Sunday, November 30, 2014

Learning to Relax

For the last several years, I've been focusing on trying to do karate in a much more relaxed fashion.

For years I practiced to try to make a very fast and powerful technique by analyzing various body dynamics and ways to use my koshi (the area surrounding my pelvic girdle) to augment my power.  This process was very involved and complex and it took years for me to get some understanding of it.  I must say that I never really mastered it to the degree of satisfaction I would like.

Fortunately, in 2010, one of our fellow Kishaba Juku practitioners made the journey to Okinawa again to train with Shinzato Sensei, and like those old Chinese Envoys who took the Quan to Loochoo (Ryukyu) hundreds of years ago, he brought back information on Sensei's latest advancements in his study of Karate.

To say these new ideas (principles) were revolutionary for me would be an understatement, because I have been working on them ever since and not making the kind of progress I would like.  They are just a few principles, but they have had the effect of turning my karate training on its head, and really making me rethink how I train.  They include:
  • 50/50 stances (all stances derived from naihanchi)
  • Maintaining the centerline
  • Throwing the elbow off the koshi
  • Breaking balance/Dropping
  • Figure 8 koshi
  • Relaxing!
The first 5 are what I initially took away from our Okinawan Envoy's journey, but the 6th one, relaxing, is what really is at the core of all the other 5.

I will probably spend some time talking about the first 5 at length in other posts, but in this post I'd like to focus on the 6th one, which, if taken in order of importance, should really be the 1st one.  

Anyway, here goes...

What does it mean to be relaxed in karate?

As karateka, we seem to constantly pursue making a more powerful and faster technique.  We want to be able to hit the heavy bag hard with a technique that penetrates.  We also want that technique to get to our target fast.  Unfortunately, doing this can have a tendency to develop tenseness in our technique. We tend to focus on using the muscles to make the technique.  We can get more speed and power by coordinating the technique with the rotation (and counter-rotation) of our hips, but if we are tense throughout the motion, the technique is held back by that tension.  Also, if we use only the muscles, we can only get so fast and powerful.

To really make power and speed, we have to relax.  It seems so counter-intuitive, but relaxing is the key.  All muscles have to stay relaxed throughout the motion, and the only tension should occur at the point of contact.  In that split second all the power of your body combines in that one striking point.  It's like Mr. Miyagi says in Karate Kid, "power of whole body, one inch..."

Sounds simple enough, right?  It's not.  Before you can find the way to make tension at the right moment, first you have to learn to relax.  Trying to relax throughout the performance of a kata is a very difficult thing.  There is a problem with relaxing, though. You have to learn to relax without compromising body structure. This is where the other 5 principles I list above come in.  But that will be the topic of another discussion.

For now, just relax.

Relax the knees. Feel bouncy.
Relax the koshi. Don't squeeze.
Relax the back.
Relax the lats.
Relax the shoulders.
Relax the neck.
Relax the arms.
Relax the hands. Don't squeeze them tight.
Relax your breathing.
Relax your mind.
Now make your first move in the kata...

Begin it relaxed. Stay relaxed as you move through. End the movement relaxed.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

100 Kata for Karate Day 2014

On Friday, October 24th (25th in Okinawa), we practiced Naihanchi Kata for 100 times.  We did this to celebrate karate day, simultaneously with about 5000 karate practitioners worldwide!  In Okinawa, they did their kata in front of a castle at 6:00 AM.  We did ours in the dojo.

You can read more about the event here.

We did all three Naihanchi kata in sets of 10 each, and in a variety of ways.  It's was a great workout, and maybe we should try to do it once a month.

You can watch a playlist of our event here.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

April - Tonfa and Pinan Month

This year, like last year, we are going to try to dedicate each month to focus our training on some specific things. For April we picked Tonfa and the 5 Pinan Kata.

Tonfa is something we usually neglect in our training, so it was good to spend a whole month on it.  In our kata syllabus, we train in 2 different Tonfa kata: The original one I learned years ago from Sensei Harless, which we call "Tonfa 1", and another, more dynamic one I also learned from Sensei Harless, which we call, appropriately, "Tonfa 2".  These kata probably have official names, but I don't know what they are.

For warm-ups we focused on using the tonfa to supplement our normal stretching, loosening, blocking, striking, kicking routine.  I think it was a good addition.

Tonfa 1 introduces the swinging movements inherent in the use of tonfa. Tonfa 2 takes the swinging movements to higher level and adds very dynamic movement and footwork.

It had actually been a long time since I had practiced the Tonfa 2 kata, so I had to break out some old video footage to make sure I could remember it well enough to teach it.  No worries, though.  We've got it down now, so we'll just have to keep training on it so we don't forget it.  In addition to the two tonfa kata, we also practiced some Tonfa vs. Bo kumite.  It's good to practice weapon vs. weapon to get a feel for the distance and power required for actual usage.  It is an exercise that requires a lot of control so no one gets hurt, but it's very valuable.

We also practiced the 5 Pinan kata extensively in April.  We are currently focusing very heavily on maintaining relaxation throughout each kata, and only making tension at the part where the technique connects. Also, we're working on keeping our elbows connected to our koshi, throwing the technique off the hip, maintaining a 50/50-modified naihanchi stance throughout the kata, and dropping slightly as the technique occurs.  It's a lot of stuff to work on, but worth the exploration!

We worked on numerous applications for the Pinan kata including basic block and strike techniques, some grappling and throwing ideas, and defense against knife and stick weapons.

In May we will be focusing on Nunchaku and Naihanchi.  Check back later for an update!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

It's 2014! Hard to believe 2013 is behind us and we're almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century!  When I was a kid, I actually thought we would be living in space by now.  Maybe I will see that in my lifetime.  I would love to practice Naihanchi on the moon or Mars.

2013 was our 8th year training together as Tallahassee Karate Club at North Florida School of Aikido.  We've had 8 great years of training together!  I'd like to thank the people who have trained with me throughout these years. Without you, there would not be a Tallahassee Karate Club.  I'd also like to thank my teachers in Okinawa Karate-Do Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku for their dedication to the art, and invaluable training and patience with me throughout the years.  Finally, I'd like to thank North Florida School of Aikido for sharing their beautiful dojo with us.

I have a few personal training goals for 2014.  This year, I want to focus on getting into much better physical shape.  I think everyone has this goal, but for me, 2014 is going to be my year.  I would like to figure out a way to get back to Okinawa to train with Shinzato Sensei.  The last time (and only time) I was there was in Dec 2004-Jan 2005 (some blog posts about it here), and that is way too long! It's doubtful I will get there due to the money constraint, but I will keep it as a goal and see what happens. Beyond that, I just want to keep training and get better at the things I'm working on.

I have a few goals for the dojo, too.  I'd like to see us get a few more regular students. I wouldn't mind starting a kids class. I really want to have at least 4 special trainings this year. 6 would be better! I would also like to take the dojo over to train with Janos Sensei more this year.

Happy 2014 and may your year be filled with Karate training!

- Bill