Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thoughts about traditional karate.

Embracing the old as a foundation from which to seek unlimited, infinite growth and development.
This is what traditional is to me, the word “traditional” might imply to some people stagnation, sticking rigidly to some meaningless rituals and kata, so maybe I don’t love the word traditional but I don’t have any other.
But to me traditional karate is using the kata as a vehicle to understand timeless principles that were discovered through many generations, and building on top of that.
Sensei Nishiyama used to stress that kata gives us many examples and through those examples we must find out the underlying principles, kata is symbol of principles.  
We want to take advantage of wisdom accumulated through generations of experience, trial and error, as a launching pad. Traditional karate people are always asking questions, not just accepting, they are seekers. We don’t just come to karate class to get a workout and to spar a little and have fun, even though we do work out hard and have fun, we constantly seeking to understand the many physical and mental aspects of karate deeper, and through that expand our limitation as human beings.

I think of my own experience, before I came to Sensei Nishiyama, I trained hard 3 hours a day, I made 300 repetition a day of at least 4 to 5 basic techniques, I sparred a lot, and than when I arrived at Sensei Nishiyama I am thankful to him that after the first class he handed me a white belt and told me “step by step, understand”. I realized that all this hard training acquired me lots of bad habits. In the first year at Sensei’s dojo, I trained 5,6 hours a day only to undo my bad habits. Now I understand that without Sensei Nishiyama guidance I would not discover karate principles even in 5 life times.
We are lucky that each generation can be fed with the experience of previous generations and build upon it to further levels. We must be willing and patience and open up to receive.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Poland Instructors and Black belts seminar

Last Saturday and Sunday (12, 13 of May), I was teaching the annual black belts and instructors seminar in Dojo Stara Wiez, Poland, there were over 300 participants, it was  an amazing spirit and energy.
I had a real joy teaching this group, imagine 300 people working and putting their energy for the same purpose, really trying to understand the subtleties of Nishiyama’s karate. In this group there were all levels, from world champions to young coming up athletes to long time practitioners who just want to keep bettering themselves.
It is thanks to Vodek who for 20 years share the passion and vision of karate with the Polish people, Vodek works tirelessly to inspire and motivate the Polish karate people with great results.

We were working on Posture and its affects on optimizing karate technique, understanding stance and its principles, and we cover many fundamentals but mainly we went deep into Kime and its many angles.

As far as kumite, we worked on Oji Waza (response technique) in the first day, understanding the footwork, the breath and the mental state.
In the second day we focused on Shikake Waza (set up techniques), estimating the opponent, making optimal distance for our strategy, we talked about reacting to the opponent reaction to your set up, rather than mechanically doing the footwork, and doing so with your breath rather than with your brain.

And we always reflect from kumite to kata and vice versa, recognizing how the kata gives us the tools for effective kumite, and it is through the kata that we digest kumite principles into our nervous system, so when we do kumite we are free to apply our strategy and timing and our bodies know what and how to do.

Thank you all for the spirit and great enthusiasm, I felt elevated, it was fun.

Friday, May 11, 2012


At high level when 2 people are facing each other, there is no random movement, everything is purposeful.
Not only there are no random techniques but there is no unnecessary movement in the interaction.
When we are advanced it is not only that the technique is stronger and one can produce more force with less action, but that we become more sensitive to the opponent’s movement and intention.
Our ki energy can be projected to the opponent so we need less movement to give threat and break the opponent’s rhythm and the same ki energy serves as our antenna, perceiving the opponent’s energy. At this level we fake or project our energy at the right moment when the opponent has to react, or we can remove, not show our energy, to create emptiness at the opponent and than attack.

I use to spend a lot of time sparring with sensei Nishiyama and sometimes Aiko San without technique, only breathing and feet. This kind of sparring might seem strange at first, but it has amazing benefits. If you wonder, I could never beat neither sensei Nishiyama nor Aiko San, not even one out of ten, but I learned a lot.

One learns to close the gaps and remove spaces in one’s own movement, while learning to detect and anticipate even smallest spaces.
Kumite becomes subtler, and one learns to appreciate the importance of breath in reacting, initiating technique, make fake or set up, and seal spaces in our movement.

One learns that to truly be able to use the breath to do all of what mentioned above, we have to go back to the basics and kata and polish the interaction, of breath muscles and technique.

This kind of training also eliminate end gaining, since there is no technique and you don’t really get each other, it teaches one to be in the moment, and in addition not to rely on quick arm or leg but rather on perfect time and than speed is addition.

Keep in mind, the goal in karate is to remove unnecessary action, make movement more pure, this is true as far as technique and as far  as moving with an opponent, therefore learn to move from the inside, fight from the inside.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The difference is in the small details

We tend to focus on what can easily be seen, like speed and power, but if we pay more attention to the small details, speed and power will come more effortlessly.
Take for example the postural direction of “eyes back”, a very simple and subtle direction that has many implications.

We say “eyes back” which is not a physical movement but rather a prevention of head forward posture that is so common, and allowing the spinal muscles to extend the spine and head up against gravity as 5 yrs old naturally does.
With the eyes back and the spine extended, body action, such as rotation, is effortless and has more range.
The back muscles, thoracic extensors and scapula adductors are at optimal length for function, and therefore force from the feet can transfer through the sacrum and than the thoracic spine using those upper back muscles. If the head is forward top power using the shoulders in isolation is likely.
When the head is aligned properly the weight of the head assist with using ground reaction, more pressure to back foot is available.
With head forward the weight of the head will make the front leg heavy.
Eyes back allow for holistic view, and the mind can be calm, and we can talk about breath reaction and breath initiating the technique, rather than analyzing and than moving.
Head forward posture will reverse the thoracic curvature, with time the shoulders migrate forward and movement at the shoulder will not be at optimal axis of rotation, which wears out the shoulder.
The more the head shifts forward the more lever arm and stress on the lumbar spine.

Now this is just one example, there are countless examples of small details that appear not so important but make a world of difference when they all come together, those small points make the difference between efficient movement of an expert, and novice techniques that are strength dependent.
This is the beauty of karate, what makes it an endless, unlimited journey, where one can keep getting better and better even at the age when physical strength is declined.