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.