Friday, November 11, 2011

Understanding Techniques

One of the most important aspects about learning karate is that it is not enough to mimic the movements of your instructor you must also strive to understand how the technique works and what it is trying to accomplish.  Without that understanding your technique will be sloppy and ineffective.

Let's take a look at a specific example that came up in my class last night so I can hopefully make my point clear.  In the Chito Ryu kata Ni Sei Shi there is a particular spot where you retreat by pulling your front leg back and to the centre, block with the left hand and strike with the right hand.  You can watch the technique here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYzuAnsldzQ at the 1:29 mark in the video.  You'll see that the individual on the right slides his left foot to the centre and blocks (shuto uke) the attacker's punch with his left hand.  There are a number of points to this part of the kata but I'm going to examine just the block for this particular discussion.  Shuto-uke.

When it is done correctly, it is more of a redirection which steers the attackers punch down the side of your body thereby preventing you from getting hit and setting the opponent up for the counter attack - a right-handed shuto uchi which you see at 1:32 in the video.  If the block (shuto-uke) is too high or too low then you will miss the attacker's punch and get hit.  If you do not block with enough force then the punch will drive through the block and you will get hit.  If you block with too much force then the block (shuto-uke) will push the attacker's hand too far and the attacker, realizing that his punch has been pushed off course, will use the rotational energy you have provided them with to hit you with their left hand.

The correct method is to block with just enough force to keep your opponent's energy moving forward and to prevent you from getting hit.  By keeping them moving forward you actually allow them to step into the counter attack making it even stronger.  Also, it takes them longer to realize that their attack was not effective since they continue to move forward with the punch.  Without this realization there is no need to attack you with their other hand as they believe their first punch will do the trick

By gaining this understanding of the technique you are better able to practice the bunkai with your partner and you have a better understanding of how to perform it in your kata.  So, take the time to understand each and every technique in a kata and what that technique is trying to accomplish.  Your kata, bunkai, and kumite skills will improve with understanding.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I Need To Be Me

Sensei Peter Giffen
and a student from the AKC
A good friend and fellow karateka, Captain Jamie Creelman, passed away suddenly from a heart attack on April 7th, 2011.  He was a man who had a passion for all things karate and was meticulous in learning every detail that he could and was eager to share whatever he learned with everyone.

As a memorial to Jamie, Sensei Peter Giffen taught a class at the Atlantic Karate Club on April 11th and I was in attendance.  I spent a fair bit of the night taking photographs as he first worked with the kids class and then later with the adults.  You can find the raw photos from those classes over on PicasaWeb.

Sensei Giffen taught many of the basic principals of karate that night.  Things like dropping your weight into your stance to become immovable or as close to it as possible.  Holding your hands comfortably on your hip in such a way as to make it possible to punch forward even when there is resistance.  How to create a strong stance to ensure a strong technique.  None of these concepts are new.  In fact, these are the same basic concepts that senseis have been handing down to their students for generations.

The important message for me that night, however, was not about any one particular technique that he reviewed.  The message to me from this class was that here was yet another karateka giving me permission and, in fact, encouragement to be myself.  Over the years my senseis have encouraged me to find the techniques and stances that would help me better understand myself.  Chito-Ryu is about the individual; unlike some styles we do not measure our stances, punches, or kicks with a ruler but with our own bodies.  What bigger message do you need to understand that you need to be you.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Secrets of Karate

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted to this blog and for anyone who read the last post and was waiting for another, I apologize.  I think if you stick with me you will find I will start posting more entries to this blog and sharing more of my karate secrets with anyone who cares to stop by and visit for a while.

Over the years that I have been practicing karate, I have been fortunate to study with a number of senseis and they as well as some close friends have taught me many “secret techniques” that I have incorporated into my training.  The unspoken but ever present rule was that these secrets were given to me and only me and I should not share these secrets with anyone.

Over the last few years I have posted a number of videos to YouTube demonstrating a number of Chito Ryu kata and have received a number of comments about this.  First, let me say I know I’m not perfect.  In fact, I easily admit that as long as I live I will never perform any of my kata perfectly.  Karate training is a road, not a destination, and those who believe otherwise are, I’m afraid, misguided.

I originally recorded the videos as a training aid for myself.  It is pretty much impossible to watch yourself perform a kata so it’s a good idea to record yourself on video and then play it back and analyze your mistakes.  Even better would be to review your performance with your sensei or other karateka who can give you honest and valuable critique.

Since I now had these videos I decided to post them to YouTube to help promote Chito Ryu karate and act as a point of reference for others.  While I knew I was not perfect, I was reasonably sure that I had performed all the necessary techniques in all the right places.  This can be a handy point of reference for someone trying to learn a kata.  Also, since I had been seeing karate videos for many other styles of karate on YouTube but hardly any for Chito Ryu I felt it was important to help promote my style as I am very proud to be a Chito Ryu practitioner.

I heard a number of comments from various people that I shouldn’t have posted them to YouTube.  No one really gave me a solid reason why I should not have posted them but it was simply suggested it was a bad idea.  I still don’t know why it is a bad idea.  I wondered if they felt that I was giving away some of our Chito Ryu secrets.

I attended a karate clinic this past weekend and after it was over I went to lunch with some of my good friends and fellow karateka and we discussed some of the events.  One of my good friends was letting me in on a particular “secret” around one of the moves in Ju Ni Shi.  I had made a suggestion that we should pass this information on and I was warned, yet again, to only pass it on to my fellow Chito Ryu karateka and to keep the secret within the “family”.

I didn’t have time to challenge that assertion at the time but I am doing that now.  With all due respect to my fellow karateka I think that we should be shouting these secrets from the top of the mountain and telling absolutely everyone about them.  And here’s my argument for why we should be doing this.

In the early days of the martial arts people kept their techniques secret for two reasons.  One, they did not want their oppressors to know they were practicing to fight.  They wanted them to think they were merely dancing or doing simple exercise and so the details of the techniques were secreted away into the kata and only shown in secret to their fellow martial arts practitioners.  In the modern martial arts world we generally no longer have to practise in secret.

Secondly, they wanted to keep their techniques secret because it gave them what they believed was an “ace up their sleeve” in battle.  If their techniques were revealed then opponents could come up with specific counters to those techniques and defeat the martial artist in a fight which, in those days, meant they lost their life.

It today’s world someone might look at the technique and try to copy it, disagree with it, or even scoff at it, however, being able to perform these techniques takes dedication and practice with guidance from a good sensei.  What value is a better understanding of the technique to anyone other than a Chito Ryu karateka?

Finally, the most important reason to share each and every detail of your karate with your fellow karateka.  A good friend and fellow karateka, Jamie Creelman, passed away today after suffering a major heart attack.  He had traveled to many dojos and trained with many sensei’s over the last few years and had learned many karate secrets.  All the information he had learned but not been able to yet share has been lost.  Gone forever.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Jamie Creelman.  A friend and karateka with whom I have shared many secrets of karate.