Thursday, 30 June 2011

Let’s torque it over…

On one of the hottest days of the year so far a group of around 50 martial artists of all ages donned their ‘angry white pyjamas’ in a school sports hall for a rare opportunity to attend a seminar with leading Aiwakai Sensei Peter May VI. I’m glad to say I was one of them, and was honoured to be Sensei’s Crash Test Dummy for the day.

The remit of the three-hour session was to run through the first three pinan katas in detail and to offer bunkai for the opening techniques which would assist the student in their understanding of application, speed and positioning.

After a gentle warm-up and some kihon line-work where Sensei corrected our basics we moved on to Pinan Nidan; working through the kata move by move as he explained the points of origin, transition and completion for the techniques. Particular focus was placed on the movement of the centre of the body and allowing the technique to follow the ‘core’.

It was really heartening to see so many junior students grasp this simple but fundamental element and as Sensei moved on to explain the application of the opening moves we were taught how the technique and shift of balance could be applied to several different defensive and offensive situations.

Experiencing the techniques on the receiving end first-hand was a fascinating opportunity and helped my understanding enormously. As Wado has its foundations in Jiu Jitsu rather than traditional Okinawan Karate, I’m far less familiar with these grappling and locking techniques than many of my peers.

Regular readers will know that I have struggled with the subtle differences between the Shotokan Heian and the Wado Pinan katas and trying to apply the bunkai I had worked out for Shotokan to the new Wado way of working has been causing me problems. In Shodan (which is confusing called Nidan in Shotokan…) the rising double block had always been a defence against a diagonal  weapon attack (bo, jo or sword) which is then captured between the arms as they are lowered and the weapon used against the attacker as the arms straighten out.

Sensei demonstrated the rising and outer blocks of the initial movement with various interpretations but thinking of the outer block more as a rising kidney punch made sense to me and improved the speed and quality of my technique…little things! I was also pleased that Sensei followed up the techniques with a range of locks and take-downs as bunkai for the second and third steps (although my arm was getting a little sore by this point!)

For Pinan Sandan (one of my weaker lower grade kata) Sensei focussed on the side-stepping elbow/forearm moves and demonstrated the generation of torque and grip. I found this really useful as I’d struggled to find effective justification for this (and the similar moves in Chinto) but also because this helped my understanding of some of the early kihon’s 1-5 which I am learning in preparation for my 2nd dan exam.
Overall the seminar was well-worth missing out on a hot summers afternoon and gave me plenty to think about. I think everyone should regularly revisit their earlier katas and try to apply new knowledge to old movements. So many thanks to Sensei May for a great session and a couple of lovely-looking bruises!

In other news:

You can see how we got on at the Mushindo Wadokai Championships in Walsall here.

This Sunday we’re off the Central England Opens. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Lines, Spines and something that shines...

It's been hard to find the time to write this post. Since the last entry karate has had to take second place to half-term holidays and an apprentice-style work competition which have both kept me busy and out of the dojo. Not that I'm complaining about the week long break I've taken, after a weekend that saw England selections on Saturday and a National competition on Sunday there was a real need to relax and rest.

I've been pleased with my performance in the England squad training sessions so far; having only been training in Wado since September last year I've managed to not embarrass myself when working with some of our international competitors which is pretty much all I could hope for. It was a foregone conclusion that I wouldn't be able to go this year I think, given my Shotoisms and the fact that I would have to learn two or three completely new katas in order to compete in October in Portugal. I have high hopes for next year, although I suspect I may have to wait until I'm over 40 and compete in the veterans...

The fantastic news is that some of our association did get places on the squad. Junaid, Alex and Lauren will compete in kumite (under 18 male, over 18 male and under 18 female respectively) and Yasmin and Yusra will compete in kata (under 10s and under 18s females) which is an amazing achievement and I share their pride.

Through working with Sensei's Sakagami VIII, Peter May V and our own club Sensei's I have had an intense few months of support and training to get my to a standard I feel, if not happy with, at least satisfied with. I know my weaknesses remain a tendancy to miss the 90 degree angle of techniques and place them at chudan rather than jodan. In wanshu my main problem is that I come off-centre on the jump (although I land solidly, which was previously my issue) I can't keep to a straight line, and I know this will cause a deduction in competition until I get it right.

As a squad we performed admirably at Nationals this year, taking home 16 medals (1 gold, 3 silver and 12 bronze), and I'm delighted to say that one of those bronze medals was mine after a tense three-round battle which saw me perform Yondan, Wanshu and Bassai to take third place. All the more amazing because earlier in the day I'd pulled muscles in my back (getting out of the car!!) and had to drop out of the pairs kata. At that point (about 9.30am) I was sure I wouldn't be competing at all and was flat on my back in the audience area. Fortunately a heady blend of ice-packs and nurofen did the trick and whilst stiff, it was a reasonably pain-free fifteen minutes on the mat.

I have two more competitions this season; an open kata championships and the CEWKA tournament and then the medals have to wait til next year. As of July I start training for my 2nd dan...

Watashi ga manabubeki koto ga takusan aru

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

...and this is where you start sweat!

Crumpling a sodden, stiff japanese-cut gi into the washing machine for the third time in a week can bring it home to you how much karate can take over every aspect of your life. The last time I wore these karate-tinted goggles through which to view the world it was 1990 and I was training the sharp, steep slope to my Shodan grading.

Now, 21 years on, I find myself practicing shuto in front of all reflective surfaces, looking down to see how parallel my feet are when cooking, and having to wear my dojo-time knee-braces under my suit at work. Why? Because this Saturday is England team selection and Sunday is Aiwakai Nationals - who the hell thought up that timetable?

To add to the pressure and due to a problem with numbers, I'm now filling in a place in the pairs kata so having to re-adjust timing and height positions to compromise with my new partner for Godan, bassai and wanshu.

If my brain or knees explode in the next couple of days, hey, it was nice knowing you.

shimpai shinaide waratte ne!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Nth Degree...or the Roy Walker problem.

From Hartlepool to Derby. It's now just a month until the Aiwakai National Championships and I've got two categories to compete in; Veterans and Individual Senior. With Bassai looking passable and Wanshu a good second I just need to work on the mandatory Pinan kata, which this time is Yodan. This which gives me a chance to disect the techniques that differ between Shoto and Wado and try to tidy up what is probably one of my more average katas.

Having attended a few of the Wadokai England training days (and with the hope of selection one day) I'm repeatedly told "what you're doing; it's good, but it's not right". There's no point(s) doing a perfectly executed jodan yokogeri if what's called for is a chudan maegeri, one of the more noticeable divergences in the fourth of the basic pattern katas.

I was taught that Yondan (in Wado Yodan) begins with the step out into backstance and with the hands in a "fishtail" to the side before rising slowly into the first move (Hidari Haishu Haiwan Uke). The key to this technique was the deceleration of the hands, performed with tension, almost like Seishan. In Wado, this move is fast and hard, and the arms don't drop into any prep before the first move. In Shotokan there is no shuffle or step before the second block, just a hip twist. In Wado, the feet move a "correction" distance, found in many kata that ensures the embusen is exactly symmetrical.

In shoto, we step forward from here into the X block (Gedan Juji Uke). In Wado the right foot steps up, hands to hips facing forward and then steps out with the left leg to make the X block and these first few changes are enough to trip me up and make my kata significantly weaker than someone of the same grade who has trained exlcusively in Wado. As with most kata in Wado there are both back-stance and cat-stances, where in Shoto you would usually see only the back-stance. Remembering to shorten my stance and perform only a single soto-uke rather than a double is another issue (this one is a real point of contention and the foot that kicks is the back foot, where all of the weight is placed which seems impractical), along with the final two moves being not Shutos, but kake-ukes.

This is from a book given to me by my sensei in 1988 to help me practice between classes - (note the high side kicks with uraken - not gedan barai and the double blocks)

For now all I can do is practice, practice, practice and hope that the N in my YoNdan can be erased over time.

Click the karateka to see the Wado Yodan performed correctly.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Fee Fi Fo Fan, I smell the kata of a Shotokan...

An exhausting but rewarding couple of weeks!

The Harrtlepool Wadokai Championships were a great success for Leicester Karate Association as we scooped 10 medals in total across 8 categories. Sadly the pairs senior kata didn't place but I did manage to scrape bronze in the mixed masters individual kata and am now working towards the Aiwakai Nationals in Sheffield in April.

I'm very aware that one of the reasons I managed to place at Hartlepool was that it was an open kata format and there were no stringent penalties for interpretation outside of the style standard. This allowed my shotokanisms to creep in and possibly enhance my performance rather than damage it.

In April the standard will be very much the Aiwakai Wado-kai way. Deviations from the kata taught by Sakagami Sensei  probably won't be tolerated and I'm having to really focus on the nuances as well as the big stuff. Fortunately I was able to attend the Wadokai England Squad training the following Saturday where Sensei Peter May worked through the technical step by step application of Bassai for two hours with us. I'm working on the following diferrences:

1. Don't cross legs on the first move, leave them parallel but bent forward
2. When transitioning from the last Uchiuke before stepping into Shuto - maintain the line by shuffling the rear foot first
3. Stepping back after the third Shuto the hands land as if to grab an arm and then twist into the second position, right arm forward, not left,
4. On the rise into musubidachi there is now no pause before the hands rise into morote jodan uke.
5. There is no tobi forward between the morote tetsuis and the migi junzuki, this is done on the spot.

This is the closest video I can find to what I was taught on Saturday:

Whilst all the senior senseis were hugely supportive, they all implied that basically I still reek of Shotokan!

I'm also very conscious that whilst I have passable Pinans, Wanshu and Bassai, my Niseishi, Naihanchi and Seishan need work and my Kushanku and Chinto are non-existant.

Too big a challenge? We'll have to see.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

That feeling!

Dedicated with respect to all those affected by the recent events in Japan; placing this post firmly in perspective; ame futte ji katamaru.

Just four days until the Hartlepool tournament and much has changed since my last post. We have now become two pairs as there is no category for team kata, meaning that Alex and I, and Andy and Josh are competing seperately. It's hard to know if pairs is easier than team; certainly syncing with one person is more
simple than with two, but the focus of the judges is also diffused, and differences are easier to spot.

I can honestly say that if you ever wanted to get your head around Wado stances and style and the differences between it and Shotokan, then continually running through two kata over and over again with a very competent Wado third dan and another III looking on... will certainly help.

This tournament requires that all pairs begin with a Pinan kata, so it's back to basics and onto Godan. My Neko Dachi is L shaped, but the back foot should face forward, my Shuto is too low and too far from my body, my Kiba Dachi is too wide and parallel. I move in circles slowly, but I need to move in straight lines quickly. In Wanshu, our timing is hot but my fists, which resolutely return to my hip after every technique, are slowing me down and highlighting our differences. I keep reminding myself, Wado is like the salute from my army cadet days, "the quickest way down".

It's been a hard couple of weeks but fascinating and exhilarating. At the same time I am rehearsing my individual katas, which include a faster Godan than the pairs version and a snappy Bassai and I am spending every spare moment practicing, my kitchen at home and the cloakroom at work becoming temporary dojos.

We have a good sized squad going up to Hartlepool on Sunday (at 6am!!!) including some juniors in both kata and kumite, including our winners from last time; Junaid and Patrick and, of course, my buddy Alex. Best of luck to everyone competing and as always, I'll let you know how it goes.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

There's no "I" in team...

Following the... erm... learning experience of the last tournament I have the added honour of competing in both the individual and team kata in Hartlepool on the 20th March.

I am genuinely looking forward to this one, as I feel slightly more comfortable being judged on kata than kumite and whilst some of my own kata interpretations may have a whiff of shotkan about them, they're no more varied than the range of Wado versions I saw at the last comp. When it comes to team kata though I am seriously re-learning every step.

Sensei Rick last night had us spend 20 minutes on the walk-in, and frankly, we needed it. Not only are we three different heights and three different grades, but we have three very different Martial Arts backgrounds; me from Shotokan with my long slow stances and eroneous kicks, Andy from LKA who studies budo with Sakagami and is therefore very precise, and Alex, a young Cypriot Sandan who performs snappy kata like a bullet. 

It amazes me how even individuals from the same clubs can vary kata according to their understanding and bunkai, or their own physiology, so I wasn't surprised that there were many many many differences in how each of us perform our kata. Having run through only two so far; a mandatory Pinan Godan and Wanshu we are stopping after every technique to correct and compare and assimiliate. The guys have loads of advice on how to "Wadoise" what I do and I'm delighted that they are happy to adopt some minor shotoisms regarding timing and posture. 

But what we really need is about 100 more hours of traning, a mirror and a video camera... and maybe some thumping bass tunes to keep us in time?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Down but not out

As promised the update on my first Wadokai competition reads pretty much as anticipated. Knocked out in the first round. 5:1!

However prepared I was to lose, no-one goes into a fight without a winning attitude so I was mightily pissed off to go out so soon, and having watch a video of  (the last 40 seconds) of the bout, I have to say that I've learnt a lot from this. Sadly, I absolutely deserved to lose. My opponent was faster, more relaxed and more composed that I, I was slow towards the end and my combinations were pretty weak. On the plus side, I lasted the length of the bout, did score 1 point (see my comments below regarding a perfectly good headshot that was disallowed for excessive contact #soreloser). And a few of the gyak points the other figher scored had hit my glove - but fair play to her for getting them scored.

Having watched a lot of fights on the day whilst waiting for mine, (and after my unceremonious exit!) these are my observations;

1. The rules regarding scoring and what actually seems to score do differ when you're on the mat.

Officially attacks to the face with light contact are allowed. However in every ladies match I watched, every successful tap to the face was disallowed or penalised. Both me and my opponent scored one of these each and had them discounted. Whether this is a form of mild sexism or that my idea of light contact and that of the referees is different I'm not sure. But all of the mens matches seemed to be fine with that level of contact to the face.

2. Just because you hit your opponent don't expect to score, as the referees may not see your attack land in the melee.

Both me and my opponent landed attacks that weren't scored and I must have seen a dozen in similar bouts. Better to have good technique and a convincing kiai and be close enough to cause reasonable doubt.

3. Just because your opponent isn't attacking don't stand still!


4. Don't get drawn into attacking because it's "all gone quiet over there".

Let them come to you and counter. Most points are scored this way.

I'm pretty sure the above is absolutely obvious to anyone who competes regularly, so apologies for what must be quite a bland blog post for you. For me though it was a brilliant learning experience. I now know I need to push out my guard more and concentrate on body shots if I want to actually score anything.

Whilst the disappointment stings a bit this is a day from which I take pride in the effort, if not the skill, I afforded it. The best part of the day? Watching the other members of my club do us proud. Junaid and Patrick respectivly winning Gold and Silver in their category, and Alex a bronze in the men's kata!

!Keizoku wa chikara nari!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The first rule of Fight Club...

It's just 5 days until the kumite competition and in the last couple of weeks I've tried to ramp up the training to two or three sessions a week. With a full time job and family, finding 6 hours of free time every week just isn't possible, but for a short period running up to a competition it's just about manageable.

Having focussed very heavily on sparring practice in almost every session, and having an average of 1:3 win to lose, I'm resigned to the possibility that luck rather than technique will get me through my bouts. I know I'm not really ready to compete, but at the same time if I don't do it now it'll be come something I avoid, so I am officially "in the squad" for the foreseeable. If there are any opponents reading this, here's a few pointers: I'm pretty slow and static, won't be throwing any three point kicks, and rely quite heavily on an ashi barai, gyak combo!

My total immersion in Wado and Leicester Karate Association is nearly complete; I'm really please that Sensei Chand has raised the profile of the association by affiliating with Aiwakai and the EKF which gives us greater access to training and competition opportunities, as well as attracting new blood. I've somehow managed to become the media officer for LK too and am now managing the social networking output (twitter and facebook) to try to keep everyone informed of upcoming events.

Last Sunday was our first Black Belt club and a chance to stop fighting for a couple of hours and practice kata - Wanshu and Niseishi - both of which I really like - unfortunately I still need to pin down the pinans and crack Kushanku before learning Chinto and improving my Seishan if I want to grade for 2nd Dan at the end of the year. 

All in all a very busy few weeks for me as lesson by lesson I unlearn Shotokan and become a Wadokai karateka. Watashi no kouun wo inotte kudasai.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

That New Year Spirit

Happy New Year!

Whilst I wouldn't say I ended 2010 on a downer, there was a definite low-ebb in my pre-christmas post about my achievements versus my karate self-image. If you leave the Martial Arts in the first couple of years after getting your black belt - you leave on a high. Returning after several years,or even decades can be a tough choice - and re-learning the basics, or facing up to the truth that you can't do that jodan ushiro-mawash any more can be hard.

But after a short break I've come back fighting - literally! On the 30th of this month the Hon Yoso Kai Tournament takes place, an invitational competition for Wadokai practicioners from around the country, and I'm competing. In kumite.

I'm not under any pretentions that I could medal or even necesarily survive the opening round,but it's given me a purpose and something to focus on. Each class is focussed on kumite now until the big day so I can "forget" kata and kihon for a few weeks and really try to improve in one area, competition sparring.

I think, just like Lewis and his belts, I need some milestones to help me along the path. I may be bruised and battered, but I'm having fun again!

Updates (if I survive) after the competition.

Until then, Tanoshinde!