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..
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.