After a lot of pushing from James Martin (JKS, 3rd Dan) Sempai (a far more experienced blogger as we all already know!) I have finally decided to move out of the 'comfort zone' and write my views on the JKS, Kata, Kumite, Kihon, in fact anything Karate-related! So this is my first ever blog.... on the Junro Kata's, focusing on Junro Shodan in particular. Hope you all enjoy reading! Osu!
Since joining the JKS in 2003 with Alan Campbell Sensei (6th Dan JKS) I have been exposed to many Asai-Ryu Kata. Unfortunately I only managed to train with Asai Shihan once. This occasion was when we had our first JKS GB & Ireland international seminar and championships in Crawley, England in 2004. This was taught by Shihan Tetsuhiko Asai, Sensei Masao Kagawa and the Senior JKS Hombu Dojo Instructors. It was at this course that an up-and-coming Kenshusei course instructor called Takuya Makita taught Junro Shodan, Junro Nidan and Kakusen Shodan (an Ashi-berai Kata). This was my first taste of Asai-Ryu Kata!
Asai Shihan practiced over 120 Kata's that he mastered and he added five more, Junro 1-5, in addition to the 26 Kata in the standard JKS syllabus. Many of the Asai-Ryu Kata aren't "shotokan-ised" and are used as a training aid to compliment Shotokan Kata. For example, the Junro Kata teach good body mechanics and introduces us to stances and techniques that we wouldn't normally come across until we reach the advanced Kata's. So, in other words, the Junro Kata's compliment our syllabus Kata.
Junro Shodan is one of five Kata's developed by Asai Shihan designed to bridge the gap between low/intermediate and advanced Kata in the Shotokan syllabus. Junro means "the next step" or to "level up." After studying Junro Shodan for the past 6/7 years (in fact Junro Nidan, Sandan, Yondan & Godan too) I have come to the conclusion that these Kata's cannot be performed without relaxation - false kime and too much tension is a big problem with people in Shotokan Karate but this isn't possible if you expect to perform smooth transitions throughout the Kata.
The Junro's definitley add something to your Karate especially as they all have key themes that can be used to focus on possible weaknesses in our Karate. The same goes for other Asai-Ryu Kata. He didn't design them for the sake of it. They are to improve deficiencies we have and to focus on particular techniques etc. Quickly I will mention other Asai-Ryu Kata's and there theme:
- Rantai - mostly a kicking Kata
- Kakusen Shodan - an ashi-berai kata (balance, strength and timing)
- Joko Issei - a pivoting Kata focusing on how to use the hips to generate body movement.
The key theme for Junro Shodan is re-using the same hand. For example, the first 3 moves of gedan berai in kiba-dachi, jodan uchi-uke in shizentai followed by tetsui in zenkutsu-dachi are all with the left hand. Then of course we have the spinning/turning component of the Kata, for example, in the next two moves we have spinning behind gedan berai, gyaku zuki in zenkutsu-dachi. Just like basic kata, whatever we do on the left side we do on the right side and repeat. Just like the Heian Kata's the shape of Junro Shodan is the same... in a capital 'I' shape. So in the first 10 moves of this Kata we have been introduced to the the re-usage of the same hand and 360 degree kaiten (spinning/turning) movement and gyaku kaiten (reverse spinning/turning). Also, we are introduced to Kiba-dachi here - we don't see this stance until Heian Sandan!
We also use transition techniques to allow us to repeat what we did on our left side with our right side. So continuing with the Kata, we turn gedan berai to the front, recoil into neko ashi dachi same hand uchi-uke then return into front stance gyaku-zuki. Step forward gedan berai (the transitional move) to allow us to repeat the same thing on the right hand side then step forward gyaku-zuki to kiai! Again we are introduced to reusing the hand as well as neko ashi dachi - a stance we don't see until the advanced level Kata's (Hangetsu)! Towards the end of the Kata we use open hand techniques, which, again, we don't usually see until advanced level Kata's.
Junro Shodan is the 1st of a series of five Kata's and therefore is a taster of what's to come in the other 4 Junro's.
Although I'm far from an an expert on any of the Junro Kata's but I believe practicing Junro Shodan can help to develop contraction and expansion in the body to create relaxed power and therefore helps us to create the relaxed snapping feeling of our techniques. Having to rely on creating power reusing the same hand prevents us from tensing too much and becoming stiff. Basically if you're not relaxed you cannot reuse the same hand effectively. Personally, this Kata has helped me to become more relaxed in my upper body and shoulders. Having to co-ordinate hip and shoulder snap without a 'natural' pulling back hikite feeling has made me think more about my technique and feel 'looser.' Something I feel everyone needs to do - rather than just going through the Kata just making shapes. Also, it has brought to my attention balance issues in neko ashi dachi. Being able to move fast in and out of this stance has reaped reward in other Kata's for me. For those who know me, in particular my improvement in this stance has been shown in my performance of my competition Kata Unsu - controlling the slow transitions forward in neko ashi dachi.
In conclusion of the points discussed I believe that you should concentrate on the main points of;
- creating a relaxed shoulder snap when reusing the same hand
- thinking about contraction and expansion when performing the turning and spinning techniques
I cannot stress enough that you need to be relaxed when performing this Kata, in fact all Asai-Ryu Kata, for it to be fluid and smooth with natural power and speed. Try focusing on the key themes of all the Junro Kata's and you will see/feel an improvement in both your Heian/Intermediate/Advanced Kata's and your Kihon. Asai Shihan used to say the Budo spirit is most important in Karate, that every time you do Kata you are in a fight! So, to finish up on, a quote from my Sensei...... "train hard.... fight easy!"
Craig Williams (JKS 3rd Dan)