Sunday 31 January 2016

Psychological Kamae

One of the things that is really critical in jiyu-kumite (free sparring) is one’s kamae (en-guard position) in both attack and defense. A good ‘physical kamae’ means that you can effectively defend yourself  with minimal movement and that you can attack directly from your position (without adjustment). For example, your kizami-zuki travels (from where it is—in the shortest possible trajectory) directly to your opponents jinchu). With good maai (distancing) and speed, this puts your opponent into a worse case scenario, i.e. – “…like someone who is tailgating a car without knowing that its break lights aren’t working”. Put another way, the kamae does not telegraph anything—when attacking—and is perfectly set for defense. There are of course variations  in one’s ‘physical kamae’, nevertheless, this is the base kamae from which everything else follows.

On Monday night at JKA Oita, after finishing my kata practice at the back of the class, I called over two of the black belts to join me at the rear of the dojo. I’d watched their jiyu kumite and decided to help them with their respective kamae.

Their kamae were too low and fists pointed incorrectly, which meant they were highly exposed against an opponent with a correct kamae. Likewise, sometimes they made their kamae too high. Accordingly, I fought with them both and demonstrated the incorrect kamae (that they were using up until this session). In this way, they could compare and contrast between what they have been doing, and what I was showing them. I also taught them how the kamae most effectively changes according to maai, their size, the opponent(s) size(s), positioning/angles and circumstance; furthermore, the criticality of unsoku/ashi-hakobi (footwork) in relation to these aspects.

Straight away, from their expression and determination in practice, they ascertained that my point was essential: as when they fought me they could not hit me, nor realize my attacks until they felt them land. Of course, I attacked with full-technique; however—as always—I did not cause any damage.

After several rounds of the jiyu-kumite with them both, and with each other, their defense capacities were unsurprisingly  improved, as were their attacks. Actually, their jiyu-kumite was 100% better. Overall, it was great for me to see them enhance their defensive and offensive abilities; moreover, the smiles that followed. I have a saying when I teach, “the best compliment is when one themselves knows that they have improved”.

To wrap up, I’d just like to stress a couple of things. Firstly and generally speaking, simple matters count! Funakoshi Gichin Sensei stated that “Victory and defeat hangs on simple matters”. Indeed, this goes far beyond Karate-Do: it is a life-skill. If you not only do the simple things right, but do them extremely well, you are putting yourself in a strong position of chance (for whatever you are trying to achieve). The alternative of this is to have ‘very little chance’.  Needless to say, relying on ‘lucky chances’, ‘flukes’, ‘easy circumstances’, or the like, is not an intelligent way to achieve any goals: or live life for that matter! Success is always about hard work; determination; entering into uncomfortable places—outside of one’s comfort zone—in order to go to the next level; and, of course, plenty of guts/strong spirit.

Secondly, and more specifically pertaining to your kamae: it is utterly essential to have self-awareness. What I mean here is that often we think/believe we are doing the most simple things well, when in actuality we are not. In reality, this is a very human thing, and is ‘a work in process for everyone’. Of course, no one is exempt from this. Certainly, in the case of ‘the simple matter of having a good kamae’, there is no time to waste, especially if you are like me and you care about your dental expenses.

In this regard, even more than a physical kamae seek a psychological kamae; that is, a mental state that defends you from overlooking your weaknesses and/or the corrosion of your skills. This psychological kamae requires: (1)  correct and adequately thorough technical knowledge; (2) awareness—in actual training—based on this knowledge; and (3) consistent physical practice, which is the only way any value can be gained: from the two aforementioned points.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2016).

Monday 18 January 2016

Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on heaven: Eye and head position is imperative

When making your techniques, whether ukewaza (reception techniques) or kogekiwaza (attacking techniques) it is very important for your eyes and head to face in the direction of execution. Some may consider this is firstly for zanshin and/or aesthetic  form; nevertheless, the main reason is for maximization of physical power. In actuality, when the eyes and head do not face in the same direction of your waza, what one is doing will be significantly weaker.

Test for yourself via movement one of Heian Sandan/Heian Godan (Hidari chudan uchi-uke in migi kokutsu-dachi). Have a training partner push down your hidari chudan uchi-uke without the eyes and head fully facing in the direction of the technique. Next, make the correct position with the head and eyes focused perfectly in the direction of your uchi-uke. You will notice a very big difference. Likewise, use the same process to test the two kake shuto-uke followed yoko-kekomi in Nijushiho. Of course, this ‘kihon’ applies to all of the techniques and kata of Karate-Do.

While there are exceptions i.e. – movement 41 of Bassai Dai and movement two of Wankan, they have purposes that are less generic in application (such as kenseiwaza—feint techniques, and shikakewaza—set up techniques). Exceptions must be understood and applied when appropriate, however, they are secondary to standard techniques and standard budo methodology; what’s more, exceptions can only be maximized when the norms/standard-karate are fully grooved into the subconscious mind (thereby, allowing ‘appropriately reactive’ usage in freestyle).

Some will indeed be thinking about the three Tekki Kata now, and Master Nakayama’s comments pertaining to ‘sharp head turns’. This is an excellent example but, again, his agenda in stating this was greater than Tekki. To reiterate, correct head and eye position is a characteristic of the vast majority of Karate-waza: and for very good reason.

It is interesting that when a person turns their head in a certain direction and fixes their eyes, they can optimally channel their energy in that direction. This has strong ties not only physiologically and bio-mechanically speaking, but also psychologically. Resultantly, shingitai (the connection between body, mind and heart) can readily seen and applied in one’s waza. To conclude, I recommend that karateka self-check how far they turn their head in techniques. Often when instructing, I find that karateka only partially turn and, merely use their eyes. For the most part, this is incorrect. The eyes and the head must fully face the direction of the respective waza. If you pay attention to this simple point, you will see some great improvements: as you might be surprised how "...sometimes your body is not doing precisely what you mind thinks it is". Happy New Year from Oita City, Japan.
© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2016).