Akihito Isaka 8th Dan
October 25th/26th 2008
On the 25th/ 26th October, Emma and I, along with our friend Dylan Hitchcock travelled once again to North Wales to train with Akihito Isaka 8th Dan KWF for the 3rd time. With a previous two years under our belts, we were set for a great weekend that would give us an even deeper insight into his slow motion training.
Sensei describes his slow motion training as ‘pre-karate’. This was something that had me thinking a great deal last year after training with him, and was something he reiterated firmly this year also.
He explained that the likes of Enoeda Sensei, Asai Sensei and Yahara Sensei all understood how to use the back muscles accurately. He emphasised however that 99.9999 percent of people do not instinctively know or understand how to use them. For this reason, his slow motion training coupled firmly with his sit-down practice is vital for karateka to develop the significant role of the back muscles.
We set off on the Saturday morning, and of course as always, Emma was immediately asleep on the backseat. Dylan however, who has recently come over to study in Wales and has consequently started training with me, sat shotgun keeping me company. We talked about a wide range of things, including the extortionate prices of the little chef roadside restaurant. Having company (and yes this can be considered a dig at Emma), made the journey go much quicker and far more enjoyable.
We arrived nice and early - essentially because we had left at stupid o’clock in the morning - which gave me the time to stretch my legs off and shake away the 4 hour drive and it gave sleeping beauty the time to come around.
As the three of us stood just right of the inner doorway, we watched as Isaka Sensei walked towards us. He met us all with a beaming smile, a bow and a shake of the hand.
The first session of the Saturday consisted of Isaka Sensei’s sit down practice. Here we practiced a selection of his stretching exercises. Below is an example of one of his stretching exercises.
- Sit-down practice of Zenkutsu-dachi: You sit in Seiza and extend the right leg behind yourself. Here you must try and get a separating feeling and extend the rear leg out from the body as much as possible. From here you open the hip to Hanmi, then you go into Shomen and finally Gyaku-hanmi. If you want to take this stretch that little bit further you can get a partner to stand behind you and hook under your armpits and help you keep the back straight throughout the stretch to also maximise the potential of the stretch. This was very useful.
The second session of the day placed emphasis on the use of heisoku-dachi and its relationship to movement into kiba-dachi, zenkutsu-dachi and Kokutsu-dachi. We initially started off by being in heisoku-dachi and pivoting 90 degrees, then 180, and finally 270 degrees. Then we moved from heisoku-dachi out into shizentai and then back inwards. Of course, emphasis here was to not place the leg out from the body and reach and then just move the centre over afterwards as a second action. The centre MUST move with the leg and not as two separate entities no matter how slow you are going. My understanding of this was further extended when he explained that you are not simply pushing the leg out whilst controlling your centre with it, but rather, you are opening the hips to enable the movement. This was something that I, as well as so many others I would guess, struggled with. Another significant point he stressed was that in heisoku-dachi or in shizentai, your weight must sit on the front of the foot rather than towards the heel, otherwise when you do move if your weight is incorrectly placed the movement will become two actions – 1. Re-adjust the weight to the front 2. Movement.
The second class of the day further extended this idea, where we all took the above sequence and added the stances to them. From shizentai, we would bring the legs to heisoku-dachi, pivot 90 degrees and then push out into kiba-dachi (or any of the other basic stances). From there, you MUST move from the hip to face the front and therefore bring you back to heisoku-dachi facing the front.
Throughout the weekend, we would all sit and watch as Sensei demonstrated the points he was trying to make. He would execute sequences of blocks and kicks in slow motion that had everyone completely in awe. On the Sunday Sensei demonstrated Nijushiho and Meikyo. What was particularly interesting for me, was that we have watched Sensei execute Meikyo every time we have trained with him and there has been a truly remarkable difference between his execution this year to that of last year (as shown in the video footage of last year’s report.).
The final advanced session on the Saturday looked at the role of the back muscles when for example blocking or punching. With great explanation from Robert Sidoli, we all further developed our ability to deliver the arm techniques with more than simply the arm. We learned throughout the course of that final session how to use the back muscles to help deliver a full-bodied technique.
The Saturday night, as always, was a real treat. Emma, Dylan and I were lucky enough to go out with the KWF group for a meal with Isaka Sensei. This was very enjoyable to spend time with all of the friends that we have made over the last few years, and after a beautiful three course meal the three of us headed back to our hotel room to crash out.
…I could not believe it, the clocks had gone back an hour. Emma had woken Dylan and I an hour earlier than we needed. I was not best pleased; and then I got out of bed…EEEK. Muscles I had never used before were crying and without sounding like an absolute drama queen, I was in pain!!!
The training on the Sunday was very much in the same vein as the Saturday, but was a little harder with all of the pain J. Isaka Sensei spoke about how everyone wants speed in karate, but how so many do not understand what is required to be able to achieve it. Then something superb happened…he demonstrated his speed techniques.
There has been much discussion, and I would dare say, criticism over his practice that has come primarily from those who a) Know nothing about it & b) Never tried it. If only I had my camera to hand as it would have silenced the critics and made everyone pay attention to what he was doing. He demonstrated a series of fast techniques and boy were they fast. He activated all of the correctly muscles where needed and delivered a display that was truly awesome.
Throughout the 2nd Course, Sensei had the class execute the kata Jion. He wanted us to place emphasis on the heisoku-dachi transition. This he seemed very pleased with, but whilst practicing the sit down practice that followed it he told me I need ‘more soft’, but that Emma was ‘nice and soft’. I questioned whether it had been the fact that she had lounged in the car all the way up the day before while I was cramped up in the driving seat for 4 hours. That’s the excuse I gave myself anyhow ha ha.
The final session of the weekend was taken up with the rubber inner tubes which Emma and I have been excited about doing again with Sensei all year. Here, while attaching the tubes around the legs, we did the Kihon movements from the first day with a big emphasis on the hanmi, shomen relationship.
Sensei was yet again awesome and so much more refined than the year before. I thought that the stretching I had done since last year would set me in good stead for this year, but ‘more sit-down practice needed’. That will be my goal for next year, more emphasis on this in my study, for as he said ‘This is not warm up’ – this is an integral part of his study and I cannot wait for next year.