Monday 9 March 2009

Junbi undo

After suffering a severe spinal injury, over 20 years ago, I realized that many of the 'traditional karate stretches' deemed “standard” in most Shotokan dojo were in fact time-wasting. Why? Because since that injury, many of them, I'm became permanently unable to do, but for some 'magical reason' (after recovery) my technique itself was never hindered, and my ‘karate specific flexibility’ actually improved!

Interestingly enough, the only problem has been with some instructors who demand that I “must do these stretches”. However, once my kicks start flying, they soon turn a blind eye. Japanese instructors, in particular, become baffled. This is nothing new, it happened when training with the Asai JKA/JKS, here in Japan, during my teens, 20’s and still now in my 30’s.

In my opinion the only major weakness (karate-wise) of Shotokan in Japan, is the adherence to often outdated, and more importantly, non-karate-specific junbi-undo (preparatory exercises). More than adhering to tradition, this is the ‘cultural result’, of lacking the ability to understand individuality; that is, that all human beings are different… Every individual needs to approach stretching differently in accordance to their own physical attributes/genetics, deficiencies, age, injuries and the highly diverse combination of these variables.

My point here is that we do not do karate for the warm up or stretching. We do it for karate. Therefore, as long as we can optimize our karate technique and skills, the warm up/stretching we use is irrelevant. Optimal preparatory exercises are twofold… The safest method (to avoid injuries), and the best means to maximize our execution of karate itself.
Junbi undo is not a competition for me, it is to prepare my body for optimal karate performance. I don't mind being the least flexible person in the dojo if it means I can keep doing karate, like it has for over 20 years since my injury. What's more, if I can't bend/twist my spine in stretches, yet kick better than those who can, why should I feel concerned about the inability to perform such exercises, which are very dangerous for my body?

I'd like to end by saying "Please take care of your body. Listen to it, and make karate something you can do for the rest of your life, should you choose to do so. Optimal technique and working around injuries is not impossible, if you are determined." - I wish you the very best on your karate journey.
© André Bertel, Japan 2009

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