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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-)
It's been a little while since I added to my blog and now that I'm finally starting to get back on track after returning from my last trip to Okinawa, I'll be looking add some more posts over the coming months to help correct this.
As most who follow my work will know, I like think of traditional karate as being the integration of three main components, which in contrast, differs significantly from the more modern-day 3K (kihon, kata, kumite) approach. These components are Kata (physical form), Ohyo (functional application) and Hojo Undo (supplementary training). Acting like a like a jigsaw puzzle, all three pieces must be present before the ‘whole picture’ can be seen and each component must be able to connect to the others in accordance with the main context and objectives of the art.
To help bring in the Chinese New Year, I thought I'd share with you all a great workout that I like to perform on occasion, which features some high intensity 'Tabata' style intervals. The whole thing only takes around 20 minutes, so its quick, efficient, but very intense...You'll be working like a horse! :-)
A 'Tabata' interval uses an extremely effective 2:1 work/rest ratio, where you exert hard for 20 seconds and then take 10 seconds rest. This is repeated a total of 8 times, making each interval last around 4 minutes.
I love to train. There's rarely a day goes by that I'm away from the dojo and often the best part of training as a martial artist is the huge variance of methods you can apply. This can also be a downfall though if you do not manage your training effectively, since it can become quite difficult to 'fit it all in' over the course of each week.
Martial artists need to develop in many areas such as strength and power, endurance, flexibility, speed, balance core dynamics, structural stability, fast adaptation to change, sensitivity, mobility, conditioning, technique, mental clarity and focus. We're fortunate that some methods of training can tick multiple boxes for us, but you need to be constantly watchful in case what one day you call a 'supplementary' method starts to take over your whole schedule.
I began weight training many years ago and I really love the challenge. A number of years ago now I took the decision to become a qualified fitness instructor in order to ensure that I could confidently train and advise others in the correct way.
My day started early at 5.30am with some joint mobility, yoga and light stretching. I usually also practice hitting the makiwara in the morning, but I have a knuckle that's still recovering from a tough session a few days ago. Even though it's pretty uncommon now that I fail to pitch the severity of my training correctly, I always make sure that my hands are recovered and free from cuts before striking again - otherwise its counter-productive.
I always enjoy joint mobility training in the morning. It really helps to keep your body healthy and awakens the mind for the day ahead. A focus on joint mobility is rarely emphasised in much of modern day training, but I consider it to be a integral part of my daily regime and essential to the long-term goals of karate.
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.