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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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From Jack Daniels to Kiai

Shaun Banfield

 

Like many/most eighteen year olds, turning the legal age for alcohol consumption opened new realms of mischief. I’m not advocating alcohol consumption of course, but turning eighteen meant I could legally enjoy the dumbing down of senses…and boy did I get dumb. In developing a keen relationship with Jack Daniels, I learned many things about myself – some good and some BAAAAD!!!!

One thing alcohol taught me however was that I had the capacity for an extraordinary level of muscular relaxation, which of course is natural (which is why many fall asleep after a heavy drinking session). I remember – on one miserable New Year’s Eve - practicing gyaku-zuki after one too many Jack Daniels, and finding I could move incredibly fast. Now – one of two things happened. Either my muscles were so relaxed I was moving faster, OR, I was so drunk I thought I was moving faster. I prefer to belief the former, which is why I subsequently spent the next two years trying to achieve the ‘feeling’ of that muscular relaxation. Now don’t get me wrong, I have never really carried excessive levels of muscular tension, but this was a new level of fluidity.

I teach my advanced karate students that they should try to learn the ‘feeling’ of a technique or position, rather than its geometry. Naturally, the two are often inextricably linked, but achieving the ‘feeling’ leads to us recognising the difference between right and wrong. This is the exact reason that black belts can ‘feel’ the difference between a correct and incorrect zenkutsu-dachi. They ultimately develop an internal understanding and sensitivity of the difference between correct and incorrect.

My reason for writing this article is quite simple…this right now is very much where my thinking is at. In my own personal study, and training, and extended further into my teaching at my dojo in South Wales, this is the key focus of my attention (to the right audience of course). I therefore felt, since it is so important to me, that I should document my current thoughts on the issue as a way of sharing, but also to solidify my ideas in an intellectual (I hope) format.

In this edition of TSW, I published with Y. Osaka (Please refer to the interview section) I discussed my experience with him a few years ago, where he spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to get the students to ‘feel’ the movement, rather than just ‘perform’ it. This has since become a top priority in my teaching over the last 3 years since that weekend course. But how do you get someone else to ‘feel’?

I suppose the challenge posed by trying to get people to ‘feel’ a technique is - how do you know what they are feeling? Naturally, I use descriptions and I often physically adjust them to enhance their position in order to get the ‘feeling’, and then I ask them to ‘get to know the feeling’. I do this by having them achieve the accurate ‘feeling’ and keeping them in that place for a few seconds. Then I ask them to fractionally alter their position or geometry (angles of body parts) – so they lose the feeling – in order to recognise the difference. I then ask them to re-achieve the feeling.

This sensation sandwich of feeling – unfeeling – re-feeling helps the students develop an internal terminology for movement.

Becoming internally attentive in this way, paying close attention to what is squeezing, what is relaxing, what is moving, what is locking down etc…we are able to fine tune it further to enhance and maximise its potential. The only way I can describe it, is to use the analogy of driving a car…

When you first drive a car you will have an immediate reaction – Yes it drives well, or no it drives like a tank. That immediate response is often justified as it’s new, you don’t know your way around it too well, and it takes a bit of adjusting to.

Over time however, you get to know the car better. Soon, you will be able to recognise the difference between the car on a cold day, and the car on a hot day, as it will run better one day and perhaps worse another.

But this goes even deeper, you will get to the point where you know the feeling of the car so well that soon you will know when the engine isn’t firing in the way it should, or when there’s a delay in acceleration. You almost become (forgive for the accidental philosophy) ‘one’ with the car.

Therefore, there is a clear progression in you getting to know your car. Your karate is no different. Try a technique for the first time and it will be like that first day you drive your car…therefore in car terms, this article is aimed at those who have owned said car for a good while, and is not aimed at the new owner.

Now, on said day when you realise there is a slight delay in acceleration when you hit the pedal, a list of possible mechanical errors can be compiled. Exploration into each reveals the weak link. This process is the same in karate.

Now, in my karate career, I have been incredibly fortunate to train under some of the most wonderful, experienced and insightful instructors. Equally, I have also taught many, karateka (at my dojo and on open courses) that are completely out of touch with their body. They are jumping into that car on daily basis without paying attention to the ‘drive’, thinking ‘as long as it gets me there, who cares?’…but for those of you that do care (the fact you are reading a karate article means you probably do) I suppose my point is that you should really get to know your karate. What I will cover now is for the high end, experienced karateka, and should not be of major concern for lower grades as this may over complicate things for you.

Now so far, I have waxed poetically about feelings and sensitivity without actually sharing anything concrete that is of use…so I am now going to share just two examples:


Kokutsu-dachi

Kokutsu-dachi

Here the feeling is of pushing backwards. You aren’t just sat at the 70:30 weight distribution, your front foot is actively pushing you backwards, exerting pressure through the front ball of the foot. The front hip is squeezed, creating a relationship between the lead ball of foot and the lead hip through that lead leg. Consequently the lead buttock of Kokutsu-dachi becomes engaged. This is the ‘feeling’ of kokutsu-dachi. Without achieving this squeeze, the lead hip can protrude, the front knee can collapse inward, the centre of gravity can drop at 50:50 and the stance can be incredibly vulnerable to external pressures. 


Gyaku-zuki

Zenkutsu-dachi

Here your front knee is static and is the anchor point. Your rear leg is actively driving the front hip to almost squeeze ‘into’ the front knee. Therefore the hips aren’t in position because the hips simply moved, but because the rear leg is driving the hip forward.

Under these intense circumstances, the force could overthrow the body, therefore the front knee must be solid and static. Connected to this drive, the buttock on the punching side fully engages to help empower the hip drive. The punching arm’s shoulder protrudes slightly, and the side muscles engage, connecting upper body to lower body. The hikite is pulled tight, and the side muscles here are engaged too, to offer a balance to the striking side. This is the feeling of gyaku-zuki, at a high level, it’s not just about rotating the hips. Instead it’s about squeezing, releasing and engaging the right areas at the time.

Here are a few exercises, for example, that I use to help get my black belts to learn about the feeling of a Gyaku-zuki:

 

Rear held Resistance Bands



Resistance Bands are useful tools in karate. Over the years, I have trained with many instructors that advocate their use. At my own dojo in South Wales, I make regular use of them as they effectively highlight the emphasis on accurate squeezing in the right places. I use a range of methods when using the resistance bands, here are just a few examples:

 

High resistanceSlow punching – Slowly deliver the punch, thinking about where should be squeezing and contracting. The punch, at full extension, can then be given more resistance from the partner. At full extension, and when more resistance is applied, get the puncher to hold the position for a few seconds to locate the ‘feeling’. Focus here is on maintaining the position of the front knee in the stance (so it doesn’t move forward or back, or side to side). The drive of the rear heel into the ground should also be highlighted and the internal squeeze of the moving hip and the front knee so they at (impact phase) unite.

 

Medium resistanceFast punching. Here the partner applies medium levels of resistance, and the puncher has to punch fast against the resistance.

 

High resistance – Fast punching to work the first third (1/3) of the punch (The acceleration phase). Here maximum resistance is applied by the partner. The puncher can only expect to extend the punching arm 1/3 of its maximum extension. This maximum resistance helps increase the explosiveness of the first phase of the punch. Focus is on driving the elbow forward, rather than thinking about the punching hand, as the trajectory of the elbow will ultimately dictate where the punch travels.


 


Front (pulling) resistance


This form of resistance I developed in order to get my students to further understand how to ‘USE’ the front knee, rather than simply hold is still during the rotation. It is important, I have learned, to use the front leg during the rotation as an ‘anchor’ of sorts from which the rear leg’s drive can unite.

Here the rope is held by the partner and resistance is applied solely at the full extension. Here the increasing levels of resistance from the partner forces the karateka to stabalise and strengthen the front leg and its squeeze with the opposite hip.  The karateka does nothing with their arm, this is a lower body exercise. The karateka has to keep a straight arm, and make the legs and their squeezing do all of the work to stabalise the stance.


 


Rear held knee test


Here the partner’s belt is firmly looped around the karateka’s lead knee, and the held parallel to the ground behind. Then, as the karateka rotates from hanmi-shomen etc, the partner holding the belt behind can give feedback to the partner as to whether the knee is moving forward, back, and/or side to side as the partner will be able to feel the movement via the belt.




Now, becoming familiar with the feeling of the movement is important as you are able to recognise what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, the body responds to known feelings, so once familiar, and practiced with frequency, this can help make the movement a part of ‘muscle memory’, and instinctively natural without a thought process.

It may seem so ‘common sense’ that you should familiarise yourself with the feeling of a technique, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t. Key to my own development has been the tapping into this ‘feeling’. I will relay a story…

A few months back, Emma felt she had hit a brick wall. She was incredibly powerful, but in many ways relied on this power, which in her own words was ‘forced’ and subsequently slowed her down. I then asked her to start training without trying to be powerful, shake loose the feelings of power and tension and approach things, paradoxically, with less effort. She then started to train in this way, changing her perception of the accurate ‘feeling’ and replacing it with another, more efficient feeling. Consequently, she started to hit the pads harder and the following month went on to take Gold in Kata and Kumite at a National event that had tough competition.

The point I make here is that you must ensure that the feeling you are getting to know is the accurate one, and only someone experienced can guide you in that direction. Furthermore, this is why I suggested this article was more geared towards seasoned karateka rather than junior grades, as they can often be duped into misunderstanding the ‘feeling’ of power, when they are in fact feeling ‘false feedback’ (A term used by my teacher, Dave Hazard 7th Dan to refer to the negative feeling experienced when a technique is executed incorrectly – a feeling that can be falsely interpreted as power)

I hope this article is in some way interesting in shedding light into my current planes of thinking. I am always eager to improve and develop, and at this point, getting to know my internal feelings is central to my study…and when that gets exhausting, difficult or challenging, there’s always good old Jack.