Advent Blog 2013

With the advent of "Christmas" now upon us, I'm putting together a 24 day countdown Blog.

Every day from the 1st to 24th December, I'll update each calendar window with a mini Blog type post covering various topics like Kata Competence, Kata Combat Self-Defence, Self-Protection, Fitness and much more.

I hope you enjoy the bitesize chunks of information and not only check back on a daily basis, but spread the word too.

After Christmas, the entries will be moved to the main site Blog area.

Happy Christmas!

1.  Introducing ABC RED. This is a mnemonic that represents the material for a new course I'm co-running. I've teamed up with Kate Manley, a qualified counselor and life coach. 

Self-Defence, Soul-Defence - A fast track to real assertiveness and confidence - combining self-defence skills with psychological know how.

The objective of the course is to provide you with skills and knowledge that can be immediately applied to your own physical and psychological well being. For the physical part, the ABC RED applies in the following way:

A is for Awareness: The foundation for effective defence of ourselves, our property, our loved ones and the property of our loved ones.

is for Breathe: Recognition that potential action is required is vital in order to stay safe. Due to psychological stress, conscious breathing can help.

C is Create Space: Once a threat is faced, creating space is key to escaping and avoiding further danger.

R is for Respond: A response should ideally be simple and informed like talking down and avoiding threat of further danger. However, a physical response may be necessary as a last resort.

E is for Escape: The ultimate goal, should the gravity of the situation reach this stage, is to effectively escape to a safe environment.

D is for Debrief: It's important and often helpful, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, that we retrospectively reflect on the events. Not just how it ended but how it started in the first instance. Often simply describing the course of events with friends and family can we learn but also keep it firmly in the past.

The course starts in 2014 and more details will be added to the news page.

Pinch, Punch, first day of the month :o)

2. Kata Competence: In the KSTSK Karate classes, we have all been working hard on our Kata Competence. In yesterday's senior grade sessions, the classes were split into two roughly equal groups - in number and grade. One group would perform a kata (full speed no count) whilst the other sit out and watch, once completed, they swap over. This alternation of roles continued for eight kata (All 5 Heians, Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai & Kanku Dai).

This protocol introduced a bit of pressure to kata performance, now each group has twice as much room and half the class are spectators, nobody checks to see if they're actually being watched, as they know they are. Everyone is focusing on matters in hand. For most, all of a sudden, not messing up becomes priority number one. Of course nobody did, there was the odd glitch here and there...but the pressure was not only accepted, it was used to fuel a greater performance like a turbo charge. Most glitches were as a result of pushing harder, stepping faster, tensing more, kicking higher, shouting louder and more...

Now and again, an extra bit of pressure applied to an already focused, introspective looking and hard working group draws out greater kata competence. Like a worked muscle, the discomfort of pressure forces growth and progression.

3. Favourite Kata: I enjoy reading in depth interviews of various Karateka, but still look forward to that seemingly simple question..."So which is your favourite Kata, and why?" In many cases, the response is never absolute, there's a small list and the favourite varies depending on mood, current training goals etc... It's the same for me. Currently I don't have one favourite Kata, I have a few. I like all Kata on my syllabus, but there are definitely a handful that stand out at the top of the list and of course, a couple that are at the bottom. For my last grading, I chose to study and perform Kata that were at the bottom. Although I consider myself disciplined, given the choice naturally I chose to practice the favourites more than the others. In order to have a new perspective on the tail enders, I incorporated them into a study based goal. So it was Jion, Tekki Nidan and Meikyo.

A few years later, all three are promoted higher up the list and now out of that bottom zone. These are my top few - currently, and in alphabetical order of course :o)

Bassai Dai, Enpi, Gankaku, Jion and Kanku Sho

4. Bunkai: Every Kata has a duality of theme: one for performing the Kata as a standalone form (Kata Competence), and the other for applying the techniques to combat (Kata Combat). This notion is outlined in my article in the downloads section of the website.

The following point is something that I want to expand upon: 
In some cases a collection of Kata share the same overall theme and are linked by the theme itself. The Heian/Pinan Kata series are all separate Kata in their own right and each require different levels of competence when performing them correctly. When grouped as a series of Kata, they show logical effective combative progression.

The theme to explore is not absolute, I choose my own competence themes based on how the Kata feels when performing it, and through analysis combative themes emerge. A theme can be anything that gives the training a functional goal to exploit, or a skill to isolate. 

Currently I'm training hard in the Kata Enpi. A theme I've chosen to focus on is the set of 5 different "Downward Blocks" and how those blocks can be used as both primary and secondary striking motions, clearances, levers for example. My entire study will be documented in eBook form supported with short video clips.

5. Training Drills: I'm part way through organising and documenting some training drills so that they can be stored on my phone. This will mean that they're easily accessible whenever I'm training. I have 4 categories so far; Kata Competence, Kata Combat, Bunkai & Combat Fitness. The idea is that each drill is simple and easily recognised. Although the drills are all well known to me, there are always some that I haven't used for a while. I can add an element of variety by randomly choosing a drill from a particular category to run through there and then.

This is one taken from the Kata Competence category and can be performed solo:

Perform three Kata of choice at full speed & power with minimal rest in between. 
Rest for 3 minutes, omit the one you felt was the best & perform the remaining two again with no rest in between. 
Rest for 1 minute, omit the best one, and perform the last one for the third & final time.

This drill relies on my introspective inspection of the Kata. The nominated kata to omit is based purely on how well I feel I performed that kata. Based on my best effort at the time. The drill of course can be scaled up and/or more variety added.

6. Training Drills Part 2: Continuing on from yesterday's post on training drills I wanted to write a reminder of how some of the benefits are derived from the drills themselves. I believe drills should have purpose or desired learning outcome(s). Even if the purpose of the drill is to simply 'get the right frame of mind' or 'get warmer and increase the heart rate'. These are valid examples of where a simple movement drill is a good tool to achieve the training outcome. If say the objective is to test the ability to deal with an unplanned attack (with verbal and physical aggression) and effectively escape, then maybe one drill will be need to be split into smaller sub-drills. Each drill tests some key combat competencies in a stepwise fashion as the drill is scaled up and culminates in one final pressure test and the desired outcome is reached; effective escape.

The key point is that it must be clear what the purpose of the drill is, as by the drills nature, assumptions are made. These assupmtions allow the drill to be effective, targeted, safety conscious and of course fun. A drill could be to simply 'fight' upon long as the protocol and objectives are clear to all involved in the training then that 'fighting' can be a great learning experience.

I remember attending a 'Karate' seminar a few years ago. There was such a gross misunderstanding of a drill protocol (on the student's part), as well as how drills should be designed and executed (on the instructor's part) that sadly one student was knocked unsconcious.

7. It was the Kata Combat Self-Defence open group class this morning, so I thought I would share a bit of what we got up to. The theme was to appreciate the chaotic nature of combat and remind ourselves that it will prevent us from landing every strike cleanly. When hitting the pads, the holder usually provides feedback by 'catching' the strike close to its end - as if catching a ball. It's a satisfying feeling when a fast and hard strike lands cleanly on the pads, especially when the target is moving. Today the pad holder intentionally yielded as some of strikes were thrown. The result was frustration for the striker as that satisfying 'thwack' was denied. This also meant that the striker was out of optimal position as they drive forward even closer to the pad holder. From this position we drilled the need for the striker to recover and gain back a dominant position from which to strike again. We looked at the striking arm being used to actively control the pad holder, who by now focuses on fighting back with their own strikes. Once a dominant position is reached, the pad holder reverts back to receiver and feeds and yields the pads and the process starts again. 

We finished on a familiar drill which involved various repetitive strikes from differing positions, and it was down to the pad holder to receive and yield at will to cause chaos and frustration. We then focused on a failed front hook/slap where the strike misses and completes a full arc with the arm chambered right across the front of the body. Harnessing this position, we immediately opposed the hooking motion and threw a forearm/bottom fist strike back at the target.

A great session!

8. KSTSK Workshops: Next week is the final KSTSK Kyu grading examinations for this year. Those that are attempting their next grade have all been working very hard in the club training sessions as well as outside the dojo. The recent classes I've delivered over the past few weeks have been high paced guided syllabus based sessions. This week I've chosen to run what I call workshops. 

These sessions on the surface, are more informal than the usual classes. The idea is that everyone chooses the particular material from their syllabus to work on. Either working on their own or in pairs, everyone uses the time to run through the requirements at their own pace. Usually the adults nominate a section of the syllabus that requires more confidence in order to bring it up in standard. Others choose to work on some feedback that I've given in previous sessions with the goal of making the corrections stick by the end of the session. Those running through set sparring focus on repetition of the set defences and attacks whilst iteratively building speed, power and intensity. The same stepwise approach is applied to Kata practice. Today, one student was working intensely on the end section of Heian Godan, where the stance changes are sharp and distinct. After a few slow and deliberate performances of that particular section, the whole kata was drilled several times. Then other Kata were drilled, and in between each of those was another run through of Heain Godan. The junior brown belts worked in a small group, and started working through each section of their grading requirements directly from their syllabus document.

During all of this, I spend several minutes with each person/group in a circuit like fashion providing guidance, coaching and clarifying points of uncertainty. Doing this workshop style session every few weeks, we find, not only adds variety but also empowers everyone to take responsibility for their weaker areas of the grading requirements. For the juniors, it is a great way to raise confidence and remind themselves just how much they already know too. 

All the best to everyone next week!

9. Xmas Party: On Saturday was the KSTSK Xmas Party. Over the last few years we've made it a social event that has both formal and informal elements to the evening. We have a full three course dinner followed by some short presentations over tea and coffee, before the DJ takes over.

The majority of the presentations are for the successful Dan grading candidates. This year we presented diplomas to four new Nidan and eight new Shodan Karateka. It is always great to see all the hard work and effort rewarded at the grading itself and making the presentation of the diploma in front of friends and family, makes it even more special. 

All gradings are a big deal, but none more so than that coveted black belt. For many at the time it's regarded as the pinnacle of the martial art and of course requires a lot of hard work and effort to be ready to attempt such a grade. Often, the extra training, study, dedication, focus and preparation, becomes a project and needs to be carefully planned in amongst all of life's other responsibilities. Once the big day arrives and the hard work pays off, the high of reaching the goal lasts a few weeks as we celebrate. In many cases, after the bruises have healed and training resumes in anger, there is that 'flat' feeling as there is no immediate goal to chase anymore. This is normaI - it's important to therefore to build on the success and set further targets. I remember very well when I graded to Shodan, Nidan was too long term a goal to immediately start the journey unaided. So smaller, more manageable training goals were useful.

With instructor guidance, immediately working on the feedback for improvements and gaining exposure to the next syllabus requirements are some stepping stones. Some explore teaching opportunities as a way of giving back whilst also improving. Sometimes recognising that we are more visible all of sudden and have standards to uphold gives us a new direction and focus - after all, the interval between grading examinations becomes progressively longer.

10. Awareness: I had a great conversation with a friend today about Self-Protection awareness. She had attended the rugby match at Twickenham last weekend and had a great time. After the match, she decided to join those watching the Wales match on the big screen outside the stadium. Her friend had left for home so she was essentially alone. The majority of the crowd were boozy men all out to have a good time. There was no trouble or violence, just a bit of pushing and shoving as the match reached exciting levels. Although not in any immediate danger, she recognised that there was (at a push) a potential to get knocked over. Without panicking, she decided that she would find a relatively safe spot to stand and basically keep a look out and see what she could spot - as a real exercise in awareness. She stood with her back to some temporary sidings just a few steps away from the main walk way. Here she had a good view of the main crowd as well as those that were coming and going. Grounding herself and remaining calm, she decided to scan her immediate surroundings whilst also breathing purposefully. She must have stayed for about 30 minutes taking it all in, before heading off to the train station well ahead of the crowd. 

It was a great learning experience for her. She felt in control the whole time and assures me that she never really felt in danger, nor did she purposely try and attract attention, but simply wanted to flex her awareness muscle.

11. 1-7-8-1-6-4-6: This seven digit sequence has stuck in my memory for years now. I use it to teach the timing of a particular Shotokan Kata; each digit represents the number of consecutive techniques to execute. The hyphen denotes the deliberate pause that separates those groups of movements. This Kata has only two kicks, two stances and the vast majority of the arm movements are executed whilst in a stationary stance. The lack of stepping and static nature of stance, requires that power is generated from the from the ground up. When viewed from the side, the hand movements slot into one of four ranges:

Full arm's length in front e.g. straight punch
Half arm's length in front e.g. hook punch
Directly alongside the body e.g. lower level block
Half arm's length behind e.g. back fist strike preparation

I'm sure you have guessed it by now, but the last give away is that this Kata floor plan (embusen) is a straight line spanning right to left to right again.

All together now...Tekki Sandan! ;o)

12. Functional Stretching: Whenever I train I incorporate stretching into the routine. Whether it be Kata Combat or Kata Competence, there is always a process for getting warm, limbering up and stretching the muscles. Looking at some of the activities that apply to me, my stretching varies depending on the purpose. I could be teaching Karate & Self-Defence, running, pad based impact rounds, Kata Competence, Kata Combat and weight training. The main purpose of the stretching is to enable fuller ranges of motion and prevent injury. However, my stretching routine will not always be the same for each activity. Even within the activity itself, the stretching regimen will vary. Stiff over worked and tired muscles - and injury of course, from one session will affect the training and stretching in another. 

I find now that I target problem areas that require isolation and/or mobilisation by actively targeting them whenever I can. This means I incorporate the exercises into everyday activities. If I have to be sitting down at a desk for the day, I will make a conscious effort to walk around for a few minutes every so often. If I'm on the phone, I'll stretch and keep mobile whilst sitting down. I use the stairs at home to stretch out my legs as if doing a side kick for example. Using opportune moments throughout the day, rather than waiting for the official training day. Whilst the kettle is boiling, watching TV sitting on the floor in a stretched position for example.

Whilst writing this, I'm rolling my shoulders every so often and stretching my neck muscles too.

13. End of year quiz: As the year draws to a close, on the last session before the xmas break we always have a belt presentation followed by some fun games/drills. We usually then celebrate together over a meal and drinks at a local restaurant. I've recently included a quick quiz for all to ponder over. Here's a question I included a couple of years ago. Jion, Jitte, Jiin and Enpi are the four candidate kata on our Shodan syllabus, one of which is selected as the favourite.

Name a technique (extra points if a block is chosen) that is common in both of the following pairs of kata. The first one is done for you. You cannot use the same technique in more than one answer:

Jion & Jitte - Age Uke 
Jitte & Jiin
Jion & Jiin
Jion & Enpi
Jitte & Enpi
Jiin & Enpi

A solution will be included in a future blog post!

14. Quiz Question: Here are a couple of possible solutions to yesterday's quiz question. Solution 1 nominates blocks in all but one of the kata pairs. Solution 2 only includes blocks.

Are there any other solutions?

Solution 1

Jion & Jitte - Age Uke 
Jitte & Jiin - Manji Uke
Jion & Jiin - Kosa Uke
Jion & Enpi - Kage Zuki
Jitte & Enpi - Kake Tekubi Uke
Jiin & Enpi - Gedan Barai
Solution 2

Jion & Jitte - Age Uke 
Jitte & Jiin - Manji UKe
Jion & Jiin - Kakewake Uke
Jion & Enpi - Gedan Barai
Jitte & Enpi - Kake Tekubi Uke
Jiin & Enpi - Tate Shuto Uke

Whilst on the subject, please refer to my short article entitled "A Kata Evolution" on the relationships between Jion and Jiin, available as free download here

15. A Little bit late with this post - but I've been too busy enjoying myself at the KSTSK club fun sessions. On Sunday, it was the last session for the year at both Stevenage and Hatfield clubs. I always look forward to these sessions as they mainly consist of fun based games for the first classes. Chocolate treats for all are given out like sweets! I even get to wear my Santa hat. Before all the games begin, it's nice to recognise the previous days grading achievements and present all those with their new belts. For the senior clasess, it's a nice time to cover some material not directly on the grading syllabus. At Hatfield, we all went for a lovely Thai meal after class. I'm looking forward to joining the Henlow club on their after class dinner as well as the Welwyn Garden City class on Wednesday!

16. Here is another training drill from my little repository I keep in my phone. The category this time is Combat Fitness. In this context, fitness is tested through pad based impact combinations. Core punching (whilst wearing bag gloves) and kicking techniques are taken from Karate and adapted to the more upright free flowing posture where maximum impact is key. These are the type of drills that we commonly cover in the Quad Core sessions - link here 

Good technique is vital to facilitate a smooth transition between movements. Each technique must flow without give away, and energy must be focused on the effective application and not lost through inefficient movements. Some combinations feature techniques in such an order that these transitions become particularly tricky to execute without wasting energy - which becomes the challenge. This particular one requires good footwork (not just in kicking) to ensure high impact is maintained, whilst continuously driving forward.

Jab | step up with rear leg to lead roundhouse kick | Jab | Cross | Rear roundhouse kick | Cross

Keeping as upright as possible on the kicks is key to effective transitions and of course, ensuring that the kicks are both driven and grounded from the supporting leg.

17. Whilst discussing with a colleague the many attributes to kata, we started to talk about the order of the techniques and motions that are laid out in the kata itself. We discussed the notion that the kata techniques are ordered in such that the corresponding combative principles and bunkai progressively increase too. Although in agreement, I believe that by having a more flexible approach to kata bunkai can we derive more benefit from the kata itself. I explained that the order of the motions may well be mapped out in this way, but also in a way that preserves attributes like symmetry and repetition. Progressive combative principles contained within the kata are ordered in such a way that allows those motions to be trained in its solo form too. When those principles are exercised through drills, motions from various sections of the kata can be employed as if looking them up and selecting from a repository.

Bassai Dai for example, starts with a forward driving forearm block and ends with a sequence of knife hand blocks. This motion can be used as a supporting motion when applying others found elsewhere in the kata. It does not necessarily address the most basic of combative Bassai Dai principle. Full details on this particular sections can be seen in this FREE Sequence 1 from the Bassai Dai/Passai eBook here

Enpi/Wanshu for example, starts with a downward block whilst dropping to one knee and finishes with a jump. From a competence perspective, these opening and closing motions provide a frame to encompass all the other rising and falling motions within. From a combative perspective, the drop to one knee can be used again to support the various other applications of downward block in this framed section.

18. Another topic that came up in our discussions was what I refer to as integration. Here is an excerpt from my Bunkai Training Drills Part 1 on the topic of primary striking. Also is a YouTube clip where I demonstrate how motions in the kata Enpi can be used to support failed primary strikes once integrated into the drills:

The Kata techniques that we integrate into our existing offensive fighting motions should be motions that make up our main offensive artillery, like punching and striking.  Common gross fighting techniques consist of fore fist type punches, open hand and club like strikes.  These form the primary level attacks in our arsenal. Although these specific techniques are all found within Kata it’s important to note that they are not always explicitly emphasised as their applicability and suitability is assumed elsewhere is the Kata. We should acknowledge that in order to approach Kata Combat training seriously, we should be practicing our self-defence skills (physical) within our self-protection (nonphysical) skills in the form of pre-emptive and in-fight strikes.  We should choose to drill a small number of core strikes a large number of times to ensure quality and reliability in our offensive artillery.  We should also be practicing offensive repetition of our core fighting techniques with forward drive to instill the mindset that our opponent can, and will remain a danger to us until sufficient pressure is applied to enable an escape.  It is at this stage that our  secondary level motions are utilised.  Usually our secondary level motions are dictated by and are made in response to the outcomes of our primary strikes 
and are therefore executed out of necessity rather than choice.  

19. I've deliberately delayed the posting of today's entry as I took part in a charity fun run at lunchtime. The charity is Winston's Wish - the leading charity for bereaved children in the UK. In today's event we raised close to £500 from donations alone - which I think is brilliant! 

There were 5K, 10K and 10 mile routes available that spanned the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside along bridle paths, muddy river paths, a few suburban roads and the local golf course. The scenery was stunning as it was a very clear and crisp day. I opted for the 10K route but managed to get lost, only to pick up the 10 mile route! I made it back in time for a hot bowl of soup and buffet and straight back into meetings - a power lunch!

I spent most of the initial route running on my own - that's my excuse for getting lost! As is usual with runs like this, I found my thoughts drifting off - nothing to do with running pace or technique, but onto my Karate training. I was able to think crystal clear thoughts on bunkai, drills, technique, blog posts etc... Then I realised I was lost.

Now all I can think about is how much my legs are going to ache tomorrow - bring it on ;o)

20. Today in a Kata Combat session, I was working through a revision of what we have been covered so far. It wasn't supposed to be a test, but rather just a recap of some of the key principles we had been focusing on in our drills. The idea was that the striker assumes that there is a need to continue hitting the focus pad with primary strikes until a secondary motion is required through my reaction. I purposely didn't explain what I would do as the reaction. Once I received multiple strikes on the pad, I covered it with my free arm, the striker cleared the arm out of the way and continued the striking onslaught. Then for example I would step away or drive forward and cover to then grab and fight back. My reactions were not prescribed and were chosen to make it difficult for the striker and create mayhem. 

Under the pressure, there some key competencies in footwork and body mechanics that were just not being executed fully - the pressure had taken over. So I decided to isolate some of the skills that were required through sub drills where the variability was significantly lessened. We then reverted back to our previous drill, where I made a conscious effort not to provide the reactions in the same way as I did before. The results were so much better; the mayhem didn't result in the striker being overpowered, they stayed in control and was able to effectively escape.

A great session!

21. Here are some (of many) key Kata Competence points of interest I strive for during my own training. They relate to the performance of the solo versions of the Shotokan Heian Kata as I practice them. I appreciate that there are other practiced versions and have a good understanding of where and how they differ. The points below are from my kata perspective:

Heian Shodan: Keeping the hips down whilst executing the three upper blocks will ensure a consistent stepping pattern throughout the kata. The tendency is to allow the hips to rise and the blocking arms rise.

Heian Nidan: This is the kata that includes a kick for the first time. The side snap kick will be optimised if the supporting leg is fully loaded in a bent position during the preparatory motion.

Heian Sandan: Movements 7-10 feature three consecutive and separate stances. Each stances must be fully finished before moving onto the next. This also features slow movements for the first time. They must be executed such that they look like a fast movement that has is viewed in 'slow motion' as if the whole body is contributing to the technique.

Heian Yondan: This kata requires lots of twisting and turning of body as well as 6 kicks. The twisting motions must be strong and fast by driving from the ground upwards. Every kick is enabled and strengthened though the positioning and drive of the supporting leg respectively.

Heian Godan: Being a very diverse and busy kata, there are many points on which to focus. The last section after the jump requires that each and every stance be it front, back and standing are fully completed with such emphasis that the corresponding arm movements are also strong and sharp.

I hope these are useful in your Heian Kata practice.
22. Today was officially my last taught session of the year. It's been another busy year and it's nice to close the clubs for a couple of weeks to get a rest from the routine. I'm still training over the holidays and am particularly looking forward to getting back in the gym after a few sessions away - will be going tomorrow. I'll be joining Peter Khera in what we call 'Body Blitz'. A weight based gym session covering practically every muscle in the body - it takes a while to get through it all so I'm sure it's going to be brutal! I always look forward to a little light run and pad work in the local park on New Year's Day too. I've only just recovered from the run I did last Thursday - the only niggle I have in a sore left foot. Hopefully this won't interfere with my squats tomorrow.

23. I'm just about to head off for my gym session. I haven't been for a couple of weeks now, so will be taking it light on all exercises - then I'll get back to lifting my maximum for strength training in the following sessions. Here is a very rough break down of the exercises I tend to do when I've missed a few sessions:

Barbell Squats, Bench/DB Press, Clean and Press, Chin/Pull Ups & Dips.

I usually do 3 main sets after a very light warm up set. The reps are kept fairly low and the emphasis is on engaging as many muscle groups as possible for each exercise.

I'm getting motivated just by writing about it!

24On the twelfth day of Christmas, Kata Combat gave to me:

Twelve QuadCore combo's

Eleven punchers punching

Ten sets of sparring

Nine times enhancing

Eight kids a-kicking

Seven shields for striking

Six elbows landing

Five Pyung Ahn Hyungs

Four breaking boards

Three ura-kens

Two sparring gloves

And a sports bag with a spare gi...


Wishing you a merry xmas and happy new year! Catch up again soon...