The Spectrum of Speed and Strength

On Sunday, 11th March 2012 Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi, the President & Chief Instructor of Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai and 8th Dan All Japan Karate do Goju Kai came to visit Brisbane, Australia under the invitation of Glenn Stephenson Shihan the Head Instructor of Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Australia.

I previously met Fujiwara Hanshi at a previous seminar in Sydney back in 2011 when I graded for my 1st Dan in Goju Kai but spent the majority of the time under the instruction of the Goju Kai kata master Kiahara Shihan (please feel free to correct me on any spelling errors here as I am unable to find any other sources).  This was the first real opportunity I have ever had to train so closely to Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi albeit shared among hundreds of other students just as hungry as I was for guidance and correction.

I would like to focus this post on two key messages that Fujiwara Hanshi was trying to communicate to us (through translation). It is amazing how much can actually be translated just through the use of some key words in English such as ‘power’, ‘smooth’, ‘hard’ all along with immaculate demonstration of the technique.

The first key message was something that I am going to use to reiterate my post of Strong and Heavy. In this post I spoke about having gradual tension in Sanchin dachi up from my feet through the thighs, into my core and then maximum tension in the laterals directed downwards. I am going to amend this to say that there should be maximum tension down through the lats, into the core and down through the thighs until finally relaxing into the ankles and feet so that there is stickiness with the ground. Fujiwara Hanshi demonstrated this on Jamie Shihan by asking him to hold full tension all through his body, then simply being able to push Jamie Shihan over like a block of concrete until he lost his balance and had to abandon the stance. Secondly, he asked Jamie Shihan to implement the correct form of tension through the body and relaxing into the ankles and feet (as demonstrated by shime over all muscles and then squeezing the ankles to ensure they were relaxed). This then allowed Fujiwara Hanshi to push Jamie Shihan from all directions without losing the interface with the ground. Our explanation was of a building being nothing but beautiful if it did not have strong foundations with the earth.

The second key message I got from the day was how critical it is in Goju Ryu karate to use tension to control the Spectrum of Speed and Strength. What I mean by this is that, in the paragraph above it was explained that tension cannot be applied to the entire body when standing in Sanchin Dachi as the relaxation of the bottom portion of the legs and feet allow the body to retain an interface with the ground. The same can be said for executing strikes whereby complete tension throughout the strike is ineffective as the relaxation of the muscles is required to achieve speed, tension is then required again at the point of impact to ensure energy remains within the target causing damage. In the application of a strike the relaxation gives speed whereas in the stance it gives stability. Ultimately, power is a combination of strength and speed and at certain times throughout the execution of techniques a combination of the two are required to maximise effectiveness.

This use of contraction and relaxation of the muscles is evident in the timing of techniques, throughout different parts of the body in stances, and is impacted by different breathing techniques and mental vision. Tencho kata gives us a great platform to practice this. When standing in Sanchin Dachi with double chudan uke there is compression of the core created through the outward turning of the wrists and in the inward squeezing of the elbows along with the crunching of the abdominal and pinching at the back of the shoulders and down through the back. Then we withdraw our left hand back into carriage where maximum tension is used by contracting the laterals to lock the left arm into carriage creating more compression. Our focus then shifts to the right hand in chudan uke that is then relaxed to execute the smooth motions of the blocks then applies contracts to withdraw the arm into carriage. This tension impacts the speed we need to block a strike and the strength we need to pull the opponent into our space (queue Occupying Space). This constant change of focus gives room for lots of errors as we train our body to retain compression and tension in one side of the body as the other relaxes to execute blocks.

I look forward to focusing more on these teachings and researching more into the use of muscle contractiom, speed and strength to maximise power. Thanks to Fujiwara Hanshi for providing the inspiration to look into this more (this article was a great read) when developing my kata as it just provided a bit more clarity into what it is that we are doing in kata and how it can further be applied into kumite and bunkai.

Oh and I was presented with my Nidan Certificate in Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Seiichi Fujiwara aswell! Happy days!

 

Nidan Grading Part 2

Waking up early Saturday morning on the 11th of November, 2011, James Duggan Shihan took myself and Andrew (along with other students attempting gradings) to the seminar hall for some early morning Sanchin and Tencho training. In hindsight this was probably one of my most productive sessions not only to improve on some marginal changes that I required but also to prepare mentally for the grading that was to occur that afternoon.

The biggest change I had to deal with in my Sanchin kata was standing off centre in my sanchin stance. What I mean by this is that I was leaning back into my rear leg throughout the stance which was putting my weight distribution back too far. I had previously corrected this in my top half of my body by straightening my back but inevitably, when one problem is corrected you have to be cautious of other problems occurring. In this case it was sitting back into my stance, similar to slouching in your chair whilst driving a car or sitting in an office chair. But as always, just having Jamie Shihan there to take a look and give some feedback allowed me to at least give this a go at correcting in time for the grading. We also focused a lot on Tencho and finalising a few points in the breathing.

Later in the day, aft completing some of the standard sessions through the seminar, Glenn Stephenson Shihan (our head instructor for Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Australia) took us through Seiunchin kata. This was intense as Glenn Shihan had very high expectations for us throughout this session. At one stage I recall the quote of the day being “This is Goju Ryu not kan ga roo”, referring to someone who was executing a yori ashi dachi by hopping onto the front foot instead of pushing from the rear and creating drive in the technique. All in all, it was another great session to prepare for the grading.

Let’s skip ahead now to the grading as I have delayed this way too long already (first post being back in November).

Kumite

So after all this, I found out that evening that both Andrew and I passed our Nidan grading which made me extremely happy. I was also very happy that the grading was brought forward to Saturday afternoon (it was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon) so I was able to have a few celebratory drinks and enjoy the Sunday a bit more without freaking out about the grading.

Nidan Grading Part 1

Before I start this post, I want to introduce my partner in crime through this karate journey, Andrew Kerridge Skinner, who started karate with me back in 2005 after moving to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Queensland. Anyone that is close to me inevitably knows who Skinner is. We have been training together since that faithful night (for another post) when we met James Duggan Shihan and Kain Johnson Sensei and was taught more then a thing or two about physical and mental toughness.

So fast forward. What a month it has been! That is about all I can muster to sum up all that extra training, mental preparation and just overall karate ‘ness’ that is required when making that final climb towards your grading.

On Friday, 10th November Andrew and I along with James Duggan Shihan, Kain Johnson Sensei and most of the other senior students of Brisbane Goju Karate started the usual scurry to get everybody over to Jamie Shihan’s house and get over to the airport.

No time for coffee’s. Let’s just get in there, get to Sydney, take a train down to the ‘Gong’ and get started on this epic weekend. Late that afternoon we arrived in Wollongong for the first session of the Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Annual Wollongong Camp for 2011. It was great catching up with all the students from around Australia and getting down to our karate business.

On the first night we got straight into kata with Glenn Stephenson Shihan taking us through both Sanchin kata and Tencho Kata, the pillars of Goju Ryu.  Jamie Shihan then took the group through kumite drills focussing on owning space and projecting energy. All the while I was thinking about the posts on this blog and the mental tips I had given myself leading up to this weekend. Trying to reflect on my own advice and putting it into action. In the end, a great high energy night with well over 100 students involved.

If there was one thing I could take out of the night, throughout the kumite drills, was the importance of Soto Uke blocking as the lead to any of the standard Jodan, Chudan or Gedan blocking. So this is a little reminder to myself to do a post on this down the track as it was quite evident that this basic technique required some explanation.

Part 2 will focus on the rest of the seminar at Wollongong which includes final preparation for the grading with Seiunchin kata training with Glenn Stephenson Shihan and the nidan grading itself which was completed late Saturday evening.

Strong and Heavy

Ohayou Gozaimasu!

Whilst practicing sanchin dachi in class, James Duggan Shihan will regularly try to disrupt our stance by placing pressure on our upper back and pushing us forward. At first when you feel the sensation of falling forward I tend to panic and go rigid in the legs or apply more strength to my sanchin stance.

Sometimes this works, other times it does not and I have been going through the motions trying to understand what works in each different situation. What I have found, and through an analogy given by Shihan, is that sanchin needs to be strong but not rigid. Like a stick stuck in jelly, you need the core strength to support the form of your upper body, but complimented by an interface with the ground that can absorb shock.

A stick in jelly. Karate grounding.

The checks I am putting into place include:

1. Ensure correct sanchin foot placement. Front foot only slightly bent inwards no more than say 15% and back foot slightly bent outwards around the same degree;

2. Sink down into the stance allowing my knees to come slightly inwards (due to the slight inward angle of my feet), protecting my groin;

3. Raise my pelvis up into my core by tensing my inner thighs (allowed by the sinking in my stance).

This allows me to have a good grounding with gradual tension throughout my thighs into my core (the jelly). I then have maximum tension in my laterals directed downwards back into my core and try to keep my back straight and so that I am not leaning back into my stance (the stick).

At this point, I would be able to slide like a piece on a chessboard if pushed. However, as we have sticky feet that don’t allow us to be slide all over the globe, the excess energy can freely move down into my legs and feet where it is absorbed by my stance and into the ground.

Ultimately, what this means is that when I am moving with explosive energy through my stance and finishing with chudan tsuki my body can transfer maximum energy into my opponent by minimising the energy that can escape backwards through my forearm, elbow, shoulder or back. Alternatively, we can reduce the input energy and still achieve the same effect by minimise energy lose meaning we have better efficiency and therefore endurance.

If you are confused by now, I am a little too! Food for thought anyway! Jelly time!

If you would like to add anything, or think I have it totally wrong! Feel free to leave a comment. I appreciate all feedback.

Domo Arigato!