Shotokan Karate Magazine: My Article & Letter From Reader

I am honoured to have recently had a second article published in Shotokan Karate Magazine.  The article was titled “Using “Whip” Technique”, which I have written about elsewhere on this site.  Although it primarily relates to Shotokan Karate, it should be relevant to other styles too.

I have recently received an email from the editor John Cheetham informing me that the article has been well received and forwarding a letter from a reader.  I thought this letter raised some interesting points.

I have therefore responded to this letter and asked John Cheetham’s permission to reproduce the letter and my response here on this website.  John has kindly agreed, so here below is the readers letter:-

Dear John, I read your magazine (issue 111) with great pleasure, as always!
Time over time you manage to find interesting aspects and trigger discussions that are of great value. I thank you for that!

In issue 111, the article by Charlie Wildish especially caught my attention!
Even though I am just a humble 1st kyu, I have often thought about this method of whipping the techniques.  I found it to be very fast, and also I felt as if it took less energy to perform.

However, I was only really able to perform this somewhat successfully with a Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). I have not really been able to apply the whipping effect in other techniques. Therefore, I wonder if you could ask Charlie to go into more detail of how to apply this for other techniques, including kicks.

The other thought that comes to my mind is that of possible injury during training.

First, I am thinking about how easily I could hurt my own joints due to the fact that I am performing such extremely fast movements with less tension on my muscles. What I am trying to say is that it is probably very difficult to fully control the movements and the stopping point (moment of impact) every time.  So I fear for my elbow.

The other worry that I have is with respect to injuries due to possible blocks that are performed against my whipped technique. In order to perform the whipping effect, I have to keep my arm ( e.g. Gyaku Zuki) extremely
relaxed. I hate to imagine, what a hard block, such as Soto Uke would do to my arm and elbow at that point (i.e. before I maximize the tension at the end).

Maybe these are stupid questions, but as, I too, am getting older, I am continuously thinking of ways to train healthily. As you get older, every
injury takes longer to heal, and coming back after a pause of training due to injury gets harder.

If you don’t want to publish this, I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this via Email. And also, maybe you could forward my questions to Charlie?

Thank you and best regards,
Frank Kretzschmar
(Bad Soden, Germany)

And my response to Mr Kretzschmar:-

Dear Mr Kretzschmar

Thank you for the positive feedback about my article.

Starting with hand techniques, you should be able to apply the whipping feeling to techniques other than Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). The main points are:

  • Focus on generating movement from the hips.
  • Keep the torso as relaxed as possible so as to allow the hips to slightly lead the shoulders, thus creating the wave effect through the body (the wave culminates in the whip). 
  • Keep the hand/arm from moving as long as possible until the “wave” reaches the shoulders, then the hand will feel like it is being thrown rather than having to thrust it forward.

One of the easiest techniques (other than punching) to feel the “wave” is Age Uke (Rising Block), so maybe focus on that for a while till you have it, then put it into other techniques.

Kicks can use the whip too, but it is a bit more difficult. As power comes from the hips, it helps to pull the foot in as close as possible to the hip before releasing it to the target, (hence the emphasis on raising the knee).

Creating the wave through the body is about sequence. You will probably have to practice this slowly if it is not coming easily; but first raise the knee and bring the foot in as tight to the hip as possible without creating too much tension. Then move the hips/foot as one unit, then release the foot when the hip nears the completion of its movement. If you’re interested, I have actually produced a DVD which might help you understand this a bit better at: http://bunkaijutsu.com/store/

This is just brief overview (which I might expand on later).

I understand your concerns about the lack of muscular tension to protect your joints, but ironically you are less likely to damage your joints this way. With this relaxed technique, the joints actually open up lightly letting more fluids in which actually keep them lubricated. This is a Tai Chi principle. When somebody uses too much kime/tension, they actually pull the 2 sides of the joint together which more likely to create wear and tear. It also makes for a less efficient punch as the fist is actually being pulled slightly back by your own muscles rather than releasing all of the energy forward into the target.

The other factor is that when you have good structure, the reaction to impact is easily absorbed by the body’s skeletal system as the bones are in the correct alignment. 

As for hard blocks like Soto Uke (Outside Block), the original function of this technique was not to block straight punches. Just try sparring with a club mate for a while where one can only do straight punches and the other can only do classical blocks (Soto Uke, Uchi Uke, age Uke etc). You’ll find that the blocks simply don’t work. On top of that, in a real self defence situation, you are more likely to be attacked by swinging haymakers rather than straight punches. The creators of Karate centuries ago (who had to fight for their lives, rather than points) would not spend so much time creating “blocks” that don’t work – to defend against attacks that are not likely to used.

Therefore (coming back to your question), the only time you’re likely to be blocked with a full Soto Uke (Outside Block) is when you’re doing pre-arranged sparring when you can if you deem necessary brace yourself as you know when its coming. Having said that, even without using the whip technique, the arm should still be relaxed when moving (only tensing on impact) and the Soto Uke should intercept it before it reaches that impact (or its too late – you’ve already been hit). Therefore, with respect, you should be used to being blocked with your arm relaxed.

I do not think that you are asking stupid questions at all. Quite the opposite, as we get older we are wise to take our age into account, it would be stupid not to 🙂
I am luckily that my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell, is very aware of this subject. One of his sayings is “young people should use the full dexterity of their bodies, older people should do it properly”. An example of what he means by this is that high kicks are good for youngsters to develop their bodies, but not effective for self defence, so older people should keep their kicks to a practical height (doing it properly for self defence).

I hope this answers your questions to your satisfaction.

Best Regards

Charlie

Please leave your own feedback below if you found this useful, or if you would like to add your own knowledge to my answer.  I always welcome input from others.

“Sinking” In Your Stance At The End Of A Technique

In many martial arts we are taught that on the climax of our technique we should “sink” into our stance.  I will admit that if my knees are sore, I sometimes find this quite difficult to do.

But firstly, why do we do it?  “Sinking” at the climax of out technique is a way improving our skeletal structure and helping us for form an immovable “root” to the ground, thus enabling us to more efficiently absorb the reaction energy to any impact from our blows.  Or more correctly, we don’t absorb the that reaction energy as it tries to go through our structure, finds the immovable ground, and is rebounded into our opponent again (so he gets it twice).

So why do a lot of people struggle with it?

Although you obviously have to bend your knees more in order to sink, if you focus on bending your knees then ironically it will probably not come easily.  It’s a little bit like doing a squat, the more you bend the knees, they more you intuitively tense your legs to absorb the weight!

In some styles  such (as in the early versions of Shotokan exported from Japan) there was an over exaggerated exhalation/tension in order to produce kime (focus).  I remember being taught to tense the whole body including the legs, which will obviously make it them a bit more resistant to bend, in order to sink further.

Also, if you have knee pains, you intuitively tense the muscles around them in order to prevent your knee bones/cartilage/ligaments/tendons/etc from moving about too much (hence less pain).  I know this from personal experience.  But this tension makes it difficult for you to bend the knees more and sink.

The best ways to “sink” into your stance is by getting the right feeling rather than focusing on a physical movement itself, because focusing on physical movement tends to make you focus on muscles, hence – tension.  Some say it is like “falling down a hole”, but obviously you stop yourself before going too far.

Different things will work for different people, but I’d like to share something that has worked for me.

We are usually taught in most martial arts to “breathe into your stomach” (or hara/dan tien).  This is of course not actually physically possible as the air we breathe in goes into our lungs and can’t get passed the diaphragm to our stomach.  Our diaphragm moves down and displaces our internal organs, so that it feels like we’re breathing into our stomach.  In fact it’s a visualisation that we use help get the right breathing technique.  It is however a very popular visualisation which most of us are taught right from the very beginning.

We can however build on this.  When you want to sink in your stance as you exhale, try to visualise the breath leaving the stomach through the legs, to the feet and out into the ground.  If you focus on the breath going down (rather than your weight going down), you should find it relatively easy to sink slightly without unnecessary tension.  The whole process becomes much more relaxed and natural movement which is what we should be aiming for.

I actually learnt this through Tai Chi, but have applied it to my Karate.  Of course, once your body gets used to the correct feeling, you can drop the visualisation as your body will know what you are looking for, but it is a useful tool to help get that feeling in the first place.

Martial Arts Marketing: How to grow your business By Graham Butcher

Graham Butcher

I asked in my Newsletter and Facebook page if people would like another category on this website for information on marketing their martial arts clubs.  Several people replied that this would in deed be useful.  My friend, Graham Butcher, author and one of the World’s leading authority’s on Stav has taken the initiative to write the first article for which I am very grateful.  So below is Graham’s submission, I hope you find it useful.


When Charlie said that he wanted to include a section on Marketing into his newsletter I decided to offer to contribute to it. Why should you be interested in anything I have to say about marketing? Three reasons.  Firstly my day job is running a Handyman business with my partner and we do okay and have plenty of clients so we must be doing something right. Secondly I have been studying marketing with Chris Cardell and Jon McCulloch for the past couple of years and I will be happy to
share some of the principles that they teach. Thirdly, for the past 19 years I have been teaching and trying to develop interest in Stav.  Many of you will know how hard it is to get people interested in well known Martial training systems such as Karate and Aikido. So you can imagine its rather harder promoting something as unknown and frankly improbable as a Norwegian martial training system brought to the UK by a Scandinavian nobleman with Viking ancestry and a profound knowledge of the runes and Norse mythology. I think you see the problem.

So this September I am launching a new class in Crewkerne (the Somerset town where I live) and I intend to make a success of it by throwing every marketing trick I know at the good people of Crewkerne including having leaflets and website critiqued by Jon McCulloch before the public sees them. I will be happy to share the process with you over the next few months and let you know what works and what doesn’t.

This month’s tip, Chris Cardell’s three principles for growing a business. Don’t object that yours is a club not a business. If you are taking money in return for a a service (providing martial arts training) then you are running a business. Even if the club is run on a cooperative basis and no one actually takes any money out of it personally the organisation still needs an income to pay its bills. If you can increase that income you may be able to rent a better hall, bring in guest instructors or purchase better training equipment.

So in order to grow the business you need:
• More customers (students)
• More transactions with your customers/students
• More value from each transaction

And you need to combine all three because there is a level at which customers/students actually cost you much more than they give you in return. If you offer a free lesson as a taster then every week you might have five more students coming for just that free lesson. Well your marketing must be working well on one level in that it is bringing them in, but they aren’t giving you anything in return and will be drawing a lot of attention away from your regular students. So yes, you want to be increasing the number of students at your club but look at this. If you just increase the number of students by 10% (and they are actually paying for the class) then the income increases by 10% and that is good but if you have say, 10 students paying £5 for one class per week over a 10 week period that is an income of £500 (I will keep to nice round figures for simplicity).

There are three things you can do to increase income by 10%, one more student raises income to £550. On the other hand if you put in an extra class every ten weeks, say a Saturday morning special technique class that would add that extra £50 or you could raise the price of classes by 50p and that would be worth £50 over ten weeks. Now combine those and see what happens:
11 students x 11 classes = 121 at £5.50 each is £655 or an increase of over 30%.

Something to think about and remember that if you are making a better return you can provide a better service.

For more information about Graham, please visit:  www.iceandfire.org.  If you found this useful and would like more similar information, please click the “Like” button and leave your comments below.

Sensei Paul Mitchell’s Karate Kata Bunkai

Following on from my earlier posting dated 29 Jan 12, Sensei Paul Mitchell has uploaded some more videos onto his Youtube channel.  These videos are taken from his recent Practical Shotokan: Beginner To Black Belt Course which covered various aspects of Karate Kata bunkai.

Sadly I missed it due to work commitments, but here are some of the highlights.

 

A Private Class With John Johnston, 6th Dan

Having recently completed an interview with Sensei John Johnston, I was lucky enough to secure a private lesson with him.  Having discussed his approach to realistic Karate for self defence and the Adaptive Karate that he teaches in his seminars, Sensei Johnston was keen to show me in more detail and I was very keen to learn from him.  So John came down from Coventry with his wife Elaine, who is a 2nd Dan, and we had a class.

Sensei John Johnston and myself

It started of with some open hand techniques in basic form including Outer Knife Hand Strike, Inner Knife Hand Strike, Palm Heel, Spear Hand and Ridge Hand. Many clubs do not place much emphasis on these techniques outside of Kata, so I was happy to see this.  Also, although some of these techniques are circular in function, many Shotokan clubs/associations perform them in a linear fashion.  This is probably because they are more easy to control when performed linear, and therefore better for Kata competition (for anybody who receives Shotokan Karate Magazine, this was discussed by Scott Langely in Issue 109).

Anyway, when I saw John perform them in a circular fashion, it re-affirmed to me that he was a practical man, rather than one who wanted to simply look good.  After practicing them forward (with leading hand) and stepping back (with reverse hand), Elaine and I were invited to use some of them on a focus mitt.  After observing us, John had two main points that he wanted to make.  Firstly that the strike should go right through the target (whereas some people focus on the target itself).

Secondly, being 2nd and 3rd Dans we should be making more use of shuffling the body forward (sliding step) with the strike to put more body weight behind the target, rather than simply performing the strike in our basic stationary forward stance.  This is part of where his “adaptive” principles come in.  Rather than regimenting a set stance and/or step, as Elaine and I are of quite different builds, the way that we use the sliding step and the amount of penetration through the target focus mitt would be different and we had to adjust to our own physiques.

A similar exercise was carried out with kicking.  After practicing basic Front Kick a few times, John explained that usually in Karate, we aim the kick to the stomach. This is not the best target as it is relatively easy to defend against and the stomach muscles are the hardest in the body. Even a kick to the groin is not such a good target as it is a relatively small target and again quite easy to defend (and very intuitive to defend against simply be bringing knees together).

John told us to use the opponents thigh as a kind of “runway”, so that the kicking foot almost “runs up the opponents thigh”.  This is so as to aim for the hip joint or pubic bone.  If you get the hip joint you easily collapse the opponents structure leaving him very vulnerable to any follow up attack that you like.  If you get the pubic bone, it is very painful and not quite so easy to defend against as a stomach attack.

Next it was kicks against a kick shield.  Starting with Front Kick, where the kicking foot was pulled back (after the kick) to the supporting foot, whilst the supporting foot rotated, so that the back was facing the opponent.  From here, we were to kick again with a Back Thrust Kick. The idea is to set up the opponent, so that they think if the first kick has missed and that you have left yourself turned and vulnerable.  When they try to move in to take advantage, you immediately kick with a Back Thrust Kick and they just run onto it.

Sensei Johnston training with his wife, Elaine

Again the “adaptive” principle came into play and the Back Thrust Kick could be delivered from either leg, depending on which leg we favoured, our balance and distance to the target.  John likes to give and opening technique and then you adapt to the follow up which suits you best.  He will give a few examples, but then leave it to the individual to decide what suits them best (just as long as it works).

Next followed some applications from Heian Godan.  Firstly the opening sequence of Inside Block followed by Reverse Punch (both in back stance).  When performing the Inside Block, the reverse hand (which is usually just seen as the “pull back hand”) was the hand used to perform the actual block.  The hand which is normally seen as performing the “block” was used to push the opponents arm and put them off-balance. Then of course follow up with Reverse Punch and anything else that just felt right at the time.  John explained that he did not hold with the idea of one application being used just for one given attack.  It has to be capable of being adapted to a range of different attacks. Hence John had Elaine and I using this application against punches from both sides and both straight and hooking punches.  John explained that without this kind of versatility, you can come unstuck if you practiced an application against only one type of attack, then somebody came in with something slightly different.

We also examined the low X-Block.  Typically this is explained as blocking a kick which is very impractical.  John had us looking at the scenario of somebody stabbing to the body with a knife.  The leading hand of the X-Block was used to block/strike the attacking arm, knocking it downwards, whilst the other arm simply used as a punch to the opponents forearm to incapacitate the arm and neutralise the immediate threat of the knife.  This was followed up by whatever felt natural and Elaine and I (being very different builds) experimented with different variations.

Overall, it was a very interesting and enjoyable lesson, for which I am very grateful.  Having worked the doors for many years, John is very sure of what will and what won’t work in the real world.  He sees a lot of bunkai being taught which simply would not work under pressure.  The hallmark of John’s methods are that they are direct, effective, and for an experienced martial artist they can be used almost instantly without having to drill them for weeks to internalise them. I would recommend John to anybody in traditional martial arts who wants to make sure that their art is practical and valid on the streets.

To find out a bit more about how John teaches, you can check out his Youtube channel at: www.youtube.com/user/shotokanjohnny.  Alternatively you can check out his main website where you can also contact him and book him for seminars at:  www.adaptivekarate.com.

Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water

Mind Like The Moon (Tsuki No Kokoro)  and Mind Like Water (Mizu No Kokuro) are old Japanese/Chinese phrases which are integrated into Zen and martial arts and are inter-related to each other.  This posting looks at them primarily from a martial arts context.

Starting with Mind Like The Moon, whereas the light of the moon shines on everything below it evenly, so you should see everything when facing an opponent.  Clouds blocking the moonlight are likened to nervousness, fears, doubts and distractions blocking your mental clarity.  By seeing “everything”, I don’t only mean your opponents physical presence; I also include

  • The whole psychological game (how they use words/threats/body language to intimidate)
  • Anything that they may be trying to conceal (weapons, a friend who might jump you from behind)
  • Their intention and the timing of their attack (by their breathing/subtle shift of body weight/slight tensing of some muscles).

The unconscious mind picks up these (and other) tiny signals that the conscious mind often misses; but feeds the information back to us in what we call intuition or instinct, when you just know what is about to happen a fraction before it actually does; even though you don’t really know how you know!

With this intuitive knowledge, you react appropriately and with correct counter for the given situation in a natural instinctive manner, without any thought or intellectual processes being required.  By removing the thought processes, the instinctive reaction is much quicker and more effective, not giving the opponent any chance to respond.

This is Mind Like Water.  When you stick your hand into a stream, the water reacts instantly and appropriately, to continue its path and just goes around your arm.  There is no pause, no hesitation, no having to think to work out the best root.  It just does it naturally and instantly; which is how you should strive to counter any attacks that come at you (as above).

This intuitive state takes you beyond mere physical response.  Martial art forums are full of arguments about which techniques or styles are best, but as long as you have good techniques, the choice of technique/style almost becomes irrelevant compared to the ability to respond intuitively; as if you know what your attacker is about to do before they even actually attack.

But how do you actually achieve this higher state of intuitive mental clarity (mind like the moon/mind like water)?

I have written before about silencing that little voice in your head, you know, the one that always tells you can’t do something.  Going into a fight with that little voice telling you that you’re about to be killed, beaten up, humiliated, is not good (they are mental clouds blocking your “moonlight”).  In fact it can lose you the fight before the first punch is even thrown.

I have expanded on this by writing about  “living in the present“, rather than keep resenting past events or worrying about the future.  Worrying about “this always happens to me” when somebody picks on you is living in the past, whilst worrying about how this is going to hurt and humiliate is thinking in the future.  You need to be very much in the present (the “now”) if you are going to deal with an imminent assault.  This is very much tied in with little voice in your head undermining you (which usually takes you to the past or future).

I would like to expand on this theme even more.  However, I suggest that you read the other two postings first, as this one will make more sense following on.

Our training is geared to getting us into the moment (into the “now”).  Whether sparring or doing a pre-arranged drill, we need to focus and be intensely in that moment.  In most other sports/activities, lack of focus means that we lose a point/goal, etc; but in martial arts it means that we get a smack round the head which hurts.  This makes it more intense and immediate, so it is better to pay very close attention.  Over a period of time we learn to maintain this focus of attention in the present moment.  When we do this, it helps to silence the voice inside out head, hence our own mind stops distracting us.

Even with kata’s/patterns/forms, we should visualise an opponent, which again brings our mind into the present.

Although this process will happen naturally over years of training, I think it helps to know what we are looking for.  It is easier then to find it and to teach it to others.

If you have trouble silencing the voice in your mind, they there are other techniques that you can practice to help you.  As discussed in the first posting (about silencing the voice inside your head), most people can’t hold a positive/happy thought for just 15 seconds without another random thought interrupting.  Practicing holding a positive/happy thought until you can do it for a complete 15 seconds uninterrupted is the first stage to gaining conscious control of your own mind, without the little voice (your own personal nutter) controlling you in a negative way!

Another way is simply to observe your own thoughts without judgement.  No thought stands still, it either takes you forward or holds you back.  So whenever a random thought comes into your head, just ask yourself “is that thought helping me or hurting me”?   For example, when somebody does something stupid like they cut you up in their car or knock your drink over in a bar and you get angry calling them all kinds of expletives, is that helping you?  Not really, you’re just upsetting yourself further.  You wasn’t hurt, your car wasn’t damaged, your drink can be replaced; so what is the profit for you get all emotional and angry about it as well?

Before somebody says, “yeah but it helps you let of steam and get the anger out”; have you considered, why have the steam and the anger in the first place?  Wouldn’t life be better without them?  Wouldn’t you feel happier, more at peace and healthier if you could react without that anger?

Some will dismiss this idea as “that’s just the way I am”.

But it’s not the way you have to be!  By learning to control your mind through silencing that reactive voice, you can change your emotional response to situations that should really be mildly irritating rather than a cause of great anger!  Ever heard the phrase, “learning to fight so that I don’t have to fight”?

Don’t try to stop the these thoughts or  try to control them or judge them.  Just observe as they happen.  The mere process of observation brings them to your conscious attention rather then them just happening automatically and almost unconsciously.  When you consciously observe them, they have less control over you as you can begin to consciously disregard them.  The thoughts and the negative emotions that accompany them then start to dissipate.  This is a process which takes time and will not have instant results.

Now it starts to get a bit weird.  If you are observing these thoughts, who is the real you.  Are you the observer or the thinker?

Does this mean that you have 2 identities, the one thinking these negative thoughts and the one that is observing them?  This were we could go into the realm of serious mental illness . . . . “the voices told me to do it”!!!!

However, it is perfectly normal to have this inner voice, it is only the degree to which we listen to it or let it control us that can become a problem.

OK, the inner voice, for want of a better name is your ego, and is driven by your past experiences.  It only knows what has actually happened in the past, so it assumes that these things will continue to happen as that is all it knows.  This is why people who are unaware of their inner voice are more likely to get stuck in life’s ruts and not be able to move on in life.  Those who learn to silence the voice are more creative, imaginative, intuitive and do better in all aspects of life.

So who/what is the observer?

This is where different people will have different views.  The more spiritually inclined might say that it is your higher self or inner being!  If you are not spiritually inclined, then consider this; we all know that we only consciously use about 10% of our brain capacity.  That leaves a massive 90% that we don’t consciously use.  Imagine the power of the mind if you could tap into that 90%.  How much more could you achieve and be capable of?  That is the part of the mind that you are beginning to bring into play when you start observing your own thoughts and hence over time, silencing them.

Intuition is when our unconscious mind knows something, but our conscious mind has not recognised it.  People who have learnt to silence their mind can tap into this intuition much more readily than those who live in the constant noise their own personal nutter!  Our subconscious mind (higher self/inner being depending on your belief system) cannot communicate with us by thought, it communicates via emotions.  Whether its a nasty gut feeling when somebody offers to help you and you don’t trust them, or a happy feeling when you are offered an opportunity which you have to make a choice about.

Moving meditation (such as kata/forms/patterns) or still meditation (moksu) will take us closer to this intuitive state over a period of time.  Observing our thoughts will help take us to get there more quickly.

The top martial artists seem to have an ability to almost “read somebody” before they even move.  How can they know what attack is coming and prepare for it or counter it, almost before the attack is even launched?  It comes back to that intuition.  It comes back to the unconscious mind detecting those almost unperceivable subtle shifts in the opponents weight, breathing, body tension, etc; which are too small for the conscious mind to register.  But if the mind is quiet, then those unperceivable signals will be detected (mind like the moon) and fed back into an instinctive reflex counter (mind like water), which even the defender is not really aware of how he/she knew what was coming!  It just happened automatically and without thought.

Have you ever had a fight, (whether real or in competition) where afterwards somebody has said, “that was a good ******** that you did there” (where ******** can be any technique at all); and you can’t properly remember doing it?  That is where you’ve switched of the conscious mind, the urgency of the situation has brought you very much into the present moment and the unconscious mind has recognised the tiny signals that give away the attackers intent, and you’ve trusted this intuition enough to let it chose the right counter for you without you having to consciously decide.  Hence you don’t remember what you did not consciously chose to do, even though it was probably one of your best techniques ever!

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