Thursday, 11 August 2011

JKS Dan Grading's - My personal experience

I thought I would write about my experience of grading within the JKS organisation. I have in the past heard derogatory remarks from people about the standard of Karate-ka and the grading system of the JKS. Most of the time these individuals actually have no facts about or experience of JKS Karate. It has been claimed that the JKS just hand out grades and are only bothered about taking the money.... this is totally untrue!

Many people I know in the JKS have had to work so hard to achieve their Dan grades. I only have to look to my Sensei Alan Campbell (JKS England Chief Instructor & JKS GB & Ireland Chairman) who passed his Roku Dan (6th Dan) Grading at the JKS Hombu Dojo in Japan , December 2009. Going into the 'lions den' to physically and mentally challenge himself - no mean feat in the 'home' of Karate. This is something for Alan Sensei, his club students and his organisation to take pride in!

Both of my Nidan (2nd Dan) and Sandan (3rd Dan) gradings have been accredited to the JKS and I take great pride in both of these passes! For our organisation to be led by great instructors such as the late Asai Shihan, and now the future of the JKS with Kagawa, Yamaguchi, Kanayama Sensei's and many others that deserve mentioning it's safe to say we are in very good hands! (I say 'our organisation' as the majority of people reading this will be JKS members). Within the JKS GB and Ireland we are also led by 2 excellent Sensei and Karate-ka in our Technical Director Scott Langley (JKS 5th Dan) & our Chairman Alan Campbell (JKS 6th Dan). They in turn are supported by a great bunch of 'senior' Instructors to make our organisation strong and friendly. I believe in what we are taught by our Sensei's in the JKS GB & Ireland and it is made clear we try to practice Karate-do in the right spirit not only to conform to the JKS grading syllabus  but to develop our Karate to make it personal to us. It's obvious I am fiercely proud of my Karate lineage.... Seibukan Karate Club, JKS England, JKS GB and Ireland then of course our links to JKS Japan.

Me with Sensei's Scott & Alan on the left and with Shihan Kagawa after my Sandan grading!

No JKS Dan grading is easily passed... this I can promise you! So for a short while I will talk about my experiences and in particular my Nidan grading...

I think it was in September/October 2005 that I attempted to go for my Nidan in Loughborough with Yamaguchi & Kanayama Sensei's. I passed everything apart from my Kihon. Kata - tick! Kumite - tick! Kihon - retry in 3 months! I was absolutely gutted! I was failed on the yori-ashi movement in the Kihon combinations... this made me realise how tough JKS gradings are. How much the Japanese Sensei's want to push you past your limits... For me I believed this was a test of character and spirit! To fail on such a small part of the overall grading was upsetting.... but I think this was Yamaguchi and Kanayama Sensei's way of testing whether or not I'd  go away train even harder and come back for more! If I'd have given up I wouldn't have been worth the grade anyway.... So the month's passed and I was told I would be grading in Nottingham, March 2006 with Inada Sensei (Senior JKS Japan Hombu Dojo Instructor and former All Japan Kumite Champion).

Inada Sensei refereeing my Cadet Kumite Bronze medal match at the JKS GB International Open, Crawley, 2004

2006 JKS Nidan Grading and Course with Inada, Alan & Scott Sensei's

This course was very special to me as Inada Sensei seemed to have already of known that I was going for my Nidan grading on his course. So his lessons were based on the Nidan Kihon syllabus and seemed to always focus his attention towards me... not to the exclusion of others.... but he kind of knew when he needed to correct my technique, continually pushing me and working me harder!

Here are a few key points from the weekend's course content......
The main focus during the Kihon training with Inada Sensei was contraction and expansion (open/close).
Some of the basics (from zenkutsu-dachi) included;

  • Gyaku-zuki, back, oi-zuki, gedan berai (key point for this was to keep the striking hand back until the last moment on the oi-zuki making sure the foot/hand finish together).
  • Mae-geri, back, step forward mae-geri, gedan berai (hips close, open, close open...).
The grading took place on the Saturday after the course - I was determined not to fail! First up was the Kata section. I'd already passed both Kata and Kumite previously but I was told that I'd be doing the whole grading again just before I took it! I chose Nijushiho as my tokui Kata - which I felt was quite strong. I was then asked to perform Junro Shodan. Great! I didn't know it 100% at that time! Scott Sensei translated this to Inada Sensei... and they were talking for a few minutes (it seemed like an eternity!) then Inada Sensei just said ok.... I could sense a bit of disappointment! I then exclaimed "but I know Junro Yondan!!" Inada Sensei looked surprised... how could I know this but not the first one?? Nevertheless I was asked to perform Junro Yondan and I did so without any mistakes to my relief! Phew! Next up..... Kumite! I thought "YES!!! Let's have it! Not letting anyone stop me from achieving my pass!" I ended up fighting two seniors from my club (James Sempai and Alexander Dolton, our clubs first Sandan who unfortunately doesn't train any more). I was so pumped up for it that I more than stood my ground and tried to dominate the whole way through. YAME! was called and that was that! I was pretty pleased with my performance so far... then came the Kihon! Like always, I tried my best to encorporate what had been taught on the course. I awaited my results after...
  • Kumite - PASS!
  • Kata - PASS!
  • Kihon - retake on Sunday!!! I was gutted! I was told to work on tobi-kondi (step and slide) and yori-ashi (sliding movement in)!
So the course on Sunday with Inada Sensei was based on the Nidan syllabus again! Here are some more lesson notes from the course:
  • Tobi-kondi & yori-ashi - slide, weight on front leg, deep impact, body forward and technique right in.... *gaining DISTANCE!
  • Mawashi-geri -lead with the knee, go for distance (back foot sliding is ok!) and start kick 'wide' going round and down!!!
  • Kizami-zuki, yori ashi, sanbon-zuki - keep going forward, deep stances, complete all punches (no short techniques!) and pull hikite hand in line (not into the body!)
Alan Sensei then taught a lesson. Key points were:
  • Kiba-dachi - correct angles, weight ditribution and inner thighs squeeze.
  • In kiba-dachi using hip vibrations, Exercise 1 - moving; forward, right, back, left, forward twist forwards then Exercise 2 - moving forward, left, back, right, forward, twist backwards.
  • Pivoting exercise (heel to go backwards or ball of foot to go forwards.)
  • Kata Bunkai for Heian Shodan and Nidan using attacks or holds.
Then Scott Sensei taught Tekki Shodan, Nidan and Sandan - following on from Alan Sensei's lesson about how important Kiba-dachi is, as well as about timing, control and explosive movements.

The final lesson was taught by Inada Sensei... here are the last few notes I had jotted down:
  • Kumite partner work - 1 person attacks, 1 person counter-attacks "counter attacker should have the same thinking of the attacker > attack before they attack you!!"
  • According to Inada Sensei there are 3 types of punches/kicks - long, short (you need to vary the distance) or block counter/attack/same time (aiuchi).....

More Nidan Basics....

  • Back age-uke
  • Forward mawashi-geri (distance right in!!!)
  • keep going forward same side uraken with no snap back
  • with momentum still going forward, step through oi-zuki
  • KEY POINT >> flow techniques & deep impact!
  • Forward mawashi-geri
  • opposite leg forward ashi-berai (foot curved to hook & knee to chest and across body)
  • uraken, gyaku-zuki.
I must admit I felt the whole weekend was physically and mentally draining for me... trying my best to take in all the key lesson points and trying my best to pass my grading! At the end of the lesson on the Sunday I had to do the Kihon section of my grading in front of the whole course! I found the an extra store of adrenaline from somewhere and blasted out each combination I was told to do as best as I could! I was that concentrated it felt like I had tunnel vision, no one else was there to me, just me and Inada Sensei, trying my best to achieve the correct performance of my technique as I was taught just hours previously... I was was spent! Nothing left in the tank.... then I heard "Craig Williams.... Nidan.... PASS!!!" I was overjoyed! Part of me was thinking finally! But I knew that this grade meant everything to me... I had to work damn hard for it, not only in the preparation in the months leading upto it but in the grading too! Many of the senior Dan grades  on the course, which included the Captain Simon Bligh (mentioned in previous blogs), congratulated me and even commented that what they saw was the hardest Nidan grading they've seen....... and that means a lot when you look at the grade and experience some of the senior grades in the JKS GB & Ireland have got!

The JKS as an organisation is open and very friendly. Courses that are put on by the JKS are open to everyone, all organisations. For us to develop as Karate-ka it is important to broaden our horizon's and gain instruction from top Instructor's... you are encouraged to go out and train with many instructors and gain experience. As long as you stay true to the JKS with regards to your grading's and membership etc. I hope this blog has given you some useful information with regards to the JKS and my personal experiences. Feel free to discuss this topic on my blog! For anyone interested in joining JKS England please contact Simon Bligh Sensei on +44-(0)797-382-9970 and here is a link to the webiste for relevant information on joining JKS England;


Sunday, 7 August 2011

My favourite Asai Shihan Kata

I know I've not posted for a while so I thought I'd better sort it out! So my returning blog will be based on the question "What is my favourite Asai Kata and why?" This was asked by Simon Bligh Sensei otherwise known to everyone at Seibukan Karate Club as the 'Captain!'

Since becoming part of the JKS I have become accustomed to being taught to think 'outside the box' and develop my Karate to become personal and effective to me. Over the years we (I say we as in Alan Campbell Sensei's club) have practiced many of Asai Shihan's Kata's. My first memories of seeing and experiencing these 'different' Kata's were at the JKS GB's first ever International Seminar and Championships in Crawley, in 2004. Seeing Asai Shihan and the, at the time, up and coming young Makita Sensei teaching these Kata's - designed to be used as training tools to compliment the Shotokan Kata we already have.

Here's a link to a video of Makita Sensei teaching Junro Shodan and Nidan on the course I mentioned previously:

Also, Makita Sensei demonstrates Kakuyoku Nidan on the same course (you can see a very young me in the background!) in the following link:

Me practicing Unsu in Okinawa

It's difficult to decide which Kata is my favourite as there are so many Asai Kata to choose from. It's like asking what is you're Tokui Kata at different stages in you're competitive career. You like to choose the most 'eye-catching' Kata that you hope would impress the judges. BUT it must encompass good solid Kihon techniques! It should definitely not any involve any theatric or non existant movements! At the moment most people know my Tokui Kata is Unsu, which I performed at successfully in May 2011 to win the JKS Ireland Men's Individual Kata. The reason I like Unsu is for the pace of the Kata, you have the slow, controlled parts and the parts that can show off your athleticism (the four tate shuto gyaku zuki's) and obviously the jump is a big 'eye-catcher!'

JKS Ireland Open 2010 - Me performing Unsu

So if I had to choose one Asai Kata in particular I would have to pick Junro Yondan. Many people that have recently joined JKS England have told me how difficult a Kata this is for them to grasp. For me it was the first Kata I remembered..... I say remembered because I was taught all 5 by Alan Sensei (after we were shown them on courses with various instructors like Kagawa, Yamaguchi, Kanayama, Koike, Inada, Scott Sensei's) but Junro Yondan was the first one to stick in my head! I remember going for my Nidan grading in Nottingham in 2006 with Inada Sensei and when it came to Kata I did Nijushiho as my Tokui, then Bassai Dai was selected for me. I was then asked to do Junro Shodan by Inada Sensei... I didn't know it 100%! Inada Sensei then looked to Scott Sensei..... then I exclaimed "But I know Junro Yondan!!!" Inada Sensei looked confused..... with translation he replied how can you know this without knowing the first one??" But I duly performed Junro Yondan and ended up passing my grading to great relief!

So, it's a Junro Yondan is a favourite as it's a Kata that has brought personal success with regards to my Nidan grading. For some reason I really like techniques and movements that require spinning and pivoting so I feel really at ease with this Kata. Below is another link, of Scott Langley Sensei performing Junro Yondan:

I feel that some of the key themes to this Kata are spinning/pivoting and re-use of the same hand. When spinning forward (leading with the chest/open side) it is best to spin on the ball/middle of your foot but when you spin backwards (leading with your back/closed side) it is more effective to spin on the heel of the foot. To me, Junro Yondan feels like a realistic fighting Kata because you aren't just blocking and countering.... There could be a number of blocks before you're able to counter - just like in a real fighting scenario! Also the Kata shows us that we can block pro actively going forward i.e. the first two moves. The Kata also introduces us to Neko Ashi Dachi again, as well as open hand techniques.

The Junro Kata's are like the Heian Kata's - the basis to support development of good technique and understanding of body mechanics. I believe the key to Asai-Ryu Kata is smooth transitions, relaxation and fluidity - so bare this in mind when learning and refining these Kata's.

Keep training hard and enjoy what you do!