by Randall Hackworth
On March 5th and 6th of 2006, Senseis Steve Ubl and Yutaka Koike taught a series of classes at the Orange County Japan Karate Association dojo in Lake Forest, California. Impressively, numerous organizations were represented and treated to a world class weekend of karate training.
The reason I titled this article “Nothing Wasted” is that in all of the time that I have spent training with Ubl Sensei, this theme continues to present itself. No wasted motions, no wasted techniques, no wasted breath, no wasted strength, the list goes on and on. His teachings at the seminar continued this philosophy yet covered many other topics to help improve technique efficiency and effectiveness.
Koike Sensei’s teaching incorporated several interesting concepts as well. Throughout his classes, he emphasized always working with your partner, i.e., help him/her while helping yourself. He focused a lot on maintaining relaxation throughout the exercises.
Saturday started with Ubl Sensei teaching his basic, advanced fundamentals – exercises that are challenging to perform correctly but are as basic of motions as moving forward in zenkutsu-dachi. As a warm-up we would punch from shizentai, starting with the right hand punch then using a tai-sabaki motion bringing the left foot back to the right side, finishing in zenkutsu-dachi facing toward the left on a 45 degree angle, then stepping up into a low shizentai, punching with the opposite hand and rotating into the opposite position to the previous technique.
After some comfort was developed with the previous technique, we then added a modified age-uke (mawashi-age-uke) with an emphasis on keeping your hands in a useful position – meaning, not pulling your hands down in standard hikite position but keeping them in position to launch another technique.
Ubl Sensei believes and teaches that you should be able to make maximum focus/kime (i.e., effective striking power) essentially from any position and especially at very close distance and demonstrates clearly that it can be done.
Next, we continued with more basic, advanced fundamentals and applied these to kata. The first kata was Heian Shodan. From the first day I learned this kata it was taught downward block, step in punch, etc. It was invariably taught in a step-by-step, very basic, stylized fashion. However, what Ubl Sensei taught and demonstrated was interestingly different. Although he performed the outward movements in the customary, classic JKA style, throughout the kata he demonstrated movements or techniques in-between the standard techniques – again, no wasted movement and no opportunity or opening being allowed which an opponent could exploit. As indicated, the idea of no wasted movements is not uncommon with his teaching. But his other focus with this and other kata was developing the feeling of internalizing the movements and implementing them from your own center. Perhaps in a different article more information can be provided on this topic. In our review we learned that if you “master” this kata, you can “master” all of them. This was also convincingly demonstrated by his performance of sections of other kata, i.e., the same principles were applied to different techniques and body movements with astonishing realism and effectiveness.
During the classes, Ubl Sensei often referred to topics taught to him by the late Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei, thus "Nothing Wasted".
Koike Sensei started all of his classes with preparing the body for training, deep stretching and deep breathing. Throughout the weekend Koike Sensei would deviate from the JKS training methods to include other exercises he had learned and developed from his experience with other instructors.
In one of the sessions, Koike Sensei had the class using the blocks and movements from any of the kata against our partners constant punching. From zenkutsu-dachi, one side would perform a kizami-zuki and gyaku-zuki in place. The other side would gently step in performing any of the blocking/striking combinations from the kata of their choice. We started with the Heian kata and then progressed to more advanced kata.
Koike Sensei is not a small man and it was very clear to understand his encouragement to work with your partner as opposed to “out-manning” him. Maximizing the opportunity to coordinate your body with what he was teaching was very helpful and appreciated, especially if you were demonstrating with him.
Both instructors remained consistent with their respective teachings. Koike Sensei gave us a review of the kata Rohai and Ubl Sensei, by request, did a more in-depth review of Gojushiho-sho and Jitte. These kata were a definite challenge, for various reasons. Rohai, the original Meikyo, contained many techniques that Koike Sensei described in the most creative ways. With regard to Ubl Sensei’s breakdown of Gojushiho-sho and Jitte, he described and demonstrated simple, effective movements that over time have been eliminated from all of the standard JKA-style Shotokan kata. He indicated that Nakayama Sensei would sometimes teach and/or demonstrate things a little differently at his home dojo, the Hoitsugan, from what was being taught to the masses at the honbu dojo.
It was quite apparent that Ubl Sensei’s applications were markedly different from the typical, dare I say impractical, JKA-style approach to kata application. As indicated previously, there was no superfluous movement and he repeatedly emphasized and demonstrated very realistic applications of each movement. This was indeed an eye-opener! To say this is one thing; but as I have said to others, you really have to see it for yourself to realize the difference.
Nine hours of training, new ideas on training methods, and new ways to think about what you are doing – it doesn’t get much better than this. And not to mention – Nothing Wasted.