Wednesday, 26 March 2014

One leg exercises

Migi nami gaeshi: Tekki-shodan kata.
 For anyone who has attended my karate trainings, over the last 15 years (classes, seminars or otherwise), you will know that I use a large amount of one leg exercises i.e. – one leg squats, thrust, jumps and the like. This article aims to briefly explain the underpinnings and issues around my use/advocating of these forms of calisthenics. Best regards from Kumamoto-ken, André Bertel.   

Many people question “…why do you strongly emphasise these leg exercises over their two leg equivalents?” Well, the reason is simple. Just ask yourself “how many human actions use both legs in unison?” In budo (martial arts), especially percussive focused systems, such as karate-do, there is always a driving leg. In actuality, the same goes for most sports. For example, running, shot put, etcetera. Think of your back leg in a gyaku-zuki or jun-zuki (oi-zuki). Keriwaza (kicking techniques) are even more obvious. On the whole, exercises that isolate each leg separately are “more specific `for training the driving leg” and, thus, are biomechanically superior. 
Hidari chudan uchi-uke (migi kokutsu-dachi): Heian godan kata.

But that’s not all…  One leg exercises have another massive benefit for karateka, and athletes in general… Balance… Clearly, by working each leg in isolation one ceach leg in isolation one cor budoka and an, and will, increase their balance/stability; furthermore, the majority of this improvement will be attained subconsciously, and via the involuntary muscles of the legs. If you don’t believe me stand still on one leg and look down at the ankle of your supporting leg… Even though you are standing dead still there is a carnival of involuntary muscles involuntarily twitching: to stabilise your position. Of course, this is a somewhat oversimplified explanation, but I think it is enough to get my point across. I am not even going to get into micro muscle development here…

So, “goodbye two leg squats—you are a waste of time”?” Certainly, that is not my point… Two leg squats still have their excellent benefits for more generic strength training, and as prerequisite ‘base conditioning’ fouisite 'se conidtion benefits for more generic strength trainnig witching to stabilise your deadstr their superior one leg counterparts. A perfect comparison here is between these exercises and push ups… No one starts with one arm push ups, nor do they drop `standard two-arm push ups’ out of their routine. Rather, they use both exercises discerningly. That being said, consistent with the aforementioned points: “just like one leg exercises, the single arm exercises (i.e. - one arm push ups, or cable extensions) are superior beasts”.

Movement 28 of Tekki-shodan kata.
The downside and some words of advice: Last, but not least, it is important for me to present the downside of one leg exercises: “…the need of sufficient base conditioning—and the absence of pre-existing leg injuries—to avoid damaging oneself”. Just like other high quality calisthenics, such as plyometrics, incorrect training—and insufficient foundational strength—can readily result in bodily harm. For some, these exercises should be avoided or used in moderation. As always, common-sense and `listening to the body’ is everyone’s best friend.  My point is, it is essential to look out for your joints, ligaments and tendons. This brings to mind a saying, which I have always stressed to my students (and seminar participants) over the years: “There is nothing more sad, and senseless, for a person to damage their body in the process of strengthening it.” This saying is one that I believe all karate-do instructors should use and, indeed, follow in their own training. In sum, “Karate-do is Lifetime Budo”; correspondingly, by nature, this means that karate-do training must result in increased wellbeing.

To briefly summarise this article: firstly, one leg exercises (isolation training) is superior for karateka and the majority of athletes; accordingly, this is because “they more specifically condition the muscles needed for explosive athletic actions”; secondly, one leg exercises more effectively develop balance than their two leg counterparts; thirdly, one leg exercises while superior, pose a greater risk for joint and soft tissue injuries; therefore, like other tissue injuries; thereitionalathletic actions; Secondly, they devlintense/high quality exercises, they require sufficient base conditioning and sensibility.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Monday, 24 March 2014

Balancing hard and light training

Over the weekend I engaged in special training for the upcoming JKA (Japan Karate Association) Kumamoto Prefecture Championships. Unfort).rtel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto, continue.ould be easier quit karate-do. tes to overall developmentntunately, I couldn’t make the group practice in Kumamoto, as I was in Oita City, so I self-trained instead.

The first session was an intensive three hour dojo practice on Saturday, which really was hard-core. It was a case of “burning hot coals in the thighs”. The second practice, on Sunday, was intended to be ‘at the same intensity and duration’; however, my body couldn’t live up to that envisaged expectation… To be honest, I had `jelly legs’. So it became a light two hours of stretching, relaxed kumite techniques, and reviewing aspects of my, kumite techniques and me intensity.e All in all, I have to say, that this ended up working out very well.
I guess, what I’m trying to say here, is that “…balance is a good thing”. We must train as hard as we can—according to our individual conditions, but we must also listen to our bodies. When we are burned out, and we can’t train so hard, we can always choose to train lightly. Moreover, sometimes these sessions—in between the necessity of hard practices—can be utterly f cessity  ta.  practices--can s--in  are like me, invaluable.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Special Karate-Do training in Kumamoto-Shi

Jiyu kumite with Morooka San.
Here are some stills from the special tournament training in Kumamoto Shi this weekend. The class, brilliantly led by Nakamura Akiyoshi Sensei, included the JKA kyu-shinsa kihon (brown and black belts did the 3rd Kyu syllabus); stationary practice of choku-zuki, gyaku-zuki and mae-geri; jiyu-ippon kumite; `round robin' jiyu-kumite; and kata (the shitei-gata and tokui-gata).

Morooka San I went through all the shitei-gata via practice matches. We were then asked by Akiyoshi Sensei to do our tokui-gata... Morooka San performed Sochin, and I selected Nijushiho. The black belt juniors all performed either Kanku Dai or Jion, which was great to watch; moreover, to advise them on their kata performances and kumite.

Overall, the class was an excellent session of "budo karate in the JKA-tournament context."

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Not trying is a serious failure to oneself

For a while now Nijushiho kata has been my main focus in my kata training, not my tokui-gata as such, but dreamed to be so: due to my history in karate-do. 
To be honest, this kata really intimidates me, as I find it so difficult to perform "effectively". The movements are easy, but VERY-VERY DIFFICULT... 
Many people do Nijushiho, but few can do it masterfully. In the past, as everyone knows, I always relied on Unsu and Gojushiho Dai as tokui-gata, however, for my JKA (Japan Karate Association) grading last year, I used Nijushiho for the first time. While I passed my grading, and initially learned Nijushiho "properly" in the early 1990s, I feel that my relationship with Nijushiho has only just begun. My point, yet again, is that karate-do is lifetime budo. In August I have trained for 33 years, and several of these have been intensive daily training here in Japan; nevertheless, I am still a total beginner. This mind-set I will always keep, and hope that, by chasing my target of Nijushiho, my aspirations will be achieved. Irrespective of that, like all things in life, not trying is a serious failure to oneself. Osu, André.

 © André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).

Monday, 3 March 2014

The micro adjustments of karate-do

Introduction: As you will know from your karate-do practice, there are very subtle adjustments one can make in technique, which ultimately make all difference. For the sake of this article I’ll refer to these hidden gems as `micro adjustments’. Accordingly, these micro-adjustments are—what are often referred to as—“the secrets of karate-do”. For many years I didn’t like the term “karate secrets”, however, we all know that they indeed exist.

These technical points are the subtleties that, generally speaking, are those things which are kept “in-house”; that is, they are taught "behind closed doors" so to speak. Whilst some deny the existence of secrets in karate-do, it is naïve and technically limiting to do so. They are a reality. With this in mind, before I go on, I’d like to emphasise that this dimension of karate (micro-adjustment) is utterly huge; that is, it is easily the largest technical field in karate-do. If you are interested in `upping your level’, this is the point that will be at the forefront of your physical training; put another way, they will be the skills/physical understanding that you will be constantly chasing.

Micro adjustments in karate-do: I’d quickly like to examine one micro adjustment as an example. This adjustment is “…just one of the pivotal points contributing to the tachikata (stances) of the top level Japanese karateka”; nevertheless, it makes a major contribution (in correspondence with other subtleties), which is overlooked by many karate practitioners: especially those outside of Japan. So here we go…

Brief example of a micro-adjustment (Ankle Flexion): `Ankle flexion’ is subtle skill of moderately pushing out/flexing the supporting ankle in your stances. To give a really simplistic example, consider the migi kokutsu-dachi (right back stance) in `movement one' of Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan and Heian Godan. In all of these movements (and especially Heian Nidan and Heian-Godan—where there are follow up hand attacks) the right ankle must be ‘flexed and set’ just as the knee is; thereby, keeping the right support leg in a plumb line under the hip. OK... "So what", you might be thinking…This is not such a difficult skill, nor, that much of a secret. Well, in reality very people do it; moreover, it needs to be second-nature (appropriately used or not used according to the movement/technique being executed). I’d like to add to this by saying “that this is far from easy, and is a major factor if one wishes to have rock solid traditional Japanese style stances”.

Micro-adjustments are links in chain—individually and collectively critical: Such micro-adjustments/skills are perhaps seemingly insignificant but, of course, they are critical for overall mastery. In actuality, it is no overstatement to say that “…they are largely what determine and `gate keep the technical divide’ between the top Japanese karateka and, most everyone else.
Large scale movements/positions: Contrastingly, the `large scale movements’ and positions are certainly no secret, they are visibly obvious (just as `surface level micro-adjustments' are, and those which have been `openly taught'). Namely, because of these points, these aspects of karate technique can be (and are) copied with relative ease.
Conclusion: In sum, “correct repetitive drilling of the micro adjustments”— the technical secrets of traditional karate-do—generically summarises the path to high level skill. Not only the appearance of one’s form but in effective application: via “the links in the chain all being strong and working harmoniously together”.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).