Below few videos on our Kihon Kata.
Below few videos on our Kihon Kata.
One of the most common kicks in Karate is a front kick or ‘mae geri’ in Japanese. In this article I would like to provide my take on how we perform mae geris in our style.
There are a few ways of performing this kick. The two most common are:
Both of these methods are useful for different situations. From these two basic methods we have a few variations like a stopping kick, a toe kick, a kick that changes trajectory as executed and so on.
In describing these kicks, let’s start with the body mechanics. Mae geri is a kick to the front and our focus is to deliver most efficiently maximum power, to do so we need good posture, appropriate muscle contraction and accuracy.
There are a few variants of foot positioning within this technique. Nowadays the most popular form is kicking with the ball of the foot, where the toes are pulled back upwards.
In the old days the preference was different, with some schools preferring to use a foot position where the toes were pulled back in a similar fashion to the fingers of a fist.
In my opinion this was a very dangerous way of performing this kick as the toes are very fragile in this position. Older Okinawan styles use the tsumasaki method (as shown below).
Personally this is my favourite way of kicking. The small surface area created by the top of the toes makes for very painful kicks. This method needs practicing and conditioning to be able to perform it properly and safely. This setup works great when wearing shoes in a street confrontation.
Another often used surface is the whole sole of the foot (mostly in kick boxing). This setup gives great support for stopping kicks or stamping.
Given that mae geri keage is the most popular form of front kick in Karate I will focus on the mechanics of this method.
Starting with a proper base for the kick is very important, some Karate styles teach that the supporting foot should face straight forward when kicking. From my point of view this is less powerful and reduces freedom of movement as our hips are closed and therefore block each other. From anatomy we know that our hips open up when we walk, that is why our feet turn outwards to allow the maximum range of movement.
We want to take advantage of this range of movement when kicking. By doing this we have quicker, stronger kicks with a longer reach and the additional benefit of not putting stress on our supporting knee. When kicking without a target (in the air) we must concentrate to make sure that we do not straighten our knee as this dynamic movement is bad for our joints.
When we execute a mae geri we do the following:
Some common mistakes that occur when people kick a mae geri is that their upper body is leaning too far forwards or back. Leaning forwards too much makes us vulnerable to a punch in the head.
On the other hand tilting back too much will make it impossible to tense our stomach muscles and keep balance. If in a fighting position, it is also important for us to keep our hands protecting our head.
Mae geri is a great weapon in fighting and can be used in different ways, as an attack, for defence or as a distraction. We can perform it on the move forward or backing up and it can be snappy or thrusting.
I hope you found my description of a mae geri useful, however describing how to kick is no replacement for feeling how a kick works for you through training and under the supervision of a good instructor. Please feel free to share.
This time I would like to write about approaches towards gradings, belt systems and the black belt. Starting with my story, I began training in martial arts when I was 14. The same as all beginners I dreamt of becoming a black belt and being able to kick ass! After 13 years I achieved my goal of attaining a black belt. By the time I achieved my black belt my attitude and opinion of what it meant had changed – I was happy to have it, but now I realised that it was not that important. During my time training in Karate my teacher did a great job of imparting the belief that it is only a belt – “belts do not fight, they are only there to hold your Gi top together”. This was his endless mantra. Looking back, I am very grateful for him impressing this view on us.
Now I am teacher myself, I try to pass this approach on to my students and friends. Looking around I see lots of people chasing the dream of being a black belt, but they do not want to invest time and effort, they want it now, almost instantly. In this way, the black belt has become something like a driving licence. You go for a course, when you have done your hours you go for a test and if successful, receive a certificate. You can then hang this over your toilet for all your guests to admire! Then you can retire from training as you now know it all – you are the master, the black belt holder…
With more and more people looking for an easy way to achieve this holy grail of martial arts, there are more and more opportunistic teachers and organisations that give away black belts, for a certain price of course.
Another growing trend for extracting money from people is the creation of grading systems with up to 20 kyu grades (or more!), each of which having a separate belt colour. So the student not only spends money on taking many grades, but also has the pleasure of buying many belts as well.
Shortening the times between examinations to 1-3 month intervals provides a steady income for examiners. Students on the other hand may experience a fake impression of progression and achievement. Such short interval between gradings does not usually provide enough time to properly learn techniques (unless of course you are training every day for many hours). Speeding through grades at such a pace creates students who often can only remember techniques associated with the current (or very close) grade as they are constantly having to focus on the requirements for the next grade rather than building a solid body of knowledge based on an accumulation of techniques. Organisations then build black belts and instructors on this foundation. This causes a lowering of standards within an organisation and damages the image of Karate. Unfortunately this practice has become very popular in martial arts as a means to make money. I cannot understand how students are being charged (sometimes ridiculous amounts) for gradings on top of their membership, classes and licence fees. I understand that obtaining knowledge costs time and money, but to my mind this is extortion.
In line with the realities of supply and demand, people want a black belt quickly and so other people provide this service. Having a very small Dojo, I try to fight this approach. At my club we have gradings typically once a year, if (and only if) the instructor decides that a student has done enough to be graded. When permission is granted to grade, I consult my opinion with one of the other instructors within the organisation to see if they agree with my assessment of a student. If we are all in agreement that a student(s) should grade, then a grading is organised. However, we do not setup an isolated exam for only those that are being graded, but observe the students during a few hours of normal training, with a panel of instructors present. As a panel of instructors are required, our gradings often coincide with international seminars. The benefit of this is that students can be judged not only by instructors from within our own style, but also by instructors from different martial arts. All of our gradings are free of charge until black belt when there is a small fee for producing a dan grade certificate and embroidered belt.
Recently at our club we have decided not to wear belts at all as we are a small group and know each other well. We now only wear our belts when joining our friends on seminars, competitions etc. I have noticed that this approach is putting off some potential students as one of their first questions when they come through the door is “how long do I have to train to become a black belt?” After I finish explaining our philosophy on the subject of belts I can see the disappointment in their faces, most of them do not come back…
Another thing I have noticed recently (and is the subject of one of my previous blogs) is that people want easy training, where they pop in for classes for a bit of a workout and social interaction, but do not want to get tired. At our club our sessions are physically challenging and often involve students having to consider the details of techniques, which requires concentration and constant correction, hence my popular catch-phrase “something like that”.
I suspect that most people expect from their instructor a ‘pat on the back’ and encouraging words like “yes, you are doing this well”, but being from Eastern Europe I am often seen as being rude as most of the time my focus is on ensuring techniques are performed correctly. Besides, I do not like to lie and “beat about the bush” and so I am very direct and honest – some people do not seem to get on well with this.
In an age where everything is nearly instantly accessible, people do not often have the patience for long, hard training and being told that they are not ready to grade makes them angry. That is why McDojos are doing so well. Organisations like this have adapted to the modern, fast pace of life and fulfilling peoples demands for a quick route to black belt. However, it is my view that when we start travelling on the path called Karate our focus should be on training and improving, not on grading. In my opinion obtaining a black belt should be a “side effect” of training and not the target of training.
If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.
In this article I would like to say a few things about our karate style, Shin Ai Do. I have been prompted to write this article thanks to a question from one of my blog readers, Alex. His question made me realise that perhaps I should explain a little bit more about our club and the history of our style. I hope you will enjoy it.
What is Shin Ai Do?
Shin Ai Do Karate is a modern Karate style that inherits from traditional Karate schools such as Goju Ryu and Kyokushin. The name Shin Ai Do was first used in 1989 to describe a school of Karate developed in Russia
Our logo comprises an outer circle, known as Enso in Japanese, and the Kanji for Shin Ai do
Enso is a Japanese word signifying a circle and has no single, fixed meaning. A popular expression in Zen painting, it symbolizes a moment when the mind is free enough to simply let the body or spirit create. The brushed ink of the circle shows the expressive movement of the spirit in time. The Enso circle also symbolizes strength, enlightenment, harmony, elegance, and the universe.
The term “Shin Ai Do” means “Way of True Harmony”, which echoes the principle aims of the style. These are for a practitioner to execute techniques in a flowing manner that is in harmony with the advances of an attacker, and more broadly, for a practitioner to find a style of fighting that is in harmony with their own abilities.
As illustrated in the graphic below, as well as being interpreted as “Shin Ai Do” our Kanji can also be read as “Makoto Ai Michi”, which means “Sincere Teaching”. This also represents our way of training in that there is not an emphasis on making money from our students.
The main distinction between Shin Ai Do and some other styles of Karate is that Shin Ai Do training focusses on adopting a way of thinking as opposed to just learning a particular set of techniques by rote.
Components of Shin Ai Do
Shin Ai Do uses strikes, throws, sweeps and ground fighting techniques that support fighting against an opponent in a variety of scenarios. In all cases the aim is to use an attacker’s power against him/her.
We strongly emphasise safety in our club for our students and so we use head guards and small gloves with a variety of other standard protective equipment such as shin pads, groin protectors, gum shields etc. Using these safety measures we are able to simulate realistic fighting, but in a relatively safe environment.
A few words about me
My name is Les Bubka and I am the instructor at Guildford Shin Ai Do. I originally started training in Oyama Karate in 1992 in Krakow, Poland. In 1997 after a short break due to injury I was dragged by a friend of mine to begin training in Shin Ai Do Karate under Sensei Artur Marchewka. (A big thank you to my friend Piotr as switching to Shin Ai Do has changed my life!)
In 2002 I passed my instructor’s exam and opened my first dojo in Krakow. Two years later I opened another two dojos in Proszowice and Koscielec and by 2003 my students were taking part in many competitions with great success. Training hard whilst working as a professional instructor, I successfully gained my 1st Dan in 2007 having completed my exam in front of an international commission from Idokan Europa and Idokan Europa Poland. After moving to United Kingdom I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to start the UK branch of Shin Ai Do in 2008. In 2009, at an international seminar in Krakow, I achieved by 2nd Dan. Currently as I am writing this article I am preparing for my 3rd dan grading in August.
PRESSURE – our students set their pace and priorities. If they want to train without testing, that is up to them. Most martial arts instructors will constantly assess the progress of their students. There are basically two paths trainee can choose when training with us.
Just Train –Students just want to train and learn. They will not be expected to memorize the Japanese words and philosophies.
Shin Ai Do Functional Karate.
In my opinion the main function of Karate is fighting. That is what we teach and therefore some of our kata performances are far from aesthetical perfection, but they work on a resisting opponent.
I hope that this short description of Shin Ai Do Karate will help in understanding my points of view.
Our vision of Functional Karate is not the only way, there are others great paths, but all the roads lead to the same mountain peak, whichever way we get there is not important.
I will mention one more thing which makes me stay with my teacher Sensei Artur and the very small school of Karate that he represents – Shin Ai Do. When I arrived for my first lesson Artur said very few words to me. He told me about his school and what I could expect, but also he told me something very unexpected which I did not understand at first. He said “After this class please visit a few of the other schools of martial arts around here and attend some lessons there so that you can choose the right school, the one best suited for you. One day I hope you will return and join our club”. And so I did after a few visits to other clubs… It is now my 17th year with Artur as my teacher. Through all these years he has always encouraged me to visit different martial arts and sports, to learn from them what I can. As a result of my Sensei’s influence I am now training in Wrestling, Kempo and other systems.
Now that I am a teacher myself I try to encourage others to be open and to try to explore other possibilities as we never know what is just round the corner. It makes me proud when my students find the art, sport or hobby which makes them happy even if that means that they are leaving my dojo, I am happy for them. They all know (so I hope) that from the first time they step in to my dojo they have entered the family of Shin Ai Do where they can get Sincere Teaching in the art of Karate.
If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.
Good article by Wonderingfirst about belt system in Gongfu, have to say that as a karate person, I am drifting away from belt system in my club. There will be Article about it soon 🙂
Coloured sashes to designate rank are a foreign concept to me. I do not wear, and have not worn, a belt within this kind of system. Yet the plot thickens: the story I tell is of two groups within the same organisation, one of which used a belt system, while the other did not.
Historically, Wuzuquan had no coloured belts. The system that we hear of in a lot of arts – white the lowest belt, black the highest – seems to originate in Japanese systems, to have thereafter been adopted by (Korean) Taekwondo groups and even some (Chinese) gongfu schools. In traditional gongfu, the only sash was worn under the clothing, for medical purposes: it wasn’t tied like a belt, but was wound around the abdomen to reduce the risk of hernia, like a weightlifter’s belt. The coloured belt system has both critics and champions:
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Here is a little insight into our approach to functional karate and kata. This video shows the first level of bunkai (application) of Tensho kata. Note that the video does not provide all the details of what we do. It is best to meet, try and feel the techniques for yourself. I hope you enjoy.
Here is link to on line version of Mas Oyama book Essential Karate. This book was one of the first which I have bought. Enjoy