The early summer Black and Brown Belt Course for 2022 was held at The Nottingham Wildcats Arena on the 19th June, which just so happened to coincide with Father’s Day. Alan Campbell Sensei, 7th Dan, Head of JKS England greeted the class and explained the progressive format of the course, following on from great success earlier in the year. Alan Sensei confirmed that after the training session, the class would split to take part in either the Referee Development Programme or the Open Squad training, with Geoff Dixon Sensei and Matt Price Sensei, respectively leading their fields within JKS England. Pioneering this new structure, Alan Sensei reminded students how both elements benefit their own karate personally but also how they can help to develop others of all ages and grades through teaching or coaching.
The warm up was taken by Jake Pointer Sensei which helped everyone prepare for the session ahead. After readying both body and mind, the class was divided into threes with a dan grade mentor paired with two lower grades, ensuring that tailored advice could be given where appropriate. This precious guidance gave maximum benefit to the less experienced black or brown belts and meant they could appreciate parts of their aptitude which could be levelled up.
Beginning in a controlled manner, Alan Sensei instructed the mentor to watch closely as their understudies performed the set of jiyu ippon kumite attacks in turn. Students were provided with the opportunity to repeat this a few times and were ushered to build speed and increase the intensity. Alan Sensei then convened with the class to review the specific teaching points noticed. The importance of this form of kumite with the JKS grading syllabus, explicitly at shodan level where it starts to form the bridge to jiyu kumite was considered in much detail as well.
Alan Sensei sought to utilise the mentors in order to help the students appreciate the subtleties within the exercise, which can help turn it from a safe, passive interaction to a dynamic and energetic one. Feedback was given by the higher grades after observing the kumite rounds immediately before. The points raised were delivered to the whole class and Alan Sensei qualified many of them to ensure clear advice can be repeated back in the dojo, especially for those preparing for dan grade examinations.
The suggestions given were wide ranging, with some technical but many to do with spirit and conviction, further enabling the transformation of what can sometimes be a rather lifeless exchange into eye-opening display of combat. Distance was a major issue, noted by many, and relevant to both the offensive and defensive sides which prevented sufficient pressure and the ability to strike the available target when it appeared. Unnecessary movements, including superfluous footwork and lacking control of the student’s guard also restricted the ability of students to exhibit their skill and understanding of what is required within the situation. With additional comments about the snap needed within the techniques performed and the presence of kiais, many realised the level of detail needed was much higher than previously anticipated. Students worked hard throughout the lesson to take on board all of the recommendations, whilst trying to achieve the simplicity which the martial arts engineers students toward.
Alan Sensei then recruited the ever-valuable training aid of tubes to improve specific technical components. This was placed over the front foot and the mentor guided the students under their charge to replicate the initial movement of the attacks to quickly generate the power and momentum for the stepping punch. Alan Sensei demonstrated how the attacker should be aiming to strike through the starting point of the target, anticipating the likely movement to safety whilst the block is executed.
Once the tube had served it’s purpose to discipline the ideal opening footwork it was removed and students recognised how this small adjustment could result in an attack with a much greater chance of success via a much improved range. The speed of the block was then worked to match this enhanced punching capacity. The opponent was challenged to turn about face rapidly before reacting to absorb the jiyu ippon attack which was triggered by the students swift turn.
After the identification and coaching had addressed a variety of factors, students practiced jiyu ippon in full with their partner and onlooking mentor. A number of students also performed the sequence in front of the whole class and showed significant signs of improvement.
Alan Sensei had capped the first part of the training course with a substantial amount of content, benefitting not only students who need it within their grading syllabus but also for instructors themselves, able to harness the tuition to advance their student’s ability as well as their own.
Alan Sensei then finished the session for the higher grades with the kata sochin, whilst the brown belts reviewed and practiced their grade specific katas, exhibiting the same focus which had been employed throughout the jiyu ippon section of the course. Alan Sensei covered many aspects and concentrated on the smoothness of transitions and co-ordination required to satisfy the difficulty level which certain movements dictate, especially the opening of the kata. Stance differences were also central to management of weight distribution and how fudo-dachi (rooted stance) is crucial to practice with its relative absence in the majority of Shotokan katas.
After a short break the class would resume. Whilst Geoff Sensei took the referee development programme attendants through scoring, signalling and tatami management, Matt Sensei capitalised on the kumite base of the training session beforehand by working many relevant characteristics, expanding outside of the confines of the more stylised jiyu ippon.
Matt Sensei started by echoing, as Alan Sensei did, the vital nature of proper footwork. Illustrating how to achieve smooth, deliberate and fast repositioning, Matt Sensei started with a trademark belt drill which sees students move continuously into and out of the belt in stance whilst changing sides. The footwork competence was then further put under the spotlight as students slid forwards and backwards, manoeuvring around a seated partner’s outstretched legs.
The familiarity with stance control and foot movement was something Matt Sensei often returned to, aiding student’s knowledge of how this supports both hand and foot techniques. Reiterating the importance of having a proficient gyaku-tsuki and kizami-tsuki, Matt Sensei then combined the footwork drills with the delivery of a kizami-tsuki to a static target, meeting many of the criteria which are required to score in competition but that also reflected many of the comments made earlier in the course about jiyu ippon kumite.
After students had raised their speed, the defender was tasked to escape by sliding backwards, without sacrificing posture and therefore inhibiting an effective counterattack. The counter was then added to the sequence with students quickly rocking their weight to the front foot to exploit the fleeting opportunity and make a scoring technique. Snapping this technique and recruiting maximum hand speed, students competed to try to score with the initial attack or avoid this and target the opening created. Both sides were encouraged by Matt Sensei to keep attention on the theme of footwork which could not be ignored if a successful counter was to be timed to perfection.
Matt Sensei finished by fielding questions from the class on all aspects of kumite which allowed him to showcase his abundance of expertise and experience as both competitor and coach in discussing the strategic approach to fighters of different sizes, how to control distance and manage points-based scenarios.
The end of the session then combined the two groups. Students were called on to fight to afford the referee development team closer to real-world practice and the pressures which this brings. The karateka competing on the mat were both attempting to put into practice Matt Sensei’s advice to heighten their chances against their opponent. It was a fantastic end to a very thought intensive and technical seminar which gave students a wealth of martial arts understanding to build on.
Please keep an eye out for the upcoming JKS England courses and with Kagawa Shihan to be hosted in September there is much to look forward to.