On the 24th November 2007, Malcolm Phipps and Seishinkai Shotokan Karate International hosted a weekend Seminar with Sensei Richard Amos 6th Dan (Chief Instructor to the World Traditional Karate Organisation) and Steve Ubl 7th Dan (Technical Director to the WTKO).
There had been a great deal of hype about this seminar for a long time. Richard Amos is obviously an international respected Instructor, but Steve Ubl although not being a hugely well known name, is a pioneer in his own unique approach to karate.
Richard Amos started his karate training in the UK in 1978, training with the KUGB, before going to New York for two years and then onto Japan for ten. For these ten years he trained at the JKA Honbu, completing the infamous JKA Instructor’s course and becoming only the 2nd non-Japanese karateka to ever complete it in its 50-year history. Now Richard Amos is Chief Instructor of the WTKO and spends much of the year travelling and teaching when he is not at his HQ in New York.
Steve Ubl started his journey in karate in 1969, before living in Japan where he went under the wing of Master Masatoshi Nakayama, Chief Instructor of the JKA, becoming his very personal student. He is noted as being the first ever resident at the Hoitsugan, Master Nakayama’s personal dojo in 1972 and spent many hours receiving private tuition from the Master himself during his repeated returns to Japan.
The hype, attention and enthusiasm for the course decided that it would be a ticket only event, and tickets were like gold dust. Apart from the students from the UK, in attendance were also 30 students from Holland, 14 from Norway, 16 from Iceland, 2 from Ireland and 1 from South Africa, so tickets were obviously much in demand.
Due to the high numbers of attendees 1st Dans and below would be one group and 2nd Dans and above would be another, both taking part in separate rooms. Both days would then conclude with a separate session dedicated solely to the kyu grades with both instructors taking the session.
Saturday 24th November 2007
The first Session of the Saturday was with Richard Amos. He opened by stating that he wanted to focus very specifically on the hips, almost to the ignorance of other factors. Therefore we started by getting into a zenkutsu-dachi and moving the hips smoothly from hanmi to shomen. While discussing the use of the back leg and its compression and release like a spring he wanted us to use the tips of our belts as our measure of our hips’ action. As the hips moved smoothly between hanmi and shomen the excess of the belts from the knot swung around, and we were to keep this excess taut and not allow it to get slack.
After adding kizami-tsuki and gyaku-tsuki to the sequence he then had us step forward on the hanmi-shomen motion and again aiming to keep the belt taut and swinging out from the body.
He mentioned that with so many of us, we move off from one stance, then at the middle point of our action there’s a slight delay before we continue. This is something he was eager to deal with so had us pair up, one in zenkustu-dachi and the other assisting. While one person was in the stance, the partner placed hands on their hips and encouraged the hip forward as a way to eradicate this delay and smooth out and speed up the motion.
With these partners we then practiced a sequence aimed to continue emphasising the hip action. As the partner punches gyaku-tsuki you block soto-uke and spin, using the energy from the hips to make this work. Then the partner would kick mae-geri and we would have to shift with a gedan-barai and spin around. In this sequence using the hips was vital to make it work, but also to ensure you didn’t get kicked.
This first session of the day was concluded with the kata Senka. I have never practiced any of the kata by Asai Sensei before, but instantly I could see the clear benefits of practicing them. This kata involves spinning actions and turns, which clearly fitted ideally with the principles of the class, and although I did not perfectly get the kata I definitely think it enhanced the class.
The much-awaited second class of the day was taken by Steve Ubl. He opened the class by getting us to punch gyaku-tsuki in zenkustu-dachi, then while using the front foot as a pivot we shifted clockwise to punch kizami-tsuki. This was daunting…not because gyaku-tsuki and kizami-tsuki are all too difficult but because Sensei Ubl had set the standard. His movement was pure economy and ultra efficient. His movements came from his hips and his speed was superb. He told us he did not want us to get too boxed in by kihon form, and wanted us to soften up and allow the energy to flow.
This then led into his asking of the question ‘What kata would you like?’ to which one student said ‘Chinte’.
What we were served with was the Nakayama taught version of the kata; functional, efficient and effective. Sensei Ubl said that if things don’t work in karate, then he doesn’t waste his time practicing it, and his teaching of Chinte reflected this. During the opening sequence and onwards he repeatedly insisted that we keep the movements functional and to the point. Excessive and overtly showy movements in this kata were proven to be useless and this again brought back to reality the purpose and effectiveness of kata.
One of the long asked questions regards the final sequence of the kata, where after the final tate-shuto and punch you bring your feet back to heisoku-dachi and do three hops to the rear to arrive back at the embusen.
Now when the class arrived at this final tate-shuto sequence we all looked at Sensei Ubl perplexed and with real excitement as he continued the kata beyond this to add some concluding techniques, which were his own addition to fit with the theme of the kata, and removing the three hops backward. This was an interesting addition that fitted perfectly with the emphasis that Sensei Ubl was making.
Sunday 25th November 2007
The first class of the Sunday was taken by Sensei Ubl and took a similar approach to the previous day, emphasising the hips and their central role in karate techniques. With us all in zenkutsu-dachi he had us bring our front foot backward to meet the rear leg whilst blocking downward, then we move forward with what was the rear leg to punch. Again, he stressed the importance of moving from the hips, rather than moving from the head. Interestingly enough, he spoke about how if the hip was moving the hand should be moving too, and said that if the hand has travelled 10 inches, then it should have penetrated the target by 10 inches. He was referring to energy and how the movements should be explosive and not hindered by tension. As we all moved, he occasionally executed the techniques too, giving us a clear image of what we were to try and achieve.
Then he said ‘I’ve had some requests, Bassai Dai, Kanku Sho and Tekki Shodan’. The crowd then muttered their choices and it was eventually decided that we would practice Bassai Dai.
Again, like Chinte the day before, this kata was functional and efficient and represented Sensei Ubl’s time spent with Master Nakayama. For example, at one point in the kata you pull back to heisoku-dachi and pull manji-uke before moving into kiba-dachi and blocking gedan-barai. Now today, this is commonly practiced by raising the knee and coming down with the block. Sensei Ubl however said that when he was taught this by Sensei Nakayama, there was no knee raise, but rather just a step into kiba-dachi. This will just give you a brief idea of the type of things Sensei Ubl was highlighting. He would ask ‘Can we do that again?’, which he would repeat until we achieved the points he was stressing, and eventually we gained a fuller insight into his approach to karate.
The second class of the Sunday was taken by Sensei Amos, who also had us practice kata. His class however was somewhat different to Sensei Ubl’s. He said he wanted us to practice kata application to enhance the kata, rather than practice applications that were functional. He said he wanted us to study application that adhered as close as possible to the kata. So we practiced the kata Heian Shodan, then in 3s started off by applicating the kata ourselves. Then he had us around so he could discuss and present his thoughts on the applications that adhered closely to the kata, to which we would then go away and practice. This we did for Heian Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, and Yondan.
The purpose of this exercise was to present a format which would directly influence our performance of the kata. As we practiced the kata after this exercise, he told the class that he could see a different intent in our eyes.
This weekend brought together karateka from different parts of the world to share and explore the methods and teachings of two very different instructors, and I would just like to thank Malcolm Phipps and SSKI for having us this weekend.