Back at training!

Well, kinda back at training – didn’t make it this week due to some leg stuff, but I did get back last week 🙂

It was great to be back in the dojo and train with everyone after such a long break. The workout was fantastic, and being able to practice the two-person drills with other students was great – to help with muscle memory I’ve been practicing them solo while recovering from everything, and managed to form a couple of errors I’ve had to work on. Getting there though!

What’s throwing me a bit at the moment is some of the differences in executing some of the solo uke techniques. Compared to the relative/comparative linearity in Shotokan, performing the same techniques in Koryu Uchinadi is a little different, so it’s time to break old habits! The changes make sense in the spirit of the KU syllabus/philosophy and the links back to traditional Okinawan Kenpo suggest a definite Chinese influence on the techniques. I’m enjoying the use of kake-uke as well – this was taught at higher levels in Shotokan, but I’d had some exposure to it a good few years back when I was training in a Shotokan/Goju hybrid style, though the instruction and execution of the kake-uke wasn’t anywhere near as extensive as it is in KU.

We also did some other drills in class that I wasn’t all that proficient in, but with help from my fellow students, I got there in the end! It’s all learning, so it’s not such a bad thing to be humbled by new techniques and training with more experienced martial artists.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to train drills, combinations and go through some of the standards we use. I’m finding that the nature of KU is lending itself to doing some work on the boxing bag at home, so that’s been great as well. I’m looking at getting my form up to par, and once I get my new leg, I’ll look at posting a couple of videos showing how I perform some of these techniques for others to see, with an emphasis on how I compensate for techniques with my prosthesis. I’ve been meaning to get onto that all year, and I’m determined to get something up before x-mas!

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OMG, I think I finally did some decent kicks in class

I’ve waxed lyrical in the past on my kicking techniques, particularly mawashi-geri, but at training this week, I don’t think I did too badly at all… well, certainly a lot better than I have previously. It’s weird like that, sometimes you train and your technique isn’t where you want it to be, and some nights it just works. Hopefully I’ll continue to make it work and this won’t be a one off 🙂 I’ve noticed of late that I’d like to see greater strength in my kicking techniques and might have to start training them a bit more rigerously. Fingers crossed!

If that counts as a positive to training, there was also a negative, and it’s to do with kata. Probably because I haven’t been training it hard/consistently enough, I’ve slipped back into the habit of making kata robotic, without natural flow or expression as I had previously explored. Dai-Sensei picked up on it during class and mentioned it as a point I can work on, as it shows understanding and flow within the techniques, as well as a way of personal expression within the formalised framework that forms the core kata, the former of which is essential when considering the practical application of what to the inexperienced eye are simply an arrangement if disconnected and unusual movements. Especially since his feedback is suggesting I’ve moved backwards instead of forwards with my performance of kata, which I’ve always taken a great deal of pride in. That’s why it’s great to train under experienced instructors, as they’re able to pick up what you often don’t see due to their years of experience in martial arts. I’m now going to be making a dedicated effort to get back into the same mindset I achieved previously.

Back to the topic though – good kicks in class, at least by my standard. Even mawashi-geri, which I struggle with as a general rule of thumb. Although at one point my prosthesis almost literally flew off my stump due to a particularly enthusiastic kick. Managed to recover reasonably well though 🙂

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A change is in the air – from Shotokan to Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu

At the end of training this week, we finished about 15 minutes early and were asked to grab a chair and sit in a circle with Sensei and Dai-Sensei. As it sounded pretty serious, my first fear was that I had somehow broken yet another karate club. Turns out that while it was still a serious conversation we all had, it wasn’t about the end of the karate club. Rather, it was arguably a case of sowing seeds for the future.

When Sensei had us sit down for a chat, it was to announce that the club will no longer be teaching shotokan karate, but instead will be moving to teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu in its place. I’ve discussed Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Justu before, owing to Sensei’s interest in the system and having attended some excellent seminars that Renshi Jason Griffiths has hosted in the past, so I’m not surprised that he has been working hard in the background to get his teaching certification and permission from Hanshi McCarthy to begin teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For him, having practiced shotokan for 22 years, found that while he loved the style, there were gaps that he felt were missing from making it an outwardly “complete” system. Having trained in hapkido, jujutsu, kobudo and kenpo in addition to his years studying karate, I can respect and understand his belief in this move, and his conviction moving forward with this decision, having discussed it with Dai-Sensei and some of our senior students as well, before presenting us with the news.

For me, the eye-opening thing was that Sensei has the conviction to put aside 22 years of shotokan training to move forward with this system – for me, I see that as a sign that there is real merit with the shift to Koyru Uchinadi. What is even more eye-opening is that Dai-Sensei, who has been a shotokan karateka for 35 years, has decided to put his black belt aside and join the rest of us in line to start afresh with Koryu Uchinadi.

My first reaction at the change was one of shock – I mean, I really enjoy shotokan, even though it traditionally had some big gaps as a system unless you knew how to dissect technique from kata (which I’ve found to really enjoy). However, having had the opportunity to train in Koryu Uchinadi, and having seen the extent of the syllabus, I’m very excited at the prospect of moving forward and broadening my experience with this system. I don’t even mind rebooting back to a lower grade – it’s a different style, and just as I went back to 10th kyu when I started learning pure shotokan vs the hybrid style I used to learn, I think it’s appropriate to go back to the start with a new syllabus. It’s not as though the past 6 years of training have been for naught either, as experience is experience, and having studied a couple of styles now, it will be easy to translate that experience in embracing this new style.

I think for those in the class that haven’t had the opportunity to experience some of the Koryu Uchinadi syllabus, the move is probably a bit more daunting – for me, having had the chance to train with Renshi on a few occasions, I have no qualms moving forward. It’s not like we’re moving to some dodgy “discount variety warehouse” style (Rex Kwon Do, anyone? :D), Koryu Uchinadi is an extensive, well-researched and globally organised style that offers an alternative view of traditional karate as most of us understand it today dervied from extensive practice and research on traditional Okinawan systems of self-defense. I also like how it offers an academic side as well, given its integration with the International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society founded by Hanshi McCarthy, and that the syllabus has been drawn from such a strong dedication to research into pre-modern karate.

I’m in no way suggesting I’ve discovered the “golden egg” with Koryu Uchinadi, but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen/practiced and am looking forward to studying it as my main style of martial arts. I feel I will still get all of my base techniques/tools out of it, just as I have with shotokan, but with the broader syllabus that incorporates more close-quarters techniques, grappling, groundwork, throws, etc, I feel it will help close some substantial gaps in my ability as a martial artist, as well as emphasise the theory/research side which I also really enjoy when studying a Japanese martial art. I have also noticed that the style also contains a strong kobudo element, which means there will be an opportunity to learn traditional Okinawan kobudo within the broader framework offered by the style.

So yes, there are changes afoot, and I will miss some aspects of learning shotokan. However, I strongly believe this represent a great opportunity to study a very extensive style with extremely strong ties to traditional Okinawan martial arts, which has always been why karate in general has been of great interest to me. Once classes change over, I’ll have to go back and update the About page with some information on the styles I’ve trained in and include the shift to exploring Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For those who aren’t familiar with it, check out the entry on Wikipedia for a quick summary, and there’s also the official website with stacks of information.

I guess for those who haven’t trained in the style or want to know more about it, I’m hoping the posts detailing my experiences will help others understand aspects of the system from the perspective of a newbie with a degree of existing knowledge of karate, as well as allow myself to use this blog as a platform for working through my experiences learning Koryu Uchinadi. I’m looking forward to getting into training and will start posting up my experiences of it as early as next week hopefully, assuming I don’t get distracted and forget to post about it 😉

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Experimenting with empi techniques (elbow strikes)

For some bizarre reason, over the last couple of weeks as part of my insatiable habit of walking around the house doing karate, I’ve started rolling in some elbow striking combinations. Like I said, no idea why, but hey, if it feels right, why not?

The previous style of karate I used to train in incorporates two basic empi (elbow strike, also written as enpi depending on your preferred romanisation) techniques – age-empi (rising elbow strike) and mawashi-empi (hook elbow strike). Both of these used to be performed at a standing position like in most of our technique drills, rather than in movement, so until I started using a thrusting empi strike within my current combination techniques in prep for my next grading, I hadn’t spent a lot of time playing with them this way.

It’s interesting, as it’s been a few years since I stopped learning my previous style, and due to the approach my current instructors take with how they teach us in class, I’m finding myself more interested in experimenting with technique, and finding those essential common grounds/princples in form and movement and extending these to other strikes/blocks/kicks/etc. In the case of practicing empi, it means I’m trying to utilise my hips in order to generate greater power and stability in my technique, and I’ve also been looking at how to create an explosive impact to each technique. With the former, I’m finding that by lowering my stance and utlising my hips to a greater extent, it feels as though the technique now has greater “weight” to it, but more importantly, that it has more stability as well!! I think before I wasn’t utilising my torso and legs enough and felt like I was over-extending my body (balance), or that I would be knocked back if the technique was blocked by someone more solid than myself (“weight”). It makes my strikes feel much more effective. These are principles common to a lot of techniques in karate, but having been exposed to a wider variety of techniques over the last couple of years, some of the extra training sessions I’ve had in Koryu Uchinadi, kobudo and other weapon training, it feels as though this latest experimentation is a culmination of principles learned as a result of this wider exposure and additional time practicing.

The other area I’ve started playing with is generating fast, explosive power. In much the same way that a good backfist strike can benefit from a controlled, spontaneous release of energy, I’m currently seeing if I can apply those same principles to empi strikes… well, at least with age- and mawashi-empi strikes. My age-empi strikes are a little rubbish, but not without merrit I think. Where I’m finding greater success with my experimentation is with mawashi strikes, as the combination of solid stance, hips and attention to explosive energy creates an extremely effective technique, at least at close range.

On top of this, I’ve also started applying the technique with greater directional movement – moving either side, lunging forward, things like that. I think my movement is actually in need of a lot of work, as I’m a bit rusty and unsure about moving in and out confidently in a sparring situation, most of which is due to utilising the limited movement I have in my legs. Still, you have to start somewhere!

Working on all of this also helps put into perspective the raw effectiveness of an elbow strike, particularly at such close range where traditional punches or kicks may rendered ineffective, particularly in combination with other joint-manipulation techniques, like parrying a strike and countering with a mawashi-empi, or grabbing the arm and applying an age-empi technique against the soft side of the elbow joint. Like anything, it remains a tool to be used where appropriate and its necessary to consider this when thinking about elbow strikes.

Now my only concern is that, with all this theorising out on the table, my technique isn’t actually a bit on the rubbish side! I’ll make a mental note to have a chat to sensei about it in the future and see his thoughts on my technique and where I can improve.

If you’re keen on some more information on empi, Wikipedia lists them amongst other Shotokan techniques, and there’s also a page dedicated to empi (though the latter is only a stub, rather than a full entry).

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Hakutsuru, the white crane – classical karate style with techniques that only use one leg?

Matt over at Ikigai Way dropped off an awesome comment on my recent whinge about mangling my stump. He provided some information and links to a classical style of karate – Hakutsuru or the White Crane – that his instructor has trained in. Apart from the fact that it’s an interesting style of karate to study due to the heavy Chinese influence in its forms vs the comparatively rigid styling of modern styles like Shotokan (note I mean “modern” as used in the “post-modern”/Japanese post-modernism sense, and not in the misuse of the word in place of the word “contemporary”), it also features techniques that only utilise one leg!

For those unaware of what Hakutsuru looks like performed as a kata, Matt posted a couple of vids that I’m going to pinch and post up here as well:

First up is Seikichi Odo, who moves around with amazing skill despite his age: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD78dP428ec (I can’t embed that one by request of the author, but please check it out, some amazing stuff in there).

The second one is of Matayoshi Shinpo:

Being the super champ he is, Matt even fired across a link to the Okinawa Hakutsuru Kenpo White Crane Association’s website, and in particular the articles written on the topic China and the Origins of Okinawan White Crane Kenpo (Part 1 and Part 2). I haven’t had a chance to do more than quickly skim through their site, but by plonking the links up here, I’m hoping it’ll remind to go through it in much more detail when I get a chance.

Since I’m curious about what I might be able to learn and apply from their style to me as an amputee, I’m going to drop them an e-mail to see if they can recommend any particular part of their literature or offer any advice on this one. I’ll post back with an update on how I go!

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