Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Kata we Practice: Pinan Shodan

First Technique in Pinan Shodan
Pinan Shodan is the first of the Pinan series of kata.  The 5 Pinan Kata were originally developed by Anko Itosu Sensei in the early 20th century as a way to teach  karate to  young students.  There is a good write-up on wikipedia about the Pinan Kata if you'd like to learn more history.

Of all the five Pinan kata, Pinan Shodan is my favorite.

Even though it's considered a "basic" kata, like most kata it can be as advanced as you want it to be.

As a teacher, it's a special treat to introduce students to Pinan Shodan for the first time. In our dojo, people learn Naihanchi Shodan, Fukyugata Ichi and Fukyugata Ni, before moving on to Pinan Shodan. This is because Pinan Shodan introduces Nekoashi Dachi (Cat Stance).  This is a very unusual way to stand and most beginners really have a hard time learning to do it.  Pinan Shodan also introduces Shuto Uke (Knifehand Block).  This technique is also one of my favorites, because it is so rich in practical application.

Watching Karate Videos

I had some fun recently when I decided to copy some of my old 8mm videos from my old camcorder to DVD. It was fun to see my training partners and Sensei much younger, it was really cool to see where we all were in our karate development.

You can learn a lot by going back and reviewing old video of yourself and the people you train with.

It almost always makes me feel like I have come a long way in my training. If I am feeling that I'm not making much progress, I simply pull out that old video of me taking my Shodan test in 1982, and I feel much better about where I'm at currently in my karate development.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not so vain that I just like to watch myself perform. I really enjoy watching other people do Kata.  I love to watch old promotion videos to see where people where at a particular stage in development.  I especially like to watch footage of old masters long since gone. I always learn something, even if I've watched the same thing a hundred times before.

I've even, on occasion, learned a kata or 2 from a video (insert exclamation of shock here due to the heretical nature of such practices).   This is not a practice I would recommend...not only because the kata is mirror image on the tape, but because it's just too easy to miss small nuances.  It's always better to learn from an instructor.

Students now are very fortunate to have ready access to volumes of video information on sites like YouTube and Vimeo.  I wish I would have had that when I was first learning karate!

Lately, I've been doing sort of a very unstructured approach to a video log.  Every now and then throughout the year, when we have a slow night, I'll bring my camera to the dojo and video myself doing a few kata before everyone arrives for class.  Then, I can review the clips at home later and see if I've made some progress since the last time.  I think it's been helping me progress in some small way.

If you're not already videotaping yourself doing kata, I highly recommend it. If for no other purpose than to laugh at yourself 30 years from now :)

Flexibility: Part 2 - Mind Flexibility

This is part 2 of a post I had quite a while back: Flexibilty: Part 1 - Body Flexibility

Having a flexible body helps with karate. It is equally important to have a flexible mindset.
If a student shows up at class with a pre-conceived notion of what they will learn or tries to fit the teachings into a particular box, then they stand to be disappointed or miss the point of training.

There is a Zen saying: "Empty your Cup". There is a parable associated with this saying, that I'm sure you can go and google if you're interested, however, the long and short of it is that students (and teachers) should "Empty their cup" before they train. In other words, come to training with a clear mind, or a mind like a beginner.


"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction..."

No, I'm not going to try and provide a physics lesson.  But, I do think this principle is very applicable to Karate (and life).

Here are some examples:
  1. You walk into the Dojo and interrupt class.  Sensei makes you do push ups...Action/Reaction 
  2. You hold the door for someone on the way in to the coffee shop.  They say thanks and smile.  Action/Reaction
  3. You save your money for a long time and then buy something you really want...Action/Reaction
  4. You practice a particularly difficult technique in a kata over and over, analyze the way you are doing it, and you figure out something about the kata that no one ever told you...Action/Reaction
  5. etc....
You get the picture, right?

Anyway, I think it goes without saying that the reaction you receive is directly related to the action you provide.  Think about action/reaction next time you do a move in a kata...or maybe try the same move against a heavy bag. See what the reaction is to your action.  If you're using your whole body to make the technique and your koshi is engaged in the activity, the more power you put into the technique, the more power there will be in the reaction.  To really see this in action, try hitting the heavy bag with a swinging nunchaku.  Just be careful of the reaction!  Punching the makiwara is also a good way to see action/reaction.

Here's an activity you can try with a partner to see action/reaction in action...

Stand in natural stance one arm length apart from your training partner. Let your arms hang freely at your sides. Have your partner push on your left shoulder. Take the action in with that shoulder and let your hips swivel freely with the reaction. Let your other loose arm swing out as part of the reaction into an open hand strike.  Note: this works best if you are relaxed!

Action/reaction isn't just physical.  I think good actions yield good reactions.  Call it karma, if you will, but it does seem to be so.  Keep your actions good, and good reactions should follow.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

Anyway, if you really look a little bit, you can find opportunities for capitalizing on the reaction to any action in karate or in life.

So here's wikipedia's definition of Newton's Laws of Motion, for those of you who want a more academic perspective.

ps. I don't actually make people do pushups when they interrupt class, but if they feel like they need to do some pushups, they're welcome to.  Action/reaction is always best when self imposed :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What About BOB?

BOB - Body Opponent Bag.  Available from Century Martial Arts.

BOB is my training partner when I train at home. BOB can be seen here in his Florida training attire.  I really enjoy training with BOB as he is the most forgiving training partner possible. He never complains when I accidentally hit him instead of performing a controlled "kime" technique.  He trains tirelessly and is always ready for more training when I am. 

There are many ways to practice with BOB.  He enjoys being punched and kicked from virtually any angle and with any technique I can think of.

BOB provides hours of training entertainment.

He doesn't even mind if I practice full contact Kobudo techniques with him.  I do refrain from poking him with sai or cutting him with Kama. That would be just plan mean, and he wouldn't be around to train for very long.

I would highly recommend BOB for anyone looking for a great personal training partner.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Short Punch

It's important to learn to be able to make power from a short distance.  This is my attempt to demonstrate this through a short punch.   I'm certainly no Bruce Lee :)

Yoko Geri

Another short video for my students to reference.  This is yoko geri (side kick) performed in a thrusting manner. This is a little different than we normally practice in class as we tend to do side snap kick.

Mae Geri

This short video is of mae geri (front kick).  I am exaggerating the thrust at the end quite a bit and this is probably not how you would want to always practice it as this can compromise your balance and ability to recover quickly from the technique.


This is a short video of myself doing Uraken (backlist) technique.  I regret it's not as good as I would like for video demonstration purposes, but I diid want to put it on here for the benefit of my students.

There are several different ways that we normally practice uraken. In this performance, I am demonstrating from a position similar to the first move in Naihanchi Nidan, and the strike goes out sideways, coordinated with the koshi motion. The hand should stay relaxed until contact, then snap into the target. As the koshi returns so should the first.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Asian Festival Demo

This video is from the Asian Festival on Saturday.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Practicing Whole Kata vs. Parts

"The sum of the parts is greater than the whole."

"The journey is more important than the destination."

I'm sure you've heard phrases like this before.

These phrases sound very philosophical and esoteric, but in reality, they are very practical advice...and, one of the keys to good karate!

As karateka, we all train tirelessly to learn the patterns of kata.  Over the years, we learn many kata. Some styles have as many as 50 kata in their syllabus! That's a lot of kata to remember and practice.

In reality, maybe a person only needs to master one or two kata in order to become great at Karate.

Mastery of anything takes years of repetition. Not just mindless repetition, but mindful repetition.  It takes introspection, experimentation, and modification.

Just doing a whole kata over and over won't necessarily get you to mastery of the thing.  A better way is to look at the individual techniques and combinations of techniques including the connecting movement. 

Practice the individual movements of your kata as if under a microscope. Examine the body dynamics of the entire range of motion. Examine the positioning of each body part at each inch or even millimeter of movement.  Examine the motion in whole and then look at the individual parts. Think about your breathing. How is it connected to the motion?  Think about your muscles. When are they compressed and when do they expand?  Think about your bones. How and when do they align? Are they working in coordination with the muscles and tendons?  Are your top and bottom parts of your body connected and working in unison?  Do you make power at the right time? It's hard to really examine the kata in this way when you perform it from start to finish.  It is better to examine and repeat, examine and repeat, each individual technique or combination of techniques. In this way, you can make real progress.

Sometimes you have to try things many different ways in order to understand the best way that works for you.  There are many ways to experiment with kata.  You can change the rhythm, change the count, combine techniques, vary the speed, etc.  It's also good to experiment with how the kata techniques and combinations of techniques could be used for practical self defense.  Experiment with various ways to block, parry, strike, grapple, throw, etc. Think of the obvious strike as a possible block. Think of the obvious block as a possible strike. Think about what the other hand is doing. Think about how to reposition yourself in relationship to the opponent. It is hard to experiment when you do the whole kata, but much easier to do when you break it down into individual techniques or combinations of techniques.

Sometimes it may be necessary to change or even add a stance, movement, or technique, in order to understand how to make the kata work for you. Kata, as they are passed down and transmitted are merely a framework. If you examine the various styles of karate, you can see that modification has occurred many times as karate masters have inserted their own ideas into the kata.  The same kata may look very different from style to style or even teacher to teacher.  This is because kata were not meant to be static. Sometimes modification is necessary to understand a specific principle. For instance, it may be easier to figure out how to get the right koshi compression at the right time, if both feet are flat in kosa dachi. It may be easier to feel the connection between two individual moves in the kata by adding an intermediate technique.  Haphazard modification is not recommended, but occasional modification derived from introspection and experimentation may help you understand the kata and its underlying principles better.

It is important to note that practicing this way is more for experienced students than for beginners. As beginners, it's important to learn the stances, the patterns, how to use both sides of the body, how to coordinate hands and feet, etc.  After you are comfortable with the basics, then it's good to begin this kind of training in earnest.  Depending on your particular style or teacher, this kind of training may be something you need to do on your own, outside of class.  Also, be careful to remember to do things the way your Sensei wants you to do them when you are in class.  Your Sensei has very specific ideas about how you should train, and you should follow their example and instruction in class.  You may be fortunate to have a Sensei that incorporates this kind of training in your curriculum. If so, you are well on your way!

As a final word, remember: "If you keep one eye on the destination, you only have one eye left to find the way!" Throw yourself into your training, wholeheartedly. Be introspective. Experiment. Modify when necessary. Make the kata your own and remember you can probably only master one or two kata in your lifetime.  Choose those kata well, and practice them often.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Guest post: September 22 Special Training With Sensei Paris Janos

Thanks to Eli Jones for this guest post:

September 22, 2012 – It was a sunny Saturday in Tallahassee, the perfect day for a special training. Being as class was to begin at one o’clock, I decided to get there about twenty minutes early to have plenty of time for a pre-training warm-up, and to go over any incidental changes to the day’s layout – if there were to be any. I arrived at the dojo to find instructors Bill Lucas and Paris Janos’s vehicles already there, and, of course, Lucas and Janos sensei already inside prepping for the three-hour event.

As other karateka began trickling in, Janos sensei took the opportunity to visit with longtime students of the Tallahassee Karate Club, and meet with those who are relatively new to the style. For those who have never had the pleasure of meeting Janos sensei – or training with him for that matter – it took no time at all to realize that his classes are not only informative … they’re an experience. Newcomers got to see, firsthand, the senior instructor’s propensity for simplifying seemingly complex subject matter, ability to convert any kata-based technique into practical application, and legendary brand of humor that is so quick it can only be rivaled by his technique.

As soon as the group was fully present, Janos sensei wasted no time in having the class form a circle, bow in with mokuso, and get straight to warming up with kata. We began with Naihanchi Shodan and consistently followed with each successive kata until finishing with Chinto. After warm-up, Janos sensei began discussing Naihanchi Shodan, which comprises techniques that serve as the basis of not only Kishaba Juku, but karate as a whole.

With regard to the lower portion of one’s body, he stressed the need to relax, drop down in each stance, and break balance while maintaining the body’s centerline. At the completion of each movement, one can then check to see if they’re in the correct position by simply looking to the side with head over shoulder; this helps the upper chest area remain open, establishes the centerline, and serves as a method of checking one’s position without compromising the technique by glancing downward. In discussing hand movement, Janos sensei explained how making large circles with the arms for Naihanchi-oriented chudan and chuden-gedan techniques are unnecessary. In order to cut down on superfluous movement, he had everyone hold a hand over their head at the centerline, and then allow the arm to drop. This was followed by an explanation that each block should be equally relaxed and follow a similar trajectory during execution. In terms of striking, Janos sensei focused on Naihanchi Shodan’s uraken (backhand) technique by showing everyone how to project with a whip-like motion. This is accomplished by relaxing, striking outward, and dropping down into one’s stance simultaneously. In doing this, one is able to quickly strike and draw the technique back into its original, recoiled position, granting the karateka the ability to continually execute the uraken over and over.

As Janos sensei covered each technique, he had everyone pair up and begin application. Throughout the day, techniques were extracted from the first two Naihanchi kata, two of the Pinan kata – Shodan and Yondan specifically – and Rohai. Focal points included – as noted earlier – dropping while striking, maintaining centerline and shifting for more efficient footwork, recoiling to perpetuate the striking process, and using koshi-mechanics to minimize energy expenditure.

Janos sensei went from pair to pair monitoring everyone’s progress, and adding very valuable input where needed. Among the more colorful points illustrated was the importance of relaxation, demonstrated through a (pretend) drunken performance of staggering footwork, flailing hand and arm movements, and shifting body weight into KJT’s very own David Higgins – who didn’t seem to know whether he should laugh, block, or move out of the way. In contrast, Janos sensei gave the dojo an intense performance of Fukyugata Ichi where he appeared to be tightening every muscle in his body, striking with full force, and projecting a kiai with such ferocity that a wild animal would likely cut and run. Afterward, he explained the pointlessness of training this way, going on to ask, “What’s wrong with doing kata slowly?” While everyone racked their brains to come up with an answer, he exclaimed, “Nothing!” Upon further explanation, Janos sensei noted that practicing slowly allows karateka to execute techniques properly, and sense the muscles actually being used. By doing this, one can learn to eliminate unnecessary muscle movement and gain a more refined, energy-efficient application. Other application points were made through occasional demonstrations putting Lucas sensei in the role of “demo dummy;” a part that requires a fair amount of endurance for the full contact examples provided by the senior instructor.

After roughly two hours of training – presumably covering the key points of the day’s workout – Janos sensei asked, “Well, what do you guys want to know?” I think I heard two people whisper “everything” under their breaths; I know I was certainly thinking it. Although most of us didn’t seem to know where to start, Dave, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly where to start. He had very good and specific questions with one of the more memorable being about the opening technique of Naihanchi Nidan. What I had come to think of as breaking a grip from behind quickly evolved into an aggressive uraken-seiken-empi uchi (backhand, forehand, elbow strike), utilizing koshi motion to ground the opponent in a compromised position. Similar questions and techniques followed.

Once everything was comfortably wrapped up, Lucas sensei had the group bow out and change into formal attire (full gi) for the following promotion demo; the demonstrations began with Frank Carson who was testing for rokyu (sixth kyu). He started with a strong demonstration of kihon (basics), followed by a solid series of kata including Naihanchi Shodan and both Fukyugata. Afterward, Dave entered the floor to begin testing for ikkyu (first kyu); his first demo set included kihon, both Naihanchi kata, Fukyugata Ni, and Pinan Shodan. This was followed by the second set of demonstrations which included the three Pinan kata and Shuji no Kun (Yamani Ryu Bojutsu) for Frank, while Dave performed Tomari no Passai, Chinto, Ryubi no Kun (Yamani Ryu Bojutsu), and Kihon Sai (traditional Kobudo).

The third set of demonstrations placed senior student Joey Gordon with Frank in a performance of level three Yakusoku Kumite, while I joined Dave to perform various bunkai extracted from Naihanchi kata. Other demonstrations included a performance of Rohai by Joey and a performance of Sakugawa no Kun (Yamani Ryu Bojutsu) by yours truly. The promotion demonstration concluded with a brief round of sticky hands kumite, and, of course, promotions.

After an incredible day of training, Lucas presented Janos sensei with a bo made of white ash as a thank you for his time and willingness in sharing such invaluable knowledge with our dojo. Following the presentation, the group took Janos sensei out for refreshments before his trip back to Panama City. All in all, it was a truly enjoyable and enlightening Saturday.

- Eli Jones

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Special Training and Promotions Sept 22, 2012

We had an awesome special training and promotions demo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.  We were fortunate to have Paris Janos Sensei of Panama City join us to lead class.  It was a great experience and an opportunity to polish our koshi skills.

Janos Sensei always has just the right stuff for us to work on whenever we get together.

It was actually a very special training in that it was the 13th anniversary of Kishaba Chokei's passing.  Kishaba Sensei was the founder of our "Juku".  It was great to be training in his honor.

At the end of the training we had promotion demos. Two students demonstrated their kata for us.  Here are two videos from the demos:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Try this at Home!

Here are 3 ways to practice your kata today...First pick a kata to find a good place with enough room...

1. Graceful. Do the kata slow motion, almost Tai Chi like. Coordinate your breaths with the movement. Don't force the power. Don't use your shoulders to make the power in your punches. Just coordinate the top and bottom halves of your body through the connection in your center. Don't stop and go, stop and go....just flow. Relax. Let your bones align in an arched way. Don't lock your joints at the end of each technique. Slide your feet. Move naturally from one stance to the next. Let your technique and your step happen at the same time.

2. Powerful. Tuck your koshi. Now Keep it tucked. Squeeze a little tension into your lats. Don't make them tight, just a tire. Now start your first movement in the kata. Step to the halfway point. Squeeze your koshi down tight. Compress your hips in the opposite direction to where you are stepping. Connect your elbow to your lats. At the same time bring your hikite hand into the center near your other arm. Squeeze everything a little tighter. Feel like your center is like a big spring. Like a car spring. Strong and hard to squeeze, but bound to release a lot of energy when it does release. Squeeze a little tighter. Now let the spring release and move to the end of the technique. Let the strike happen with all the power of the spring releasing. Don't let the spring completely un-spring, though. Start again at the beginning of this paragraph for the next move and repeat.

3. Speedy. Get ready to begin the kata convinced that you will move quicker from one move to the next than you ever have before...convinced that your punches will be faster than Bruce Lee's...that your kicks will be like lightning. Now, do the first move. Don't wind your techniques up or make any wasted motion. Just fire your punch out at the same time as you step. Get to the end of the technique fast, recover and move on to the next technique. Transition quickly from one move to the next. Don't worry too much about making power or looking graceful, just be fast.

Have fun!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Control your emotion, or it will control you

I can't remember where I first saw this saying, but I remember I liked it and sort of latched onto it as one of those "Rules of Karate", if you will.

As karateka, we train in a potentially deadly martial art.  Our art should never be used to harm someone out of anger or really for any reason other than dire self defense situations or times when others are in need of defense.

In the dojo we train to use "kime" or focus when we perform techniques with a partner. This is because our technique could really hurt someone if we actually hit them with it.  If karateka hit each other full force in kumite practice, someone could go to the hospital or worse!  In addition to kime, we also stress that people keep their anger in check and remember they and their partner are training together.  It is not a competition and there is no room for an emotional response, no matter what.

Controlling emotions is also important in daily life.  The stakes may not be as high as physical harm, but once a bridge is burned, it may not be possible to rebuild it.

As karateka we are committed to improving ourselves physically, but it is also equally important to have emotional "Kime" if we are to become really good at Karate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New website

Looks like the website is no longer being hosted at, so I created a new site:

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

"Old School" Karate

Thanks to the miracles of YouTube, I was able to make this video I shot last week look really old.  Fun tech!

Getting Ready for Demos

We're getting ready to do a couple demos at local middle schools for the Asian Coalition.  I'm looking forward to sharing a little about Okinawan Culture and our Karate class with folks from the community.

This video clip is of some of our students practicing Pinan Shodan and devising a multi-person bunkai application for the demo.

Naihanchi Through the Years

Thanks to the advent of digital cameras and digital video technology, I have been able to regularly video myself doing kata so I could play it back later and see what I could learn about where I was at at specific points in my journey. 

This video shows me doing Naihanchi Shodan each year since we started training at North florida Aikido's dojo.  I have to say, I haven't progressed as much as I would have liked.  I see myself repeating many of the same flaws despite the 6 years that have elapsed!  

I think I'll continue this process for the next 20 years or so and see if I can fix those flaws!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Training Diary

Every karateka should keep a training journal.  I was reading through mine this morning. My first entry is from April 1996.  I wish I would have kept a journal before then, but at least I have tried to keep one since then.  Anyway, it's very enlightening to go back and see where I was at in my training along the way since then.

My first entry began   "Steve Harless decided to close the Dojo this month. It was a very strange moment in my Karate journey..."

I guess that was a good time to start keeping a journal, because my karate journey (and life)  has sure gone a lot of places since then.  

Most of my entries are about special trainings or seminars I attended, but some are just about other, non-karate events in my life.  Every event has helped shape my karate training and teaching through the years. Every time I open it and read an entry I re-learn something I had forgotten.

If you don't already keep a training journal, you should start today.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

I'm sitting here at Starbucks where I stopped on my way to the dojo for New Years Day training.

I like to train on the first day of the year because it allows me to 'auto zero'...start fresh, with an empty cup, and set the stage for a year of karate training.

I've been training on New Years Day for many years. In the years that I trained alone and didn't have a dojo to train at, I still did my NewYears Day training. Some years I trained at a local park, some years in my garage, some years the weather was extremely cold, some were rainy. The best years were the ones that other people joined me to train.

This year I feel fortunate to have a good dojo to train in and good karateka to train alongside.

Well, it's time to leave Starbucks now and go train. Here's to an amazing 2012!