For example, techniques like ‘chudan soto-uke followed by enpi, uraken gyaku-zuki’ are commonplace in regular classes at most of the honbu dojo (of various groups and organizations). However, for the most part if you ‘get behind closed doors’—into elite level sessions (instructors classes, squad trainings, and private lessons with the top Japanese experts)—for the most part, such elaborate kihon seems to vanish. Suddenly, a metaphoric huge magnifying glass comes out to check, scrutinize and better refine the most ‘basic’ techniques.
Seeking out and accessing training from many of the best instructors in Japan, and also having the chance to spend a lot of time with them outside of the dojo, one thing is apparent: kihon for elite karateka (and certainly to reach an elite level) is raw. Now, again, you can imagine that big magnifying glass being used as 'figurative cooker' by concentrating a sharp beam of light onto your waza.
That is, there is nowhere to hide one’s faults and weaknesses. A key aspect of this point is that ‘depth as opposed to width is the focus’. This is one of the reasons that the professional instructors, here in Japan, are as good as they are. They do not just develop movements that look good and sharp, they develop workable and automatically adaptable skills that are reliable under the most maximum pressure.
So while average Karateka is working on that new combination for their next examination, the professionals are constantly practicing the most simple kihon over and over again. Furthermore, they are working on the corresponding jiyu-kumite kihon on a daily basis. Accordingly, the most simple classical kihon in combination with the freestyle rendition are seamlessly combined.
Added to this is the kihon in the form of yakusoku-kumite, impact work, jiyu-kumite drill and jiyu-kumite itself. This is topped off and integrated with kata then, application work, followed by continuous and endless cycle back through kihon.
I won’t say who, but I asked one very famous instructor, “What would happen if Shotokan dojo (plural) trained with less elaborate kihon? (like in high level sessions). The answer was “… There would be many empty dojo (again, plural)”
This same instructor then remarked to me “Do you really want to become good or do you just want to feel you are good?” What he meant was that all the ‘bling’ is just that: smoke and mirrors. If people want dangerous and highly reliable karate, they must practice ‘the most simple of the most simple’ both a lot and with great degrees of precision.
You will this in all other arts, sports and skills as well.
In sum, as Funakoshi Gichin Sensei stated “Victory depends on simple matters” and, needless to say, the old adage: ‘There are no shortcuts but there are better ways.
Some people can get downhearted knowing truths. I say, instead, ‘step up to the plate’. Irrespective of what level you will peak at is actually irrelevant. Why? Because it will be higher than otherwise if you take the high road! It’s like at University. Yes, C’s get degrees. However, the person who always seeks the A+ will certainly achieve higher than otherwise; moreover, mitigate the risk of failure by trying to just slip through with a pass. In addition, there is another dimension to this, which is dear to me. This is the inertia that effort and successes bring. This aspect feeds motivation when combined with guts, planning and clear cut achievement objectives/goals.
With these points in mind, just do it! Accept limitations and barriers. They are not there to put you down. Rather they are literally ‘your friends’ telling you ‘where you must go’, or at least ‘where to aim towards’. Needless to say, and as I have already stated, this is just as much as (if not, more) a psychological journey. Isn’t that a big part of 道 (Do) in Karate-Do? Simple kihon is at the core of this process, actually the vehicle itself.
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).