The Chikara Isaka Sensei Open Course 2006 was our first TSW trip. Last year we were simply blown away by Sensei and his fascinating approach but also by the atmosphere and friendliness of the attendees and hosts.
I think anyone who has ever trained with Sensei Isaka will tell you that his approach is far different from the norm. He describes his training as ‘Pre-Karate’, something I will comment on further in another article I will be putting together on Isaka Sensei and his slow motion training.
We set off at 5am and while Emma slept like a baby from the comfort of the back seat I contemplated putting matchsticks in my eyes to keep the lids open. Resisting the temptation, I threw on some Eric Clapton and sang (quietly albeit) to myself to keep myself entertained.
The night before, I had made some of my grandfather’s home made soup, his secret recipe with vegetables from his garden, so when we arrived in North Wales at 9 in the morning, hot soup from the flask seemed a perfect set up for the day.
We had arranged to meet Robert Sidoli, his wife Yoshiko, John Barker and Ian Smith for a coffee before the course, which was a nice way for us all to catch up. After much caffeine, we all set off for the Seminar and when we arrived there was a real excitement and anticipation in the dojo. There were people we have met on our travels and others we had met last year so catching up before the Seminar was a nice way to start the day.
There were to be three classes on the Saturday and three classes on the Sunday following the KWF Dan grading. We knew this was going to be an incredibly tiring weekend physically and in so many other ways, but we were so eager to train with Sensei again that this kept us fuelled the entire weekend through.
Sensei started with his floor stretches, all designed to set your body up for the type of training required. The stretches are not the norm either, but in fact all a part of his very specific training method. He has many of these stretches, but for economy of word I will simply explain one example. With both feet before you, he wanted us all to achieve a ‘Separating feeling’ and through using our imaginations we had to learn to get the feeling of extending the leg from the hip, trying to make it as long as possible. Using the hips on both sides singularly and together he wanted us to work on stretching that leg out. After stretching for a nice long period everyone commented on how loose and free their hips felt.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Richard Amos’ Shotokan Mastery DVD and within he mentions when moving it’s very important not to reach with the foot and move the body afterwards. This sequence and all of the leg sequences with Isaka Sensei stress this and all give excellent methods of building that strong relationship between the centre of gravity, hips and the legs.
Sensei, from heisoku-dachi had us then take our feet out and into Heiko-dachi, whilst always stressing the need to control one’s centre of balance.
Then from Heisoku-Dachi he had us turn 90 degrees anti-clockwise, then 180, and finally 270.During this spinning action we were are required to take it as slow as possible and not use the shoulders for momentum, but to rely and use the hips as the trigger of the movement.
This was the perfect set up for the movements into Kiba-dachi. Again, same principle applying as with the move into Heiko-dachi, the emphasis was to not reach but move as a single unit. Whist difficult, we were developing from last year and had a better grip of what was required.
Just as we thought this was difficult enough, we then had to draw the rear leg to meet the front into shomen. This was incredibly difficult to do as slow as required, and resisting the temptation to use the shoulders to move you was also difficult.
With this feeling in mind, Sensei had us do the same and perfect the movements with Zenkutsu-dachi and Kokutsu-dachi.
Then came one of the highlights of the weekend: Sensei’s demonstration.Here he demonstrated some of his exercising sequences involving Kiba-dachi, Zenkutsu-dachi and Kokutsu-dachi. This had us all in complete awe. What was also exciting however was that out of no-where he would fire one single lightening speed technique that none of us saw coming. This was kind of highlighting the level of speed achievable if we dedicate our time to his method…and I can only speak for myself, but I was completely sold and I know Emma and I will definitely be making his slow training a part of our regime.
Isaka Sensei - Kanku Dai Sequence
Isaka Sensei - Heian Godan Sequence
Isaka Sensei - Meikyo
On the second day, Isaka Sensei demonstrated Meikyo, and the opening sequences of Kanku Dai and Heian Godan. Last year Sensei demonstrated Meikyo to us, so it was wonderful that he repeated it this year as it all gave us an opportunity to watch his personal development. We could all see a hugely marked improvement and last year we couldn’t even imagine that there was scope for improvement but he proved us wrong. He was so much more fluid this year and this was incredibly inspiring. Isaka Sensei repeatedly asks for feedback. He sees himself as the eternal student and is constantly striving to develop both himself and his understanding. When we had arrived at the St David Spa at 9am, Isaka Sensei had been training for 2 hours himself. When asked during the question and answer time, when asked how long he trains per day, at the age of 65 he trains 5 hours per day. Quite mind-blowing and is a raw reminder of the degree of dedication required to achieve high levels of ability.
The final session of the Saturday included us all working in threes creating a Zenkustu-dachi, Kiba-dachi and Kokutsu-dachi, with one partner making the stance, another firmly holding the legs in place while the other put you in position that would test your centre of gravity, loosen the hips and build the back muscles. Just when we thought we’d achieved something, Sensei would come over and push you that little bit more into the position he wanted. His drive for perfection is simply so impressive and I think we all desperately wanted to meet the standards he was setting.
As he walks around, speaking you can see his real passion and love for karate. He really wants you to excel and he will give you all of his time if you want this dedication too.
The evening saw a different type of dedication from us, a dedication to food and wine. We all met for a nice chat where we sat with Isaka Sensei and asked him questions, which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. He is so open with his time and if you want to pursue his method he will give you his all. Sat with Isaka Sensei, who can be described as nothing less than a pioneer ahead of his time, was very relaxing and a real eye opener. We then went for dinner…but that’s all I’m saying about that.
Following the meal, or the very empty stomachs for some of us, we all sat around and talked over glasses of wine and lager. This we really nice and built a wonderful atmosphere that makes these courses so much fun in and out of the dojo. KWF from what I have seen place a high emphasis on creating a family atmosphere and for this weekend like last year we were a part of that family and Emma and I really thank them for this. Sat with our good friend Robert Sidoli and Yoshiko, along with everyone else, we laughed and joked until the early hours and was the perfect end to the perfect day of training.
Isaka Sensei - Push Up
Isaka Sensei - Tube Training
The next day had the same emphasis, using stances and movement with the heightened attention on the back muscles, hips and us all trying to achieve that elusive ‘Special Feeling’. The last classes of the day included a brilliant demonstration of press-ups by Isaka Sensei where he had us all try and emphasise fully using the back muscles when delivering our techniques (see videos). Then we trained using Rubber tubing. This was a nice way to conclude this camp with Isaka Sensei as we were given an insight into yet another method of training that Isaka Sensei himself uses everyday. (See Videos).
This weekend was fantastic. Isaka Sensei was fantastic, the training was fantastic and the fellow karateka were fantastic. A real eye-opener.
Last year was a big shock for us, but oddly enough, this year was an even bigger shock because this time I could look beyond the obvious and see the excellence of what Isaka Sensei was trying to highlight. Next year no doubt will be fantastic too and we cannot wait to train in North Wales again very soon.