The Chi-Ishi (strength or power stone) is most notably used in Goju Ryu (hard/soft style), as part of their hojo undo (supplementary training methods). However, the use of this tool may also be found in other Naha/Shuri/Tomari lineages of koryu karate, along with various other pieces of equipment, as an adjunct to kata and their application practices. Indeed, the term hojo undo is generically used to describe the holistic attribute training methods undertaken to enhance the ability for the body, minds and spirit to combatively express the choreography of karate kata. As such, even with a plethora of traditional and more contemporary tools available today, the unique design and qualities of the chi-ishi can be used to play a key role in building the karate body and it is for this reason that I continue to make use of it in my own training.
No more advanced than a stick with a weight attached to one end, the asymmetrical nature of the chi-ishi is what provides its most challenging asset. Even to manipulate the weight to an adequate level of control takes a high degree of body awareness, proprioception and core integration. But it is often the subtleties of such exercises, the things going on underneath the surface, which provide the most benefit. Simply swinging the tool around for the sake of being able to claim that you ‘practice hojo undo’ simply doesn’t do the chi-ishi any justice and even though there are other pieces of training equipment around that can provide similar attributes, the classic saying that ‘a poor craftsman will always blame his tools’ is true for everything you place in your hand. So how we understand the performance of hojo undo and in particular, how the exercises we repetitively undertake connect with our karate practice is of chief importance – not necessarily how many reps we can push out!
Over the past few weeks I've been posting short but regular 60-sec video blasts to my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts...
The idea behind this new project is to quickly share some of the stuff we get up to at the dojo, introduce a selection of the core concepts behind our approach to karate and hopefully, provide mobile friendly bite-size inspiration...all within the space of only one minute!
In the case of civilian self-protection, our situational awareness and specifically, the way we interact with people is always far more important than the development of physical attributes. Of course, trouble can come your way regardless of how you act, but being a game of 'managing the probability of risk', any good personal safety game-plan would be best served on the basis of one being a decent human being within society.
"When your temper rises, lower your fists. When your fists rise, lower your temper."
Take a look at the following clip, where Tim Larkin reviews footage of two experienced MMA fighters taking a pretty severe beating outside a gas station. In the review, Larkin raises a number of valid points covering the specific context of their skill-base, plus the reality of weapons or multiple opponents. However, the real message that pops out to me is the fact that this whole situation could have been completely avoided had Maiquel Falcao refrained from such anti-social behaviour towards the two ladies. A perfect example of how people skills should always be prioritised over physical skills...
My little 'piece of Okinawa' also doubles up as my gym, with plenty of training tools to keep me busy!
I've had a few requests lately to detail the 500-rep workout I been undertaking lately in my garden dojo. So in the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd write a little about it here!
Although my exercises and routine tend to vary quite considerably throughout the year, this particular workout is generally based around the following framework.
Please note that this is a pretty intense full-body workout and therefore, should NOT be performed multiple times per week. It should be regarded as more of a challenge you can do from time to time, to help break away from your schedule, shock the system and to test your generic fitness/recovery levels.
The workout is split into two parts. The first consists of 200-reps and mixes up some body-weight, heavy kettlebells and bulgarian bag exercises. The second part consists of an upper body compound push/pull routine and totals 300-reps. It combines functional movements with more 'standard' compound exercises, mixing up explosive and 'grinding' actions, powerful exertion with more controlled motions. There are no pure isolation exercises here - the idea is to utilise multiple muscle groups together and develop integrated human mechanics.
Make sure to perform an adequate warm up to begin with, along with a light cool-down afterwards.
OK, here we go...
In recent years, there has been an increase in practically minded karate practitioners making use of two-person flow drills to help develop tactile-based skills for close-range altercations. Normally seen in arts such as Wing Chun, Silat and Filipino systems, some Okinawan karate systems also practice kakie (hooking hands) to help develop this area of expertise. These methodologies can run from being rather rudimentary more comprehensive, depending on the style, teacher and aims of the art.
In my dojo, we also practice a series of close-range limb control drills derived directly from Naihanchi Kata, which are used as a core template to express a more free-flowing application of kata bunkai principles. But as with all training methods, they have specific limitations that as mindful practitioners, we must be aware of. Indeed, one of the generic weaknesses in flow drills is the fact that they actually FLOW! I know, a little contradictory, so let me elaborate.
The first part of early morning training in my dojo is always to run through a full-body joint mobility routine. This is also something that I encourage my students to undertake before each training session. Many traditional karate styles incorporate such activities as standard in the dojo, Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu being two notable ones, and I think that the benefits of this practice go further than a physical preparation of the body for upcoming activity.
The first occasion where many people talk about their joints is usually when describing some sort of pain or restricted motion. Because of this, it is common for us to isolate and focus singular joints (such as knee or ankle) in our mind without appreciating the fact that all the bones, muscles and connective tissues surrounding a joint and indeed throughout the human body, act together as a fully integrated movement system.
Here's some video footage taken yesterday evening during one of our closed dojo sessions. It features a brief recap of the content we covered in class so that members could see how all the topics we explored connected together.
We began by looking at a fundamental movement pattern and then exaggerated its associated mechanics using a short stick. This is a popular tool in our dojo and is used to help draw out particular aspects of technique so that they may be more easily developed. We began by focusing solely on the limb and sequencing from the shoulder, to elbow and then to wrist. After this, we then added the hip and finally, the legs to achieve integration from the ground to the hand.
These mechanics were then taken to the focus mitts, where we could emphasise the development of percussive shock and minimise the external motion, whilst still maintaining the kimochi (feeling) of the technique. We looked at changing angles with this and incorporating the 'retraction' of the limb as either a second strike, or to facilitate an index to set up the next strike.
Attaching to the opponent's centre line or head/neck are two prime areas for indexing.
I'm currently working on the draft of the upcoming second volume of my Seed of Shuri Karate book series and I thought that followers of my work may enjoy this little segment taken from the chapter on percussive impact delivery. The finished publication will no doubt read different to this as I always extensively edit, but nevertheless, I hope you'll find this sneak peek on the principle of 'indexing' a nice complement to your cup of coffee...
Indexing (also known as a 'set up', 'controlling', gauge' or 'leveraging arm') is an important concept taught in modern day self-defence systems and is also a key tactic expressed throughout the application of classical movements found in karate kata. You only need to spend a few moments searching YouTube for footage of real street attacks, self-defence encounters or bar brawls and you will see that the use of indexing is rife. This is simply due to the fact that it is both natural and highly advantageous. It is also a strategy used extensively in weapon attacks (especially puncture weapons such as knives or screwdrivers), where repetitive thrusting or clubbing 'sewing machine' styles are employed to devastating effect.
I often recommend that my students make use of a full length mirror as part of their training, in order to make visual acknowledgement of their form. A mirror is a useful tool because what you see in the reflection is also what an opponent will see when facing you. In addition, it allows those with poor body awareness to 'see' individual transitions taking place. However, we must also develop to a point by which we begin to let go of the visual cues and come to 'internalise' the subtle feelings associated with movement. Aesthetics then becomes a secondary consideration over what is required for function.
Old-style karate is less concerned with what a techniques looks like and more concerned with how well it functions. There is more freedom to move in a natural and fluid way, as opposed to always maintaining the same height and exclusively employing rigid rotations of the waist and excessive muscular contraction in order to express power.
Here's my recent interview conducted by Shorin stylist Noah Legel from the US for his aptly-titled website, Karate Obsession. It includes some very interesting questions about my background, approach to training and thoughts on different aspects of karate. Noah has a real passion for old-style karate methods and this certainly carries over into his well written and thought-provoking blog.
Anyway - hope you enjoy the read and my thanks to Noah for having me grace his pages :-)
The study of body dynamics in traditional karate can go as deep as you'd like it to and exploring the subtleties found in the art can be a very addictive process. Indeed, exploring how you may best use positional advantage, move between stances efficiently, make use of natural strengths, exploit natural weaknesses and interact with an opponent to achieve the best results can prove a very seductive pursuit. So much so that we sometimes forget to keep at the forefront of our minds the fundamental requirement for simplicity in self-defence, with the real risk of 'pure function' creeping further and further away from our dojo training. As they say, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!
Percussive impact makes up Karate's primary strategy for dealing with an imminent physical threat to one's safety. If avoidance, escape or dissuasion are not valid options to pursue or have already been exhausted, then the order of the day would be to employ swift, aggressive and overwhelming ballistic strikes. either pre-emptive (ideally) or reactive, with the aim of switching off either the ability or the inclination for the opponent to continue posing a significant risk, thus facilitating the opportunity to make a safe escape.
Sorry it's been a while since I blogged here - rest assured, I haven't been sat twiddling my thumbs!
Over the past few months we've been juggling a pretty big house extension plus two new additions to our family - a beautiful baby girl called Isabelle Rose and a pet dog called Cookie! Added to the work I've been doing to help progress our dojo up here in sunny Cumbria, it's been a little hectic to say the least!
However, things have started to settle down a little and so I should now be able to squeeze a little time here and there to get back blogging for my website.
Thanks to those who have kept in touch regarding the second instalment of my Naihanchi book series and my sincere apologies for letting the original planned release date slip. The good news is that I'm back in the saddle (so to speak) and just this week I managed to finish drafting another chapter. It is my aim to give this project priority over the next few months and once it's finally published I'm sure (or indeed I hope) you'll all consider it worth the wait! Nevertheless, your continued support is always very much appreciated :-)
OK - so now let's get down to the reason I sat down to blog today...
A few weeks ago I was teaching at a charity seminar hosted by St. Martin's Karate in Lancaster, UK. During that seminar, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Dave Hedges from Wild Geese Martial Arts & Fitness over in Dublin, Ireland. He was originally a member of the Lancaster dojo and came over especially to take part in their 40th Anniversary celebrations.
Dave has a wealth of knowledge and experience in different forms of martial arts, functional fitness and movement therapy. Plus, it was clear from our conversations that day that we had much in common in terms of our personal views and approaches. Needless to say, we instantly hit it off and as a result, we'll be keeping in touch for sure!
After my session, he very kindly took a copy of Vol.1 of my Seed of Shuri Karate book and upon his return to Dublin a few days later, sent me the following review.
I'd like to thank Dave for his kind and positive words about my book. In turn, I'm hoping to feature some written work by him in the near future on my Guest Author section of the website, so stay tuned for updates as I'm sure you'll enjoy!
"It's been 27 years since I first took up martial arts training. At the age of 11 I stepped into St. Martins Junior Karate club and was introduced to the world of Wado Ryu karate. From that day till now, I've never looked back.
Over the years I've earned and accumulated a 1st Dan black belt in Wado Ryu, a 2nd Degree black belt in American Kenpo, teaching certs in Filipino Martial Arts, a couple of coloured belts from other Karate styles, Goshin Jitsu and Aikido and load of experience in styles that don't bother with belts.
I've also spent numerous years working in the security field, mostly getting paid to hang around nightclubs being bored, but on occasion getting the opportunity do a bit of extra training.
I'm now a partner in a full time martial arts & fitness studio in Dublin City Centre.
So when I meet a martial arts teacher, watch a martial arts video or read a martial arts book. I've a fair bit of experience and authority to call upon with which to form an opinion. And I'm not easily impressed.
Recently I met Chris Denwood.
After 2 hours of listening to him present his personal interpretation of Karate, I didn't hesitate to buy his book, Naihanchi Kata – The Seed of Shuri Karate, Volume 1.
Here's a short video taken in the dojo a little while ago, where we spent some time looking developing the ability to strike effectively at multiple angles using the same hand, utilising some of the lessons on body dynamics taken from Naihanchi Kata.
For the sake of the drill, I chose four key trajectories to work with (up, hook, reverse hook and down) and we looked at how best to join them together with smooth transitions from the core, whilst still aiming to create 'shock' at the end of each blow as if they were single fully committed shots.
For traditional karate practitioners, striking hard and with full intent to switch of the threat to facilitate safe escape safety should make-up our primary strategy for physical self-defence. It is simply the most clinical way of ending a confrontation. Other skills gained through the holistic study of kata bunkai (such as limb control, clinch work, joint attacks, throwing, choking etc.) may then act as secondary support options, to be applied when things don't go to plan, and aiming to return us back to a position of dominance whereby we may continue on with our primary striking options. Therefore, neglecting the development of effective strikes during your dojo training is from a pragmatic perspective, a recipe for disaster.
Hi everyone! It's been a couple of months since I added a blog post to the site (been working hard on my house extension), so I thought it was about time I rectified that.
I was up at 4am (yes, 4am!!) this morning, as our new dog figured that this would be an appropriate time to start barking. Nevertheless, not one to pass up an opportunity, my morning practice turned out to be very enjoyable. Indeed, there's something very 'pure' about practising karate early morning. And with the sun just beginning to rise outside, I took a quick picture of my 'friend'. At this point, the dog was fast asleep beside a chi-ishi...typical :-)
The makiwara I have installed in my garden dojo and the implement that has been my training partner (and teacher) for many years has a couple of adaptations to help add some versatility to my daily practice.
After switching between a leather and straw pad for a while, I decided one day to simply utilise both. The leather pad is wearing in nicely, so now feels much better to work with and the wrapped straw rope underneath offers a contrasting striking surface. In total, I usually use three striking surfaces during my session: the leather, the straw and the wood itself. For me, switching between these materials between sets gives a much better level of overall conditioning. I also add to my makiwara training some floor-based pressure and alignment exercises, but I will look to write a blog post about these in the near future.
Generically speaking, I would suggest that traditional karate is based on the effective management of the transition between two body states - relaxation (softness) and contraction (hardness). Like In (Yin) and Yo (Yang), practitioners should aim for these two complementary opposites to be harmoniously integrated together, as what often may look very hard on the outside, is usually found to be supported by softness and suppleness on the inside.
Kata serve as an opportunity to develop the two essential qualities above and to build a greater sense of awareness for the transitional periods of space and time found between them. For it is these transitions that hold real potential.
It's been a while since I posted a video to my blog, so here's a 15 minute tutorial covering my Naihanchi Kata limb control drills!
Naihanchi (or Tekki) Kata is the core form for all Shuri-based karate styles, providing the essential framework for their functional combative strategies. My dojo syllabus has a number of limb control drills that come from the lessons given within the movements of Naihanchi Kata and the video below is a sample tutorial for one of these.
During the performance of kata, it can become quite easy to fall into the trap of producing specific shapes simply for the sake of aesthetics. With standardisation across styles, plus the pressure for kata to become visually eccentric and pleasing for competition or gradings, many students who follow a modern-day approach may be conditioned to aspire to form first and then wonder at a later date why the kata they follow do not directly transfer into the functionality they may require for practical application. But of course, kata was never originally developed to visually impress.
"A kata is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it is ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defence, which determines life and death." - Kenwa Mabuni
One of the main characteristics of traditional karate is the emphasis on simplistic and direct techniques that stay close to the body and are free from any excessive motion. This is of course desirable in self-defence and within these outwardly straight-forward movements there can be found numerous scientific principles and sophisticated body dynamics. Indeed, the functional strategies of traditional karate may be expressed through a comparatively small toolbox of body positions and motions, all of which are linked together via a common thread. However, one must always have in mind that it is this central thread that represents the true essence of the art, not necessary the plethora of individual techniques.
A key principle of motion that I'd like to write about here is that of 'circularity' and the difference between square and curved movement paths when executing tenshin, tsuki, uchi, uke and keri. One of the best ways to imagine this principle in action would be to think about how one would drive a car around a bend in the road ahead. If the bend happens to have a gentle curve then you'll easily be able to make small adjustments to the steering wheel with hardly any use of the brake. In contrast, if the bend happens to be sharp (such as a right angle or hair pin), then employing the brake would be more of a certainty and in some cases, the car may have to come to a complete halt before changing course in order to safely negotiate the manoeuvre.
So starting at 10pm on Friday 24th October, along with 23 of my students, our dojo performed 100 repetitions of Naihanchi Kata in unison with thousands of karate-ka from around the globe to help celebrate World Karate Day!
Not really sure about how demanding the 100 Kata Challenge would be, I expected one of two outcomes - it would either be surprisingly easy or surprisingly tough. In actual fact, it was probably somewhere in between. I used the first 25 repetitions or so to warm up, before bringing my attention inwards so that the event would become much more than just a physical endurance test. I also took time to suggest that my students do the same.
It was decided on October 25th 1936 (during historic 'Meeting of the Masters') that the Ryukyu traditions of Okinawa were to be officially named Karate 空手 (Empty Hand). In 2005, October 25th became recognised as ”Karate Day” to pray for the expansion of traditional Karate, world peace and happiness.
This year, a special event was conceived by James Pankiewicz, owner of The DOJO Bar in Naha and director of Challenge Okinawa! He "challenged" karate dojo of all styles to pick their favourite kata and perform it 100 times. The invite was extended to the world martial arts community who's styles hold true to the ethos of Traditional Okinawan Karate. I have personally known James for a few years now and I can tell you that he's a true gentleman, plus one of the most dedicated karate practitioners you'll ever have the pleasure to meet..
The term 'Muchimi' is used in traditional karate and refers to the 'heavy and sticky' feeling sought during the application of certain techniques and is one of a number of a key feelings developed during the practice of kata.
The word ‘Muchimi’ is actually derived from the old Okinawan dialect for rice cakes, which is 'Muchi' (Mochi in Japanese). So in karate, ‘Muchimi’ literally means to have a 'rice cake-like body'. If you've ever tried a Japanese rice cake then you'll know exactly what feeling this describes!
The combative application of muchimi can be very effective and traditionally, there are actually two methods of expressing this principle:
Like all other qualities found in karate, there are times to use muchimi and times where other principles are applied to create contrasting feelings For instance, there are situations where you may want to be heavy and sticky, but then there are other circumstances when you may want to be light and swift. It is really the experience to know not only how, but WHEN to express these qualities that makes them practical and functional.
Over the past few years within the health and fitness world, we have seen a boom in more functional and old-school methods that have in some ways, turned the whole industry on its head. No longer is it cool to lock yourself into a vertical chest press machine and crank up the pounds, but rather for those who are looking to gain more functional development for a particular sport or skill, then asymmetrical challenges, core blasters and dynamic full-body integration exercises are the order of the day.
As a traditional karate practitioner, seeing things develop in this way puts a huge smile on my face. What many people would consider as being cutting edge principles today is often nothing more than the re-birth of some of the most effective training tactics that were considered mainstream only a couple of lifetimes ago. In terms of karate, there are many connections between traditional supplementary training methods (hojo undo) and modern-day functional practices. Furthermore, in the spirit of constantly evolving the art, linking these to other influences from around the world can yield some fantastic benefits.
I'm currently re-reading the book, 'The Secrets of Okinawan Karate' by Kiyoshi Arakaki and whilst I must admit I'm not that particularly fond of the title, I feel that the content within certainly inspires readers to think outside the box. One particular part caught my eye this morning, causing me to pause, nod and smile...
"Everyone thinks shuto is a technique that uses the hand like a sword or knife. As the definition implies; therefore, the technique becomes deadlocked. The scope of the term itself is too limited to encompass the essence of traditional karate's shuto-uke. Historically, this move can push the opponent; strike to the opponent's upper or middle body; strike the opponent's attacking arm, or leg; hook; parry and guard. All these possibilities are intrinsic in one technique. Modern shuto-uke's usage is completely different from traditional shuro-uke, which employed each individual part of the arm, including the back of the hand, palm of the hand, and side of the hand, as well as the entire arm itself. It is the same story for sei-ken, which should imply strike, hit, stab or nukite."
There is much debate between bunkai researchers as to whether the techniques in kata were designed for one particular application in mind, or whether the movements are more generic to offer options against a variety of scenarios. With the lack of historical information available, we may never know for sure. However, regardless of the opinion you personally subscribe to, it nevertheless pays dividends to look at the movements of karate with an open mind, so that your study does not become as Arakaki Sensei so eloquently described, 'deadlocked'.
Yesterday, I had a great deal of fun (well, my kind of fun) trying out a multiple Tabata style workout with the use of my Bulgarian Bag and a good old-fashioned skipping rope. Not a difficult or highly complex workout, but it certainly got the heart, lungs and muscles fired up! Sometimes, simple is best, so I thought I'd share it here :-)
Part of the second volume of my book series on Naihanchi Kata will feature the combative analysis of the form as a progressive and sequential learning tool for building a fundamental strategy for self-defence. Here's a brief snippet from the current draft, which will give you a flavour of some of the subjects covered...
"Being able to demonstrate three or more combative applications for each movement of Naihanchi Kata may seem on the surface to be an impressive feat and a worthwhile endeavour. However, I have always felt that unless these discrete applications can be incorporated into a fully integrated strategy that helps to express the interconnected lessons and principles given by the form, then in terms of bunkai, you are merely scratching away consistently at the most superficial layer. I would like to suggest that there is not only a pragmatic reason for the movements themselves, but also a pragmatic reason for the particular sequence prescribed by the kata and it is this sequence, not so much the isolated movements, that holds the real potential, reveals the bigger picture and thus, is worthy of much deeper exploration."
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.