Thursday, February 1, 2018
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Karate has been a very important part of my life. My last two years of school were not great, and starting karate brought back some of my self-confidence. Also at school, I was terrible at sport, but karate was something I did away from school and I allowed myself a fresh start. I took to it really well. The only person I was in competition with was myself, and that can be a huge incentive to try and excel, week by week.
My first sensei was Brian Whitehouse at his Shotokan Karate Club of East Grinstead, but when I went to live in the US for a year I took six lessons a week at the headquarters of the International Karate Association under the famous Takayuki Kubota. I returned to the UK and became the first black belt at Brian's club. A few years ago I wrote up my karate experience, just to help me remember it all - you can read it here if you wish (it's not a particularly exciting or outstanding story, I admit!).
Karate seems to be slightly unfashionable these days, largely, I think, due to the glamour of the new kid on the block, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). But that discipline doesn't do it for me - it's too much about winning, about competition, and about who is strongest and best. It misses the budo aspects, the humility, the finesse. It misses the Art.
One aspect of Japanese martial arts that comes in for more criticism these days is the idea that practicing a fighting art can improve your character. For me, it really has. Karate has been my model for bettering myself in all walks of life and for not giving up on something I want to do. When I lose my way, I think of karate. The lessons I've learned while attempting to perfect a technique, or to keep going when my legs want to give out, find other applications. My comic strip, The Rainbow Orchid, would not exist without my karate training (not to mention the fact that it helps when I'm drawing fight scenes!). It's not a spiritual thing for me, it's a practical, real thing.
I love kata - the pre-arranged forms or patterns of karate, an imaginary fight in multiple directions, an encyclopaedia of self-preservation techniques. I feel I'm just beginning to understand how they work - a glimpse of a bigger picture. I'm constantly trying to perfect them, and am always very far away from doing so. But each time is a new challenge. I also love the fact that practicing kata connects me to the art's history, and with forms that masters have handed down through centuries, changing and evolving with each interpretation and generation. The history of karate generally is a big part of the attraction, too. I'm still doing karate (my current club's website is here) and I still love it. I can't kick quite as high as I used to, the jumps aren't quite as athletic, and the legs tire a bit more quickly than they once did, but it's still an enormous challenge. And I think I'm starting to get the hang of it a little - at last.
Here's a short video from the days when my limbs were a bit more elastic, even if my technique was a lot less formed - in the summer of 1985, as a 7th kyu orange belt in Brian's class at the Small Parish Hall (sadly just recently demolished).
Monday, January 5, 2015
Monday, March 3, 2014
This is a big book - hardback, nicely produced, and thick at 350 pages. It's an expanded reprint of Sensei Kase's 1982 advanced kata volume.
Although a French publication, it also has much of the content reproduced in English as well (the sections: Characteristics of the Kase-Ha Shotokan-ryu Karate-do (by Pascal Lecourt); About Sensei Kase (by Sachiko Kase); Key points (to keep in mind when doing kata); Advice (for practising kata); Tempo (about timing in kata); Katas (an introduction on kata by Kase); Katas Heian Oyo and Tekki Oyo (introducing Kase's Oyo forms); and The Progression (what to expect after 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years of training). Also in English and French are the short (single paragraph) introductions to each kata.
The descriptions of each move in each kata are in French only, with the technique's name in Japanese. These descriptions are very short so, on the one hand, you can probably translate the French with just a rudimentary understanding of the language, but on the other hand, there's not much supplementary information to the photos. For instance, the opening move of Empi: "Déplacer la jambe gauche, genou droit au sol, buste de profil. Gedan-barai / Kamae."
Each kata opens with a very nice full page photo of Kase doing a signature move from the kata, then a title page which includes the kanji for its name and a short introduction. The kata is shown step-by-step (by Kase himself), usually with nine main photos to a page - though many of the moves also have small side views - a nice feature, though they are very small. At the end of each kata there is a 'Détails des mouvements' - showing in a little more detail two or three of the kata's sequences. Next is a diagram of the direction each sequence in the kata takes - not the embusen exactly, but kind of. Each kata then ends with a couple of pages of applications (pretty basic, 'traditional karate' stuff, usually for just two, maybe three techniques) and finally the entire kata across two pages - smaller photos, but for easy reference while practising.
I've already touched on a couple of the book's less favourable aspects - the very brief text descriptions for each move, and the tiny side view photos. I would also say the photos are not super-quality - they're a little soft - but they are clear, with a nice simple background, slightly darker than Kase's karate gi so he stands out. I would only say that the softness means that on some occasions you cannot make out Kase's exact hand position, but overall it's good, and I'm being hyper-critical here. There is very little in the way of transitional positioning shown from move to move.
Although there is not a glossary at the back of the book, there is a section at the beginning ('Nomenclature - attitudes et postures') which explains many of the techniques - first stances, then techniques divided up by kata, each with the Japanese term (eg."ura tsuki") a brief description (in French, eg. "attaque avec l'arrière du poing") and an accompanying photo.
The kata included in this book are as follows: Kanku-dai, Bassai-dai, Empi, Hangetsu, Jion, Jite, Gankaku, Tekki nidan, Kanku-sho, Bassai-sho, Nijushiho, Ji'in, Tekki sandan, Chinte, Sochin, Meikyo, Gojushiho-dai, Gojushiho-sho, Unsu and Wankan. It does not include the Heians, or Tekki shodan. It does include Sensei Kase's own inventions - Heian Oyo and Tekki Oyo - long forms made up of moves from all the Heians and Tekkis. These are probably only of use if you study Kase-Ha Shotokan-Ryu, but they are interesting to see, nonetheless.
As with pretty much every kata book, this is great as a supplement to training with a sensei, but not so good to learn the kata in detail from scratch. It has bigger photos than Kanazawa's recent (2009) kata book (though that has better move-by-move descriptions) and it is a nice opportunity to have all the advanced Shotokan kata under one cover - including Wankan and Jiin, not included in Nakayama's Best Karate series (though Nakayama has more detail on transitional positions).
It's not the Shotokan kata book (for me that is Kanazawa's two volume 'Shotokan Karate International Kata' (1982)), but it is a very nice addition to the library and worth getting to have one of the Shotokan greats - sadly no longer with us - take you through the advanced kata. Kase is well known as being of slightly heavier physique, but he looks fantastic doing Shotokan, and videos of him testify to his speed and power in motion.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Monday, April 30, 2012
This is the main reason that Kanku-sho is a popular tournament kata, giving the contestant the opportunity to show off an impressive high spinning jump, with an ushiro-geri in mid-air, and often to applause and whoops from the spectators.
In actual practice, according to Nakayama, the jump should not be a high one. It is really a fairly level spin (though the left foot does leave the floor) into a sudden drop to the ground, thrusting the left leg out into ushiro-geri before landing. A jumping spin in Shotokan represents a throw.
It is a very hard move to master. The points I am trying to incorporate include hitting the mikazuki-geri against the open hand directly behind me (ie. not moving the open hand further round once I start turning), getting the ushiro thrust out, and landing with my hands and feet in the right position. Not to mention then springing up into the low gedan shuto-uke! My worst fault is not controlling the aftermath of the mikazuki, which often carries my ushiro leg round too far on landing.
It is important to note that in Kanku-sho, in ryote-fuse, the left extended leg is positioned on the ball of the foot, different from Kanku-dai where the foot is sideways on and flat on the ground.
The old version of the kata (Kushanku-sho) didn't have this move as a jump, it is a spin with the foot planted resolutely on terra firma. Some people say that the jump was included by westerners purely to bring more glamour to competition karate, but as we know from Mitsusuke Harada, he described seeing Kanku-sho in the 1940s complete with the Shotokan jump. I think this points to it being a development by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, and here is a quite impressive photo of him doing the tobi ushiro-geri from Kanku-sho …
The application that I'm demonstrating for this technique is to step away from a close-quarter grab or punch, while parrying with the haishu-uke. With the open hand I grab the assailant's arm and twist it slightly so my mikazuki-geri strikes hard against the locked elbow joint. Keeping hold of the arm I then turn quickly into ushiro-geri, thrusting my heel into my attacker's mid-section at close-range.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
Sunday, April 8, 2012
My belief is that kata is not a performance for others, which is why I'm not interested in competition karate (and I'm not saying there is no skill in competition kata - of course there is). I'm not fanatical about ending on exactly the same spot on which I started the kata, and I don't consider my kata a failure if I put in an extra shuffle into an attacking technique, or if I occasionally target a nukite at the throat rather than the solar plexus.
What matters is how it feels to me as I fight along the embusen. I use the word 'fight' here quite deliberately. When I do a kata, it is a fight. I am delivering fighting techniques in order to practice them in movement, but I also take on a serious martial attitude and try to put 100% into every technique. I 'see' the enemy, I imagine the move against an invisible force. The fight is internal.
I said that I don't necessarily do every technique perfectly, but I do attempt to. That is also part of the fight - overcoming my physical failings to try and execute the moves with precision as best as I can. Technical perfection is not the be-all and end-all of kata, but you shouldn't use that as an excuse for bad technique. You know when you've missed the mark, or when you've 'phoned it in', and when you do, the only loser is yourself.
Still, we've all seen those YouTube comments where the writer criticises the performance (and it becomes a performance as soon as it is for the benefit of a viewer, even if unintended) because a fist is an inch too high, or the move appears to lack kime, and I think the majority of those comments show a lack of understanding of what kata is really about. They are interested only in show, and kata is not show.
Many of these comments are from students of one style criticising another style that they don't understand, or are totally ignorant about. Just look at the comments under almost any Shotokai kata ...
"... it's like a poor japanese imitation of tai chi, except tai chi would whup your ass... go learn a real style"
"umm but wheres the impact?"
"His limbs are a bit flimsy, more hard work on overall basics, speed and Kimi, and it will be there."
"Is this a joke?..."
"... no kime! this is a power kata not a dance?"
"looks like shotokan ... but with no effort, my 9 year old does it like that"
All these commenters are showing, in my opinion, is their ignorance of another style and, probably, a bit of self-delusion about their own ability too!
It's nice to see a showy kata, but it's a diversion. Kata is all about making yourself better.