Thursday 25 September 2014

Body imbalance

Body balance is an area that is particularly challenging for me. Not keeping my balance but, rather, vertical and horizontal equilibrium—in relation to techniques. My problem is not my technique; rather, it is my body. In particular, from the accumulation of injuries (from karate and real altercations in the security industry) over the years and, of course, imbalances between strength and flexibility: between the left and right `hemispheres’ of the body. As many of you know, when I was very young, I suffered a very serious spinal injury, which I’ve had to work around for over 25 years.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, certainly not to complain, but rather elucidate that I am taking more action in my own training to mitigate these imbalances; moreover, to help those who read this (you) to self-check for such problems. Obviously, this has little value for those of you working as body guards and as bouncers whilst on the job; however, it will still be useful in your `scenario drill-work’.   

THE PROBLEM OF BODILY IMBALANCES: The problem with such imbalances is that often `we don’t want to recognise them’ in favour of our `better sides’. For example, “more flexibility with one leg that allows for `superiority with particular techniques’ with that leg”; likewise, “…significantly more power on one side that leads to an internalised bias”.

In this regard, I primarily recommend utilising the five Heian kata for study. Then Tekki Shodan. There is so much to be gained from the shitei-gata, actually too much. Worldwide I believe that if everyone properly understood (performed) the Heian kata—on a truly deep level—very few would perform kata beyond the sentei-gata (Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Enpi and Jion). If we are honest, the advanced nature of the `big four’ “…are well beyond most people in the world who are doing the more advanced kata”. You may now be thinking “How can a guy who does so many `additional kata’ say this?” Well, additional kata are simply for specialisation, i.e. – more options in a martial arts/applicative context… For instructors, this is an advantage to best assist students (as one can coach people in accordance to their specific needs).

Secondarily, I recommend kihon ippon kumite for balance. Not just for techniques but the internalisation of movements and principles. This is deep stuff if fully understood…
Conclusion: Returning to the foundation of karate-do—KIHON—we have a complete system, which perfectly connects kata, kumite and real world self-defence. Nonetheless, body balance must be consciously addressed and this requires a significant level of physical (and mental) discipline. I’d like to wrap up by saying that this is extremely worth pondering and testing in one’s training. Besides being good for every karate practitioners techniques (to optimise effectiveness), it is also essential to heighten one’s musculoskeletal health and physical longevity.
Osu, André Bertel.

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

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Talking and thinking too much: Western Karate Drivel

"Learn by doing" - André Bertel (Kumamoto, Japan).
Simplification of practice with deep meaning/study/understanding is exactly what happens, here in Japan, amongst the very top dojo (plural). In conjunction and directly pertaining to this is high level tuition, which is bolstered by a `learn by doing’ as opposed to `the overly thinking’/discussing approach (an approach which is predominant in Western nations).

Recently I was shown some videos of an American instructor who `moves OK'; however, no depth -- no real power, from a Japanese karate-do perspective. That is, lots of technical variations, lots of talk, and theories… Not to mention `sound effects' when the guy punches: yet clearly no real danger with his waza. Here in Japan, irrespective of ideas and lots of technical variations, what counts is that `one can you use their karate in a freestyle context’. In the context, of the aforementioned American, the answer is clearly “not the case”. My Japanese colleagues were laughing as we went through the videos: the comments were "what is this?". If such a person comes to Japan and enters serious training here, “that feeling” he is always talking about (which always coincides with his sound effects "hummmm") will be replaced by a trip to the dentist.

This appeal in Western countries for a lot of `karate drivel’ is very interesting, and is at the heart of why Western karate is no closer—to traditional Japanese karate—than it was 20+ years ago. There are, of course, some exceptions: but very-very few.

Using the example of Japanese technicians… Think about the likes of Naka Tatsuya Sensei. He teaches numerous variations; however, his technique is perfectly functional in a freestyle context. It transfers from the dojo to street practicality. He has very dangerous karateka. Another such karate expert is Keith Geyer Sensei. Two words, `phenomenal' and `devastating' come to mind. In actuality, all of the top Japanese JKA instructors have this quality. Why not the majority of Western instructors like Keith Sensei? Needless to say, if I lived in Australia, I would be in Melbourne to access training under Keith Sensei. Such non-Japanese true masters of karate-do are soooooooooooo rare!!!!!!!!!

Perhaps some people will not like this post, but it is literally a case of `the truth hurts’. There are, as said above, `exceptions’; nevertheless, I believe this needs to eventually be the norm-- not merely exceptions -- if Western karate is to truly advance. Unfortunately, based on what Western `karate consumers’ want, and how the majority practice karate, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
True karate is effective in the real world, not talk and theory: this is `budo karate'. This is Karate!
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2014).