JKA SPRING COURSE 2009
On the weekend of the 2nd & 3rd May 2009, Emma and I travelled to the Guildford Spectrum (UK) to attend the JKA England annual Spring Course 2009 with guest Instructors:
Yoshiharu Osaka 8th Dan
Kazuhiro Sawada 7th Dan
Yasunori Ogura 7th Dan
Yoshinobu Ohta 6th Dan
Breaking with my traditional trend of leaving the house way too early, Emma and I left the house at 6am to make the journey to Guildford. It was to be a beautiful day, and at 6am, the sun was out and beautifully illuminating the quiet motorway ahead of me. Emma, also determined to break her own trend - of falling asleep within ten minutes of getting in the car - more-or-less pulled out the matchsticks to keep her eyes open. I was determined to have company for this journey on this beautiful day, so on the first sign of snoring or possible drooling, I gave her a firm but altogether painless shove.
It was a lovely journey, completed in good time with the sun highlighting every colour of the countryside and animals grazing the fields. I am fond of the drive to Guildford – something I am sure I will regret saying as I am sure I will have jinxed myself for future trips to Guildford. There’s something about the pace, it’s very beautiful and easy to get about and we always have fun when we are there.
Once all paid up for the weekend, and dressed in my freshly ironed gi, we went into the main hall where the instructors resided; warming up. STAR STRUCK – I am such a complete karate nerd. I don’t hide it, I am not ashamed of it - I am an unabashed, unembarrassed and completely goofy karate nerd. Having never before trained with any of these instructors, I was like a kid at a sweet shop.
The turn-out for the seminar was, to say the least, very popular. After the kneeling bow and introduction of the instructors, the room was halved so that there was a space running down the centre of the hall where the instructor would teach. It reminded me somewhat of Moses and the parting of the seas, and this layout helped us all get a look at the instructors.
To my delight, the first session of the day was to be taken by Sensei Osaka.
Now...I, like most of the karate world I have no doubt, have Master Nakayama’s Best Karate books. They are the definitive books on JKA Kata and are as relevant and essential today as they were when they were produced. Those of you who have read them, and/or continue to reference them will know that Sensei Osaka is very much on central stage in many of them. The reason for this is not unclear. He is quite simply ‘Liquid In Motion’, and is an ideal example of perfect shotokan form. His movement is crisp, smooth and utterly efficient.
The first session for those of us training however was not too graceful. We started off, in Shizentai, punching Sanbon-zuki. Arrogantly I thought, “Ah, a chilled intro into the seminar”. Oh how wrong I was.
Imagine the full length of a very large hall (Anyone that has been to the Guildford Spectrum will be able to imagine the size) and how many people can stand next to one another in a line. Quite a few would be an understatement, approximately 30 people. Each person along the front line had to count out ten counts to which we would do Sanbon-zuki. Forgive my maths and any miscalculations here, but that would account for in or around the margin of 900 punches. Then we did Mae-geri, two off the same leg, and again, each person along the front lines counted to ten. Therefore meaning we did in or around 600 Mae-geri. I was knackered and the day hadn’t even begun.
I loved Sensei Osaka’s teaching style, he was so interested in the development of the students and was always trying to point out how people should be improving. One funny example was that two rows ahead of me, there was a young girl who, when punching, was shaking her head with the movement. He demonstrated that the head must remain straight and unmoving, but through habit I would guess, it was difficult for her to quickly change. Therefore he went to her, as she was punching, and gently held her hair to let her feel what she was doing. He would demonstrate what needed improving by giving you two demonstrations. Firstly he would show us all what we were doing wrong with his perfect impersonations. Then he would demonstrate the technique Osaka-Style. Everyone in the room had their eyes fixated on him, and his genius movement set the standard and we, throughout the weekend, sought to emulate it. It wouldn’t be fair to speak on behalf of anyone else, but I know I came up short.
We then did a very simple stepping exercise with emphasis on rotation of the hips and ensuring a smooth movement. He stressed that we must think about the relationship between the ankle, knee and hip as many of us had been neglecting their effective, harmonious use. He went into great detail, and was keen to ensure that people understood the points he was making. I think it is important to point out here how excellent the translator Ken Hori was in conveying the information being passed on from the instructors. He was, in my opinion, one of the essential reasons the weekend was so enjoyable and educational.
The room was then split, separating Dan grades from the other grades. For this second session of the Saturday, we trained with Sensei Sawada who taught Bassai Dai.
To start the class, he initially had us execute a series of blocking techniques: Uchi-uke, same hand Gedan-barai, same hand Uchi-uke, same hand slowly push forward Tate-shuto.
Sensei Sawada used this basic sequence as an introduction to many of the movements within the kata and to develop certain technical points that he thought necessary. He pointed out that power should come from the tanden, and take emphasis away from the shoulder or arm action, stressing the tanden-hand connection.
When we started the kata, he corrected the room on our pronunciation of the kata’s name. We were calling it ‘Bassaidai’ – but he wanted us to make a clear distinction between the two words, emphasis on ‘BASSAI’ – ‘DAI’.
The opening movement of this kata, he highlighted, demonstrates the power and spirit of the karateka. Win or Lose will be determined by the ferociousness of the opening technique, and as we all wound-up, we stormed forward to crash down the invisible fortress door before us. He then said ‘You win’ and smiled. He explained that this kata has the mentality of turning disadvantage to advantage through many of the movements, and throughout his breakdown of the techniques in their classical form he showed us how you do this.
This session was thoroughly enjoyable and like Sensei Osaka, he was keen to ensure everyone understood what he wanted to achieve and the improvements required.
After the second session, the 3rd Dan Karateka and above were separated from the rest of the group and were taken to a more private setting. The room was all the more intimate, with far fewer numbers, so Emma and I were all the more excited.
This final session of the day was taken by Osaka Sensei, who taught Tekki Sandan.
I really like this kata, but it is a real puzzle and brain-hurter. When you perform it, you almost get the impression that you are playing along with someone’s great old joke that they haven’t let you in on, waving your arms around in hope that you are getting it right. Sensei Osaka however gave this kata a more fulfilling breakdown than I have ever before had.
We started the session by getting into Kiba-dachi and punching to forty-five degree angles. Through his perfect impersonations, he showed us that many of us were keeping the hips in place and punching from the shoulders. He wanted us, as explained by Sensei Osaka and excellently translated by Ken Hori, to not just turn the trunk to move the pointing position of the belly-button, but to in fact squeeze the inner thigh and inner groin together to make them touch, so as to turn the belly-button to face the correct direction. I guess the point he was making was that we were artificially getting the correct postures without the accurate feeling and inside use.
With his fantastic demonstrations, hilarious impersonations, great sense of humour and a more than willing smile, he encouraged us all to develop these points. With his guidance, I truly felt that I had captured a bit, a small bit albeit, of what he wanted to achieve.
He highlighted that many of us, as made habit through basic training, are being too rigid in holding the shoulders too firmly down. Within this kata, this exaggerated clamping down did little more than hinder our movement. He explained that whilst he does not want the shoulders to be bouncing around, popping up and down uncontrollably, there must be a more relaxed use of them, particularly within this kata. A perfect example of this is during the circular movements within the kata where you step across and strike gedan, then circle the arm back and around and down. He said that this is a shoulder movement rather than an elbow movement so freedom and relaxation in the shoulder area is essential. In getting this point across, he demonstrated what I can only call a cartoon wind-up punch where cartoon character circles the arm from the elbow prior to punching. Instead he wanted the shoulder to be relaxed so the arm can circle as a whole unit.
The over-riding, and truly inspiring thing that I found about Osaka Sensei’s teaching style, was his keen insight into the anatomy and how the body must work. He explained how, biomechanically, the techniques must work and how they influence the degree of power produced.
At the very end of the session he shouted ‘eyes shut’. I saw absolute fear across the eyes of everyone, but with trepidation they slowly shut their eyes. He then made us practice the kata blind, and at the end of the kata when we opened our eyes many in the room were not still on their straight embusen line. He wanted us all to confirm our body’s movements and ensure it was working accurately and not being pulled off line by arm movements.
This had been a truly wonderful day of training…I was exhausted.
Following the training there was a friendly competition held between some of the attending countries. We only stayed for a short while, due to my need for food and drink, but it was great fun with great karate on display from all over.
Emma and I went back to our hotel, bathed and soaked our weary bodies. In the evening we met up with friends for food in Frankie and Benny’s. I think the exhaustion of the training; dehydration and lack of food throughout the day had taken its toll as when I had a glass of Magners Cider, it hit the spot straight away and I was tipsy immediately. All of my aches, pains suddenly became all but a distant memory…bliss.
The first session of the second day was taught by Sensei Sawada, who stated he was continuing with the theme of Osaka Sensei’s class from the previous day. We did the following sequence:
From kamae (left leg in front), slide in Gyaku-zuki
Slide away Kizami-zuki
Slide to the left (L), striking Uraken-uchi (R)
Slide to the right (R), striking Uraken-uchi (L)
He explained that he wanted smooth movement, with the feet moving as if only separated from the ground by a sheet of paper. The focus of this class was on rhythm and timing and how to embrace and break it.
We paired this sequence up initially so that when one partner moves in Gyaku-zuki, the other moves away Kizami-zuki and so on, so the rhythm built up. Then, in turns, one of us had to break the rhythm on the Gyaku-zuki by not moving back Kizami-zauki (so as to keep in rhythm) but to move forward a second time and punch Gyaku-zuki again.
This was built up with a variety of different sequences, again a verity of attacks, with defence moving to the side also (inside and outside the opponent), striking Uraken-uchi.
Now I don’t know whether to consider myself lucky or not, but where Emma and I were positioned in the hall, whilst we were practicing the exercises, I had Sensei Ogura to the left of us and Sensei Osaka to the right of us. Their eyes watched closely, and I must admit to feeling the pressure.
The second session of the day was taken by Sensei Osaka. Here he started the class by asking us to execute Mae-geri chudan, followed by Oi-zuki. Then, whilst stepping backward, we executed Age-uke followed by Gyaku-zuki.
The above was an introduction onto a lesson looking at the kata Jion.
As with the previous day’s Tekki Sandan, Sensei Osaka took an analytical, and biomechanical approach to studying the kata, with emphasis on developing smooth movements, with speed and fluency.
His keen eyes watched the class, and picked out the smallest of errors that have very drastic consequences to the over all delivery of the technique. He would get someone out from the class as an example of the error, then provide his famous impersonations to highlight where in the technique the problem was happening. Then he demonstrated the accurate way to deliver them.
An example was in the punch following the Mae-geri at the beginning of the kata. He highlighted, through body movement and through translation, that many in the class were rolling the punching arm’s shoulder up and forward. Instead he asked us to try and roll the shoulder downward and forward, thus to limit the over use of the shoulder but still engage it correctly.
Another example can be found within the turn from Zenkutsu-dachi into Kokutsu-dachi with the Manji-game-uke. He showed that the timing was out with some in the class as they were taking the right hand too far across in the preparation in the block. This meant that the left (gedan-barai) hand only had to travel a short distance, whereas the right (jodan-ude-uke) had a larger distance to travel, meaning true kime was not possible. He therefore wanted the class to co-ordinate the body more effectively to ensure a balanced delivery.
He also offered tips to encourage effective movement, including how and where to squeeze particular muscles to achieve accelerated movement and how to effectively use the upper body to also further help achieve this.
This class, like all the classes with Sensei Osaka were nothing short of outstanding. He was thoroughly enthusiastic, and a genius in motion. Every class was met with a real passion for developing the attendees, and I was just thrilled to be in the class to experience it.
The final session of the day, and the concluding session of the weekend for Emma and I was taken by Sensei Ogura.
Again, 3rd Dan and above were separated from the rest of the group and we were taken to a more intimate setting. The class was looking at effective use of the body, timing, and body shifting for defence and counter-attack.
I have seen footage of Sensei Ogura in action in the past. He is lightening speed and beautifully spirited, and this class was an ideal showcasing of his fascinating skill.
We started off by simply getting into Neko-ashi-dachi, and pushing forward Oi-zuki. We then pulled back into Neko-ashi-dachi delivering a slow Tate-shuto, followed again by the punch.
We then paired up. Sensei wanted one opponent to step Oi-zuki. The other partner stood in Shizentai and as the punch was about to land, was to pivot on the soles of the feet into a short Zenkutsu-dachi (Like on the Tate-shuto, Choku-zuki, Game-uraken-uchi sequence in Bassai Dai). The act of pivoting on the balls of the feet pulled the body off line enough for the punch to skim past the body.
Sensei wanted us to focus on leaving the movement until as late as possible. He did not want us to pivot the moment the opponent’s technique starts in motion. Rather, he wanted us to leave it until the very last moment. He also stressed the need to not just pivot on the feet, but to instead push the body down into the ground in a solid motion.
We then took the strong emphasis on using the hips and added a blocking technique and counter-attack. Sensei stressed that he wanted the hip motion to be the block and the arm itself to be merely a precaution and this, throughout the class, was the over-riding theme.
As they stepped in with their right hand Oi-zuki, Sensei Ogura simply wanted us to step straight back, blocking with the right hand Gedan-barai, followed by Gyaku-zuki. The same was practiced on the other side of the body.
This then developed into the opponent again stepping forward with the punch. This time however, the defender was to go from Zenkutsu-dachi, stepping backward and then thrusting back forward again. After developing this strong emphasis on the hip motion, we then added a Kizami-zuki with the shift back forward.
Sensei Ogura’s demonstrations were nothing short of superb. The speed and focus was impeccable and when he demonstrated the opponent’s attacking Oi-zuki no-one could move away from him fast enough. He was superb. But with all of this spirit and determination came a big smile and laugh at every opportunity. He enjoyed the laughter and generated a great atmosphere.
What a weekend! Emma and I had so much fun and learned so much. The instructors were superb, and whilst all having their own personality and charisma, all taught karate of the highest standard. Whilst my muscles were sore, and my neck was hurting (as a product of my wisdom tooth tearing its way through my gums, and not alcohol inflicted I might add) I was gutted that the weekend was over. Emma and I left feeling inspired and with big smiles. What more can you ask for?
(Many thanks to Kevin Webb of Red Pepper Images (www.redpepperimages.co.uk) for use of his photography and Dave Paulus for all of his help)