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!


  1. Hi Suze, I've often wondered why we consider the pinan katas as 'beginners' katas. There is much more to them than meets the eye (particularly a beginners eye). It is only when you re-visit these kata as seniors and look at them from a bunkai point of view (rather than merely a form point of view) that you realise how complex and 'rich' these kata are. I think Itosu really knew what he was doing when he developed them! Glad you enjoyed your seminar - have you tried an Iain Abernethy seminar? He's very much a bunkai specialist and uses the pinans a lot in his teaching. His teaching is not style specific as he believes, like Funakoshi, that there is only one karate.

  2. Hi Suze. He is an excellent Sensei isn't he. SueC is right when she says there is more to Pinans than meet the eye, however I have to disagree regarding the Bunkai. As you may have realised Wado applications are more about testing Wado's core principles of Nagasu, Inasu, Noru, Irimi, Maai and San mi Ittai. I'm sure you would have realised different perspectives from Peter May than your Shoto experience. Abernethy teaches Bunkai and is a very clever man however his seminars will never, repeat never help you with your Wado. Wado with it heritage in Japanese Bujutsu is very different form all of the Okinawan based systems, and as I stated in your first thread a different mind set required.
    I'm really enjoying your blog by the way, keep up the good work.

  3. I really enjoyed the article. Thank you so much for covering this! It is well written, clear and concise.

    Mr. Martial Arts

  4. Hey long time no write, please update on the going ons in the karate dojos and about yourself. Thanks.