Finally a connection with Stances

For the last week it feels like I have had many eureka moments, where something makes sense and it’s been a constant if accidental theme, stances to generate power from the ground, stances that helps with your covering and deflecting, it is what is seemed like as kid like training of karate but is actually in the heart of its true power.

Roundhouse kicks is a kick I have often struggled on, I can kick quite hard on either leg but that is with lot of effort, and my quads often get burnt out really quickly making it hard for me to do them fast for a long time.
Andy one of our nidans is a very good fighter the amount of power he can generate is incredible but also the speed and stamina he can perform for lengths at a time. He has often discussed his type of kick, but whether it just finally made sense (large parts of it have, it’s just putting them together) to alot of us or whether his teaching style has evolved I’m not quite sure yet.
First he took out the speed and got us to focus on the technique raising the knee high, dropping it down, rolling the shin kind of corkscrewing your body into the kick, almost being side on with your bodyweight and structure and rebounding it back.
Elements of it I have been told before, from the likes of Darren etc but it’s the first time when it all clicked that I didn’t need alot of effort to generate power, my thighs weren’t burnt out and the roundhouse kicks were much more effective.
He went on about range, and different levels but a quick discussion with him at the end was his keenness that it all related to sanchin.

Power from the turn, effectively using the stance to generate power is an element I have often struggled with (unless I’m in animal mode), I have been looking into bunkai and stances for a while (mainly saifa and seiunchin) but generally my connection has been quite weak. The during Smiley’s Sandan Course the London Shihan came over and gave me some advice, that I was just turning and punching I wasn’t using my stance, legs or bodyweight into the punch.

This was the drill where our partner had a fist out by our heads and held a pad with the other, we had to turn and defect block the strike and then strike them back.

The London sensei demonstrated and the power he generated caused the pad holder to go backwards quite a bit. He pointed out that I wasn’t using the corkscrew on the turn to drive into my stance, and that I should use the stance to drive my bodyweight into that pad.
The effort was the same, intent was different and the power I achieved enabled me to send the pad holder backwards.
This changed my perspective for the whole course, the kihon ido wasn’t just something we had to do, but became a fundamental aspect of karate, and I could feel the power driving from my legs into my stance, and the turn now was transformed. Not only was i having the reaction time to deflect block and strike, the corkscrew of my legs meant power from my stance went into my block and strike and I felt drive aggression as if someone tried to attack me.

This ended up effecting me throughout the rest of the course, when it came to being surrounded by pad holders calling north, south, East or west I was using what the London Shihan said instinctively and driving through the pads. This lead to sparring where it all came together.

After the course I wanted to thank the London Shihan as it made a huge difference, and admitted my weakness in not using my stances so well when it comes to striking. He gave me some great advice on when they are so important, and why we aim not to hurt but to knockout a person. Pain isn’t enough when  you could knockout and end the conflict quicker, be it from mental, physical or spiritual consequences, but that intent is the most important aspect even if you have to internalise with a partner, with a pad you should always release it. This mindset will get you through alot of trouble and get you most of the way with your karate journey.

I asked the London Shihan does it imply to sticky hands, and he answered yes because they will lead to the final strike which will always aim to be that knockout blow. He demonstrated that a heavy hand, is nothing compared to the combined strength of the stance, corkscrew and bodyweight shift into that strike.

It made me realise that while my time in China was great and beneficial for me, with learning Sanzhan, I have been so focused on being subtle I have stopped using all the power I use to use. It’s like a yo-yo going from exaggeration to subtle, and finding the right balance. I will have to start exaggerating my movements focusing on connecting stances to strikes before I can make it subtle again.

Mindset, when it comes to striking no point in just trying to hurt someone, intention is.key, is strike especially on a pad should be a knockout punch, just giving them pain isn’t going to do much, when sparring intention is to knockout as that will bring your mechanics into it, but internalise it as you have the mindset to do knock them out, with damaging your training partner.

Gripping the ground from your stance be it Zenkutsu dachi or sanchin dachi, gripping with the feet gives you this connection with the ground that you are driving against which can make you more solid in using your stances or help driving you to and from. The Bristol Shihan was on fire last night, and this eureka moments starting from Andy last Thursday, smiley and London Shihan to the Bristol Shihan, everything seems to be slowly connecting together.

Rather than just grip the floor with your toes, which raised the arch in your foot so your not rooted and connected, therefore can’t generate power from it, you pull the ground with tour toes from in to out slowly, it acts like a suction rooting you to the ground. In sanchin kat, your drive the lead hip in, draw the other the other hip in, sink and bring the knees in and rise up almost upright but sinking with your tailbone. This is stuff us high grades have heard before, but trying to walk like that brought new insight and as I discovered new muscle groups into effect.
A similar principle is developed from zenkutsu dachi, where the lead foot gets rooted to the ground and the release enables you to drive backwards effect for sparring.

Maybe it’s just me getting older, but it’s been nearly a week of karate relevations, but the only way for me to learn them is by practice.


Smiley’s Sandan Course

It was a privilege to take part in smiley’s Sandan grading, where he had to teach a course to the association on an aspect of karate that we might sometimes over look, and so the course enables us to learn train and drill this for two hours.

I was impressed with the warmup, to most it might of been just kihon ido (moving basics) but it completely warmup up the body, preparing us for training without causing injury. What was most impressive of it was that it lead straight into what he wanted to teach, the turn.

A seemingly simple drill to turn the opposite direction and to be prepared to defend to yourself from attack from behind. Smiley noticed that many ranging from high grades to low grades often rush this to try to keep in time with everyone else and therefore we often don’t properly cover, block and strike on the turn.

So he had us slow it down take our time, the cover starts just before you start the turn, you end up covering your head and have time to block and strike with plenty of time to do everything and actually to be able to generate power from the corkscrew like action of the turn going into your stance be it zenkutsu dachi or sanchin dachi. By taking our time and not rushing our techniques we had time to fit everything into the turn, covering just before we pivot allows us to let everything flow together.

Smiley later analysed why we turn initially with the current front foot and not the current back foot, the first gives you time to react to a punch to your head and takes you off their center line putting you in a stronger position, the latter forces you to react Instantly, sometimes forces you to move your head out of the way maybe by moving your body depending on the effect of your deflect and blocking but with put you on equal footing with your attacker, which is a disadvantage as you are effectively turning into their attacks.

We drilled this with a partner holding out his fist, then he held a pad with the other arm so we could practice the turn and react into a punch, drilling in that instant reaction of seeing danger in the corner of your eye and reacting immediately. This reaction gave a new meaning to the turn and help visualise that we should have the mindset of reacting to the turn as if someone was about to attack us from behind.

We returned to kihon ido and the whole lineup looked and felt better, we were smoother and the turn itself felt very reactive which transformed everyone’s kihon ido. Moving basics suddenly felt like they made more sense, an new element was added to them.

We then got into.groups of three and trained this reaction with the first kata (geksai dai ichi) bunkai, but this time instead of just doing  bunkai, we had to react as soon as we finished off the previous bunkai as the strike would be coming when we were turned away from the second attacker.

After the excitement of the reactive bunkai we again returned to kihon ido, this time as well as turning around he would ask us to turn 90 degrees one way or another.

Smiley got us to walk around and at random we could grab someone’s shoulder or someone could grav our shoulder and we would have to react Instantly turning  correctly

We got split into groups again, and returned to kihon ido several times as his goal was to prompt us into turning into an attacker in an advantage (stronger line of attack, keeping your head clear of his fists). We were split into groups of five, depending on the angle the call was made would depend if we found it easy or hard, some people prefer one side to another. I found using the drill helped me generate power and react much quicker than I perhaps would normally do.

We again returned to kihon ido, and now I could feel the connection between my guard, stance and strikes everything was flowing in harmony.

Then he got us to do the grab the shoulder, from back or side and we would have to react into an instantaneous spar for.several moments before the next. It was exciting to feel as my stance work connected with my strikes and I was therefore more effective, I could see it happening throughout the whole group.

Smiley gave one of the most well taught lessons ever, from start to finish everything fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, turns something that seems simple maybe even boring and an area that annoyed it’s lack of cohesion in alot of gradings not only getting fine tuned but to bring the karate spirit into, see how it transcends through to all aspects of karate, making us better at deflecting, power generation, reacting. The list could go on.

The Shihan’s speech at the end was very insightful, they didn’t necessarily agree with everything smiley went on about, but found it very thought provoking where they had to go and discuss and think about it to themselves several times in the grading. They were proud of him and so were we.

Vegan diet challenge (and heavy kettlebell)

So my normal weight is slightly under 13 and half stone, lighter in summer, slightly heavier in the winter.
The last year I have been feeling off in terms of my fitness and diet, been perhaps to laxed or at least not on the top of my game, which in itself has been demoralising.
Before Christmas I was feeling sluggish, and gained the usual half a stone during Christmas. But for the six weeks after the holidays I gained almost another stone, mainly from eating too much fish a day (at least twice a day, not lean fish like tuna.)
Plus side to the extra weight is with sparring I can go more toe to toe with bigger guys and can dominant my ground more. I was surprised that I was fairly lightfooted but my fitness was atrocious for my standards and felt uncomfortable with my own body, I don’t normally have a noticeable belly and it reduced my self esteem.

So I decided to do a two challenges for lent, first focus my training on a 32 kg kettlebell, the next was to be a vegan for the forty days. Now normally I eat alot of meat, thinking I need my protein etc but I decided to see how I would cope with the effort. The last few years I have gone vegetarian but me being me I decided to up the challenge.

First few weeks I felt like my normal self, my digestive system was running much smoother, and I was training regular with both karate and the kettlebell. I actually gained weight and was feeling too full over compensating with excess sources of protein like beans, tofu, vegan protein powder etc. But throughout instead of eating as much bread. I would have wraps.Beans are really lean but in the first week I would have like two cans as part of one meal. I was nearly 15 stone and now 17.5% fat

Once I realised I couldn’t maintain such a high level of protein or could afford it at that rate I decided rather than focusing on the level of consumption a bodybuilder would intake, I focused on the daily recommended amount for an average adult male, if mine was slightly higher that was a bonus.
I followed the theory of rather than having all your protein at once, make sure you get enough between all of the meals.

The mid weeks the scales seemed to fluctuate alot between losing half a stone to being the same weight, it was really confusing to know if I had made any difference in losing the belly I had gained. I was feeling very sluggish even more so than before the diet, and I realised I couldn’t keep training with the kettlebell my energy was burnt out.
So I focused for one week on just my karate, then the other two weeks of doing at least one day of calisthenics.

The moment I let my self have even more rest the belly virtual dropped within days and I barely noticed. My weight flew down below 14stone. Back to my normal winter weight. I still felt incredibly sluggish but was pleased with the fact that I looked more like my normal self.

I would say a week after eating g a somewhat normal diet my energy returned to normal, I felt abuzz with it, something that I’ve been missing since way before Christmas.

I have learnt that I use to eat too much meat which would make me sluggish, but having no major protein sources also made me sluggish. That I need to control my eating habits slightly (not go over the top). My fitness hasn’t really changed as a result of the diet, maybe if I did more cardio during the vegan phase it would of.

At the moment I’m just about 13-9 and although not in super shape I can feel my abs under my belly again.