Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kata Genealogy: How Pinan Shodan became Heian Nidan

The five Pinan Katas were created in Okinawa
By a legendary master called Anko Itosu
(My master's master's master's master).

Only known image of Anko Itosu

They were first known as Pinan
Until Gichin Funakoshi called them Heian, so that the name would sound more Japanese.
He then switched the order up to make them easier to learn.

But in doing so, he confused thousands of students.

Funakoshi Gichin (my master's master's master a.k.a. founder of Shotokan Karate)
So all of that got me thinking...
Could I map out how a single Kata has evolved over time?

A few searches and photo edits later,
I present to you my breakdown of the evolution
of the first three moves of Pinan Shodan.
(I didn't do the whole Kata since I'm practically about to fall asleep right now)

Here is Uema Yasuhiro Sensei of the Shorin-Ryu style:

Here is a representative of the Shito-Ryu style:

Here are Funakoshi Gichin and Hirokazu Kanazawa Sensei respectively of the Shotokan style:

Here is Hironori Otsuka Sensei, founder of the Wado Ryu style:

And finally, a representative of the Kyokushin style:

The founders of Shorin-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, and Shotokan
All studied directly under Anko Itosu.

The founders of Kyokushin and Wado-Ryu were heavily influenced by Shotokan.
Both Wado-Ryu (whose founder was a Jiu-Jitsu expert)
And Kyokushin (whose founder slaughtered bulls with his bare hands)
Are combat orientated.

Notice how the power is generated differently for the first move.
Some styles begin with their hands at the hips,
While others go straight to the technique.

If we pay attention to the crossing of the arms,
we can see a clear progression between styles:

What appears as a cross close to the body in the Shorin-Ryu,
Appears as two distinct techniques in Kyokushin.
The stances also vary significantly between photos.

Another noteworthy difference is the final strike within the sequence.

In some ways this tells us what the previous moves achieved;
How they placed the opponent in a vulnerable position.

In the first three photos, the stances are short,
So the previous moves must have been enough to unbalance the opponent.

The last two styles leap in with a longer stance.
This tells us that the previous moves were of a block and counter fashion, which did not unbalance the opponent.

The two popular interpretations of the Kata are shown below:

The latter leaves the opponent in a vulnerable position, even if not thrown, and may have been the one preferred by Shorin-Ryu.
Whereas the former application is closer to the one depicted by Kyokushin.

As you can tell, there are multiple applications for the same movement.
This idea stems from Minamoto Bujutsu, which taught that all movement is essentially the same.
To read more about the origins of Kata, get this book:

Monday, May 30, 2016

The knowledge: Karate in a nutshell

An evil organisation has wiped Karate out from the face of the earth.

You are the last one standing.
What do you do?

The answer is pretty obvious.
I would film myself performing all of the Kata of Shotokan Karate
and hide the tape in a secret location

But wait a minute.
I don't know all of them!

I must repent.
Although I knew all of them at some point in my life...
... It seems I have forgotten about half of them...

Over here, in London, Taxi drivers have something called the knowledge.

To be a certified black cab taxi driver, you first have to learn the whole London map off by heart (and be able to drive).

Well everyone can drive in Karate.
After all, every physically fit individual has the ability to move.
But it's the knowledge that most Karate students lack.
The knowledge of every single Kata.

To be fair, it should take years to study a single Kata.
Understanding why every motion is executed as it is.
But before I understand the Kata,
I must first be able to do it.

And that is why from this moment onwards,
I will try to learn every single Kata there is in Shotokan Karate.

Look out for updates!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A worthy challenge: Iain Abernethy's warrior workout

Iain Abernethy is one of the men who led to my awakening.
My awakening to the true world of Karate.

So as one might expect, I am signed on to his newsletter.

He recently published his Warrior Workout.
Click here to see it.

The last time I tried it, I ran out of breath halfway through
and felt like a 104 year old great-granddad clinging to life
It seems I wasn't strong enough.
Or perhaps, I simply didn't have the mental willpower.

From now on, I will continuously attempt the workout every day until I am able to complete it. Updates shall be posted!

Basic Fitness : Flexibility : Episode 3

A trilogy.

That's what I was going for.
But wait.
I haven't even mentioned The Genius of Flexibility.
Well people, I read parts of it...
And it was a little too spiritual for my current liking.
 I may return to it in the future.

Anyway, here is the full flexibility workout I promised.
Of course, different exercises suit different people.
I chose these to suit my current needs.

Warm up

Do one hundred jumping jacks.
Then do five sets of two minute jumping rope, each time using a different technique.

For the jumping rope, here are a few such techniques:

Jump normally then increase your speed to let the rope pass beneath your feet twice per jump.
Jog lightly, with the rope passing beneath you every time you switch legs.
Lightly jump on either leg twice before switching.
Cross your arms and jump through the rope.
Jump, criss-cross, then squat.

Dynamic Stretching

Fall into various deep stances.

Then follow this by swinging your legs forwards from a deep stance. Also do side, back, and crescent swings.
Begin low and slow, with great control in sets of eight.
Then perform them with increasing speed.

Swing the arms as you would do to the arms.
Then perform stretches associated with your hips.
There are too many to choose from for me to list here.

Main Part

Perform two Kata of your choice:

First, slowly with extra long stances and arm reach as well as correct breathing.
Then, with kime but still reasonably slow and with long stances.
Then full speed.

I chose Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho for this.

Then, either perform kihon with kime, or practice punching and kicking against a makiwara or heavy bag.

I will practice punching and roundhouse kicking a mattress.
Ten repetitions on each limb.

Dynamic and Static Stretching

Stretch the feet, by lightly bouncing onto the toes as shown. Try to stretch the muscles at the sole of the foot.

Stretch your ankles by falling into a sort of front stance while supporting yourself with your arms against the wall. The front leg should feel the stretch.

... then your calves, as shown. The back leg should feel the stretch.

... the hamstring. The mounted leg feels the stretch.

... your quads. The back leg feels the stretch.

... your hips ...

... hip abductors ...

... and Glutes.

This has practically stretched the whole lower body.
Exercises for the chest, arms and neck can be done naturally.

For the dynamic part, simply launch into a variety of stretches.
Remember. Each stretch should last ten breaths.

Isometric Stretching

The part I have been waiting for.

My shoulders have decent flexibility because of my Karate.
However, I have been unable to do the splits since the age of five.

That's what I will work on.

Me in a few months time... hopefully...

Assume the position for the splits.
Tense your muscles.
Relax. Ease in. Repeat.
For details on the exact process, read my previous post.

Relaxed Stretching

Here, I'll just ease into the splits using my body weight.
Then I will touch my toes, again just by body weight.
These exercises aren't too important but should be relaxing.

Cool down

Apparently, jumping rope qualifies as a cool down.
Personally, I will perform light kumite on the spot.
This is the Karate equivalent of shadow boxing and involves some light jumping.

After that, shake off the limbs and drink some water.


I will stretch twice a day five days a week.
The morning one will only incorporate dynamic stretching and the main part consisting of kate and kihon as well as kumite for the cool down.
The afternoon one will be the complete workout.

(As you might tell from the quality of my writing, I am pretty tired now since I wrote the last three posts in one go... off to sleep... the time here is 06:34 am).

Basic Fitness : Flexibility : Episode 2

The book Stretching Scientifically makes big claims right at the beginning that caught me off guard:

In short, it tells me to tense my muscles, then stretch, relax, and then tense them again when trying to go further. Dynamic stretches should also be part of the routine since you can't tense during these.

It seems as though warming up is useless. However, this isn't the case since the warm up I prescribed in the previous part has many benefits in addition to improving flexibility in the early phases of training.

Moving on...

Here's my summary of the safety section:
  • Strengthen your joints as well as stretching them.
  • When stretching, follow the full motion of the joint.

So if you swing your leg forwards, make sure to compensate by swinging it backwards. Also include a range of stretches, to not overwork a few. If your muscles begin to twitch, stop. This is an indicator that they will tear if stretched further.

It goes on to describe the different types of stretching.

Dynamic stretching involves moving your limbs until you improve your reach. They are done in sets of eight to twelve, and should be stopped at the point of fatigue.

Dynamic stretch: leg swings

Apparently, progress in dynamic stretching is measure by how far you can stretch as well as how much control you have over the movement. Personally, I can kick above my head. However, when my leg is above my chest I lose control of it and the rest of the motion is caused purely by the initial acceleration. I need to improve this.

The first set of stretches is done slowly, and with control, at a lower range of movement. Gradually, across the sets, the range of motion and the velocity are increased. As the stretch reaches full swing, you should exhale.

Dynamic stretches for legs, arms and trunk respectively.

Static active stretching is when you enter a stretch and hold it using the tension of the antagonistic pair (muscles on either end of the joint). 15 seconds are advised. Don't focus on these as much, since they are not important for Karate combat. Nonetheless, many instructors make their students hold their leg out.

Get creative with static active stretches.

Static passive stretching is when you use either a body part of gravity to stretch. The most famous example is touching your toes without tensing. Simply drop down. Let gravity be your friend.

This guy is probably doing static passive... though it's impossible to tell.
Actually, wait a second... don't let gravity be your friend. This kind of stretching decreases strength which as a karate student you wouldn't want. So only do a few of them.

Isometric stretching is new to me. Apparently it is the most effective. You first attempt a static passive/active stretch. Then you contract your antagonistic muscle. In other words, you flex the muscle opposite the one you are using. You keep this tensed for a while. Then you relax your muscles and ease further into the stretch. This process is then repeated. It is most effective at the end of a workout.

You should only perform one isometric stretch per muscle group, with two to five repetitions per session. Do these stretches only once a day.

The precise method for an isometric stretch is best said by the author:

In other words, stretch the muscle though not too far, then tense for four seconds, then relax, wait for a second and then stretch again.

The book, sets out a sample training program for a kick boxer.
Roughly, I see the following pattern:

Warm up ► Dynamic Stretches ► Main part ► Dynamic and Static stretching ► 
Isometric stretching ► Relaxed stretching ► Cool down

In the next part, I will outline the full flexibility workout.

Basic Fitness : Flexibility : Episode 1

One aim of traditional Karate was to allow the student to continue doing it until the age of ninety.
(Though this has never been achieved to this day, since the student usually ends up becoming the master)

For this to happen, I must work on my flexibility.
In particular, I want to create a single workout.

To do so, I've brought in some books...

... and some articles...

In Episode 1, I will design a warm up for use prior to stretching, as well as Karate in general.

From the book Facts an Fallacies of Fitness, I picked out the most relevant parts:

So warming up does well for people who want a short burst of explosive power, but it does badly for people who want to last longer
(no pun intended).

The least effective kind of warm up is an indirect one which is unrelated to the body parts being used. If the person gets tired quickly, then high-intensity warm ups should be avoided. Also, over-stretching and forgetting to strengthen your joints is harmful.

Karate lies between endurance and explosive disciplines.
All in all, the warm-up prior to stretching should engage the whole body and not be too tiring.
I have two contenders in mind: Jumping Jacks and Jump Rope.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping Rope

Both are a cardiovascular workout.
Jumping Rope improves agility and footwork.
Jumping Jacks work the shoulders.

To truly advance at Jumping Rope, perform several variations as explained in this video by the always informative FightTIPS channel.
Performing them for ten minutes (five variations, each for two minutes) should do the job.

If you don't like equipment, continue using Jumping Jacks. Personally, I will mix the two.

In summary, my pre-stretching warm up will be:
One hundred Jumping Jacks followed by ten minutes of Jumping Rope.

Any more than that (or any less) would not be effective.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kuro Obi

Here I am holding my black belt.

Last week, my friend at college asked me how long it takes to get one.
I thought long and hard about this,
Pondering all the torture I had to endure to be viewed as a worthy martial artist by my Sensei.

At last I recalled one crucial detail.

"Depends on how long Amazon takes to find your addressI responded.

Most people take this as a joke and miss the serious argument behind it.
See, the point is that the belt does not define the fighter.
There are little kids, incapable of throwing basic kicks, who are awarded black belts simply because their parents paid their fees.

Of course there are schools that do adhere to the belt system as a strict ladder of progression.
The best examples are Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Notice how both of these are grappling arts.
Due to their skill reliant nature, an incompetent black belt would quickly be exposed as a fraud after a sparring session.

However, the same cannot be said about Karate.
Many Karate schools take sparring out of the equation.
It is then that the martial art becomes commercialised,
and the school becomes a business.

I believe that belts are meaningless.
In my mind, there are only white belts and black belts.
 And a lot of the black belts are in fact white belts.

When Funakoshi Gichin first adopted the belt system into Karate,
he did not give himself a black belt.
By that logic, someone without even a white belt was handing out black belts to students.

The legendary Kenwa Mabuni met Jigoro Kano once.
After studying him,
the founder of Judo told him his skill rivalled that of a fourth dan Judoka.

There are more paradoxes.
My master's master,
holds a tenth degree black belt.
But he is in fact an eighth degree black belt.
Actually, he is both.
See, this is where it gets confusing.
To hold a black belt in a martial art, you need to have received it from a governing body.
Kanazawa Sensei received his tenth dan from the IMAF.
And he received his eighth dan from the SKIF.
He holds two different ranks in the same martial art.
At the same time.
Mind blown.

This is when I realised that all my hard work meant nothing.
I had my belt from a little known organisation called the IASK.
In a JKA dojo I am still a white belt.
Regardless of whether I know more than they do.

If all goes well, I will soon move out of my home town.
I aim to study Karate under the British Combat Association.
I also want to study Judo and Jiu-Jitsu as a training ground for my grappling skills.

Once I have enough fighting experience I want to refine my style of Karate into an effective combat system.
That, however, will take me decades to accomplish.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Starting fresh

Ten years of Karate.
That's how long it took for me to realise that I still suck at fighting.

Our class had its first sparring session in years.
And the outcome was a cat fight.

So I thought to myself.
Is this what my 10 years of training have come down to?
Am I just a white belt in disguise?
My head was exploding.

So I went on YouTube to see some videos.
I came across this.

And I was astounded by the beauty of it.
But then I reminded myself.
This isn't real.

So I decided to watch a real fight.
See the difference for yourself.

A fidgety run in, followed by a single punch met by a flinch and an intervention from the referee.

Just great.

It seems as though I wasted thousands of hours practising techniques
 and forms that I'd never use in a fight.

But I refuse to believe that.
Obviously I can't quit Karate now.
After all, this is my first blog post!

From here on, I will study Karate like no one before.
If it's not practical, I will make it practical.
If it's unexplained, I will explain it.
And when I am ready, I will once again step into the ring.
And this time I will win.
With honour.