The JKS England Christmas Course was once again held in Nottingham and marked a great end to a year which had seen the return of Kagawa Shihan, great success for the JKS England squad, some excellent tournaments and many grading successes.
It was the latter which was a prominent feature of the introduction made by Alan Campbell Sensei, Head of JKS England. After welcoming the busy hall of students, Alan Sensei congratulated Matt Price Sensei on his recent exploits in Japan, where Matt Sensei graded and passed Nanadan (7th dan). This accomplishment could not be more deserved for a senior member of JKS England who lives and breathes the martial art. A loud round of applause was given to acknowledge this remarkable feat and allowed students to show their respect for the quality Matt Sensei brings to the table as in instructor, coach and karateka. A wealth of higher grades were in attendance and fitting to be able to commend Matt Sensei on his achievement, further recognising the excellence which the JKS is proud to both have and revere. Well done Matt Sensei!
Beginning the session, a warm-up and stretch was done before Nick Heald Sensei, 7th Dan JKS, took the reins. Nick Sensei began with a kata exercise which needed both concentration and awareness to be able to negotiate. Starting with the first few moves of each of the Heian katas, Nick Sensei would combine these sections to give everyone an early Christmas present in the form of an encyclopaedic puzzle, which the students were guided carefully through. Nick Sensei acted to conduct the class at a great pace to ensure the transitions were understood and executed in the right directions. This challenged students, as moving to different angles in known katas can be unsettling, especially if the kata has only ever been practiced in its standard orientation. Directing this focus further, the pattern of discussing important teaching points and adding a new sequence each time allowed the same approach to be observed for the first few moves of each of the Junro katas, as the puzzle was unwrapped by Nick Sensei. Speed and power were then amplified once students were confident with the sequence and able to make the adjustments needed to connect the pieces together, all the while relying on their internal compass to hopefully point them in the appropriate direction.
Nick Sensei had engaged students brain power and demonstrated how this, coupled with relaxed fluid movements can give students the capacity to learn more involved combinations quickly and precisely with thoughtful instruction.
Students would then move to a kumite combination which began with a lunging kura-tsuki attack. Explaining the timing, Nick Sensei would give a clear blueprint for this and how it is different to a standard stepping punch. Immediate hand speed would offer a quick strike and if supported by efficient footwork could also allow the student to hit the target from a considerable distance. Both sides would then practice this in turn as the speed and intensity swelled.
A push would then be added after the kura tsuki to open the distance in the exchange. The student receiving the punch would then respond with gyaku-tsuki, again recruiting effective footwork to close the space and return the pressure to the initial attacker. The drill would end with this gyaku-tsuki being countered by a smooth kick, either yoko-geri kekomi or ura-mawashi. Nick Sensei was always keen for students to ensure the intensity and full commitment of the technique imitated an unpredictable exchange to train reflexes and reactions appropriately. Nick Sensei maintained an absorbing atmosphere throughout his lesson which is taught with a light-hearted nature, however the ability to “switch on” is never far away as Nick Sensei thrives on presenting at full speed, leading the students by example and out of their comfort zone. After student had navigated to maximum intensity, Nick Sensei had one more gift up his sleeve.
Students would remain with a single partner to begin with and complete three gyaku-tsukis concurrently, striking each other with rhythm, speed and a front foot movement. The drill would be expanded with students changing sides before repeating with the other hand. Nick Sensei had perfectly tempered the eagerness of the students as the drill morphed into a multi-student affair. Teams of five or six would perform the sequence in a line-up with three punches on each side before the next partner took their place. Each student would have the pleasure of at least a minute at the head of the line as the partners queuing set a blistering pace which the team tried to preserve as time progressed. It was a fantastic end to a varied lesson covering many significant training points and ideas for students to enjoy.
A short break had been well earned before Geoff Dixon Sensei, 6th Dan JKS, headed the middle session. Many themes continued to be reinforced in Geoff Sensei’s lesson which began with some non-syllabus kihon exercises. Open hand techniques would be delivered in a refreshingly different manner, as Geoff Sensei guided students to an understanding of how kamae can be used strategically in a combat situation. Students would perform various shuto and haito open hand strikes within the familiar framework of kihon. Students advanced with these hand techniques in front stance before this rigid framework was removed and a partner introduced. This enabled Geoff Sensei to heighten the reality of the interaction and how these techniques can be employed.
Geoff Sensei, benefitting from his intricate dan-grade knowledge of aikido illustrated how the earlier kihon sequence could be adapted to disrupt an opponent’s balance and create openings for counter attacks, escapes or restraining techniques. Geoff Sensei instructs in a very engaging way, allowing students to both learn and be entertained, making for memorable course content valued by all students. Profiting from an understanding of different martial arts systems, Geoff Sensei was able to supplement many of the facets which can be found within karate kata, but which are not often practiced or clarified.
Students worked alongside a partner who was attacking to deftly evade the incoming attack and then enlist the help of the open hand technique done but a few minutes earlier. Working angles to the inside and outside, the defender utilised the preparation, bodyweight shifting, and timing points Geoff Sensei had covered. Students were cautioned to retain control of the situation to prevent a position where if this was relinquished, the defender had an ability to counter-attack being in an equal position to the aggressor.
The open hand techniques were then executed to carry the attacker’s momentum forwards, making them vulnerable and neutralising the danger of the attack. Geoff Sensei showed how maintaining good posture and control of oneself was key to be able to manipulate the opponent. These defensive strategies were then employed in a free-flowing combination with several partners. With the attacks being launched quickly from different angles of approach, the themes covered by Geoff Sensei had to be heeded to produce the desired result of physically commanding the opponent. The lucky central student within the drill was rotated and speed added to all parts as the students became acquainted with the refinements needed and which Geoff Sensei had demonstrated so imperiously.
The full, sophisticated sequence was later revealed by Geoff Sensei, to be a reference to the first half of the kata jion. This gave students a comprehensive look at how the lesson’s content could be applied to both punches and kicks. Geoff Sensei orchestrated the sequence to have a half-step counteract mae-geri, protection and disablement with a controlling block before a hiza-geri (knee strike), shuto-barai to deflect an attack before capitalising with a throw and teisho to the attacker’s elbow before continuing into a restraint position. Geoff Sensei had capped a highly intelligent and interesting lesson with a comprehensive test of the open hand techniques which dominated it.
The final third of the Christmas course was taken by Alan Sensei who treated those students grading to a definitive look at the kata Bassai-Dai. Alan Sensei showed a meticulous and mindful evaluation of the kata. The component parts were used by Alan Sensei to illustrate what the grading standard should be and how as students’ karate careers progress where they can upgrade their performance and insight into this landmark kata. The detail at both a minute and global level cannot be overstated, and Alan Sensei took time to consciously ensure the principal characteristics of the kata were crystal clear.
As Alan Sensei reviewed student’s performances, teaching points were raised which aided all students to place emphasis where the kata dictates. These coaching points bolstered the student’s understanding of why this kata is used to evaluate the basics which students should have grasped by shodan level. "No hips, no karate” was something which Alan Sensei alluded to whilst shining the spotlight on the importance of how to abide by this mantra and maximise the power that control of the hips and core can provide. The elimination of superfluous movement and awareness that this results from diligent and focused training was another key element of Alan Sensei’s lesson. Students were shown areas within the kata where these unnecessary movements are common and how to eradicate them. An educational and crucial lesson from Alan Sensei ended a brilliant course packed full of creativity, detail and practice and Alan Sensei wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year before many departed.
Those who remained for the grading showed an excellent attitude as the examiners looked on. A big congratulations to those that were successful and a huge thank you for the continuing support which makes these courses such as pleasure to attend and benefit from. Here is to more of the same in 2023!