This one-day course was dedicated to the three fundamental areas of karate, kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). It incorporated important principles of Kase Ha Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do in the adoption of fudo-dachi (rooted stance) as the primary basic stance (providing both stability & body control and is equally placed to be in either a defensive or offensive position), the use of open-hand techniques (hirate) and respective kamae positions, using the principles of Sei-te and Hen-te timing techniques and ibuki (abdominal breathing) using the hara.
The first session on kihon was under the instruction of Sensei Armstrong, who placed importance on strong ground contact, strong hara and abdominal breathing. The session started off with abdominal breathing exercises using the hara, employing different methods of inhalations and exhalation (inhalation- long/exhalation-long; inhalation-short/exhalation-long; inhalation-long/exhalation-short; inhalation-short/exhalation-short).
The course participants were then put through a series of movements, with hands in belts, using only legs and torso, to isolate the hands from the movement. The reason for this type of training, as Sensei Armstrong explained, is to increase our control over movement and stability in our legs by developing new neural connections since the brain is poorly connected with the lower body and limbs. We started by ‘locking’ the body and legs together by tightening the hara, then turning through 90 degrees on one heel, followed by turning 90 degrees then dropping down into the stance (fudo-dachi and kiba-dachi) and then finally turning, dropping and landing in one action; at the same time concentrating on connecting the breathing. This was followed by moving in four directions (sideways, backwards, forwards and diagonally) and turning; adopting the same approach of first control in the legs, hara and breathing, but adding extra pressure through the back leg to drive the movement. Hand techniques were only added once the correct use of breathing and stance work was accomplished, in what Sensei Kase described as “under body” referring to the importance of developing the hara, stance and connection. Again, there was insistence on downward pressure through the back heel (reactive power), before the execution of each hand technique, where the power is released.
These exercises were designed to help students understand how to connect heels, legs and hara in executing the technique (punching, blocking, kicking) as a single united action. This increases the (inner) power delivered in each technique to a level way beyond what can be achieved through purely muscular mechanical action of the arms and legs.
This was followed by Sensei Thompson taking us through a series of tsuki (punching) and geri (kicking) combinations. We attacked oi-tsuki-jodan, gyaku- tsuki-jodan, step gyaku-tsuki-jodan, gyaku-tsuki-chudan; making kamae, we then made yori-ashi kizame-tsuki, step oi-tsuki-chudan, step mae-geri. Then stepping backwards, making corresponding blocks and counter attacks. We partnered up
and went through the same attacking and defensive routine. (Sensei Thompson delivered a kata class to the brown and coloured belts, first with Tekki shodan, leading on to Motobi-ho-nihanchi – which was introduced to us originally by Steve Cattle; and finally ending with the kata Basai-dai)
The second session was on kata and instructed by Sensei Beasley, with the kata Nijushiho. The opening sequence of movements performed with a slow-quick-slow rhythm, is unique to this kata. Sensei Beasley commented, that the kata resembles the flow of water with a constant current that doesn’t stop but speeds up when confronted with an obstacle. The kata was chosen to illustrate the need to keep a good connection at all times when performing the kata, either in the slow or fast movements and it was essential to have focus in the movements at all times.
Following these important concepts in performing the kata Nijushiho. The class performed the kata, which was firstly broken down into sections demonstrating each movement and technique(s) and then, the kata was performed in its entirety showing the correct rhythm and timing. Sensei Beasley related that it was important not to treat kata as just a series of movements performed in a particular sequence (like a dance routine), but, to treat kata as kumite even though it is in a set order; but first having good kihon in stance and technique, whether blocking (uke), punching (tsuki) or kicking (geri). This then led on to kata application. He first demonstrated how it is performed in the kata, and then he delivered kata bunkai that offered a number of differing interpretations based on the kata. Bunkai, he explained, is (fighting) application of the kata and without an understanding of the bunkai, we have no understanding of the techniques and without an understanding of the techniques, we have no true understanding of the kata. We then partnered-up and went through the bunkai applications, each student taking turns as either the attacker or defender and also alternating from left side (hidari) and right-side (migi). This enabled the student to gain a basic understanding as to what was expected in application of the kata. Finally, this led on to oyo bunkai, which allows greater interpretation and freedom to change in defending and counter-attacking, depending on the opponent’s size, ability, speed and distance (maai) - as it would in kumite.
The last session on kumite was split into two parts, the first taken by Sensei Gillis and the remainder by Sensei Fedyk.
Sensei Gillis provided an overview of the key principles of Kase Ha Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do, as already demonstrated with the previous sessions on kihon and kata. He wanted each student to take away from the course these core principles, to implement and develop in their own individual training and in their dojo. He mentioned the importance of having the correct mental attitude when stepping into the dojo, to ensure good concentration and focus, and to keep an ‘open mind’ – this he related to having ‘Beginner’s Mind’ (Shoshin) and explained that as beginners we were open to everything we were taught, having complete freedom in our thoughts and openness to all possibilities of training. As we continue in our karate development, we can become restrained within our own limitations and our mental attitude often reflects this and becomes a barrier to true progress. Each and every training session should be approached (physically and mentally) in a new and fresh way and not as if just going through the routine of practice. Another point Sensei Gillis raised, is when sparring to keep an ‘Empty Mind” (Mushin), that is for the mind to be ‘still’ and calm, allowing you to react more quickly and naturally; whilst at the same time retaining a high degree of constant alertness or focus (Zanshin). The session finished with some yoga ‘core stability’ techniques to engage the hara and focus on the core while maintaining relaxation in other parts of the body. It appeared easy, but it was physically demanding and certainly, my core felt it the next day!
Sensei Fedyk took the final session, based on the practice of three open-hand techniques (Shuto-barai, Gyaku-shuto-uchi and Gyaku-haito), used both as a block or a counter-strike to an attacking-opponent.
In practicing these three open hand techniques, firstly individually and then with partner (both left and right-side), we were taught the main principles in their application, as follows: -
i. Strong fixed position in Hanmi-dachi (half-front-facing position) or Fudo-dachi.
ii. Kamae position is made for each technique whether it is practiced individually or as combined application.
iii. Upper body relaxation prior to technique completion and firm rooted stance position.
iv. Appropriate breath inhalation/exhalation on slow or fast execution of technique (Hakku - automatic reaction strong exhalation without inhalation preparation)
v. Fast movement, completely relaxed throughout the technique.
vi. Total focus for split second on technique completion (kime).
vii. Immediate relaxation after technique completion and moving to next technique Kamae position.
We then partnered-up, applying the technique(s) against an attacking opponent, firstly as a one-strike application against the attackers upper arm. Then we grouped together in a (ippon-kumite) line-up, with 5-7 attackers punching oi-zuki-jodan, with the defender using any of the three open-handed techniques. As a finale, a small number of us were asked to line up at the front (I was one of the unsuspecting ‘volunteers’) who then defended themselves against the rest of the class who could attacked en-masse giving no time to have any thought about how to defend, other than to react using the three open-handed techniques.
The day course was based on the three core fundamentals of karate – kihon, kata and kumite. It adopted the key principles of the Kase-Ha Shotokan Ryu, placing great importance when executing a technique correctly - by relaxing through the technique, using correct breathing through the hara, concentrating on the body core while pushing down through the stance and only releasing the kime at the very end.
I would like to thank all the teaching Sensei’s, all of who delivered an informative and instructive course for all those attending karataka. And to enable all attending students to take away key principles, which they can implement in their own personal practice, development and progression in the Kase-Ha Shotokan Ryu. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank them for their constructive input in providing added information for this report. Sensei Fedyk, remarked that there were a great similarity of direction expressed from all instructors within their sessions which reinforced many key principles of Kase Ha Shotokan Ryu practice and the quest to make steady progressive development for all dedicated students.
Finally, I forever recall Steve Cattle telling me that in order to improve your karate…“always go back to basics” and this is exactly what the course reinforced for me. I would encourage all ESA members (and non-members) to support and attend these invaluable training courses, which not only serve to improve our karate, but also to follow in the tradition and values set by Sensei Kase and one of his dedicated assistants, Sensei Cattle, the founder of the ESA and Sensei to many of the principal instructors of the ESA.