Monday, 22 March 2010

Karate training - is little and often best?

Karate has a big advantage over some other martial arts in that much of it can be practised without the need for a training partner. Kata and kihon can be done alone and one can practice various kumite moves against a bag - so I have no excuse not to practice at home!

In fact we have a small gym at home so I really don’t have an excuse. However I still don’t get around to it as often as I intend. The problem is I always feel that I need sufficient time in one go to make it worthwhile, at least 45 minutes. Then I may need a shower afterwards, so now its an hour. If I don’t feel I’ve got an hour spare then I find myself making excuses not to bother!

Yesterday my husband read me something from one of Funakoshi’s books (not sure which one) in which he says that he recommends that karateka train for only 10 minutes at a time – but do this 3 times a day. This got me thinking – even I can spare 10 minutes at a time. What can you do in 10 minutes? Quite a lot actually. It’s a nice chunk of time to focus on one particular thing. In ten minutes you can practice one kata 6 times or drill some combinations or just practice a kick or other technique you’ve had a problem with. Alternatively you could do a focused 10 minute workout – just upper body or just abs or stretching etc.

If I could manage this 3 times a day then that’s an extra 3.5 hours of training a week on top of the 5.5 hours a week I do in classes. That would be a total of 9 hours training a week! I think that’s a respectable amount of training. Those extra 3.5 hours would just slot in around the rest of my life.

Well I decided that a Monday morning is always a good time to start on a new schedule so before breakfast I spent 10 minutes practising sword draws and a stance kata that I learned last night in kobudo class. My new bokken is great by the way – its shorter length means that I can draw it cleanly out of the saya and my movements are much swifter and less wobbly.

When I got home from work this afternoon I spent 10 minutes going through my 2 karate kata – Rohai and Neiseishi. I went through each one 3 times. Before I go to my karate classes this evening I am going to spend 10 minutes going through the white belt syllabus because I have been asked to teach 3 new white belts that are starting today. I think this could work for me!

Now I need to work out a schedule of what I will do with each of these 10 minutes slots so that the training becomes coherent.

How do you organise your own practice time at home?

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Friday, 19 March 2010

Three exciting things!

1. I have a new katana! (see picture). For a while now I have had difficulty controlling my previous bokken. It is too big and too heavy. It is a standard 40 inch bokken weighing 660g. This doesn’t sound very heavy but I have found it a bit unwieldy! I can’t chiburi properly with it, my cuts are ‘wobbly’ and imprecise, and I have difficulty putting it back in the saya.
My new katana is only 33 inches long and weighs 350g. It is made from red oak and feels pretty strong (it makes a lovely whooshing noise when making cuts!). Sensei told me that the correct length for a sword is that the blade should be the length of your arm (measured from the axilla to the wrist). The length of the blade is 23 inches and my arm measurement is 22 inches, so without actually getting one made to measure, this is as close as I’ll get to the perfect length sword. It is actually called a ‘youth’ size which suits me!

Apart from trying it out at home I haven’t had the chance to use it in class yet – can’t wait for Sunday so that I can put it through its paces!

2. I have finally bought the correct kobudo gi for my organisation (see picture). It’s quite jazzy isn’t it? I wouldn’t feel at all right wearing something like this in my karate club – I much prefer the simple white gi with a single patch on it. However for my kobudo club it somehow feels okay! The only problem is the organisation my kobudo club belongs to has an obsession with patches and I am eventually going to have to spoil the gi by sewing on badges until I look like a boy scout! But at the moment I’m resisting.

I actually like the idea of  wearing a different gi to the two clubs I belong too. I know it shouldn’t matter what I wear – a different coloured gi won’t make me better or worse – but somehow it symbolises that I occupy a different place in each club. In my karate club I am a fairly senior brown belt and expected to work at a high standard and help out more junior grades. In kobudo I am the most junior member of the club hoping other people will help me!

Wearing the correct gi also gives a sense of belonging. When you join a new club as a junior it takes time to fit in and to be accepted by the other members. You have to train hard, listen to advice and criticism with good grace, show you’re not afraid to have a go and eventually you gain their respect. I feel after 9 months I’m just starting to achieve that. Having the right gi somehow helps me feel more accepted.

3. I’ve saved the best ‘till last! I have booked onto a seminar with Ian Abernethy. It’s not until July but I wanted to guarantee my place early. I’m really excited about this. I am currently reading his book ‘Bunkai-Jutsu’, which is really good by the way, and I listen to his pod casts. To actually meet the man in person and work on some bunkai under his guidance sounds like a fantastic opportunity. I’ll post about how this seminar went in July.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Great Northern International Festival of Martial Arts 10

This post is to plug a Martial Arts Festival that is taking place on May 8th 2010. The reason I’m plugging it is because it is aiming to raise money for Cancer Research UK. The festival will be in its 10th year this year and will be attracting clubs from all over the UK and China.

Its founder and organiser is Peter Seth (4th Dan) who runs the Sunderland University (Zanshin) Aikido club. According to Peter the aims of the festival are to:

• Raise much needed funds for Cancer Research UK as well as public awareness of the role the North East of England plays in international research into this disease which has now taken over from heart disease as the number one killer in this country.

• To bring together various Martial Arts groups from the local area, nationally and internationally, to, in a very positive way, demonstrate their arts and foster friendship and an awareness that they are part of a much larger Martial Arts ‘family’.

• Increase public awareness as to the variety and very high standards of Martial Arts practiced both locally and also in the wider arena.
(The North East of England has many Martial Artists who have attained national, international and world champion status),

• Provide a forum for young Martial Artists to display their skills and develop pride and confidence both in themselves and their respective arts. Also encourage people to become involved in the martial arts with its many positive benefits.

• Have an entertaining, educational, spectacular and fun day out for everyone.

The event will feature demonstrations from judo, jujitsu, karate (shotokan and wado ryu), taekwondo, aikido, kobudo, Awasa/Saburi/Kumitachi Waza, Capoeira, Taiji, Japanese Sword, Directional Fighting Method, kung fu, kick boxing, European (Historical) Fighting Systems and of course : Lion Dancers.

This year there will also be a variety of taster sessions for both martial artists and members of the general public.

I attended last year’s festival and had a thoroughly good time – the variety and quality of demonstrations was very high, I think there were four world champions there! I am hoping to be there again this year so if you can get to Sunderland why not come along as well?

Here are the essential details:
Title: The Great Northern International Festival of Martial Arts 10
Date: Saturday 8th May 2010
Venue: Seaburn Leisure Centre, Sunderland
Time: 10.00am – 4.30 pm
Cost: Adults £4.50, Under 14’s/Senior Citizen £3.00, Family (2+2) £12.00

For tickets or further information contact: Peter Seth

To raise money for Cancer research this festival needs as much publicity as possible so remember to tell your club about it – feel free to copy and print the poster at the top of this post.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Ukete and Semete in karate

I thought I’d sorted out the roles of uke and tori a while ago then I decided to find out a bit more about them and Wham! Something that was straight forward is no longer straight forward.

The word uke means to receive. The kanji character (above) for uke depicts two hands, one reaching down, the other stretching up, and between them is placed the character for "boat." This "conveyance of goods from one person to another" became, over the centuries, the kanji to indicate the act of "receiving."

It appears that the word ‘uke’ is used differently in different martial arts. The most common understanding of the roles of uke and tori is found in jujitsu where uke provides the initial attack and then ‘receives’ the self defence technique from tori. The same is true for aikido and judo.

In karate the situation is different. The terms uke and tori are not generally used to describe the two opponents in a combat situation. They are not used in my club and I have not found reference to them in any karate text book. In Ian Abernethy’s book Bunkai Jutsu he just refers to the ‘opponent’ and in Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder’s book The Way of Kata, they refer to the ‘defender’ and the ‘attacker’.

Apparently the correct terms to use in karate are ukete (defending, or receiving, hand) and semete (attacking hand). This immediately puts them the opposite way round to uke and tori. That is ukete is equivalent to tori and semete is equivalent to uke.

It took me a little while to get my head around why it should be the other way around in karate compared to other martial arts but I’ll try and explain.

In karate the word uke is often used to mean block, as in age uke (upward rising block), uchi uke (across block) and soto uke (inward block). However there is much controversy in karate about the role of blocks. Many people say that blocks in karate katas are not intended to be blocks but a way of receiving an attack in order to seize the initiative and take control of the situation. Remember the word uke means to receive. According to Kane and Wilder the word ‘receive’ implies active ownership. This ownership means that when the ukete (defender) receives (and owns) the aggressor’s attack he can use an uke technique to either defend (by deflecting or re-directing an incoming strike or applying a lock) and/or counter-offend (e.g. by using an age uke to strike under the aggressor’s jaw) and thus bring the conflict to a swift end.

Karate is conceptually different to some other martial arts in that it is not entirely defensive. In jujitsu and aikido all techniques are defensive – they are designed to stop the attacker by locking or throwing them to the ground. Karate is both a defensive and attacking art – it is based on the premise of ‘one strike, one kill’ and supports the use of pre-emptive striking as a method of defence. Though other arts do use striking techniques they are generally just used as ‘weakners’ to soften the opponent up before the lock or throw is applied. In karate the strike is the definitive technique used to bring the conflict to a swift end.

To summarise: In most Japanese martial arts the term uke applies to the person initiating the attack and then ‘receiving’ the defensive technique from tori. In karate the term ukete is used to describe the person ‘receiving’ the initial attack from semete and controlling the fight using uke techniques in either an offensive or defensive way.

However, the terms ukete and semete are not commonly used in karate clubs and it is difficult to find references to them in the literature. The terms ‘attacker’, ‘defender’ or ‘opponent’ are more commonly used.

Do you use the terms ukete and semete in your karate club?

The Way of Kata by Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder. YMMA Publication Center
Bunkai-Jutsu by Ian Abernethy. Neth Publishing

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Teaching martial arts - harder than it looks!

I helped with some teaching this week. I have been helping out in the Monday junior class for 2 or 3 months now but generally I just join in, partner someone who doesn’t have a partner and help some of the very junior students with their katas. However this week Sensei decided to give me a bit more teaching to do.

So instead of having a couple of yellow belts to take through their kata he asked me to take the whole class through some pad work! Well, the whole class bar two students whom he wanted to take aside to go through their grading syllabus with. This left me with about 14 students ranging from red belt to purple belt.

I decided not to feel too intimidated by this request; after all I’ve done loads of pad work – what could be so hard? When Sensei does pad work with us we just line up in pairs down the centre of the hall with a pad, he demonstrates the techniques he wants us to do, we do it to his count, left leg/arm, then right leg/arm, then we do ten left, ten right to our own count and swap pad holders who then go through the same routine. Sensei walks up and down praising/correcting our technique and encouraging us to go harder; simple eh?

Well, I got everybody sorted into partners and lined up with the pads – so far, so good. I then demonstrated the first technique – a spinning back kick. What was Sensei thinking giving me this kick to demonstrate? It’s my worst kick (apart from spinning hook kick – that just looks like an inelegant pirouette!). I can tell someone how to do a back kick and I can tell students all the little nuances that make the kick work better – drawing the knee up high, looking at your target, the correct foot shape on the pad, keeping your hands up, pulling the leg back after the kick etc. However, knowing what to do and actually being able to do it is not necessarily the same thing!

So I did my rather lack lustre demonstration and set them off doing it to my count: “Ichi..” They kick. I go off and help a young yellow belt who doesn’t know which way to spin. After a few seconds with her I look up and realise the whole class are standing there like statues waiting for me to count. “Oh sorry, Ni!” They all kick again. I help another child who’s confused for a few seconds. I look up – statues. I count again – they kick. I can’t seem to count and give attention to people at the same time! So I decided just to walk up and down counting and saying things like ‘don’t let your hands drop’ and ‘draw you knee up higher before you kick’.

I then realise I haven’t asked them to change legs yet (poor things!). So we do it all again on the other leg and my poor little yellow belt is still spinning the wrong way so I go over to help her and guess what? Yep! Statues again. Anyway, we get through this and get to the bit where they do 10 kicks on each leg to their own count. Respite! I can now concentrate more on helping those that are struggling. Then it’s time to swap pad holders and do it all again. This means I have to demonstrate the kick again – I tried really hard not to lose my balance, draw my knee up, and shape my foot - all the things I’d just told them to do. My demonstration went slightly better this time.

After everybody had finished I had to do the whole thing again with the side kick (another difficult kick for me). By which time Sensei is assuming we’ve nearly finished and shouts ‘finish off with some jump kicks’. Not if you want to go home on time, I’m thinking. Anyway we did fit in a few jump kicks (I’m okay with those) before Sensei takes the class back. Phew!

This teaching lark is a lot harder than it looks. I found it very difficult to watch people carefully and count at the same time. I decided the best time to give people individual attention was when they were kicking to their own count and doing the kicks repetitively. I was quite comfortable correcting and advising the children but less so the adults, particularly those that could do the technique better than me – it seemed rather patronising to correct someone who can do something better than me. Did I remember to praise? I think I praised some of the children who were doing it well but I’m not sure I did the adults, which is something I must remember – we all need praise occasionally, however old we are.

What were your early teaching experiences like? What did you find particularly hard about it?

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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Warning! This post is seriously introspective.

As an ex-teacher I am interested in the way people learn. On the Total Karate blog site this week there is an informative post about learning styles. This got me interested in finding out what my preferred learning style was, so I did one of the online learning style tests. This produced some rather unexpected results and led me on a journey of introspection!

Essentially, people generally have a preference for one of three basic learning styles:

Visual learner – this person processes visual information best so responds to learning stimuli such as demonstrations, diagrams, written words, pictures etc. They may respond with phrases such as ‘I see what you are getting at’.

Auditory learner – prefers to listen to the spoken word. Understands and can follow spoken instructions and likes to discuss the details of things in conversation or debate. They may respond with phrases such as ‘I hear what you are saying’.

Kinaesthetic learner – this person learns by doing. They prefer to learn through experimentation rather than instruction – picking things up through trial and error. They may respond with phrases such as ‘This feels right’.

Before doing the test I had come to the conclusion that I was essentially a kinaesthetic learner. However, the test revealed that I am very strongly a visual learner. Out of thirty marks I scored 19 for visual learning, 11 for kinaesthetic learning and 0 for auditory learning!

So for two-thirds of the time I am relying on visual cues to learn and one-third I’m learning by doing. But I learn absolutely nothing by listening to instruction! How on earth did I get this far in life without listening?

When I think back over my school career and analyse my personality this distribution of learning styles probably makes sense. I never enjoyed having stories read to me – particularly at school. I’d either fall asleep at the desk or my mind would wander off and I’d study all the artwork and stuff pinned on the classroom walls. It wasn’t that I didn’t like stories – I just followed them better if I could read them myself. My main interests at school were art and science (mainly biology). I spent much of my spare time throughout my whole childhood painting, drawing and making things. Clearly this fulfilled my need for visual stimuli and doing practical things. I liked science because that is also very visual and kinaesthetic – all those diagrams to look at and experiments to do! I also enjoyed dancing during the whole of my childhood, the usual stuff – ballet, tap and modern. Again, this is visual and very kinaesthetic.

My aversion to auditory stimuli is more interesting. As a child I was frightened of the telephone. I don’t think I ever answered the phone until I was about 12 or 13. If I was at home alone I would ignore it. The phone was positioned on a table at the bottom of the stairs; I had to pass it every time I went up or down stairs so I would run past it in case it rang! I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t see the person I was speaking to. I still don’t like the phone but obviously I answer it and use it like any normal person now. I much prefer to meet people in person than speak to them on the phone.

At school I disliked subjects that required lots of discussion or debate or required the teacher to do a lot of talking. I found fast moving discussions hard to follow and I couldn’t think what to say (until afterwards) so I tended to be one of the quiet ones that didn’t join in. I just couldn’t process information quickly enough by this auditory route! However, I excelled at subjects that required problem solving skills or logical thinking, so I was good at maths and computer science. Visual learning requires not just external visual cues but the ability to visualise things in your head. Visual learners have a need to use imagery. You need strong imagery to understand science, to grasp concepts and think through scenarios.

Does learning style shape your personality or does your personality dictate which learning style you develop a preference for? I’m not sure. All I can say is that if you met me you would find me fairly shy and quiet! I am not a big talker and I’m sure this is due to my relative inability to process auditory information. I’m friendly and approachable enough but our conversations would involve relatively short exchanges of information, opinions or anecdotes rather than long meandering or convoluted accounts of things. I don’t ‘chatter’ and I don’t ‘gossip’. Even though I don’t talk a lot there is still plenty of stuff going on in my head! If you do get me engaged in conversation (try talking martial arts) you will find that I am a big ‘hand talker’. I tend to express what I am saying through my hand movements and facial expressions – is this part of being a visual or kinaesthetic learner? I suspect it is – I think using non-verbal communication is an important part of ‘talking’ for someone like me and probably helps to explain my aversion to the phone.

So where is all this naval gazing leading us? Now that I’ve established that I am wholly a visual or kinaesthetic learner who likes practical things that involve a degree of problem solving and visual imagery and doesn’t cope well with lots of talking and listening, are martial arts a good thing for me to be doing?

Well, it’s something you learn through lots of demonstration and mimicry. It requires you to watch others, practice and experiment. Re-enforcement of learning comes from using strong visual imagery i.e. imagining oneself doing it and from reading and thinking about it. Long winded explanations are not required – questions and short succinct answers are better. It is an activity that can be enjoyed by people who are sociable but prefer to socialise whilst doing an activity rather than just ‘talking’. I think it is the perfect activity for me - it suits me down to the ground! And if I do want to discuss it or debate it – I’ll just blog.

Do martial arts suit your personality or learning style?

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