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.
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.