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Methods of Training for Shotokan Karate, Volume I

Author: Neculai Amalinei
A 92 Publishing House, Iasi, 1996.

192 pages, 210x297 mm
ISBN: 973-97393-4-2
Methods of Training for Shotokan Karate, Volume I

The experts in Karate Do state that this martial art has three levels of understanding through practice.
The first one is expressed by techniques in themselves, the second one is revealed by the sense of distance and rhythm and the third one is rendered by the the intuition of a possible attack.
All these aspects are not separate unities, they act as a whole.

The Author

"Of course, there will always be those students who realize early on that karate is not what they had hoped, and these students rarely make it beyond the first couple of gradings. Why should it be, however, that such a large proportion of students who train hard for two or three years suddenly can't be persuaded to continue? Many even take their shodan, and then are rarely seen again. Part of the answer, I believe, lies in the fundamentally different approach to teaching karate adopted by such Westerners, compared with the traditional JKA approach. One of the things that epitomizes karate training, JKA style, is its preoccupation with basics. From my first day's training at the JKA Honbu in Tokyo, and later, perhaps even more so, at Takushoku University, the format was always the same: basics, basics and then more basics. The more advanced the class became, the more basic it became, an anomaly that I will subsequently explain. Even the instructors' class regularly began with all the senior Japanese sensei performing sets of repetitions of basic, fundamental techniques.

On my initial return to the UK after my first couple of years in Japan, one of the things that struck me was how little emphasis was often placed on understanding basics. Oh sure, clubs would inevitably start with the students charging up and down the hall doing "basics", and some would even limit these to single techniques. The rest, however, would soon progress on to long, complex combinations of a dozen techniques or more. Considerable time would be spent explaining the sequence of movement, and after perhaps several practice attempts, the barrage of techniques would be performed at "full speed and power". Speed, spirit and aggression seemed to be the key focuses of attention, attributes that certainly weren't lacking in many of the clubs I later visited. Teaching points, however, would often relate more to these factors than to the finer points of technique. This is not to suggest, of course, that things are always any better in Japan. Indeed, the university club where I often practise in Tokyo (not Takushoku, I hasten to add), spends the major portion of each training session on activities which it short-sightedly believes will assure it success in the next competition against its main rival club. The coach is forever telling the students that it doesn't matter whether their technique is good or bad, only that everything must be performed with the correct attitude, by which he means with spirit and aggression. Whilst I agree that these things are extremely important, I wonder when he imagines the students at the club are actually going to learn karate. It's all very well developing the correct attitude, but unless the time is taken to gain a fundamental understanding of karate, then there's going to be no real progress. Perhaps he expects the students to do the real training outside the dojo, in their spare time. Certainly, with the amount of time that is wasted in the dojo on superficial point-scoring strategies and competition training, at the expense of karate, the students will need to do something if they ever want to improve. I do not want to give the impression that I'm against competition, or indeed, specific training for competition. Competition has its place in karate, and I fully appreciate that university clubs in Japan gain their recognition by being successful in competition. It's a great pity, however, that not more clubs treat competition in the way that Takushoku University used to do, as a good excuse for extra training. And it's no surprise (at least, to me) that they were renowned for their success in competition. What I do find astonishing is that other clubs don't stop to consider why it was that Takushoku's students were so much better than anyone else, and why so few seem to make any attempt to imitate the way they trained. I do not, however, want to get side-tracked at this stage into a long discussion about the merits of competition.

This is a topic best dealt with in more depth at some future time. What do I mean, then, by a fundamental understanding of karate? I mean, quite simply, an understanding of the principles of the basic movements. This does not necessarily imply an understanding at an intellectual level: one's body must learn how to move. Eventually these natural basic movements provide the foundation upon which everything else is built. How is it that Yahara Sensei can spin 180 degrees executing one technique in competition, and then completely reverse the direction with another technique, without losing his balance? How is it that Kawasoe Sensei from Britain can generate such incredible power in a combination of techniques that flow so effortlessly together? How is it that Osaka Sensei can perform the second downward block of Heian Shodan (involving a 180 degrees turn) with more power, strength, speed and stability than most "advanced" karate-ka can muster from the shizentai (natural stance) position? It's no great secret, and it certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they were all born Japanese. It is simply that they have a thorough working knowledge of basic, fundamental karate, which has provided the foundation for every subsequent level of performance. Yahara Sensei can perform his spinning back-fist strike first one way and then the other for exactly the same reason that he can perform the spinning downward block in the first of the Heian katas. The movement is fundamentally the same.

Being unable to perform the kata at any real level, by definition, precludes the execution of such advanced techniques in kumite. When Osaka Sensei tells his Japanese students that there is no distinction to be drawn between kata and kumite, he is not trying to be deliberately esoteric or misleading. He's simply pointing out what the JKA regards as an indisputable fact, without an understanding of basics there's no foundation upon which progress can be built. It thus comes as no surprise to his students when he spends more than half the time in his special advanced kata class at the JKA referring back to the five basic Heian katas. The spinning high outside block in Jion Kata that finishes in back stance, for example, is fundamentally the same movement as the first spinning downward block in Heian Shodan. If students can't do the latter, it should be no surprise that the former seems so difficult. The constant reference to basics can be somewhat misleading. The word basic implies simplistic, easy, or elementary, the very opposite of advanced or complex. Perhaps it would be less confusing to substitute the Japanese word kihon: the practice of kihon can be very advanced, and is anything but easy. There are probably few people reading this article who would argue that kihon practice is unimportant. However, how many people regularly practise kihon effectively? Repeatedly performing incorrectly executed techniques, individually or as combinations, does not make for better karate. In fact, with time, ingrained habits (good or bad) become increasingly difficult to eradicate. It is important to understand that karate, JKA style, is fundamentally simple. That's not to say that it's easy, but that every subsequent movement is based on a prior movement. One thing stems from another. A misunderstanding at the basic level cannot be corrected higher up the chain."

Sensei David Hooper, 3th Dan JKA
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