Video: Kakie and Shisochin Kata

Kakie, the pushing hands technique, is often neglected, or used too simply as just a conditioning exercise. We chip a little off the bunkai iceberg by showing how kakie can be used to tease the bunkai out of Shisochin, a senior kata specific to Goju Ryu, and brought back from mainland China by Kanryo Higashionna Sensei.

We pick out just 3 moves from this graceful, but deadly kata, and show how you can use kakie to effectively implement the bunkai hidden just under the surface of the kata.

Instructor: Che Jagger 5th Dan, OGKK
Filmed at Goju Ryu Karate Centre, Florida, Johannesburg.

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A Day in the Life of a Sensei

Morning:
“Ah! What a beautiful day! I think I’ll go and train and -”
*phone starts vibrating*

And then pour in the Whatsapps.

What time is the grading next week? When are the dojo shirts arriving? Suzy Q has gymnastics/maths/chess trials today and will miss karate later. My account looks wrong – are you sure you can add properly? Have you spoken to my child yet about the bullying at school? What time is the training seminar? I know its for black belts, but maybe my kid can come anyway? Is it holiday hours yet? What’s happening with the tournament? Any chance you could do private classes, but for like, free?

Ping, ping, ping. Then various whatsapp groups for parents and students start blowing up because someone shared something utterly idiotic they saw on Facebook, which is usually kind of racist and awkward. Apologies are made, rebukes issued and with a sigh, the phone is set aside for the moment.

Day adequately derailed, the Sensei decides to check in on email, sees four million emails regarding team selections, federation meetings, gashuku arrangements and offers from shady martial arts gear companies promising good prices. There’s an email chain with far too many people CC’d in, and some people still haven’t learned basic email etiquette despite being old enough to pay tax. There isn’t enough coffee to deal with this inbox right now, so the Sensei decides to catch up on old school paperwork.

But where to start? Updating the student database? Filing the medical info cards? Sending out accounts? Then chasing accounts that remain unpaid for no clear reason? There’s newsletters to be printed, grading certificates to be signed, testimonial letters to be written. There’s events to organise, forms to collate, merchandise to be ordered, and and and and and — oh god, is that a sneeze, but I got my flu vaccination and and and —

Well, at least, that’s how it feels.

Every dojo is different. Every dojo has its own challenges and offerings. The bigger the dojo, the greater the admin. Some instructors have to work full time jobs and then still teach at night. Those of us who are lucky enough to do it on a full-time basis sometimes miss out on the normal things other people take for granted. Weekends, for example. Some of us are studying, working and teaching. I’ve juggled a counselling course, freelance writing and teaching this year. I know instructors who work at schools, hopping from one to the other, driving all day. Some are just trying to get a foot in the door, just starting out in a tiny dojo with no equipment but with so much heart and passion that they don’t charge a fee that’s fair to them as well. The starving artist trope extends to martial artists as well, as unfair and unnecessary as it is.

And it can be a good kind of busy, when you’re doing it right, and for the right kind of reasons. I love being a daywalker – my day is flexible, until roughly 3pm, when it’s time to prep for class, have that last cup of coffee (and a chocolate) and then teach for four to five hours. I sleep in a bit (because I hate mornings) and at least when I do admin at my desk, no one can tell me that a unicorn onesie is inappropriate workwear.

Of course it’s stressful – we are always worrying about litigious parents, bills, this student’s progress, that one’s troubles at home. We try to keep our qualifications current, and pay huge money to go train with our seniors to keep our skills honed. Never mind the cost of a grading in whichever home dojo we belong to overseas, which can easily cost a couple hundred dollars a pop, just for the certification. Never mind the plane trip and somewhere to sleep that isn’t a bench.

A Sensei is so many things – janitor, nurse, counsellor, accountant, career guidance coach, wailing wall, mentor, caterer, event manager, teacher and role model. Even when we don’t want to be, we are always in a gi. We are always aware of our actions, for the smallest misconstrued comment can blow up, and any lapse in judgement can bring the mobs down upon our dojo. Whatsapp statuses must be carefully written, personal Facebook posts reconsidered. It becomes a habit after a while, this careful self-policing, but there are days when I really would like to use that sweary image as my whatsapp avatar.

Our students often look to us for a good example, and there are days when I sometimes lie on the couch and see if I can catch popcorn with my mouth forty times in a row, and I’ll do this for an hour. I’m not always the shining example of adulthood that my students perceive me to be (although I’m not sure anyone is).

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But when the kids come barrelling into the dojo, so excited to train and be on the mat, shouting over each other and basically carrying on like labrador puppies on a sugar high, it all melts away. The drama, the politics, the admin, the fears, the anxieties. I could be in the blackest, foulest mood, (and I often am when I am hangry around 3pm) but the minute they arrive, it all makes sense.  

It’s amazing, when you think about all the things an instructor has to do, just to be able keep teaching your little one how to do a face block. After all, that which gives light must endure burning, and everything I do is for the students, because without them then I really am just a karate bum.

So, please be patient with us when we don’t respond to your text at 11:30pm about something that really could wait until tomorrow morning. It might seem like we have easy lives, because “you only teach for four hours”, but there are mountains and mountains of invisible work that go into what we do, and yes, we do lie awake at night and worry about our students too.

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3 Fun Ideas for Teaching Kids Karate

In my journey as a deshi, I have been given some great opportunities to come up with clever ways to get complex concepts across to kids ranging from the age of 5 to 15. I’d love to share these ideas, and hear back from other deshi students and instructors if they have had success, and have found ways to tweak them!

The Jelly Tot Game

This idea was inspired by my dear friend Clea, who got it from her dancing teacher. All you need is a big bag of sweets that have relatively flat bottoms. I use jelly tots, which look like this: jelly_tots

You’ll need sweets that will stay put when placed, but will also fall off as well if moved too vigorously.

How the game works:
Every student gets a sweet placed on each shoulder. They must then cross the dojo by moving through stances. I like to use the classic sanchin, zenkutsodachi, shikodachi trio. If they make it to the end without dropping their sweets, then they can eat them! If they drop them, they have to pick them up, go to the start and begin again. Good reason to keep shoes off the mat!

What it works on:
I noticed that the kids were wobbling a bit as they moved through their stances, so this is to teach them to tighten their core, keep their shoulders forward and to move through the centre. It is also a memorable way to reinforce a concept, and a good way to introduce some fun into the dojo during the cold season, or when the general energy level is low.

Variations
You can easily swap out the sweets for fruit, or place beacons on their heads and encourage them to move without their beacon sliding off. You can also use it to train core movements and proprioception by making them stand up and sit down without losing the cone.

 

Tick-Tock – The Metronome Game

In teaching the older kids basic randori principles, they were unable to grasp the concept of smooth, slow fighting. The dojo has a sound system, so I hooked up my phone to it and used a metronome app. There are many great, free ones. I use Sound Corset as it offers a lot of flexibility.

How it works
This is pretty simple to introduce. Once the students are paired off, set the metronome to about 50 beats, which is a slow enough pace for control, but not so slow that they get bored. Encourage them to use the beats to keep an even pace, so that they can tell their partner when they’re going too fast. It also helps you to see instantly who isn’t keeping pace, and to diagnose why.

What it works on
Timing is vital in all martial arts, so this helps students to learn pacing and control. It can also be used to teach beginner adults how slow randori should be. Because slow is relative to each person, this introduces an external way to track speed.

Variations
The same metronome can be used for kumite training, by speeding it up for footwork drills and plyometric training. If you don’t have a loud enough sound system, introducing a simple triangle or a drum into the dojo will do the trick.

1,2,3,4: I Declare a Clothes Peg War

A crucial element of fighting (at least in my style) is to control the centre line. This game is designed to teach martial artists of all ages how to defend their centre line while attacking their opponent. This has been a huge hit and is a great way to energise your dojo while introducing an important concept. Honestly, this is one of my best ideas, though I’m sure someone else has come up with it too!

How it works
You’ll need a lot of clothes pegs for this one. Either get some cheap wooden ones, or invest in good, solid pegs. You’ll need about three per student. If you are a kumite-centred dojo, you’ll probably need to look at getting the strongest ones you can.

Everyone will attach the clothes pegs to the centre of their training jacket, either on the lapel or on a bit of pinched fabric. Because of the nature of the game, it may be more appropriate to pair female students together. The goal of the game is to defend your clothes pegs while grabbing the other person’s pegs. The ground rules are simple: no running away, no holding your pegs. You can attack while the other person attaches the ones they stole. You can get your pegs back. The game is over after a certain time limit. I recommend about 5 minutes, max.

What it works on
Ah, so many things! Weapon, target, control, defending your centre, learning to keep a defending hand up, footwork, endurance and a fighting mind. It is a great way to train fighting principles in a memorable way. It is a good way to solidify a class on kumite and randori principles by introducing it at the end. Fair warning – it can get out of hand easily due to the excitement of defending and taking, so keep a very close eye on the students.

Variations
You can stick the clothes pegs on the back, teaching students to get around the person, and to step to the outside and get in their blind spot. You can also colour code the pegs, so that they can only grab the red ones, and if they grab the wrong one then its a penalty. This teaches hand-eye coordination as well as even clearer use of weapon/target. For sheer craziness (and only with very senior students), one person has all the pegs while two others get to pick them off – this is for dealing with multiple attackers.

And that’s it! I hope you find these games useful in your teaching practice. I am always working on them and refining them, and I would love to hear about your own inventions and success in the dojo.

Besides, while I know that I could keep these games a secret, I feel that it is more important to share them with the larger martial arts community so that we can learn together and improve our teaching practice.

Returning to the Dojo

Looking for translated copies of this? Please jump to the bottom! 

It seems inevitable for many students – after years of dedicated training (or even just months), the training begins to slow down. Sometimes, it just stops suddenly, and there’s a conspicuous gap where a senior used to be. A pocket of quiet where a boisterous teen used to stand and idly nudge the punching bag while listening to instructions.

No student slips away unnoticed.

There are a thousand demands on our time, many beyond our control. Money must be earned, marks attained, sports teams made. Families require an investment of quality time, and for many teenagers, just getting to the dojo relies on parental availability and willingness. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an injury that dragged on and suddenly, it’s two months off the mat.

One missed class can easily become three. Three classes becomes a month. Then six. Then a year. And then there’s a day when you open your cupboard and there is your gi, hanging up and gathering dust. Waiting. (And silently judging you.)

“But what will Sensei think?” the student wonders, before slowly closing the door. “I can’t go back after so long.”

Oh, but you can. You can always come back. 99% of the time, your Sensei will be utterly delighted to see you return. All that matters is that you make the decision to put your gi on and get to the dojo. Oh, sure, there might be excuses, like…

But I’m so unfit!
So few people are genuinely fit anyway. If fitness was a precondition for martial arts, very few of us would get to start. Fitness comes back much faster than you think, and honestly? It’s not that important.   

What if my friends aren’t there anymore?
Then you’ll make new ones. A dojo is always in flux, so you’ll meet new people and make new dojo family. I’ve been in so many dojos, both because of moving and being a deshi, I know that you’ll soon find a good training partner and your own groove.

I never told Sensei why I left
Look, very few instructors are soft and fluffy and wear dreamcatchers. But your Sensei is human (very much so) and probably isn’t holding a grudge. (Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all instructors.) Just come back (bearing chocolate helps) and say sorry, and ask to train again. It sucks to ask, but it is also pretty hurtful when students disappear and text messages, calls and emails go unanswered.

I can’t remember it all anymore
You are not starting at the bottom – everything you learned is somewhere in your head. It just needs a gentle reminder and some dusting off, and things will start to flow back again.

A wise man named James Clear gives some great physics-related advice on how to stay committed to something. The whole post is well worth reading, but I simply wish to use this rule:

 

Losing momentum is the cause of so many failed hobbies, talents, dreams and projects. In trying to get any major goal accomplished, we forget that it is made of a thousand little steps. A black belt is only the sum of hundreds of classes, not a special talent. You don’t have to do amazing feats: you just have to go to class every week. Every class you can, except when you really, really can’t.

If you have a virus, stay out the dojo. If you have an exam tomorrow, then study. Big family thing? Even Chojun Miyagi believed that family comes first. But tired? Busy? But not so busy that you can watch two episodes of Game of Thrones?

Get your gi on and get thee to a dojo! 

UPDATE: Wow! Over 33,000 hits and shares! Thank you to the global karate community for sharing this! I would love to hear from you, so please do leave a comment and share your stories.

UPDATE 2: I am overwhelmed by the wide support for this article, and the patience so many have shown in translating it! If you would like to share and support these amazing martial artists, their work is below:

In German: http://sakurayama-dojo.de/time-to-make-a-comeback/

In Spanish: https://bushidojo.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/es-hora-de-volver-al-dojo-tras-un-paron/ and https://truegakusei.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/hora-de-volver-al-dojo-extraido-de-otro-blog/

In Hebrew: Returning to the Dojo Hebrew translation by Guy Goldsmith (downloadable pdf)

Dear Adult Beginners: It Gets Better

For whatever reason, you’ve decided to join a dojo. Maybe your kid trains there, or a friend does. Maybe this is the year you get stronger. Maybe there’s a sadder reason that you’d rather not talk about. For whatever reason you joined, there will hopefully be many reasons to stay.

It is difficult to find exact figures for how many people get from white to black belt. A quick google search churns out mostly forum discussions, and it seems to be between 1 and 5%. Probably less than a third make it to their second dan. Some styles have a lot of belts between white and black, and some have very few, but with longer waiting periods. Overall though, the attrition rate for martial arts is ridiculous, but I can understand why so few people stay. I am hoping, though, that I can maybe convince you to stay.

David Wong wrote an amazing article titled How The Karate Kid Ruined The Modern World, and he sums up one of the major reasons why people don’t stick with something:

The world demands more. So, so much more. How have we gotten to adulthood and failed to realize this? Why would our expectations of the world be so off? I blame the montages. Five breezy minutes, from sucking at karate to being great at karate, from morbid obesity to trim, from geeky girl to prom queen, from terrible garage band to awesome rock band.

In the real world, the winners of the All Valley Karate Championship in The Karate Kid would be the kids who had been at it since they were in elementary school. The kids who act like douchebags because their parents made them skip video games and days out with their friends and birthday parties so they could practice, practice, practice. And that’s just what it takes to get “pretty good” at it.

Nothing in this image has anything to do with karate.

Nothing in this image has anything to do with karate.

Everyone thinks they’re a training montage away from being good at something, but getting a black belt within a good federation is a years-long process. (You can get one in 6 weeks at a terrible McDojo, but that’s a whole different blog post.) It takes anything between five and ten years. In my case, it took eight whole years, and that’s with regular, consistent training and the work of several teachers.

But that work is invisible to someone has just joined.

The adult beginner sees other adults with senior rankings, and it looks attainable. And the seniors, we sometimes look so graceful. (Well, I don’t, but there are those that do.) We do these advanced kata, and we move like Sensei does, and we know the terms. It isn’t great to ever be the junior, especially when in other areas of your life, you’re senior in every respect. Being shown how to do basic stepping by someone ten years younger – that stings a bit.

I want you to read two articles. I want you to read this one by Jesse at KaratebyJesse.com, called How to Feel Good About Sucking at Karate. If you read the comments, there are fifth dans and higher admitting that they feel that way all the time. I see instructors getting corrected, people who have been training longer than twenty or thirty years. The learning never stops. Unlike corporate, for example, there’s never really a plateau where you’ve learned everything there is to know at your level. There’s a hundred years of research, ideas and history that informs your training. Of course no one expects you to scratch the surface for a few years. And remember: there’s no rush.

There are no deadlines in karate that you have to chase.

It seems like shameless self-promotion, but I’d also like you to read this piece I wrote about Impostor Syndrome. It was after a really pathetic night of training, when I honestly wondered if I had been given my black belt out of pity. I want you to know that that feeling comes, and it will go. And that there will also be days when some things fall into place, and you will hear the angels sing, and you will deserve those precious, bright moments.

But as an adult beginner, the constant corrections are overwhelming, and sometimes humiliating. It’s hard not to feel like a failure, and to think that no one else has ever been this bad at karate, or aikido, or judo, or whatever you choose to do. But you know what? There isn’t a senior who wasn’t a junior, and who doesn’t learn every day from the junior students they teach. You’re not slowing anyone down by asking for help. 

There are a lot of good reasons to do martial arts, and I hope that you will stick with it. When it is hard, push through. On the other side of frustration lies progress. You will be amazed how many people really do care that you stay. No senior worth their belt will refuse to help you, and if the seniors in the dojo are offish or rude, then get out and try another dojo.

In a year’s time, you will be glad you stuck with it, and in five years’ time, you will wonder why you ever thought of quitting. I promise. So don’t be scared to ask for help, and always train with someone more senior than you. You’ll learn a great deal, you’ll progress quicker than you expect, and you’ll find out more about yourself than you ever imagined.

Remember:

Credit: Karate by Jesse.com