Friday, 18 November 2011

Another assessment sneaks up on me....

Just when I thought the testing was all over for a couple of years, Sensei suddenly announces that I will be taking my Instructor’s assessment on Monday!

Actually it was Monday just gone so I have already done it….but he did suddenly sneak it up on me with about a weeks’ notice. Though the date did arrive rather more quickly than I had anticipated I have actually been preparing for it for a couple of years.

As many readers will know I have been assisting with teaching in our junior class regularly since I became a brown belt.  This started with partnering people without a partner, to going through a junior belt syllabus with a couple of kids, to organising pad work, teaching break falling, to teaching kata and basic kumite skills.

The original intention was that I would be assessed for an Assistant Instructor certificate which at the time was available for brown belts who were assisting with the 9th – 4th kyu grades. However, my own black belt training and testing got in the way of thinking about an Assistant Instructor assessment, so it never happened.

Once I became a black belt I moved my focus back to teaching a bit more and my instructor started taking me along to taster sessions that he was giving at local primary schools. I got the chance to teach these young children and we started an after-school club at one of the schools. To give me greater experience my instructor has allowed me to ‘front’ these classes, planning and teaching the classes myself, with him assisting me -a strange feeling that!

Anyway, my instructor decided I was ready to take the Instructors assessment and set the date for last Monday. We decided that it may be best to go for the Club level Instructor (level 2) rather than just Assistant level Instructor (level 1). This will enable me to teach up to 1st dan level and teach independently at some future date if I want to.

The assessment involved teaching both the junior and senior classes on Monday evening. I had to demonstrate knowledge and skill at teaching an entire grade syllabus to the class, chosen at random by my instructor. For the junior class 5th kyu (blue belt) syllabus was chosen and for the senior class the 1st dan syllabus was chosen. Of course I was also being assessed on my ability to organise and control the class, meet individual children’s needs and deal with any discipline issues as they arose.

In addition to the practical teaching there was also a short oral exam where I was questioned about such things as our Association and Governing body structure, ethics and code of behaviour for clubs in the SSK, administration and record keeping, health and safety in the dojo, teaching children and people with special needs, emergencies and first aid and what I need to do to maintain my Instructor’s licence.

All in all I thought it was a comprehensive but fair assessment.  I was a bit nervous to start with but after doing a full seiza bow with the junior class and starting the warm up my nerves kind of disappeared and I just got on with it. The kids knew I was being assessed and were wonderfully behaved (as they generally are anyway). Most of the kids I had were red, yellow and orange belts so the blue belt syllabus was a bit new to them – adding to the challenge! This meant that I didn’t complete all sections of the syllabus in the lesson but I wanted to leave time for a game at the end to reward the kids for being so good!

It was then straight into the senior class with another seiza bow and warm up. Most of our 1st kyu students are preparing for their black belt test in December so after I had taken them through the basic kihon sections as a group they disappeared to the back of the hall to practice all their partner work together and with Sensei.

This left me with a group of about 8 children ranging from green to brown belt to take through the 1st dan syllabus – so another challenge! There was no way I was going to cover all 15 sections in the time available so once I had covered all the kihon and kata/bunkai sections, Sensei asked me to skip to the kumite sections. We then had about 15 minutes of jiyu and shiai kumite.  I’m not too confident with the refereeing of shiai kumite but I just had to do the best I could with what I know about refereeing, which quite frankly is not a great deal at the moment!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I passed the assessment and I’m now a fully licensed club level karate instructor for the SSK – the first new instructor since the organisation was formed 2 years ago.  I feel in no way ready to take on the commitment and responsibility of running an independent club – I still have too much to learn myself.

So for now,  I will continue my own training towards nidan, continue assisting my instructor to build up my skills further, continue with the after school club (which I may take on independently next year, with my instructor as mentor, overseer and grading officer) and cover classes when my instructor is away…’s all an interesting and challenging part of the journey…..

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Monday, 7 November 2011

Kosokun Shio - 'To view the sky'

One of the kata that I am currently learning for nidan is Kosokun Shio. Whenever I learn a new kata I like to explore the origins and history of it. I think this is important because many kata, particularly older ones, have many cultural or historical references in them that may make them difficult to understand or interpret if you are not aware of the kata’s founder or the political/cultural situation at the time the kata was developed.

Kosokun shio is almost an exclusively Shito Ryu/Shukokai kata and is generally attributed to Mabuni Kenwa (the founder of Shito Ryu). This makes the kata comparatively modern (i.e. early 20th Century) but since this kata is almost certainly an amalgam of the kata Kushanku Dai and Kushanku Sho, it‘s roots are much older. We therefore, need to look at the origins of the Kushanku kata to truly understand Kosokun shio.

The Kushanku kata are attributed to ‘Tode’ Sakugawa (b.1733) who developed them in recognition and remembrance of one of his teachers – Kushanku (Also known as Kong Su Kung, Kwang Shang Fu and Guan Kui) who was a Chinese envoy sent to Okinawa around 1756. It is said that Kushanku learned the art of ch’uan Fa in China from a Shaolin Monk. 

Apparently Kushanku was a specialist in ‘night fighting’ and grappling. In Okinawa during the mid 18th century (during the Satsuma occupation and the banning of bladed weapons) military combat usually occurred during the daytime but ‘self-defence’ fighting between civilians usually occurred at night.  It would have been a fairly common experience to be attacked whilst walking home in the dark, perhaps beaten unconscious and robbed. Grappling techniques are ideal for dealing with an attacker in the dark when you cannot see to kick and punch.

Kushanku taught his night fighting techniques to Sakugawa, who was his student for 6 years. There is a story that Sakugawa, on route to China in a boat, was attacked by pirates at night as they approached Fuzhou harbour. The pirates' usual tactic would be to board the boat and throw everyone overboard to drown, thus escaping with the entire ship and any treasure. However, on this occasion, Sakugawa’s night fighting skills took the pirates by surprise. He was able to single-handedly defeat the pirate crew, grappling with them and throwing them all overboard!

It is not surprising then that the Kushanku katas that Sakugawa went on to develop were designed to be ‘night fighting’ kata. The opening move of the kata, where the arms draw a big circle in front of the body, is thought to represent the moon and is to remind you that this kata is teaching you how to fight in the dark.

According to Bruce Clayton in Shotokan’s secrets, the kata has three aims: (1) To avoid being caught by the enemy, (2) To locate and attack the enemy in the dark and (3) To remain in control of the enemy until he has been defeated.  In other words you need to touch the enemy before you can strike them and once you’ve got hold of them you need to finish them off.

It is said that the kata should also teach the enhancement of the senses, particularly hearing and touch both of which would be particularly important in the dark.

As I said earlier Kosokun shio is an amalgam of the two Kushanku kata or at least combines many techniques from both of them. Though Kosokun shio is practised only by shito ryu stylists, Kushanku kata are practised by Isshin ryu, shotokan (where it is called Kanku Dai) and possibly other styles of shuri-te karate.

If you are familiar with Kosokun shio or the Kushanku katas then you will have noticed that they have several combinations that appear in the pinan kata series, particularly pinans shodan, yondan and godan. It is thought that Itosu created the pinan katas partly from the Kushanku katas.
Here’s a video of Kosokun Shio:

Shotokan's Secret, the hidden truth behind karate's fighting origins. by Bruce D Clayton Ph.D
To view the sky:

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