Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Banana Tree Makiwara

I have some banana trees in my back yard. They only occasionally get fruit, maybe every other year, but the bananas are really tasty. Anyway, about this time of year, after the first frost, some of the leaves start turning brown. It is right about now that I start using the brown leaves as makiwara for my bojustu training. Banana leave make excellent targets for practicing bo thusts and also the pulling motions we use in Yamane Ryu bojutsu. Also, because the brown leaves are tucked away under some of the green leaves, it makes practice that more challenging.

While I was practicing these techniques this morning, I also discovered another useful training device...I have an Iron plant stand with circle hooks that are just a little bigger than my bo. These are excellent for practicing thrusts. The object is to poke the end of the bo through the hole with precision and accurate technique. Starting very slow and progressively getting faster.

Training opportunities are everywhere!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Be Natural

Kishaba Sensei said that good karate has 3 elements: Speed, Power and Grace.
I try to keep these elements in mind every time I do a kata or a waza.

One of the things that helps enable these 3 elements is natural movement.

Shorin Ryu karate has a strong focus on natural stances and natural movement. We spend much of the time in our kata in natural stance. Foot placement in our stances is much narrower than other styles. When we step, it's a natural step, not a "c" step. Even moving from a high (natural) stance to a low (front) stance, the movement should be natural.

In order to have natural movement it is important to find the connection between the lower and upper parts of your body. If you move the lower parts with different timings than the upper parts, movement is not natural. Only when you can find a balanced connection between the upper and lower parts will you have natural movement in your karate.

Of course, natural movement is easy in the things we have done our whole lives. Activities such as walking, running, writing, eating--these are all very natural things. They are so easy, we rarely have to think about them to do them.

In order to obtain natural movement in karate, we look to the kata we practice. The kata allow us to train our stances to be natural, to train the movements of our arms to be natural, and to train the connection between our lower and upper parts of our bodies to be natural.

Through repetition and introspective practice of kata we can obtain natural movement in our karate.


I enjoy sparring. I have sparred for as long as I have practiced karate. The karate student can gain many benefits from sparring. The most obvious benefit is aerobic exercise. Just a few minutes of vigorous sparring burns more calories than practically any other activity. Also, sparring helps the student overcome fear of contact and it helps to learn timing and distance.

Despite all these great benefits, sparring is not a regular part of the curriculum at Tallahassee Karate Club. Why not?

Because sparring is not as realistic as practicing kata. Kata are a framework for karate. They are a framework for how to move, how to block, how to strike, how to learn distance and timing, and most importantly, how to train your body to work together as a whole.

Also, with kata, one can practice to throw techniques as fast, hard and realistic as possible. In sparring, we must control our techniques in order to avoid injuring our sparring partner. If someone gets injured too often in training, they won't want to train, and that is counter-productive.

Karate is a self-defense art. I do not consider sparring as an exercise in self-defense. Once again, I look to kata to learn self defense concepts and techniques. Real self-defense techniques are very dangerous and must be practiced carefully to avoid injuring a training partner. Karate should only be used in a life or death situation and the techniques are not practical for application in sparring for this reason.

So, sparring is good, it's fun, it's aerobic, but it can't replace Kata for it's practicality and effectiveness as a tool to teach realistic self-defense.