Saturday, 1 December 2012

Seipai - not just a Goju Ryu kata

One of my current kata is the Naha-te derived kata, Seipai. This kata is generally a staple of the Goju Ryu stylists and remains remarkably unaltered across all Gojo ryu schools. However, it is also a kata that was taught by Kenwa Mabuni in his Shito Ryu style and is still taught in many branch styles of Shito Ryu, including Shukokai. In our system of Shukokai karate this kata is first introduced once 1st dan is achieved.

There is little to found on the history and origins of this kata other than the kanji for Seipai apparently translates to the number 18 if you use the Okinawan dialect. However, the kanji for Sei can also mean 'controlling'. The kata is generally attributed to Kanryo Higaonna who is said to have brought the kata back from Fuzhou district in China. However there is no evidence to support this. It is also thought that seipai may have its origins in the Dragon style of Shaolin kung fu.

Wherever Seipai has it's origins it is typically a Naha-te style kata, with it's fairly slow tempo and rooted stances, particularly the use of sanchin dachi and shiko dachi. There are also lots of circular arm movements, again typical of the Naha-te style. This kata pairs well with Seienchin kata and anyone who has learnt both kata will notice that they have a similar 'feel' to them.

I love these Naha-te kata and wish we had more of them in our syllabus. They make a nice counter-balance to the faster, more explosive linear katas of the Shuri-te style. I actually found the embusen to Seipai difficult to learn  as there are lots of changes of direction and it can be easy to lose sight of where the 'front' is when you are first learning this kata. However, now that I've got the hang of it it is one of my favourite kata and there's some pretty interesting bunkai to learn too.

Here's a video of Seipai:

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

My top ten posts...

I wondered if you might be interested to know what my top ten blog posts of all time were?  ‘Of all time’ goes back to when this blog started in February 2009. In that time I have published 260 posts (including this one) but certain ones remain popular even though they may have been written months or even years ago.  In fact five of my all time top ten posts are still currently in my ‘this week’ top ten as well, so clearly those subjects grabbed you for some reason.  So here’s my top ten, in reverse order:

10. Martial arts – a balancing act (Published 14th Janurary 2011)

In this post I discussed my own problems with maintaining balance sometimes and looked at the physiology behind balance. I then looked at how these balance principles apply to martial arts and what you can do to improve your own balance issues. I’m still very mindful of these balance principles when I am doing karate and my balance is much improved now -always room for improvement though ;-)

9. Muscle Memory – it’s all in the mind! (Published 3rd February 2011)

This post was designed to dispel a few myths about muscle memory. I wrote about disliking the term ‘muscle memory’ preferring the more accurate term ‘motor memory’. I then tried to explain the best I could the physiology behind motor memory and how we produce motor maps in our brains that help us to unconsciously execute complex motor movements such as martial arts moves. My main point was to explain that the muscle/motor memory resides in the brain not the muscles!

8. Six things I’m looking forward to post black belt (Published 27th January 2011)

I wrote this post 6 months before I took my black belt grading as part of my black belt preparations. I was aware from other bloggers that many people suffer the ‘black belt blues’ after achieving there shodan grading and I wanted to avoid this. I felt that having some kind of plan or post black belt objectives to think about may help to prevent that ‘anti-climax’ feeling that some people get. All I can say is 17 months after achieving my black belt I have not at any time felt like giving up or felt rudderless or directionless in any way – and yes, I have been enjoying those 6 things I wrote about in this post.  A good job really because the prospect of Nidan grading is raising its head at me in 7 months time!

7. Teaching karate to young children. (Published 6th July 2010)

Wow! Has a lot of water gone under the bridge since I wrote this post. Back then I was a brown belt student helping out in class to gain teaching experience for when I could take my instructor’s certificate post black belt. I now have many hours of teaching experience with kids in after school karate clubs. I still find it rewarding and sometimes frustrating and I’m still always looking for new ideas to motivate and teach kids – it’s all definitely a challenge still!

6. How much did your black belt cost? (Published 19th April 2012 – still in this week’s top ten)

I wrote this post after reading about how some martial arts schools really exploit their students and overcharge them or tie them into extortionate contracts. I decided to work out how much it had actually cost to get from white belt to black belt in terms of class fees, licence fees, grading fees, equipment, course etc. I calculated that it had cost me £1577 over 4 years to get my black belt or £7.58 per week! I concluded that this was good value for money.

5. The black belt grading – an observer’s view. (Published 30th November 2010)

Six months before I took my own black belt grading I partnered one of our teenage girls for hers. This gave me an opportunity to have a sneak preview of what to expect for my grading – there’s always method in my madness! I wrote a report about the day which has proven to be very popular.

4. Barefoot care. (Published 21st September 2010 – still in this week’s top ten)

I wrote this foot care guide because I was getting problems with my own feet – mainly cramps, blisters and cracked skin on my the underside of my toes from friction on the hard training floor. I presume this post is so popular because it appeals to people, other than martial artists who also train barefoot or just suffer from foot problems in general. I must confess that I don’t do everything that I mention in the guide but I think my feet are a little stronger now, though I still get the occasional blister!

3. Why do we…. sit in Seiza? (Published 14th July 2009 – still in this week’s top ten)

This was one of 8 ‘Why do we……’ articles that I wrote and has proven to be the most popular. I was fascinated with the traditions and rituals that surround traditional martial arts and decided to try and research the origins and meanings of them. I still really value the opening and closing seated bow ceremonies that we practice in our club and teach it to all my children’s after school clubs.  All the kids seem to like it too.

2. Ikebana and Martial Arts – a shared philosophy. (Published 3rd December 2009 – still in this week’s top ten)

As part of my learning to understand budo I went through a phase of learning about other Japanese Ways including Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging or The Way of flowers). Reading about Ikebana I was amazed at how similar the philosophy was to that of budo and so wrote a post about the subject. It is still very popular and remains in my weekly top ten posts every week.
Okay, so now for my top post of all time. I can’t, in fact, take the credit for this post because it was actually written by several of my readers – I just edited and compiled the information you gave me – so give yourselves a bit pat on the back because you hold the number one position in my top ten posts of all time:

1. The World Guide to Passing Your Black Belt Test. (Published 16th November 2010 – still in this week’s top ten)

This guide resulted from me asking my readers for any tips they had that would help me to prepare for my black belt test. I was so overwhelmed with the response that I got that I decided to compile all the tips into a guide that others could also use giving credit (and a link) to every contributor. It has been phenomenally popular, receiving at least 1000 more hits that the number 2 post! I sincerely hope that all the contributors to this guide who received a link to their own blog/website continue to get as much traffic via this post as I receive from it.

Well that’s it; my top ten posts of all time. I hope you enjoyed reading it and a big thank you to all of you who continue to read this blog and especially those who take the time and trouble to leave me a comment.

Happy blogging!


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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Some thoughts on stances...

Neko Ashi Dachi
(Cat stance)
I’ve been thinking a lot about stances recently. I like to see good stances: correct feet positioning, strong bend of the correct knee (or knees), correct weight distribution, good back posture, head held up looking forward etc. Good stances look strong and stable.

Beginners find stances difficult to master; they generally lean too much with their upper torso, don’t bend their knees enough, have their feet in a line, have incorrect weight distribution or look down at the floor. I’ve been there; it’s hard to get it right or for it to feel natural. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get stances right and even longer to get the transitions from stance to stance smooth and quick.

A lot of people would argue that stances are for beginners or that they slow you down or are just too unnatural to be useful in real self-defence situations. I would beg to differ.

Stances are an essential part of achieving economy of movement when doing self-defence. Economy of movement is essential if you are to move swiftly around your opponent, getting yourself into advantageous positions to apply a technique, unbalance them or evade a strike. Good footwork is essential to achieving this; if you teeter around your opponent with lots of small steps, getting your legs crossed and generally wrong footing yourself you are likely to come a cropper.

Good use of stances helps you to:

…Shift your weight smoothly and quickly from one leg to the other as required.

…Maintain your own balance and stability by keeping your centre of gravity low but your posture upright.

…Unbalance your opponent either by directly using the stance to destabilise a balance point e.g. placing your knee directly behind theirs using a zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) or shiko dachi (sumo or horse stance) or more indirectly by using weight transference e.g. grabbing them and stepping back into a kokutsu dachi (back stance) or neko ashi dachi (cat stance).

…Quickly put yourself in the most advantageous and stable position to execute a restraint, takedown or throw.

…Move out of the way quickly and effortlessly if required.

Zenkutsu Dachi
(Forward stance)
Karate pays a lot of attention to stances. Most karateka will have spent many hours of their training going up and down the dojo in shiko dachi or neko ashi dashi with sensei picking up on the smallest postural transgression –“bend your knee more”, “stick your bottom in”, “turn your back foot in more”, “turn your back foot out more”, “put your weight back more”, “put your weight forward more”…….

It can all seem so picky sometimes and people will question the wisdom of needing to be so precise with your footwork and postures. After all, if you are attacked would it matter if you weren’t in the perfect cat stance?

Well, yes it would matter if cat stance was integral to the technique you were trying to execute on your assailant. If your technique depended on you suddenly shifting your weight backwards, pulling your opponent off balance whilst allowing your front foot to follow through quickly with a swift snap kick and then be able to spring forward off the back leg to land a punch; then being able to instantly get into a perfect cat stance may be crucial. Failure to achieve it may leave you unable to pull your opponent off balance and with too much weight on your front leg you won’t be able to kick effectively either and if your back leg is too straight you may not be able to spring forward for that punch – that could all lead to disaster!  

Stances are more than just good footwork, they involve the whole body. Good upright posture is crucial to a good stance. Without good posture you cannot engage the core muscles properly and without the core muscles engaged you cannot get any power in your strikes. Also, with poor, bent over posture you are liable to lose your own balance and be easily pulled over by your opponent.

Stances aren’t always an integral part of a technique; sometimes the situation may require you to be lighter and quicker on your feet. Evasion may be more important than getting a technique on your opponent. The art of tai sabaki (body movement) is an exercise in good stance work, except this time the stances are higher and lighter allowing quicker movements. Tai sabaki still involves attention to posture, feet positioning, weight transference and good transitioning so it is still stance work even if you don’t choose to call it that.

Shiko Dachi
(Horse or sumo stance)
I really feel that we neglect stance training at our peril. Without good stances our techniques will be weak and our movements clumsy. When you watch a senior black belt in action the thing that really stands out more than anything else is the way they move – it is precise and effortless. This is because of their use of stances; they always put their feet in exactly the right place with their weight distributed correctly and their posture upright and it all flows so smoothly and naturally.

So if your own or your student’s stances are poor and their movements clumsy get back to some formal stance training – up and down the dojo until their thighs ache; you’re actually doing them a big favour….

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Do our training behaviours in the dojo reflect our behaviour in everyday life?

I read a blog article recently that suggested that the way we respond to our training partners in the dojo reflected the way we behaved towards others in our everyday lives. Here’s a quote from the article:

It’s interesting to train with people in the dojo – in time you can see the connection between their style of body movement (“taijutsu“) and their personal style of interacting with others outside the dojo. Those who engage with you as a training partner, giving you a realistic attack, going neither limp nor overly tense and rigid the instant that you start applying the technique, are often the ones that you will see actively engaging outside of the dojo as well, taking on responsibilities, not shying from making decisions and commitments. On the other hand, dojo training partners who try to thwart you by not letting you apply the technique correctly, jumping away unrealistically early, falling over when you didn’t do anything, flinching away when you haven’t done anything, quitting their own technique before it’s complete – these people are often the ones outside of the dojo who are afraid of commitment, flaky, indecisive, escapist, melodramatic or passive-aggressive.”

This is an interesting idea; let’s face it we’d all like to think of ourselves as the former person rather than the latter; though I suspect the degree of correlation between ‘dojo Joe’ and ‘everyday-life Joe’ is probably not as consistent as this author suggests. Or is it?

We like to argue about whether martial arts training reveals character or develops it. The idea purported above suggests that character is revealed in the dojo rather than developed: the person who can’t commit to things in everyday life won’t commit to a technique in the dojo (e.g. won’t attack properly or won’t commit to being thrown); the person who is indecisive in life will also be indecisive in the dojo (e.g. hesitates to choose an appropriate technique) whereas the person who in life is confident and self-disciplined will bring those same qualities to the dojo (e.g. will work hard, focus well and defend and attack with confidence).

Is it that straight forward? Is it possible that some people may be very confident, successful and committed in their everyday lives but be a little fearful and reticent in the dojo – afraid of hurting themselves or others? Or, be rather timid and under-achieving in their private lives but come alive in the dojo because they are comfortable with the people they mix with there?

If it’s true that people bring the same characteristics to the dojo that they display in everyday life then is it possible that those characteristics can be changed/developed in the dojo and then transferred back to everyday life?

I have more questions than answers here but my own personal viewpoint is that to a great extent people do display similar characteristics inside the dojo as they do outside. I know that I am pretty much the same person inside the dojo as outside and I don’t feel my fundamental character has changed much over the last 5 years that I have been doing martial arts.

What do you think? Does the way we train in the dojo reflect the way we behave outside in our everyday lives?

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What exactly should a warm-up be?

The warm up is such a fundamental part of exercising that I think it is easy to overlook the exact purpose of doing it or what exercises constitute the best warm up activity. I even have my doubts as to whether a warm up is really necessary.

Last week we started the class with breakfalls. No warm-up. I was dubious about the wisdom of this at first, thinking that we might get some injuries but I actually enjoyed breakfalling from cold – it warmed me up much more quickly than a usual warm-up and I felt ready for action all session. No one suffered any injuries or pulls. So did the breakfalling constitute the warm-up?

Last night I arrived late for class and the other students had already done their warm-up. I arrived just as the class was about to start a round of breakfalls, so I just did them – from cold again. They went well and I felt fine – I felt warmed up and ready for action. So does this mean that breakfalling was my warm up again?

Usually our warm-up consists of either running around the hall for a couple of minutes or jogging on the spot, star jumps, press-ups, burpees, sit-ups and straight leg raises followed by a few dynamic stretches. This lasts between 5-10 minutes. Occasionally we warm-up with some fast kihon moves or sparring moves followed by stretching. When I used to do my kobudo classes the warm-up was similar.

When my husband used to belong to a jujitsu club the warm-up lasted for 45 minutes and consisted of many static stretches as well as a cardio-vascular warm-up.

Whichever way I have been asked to warm up I have not suffered any injuries as a result of not warming up sufficiently. However, I usually feel more ready for action if I have ‘warmed-up’ doing the activity I am participating in (i.e. karate moves/breakfalling) than if I have warmed up doing ‘warm-up exercises’ (i.e. running, star-jumps, press-ups, stretching etc). This begs the question – what’s the purpose of the warm-up?

My understanding of this question is that the warm-up is designed to prepare the body for action by increasing the heart rate and warming up the muscles. Well, I don’t need special exercises to increase my heart rate – just doing karate does that. Also, my muscles are at a constant 37 degrees centigrade whether I’m exercising or not – it’s called body temperature. So perhaps I’m trying to increase blood flow to the muscles rather than increase their temperature…

Doesn’t it make more sense to increase the blood flow to the muscles you’re actually going to use rather than a random selection of them? I mean, if I’m going to punch and kick doesn’t it make sense to warm up my punching and kicking muscles? I don’t need to isolate them out with special exercises I just need to start punching and kicking – but more slowly and carefully until the blood flow has increased. If the session is going to be mainly a throwing one will breakfalls warm me up better than jogging and press-ups? If I’m doing a kata based session then wouldn’t doing some kata warm me up best?

Runners run best when they warm up by jogging a couple of rounds of the track. It has been advocated that weight trainers warm up by lifting the empty bar or going through the range of weight exercises they propose to do but without the weights first to warm up the correct muscles. They should then add half the weight they want to lift and repeat the range of movements before finally getting onto the full weight they intend to work with.

In other words, you warm-up best by getting on with the activity you intend to be doing but at a slower and gentler pace until your heart rate has increased and the blood flow to the correct muscles has increased.

This makes more sense to me. I don’t feel I get any real benefit from jumping and jogging around doing ‘warm-up’ exercises, despite what conventional wisdom tells me.  I’m all for starting my karate sessions with a round of breakfalling, kihon, kata or kumite – starting at a steady pace and increasing the intensity as I warm-up.

What about you? Do you swear by your warm-up routine or does it just get in the way of doing your main activity?

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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What kind of self-defence should you teach to children?

I have been teaching children’s classes quite a lot recently. The children range in age from five to teenagers. In my school karate classes the whole class are complete beginners whereas in the club classes the children range from white belt to black belt.  This is a huge range in maturity and ability and makes teaching children very challenging.

For most children, particularly the younger or least experienced ones, it is enough for them to learn how to listen, behave and follow instructions; gain physical fitness and endurance; develop coordination and balance, and learn the most basic of karate moves and kata as well as find their courage with some light sparring skills. So, on top of all that should we be trying to teach some basic self-defence skills as well or is that expecting too much?

Can we realistically expect children to be able to defend themselves physically from a determined attacker (whether that is another child or an adult) by teaching them some escapes from grabs, strangles and headlocks; learning blocks and counter-attacks; or doing throws and locks/restraints? We don’t actually allow children to put locks on fully or grab another child near the throat anyway for obvious safety reasons so the idea that a child may actually be able to use these techniques effectively seems implausible.

My experience of teaching children suggests that they have neither the strength and coordination or understanding to effectively learn any physical self-defence techniques. In my opinion, most children are not capable of learning effective self-defence until at least in their early to mid teens; before that they are merely walking through some routines they have learnt by rote.

The problem is, to teach effective self-defence requires a certain degree of realism in both the attack and defence. This is neither possible nor desirable with children. As instructors we cannot order a child to try and hit or grab another child roughly and the child (as a minor) cannot give consent to allow this to happen to them. As adults we freely consent to both uke and tori roles and the inherent risks of injury that this entails – children cannot consent in this way.

Since we can neither teach physical self-defence skills to children in any realistic way and most children are not physically or mentally mature enough to learn them anyway, what is the point of taking children through the motions of learning such techniques?

You may argue that it is worth teaching children the basics of these self-defence techniques in the safe and unthreatening way that we do it because it helps them to develop some muscle memory and ways of moving that will make it easier for them to learn the techniques more realistically when they are older. Perhaps that is sufficient justification for doing it?

However, are there better ways of teaching children to protect themselves from harm? In my opinion most children could protect themselves from most harmful situations by learning about awareness and avoidance – ‘stranger danger knowledge’; knowing safe places to walk and play; crossing roads safely; learning to deal with playground situations non-confrontationally; anti-bullying tactics etc etc…. Most of these situations are dealt with by schools and parents anyway.

So, if a children’s martial art class isn’t dealing with awareness/avoidance strategies and doesn’t teach physical self-defence what should it be teaching? Well, in my opinion, there is much that a martial arts class can teach to children that is valuable: physical skills of balance, coordination, flexibility, and fitness; mental skills of self-discipline, perseverance, courage, respect and determination; social skills such as cooperation, friendship and compassion and sporting skills such as following rules, testing oneself in competition and learning to win and lose with good grace. These can all be learnt through the medium of some basic martial arts moves/techniques.

All we can hope is that we can maintain the child’s interest in martial arts long enough for them to grow up so that they can then learn to effectively defend themselves physically.

What do you think is the aim of a children’s martial art class? In your opinion what self-defence skills do children need?

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Gashaku 2012 - a fantastic weekend

One of our training sessions at Walesby Forest.

Last weekend I attended my first gashaku (training camp). This was held in Walesby Forest Outdoor Activity Centre in Nottinghamshire. About 70 people from our karate organisation descended on Walesby on Friday evening to settle into their accommodation and have their first meal together. 
Paul, stirring things up!

Some of us stayed in the lodges so that we could sleep in proper beds – I need a soft mattress under me after several hours of training! Other more hardy folk (or foolhardy depending on your point of view) chose to camp. Well, they called it camping; it seemed more like ‘Glamping’ to me with their luxury tents and camping beds -not at all what I remember camping to be like when I was younger!
Me and Sensei (trust me to blink at the wrong time!)

Hazel (my instructor’s partner) may not be a karate-ka herself but she definitely has a black belt in organisation, culinary skills and generally making all things happen at the right time and in the right place… and always with a smile and never getting flustered.  She was definitely the lynch pin that helped to hold the whole weekend together and make it such a success.

Gathering at the Robin Hood statue for first training session.

We were blessed with amazing weather – one of the few really nice weekends all summer. This allowed us to train outside on the grass rather than in the marquee. Training began on Saturday morning with a run. A run! I never go running so that came as a bit of a shock. We had to do two laps of a gravel circuit – uphill going out and downhill coming back. The total distance was probably about a mile, so not too far but in a gi and hot sunshine……
Sensei Cool!

Anyway, I was determined that I would complete the run without stopping so as unaccustomed I am to public running I set off at a steady pace, kept my arms relaxed and close to my body and just kept going. It became clear to me after the first lap that running is as much a mental process as a physical one; you just have to tell yourself to keep going. So I was pretty pleased to complete the run – not with the front runners admittedly, but not with the stragglers either.
Sensei demonstrating a 'body hardening' kick to the thigh!
(That's my son he's kicking...grrr!)

After a quick water break we were then straight into our karate session. We divided into 2 groups – over 16s and under 16s. Our group worked on some application drills, breaking them down to work on the details. We practised some soft blocking techniques and worked on some locks. As the grass was quite dry and soft most of us kicked off our trainers to train bare foot. It was great to feel the ground under your feet in this way. Half way through the 2 hour session we had another water break and then switched instructors. We went through a few basics to warm up again and then carried on with some application stuff.

We were pretty hungry after that and Hazel had lunch all ready for us in one of the lodges. After lunch it was time to enjoy one of the afternoon activities that had been arranged by the activity centre itself. So people divided up to either go rafting on the lake (after making their own rafts first!), body boarding which seemed to consist of throwing yourself downhill on a sheet of wet, muddy plastic on a piece of polystyrene into a mucky lake; archery (which looked quite civilised in comparison) or doing an assault course.  My sons both opted for the rafting and my husband did archery.
What, we have to build it first?

Finally on the water. Should that barrel be attached?

Body boarding (I kept calling this water boarding by mistake!)

Apparently the lake was very cold (and mucky).

Archery - Definitely more civilised

The rather tame assault course!

I had booked onto another activity, water zorb balling or is it water ball zorbing? Anyway those giant plastic balls that you get inside and walk over the water in but unfortunately the activity was withdrawn because the balls had holes in or something! So instead, I became the official photographer and walked around to each activity to take photos of everyone else having fun.

There wasn’t a lot of time (about an hour and a half) before the next karate session was due so just time for a cup of tea, a snack and a lie down! I admit it – I had a half hour kip before putting my gi back on…
Fighting like men!

My son beating up children!

Miss Determined face - isn't she great?

The second training session was all about sparring. It was just an hour this time but pretty full on. We spent most of the session free sparring with a variety of different partners. We were mixing with people from different clubs and it was interesting to see the slightly different styles and attitudes to sparring.  We also did a drill where we had to pull a tag out of your partner’s belt before they pulled the one from yours – this was designed to speed up your reactions to get in and out quickly whilst blocking your partners attempts to do the same to you.  The only problem with sparring bare foot on the grass was that you also had to dodge the stones and hedgehog droppings!
Did I mention we had some fun as well?

Looks like they were winning...

We finished about 5.30pm and had a couple of hours before the barbeque commenced - time to shower, change and feel human again. This was also the time you realised how much things hurt and how many new bruises you had acquired!

The barbeque was a very chilled out occasion – why is it that men always take charge of the cooking when it’s a barbeque? We had four giant BBQ’s going to feed the 73 people that were there, so quite a major undertaking. It cooled down a lot as the sun went down so we gathered around 2 large campfires to keep warm (no we didn’t sing camp songs, we’re not boy scouts!) Actually we just talked and socialised, getting to know each other better. And the wine flowed and the beer flowed. What, drinking at a karate camp you say? Don’t worry it was medicinal – we were in pain!
Getting warm around the fire

Drinking our 'medicine'

Look mine's in a cup, not a bottle - I'm so much more civilised don't you think?

Sunday morning required a fairly early start (for a Sunday that is). Training was at 9.00am so we had to be up and breakfasted before then. We were all pretty sore and stiff by now so were hoping we wouldn’t start with another run – a nice gentle stretching session seemed more appealing somehow. Anyway, we set off on the run again - why are karate instructors so sadistic?

I set off on my run with my thighs still aching from the previous day. It was definitely more of a mental challenge this time. In fact I had decided that I might only do the one lap. However, I was following one of our red belt ladies who’s a year older than me and I asked her if she was going to do both laps. She said she was and I suddenly felt ashamed that I was planning to take it easy so I continued to follow her and did the second lap.  I’m so glad I did – I had a much greater sense of achievement for having done so.

The final karate session was a two hour lesson on kata. We were divided into two groups again – black and brown belts in one and everyone else in the other. Our group was taught a completely new kata (new to us that is): Chatan yara kushanku. This kata is actually on our 4th dan syllabus but it is an important competition kata so those in our organisation that are in the kata squad (not me!) learn it at earlier grades just for performance purposes. At 4th dan all bunkai are also required. Anyway, back to the gashaku… This kata is very long so we got about half way through learning the basic pattern. There are several familiar segments in it which we know from the pinan katas and kosokun shiho so this made learning it a little easier but on the whole it is a complicated kata to remember.
Our early attempts at Chatanyara no kushanku

Tyler already knows it - shows doesn't it?

We finished at 11am and had about an hour to change, pack, help clean the lodges and marquee and generally make it look like we’d never been there! We then gathered outside for some final announcements, a few prizes were given out and thank yous said. Hazel had produced a final packed lunch for us before we left which was very appreciated… then it was just farewells with hugs and kisses all round, until next time….

Everyone who went agreed that it was a fantastic weekend …..Roll on gashaku 2013!

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Monday, 3 September 2012

New things for Autumn...

Cala n Bosch beach,  Menorca
Just got back from holiday! We had a great time on the Island of Menorca. It was so nice to just relax with my family, read lots, swim lots, enjoy the sunshine and be pampered - by pampered I mean not have to do the cooking or cleaning myself!

It was also nice to be free of the computer for a week and guess what? I didn't miss it one iota! The only technological devices I had with me were my camera and my Kindle.

However, holiday now over it's time to think about what the Autumn will bring (hopefully less rain than the summer brought!) . Actually what I really meant was what new things have I got planned on the horizon...

Cala n Bosch harbour
On the martial arts side I will be steadily working towards my 2nd dan test which I hope to be ready to take next summer - however, I have much work to do to be up to 2nd dan standard so next summer is a loose target but it gives me something to aim for. Also, during the Autumn term I will be doing some more karate teaching in local schools. It looks like my instructor has lined up 3 local schools for me to go into and teach some karate. 

 old capital of Menorca
On the kobudo side my husband and I decided after much thought and soul searching to give this up. This was partly because of time commitment (we were missing too many lessons) and so progress was slow, but also because the style of kobudo we were learning did not fit well with the karate we are doing. However, I have learnt a lot from the lessons and I have gained a lot of confidence with breakfalling and throwing techniques. We had an excellent instructor but alas it did not gel well with the karate and this became more apparent the further we progressed with the syllabus. All is not lost though as our karate instructor is introducing some Okinawan style kobudo kata to us using the bo and tonfa - taught in a more traditional Okinawan way.

Ciutadella harbour at sunset
The other new thing that I am taking up this Autumn is Art and Design. I have been accepted onto a foundation Art and Design course at a local college which starts next week. I am really excited about this because painting, drawing and all things crafty were my absolute passion throughout my childhood and teenage years - it's what I thought I would do with my life. Unfortunately some ill-chosen words of a sixth-form tutor put paid to that and I went from drawing everyday to not drawing anything at all for at least 20 years such was my confidence dented...

Our hotel
Still, it's never to late is it? I've often thought about getting back into art over the years and enrolling on a course but then dismissed the idea again. This time I mean to do it! Perhaps it's my karate training that has made me more determined to do what I want to do and not put it off this time? 

Another beach!

I have so many ideas about what I want to paint, draw, sculpt, photo, whatever...mainly on a martial arts theme of course! It is such a broad topic - there is the obvious stuff like capturing the flowing movement of martial artists in action but there is also the more abstract stuff like capturing mental concepts of mushin or zanshin through a piece of art work - food for thought eh? Then there is so much metaphor in martial arts - journeys, bending of willows, flowing of water, overflowing cups - all material for art work I thinks. Then there's all the Japanese culture, religion, architecture and history to be inspired by.....I don't think I'll be short of ideas. I'll let you know how it goes - I may even start a new blog to chronicle my journey into the world of art and display some of my work...

Light house at Cala n Bosch
Well, these are the things I have planned for this Autumn - do you have anything special planned for the new season?

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