The JKS England Spring Course had a change to the original billing this year, owing to the rescheduling of Kagawa Shihan for later on in 2022. The March 5th course was formatted in advance so students could eagerly await the variety of karate-do which would be showcased. Instructors would cover specific elements of practice in a detailed and practical manner to leave no stone unturned in the delivery of an action-packed day at the Nottingham Wildcats Arena.
Alan Campbell Sensei 7th Dan, Head of JKS England welcomed a very busy hall of students and began with a reminder about the good which martial arts brings, not just on an individual or domestic level but also an international one. Alan Sensei respectfully addressed the impact of the situation in Ukraine and how people are both directly and indirectly influenced by this. The human component on both sides was thoughtfully considered, along with how people in the association locally were unable to attend, instead caring for loved ones affected by the invasion. Appreciating the past relationships fostered through international competition and instruction, support was shown with time spent clapping and thinking about the lives lost and hardships endured in the conflict. Alan Sensei reminded how solidarity benefits people across the world and how shared interests represent a force for good. In a mark of respect, the Ukrainian flag was also displayed having been gifted to JKS England back in 2008 when hosting the JKS European Championships.
The course would begin at a fast pace, following an extensive and crucial warm up from Mark Slattery Sensei 5th Dan from JKS Luton. Alan Sensei would use squat kicks to get the blood pumping, whilst also offering a taste of what was to come in very much a leg and kicking dominated first half of the course. Cycling through squat mae-geris, yoko-geri and mawashi-geri would follow, with Alan Sensei identifying the need to operate with an expansive hip movement but not sacrificing posture which would prevent the ability for the kick to be returned swiftly.
Hip thrusts were then utilised as an isolation exercise to help convey the necessary contraction which launches mae-geri and helps reach it’s optimum power. Students would repeat this by stabilising their core and thrusting the hips forwards. This was trained with their back to the floor whilst only letting hand and feet contact the ground. The exercise enabled the class to uncover if this is what is repeated when the technique is performed when standing. To further establish the internal sensation which the kick demands, a partner was used to respond to and then activate this hip thrust by pulling their partner’s belt, as they remained in the same face up position. This echoed the speed which the kick greatly profits from so that it can hit the target without giving enough time for the opponent to block or evade.
This sharp and fluid motion would then be tested from a standing start with students reacting to the signal provided by their partner, given through contact to the rear of the student kicking. The hip complex would again be maintained as the central theme as Alan Sensei guided students to challenge their hip abductor strength through pulses to the side, aiming to squeeze the knee as close to their ear as possible, after having adopted a hands and knees position on the dojo floor. This level of understanding, illustrated clearly by Alan Sensei, helped everyone appreciate how easy it is for posture to deteriorate if this is not controlled, even when only a small element of the kick is practiced as they wrestled against
leaning to one side to reduce the load on the active leg and at times hoped no one could see the faces being pulled as maximum effort was applied!
The floor would again become the student’s friend as they took a well-earned rest and lay supine for but a brief moment. Their partner this time, acted as a barrier for the active karateka to avoid during the delivery of a mawashi-geri. To complete effectively, the knee had to be controlled carefully and the hip placed under constant attention to maximise the mobility, rolling the hip to end with the ball of the foot (koshi) on the floor to reflect the contact position of the kick.
Having loosened the hip joint and worked the muscles thoroughly, mawashi-geri was practiced from front stance, with Alan Sensei creating a check point in the preparation of the kick by placing the hand underneath the knee, generating a focus on the ideal alignment for execution when the kick was done fully. Speed and power naturally followed as the isolation drills allowed the students to gain maximum height whilst observing the technical points which had been succinctly tackled by Alan Sensei.
Hans Rana Sensei 6th Dan of JKS Loughborough was then able to promote the training from Alan Sensei by exploring an Asai ryu kata called Rantai. Affectionately and very aptly known as “the kicking kata”, a more appropriate warm up could not have been devised, almost as if it had been planned! Hans Sensei cleverly dissected the form into it’s component parts and conducted the class in his unique style. Operating at a high energy level and with a great tempo, short sections of the kata were repeated until they were recalled by the students before gradually adding them onto the starting sequence. After Hans Sensei had covered the whole of the kata, students had quickly learned which combination was needed and in which direction, allowing the intensity level to be raised. The ever-enthusiastic tone which Hans Sensei teaches with meant concentration was high and the less common movements which the kata benefits from were practiced numerous times.
A short break was followed by the reintroduction of Hans Sensei to journey the class through another non-syllabus kata called Kakuyoku Sandan. Employing a similar framework, Hans Sensei imparted a wealth of knowledge to the class in only a short space of time. True to type as well, Hans Sensei ended his training session with some of his short and sweet meet and greet kumite and tough leg exercises, reminding the hips why they should never be forgotten. Hans Sensei’s intimate understanding of many syllabus kata is something which complements the association deeply and which is why there is such a demand for all the course’s instructors to lead sessions around the country.
The final part of the course would complete the trinity of kihon, kata and kumite. It was over to Ben Richardson Sensei 5th Dan and JKS England Coach to cater for the kumite section. Ben Sensei started by extolling the virtues of footwork in successful sparring. Taking time to explain carefully, Ben Sensei showed how the stance and guard must always work in conjunction for both protective and attacking purposes. The first exercises saw the students pair up and work on distance control. Transitioning between sides and adjusting their guard around their partner formed the foundation which Ben Sensei would build upon. Students were encouraged to be light on their feet and move smoothly, maintaining a stable posture and relaxed body in preparation for techniques to be introduced.
Ben Sensei would then look at how the hip is engaged in a fast change of stance so that the leg position is not made vulnerable to sweeping or a counterattack whilst airborne (if a jumping approach is used). Managing the hip control and centreline would then be quite literally pivotal to the next feature of footwork which Ben Sensei covered. A thorough explanation of pivoting allowed students to understand how and why this is an integral part of minimising the opponent’s ability to respond, whilst also exposing an alignment which allowed the student to deliver an attacking technique. If an appropriate stance is implemented, the tai-sabaki (body evasion) can result in an attack which is difficult to defend against with a block or body movement, owing to the angle generated by the pivot.
Continuing in their pairs, students would recognise when to pivot to each side, particularly after a kicking technique and then Ben Sensei would expand the arsenal of footwork movements to slide sideways, avoiding a punching attack and engaging the guard to cover the punch with their hands for additional safety.
Ben Sensei’s comprehensive lesson would culminate with a sequence which applied all the footwork mechanisms practiced earlier. Aiming to increase the speed and fluidity to recreate an unknown kumite exchange, students reacted to their partner with the appropriate skills they had not long practiced. Beginning with a kick and pivot to alter the angle of attack, a kizami then gyaku-tsuki combination was designed to exploit the new position, before revisiting the stance change which Ben Sensei demonstrated earlier. This ended the drill in a scoring position by reversing the punches. This changed the height to draw the block at multiple levels and orchestrated an opening to succeed in hitting the target. Having practiced the constituent parts and repeated them, students were able to connect them together without delay to end the session with a dynamic interaction and the glorious sound of constant kiais throughout the arena! Having digested and used the concepts which Ben Sensei made easy to understand, students had gained valuable expertise in footwork and how to practice exposing a target on their partner on return to their home dojos.
It was an exceptional course, made by both the quality of instruction and effort of the students which continued to exhibit the depth within JKS England but also reflecting the diversity of karate practice which can only advance the ability and interest of all those able to attend. The course was followed by a dan grading which needed all the students to dig deep to counteract their tired legs especially. A big congratulations to those who were successful either in part or in full. All those that passed are listed below
Please keep an eye out for the return to a very busy schedule for 2022, including squad training, referee development sessions, competitions, training courses and the long-awaited return to the UK of Kagawa Shihan in September.
Anya Holmes Ellerker - York Karate Dojo
Sam Watson - York Karate Dojo
Oliver Holyoak - Can Do Martial Arts
Richard Knipe - Can Do Martial Arts