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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The Essential Shotokan Series

Edmond Otis & David Gomez 

Most Karate instructional DVDs or books have a tendency to appeal to one of two categories. Either, the item is perfect for beginners, or it will be a vital aid to the advanced student. Very rarely is there a product that effortlessly appeals to both. This is the way I feel about the ‘Essential Shotokan’ series.

When I received this package, before opening it, while reading the postmark acknowledging that it was from America, I was a little confused. I knew I was receiving a three DVD set, with an accompanying book. How could they fit so much into such a small, flat package? When I opened it I was pleasantly surprised. Through, I have to say, brilliant design, they have managed to pack the lot in a very small book-like presentation pack. The pack opens out, and three DVDs sit in plastic pockets with the workbook connected to the spine. If the professionalism of the packaging was anything to go by, I knew I was going to enjoy this set.

Despite Mr. Gomez, the director of the set clearly stating in an email to Sarah Amos ‘(ESS) is NOT a Hollywood production’ I was still half tempted to pull out the popcorn, and dim the lights. I did try to remind myself however that I should never judge a book by its cover, and that I would objectively review the package.

Thankfully the DVDs did not disappoint.

Before sitting down to watch the DVDs, I had a thorough look through the work booklet. The book is broken down into several sections, with a description of each concept. For example, the section concerning breathing provides information of both how to breathe, and the benefits of breathing accurately. The section then develops into an answer section, where questions are posed, and you have to answer either true or false. This is followed at the rear of the booklet with the answers to these questions. This I feel will certainly be of great assistance to the beginning student. Adjacent to the questions and information on the pages comes space where you can make notes concerning that topic. This will help the student organise his/her ideas and be able to refer to the notes when required.

I have, over the years read a great deal about Edmond Otis, and I was very intrigued to see if his physical skill could live up to the deep knowledge that he is highly respected for throughout the world. Throughout all three of these DVDs, Otis’ karate is extremely powerful, wonderfully dynamic and impressively fast. It is a rare treat to watch a karateka who can put his money where his mouth is. His teaching is extremely confident and very precise, and it’s clear that he is a very natural teacher.

The first DVD of the set covers the principles of body dynamics and stances, as the title suggests. In a very easy to follow manner, Otis discusses the fundamental principles that make our karate work. To explain these principles, Otis uses demonstrative analogies to aid the viewer to fully grasp his point. When he discusses hip vibration, the first of the body dynamics the DVD covers, he effectively uses a towel to convey the action of the hip. To many, hip vibration is a complex concept, and can at times be quite difficult to fully understand. This analogy along with the application of the concept makes it very easy for the viewer to follow and understand. Such brilliant explanations were also provided for the other body principles, hip rotation, body shifting, body dropping, body lifting, and pendular action.

Throughout all three DVDs, the explanations of the techniques, movements or concepts are very easy to follow because of the format of the DVD. For each movement, for example, yoko-geri keage, there is an introduction to the technique, where Otis describes the technical elements of the action, highlighting points that should be considered when performing the movement. This is then followed by a ‘Common Errors’ section for that technique, where he provides information concerning what you should not do when performing the action. This I feel will be of much use to a beginning student, but also to a beginning instructor.

The technique is then placed in a beginner, intermediate and advanced application. Here you can see how a technique can be used in many different circumstances, with application that will develop the karateka at each stage of their study. More so, I feel as already mentioned that beginning instructors will greatly benefit from this, for it provides both useful information, but also training exercises that will stretch his confidence, but also truly be of help to his students. Through these sections, the techniques are effortlessly performed with precision.

The ‘Timing’ section of this first DVD is also very useful, provided an interesting insight into a topic that few DVDs or books cover. Because timing is such a complicated issue, to explain at least, Otis fully makes the viewer aware of the differences between Rhythm timing and Reaction timing. Otis’ advice ‘you need perform the technique sooner, faster and deeper’ when your opponent is retreating, although perfectly logical was something that will particularly help fighters, especially those who keep kicking or punching mid air because his opponent is too fast.

The DVD also covers stances, the base of a karaeka. This section, as with most karate DVD’s or books provides the technical details. What I found more interesting is the way in which Otis teaches you to test the architecture of your stance. Here, Otis either places pressure, stands on or tries to lift his partner to show ways to test the structure of a stance, and presents ideas that I’m sure many will not have considered.

When I was to receive these DVDs I was informed that there was a few audio and filming problems with the first DVD. Granted, as Sarah Amos was informed, the DVDs were filmed in a large room, so the sound is a little quiet, and there are moments where there is a zooming error on some of the shots. But I have to say, these errors do not affect the viewing of the DVD’s. As long as you turn the volume up, you won’t miss a thing.

The second DVD deals with punching and blocking techniques. Again, what I found brilliant here was the fact that Otis provides the viewer with training exercises that will help the student. For example, the training tip involving his assistant Sensei Warner (who is also very skilled) placing his arm out like when standing with tate-shuto placed out before your body. Then, Otis sensei punched beneath the arm from a zenkutsu-dachi, lining the punch perfect. This is a training tip, which will undoubtedly help prevent the puncher from raising the shoulder or dropping the hip during rotation.

What I love about this set is the feeling that when you are watching the DVDs you are almost receiving private tuition from this pioneer. I found myself feeling somewhat privileged to listen to this karateka.  Despite being formal, the delivery of the information is both personal and easy to watch.

I also found the exercise for oi-tsuki, punching towards you opponent, shift position then punch forward again an excellent training tool, while instruction on punches such as age-tsuki also intrigued me, since so few books/DVD’s cover this punch.

Also rare is the attention he pays to what he describes as ‘soft blocks’. Again, pretty much every shotokan book or DVD in the world deals with age-uke and soto-uke. Not very many give details and instructions of nagashi-uke though, and this I feel was brilliant. He dedicates as much attention to these soft blocks as he does to the traditional hard blocks, and from this section I learned a great deal. This I think will particularly be of use to the competitors who watch this DVD, and the way he applies the techniques means the skill he teaches can easily be adapted to a competition scenario.

DVD three is just as detailed and is a credit to David Gomez, who has produced another brilliant instalment to the series. Unlike when I watch certain DVDs, I truly feel this was a team effort, and I don’t know why I feel this, but I get the very definite sense that these men, both in front of the camera and behind all share a deep respect for one another. The professionalism of the series, along with the perfectionist presentation makes this set a treasure, which will long be studied by both the advanced and up-and-commer.

DVD three deals with kicking and striking, and without repeating myself, I again am impressed with this DVD because it deals with techniques such as ura mawashi geri, rarely covered in many textbooks. Both Otis’ and Warner’s kicking ability is awe-inspiring. The precision and speed of their kicks is not simply impressive, but it’s exciting to watch. The kicking section covers front snap kick, side snap kick, side thrust kick, roundhouse kick, reverse roundhouse kick, back thrust kick and is flawlessly taught and demonstrated. The strike section is equally impressive both in detail and description, covering most if the strikes. Tetsui-uchi is particularly interesting, while the elbow strike section will provide many ides for self-defence training.

Taking the same format as the former DVDs, with the same attention to detail, this DVD is very impressive. Its also the longest of the three, but not at one moment did I yawn, or even go for that popcorn.

I was from the word ‘GO’ impressed with this series. Otis can do as he instructs, and the general feel of this DVD is very welcoming. Not only will you learn a great deal about Shotokan karate, but I’m sure you will become a silent fan of Sensei Otis, whose charismatic teaching style makes learning an enjoyable experience. This set is in no way expensive, and you get real value for money. If you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced student. A beginning instructor, or a veteran, you’ll really get a great deal out of this set, and I’m sure you will refer to it as an essential guide, pardon the pun. I really loved this set, and would insist that you get yourself a copy.

Mark Thompson

27/08/06

To buy The Essential Shotokan Series click here