Spring is here. Yay. Sort of. It’s been snowing in larcenous old London, but do not despair beloved reader, for like most of you, your friendly neighbourhood Rogue Advisor also has a crappy job which he braves nature’s wrath to attend and pay-day has arrived; and with it more storage space is available to the gradually growing Level Up, and that means videos. Actual Yay. Still no recording studio of our own though. But here’s a little inspiration just to show off the new feature.
Following on from the last instalment of Okinawan bad-assery, your friendly neighbourhood Rogue Advisor thought it only proper to begin assisting all you dedicated KarateKa out there, and padawan beginners with your empty hand techniques. Katas are often overlooked in most Martial training, much to the detriment of the practitioner. Most believe Kata to be nothing more than a fancy ‘dance’ routine just for show in competition. This is not so beloved reader.
Kata is the original means of cataloguing and practising all of a Martial skill’s techniques in the most efficient way possible. This is even truer of Karate, as it was developed in secrecy at a time when the government had banned the Okinawan people from owning / using any weapons and practising martial arts, thus all they had were their Kata and it had to be super efficient.
Here at Level Up we also like to keep training uber-efficient just like the Okinawan warriors of bygone days. So in this second instalment of Empty Hand we will cover some of the early Katas of the Shotokan Karate system. Why drill yourself over and over again in the same Oi-Zuki, Gedan Barai or Mae Geri, when all those techniques are contained within the Kata. Thus, logic dictates that practicing of the Kata repeatedly, you will be performing all these techniques, with the added bonus of them already being arranged into functional combos. Sweet.
No one is expected to master the Katas through the study of video alone, and holding a 4th Dan ranking myself, I would be happy to arrange a one on one session to help you, beloved reader, to perfect your pugilistic prowess. Due to a crappy 72 work hours per week job, giving me scheduling problems, I will only be able to offer such assistance to London-based L.U.F.A.S. fans. But first it is important to make you budding exponents of unarmed warfare familiar with arguably the greatest living KarateKa.
先 生 金 澤 弘 和
Sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa
Kanazawa is one of very few KarateKa still alive that trained with Master Gichin Funakoshi. Born in 1931 in Japan, he began his Martial training Judo. But when he was accepted into University, he witnessed a Karate demonstration by Sensei M. Nakayama. This left a lasting impression on young Kanazawa, he began training under Nakayama’s tutelage straight away, with regular teachings from Sensei Funakoshi.
Within just over one year, he achieved Shodan, (1st degree black belt), in took only three years for him to attain his Nidan and Sandan. Believe me, beloved reader, that’s unprecedentedly quick progression for any KarateKa. Karate Sensei are notoriously fickle about dishing out black belts.
He gained an even more impressive reputation in 1957 when he entered the All Japan Karate Championship tournament. During the contest he broke his wrist and going against medical advice he decided to continue, because his mother was watching, and he didn’t want to disappoint her. He won the final bout like a bad Mo-Fo.
After such success he wanted to teach Shotokan. He completed the extremely rigorous and strict JKA instructor’s programme and was sent off to teach in Hawaii. Five years later in 1966, after establishing Karate in Hawaii, he was sent to Great Britain, where he had to start from scratch to teach a far away Western land that had little knowledge of the Martial skills of the East. Whilst in good old Blighty, he attained his 6th Dan.
All who have met Kanazawa remark upon his charisma, which I can testify to myself. Sensei Kanazawa is not only knowledgeable, disciplined and patient but a very approachable and empathic man. These qualities and his undisputable skill earned him the position of Chief instructor of JKA Europe.
However, in 1977, Kanazawa attained 7th Dan, and was forced into a position that meant he had to leave the JKA, he was just too bad-ass for them. There were fears that his career was over. Thus, in typical Kanazawa style he went ahead and proved to all his critics that they were dicks. He established the SKIF, an organisation that rapidly gained millions of members.
As well as being successful in climbing the ranks of Martial arts greats and establishing Karate around the world, he is also an author, an awesome selection of his works can be found on the SKIF website.
Bunkai is literally translated as ‘analysis’, but as happens so often, much is lost in translation. Bunkai are the applications of the techniques. I will explain as many as possible here, but one on one tuition with yours truly would yield the best results, I would expect no fee for this tuition but would ask that you help popularise the soon to be mighty Level Up Fitness & Skills. Most of the Martial arts masters of the East always been a little bitchy about not revealing their true applications, especially xenophobic towards westerners. Some of the real moves are ‘disguised’, usually through repetition of other moves to hide them. We’ll be covering the true Bunkai as I have been fortunate in whom I’ve studied with, you’ll just have to trust me. Have I misinformed you yet?
Anyone who trains with Kanazawa, (as I have. Yup I’m gonna keep plugging that), cannot help but be impressed. At his very mature age, he still puts the young-uns to shame. Like Funakoshi and Nakayama before him, he is not just a KarateKa, but also a pioneer, his legacy will live on through generations of KarateKa for eons to come.
The Heian Katas
These Katas are the second five students will encounter, the first are the Taikyoku Katas, (meaning first clause), Shodan, Nidan and Sandan. They are fairly recent Katas, created to further breakdown the techniques into easier to digest chunks. These Kata are not vital to the syllabus though, as the Heian Katas will ‘break you in’ quite nicely. The name Heian is roughly translated as ‘peaceful mind’. the name comes from the Okinawan saying Heiwa-antei, meaning ‘peace and calm from within’. The name suggests that once mastered, the student can feel confident in their skills and themselves for their discipline, leaving no doubt to their prowess.
The five Katas, were created in 1906, by Sensei Itosu to prepare the student by instilling the specific gross motor skills and body awareness required for the rigours of Karate training. They were originally called the Pinan Katas, and the first and second Katas were reversed. When Sensei Funakoshi brought Karate to mainland Japan, he changed all the names to Japanese.
Most of the Heian Kata follow the same Embussen path, (it looks like an ‘H’), as do the Taikyoku Katas, many Martial skills have historically emulated this path as it allows for turns and dynamic straight manoeuvres. Each Heian Kata gradually introduces new core basics, adding combos and progressing the student to intermediate level. At the time of their creation, the Okinawan people didn’t bother with ranks, Keikogi or the Coloured Obi, so there was no indication of the practitioners skill.
As you can see from the video, Katas begin and end on the same floor marking. This trains stances and footwork to be perfect. Do not ignore the KIAI points either, they occur to generate extra power for finishing moves.
Many of the same techniques from Heian Shodan are included here, don’t be dissuaded by the repetition, that’s the point of all this. These Kata will get you primed for advanced kick-assery and even though each kata takes only about a minute to complete, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how knackering it is. This is because it uses anaerobic metabolism. Some techniques are specific to an individual Kata alone, like this one, making them truly centrifugal to training. Thus no handy link for pre-practice of individual moves. The new movements to learn here: Haiwan-Uke /zenwan-hitai-Kamae, (Back of forearm block / forearm forehead posture), Soto-Nagashi Uke / Kentsui-Soto-Mawashi-Uchi, (outside flowing block / outside hammer fist strike), Sokumen-Zuki, (hammer fist block punch), Ryoken-Koshi-Gamae, (both fists one hip posture) and Uraken-Yoko-Mawashi-Uchi / Yoko-Geri-Keage, Shihon-Tate-Nukite and Osae-Uke, (pressing down block), Mae-Geri, Gyaku-Zuki, Uchi-Uke, Morote-Uke, and new stances: Ashi-Dachi, Ashi-Zenkutsu-Dachi.
This one has some odd-looking movements, but have faith in your Rogue Advisor, these all have great application and effect. On that same point, do not be dissuaded by how ‘simple’ or even daft some of the moves look; having been practiced in secret during development, they are efficient. The third Kata’s new techniques: Uchi-Uke / Gedan-Uke in Heisoku-Dachi, (inside block / down block in stand to attention stance), ketsui -Yoko-Mawashi-Uchi, (inside hammer fist strike), Ryokan-Ryokoshi-Gamae, (both fists on both hips posture), Fumikomi / Furi-Empi, (stomp kick or thrust step / swinging elbow block), Uraken-Tate-Mawashi-Uchi, (vertical back fist strike), Tsukami-Uke / Oi-Zuki, (grasping punch and lunge punch), Koho-Tsukiage / Ushiro-Empi-Uchi in Kiba-Dachi, (rising punch to rear / backwards elbow strike in horse riding stance), this move uses Yori-Ashi, (sliding), footwork.
As you can see, beloved reader, the Martial applications are advancing at a nice manageable rate. The fourth Kata is no exception. Mastering this Kata is part of a 6th Kyu ranking. The initial belt grades count down toward 1st Kyu, the penultimate belt before 1st Dan. The new techniques: Haiwan-Uke /zenwan-hitai-Kamae, (Back of forearm block / forearm forehead posture, as performed in Nidan, but with open hands), Ryokan-Kosa-Uke, (‘X’ shaped block / strike), then we get Ryoken-Koshi-Gamae / Uraken-Yoko-Mawashi-Geri-Keage from Nidan but this time followed by Mae-Empi-Uchi, (elbow strike), and performed on both sides, Ryoken-Kakiwake-Uke, (both fists wedge block / guard), Hiza-Uchi, (knee strike).
The first new technique is the delightfully named Mizu-Nagare-No-Kamae, (water flowing posture), Ryosho-Juji-Osae-Uke, (both palms pressing ‘X’ block), Uke-Zuki, (block strike), Kake-Uke, (hooking block), Mikazuki-Geri, (crescent kick), Koho-Tsukiage, This is performed in Renoji-Dachi, (rising punch to rear opponent in a stance that looks similar to Ashi-Dachi), and the vicious-Soto-Nagashi-Uke / Shuto-Uchikomi and Uchi-Uke / Mangi-Uke, Jotai-Sonomama / Manji-Gamae, the new stance is Kosa-Dachi. This is a nice Kata, it will really get you primed for the more advanced stuff.
Until next time. Stay informed.