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...
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.
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 :-)
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.
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.
On my most recent visit to Okinawa in March 2014, I was very privileged to have had the opportunity to spend some time with Katsuhiko Shinzato Sensei, both privately and with members in class at his home dojo in Yonabaru.
In short, I can say that the teachings he shared with me over the course of what was only a couple of weeks, have made a lasting impression on my karate, plus the kindness shown by Sensei and his students has made a equally lasting impression on my character, for which I am truly grateful.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Shinzato Sensei back in April 2010, when I gave an intriguing seminar for karate-ka from around the world at the Budokan in Naha. As soon as I witnessed him move, I knew straight away that he had something very special to share.
The footage of Shinzato Sensei on YouTube is amazing but believe me, to witness this man in real life is something else entirely! Many people do not understand what he is trying to impart, but I can't help but feel that through what now must be over half a century of comprehensive and exacting research, he has unlocked something very old in karate and his sophisticated methods of movement breathes a unique sense of vigour back into the art.
Check out the following video of Shinzato Sensei's approach to Naihanchi Kata...
Last weekend, I was invited to teach a seminar down south in Reading UK. We covered lots of subjects over the course of the day, but here's a few minutes of video footage from the event, where I'm providing some advice on close-range power generation and specifically, the use of 'whipping' energy in Tetsui-Uchi that's often seen to be a trademark of Shuri-based karate systems.
In the video, I discuss and demonstrate the requirement to sequence the joints so that energy may perpetuate from the floor, up through the body and out of the striking limb. I also emphasise the need to utilise gravity by being in control over your state of balance. All of these principles can be found in most (if not all) traditional karate techniques.
Now that I've finally fixed the audio problem on my computer here in the office, I've been busy reviewing the video footage taken at my applied karate seminar in Malta in December last year. My intention is to share with you all a selection of short tutorials from the weekend to offer a flavour for some of the topics covered.
The first day of my seminar in Malta focused almost entirely on the four 'uke' (age/soto/uchi/gedan) movements and their subsequent appearance in a number of kata across the styles. The video below shows one of the drills I covered to help participants understand the numerous ways in which the technique of Gedan Barai (lower sweep) may be applied combatively.
I'm very excited to announce that after the long wait and its very successful launch last weekend at The Martial Arts Expo in Coventry, my new book entitled, 'Naihanchi (Tekki) Kata: The Seed of Shuri Karate Vol. 1' is now available to purchase via the online store or my new dedicated website www.naihanchi-kata.com!
This is the first volume of a three part publication that looks at Naihanchi Kata in accordance with five distinct layers of analysis, presenting my own approach to the study of this fascinating form, which along with Sanchin Kata from the Naha-te lineage, represents the very bedrock of traditional karate.
Click HERE for more information, to read a free preview and to order your copy today!
I was teaching a self-defence workshop the other day and the subject came up about the traditional concept of 'sen' (initiative) and how this can apply to modern day combatives.
Karate often suffers a bad name for being outdated and unrealistic. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth and when you look closer at the art's core principles, you will see material that is just as relevant now than it was years ago
It's not about 'what' you train, but about 'how' you train - Therefore, karate can only ever be as realistic as the mind of the person expressing it!
The Japanese style of Wado Ryu for instance emphasises the concept of 'sen' (initiative), as left by the founder, Hironori Ohtsuka, who was a highly distinguished master in both karate and ju-jutsu.
Well...I did promise all my mailing list members, Facebook fans and Twitter followers a gift for all your kind support and feedback - so here you go :-)
Below is a new video on my YouTube channel that was filmed earlier this week that takes an exclusive look inside my closed dojo during a focussed tutorial on body dynamics in traditional karate for effective close-range striking.
Subjects covered were: transference of bodyweight, dropping the knee, sequential delay, creating internal distance and relaxation for the heavy application of force. All of these principles can be found within the kata and are ingrained in pretty much every style of traditional karate.
Many martial arts use music as a basis for their application of movement and technique. Look at the traditional fights of Muay Thai or the fascinating Brazilian art of Capoera for some fine examples of this.
Music, or more specifically the rhythm and timing associated with it has strong connections with all martial arts, including karate. Whether you twang a string on a guitar, whack a snare drum, blow down the end of a trumpet, hit the keys on a piano or indeed strike the opponent - it's all based on the universal application of rhythm and timing.
All beautiful music is made up of 12 fundamental notes. However it is not the notes themselves that makes each song unique, but the strategic placement of gaps, transitions and varying emphasis. Notes without gaps is simply noise!
A number of people have asked me questions lately relating to why traditional karate practitioners spend time conditioning their forearms. It is commonly suggested that this is to facilitate more effective blocks, but considering the fact that in close range self-defence the concept of blocking in any form is seriously flawed (due to the lack of ability to react in time), there is in fact a much more pragmatic reason as to why forearm conditioning is so vital.
First of all, the forearms make up a primary weapon in karate. It is extensively used in Naihanchi Kata and if you think about the fundamental techniques practiced in the first few months of training then you will see that the vast majority use the forearms as a point of contact to issue force. In fact, the four basic receiving techniques of (1) age-uke, (2) soto-uke, (3) uchi-uke and (4) gedan-barai together prescribe the principle gross motor movements with the upper limbs: up, down, inside and outside. The only movements not covered are thrusting out from and in towards the body, but I'm sure you'll agree that tsuki covers that pretty well!
This week in my closed dojo, we spent some time looking at the main structural components of Naihanchi Kata, investigating why its analysis and application is somewhat different to that of the other forms and how its specific teachings can be integrated into the rest of the art.
I recently wrote some words detailing my understanding and opinions regarding these structural components, which will eventually become one of the main chapters in my upcoming book. So as a bit of a 'taster', I thought I would share a concise summary those words here for my blog readers that will also provide some supplementary information for my own students. Needless to say - the original chapter goes into far more depth!
Many people overlook the huge importance of water. An adequate supply is vital for our body and mind to undertake day to day activities and we need to make sure that we drink enough of the stuff in order to function at our peak levels.
If you think about it for a moment, our need for water really comes second only to the air that we breathe. We are comprised of around 70% water and it is required for almost every bodily function including digestion, nutrient absorption, circulation, removing toxins and regulating temperature.
So it stands to reason that if you're undertaking any form of regular physical exercise then the need for water becomes far greater.
In the dojo on Tuesday we had a discussion about performing kata with the correct attitude and the difference in 'faking it' or really 'meaning it'. The consensus was that the attitude with which you perform kata is what makes it uniquely your own and without it, the kata is devoid of any life - it is simply a bunch of movements.
Attitude is a big thing. It can shape what we do, what we become and how others see us.
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.