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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The JKS Autumn Seminar

By Robin Reid

 

Sensei Yamaguchi executing Yoko Geri KekomiIt has always been a great privilege to be able to train with world-class karate instructors. The JKS GB & Ireland organises technical seminars at least twice a year with the world’s best karateka, who come from Japan to the UK or Eire to pass on their knowledge to those with a thirst to learn. Thus it was that on 12th October 2007 a group of us from my club made the journey to Dublin for the start of another ten-hour session under the guidance of sixth dan Yamaguchi Sensei, ably assisted by Sensei Scott Langley, Alan Campbell and Basil Leeshue.

I had trained with Yamaguchi Sensei just once in the past and the seminar then had been very technically informative. Indeed, I can put much of the improvement in my mae geri down to that session. This time round he had a whole new seminar to give. Of course, training with top masters requires one hundred percent commitment and no compromise. The first session alone was sufficient to demonstrate this. It focused on kihon and one of the unfading memories I have is the yoko geri exercise we did. This exercise, designed to strengthen the hip flexors, was by no means a new idea but the sheer number of repetitions we did was what made it memorable, both physically and mentally. Holding our leg horizontally to the side in a good yoko geri position (hip in, foot parallel to floor) the exercise was to raise the leg from there a few inches and then return it to the horizontal position without losing form. I managed the first ten without too much trouble. The second ten, which proceeded directly without a rest, were more challenging. I thought that there would be no way that I could do yet another ten but somehow I managed to keep going. But the fourth ten proved too much. Even senior grades were struggling by then but Yamaguchi Sensei made it look like child’s play. After doing similar repetitions with our other leg we then went on to practise yoko geri itself. It required much mental discipline not to let our technique suffer through fatigue.

The sessions on the Saturday were divided into kyu and dan grades. Scott Sensei gave a very interesting lesson on directing energy with a punch. The idea was that rather than merely delivering an ordinary punch, energy can be focused upwards, downwards or through the recipient’s body. While demonstrating this, he didn’t seem to be making any effort at all with his punch and yet was managing to send his target staggering backwards several feet. Indeed, the technique required a relaxed approach. By way of example, Basil Sensei, who was helping, gave me a casual poke in the shoulder with his finger, which sent an alarming shock wave through my entire body.

The course did not dwell very much on kata but Yamaguchi Sensei did give the dan grades a technical session on Empi and the kyu grades received instruction on Bassai Dai. Later in the same session, Scott Sensei took us through the JKS kata Rantai, while the master stood on the sidelines effortlessly performing double kicks in mid-air.

Alan Sensei gets the credit for teaching me the correct way of standing in kiba dachi. Once getting the specification correct, the simple technique of using buttock muscles to alleviate the strain on the thighs helps to maintain the stance for a protracted period of time. It was just as well that he had taught me this previously because he now chose me, along with one of his students, to stand in kiba dachi in front of the rest of the class. We had to maintain the position for what seemed like an eternity while everyone else was invited to come close and examine us (including prodding and poking) to decide who had the better stance. It was most rewarding to hear Alan Sensei conclude that we were both “pretty good”.

Our final session with Yamaguchi Sensei was kumite practice. We began with punching combinations but soon went on to kicks. The floor was cleared and only two pairs of partners would be practising at a time, moving around the dojo, with one side kicking and the other defending. I happened to be partnered with a very good kicker so it was doubly important to stay focused despite my exhaustion. And for me that was the essence of the entire course. The whole weekend was extremely tiring but the number one lesson I learned was to stay focused all the time. It is very easy to lose focus when tired. It is easy to allow fatigue to ruin a kata, compromise an attack or worst of all weaken a defence. As long as fatigue is permitted to dominate focus then danger and defeat will remain ever present. There can be no compromise in karate and all the sessions bore that out.

There was good social banter in the evenings, sampling the local Guinness, and Scott Sensei threw a party in his new dojo. Indeed, he gave us cause to celebrate; not only did he successfully grade to Godan but he also announced that he and his wife Tor are now expectant parents! So, congratulations to them and thanks to Scott and Alan Sensei for organising another educational and memorable course.