JKAE SUMMER COURSE 2009
On the weekend of the 29th August 2009, Emma and I travelled to Guildford, Surrey UK for the JKA England Summer Course to train under Masaaki Ueki 8th Dan, Takuya Taniyama 6th Dan and Yoshinobu Ohta 6th Dan.
Since our most recent training with the JKA in May, under Senseis Osaka, Ogura and Sawada, we were terribly eager to come along this weekend for more brilliant karate with two JKA Hombu Instructors. Sadly however, a clash of schedules meant that this weekend was demanding more than our time training in Guildford, so we were therefore only able to attend the Saturday’s training. Therefore, please forgive me for focusing my report to just the one day, but what I took away from it was more than worth mentioning. In fact, Emma and I were gutted we had to leave, knowing everyone else was able to stay for the following days of training...so if you sense any resentment then cut me a little slack.
Masaaki Ueki really doesn’t need an introduction to many of you I wouldn’t imagine. Born in 1939, Sensei Ueki first started training at age 16 under Sensei Sugiura (Chief Instructor of the JKA). After graduating from Asia University he enrolled on the JKA Instructor Program and graduated in 1961. Like many of his contemporaries, he was very active competitively taking 1st kata and 2nd kumite in the 1965 All Japan Championship, topping this in 1968 when he became Grand Champion (1ST in both kata and kumite). Today he remains a leading figure at the JKA HQ, and has been the force behind the development of many great karateka to have emerged from the Hombu. Of Ueki Sensei, Masatoshi Nakayama former Chief Instructor of the JKA stated ‘The hands and feet of Masaaki Ueki are worth watching, for they are very fast and truly sharp. His kick can be heard from some distance away, and he exhibits sharpness and great power in bending his knee. It is not surprising that many opponents have been defeated.’
Takuya Taniyama is from the younger generation of the JKA, graduating from the JKA Instructor Program in 1990. He too has had a very successful competitive career, placing 1st in kumite in both 1995 and 1996, continuing this kumite success in 1998 and 2001. He also placed impressively in kata, taking 1st place in 1999 & 2000, continuing the success in 2003. His ‘Sochin’ is renown, both powerful and smooth; his movement is both strong and dynamic. His is currently a JKA HQ Full Time Instructor and a figure for the future of JKA Karate.
I adore Sensei Nakayama’s Best Karate series, and have often looked up close, cross-eyed kind of close, at the wonderful photographs within. Ueki Sensei of course was featured in Best Karate Volume 3 (Kumite 1) and demonstrated kata within the series too, but he also demonstrated Gojushiho Sho, Kanku Dai and Tekki Sandan within the famous blue background videos. I would study these videos, and closely analyse the books and would try to get some of their energy into my karate. I have been looking forward to this seminar since I heard who was coming. This was the first time I had trained with either of these instructors, so was so eager to gain an insight into what they were all about.
Emma and I travelled to Guildford the night before the seminar, an opportunity to beat the traffic of early Saturday morning craziness. The M4 threw my cleverly concocted plan back in my face however, and I realised it as I was sat in miles of traffic...BANK HOLIDAY. Now before I progress any further, it’s important to note to our non-British readers, that here in the UK at least Bank Holiday traffic is nothing short of crazy. Everyone who owns a caravan/campervan has the same idea that to beat Saturday morning traffic it’s best to travel the night before, making Friday rush hour traffic even more insane than usual. No matter how many times you are savagely bitten by your own bank holiday plans, you still make the same mistake year after year...or is that just me?
After arriving, we showered and changed and went downstairs for a meal...or a ‘Date’ as Emma preferred to refer to it as. Now as you will all probably know, Emma and I travel an awful lot with karate training, roughly two weekends out of four per month on average, meaning we have little time to ourselves at the weekend, so we decided to treat ourselves with some nice food and some wine in the restaurant. What seemed to be a good idea, did not seem so bright the next morning. We bought a bottle, the cheapest there but still rather pricey I must admit and we took a sip and I just winced away in shock at the sheer strength and sourness of it. It was so awful I was sure I could smell my throat being incinerated. Somehow however, the more of the acid I drank, the more painless it felt until I found myself trying to find the handle on the elevator. Silly me...
The proof of the spitefulness of the wine was confirmed the next morning when my mouth was as dry as an old boot left to dry out for a month or two. After a little grub and water to hydrate my body and wet my brain cells I was ready and excited to train.
After arriving, we started to warm up thinking to ourselves ‘ah, it’s going to be a quiet one today’ as the room was rather empty. That was until I realised that we were over an hour early for the seminar. Me and my over-cautious time keeping. By the time the instructors came into the dojo, the room was packed. When Sensei Ueki came in, the first thing that struck me was Sensei Ueki’s big smile.
When line up was called, we all jumped in line, all desperate to get the best view of the room. Now I learned a valuable lesson last time, as for the first session the room was split in half. I believe I referred to it as Moses parting the red sea, with the instructor teaching in the dry patch down the centre of the room. Therefore, I was sure not to get into the front line as this inevitably would become the back line when the room was split...I learned quick. Before we went to our knees, Senseis Ohta and Ueki gave detailed explanation as to how the JKA do seiza. I have learned how to do seiza in several different ways on our travel so I was very intrigued.
Sensei Ohta pointed out that seniors line up to the right, so therefore, the right knee goes to the ground first. Instead of dropping down and pushing knees forward however, the knee must be placed where the foot once was when in musubi dachi. Then the left kneels down too. Sensei Ueki stated that the left’s big toe rests on top of the right’s big toe, with one fist space between the legs for the men and legs together for ladies. To elevate, you raise the left (as a mark of respect to the right) and then the right elevates.
Session 1 – Masaaki Ueki
After the warm up, Sensei Ueki took to the floor. I don’t know whether my perception was inspired most severely by my close study of the above mentioned reading and video material, but you could just sense Ueki’s presence throughout the room. You could feel his energy and he commanded your attention.
We started the session by simply punching choku-zuki whist in shizentai. He spoke about the need for the punch to travel along the shortest path possible, and to do this the elbows must be kept close to the body. Another important point he stressed was the need to prioritize the returning hand, stating that we need to add ‘kime’ to the return hand simultaneously with the punching hand.
This then progressed onto a training drill, which he described (with an invisible wink I am sure) as the warm up. We started by stepping oi-zuki and stepping backward gedan-barai, emphasizing the hip action and the drive forward.
True to his word, this was indeed the warm up, and the next section of the class made up the central theme for his class.He explained that whenever he engages in kumite, he likes to make use of heiko-dachi as a transition stance for him to change direction and deliver his counter attack. He demonstrated this with a counter attack of oi-zuki, mae-geri and mawashi-geri. It was then that I realised the role of the oi-zuki, step back gedan barai exercise.
As the opponent steps oi-zuki, you move as it to step away gedan barai. At half way point however (heiko-dachi as his transitional stance of choice), he launched back forward with his counter attack. Therefore, he moved backward and then went back in with his counter attack. He demonstrated this, using the heiko-dachi at a variety of angles (facing opponent, angled outside opponent’s attack and angled inside opponent’s attack).
This exercise, after being practiced at a variety of angles and employing a variety of counter attacks, we then went back to line training where we brought this concept to a variety of new stances such as fudo-dachi, sanchin-dachi, kiba-dachi and using suitable blocks and counter attacks when you drive back into zenkutsu-dachi.
Sensei Ueki delivered his session with a real enthusiasm. He was eager to ensure you understood what he wanted to get out of the session and wanted everyone to improve. He was keen to offer advice and had his eyes scanning the room constantly.
The second and third sessions of the day were taken by Sensei Taniyama. Unlike Sensei Ueki’s beaming smile, Taniyama’s countenance was somewhat more frightening. This all went however when he started teaching, and he would often smile, join in on a joke, and lighten the mood of the class. This I should add was, to a huge extent, inspired by Ken Hori the translator.
In my review of the JKA Spring Course, I mentioned Ken Hori and the superb job he did on the course. He is one of the translators on the course, who interpreted for the guest instructors. I feel however that he needs a little bit more of a mention here. The number of times I have trained with Japanese instructors where you are told a vague or barely similar translation to what has been said by the instructor is countless. Furthermore, you commonly find that the translator has little/no personality. Ken Hori however does such a wonderful job of translating because he brings his own sense of humour to the session and helps put the instructor’s comments into context and explains in a way that the class can understand. I really think he should be commended for the superb job he does, for I sincerely feel that his contribution has a huge (somewhat under-rated) impact on the course.
Session 2 - Takuya Taniyama
The second session analysed the role of the front leg when rotating from hanmi to shomen.
It is all too common, he explained, that when rotating from hanmi to shomen for all of the work to be made by the rear leg. Whilst this is an important element of the rotation, he commented, people often neglect the use of the front leg in the hope of generating a whole body movement. He said that in hanmi you should be in a position of relaxation and in shomen you should be in a state of contraction. Therefore, this session was designed to highlight, stress and improve the use of the front leg during this rotation.
In pairs, one person got into zenkutsu-dachi and rotated the hips to shomen. From here, the partner sat on the ground and applied pressure on the inside of the leg to push the knee outward. The purpose of this however was for the karateka in the stance to resist against this pressure. Upon Sensei Taniyama’s count, the karateka sat on the ground had to release the pressure.
What happened was quite funny. Upon his count, almost everyone fell over. As they were resisting the pressure applied by their partner they were exerting too much pressure inwards, meaning when the pressure was removed the knee collapsed inwards.
He explained that in your stance, there has to be a balanced pressure. Therefore, you must exert pressure through the centre of the front leg rather than push the leg inward or outward. Balanced pressure through the front leg. We did this exercise on both legs, releasing pressure on his count. What he was trying to highlight was that in order to go from shomen to hanmi you must squeeze inside in order to achieve the rotation (using the front leg as an immovable wall and anchor) rather than just rely on the rear leg to propel the hip forward.
With the front leg warm up (another invisible wink present somewhere I have no doubt) exercise out of the way, we then started the exercise that would make up the bulk of the class.
- Start in zenkutsu-dachi, open the hips to hanmi.
- Straighten the front leg completely (try to avoid hyper-extending the leg however)
- Take the rear leg backwards and straighten the rear leg completely. You should therefore have both legs straight and should therefore be in an extremely elongated zenkutsu-dachi (looking like you are about to drop down into the scissor splits.)
- You must keep the back leg straight, and now bend the front knee forward and use the front leg as an anchor to pull the other hip forward to shomen. Therefore the front leg is acting as an immovable wall enabling you to squeeze inside and pulling the rear leg upward into the stance’ correct two shoulder width architecture with hips in shomen.
This is clearly an extreme action, but it helps highlight the muscles being used. More importantly, it helps highlight the ‘feeling’ you are trying to achieve when doing the movement from a normal zenkutsu-dachi, and helps strengthen and condition these muscles.
To the above exercise, we added a gyaku-zuki and gyaku-mae-geri .
At the end of this session, my legs were so, so exhausted. From this session, I learned so much and my ‘feeling’ of doing zenkutsu-dachi has changed dramatically.
Session 3 - Takuya Taniyama
The third and final session for the day was again taken by Sensei Taniyama.
This session worked further on the principles touched on in the second session. This time however, we were paired up, with the principle being applied to a kumite setting. We initially paired up, and practiced the elongated zenkutsu-dachi, with the pull on the front leg whilst adding a gyaku-zuki against the partner whilst they held their hands out in a fighting position.
Throughout this session and the previous session, we have achieved the elongated zenkutsu-dachi, by taking the rear leg backwards. For the kumite adaptation however, we were to be a fair distance away from the partner in kamae. We were then to slide our front foot forward into the elongated zenkutsu-dachi (but not as elongated as previously practiced) and then draw up the rear leg to punch with the gyaku-zuki. Sensei highlighted the need to maintain the same distance throughout the action and make it as smooth and relaxed as possible. This he said was great way to go under your opponent’s jodan attacking punch.
Sensei Taniyama’s demonstrations of this were impeccable. He moved across the ground so fast, and his uke Ken Hori commented that he didn’t see the attack start or finish. I think it’s important to note that Taniyama is not necessarily the smallest of karateka. He’s stocky in build and physically a force to be reckoned with (both in build and skill). He moved like a demon however, gliding effortlessly across the ground to the opponent.
We then moved onto using the above detailed movement, with an oi-zuki added to the end.
- Partner stands in kamae, left leg in front. You stand a good distance away with your left leg in front.
- You slide inwards with left leg (as before) and use front leg to pull hips to shomen. From there you step forward, using your left hand to push down the opponent’s kamae and punch them with your right fist.
This sequence covers a great deal of ground quickly and efficiently. He stressed the timing of the push down of the opponent’s kamae and the punch landing. He said that the punch should be almost hitting the opponent when you push down their hands. Too many he said push down and then try to punch, which results in the sequence failing.
This session concluded with the kata Sochin. As I mentioned at the beginning of the report, Taniyama’s Sochin is celebrated as a wonderful display of power, end immovable force. Throughout his teaching of this kata, he discussed some of the most important elements such as the perfectly represented opening sequence. Here he stressed the need to use the back muscles to contract as a way to avoid the hunching that can become too natural with this opening movement. He also touched on the need to keep the rear knee in food-dachi in place when pushing the tate-shuto, and to prevent it from collapsing inward. This he said destabilizes the stance and the technique.
After Seiza at the end of the final session, two karateka were called out to demonstrate a kata of their choice as a part of their instructor qualification. Mr. Sanna demonstrated the kata Kanku Dai and Mr. Paulus demonstrated the kata Nijushiho much to the close attention of the three senior instructors Senseis Ueki, Taniyama and Ohta and the entirety of the room. Thumbs up for their bravery as I would imagine there were a few hundred butterflies colliding on their insides.
At the end of this day of training, I’d learned so much about the inner workings of many techniques covered. The day had consisted of detailed instruction from an older and younger generation of the JKA Headquarters. Both demonstrated a keen understanding of movement and the finer attributes of powerful technique. I cannot wait to train under them both again soon!
Sincere thanks to Kevin and Red Pepper Images for so kindly supplying such wonderful photographs!!!