Friday, 26 July 2013

Some eclectic karate musings....

Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while, it’s just been a busy time with holidays (had a week in Malta – very nice, and a weekend visiting a vineyard – yes we can make wine here); decorating (new bathroom and decorating my son’s bedroom); gardening to catch up on now that summer has finally arrived (and is about to disappear again); weekend visitors and various other things.

In karate terms: my husband passed his 2nd dan for which I partnered him; I’ve just finished teaching my after-school karate classes for the summer and I’ve been covering some club classes while my instructor has been on holiday.

So, this post is an eclectic mix of thoughts that I have mulled over in my mind over the last couple of months…..

1.       I’ve had a hard time shaking off the disappointment I felt at not dan grading with my husband in June. It’s silly, I know, but I’ve experienced a whole roller coaster of emotions about it over the last few weeks from disappointment to anger to resignation back to anger. It’s ridiculous I should have felt like this. My head told me to wait until November but my heart wanted to do it in June. Attending the grading with my husband was a really hard day emotionally, particularly at the beginning when everyone started warming up and again at the end when certificates were presented. A lesson in humility I suppose. During the actual grading I was okay and I just got on with supporting my husband who did a really good grading. I’m on a more even keel again now and looking towards my own 2nd dan grading in November.

2.       Why do students find it so hard to learn stances? I’ve been doing a lot of teaching recently and I’m always constantly amazed at how sloppy many students are with stances. You can tell them until you are blue in the face to ‘bend the front knee (in zenkutsu dachi)’, or ‘bend the back leg’ (in neko ashi dachi) and they still don’t do it – even at brown belt! When you watch them do kata above the waist they are looking pretty good but watch their legs and there is hardly any attempt to use the proper stances at all. I’ve tried getting them to do a basic kata such as pinan nidan with their arms behind their backs so that they just have to concentrate on their legs but they still just walk through the pattern with hardly any discernible stances! Do you have any effective ways to teach stances?

3.       I think I have found the source of my leaning problem in karate. This problem raised its ugly head again during my pre-dan (it has plagued me for years!). However, my husband seems to have pinpointed the subtle thing that I am doing wrong and I am practising hard now to correct it. It appears that when I am transitioning between stances during kihon combinations or kata I am slightly hyper-extending my back and pushing my hips forward. You would think that this would make me lean backwards but it actually results in me leaning forward slightly when I change stance. I also think it makes my stance transitions slower because my weight is not correctly balanced between my feet and there is a slight pause before I can move. My husband said that I need to tuck my pelvis under more to straighten my spine (like you do in sanchin dachi). When I try doing this in zenkutsu dachi I can get my hip back more and step forward more quickly because my weight is more evenly balanced. I also don’t lean as I step forward. I am now practising to make this feel a more natural movement and hopefully some of my other problems may disappear at the same time i.e. leading slightly with the hand rather than the foot and occasionally losing balance.

As you can see my karate seems like a series of highs and lows at the moment, but that’s par for the course isn’t it.?We’re on a long journey, not in a race. It’s normal to have training plateaus, move forward, slide back again, have Eureka moments or discover small flaws in technique that are holding you back. Keeping going is the most important thing and not letting disappointments blow you of course.

So I am keeping going – I have started training daily, i.e. a little and often strategy. I find training about 7.15 in the morning the best time for me. If I’m not in the gym by 8.00am then in my heart of hearts I know it will not happen! The day will take over and I won’t get around to it, so I’m trying to be very disciplined with myself. I’m determined to crack the problems that plague my karate and stopped me from grading last month.

The biggest battle we all face really is the one inside ourselves isn’t it?

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Rick Matz said...

Ranking comes in it's own good time. Just study and practice.

The Strongest Karate said...

With regard to student stances during kata my dojo employs three methods to improve performance.

1. When I am standing incorrectly, my instructor will give me a nice little shove to illustrate how unstable I am.

2. We will sometimes perform kata with our arms at our hips. This means that I have to focus exclusively on my legs.

3. Shinai.


Charles James said...

1. You are the better for your decision.

2. Ahhh, stances are a huge problem in American karate as well or so I think. When I am teaching I like to put stances and kamae up front even before the fundamental techniques, i.e. Isshinryu has upper and lower basic techniques before kata. I like to involve the fundamental principles within the stances as a fundamental learning, i.e. doing stances and transitions with focus on proper stance alignments, movement, etc. right out of the fundamental principles of martial systems. I have them keep their arms and hands naturally hanging down at their sides and we would do these for about a half hour before anything else similar to warming up but with emphasis on mental focus, etc. If I had to say what is the worst of today's karate it would be a total loss as to stances, stance transitions and the concept of kamae, etc.

3. Try closing the stance by raising up slightly when assuming stances and transitioning. In other words don't take as deep a stance as you may be doing now. This slight adjustment will possibly assist you in removing the issue. Deep stances have their benefits as a novice but combative stances when applied are often shallower for ease of transitions and mobility but you already know this ;-)

You, as always, seem to have a solid grasp of things as you mention in the last two paragraphs, November will be here soon and you will have achieved Ni-dan. Good Luck Sue! (a morning person, cool, me too, my best practice is about 7am California time :-)

"The biggest battle we all face really is the one inside ourselves ..."

Charles James said...

Oh, as to no. 2 comment, you are already aware that every body is unique and although it may seem appropriate to assume stances as taught across the board you should adjust them according to your body so higher stances may be necessary to achieve the proper posture, alignment, etc.

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue - and great to see you back :-)

Just wanted to tell you that I understand the heart v. logical battle that rages within when testing is delayed. Cool, you'll do it in November, but that doesn't mean the emotional being that is you (representative of us all) can't be all "Wow. That sucks!" You know I have been there, done that (and I felt like I got punched in the gut when I got the news, which I shared with the blogsphere as well). The only thing that made that awful feeling of "not being quite ready" go away was time. And as you are now tweaking, fine-tuning and shoring up some of your basics, you are obviously using that time very, very wisely. Hats off to you for forging ahead.

And if you can figure out a fool-proof way to help students understand the importance of/focus on their stances, please let me know (as it is a source of irritation for me as well)! The gentle shove to illustrate how unbalanced they are works for me, but it requires a self-correction that all of my students can't (too new) or won't (your guess is as good as mine on why that is the case) do. Sigh...

Enjoy your garden :-)

Sue C said...

Rick, sound advice....

Brett, shinai? You get beaten for not standing correctly?

Charles, sounds like poor stance work is a universal problem (or maybe it's a Western problem?). I think you are right to do a lot of stance training before other things. When I was a junior belt we seemed to spend a lot of time doing stance training, up and down the dojo, but less of this is done in our current junior classes and I think it is starting to show in the juniors who are coming through now.

Felicia, Like they say, time is a great healer. I think I've gotten over myself now and can focus on the road ahead once more. November's only 4 months away! Thanks for your supportive words:-)

The Strongest Karate said...

"Brett, shinai? You get beaten for not standing correctly? ", nothing like that. With the younger students, the simple fear of being popped with a shinai is enough motivation to help them remember the importance of proper stances.

With adult students a verbal reminder is usually sufficient (though I can think of one or two of my adult dojomates who could seriously use a few whacks with the shinai).

Sue C said...

Brett, thank god for that! I had a mental image of your class all beaten, bruised and dripping with blood for not standing in stance correctly. I know you're a tough lot in kyokushin but that sounded extreme! LOL

Journeyman said...


Nice to see you back. I've been rather hit and miss myself lately.

As for waiting for November, I know it doesn't really matter what any of us say, your battle with disappointment lies within yourself. You seem to be getting wiser from the entire process but I do feel for you.

It's funny, I mentioned my little friend the shinai stick before I read your post. Funny how it came up in your comments.

Well done on early training. Yuck.

Sue C said...

Hi JM, thanks for the tea and sympathy, I'm pretty well back on track with my personal training agenda now and November's not far away:-) I see you like the dreaded shinai stick too - sounds like the old headmaster's cane to me! You North American's are a hard lot!

The Strongest Karate said...

Just thought I might give you a well timed update:

In my dojo we have a 6 yr old girl who, most of the time, is very lazy with her techniques in kihon. Well yesterday our instructor repeated to her some commands and got little improvement...until he went to the corner and picked up the shinai.

Her performance picked right up!

Sue C said...

Hi Brett, gonna get myself a big stick...LOL

Celia said...



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