Category Archives: Training Sessions

Blog post about my training sessions

Heian Godan Kata, One Kiai or Two?

One of the biggest issues with traditional martial arts today is consistency from school to school or instructor to instructor. When teaching or taking karate, you will start to encounter problem areas in kata and other basics/drills. What do I mean by “problem areas”? Lets take a basic example. For 20+ years, you may train with an instructor whom will tell you to punch one way. But then down the road, you train with someone else, perhaps even someone who trained under your instructor at one point, and then they tell you to do the punch different from how you’ve been doing it for 20 years. Who is right, and furthermore, what is the right way to do the punch?

The finest example of this “consistency” problem is Heian Godan. When watching/training with outsiders from our karate school, we often run into one trouble area of the kata. Most people in the world today do Heian Godan with two kiai in the kata. One on the punch and the second on the jump. But in our dojo pretty much since the beginning of time, we have only done a single kiai.

How We Do It Now

In our school, our head instructor Master William Viola recently told us that we are only to do one single kiai in Heian Godan. Despite what any one else says, what any videos show us, or anything else, we are to do one and only one kiai in Heian Godan. Now for me, I  follow what my head instructor teaches. If he said do one kiai, I am only going to do and teach one kiai in the kata. In his own words, “Western Pennsylvania is right and the rest of the world is wrong!”

But wait, is this correct? Is the rest of the really world wrong? Well, those words should be taken in a light-hearted way and it’s not meant to be taken negatively towards other schools or instructors. The truth is, our Sensei passes down what he originally learned when he came up through the ranks. Since then, the “people in charge” of Shotokan, such as organizations like the USAKF and JKA have amd always will change their minds about things. Whether you belong to organizations or not, different groups of different instructors disagree and before you know it there are fifteen different right ways to do a kata.

Why We Only Do One Kiai

Our instructor trained with Master Kanazawa and several other head honchos of Shotokan karate back in the mid 1960’s. Our instructor told us it was like this. Back then, a group of Shotokan instructors got together at a huge table. He described it exactly as a poker table. This “table” included several huge names in Shotokan history (including Kanawawa and I think Nishiyama), most of which I regrettably cannot remember. But anyway, they would exchange moves/ideas for karate. Things to change or keep in kata, where to do kiai, and so forth.

The truth is, in the 1960’s it was agreed upon by this table of black belts that there was to be ONE kiai in the kata Heian Godan. There is evidence of this in a a book from the 1960’s with Kanazawa. It was the “OFFICIAL” Shotokan series of handbooks where Heian Godan only had ONE kiai in the kata. I do not know the exact name/release of the book but it was an official book  by Kanazawa, part of a series of books released in chronological order on Shotokan kata.

 

Back then, it was settled. One kiai in Heian Godan. And from then on till today, my instructor has only done a single kiai in the kata and that’s that. But fast forward to 2013. Look in recent books not only from Kanazawa but from other kata masters, and there is now two. So what happened? Why did it change?

The answer is politics. As I stated earlier, it has to do with the organizations behind karate, not just Shotokan, but almost all Japanese styles of karate. Instructors disagree, ego’s come into play, and before you know it instructors change things in kata and the basics of karate. When Gichin Funakoshi died in the 1950’s, he took with him his leadership and control over Shotokan karate. None of his head students knew what to do. No one was deemed the head of Shotokan to carry the torch. This caused most of his head students to get in arguments about what was the right way to do thinks in karate.

How You Should Do it

Apart from all the politics and nonsense, I think the “right” way to do Heian Godan simply depends you and your karate school. If your Sensei tells you to do one kiai, you do one kiai. If you’re told to do two, you do two. But you’re training on your own, it doesn’t matter. You do what works for you. And if you train with someone else and do it different, I highly doubt they are going to roundhouse kick you in the face for it. The more important thing here is that you do the kata and you do the kata to the best of your ability, nothing more. A simple kiai isn’t going to change the fate of the the world. It isn’t going to make the karate gods angry and strike down upon you with their wrath. So do it the way you want to do it! For me, I have and always will do only one kiai in the kata. My instructor told me to do only one, I’ve only done one for my entire life in karate, and any videos, books, or groups of people I’ve never even met in the world aren’t going to change my mind about it that easily.

The History and Bunkai of Bassai Sho

In last weeks Monday night black belt class, we given a homework assignment. Shihan Viola asked us to research the application behind Bassai Sho. The week passed by quickly and today was our day to break down this kata. We spent the entire class discussing the bunkai (application) behind the kata. Take a look at the kata Bassai Dai, infamous tournament-style kata recognized in many styles of martial arts, even in Korean styles of karate. The moves are very practical. There are blocks, punches, strikes, and the works. The application can be very easy to figure out.

Moving on to Bassai Sho at black belt level, the kata is far different. There are slow moves, strange hand formations, circular blocks with strikes, and a very strange ending to the kata. In class, everyone had their own input from doing the entire kata with a bo staff, to blocking a bo, to even some Jujitsu style application.

 

Personally, I feel that weapons do not coincide with Shotokan kata, or any empty hand kata. Karate translates to empty hand and I feel as soon as we start introducing weapons into the mix, it becomes something different. By all means I do not mean that the moves cannot block weapons, but often I find the generic responses to blocking weapons very impractical.

For example, the third move into the Bassai Sho. We do a two-handed block with a slow press. It almost looks like a move where you “catch the bo”. However, I think that someone swinging a bo staff a full force to hit someone, I don’t think that’s the right move to block that. Shihan agreed with that statement, stating that, number one, weapons are dangerous.. He always said “weapons are an extension of the body”. Before anything you would want to move in on an opponent before they swing. Number two, going back to my original argument, I think that move is simply impractical for blocking a weapon. Here is an interesting video of Kenneth Funakoshi showing his application for the kata. He is one that does the “catching of the bo” move that I personally hate.

I can spend all night explaining moves. And I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to do it. But picking any application for kata, I don’t like the weapon explanations given. Anyway in the end, what Shihan told us was, there is basically no real answer to the application of Bassai Sho. He explained that there were  meeting(s) between several high level black belts in various organizations such as “USAKF” that couldn’t agree on the application to the kata. Certain moves represented different types of applications and over the years bunkai to not only Bassai Sho, but many other kata, it’s almost becoming a lost art.

Looking at the bigger picture, this is becoming a problem in modern karate. Kata gets watered down, altered for tournaments and different styles, and many people don’t retain the information for the application for all the kata which is really the most important thing. One reason why I like coming on here during the digital age and blogging about it is that digital information is this information never vanishes. Books, physical text papers, it crumbles with the masters who wrote it. Back in the early 1900’s, martial artist didn’t have YouTube, videos, and etc. to retain that information. And because of society, laws, and political reasons, I think many of the masters back then never knew karate would get so huge nor did they think about these types of things back then.

 

Finally we went into a brief history lesson over the kata. I believe Shihan mentioned Funakoshi acquired this kata from Azato. However, other sources claim he got it elsewhere. To my knowledge I don’t think there’s any solid evidence to back where this kata originated from in terms of Shotokan kata. I find it interesting though. Sometimes you get to black belt level and you end up having more questions than answers about a particular move or kata. I’m starting to find out slowly that there isn’t always a dead set way of doing things, whether it’s kata, bunkai, or the works.

I think after today’s lesson I have a new respect for finding the application to each kata.  I think it’s in my generation where people are going to have to start figuring out application to these kata and finding practical and useful ways to make people learn it and retain it. But this goes into a whole other argument. The younger audience (10 and under), they really struggle with bunkai. I think somewhere in-between this kind of stuff has to get reintroduced into the repertoire.

The proper timing for kata Hangetsu

This past several month’s we have been practicing the kata Hangetsu in our Monday black belt class, translated to “Half Moon” in Japanese. Gichin Funakoshi felt the need to introduce tension-style training into the Shotokan repertoire as this was not only a great training and conditioning element, but also something very common in other styles of karate. Hangetsu was added to the list of Shotokan kata to make up for this missing element.

Before diving into the kata, we spent several months practicing the proper technique for executing the tension in the beginning moves of the kata. We practiced doing very slow punches in a hangetsu stance, giving special attention to the powerful tension and focus at the end of each punch. These were slow, concentrated punches that take approximately 5 to 6 seconds of movement before the full extension of the punch takes place.

Once we got the basics down, we started to practice the kata. On average, the kata should take approximately 63 seconds from beginning to end. Our entire class was surprisingly dead on each run through with the kata. One spot we immediately fixed when we started the kata were the “block punch punch” moves in the middle of the kata. The second primary spot were the slow hand-draw after the first kiai.

 

Overall Hangetsu was a great kata to work on. One different between our instructors methods and what I have seen elsewhere is the “block punch punch” moves. I have seen others do these in the Hangetsu stance, yet we practice them in a front stance. In my practices I always train how my master informs me so I am now doing these as front stance. But I always make note of things like these for down the road.

 

 

Jump Spinning Reverse Punch

Reverse PunchLast night we started out black belt class with a typical reverse punch routine. But that quickly evolved into something different. Our Sensei asked us to do a “jump spinning  reverse punch“. We’ve all seen the glorious hollywood style jump kicks such as the hurricane kick and the butterfly kick. But this was a move that involved landing with a punch. Not so much a technique with alot of flare, more so it was something to teach you to ground yourself and then immediately punch after.

I googled this jumping punch and I did not find anything pertaining to it to illustrate how it’s done, but here is the technique broken down for those curious.

Jump Spinning Punch

  1. Kumite into your typical downward block
  2. Instead of doing a reverse punch in place, you jump up pulling both feet in the air doing a 180 to your right (going right to start off)
  3. Land with both feet in a front stand and throw your reverse punch with the left hand immediately after
  4. For the second, count, you jump doing a 180 to your left this time and land to punch with the right hand reverse punch (alternate sides)
  5. After a full set, kumite and switch stance to mix it up a bit so you are jumping on different sides

This was a great drill we did, and it is also a great workout. Our Sensei stated his old Japanese masters used to swing a bo full speed at your feet and would crack you if you weren’t jumping high enough, he wanted us to jump as high as possible. After mentioning the bo staff everyone started jumping higher thinking we would be victim to the bo staff…

After completing both sides of that drill, we did a 360 version instead of a 180. So one you kumite you jump turning to your left side doing a full 360 and landing punching with the right hand. For this one, you end up punching the same side all the time. This was a nice drill to teach the difficult kick of Unsu kata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practicing Fast Hitting Techniques and Reaction

In this weeks Monday Black Belt class, we started the class out with our typical reverse punch routine. Every class we start out with reverse punch, and I have to agree with that old Bruce Lee quote in regards to our typical punching routine:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Every black belt class there is something new to refine out skills with, though. I was sick for the previous week and now this week I come back and I seen that our dojo had picked up a new piece of training equipment – these Century numbered shields pictured above. As skimpy as they look, they proved to be an extremely versatile piece of training equipment!

Everyone in class partnerered up and one person would hold the pad. The person hitting had to turn around so they wouldn’t see the order of numbers on the pad, this made for a nice mental challenge behind the drill that we had to quickly analyze our targets. Shihan started the drill out basic. He had us just try punching the targets first. Surprisingly it’s harder than it looks and it’s a little awkward because sometimes the numbers get stuck in the pads.

 

Punching wise, this wasn’t too effective of a piece of training equipment in my opinion. However, for kicks and spear hands this I ended up love training with this thing. After punching we tried doing snap kicks. Number one, this equipment can help you develop precise kicking. To kick such a small target with the ball of your foot, it is the level of accuracy we should all strive for. After all if you don’t have control over you techniques, what good are they?

Second, to make the targets effectively get knocked out of the pads, you had to focus your snap kick PAST the targets. So instead of just hitting the targets, you had to think go through them. This is an important concept in the principals behind karate. Whether it comes to hitting a bag or a person, the true power and focus comes when you think of going through that person. I find many of my sparring techniques are cut short because I often think of holding back and not following through with techinques.

 

Overall this was an effect and differnet way to train. It’s not the greatest piece of training equipment in the world but I give it props for developing quick mental focus and learning to follow through with strikes. Later on, we alternated with different moves per target and even did a spear hand strike for one. This was a nice way to practice spear hand techniques on something without breaking your fingers. Unless you already have the monk-like abilities to strike your fingers through a watermelon and cut it in half!

We finished class with kata. We did Jion, Bassai Dai, Heian Nidan, and (to my surpise) Bassai Sho at the end of class in that order.  Bassai Sho is definitely one of my weaker kata, as the ending moves are difficult and for moves near the end with the low kicks and  double striking hands, I find it difficult to get the right power on the moves. believe the hips and power should come once the kicking foot hits the ground. Perhaps this will be our next kata to clean up in black belt class (I hope).