Saturday 14 February 2015

The criticality of jiyu kumite in relation to kihon, kata, and the truth of one's skill

Jiyu kumite at the JKA Kumamoto Chuo Dojo (Shototakuhirokan). My secret is to always be not only one but five stetps ahead like my teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, was.

Jiyu kumite is critical. Why? Quite simply, for putting one’s techniques to the test in a freestyle or `non-prearranged’ context. Nonetheless, based on my observations proper jiyu-kumite is rarely done correctly by the majority of karateka; that is, with a direct link to kihon and kata.
Firstly, just what is proper jiyu-kumite? I am not talking about friendly ‘sparring’ here, but really testing oneself in a truest sense of budo. Furthermore, I am not necessarily referring to full-contact bouts either but, again, full contact can indeed be the case. What I am speaking about here is a serious training experience which can be controlled, but not necessarily (this can be mutually decided by the trainees who are engaging with each other). In this way, everything—every technique that is thrown—has one’s maximum potential, whether controlled or not controlled/full-contact; that is, “…just like kihon and kata, no movements are launched without kime”. Put another way, every technique is “full” and applies total-body power with a direct connection to kihon and kata. The only variation is whether, or not, one `arrests’ their techniques. In sum, the kumite literally functions to ‘prepare the karateka’s technique’ for use/self-defence outside the dojo.

Proper jiyu kumite is not sports karate—it is budo applied in a freestyle context: To see this in action, it does not resemble sports karate, because the aim is not merely to tag your opponent, nor does it break away from kihon and kata; instead, the aim is to land your techniques with your entire body—to essentially collide—(a) applying the full application of your body weight; (b) utilising the explosive snap of the limbs; and (c) doing everything from your centre (driving from the legs to the hips and tanden). Needless to say, if partners mutually agree to engage in full-contact like this, one or both will sustain injuries. This is because full-contact in this context (the context of `proper karate technique’) literally becomes a real fight: in quintessence, a serious duel. Without going off-topic, this certainly provides a strong case for utilising sun-dome; and once again, means that “one’s technique does not degenerate from budo (due to `being controlled’)”. Simultaneously, and just as importantly, “…the inevitability of injury, which naturally will occur in serious duel, can be mitigated” (without the `commonplace diminution’ of jiyu-kumite into a watered down form of karate, which is predominantly the case amongst contemporary karateka). In effect, this is vividly seen when jiyu-kumite no longer seems attached to the other aspects of karate and, of course, vice-versa.
Jiyu kumite training at one of my seminars. It is utterly essential to be able to apply effective waza in a freestyle context.
 Jiyu kumite proves the truth of techniques and drills: Ultimately, when the things you try in the context of `proper jiyu kumite’ don’t work/fail (whether “with control in the proper way” or with full contact), you address them; that is, you can work to make them effective via the the trinity of kihon, kata and kumite; or, you can cut them out of your karate altogether. Many non-Japanese instructors are now teaching a vast array complex and flash looking drills; yet, they are impractical unless they can be applied in the context of freestyle. Most of what I see is only useful for demonstrations. Still, these `looks based’ demonstrations/practices coupled with longwinded explanations are gaining popularity (please refer to my article ‘Western Karate Drivel’ here: In this regard, people should question, why is this type of karate not occurring at the top karate clubs here in Japan. Moreover, why aren’t the best Japanese exponents and instructors training and teaching in this way? One can also question “if this this instructor tried this in Japan against a high level exponent, what would happen?” The answer is very obvious.
While I do not advocate jodan kicks for self-defence, one must still be able to apply such techniques in a freestyle context.
Proper jiyu kumite immediately cuts through all useless techniques and, indeed, establishes the technical effectiveness of practitioners themselves. `Feeling based’ training coupled with lots of waffling, and reliance on cooperative partners, is indicative of impracticality. Of course, cooperation is fine—in the low/initial levels of training and coaching (for clarity)—but only if it moves on (and translates into, jiyu-kumite). To be blunt, I can see a large number of prominent instructors, especially those outside of Japan, who wouldn’t want to try their techniques/applications in a freestyle context here… Proper jiyu-kumite thus helps to unveil true budo and true martial artists. Karate must work in non-prearranged circumstances; moreover, the higher up that ladder one is, this effectiveness must be able to deal with increasingly stronger and more skilful opponents—in a freestyle context. Taken as a whole, as I said in the opening sentence, “For me, jiyu kumite is critical”... I will conclude on that note. Osu, André.  
Jiyu kumite with Matt Brew Sensei (Christchurch, NZ).

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

Sunday 8 February 2015

Preparatory exercises for Karate-Do

 Recently I was asked by some of my students to provide how I personally warm up (at present) and, pertaining to this, what I recommend for a general Karate-Do class. Whilst there are many variations of `junbi-undo’ I personally divided my `preparatory exercises’ into two sections. I will fully outline my personal junbi-undo below but, firstly, I’d like to outline my philosophy: in regards to `preparing the body for karate’. Before I go on, a quick search on here and you will find that this subject has been addressed at least twice. If you wish to search for a topic simply type it in using the search function (at the top left side of the screen).

Approach in my personal training and for the people I teach: I treat my junbi-undo as a day-by-day/case-by-case and highly variable matter; likewise, I do not push students to harder or lighter—JUNBI UNDO MUST BE A PERSONAL THING… NOT BASED ON EVERYONE PUSHING TO THE SAME LEVEL. Using myself as an example, some days I am sitting in the splits and my hips feel as soft as a baby’s. The next day my muscles can be extremely tight. In both scenarios, I just go with the flow, doing my junbi-undo at my own pace (and this is what I encourage others to do). The good thing to point out here is that in both scenarios, with `case-by-case preparation’, the quality of one’s karate will be equally good. Always remember: the junbi-undo is never a competition to beat others i.e. – stretch lower etcetera; rather, it is a competition for you to not let your ego kick in and specifically “prepare yourself for your karate”. Anything else is asking for an injury and is, therefore, imprudence.

MY PERSONAL ‘JUNBI-UNDO’: (Total time: 10—15 minutes)

Warm up (Approx. 6. Mins)

  1. After seiza, begin with light aerobic exercise; for example, jogging around the dojo, hopping/skipping, star jumps, squats, push ups, light kata and the like. Mix it up!—don’t stick to one thing!!! The key is not to excessively tire the body but, rather, to get the blood flowing. Indicative of this is a light sweat, increased heartrate and a getting a little puffed. This should take about five minutes but will naturally depend on your training environment (e.g. – if training outside in the cold this section might take up 15 minute by itself).

  1. Once nice and warm, joint rotations/movements, and the like, should be completed. Use karate stances i.e. – hachiji-dachi for shoulder circles, hip rotations, neck movements; heisoku-dachi for knee circles etc… Don’t do this slowly, move quickly between exercises (working up or down the body) to ‘keep in a state of warmth’. Around one minute and this section will be finished if the instructor is on the ball; i.e. – neck, shoulders, trunk, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles—over... 
Stretching (Approx. 4—9 minutes)

a. Firstly use the stances to execute passive static stretches; for example, extended zenkutsu-dachi and so forth. Work down to floor stretches and gently hold them all for at least 10 seconds. The variations here are virtually endless, however, the key is relax, not to overstretch, and breath naturally (in essence, this stretching should never be painful; rather, `very comfortable with a light pulling feeling’). After completing these stretches, loosen up the hips again with some rotations for the final phase of preparation. I’d like to add here that there is much debate about using passive static stretches prior to technical practice; nonetheless, from my experience I recommend them to simply loosen up. Please note: if one wishes to work towards more intensive flexibility with deep and long held static stretches; isometric stretches; PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation); and the like, I recommend doing such exercises this at the conclusion of karate-do training; alternatively, as a part of home training or a supplementary strength/fitness/flexibility regime.    

b. The final phase of the preparatory exercises in karate-do is dynamic stretching with the legs. The trainees will all have a very good sweat by this stage and feel very ‘elastic’; furthermore, they will be psychologically well into `karate mode’. Essentially this section can include various knee raises; and controlled straight leg swings to the front, side, rear (and both inside and outside crescent actions). It is possible that you only need to do 10 reps with each leg (per exercise); however, the instructor might opt to do a couple of sets with each leg. That concludes the junbi-undo that I personally utilise and advocate. Osu, André.

© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).