tackled this with any more dynamism. Ably assisted by Zoe Price Sensei 3rd Dan, wife and partner in crime, a challenging session lay ahead with a focus on addressing minor details. Matt Sensei sprinkled his trademark bleep reaction drills throughout the session, utilizing the free Karate Buddy app; presented by Kumite Coach, the online platform which offers a systematic and comprehensive approach to enhancing kumite skills and techniques the app is available on the App Store or Google Play and is an excellent training aid with a voice you just may recognise!
One-minute intervals were spent practicing free-flowing kumite footwork and techniques as part of the warm up, with burpees performed on the random bleeps. A multi-directional gyaku-tsuki drill then allowed Matt Sensei to explore how the whole body must be connected and co-ordinated. Timing to engage the core and driving from the back heel were critical to facilitate the best possible technique and energy release. Stance transitions from front stance to back stance and neko-ashi dachi became involved to further the ideas Matt Sensei had raised. Matt Sensei encouraged students to operate on the very edge of control with the speed also rising as the drill evolved to its ultimate form.
Burpees, press-up burpees and then the addition of a plyometric attack were the constituents used to organize the body and move efficiently to a stable fighting position as more bleeps were commanded. Under Zoe Sensei’s watchful eye, at every moment students worked to increase fast twitch muscle fibres and establish kumite fitness. The bleep drills employed maintained the heart rate and fatigued the arms so that the body and hips could be given maximum emphasis when the multi-directional drill was completed, finishing at full speed.
Matt Sensei then looked at posture and preparation for freestyle kicking and how at the highest level the smallest refinements are necessary to make the differences needed for victory. Positioning the rear foot and then dropping into a functional stance was practiced closely with a front leg mawashi-geri. As Matt Sensei programmed the specifics, students were then able to combine this with the plyometric movement done earlier. Students first practiced the simultaneous foot placement with gyaku-tsuki added immediately after to cover the distance before the difficulty level was elevated, seeing students push directly from the supporting leg to punch straight after the kick, wasting no time in upskilling kumite knowledge and application.
Matt Sensei then covered Tekki Shodan; tackling how the body movement and timing support the close fighting techniques contained within.
The penultimate drill would see students concentrate on the muscles needed for kicking and work balance on the supporting leg by executing the number of kicks called out. Encouraging students to sustain a high knee position, maintain their guard and upright posture, this isolated essential kicking muscles. Squats, another hallmark of Matt Sensei’s repertoire completed the session with 180 degree jump squats selected and made all the harder following one leg jodan mae-geris from earlier in the session. After a minute, students (maybe very gingerly) stood to attention for the final bow but not until 10 cross arm press ups had quickly been added for good measure to profit from the few seconds remaining. A lively session showed how intensely karate can be performed without losing the knowledge of how basic technique underpins every aspect of karate training and competition.
Nick Heald Sensei 7th Dan took the penultimate session on Thursday and exhibited great ingenuity with a thoughtful deliberation on the system of karate training and how it can be broken down and viewed. Relaxing into the lesson with punching from kiba-dachi, Nick Sensei inspired students to think about the completeness of all techniques. Punching drills with flowing hands then ensued with quick foot movement becoming a necessity to allow the techniques to be fully supported by the body. Nick Sensei later trained timing that did not restrict hand speed by constraining it to the completion of a stance.
A surprise visit from Batman then happened as students were kept on their toes with increased pressure to activate the guidance given. Who would have known Nick Sensei was Batman’s instructor! Nick Sensei increased the number of punches without altering the two steps made in the combination. Displaying a careful thought process which enabled students to increase the fluidity it showed a perfect example of how free flowing the upper body needs to be, whilst still connected through the core to the stance but not constrained by this.
The parallel of karate practice to language was then illuminated by Nick Sensei and given a central role in the remainder of the session. The congruence to the lifelong study of the martial arts was delved into with precision and completeness and made easier to explain when a long karate career gives a thorough knowledge of the literature being examined. The duplicity to learning to read and write had Nick Sensei compare letters to techniques, words to small combinations and onwards to further aspects of language.
The ability to give life to the basic building blocks of language and avoid unpunctuated monotonous monologues, Nick Sensei contemplated how paragraphs can become kata, with the punctuation and grammar giving timing points. Nick Sensei also described how other more intricate elements of the written language reflect the finer points of karate-do such as kiais being akin to exclamation marks!
Bearing this in mind, leg techniques with a relaxed upper body were practiced from natural stance and then punches added to accompany them. Progressing into short words and kick punch combination and appreciating that there are multiple meanings for some words the truth of this in language gave much contemplation of a concept students will never forget.
Incidentally, the language Nick Sensei discussed can evoke many ideas such as considering antonyms, the counter meanings of words, which could be thought of in relation to kumite, so as there is attack, there is also defence. The concept holds strong to ensure that words need to be spelled properly in order to ensure correct letter formation and that each combination must be comprised of fully committed techniques.
As the session unfolded, the mind and body were both challenged to maintain proper form. Nick Sensei had primed students to kime and go, releasing the tension quickly and preventing any unintentional pauses. The challenge of one minute of a continuous combination was made a little easier by Nick Sensei discussing the brain’s perception of time; pondering how different a minute lying on a beach feels as opposed to sitting on a red hot spike! Managing the mindset provided enough excitement with talk of beaches but with the added difficulty of trying not to lose concentration thinking too much about summer holidays! Trying to find an inner serenity but outwardly releasing destructive techniques, students had to be on the top of their game to keep the consistency and flow for the whole exercise.
To finish the session, kata and kumite were brought together covering elements relevant to Heian Godan. Adapting this to a freestyle sequence with immediate turns and imagination showed how the kata can be utilized in different situations. Kumite inspired techniques and sequences were varied throughout the kata and Nick Sensei used artistic license to give a practical interpretation of bunkai and realistic kumite combinations whilst remaining within the embusen of the kata. The wonderful inception of the idea from Nick Sensei echoes the never-ending improvement found in both language and martial arts.
The final session would be taken by Steve Carless Sensei 6th Dan of the accomplished Walsall Karate Dojo. Steve Sensei started by thanking everyone who supported the course week but especially Nick Heald Sensei for his planning and organization to make the week such a triumph. A wealth of talent on display and non-stop learning, all of the instructors showed the strength and depth the JKS has domestically.
Steve Sensei showed how you can level up your karate right from the warmup. Showcasing strength, flexibility and mobility there is not a better instructor to epitomize how these characteristics are applied in karate. To begin the session Steve Sensei helped students to loosen the back and focus on how kime is created by using double punching and hikite. Acting to isolate the shoulder joint, rotation of the arm into the punch and supporting with the back and core, different timings were used to understand how to make use of the residual energy available.
A punching drill then studied the variety of ways which movement can support punching. Steve Sensei looked at how releasing pressure can generate both rotational and linear movements forwards and backwards but also how this can only happen with efficient footwork. Cutting the hip into place and expanding into the next technique were also parts of the combinations which worked control of the centre of gravity. Pivoting effectively to connect all aspects of the body in that final moment Steve Sensei continued the theme of relaxation and how to synchronize the punches with the stance.
Kicking became the focal point of the next part of the session, squeezing the knee into preparation positions for mae-geri and mawashi-geri, opening the hip to the fullest extent. Leg swings were then repeated to warm the muscles and assist flexibility, allowing students to work at speed in preparation for the kumite combination next.
Steve Sensei covered the effect that different kicking heights can have and accommodated all ranges of flexibility with his advice on where to target. Stepping off to the side to take advantage of a mirrored stance allowed a fast chudan roundhouse kick to be delivered, slimming the chance of blocking or evasion. Managing weight distribution built on the combination to uphold the philosophy of always being ready to move as the opponent’s reactions unfolds. Smooth clinical kicking and light footwork were pre-requisites to implement the next technique, an ura-mawashi to jodan level. Steve Sensei then showed how to feint the first kick and move to ura-mawashi without the foot touching the floor at all. This needed careful control of the knee position and with proper posture also meant further techniques could emerge unrestricted. A sweep then concluded the combination without any loss of momentum to deliver an effective takedown and produce the correct score from the imagined competition judges. This was then practiced at full speed according to the student’s kicking preference or ability, with the students selecting the option which offered them the most training value.
A simple kumite drill then investigated the options which students need to have in their arsenal to deal with all types of attack. Always keeping protection, understanding the line of attack and maintaining pressure through the stance addressed go no sen, sen no sen and how speed and reaction can be trained. Beginning with straight line defence then moving off the line, speed increased as students tried to match Steve Sensei’s rapid and elegant movements when the option was called randomly.
Kata came next with Steve Sensei covering Jion to emphasise the dynamic timing changes present amongst many familiar moves so the whole class regardless of grade could follow. The kata was broken down into three distinct sections and performed slowly before full speed was attempted. Steve Sensei animated the kata training with the comparison to tuning a car to its optimum in the workshop, mirroring the detail oriented slow practice. The full speed performance then analogous to race day as the transitions and cornering become more demanding with greater risks taken. Head to toe detail was covered with particular mention of how pivoting and driving from the relevant part of the foot whips the body into place whilst snapping the hip. A flawless technician, Steve Sensei taught an informative class with meticulous clarification on many points which pre-empted aspects that students would have been keen to understand further if in the dojo. The concentration Steve Sensei attributed to each movement was thoroughly explained and concluded a truly brilliant week of karate.
JKS England would like to thank all of the instructors, students and parents involved in making the week so enjoyable and successful. A massive achievement to offer the highest level of training free of charge was a testament to how the association and its clubs have persevered under the most testing of times. Please continue to stay safe and here’s to the return of face-to-face training in the near future. The JKS England Facebook Page also has some excellent videos of the seminars given so be sure to check these out and show your appreciation to the instruction team.