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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Welcome to the fourth part of this series of articles.

Thankfully, this most importantly signifies the end of my treatment at the hospital, but also sadly represents the end of my summer holiday from work. At the end of this process, when I look down, my leg definition has improved greatly, and they feel stronger than ever.  Emma, wanting me to have rugby player legs is now thrilled and getting leg massages is so much easier and actually no longer requires boxes of chocolate or bottles of wine. But what about my bloody knees?

Throughout this process, the amount of training I do hasn’t really changed. I have continued training daily, continued teaching, and continued travelling at the weekends. The most obvious outcome has been that after training, even after the gruelling sessions, the degree of swelling around the knee and surrounding areas has decreased significantly. It had become all too often for me to hobble into the house after training/teaching and for me to sit on the sofa with my legs up on the leg rest with a very large shot of Jack Daniels at hand and a pack of ice on the knees.

Thankfully, that’s all changed. Now, when I get home all I have do is sit back comfortably and reflect on the class without the deep pain and discomfort. The Jack is still there though, because too much change is bad for you I tend to think.

In spite of the swelling no longer being a problem, I am still experiencing the odd give-way.

This I think is the most positive thing to have come from the physio and all of the knee problems. It has brought my attention closer to my own training. With every near, and full give-way I am analysing my own movement and technique. I can put money on the fact that every time I have pain it’s because I have done something that goes against the healthy alignment of the body. Therefore, my body is my own very security guard, telling me every time I do things incorrectly, reprimanding me with a trip to the floor. I found, as I touched on in the last article, I have had to look closer to home (my own body) and practice what I preach.

Shaun Banfield kicking with bad knees

An easiest example is that I would incorrectly push the front knee too far forward in zenkustu-dachi. This I know is very incorrect, exerting too much pressure through the front knee. Now, my students don’t do this and I am always harking on about it, but there I am doing it myself. Great example or what? Now, when I push the knee too far forward, it just gives out. Perfect, so as my body bails on me, I am correcting my muscle memory so that it becomes natural to sit accurately in the stance. This has been terribly beneficial and has brought my own study closer inwards, analysing movement with the accurate alignment as top priority.

My study has gone in this direction now more than ever, and its principles have spread even deeper to other body parts that I do not experience pain with, such as the shoulder and hips.

I am finding now more than ever that if you train with close attention to the stuff you learned at the very early stages of your kihon development then more often than not, you’ll be healthier in your training.

Quite important I feel is that on top of my further refining of my understanding of movement, is the need to keep up with the regime prescribed by the physio. With my case, specific exercises have helped realign the knee through building accurate muscles. Therefore, it’s essential that I now keep up with the training I have experienced. Common sense would tell that if I simply abandoned it now that the problem would just come back as the muscles I have developed waste away.

What I have found to be most useful in both my training and my teaching is the inclusion of certain exercises into my karate training. One such example is the towel on the floor exercises.

 

  • You lay a towel out flat on the ground and stand in shizentai with feet at both ends. Then you have to walk around the room moving forward whilst keeping the entire foot on the floor (therefore not allowing the heel or sides of the feet to lift at all).
  • Feet on the towel, moving side to side by squeezing the inside leg muscles.

 

These exercises at the beginning of the class can be so useful and can then be adapted to the class where stance training is of high priority.

 

  • Have two towels folded into small squares, one under each foot. Get into zenkustu-dachi and have them move up the dojo whilst keeping the feet on the towels. This removes the ability to drive off the balls off the rear ball of foot (which is correct, but not necessary for this exercise).  Therefore, you have to use the front leg as an anchor, you have to squeeze the inside leg muscles together, you have to employ the core muscles and back muscles, you have to effectively employ the buttocks.

 

This is just one example, but I think it highlights how I have been able to incorporate what I have learned into my training.

At the end of this process one thing has become more apparent more than ever. There’s such a pressing need to highlight the healthy practices in karate. This is not common enough I tend to think. Only a handful of instructors I have trained under actually touch on the need to do this or do that because it’s healthy for the body. Sadly, I tend to think it’s a bit of an afterthought.

So if I am able to share one thing, I would say bring your attention to your body, movement and how they should work together for healthy practice. Don’t wait until you have an injury before you correct it. Look deep now, analyse and refine your practice and/or teaching to ensure you are giving yourself and your students the best possible opportunity to train for a lifetime unhindered.

So for me, I’ll say adieu and head off to be kind to my knees.

Take care and good healthy practice!

 

Shaun Banfield