Keri Keri Keri

Keri (Geri) / Foot or Leg Strike

蹴 Keru the Japanese Verb to Kick 

Over the years I have probably been witness to every conceivable way of executing strikes with the foot, as in kicks. Some methods of kicking are very good, but some other methods are not so. Upon reflection there is certainly much variety of thought and differing views on how to practise kicks, which is all fine of course. As I say some methods are and would be very effective and destructive in times of need, whilst others would be nothing less than useless. Well I’m not convinced anyway!

For a Karate Ka to achieve a deeper understanding of their Art and this area of talk as in kicks, they will have to do this by going through their very own experiences and discoveries, including guidance, visualisation and much regular practise, together with frustration and at times failure. Then hopefully firm belief in their techniques too through an open minded approach to realistic effective training that has an in Dojo feel for things real. Some areas of one’s Karate understanding can be likened to being in the dark for many years, where by things don’t always just click or come together straight away; some things may take years to actually come together despite regular practise. Much of this though is down to the individual and the lessons that they go on to learn, thus combined with the type of Karate guidance that has been received along the way, there is also at times going to be individuality. Tamaki Sensei for example has a devastating Maegeri/Front Kick that is delivered in a kind of combined thrusting & snapping type action, whilst Slater Williams Sensei has a Maegeri that is driven from the floor through the calf to thigh at incredible speed with a deadly unstoppable force to match. So two differing variations of the same kick that are equally matched in effectiveness.

Historical documented research on the Karate of Okinawa, including both the oral traditions and lessons from Okinawan Karate Sensei, all tend to state and indicate that teachers only practise/d a select few number of kicks, I’d have to say around six or so give or take one or two, thus preferring to work on a smaller number of kicks but working on these to the point that their effectiveness and ability to apply them was and is without question. In addition to this the preferred target areas for delivering kicks in most cases was to the more easily assessable middle or lower areas of the opponents body, proof again is to be easily found within the letters left from teachers of old as in our Karate Kata’s. This though does not mean that high kicking and plenty of stretching was not practiced, on the contrary, as with much practise higher level kicks can certainly be used to effect in Karate, especially in one’s younger and middle age years. But in true Karate it all comes down to efficiency and effectiveness, where by for the average exponent a low or mid level kick executed with devastating effect is going to be a lot more applicable, realistic and higher up the scale as far as success goes than a high level head kick.

The front kick in Goju Ryu Karate is performed a little bit higher than horizontal to the ground and it is aimed straight to the centre of the body. It is performed by hitting with the ball of the foot and the heel simultaneously. The ball of the foot hits the belly button area while the heel hits the groin area. This is how it was originally developed but then modified by modern day practitioners.

(Takashi Miyagi Sensei, son of the founder of Goju Ryu Karate).

Various Styles and Sensei do of course have varying preferences on how they wish for kicks to be executed within their training place or Dojo. But what I’m saying and listing here is a guide on the subject of Karate kicking which has nothing at all to do with Ryu/Style or preferences, these methods and thoughts should be universal and in the thoughts of all true Karate Ka, those who wish for their kicks to be effective in times of need. Karate is not about the differing ways of the Sensei, the School, the Style, or one Self. What is of paramount importance is that all have a very deep understanding of and total belief in the methods that they so diligently practise and teach. At times a lack of effectiveness and understanding is put down to the Art of Karate or a particular Ryu/Style/System. When in truth the fault usually lies with the lack of understanding of the Art by individuals.

My teacher as in Senaha Sensei does in fact have a great little drill for working on the legs and practising kicks. I may actually put a few listed explanation photos together or maybe some you tube footage put up on here occasionally, but we’ll see…. As an example. Sensei also teaches the Keri Keri Keri set of his teacher Meitoku Yagi Sensei. Sensei often talks of Yagi Sensei as being an innovator who was always working on putting together new drills and training practises to help improve his own Karate together with that of his students. One such drill is the Keri Keri Keri, or kicking practise drill, which can be done as a solo Fu Kyu form or set, or in Renzoku with one training partner, or in Kakome being surrounded by up to 6 training partners.

At the end of the day it’s not just about knowing how to perform or execute kicks, the Karate Ka needs to experience a variety and varying ways to practise them to effect with the correct flow, timing, distancing and accompanying foot work. I am often agitated when teaching Karate, or shall I say what aggravates me more than any other area, is why some people do some of the things that they do whist practising Karate. It is all a case of. Just why are you doing that? Surely you know that it would just never work, why just throw out techniques for the sake of it with little thought. 1 technique performed or execute correctly with feel is better than 100 techniques done or just thrown out for the sake of it. You see this so often these days with Kata, practising lots of Kata won’t make one a better Karate Ka if the feel and understanding is not there. there are so many that practise things that just don’t make sense from a true Karate perspective.

Remember and be warned! There are some methods of practicing kicks that are likely to be more detrimental to your own health than any possible opponent, especially in the long term, we will all get body wear and tear with age it’s inevitable, but we should all really avoid prematurely putting ourselves on the local hospital hip or knee replacement waiting list. This must be noted and given serious consideration so please be aware.

Here are a few areas that I have just briefly listed that I believe we should all take in to serious consideration when practising Keri/Kicks or Foot and Leg Strikes.

Effectiveness; A kick must have a total no question effective destruction about it, head flicks and nice looking showy kicks have no part in true Karate.

Naturalness; The body mechanics and natural body motions of the kick must be fully understood so that the transmission of your body’s power can delivered in to your opponent in a natural flowing way, thus having a maximum desired effect.

Self Health & Injuries; Be sure that the kicks repetitive action in motion is not going to be detrimental to your own health, motions that put repetitive strain on joints or are totally unnatural to the way the human body moves are best avoided. The two main areas for concern are your knee and hip joints.

Range; An understanding of the effective range of each kick in application is essential. At times you may be to close to the opponent, at other times to far away. This is where footwork and many hours of partner training is required.

Desired Target Areas; Kicks need to be delivered towards the most easily accessable and most disabling vulnerable targets on the opponent’s body, like the knee, groin and ribs etc. The targets should already be there pointing at you, you shouldn’t need to be going looking for them.

Foot Strike Positions; The strongest position for the striking area of the foot is to be fully understood and practised, or self injury upon impact may be inevitable, as in breaking your toes or any of the small bones in the foot.

Rooting & Balance; The rooting of one’s own body during the execution of kicks needs to be practised to the point of perfection to maintain stability in the strike whilst balancing on the supporting leg. Yes it may only be for a fraction of a second but it is still essential, the same with maintaining a centred balance.

Body Positioning; The appropriate use of the correct kick to deliver depending on the body positioning of yourself in comparison to the body positioning of your opponent. An opportunity always presents itself yes, but not for every kick or technique as this can be dependent on the opponent.

Speed; Kicks need to be analyzed at varying speeds just like all other Karate techniques, so they need to be broken down and practised both slowly and of course quickly. All experts in all fields work at slow speed as they perfect form and the correction action.

Thrust/ Snapping or Both; The force action through which the delivery of the kick is executed needs to be known, at times it may be a firm snapping action, at others a solid pushing thrusting action. Or maybe even a combination of the two. An understanding of the correct feel and muscle tension is also essential here to prevent injuries to the knee or hip joint. A quick flick is not a true snapping action, far from it.

Kamae and Body Covering; The defensive protective positioning of the hands in relationship to the body, both prior to, whilst executing the kick and there after.

Koshi or Hips; The natural positioning, rotation, loading, thrusting, or pushing forwards of the hip during the action of kick.

Calf to Thigh or Thigh to Thigh: There is either/and calf to thigh, thigh to thigh rolling and knee lifting motions that need consideration, there are of course Sensei and school preferences again here, but it’s knowing how and why one is doing something that is of most importance.

Timing; The timing of the delivery of the kick in relationship to the opening that is presented by the opponent or training partner. At times the opening is only there for the blink of an eye so the opportunity needs to be understood and taken.

Foot Work; The use of foot work as in Ashi Sabaki, Tai Sabaki or Tenshin both prior to unleashing the kick and instantly thereafter is essential. Thus moving in, out, sidewards backwards and at angles, all must be worked.

Supporting Foot Rotation & Fixation; An understanding of the correct use of the supporting foot is essential to achieve naturalness together with loading the hip in motion together with being a key factor in flow positioning to be able to generate maximum power. Knee injuries are common through misuse in this area.

Just a kick? There are so many areas when practising Kicks that as true Karate Ka we need to be thinking about, working on and giving serious consideration to. The best place to do this is of course in the Dojo…

The Karate of Chojun Miyagi Sensei

As a Karate Ka practising and researching the training methods as passed on by Chojun Miyagi Sensei one can so easily become self absorbed in belief that there is a set distinct way of performing or practising Goju Ryu Karate. There are in fact many exponents who sadly disregard any of his other training methods and teachings that are not.

At the time of Chojun Miyagi Sensei’s untimely death in 1953 he certainly left behind him a wealth of knowledge, in many ways though this knowledge was spread out over a number of students on Okinawa, this being over a good many years too. Also, things Chojun Miyagi weren’t kept to his newly named Goju Ryu way of Karate either, research will show that a vast amount of Miyagi’s advanced Karate was passed on through his Senior student Jinan Shinzato Sensei down through the Yuchoku Higa lineage. Some students quite obviously certainly had more exposure to the teachings of Chojun Miyagi than others.

Now if you are or were a Sensei of Karate and you practised, refined and taught your Karate for say over 40 years. What would you actually leave behind as your legacy?

  1. Students that trained with you during your initial early years of teaching.
  2. Students that trained with you during the later years.
  3. Students that were of varying levels of understanding and ability in different areas of Karate training.
  4. Students that were of varying ages and maturity.
  5. Students that trained with you regularly over many years.
  6. Students that trained with you irregularly over many years.
  7. Students that go on to teach your teachings to the book exactly.
  8. Students that go on to develop and expand on your teaching methods.
  9. Students that pass your teachings on at a much lower level of understanding.
  10. Students that take your teachings off in to a totally different direction to your ideals and beliefs all together.
  11. Students that only trained with you for a few months or years.
  12. Students that stayed loyal and trained with you for many many years. In Chojun Miyagi’s case; Higa, Yagi, Miyazato & Toguchi come to mind here.
  13. Students that go on to have a large following of Students.
  14. Students that go on to have a small following of Students.
  15. Students that knew your Karate training methods inside out, who you shared your advanced teachings with.
  16. Students that in truth had very little understanding of your personal Karate at all.

Yes it sure is a mine field isn’t it? We certainly need to look at things Chojun Miyagi with an open mind, not a closed one, especially if we are ever going to truly understand the teachings that he left behind.

One Student of a Student who truly went out to study the teachings of Chojun Miyagi was Shinjo Masanobu Sensei, a well renowned and highly thought of Okinawan Karate exponent who’s Karate training was born in 1953, the year of Miyagi’s death. He went out of his way to seek out and train under a variety of long standing students of Chojun Miyagi Sensei without bias, just so that he could truly absorb and get to the deeper levels of understanding of the Karate of Chojun Miyagi Sensei. He did train more
so under the guidance of Toguchi and Yagi Sensei’s as is well documented, but they were not the only one’s that he sought guidance from by any means I believe.

This footage of the late Shinjo Masanobu Sensei practising Miyagi’s Karate on Okinawa is a fine example as there is so much that we can learn from viewing this.

The first and most obvious is what excellent physical condition Masanobu Sensei was in for his age (Strength Wise). There is also the pureness of the training; it’s not false, fancy, form or grade based or done for show for that matter, it’s just pure raw Karate training with much hard work and sweat. The training is not rigid or over robotic. The breathing is not over forced, regimented or unnatural either, as is often practised by many Goju exponents these days, it is more in resemblance to how a weight trainer will use timing to naturally breath in and out, to pull, push and to prepare. There are of course many other points to note but I’ll leave it there……

Lastly, we have to accept the lesson here that no matter how strong physically and well conditioned one may seem life can at times be cut so cruelly short, as was the case for both Chojun Miyagi & Shinjo Masanobu Sensei’s. Tomorrow is not guaranteed! So we need to relax more, live our dreams and enjoy things whilst we’re here. The balancing out of hard work with a stress free life style is something we should all be trying to emulate through the eating of good quality food, enjoyable socialising and regular exercise.

Looking at training in Karate and following the Okinawan ways as a way for self preservation and a long healthy life is a good base for us all.

Inside the Dojo

Karate is of course about the training that we do inside the Dojo, well in most parts anyway. To others outside of our Sensei to Student relationships and personal Dojo’s thus has little meaning. However, yesterday evening we had a video camera at hand in our Dojo so I thought that I’d put a few clips on my blog here, nothing special or fancy of course, just basic in Dojo Karate training.

The first clip is of myself trying to talk and explain things at the same time as I demonstrate, something that I don’t actually like doing, I prefer to actually just practise and train hard with a training partner, thus concentrating solely on what I and my training partner are doing. But needs must at times of course when teaching….. The second clip I am
filming as the guys pair off and work on things as a group.

There are of course many training drills that we practise as a Dojo, especially as far as variations in hooking hands practise goes, so please don’t think that this is one way or a set way or anything like. This method just allows you to work around the hand rotations and push, pull, attack, defend, turn, unbalance or ground your training partner. To acquire an understanding of rooting, sticking, protective covering and feel is a must here, together with hand to eye and body coordination of course.

The Sensei of Karate

The expression that one is a Karate Sensei is well known by all who practice Karate, unfortunately though this is where the understanding can end, as both the word Sensei, its true meaning and standing is seldom fully understood. Sadly these days the title Sensei is often thrown around cheaply to the point of being abused, I accept that at times this is due to cultural misunderstandings, as this obviously happens more so outside of Japan and Okinawa. At others times I’m afraid this is down
to watered down karate transmission, ignorance, or may be even inflated egos.

If one is to absorb themselves deeply in to the art of Karate then surely they need to attain a true understanding of the Sensei and Student relationship. In fact it is a necessity! A connection that is firstly born through the embryonic process of Dojo initiation as the Sensei will go on to form a close bond with his students that makes the term Sensei of major importance to all serious Karate Ka, so significant in fact that this union of loyalty and respect is unwavering and in many ways irrelevant to others outside of this relationship. I often refer to the close Sensei to Student relationship as one being inside the family, but that’s for another time, it is something you need to have experienced to fully appreciate.

Being a Dan grade or the wearing of a black belt does not make one a Sensei, this is a misconception that is widespread along with the belief that earning a black belt or a base level in Karate, as in a Shodan, allows for the instant accompanying title of Sensei. These days we often see Dojo’s that have six or more black belts who are all referred to as Sensei, or maybe even a newly awarded 8 year old black belt who is called Sensei by lower grade adults, all of which makes little sense. Visiting Japan or Okinawa for training with the idea of stepping in to a Dojo whilst presumably holding either a Dan grade or Sensei status would certainly raise an eye brow or two, or a broad smile at least. In truth you would probably just be corrected by the Dojo seniors in a stern kind of way, in reality though it would show ones lack of understanding or respect on such matters.

“I spent as much time with my Sensei (Azato & Itosu) as possible, and from them I learned not only Karate but a great deal else besides”.

Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.

The misuse of Japanese honorific titles is wide spread in the West. To be fully aware of the usage of the word Sensei one needs to firstly examine the meaning behind the Kanji characters that make up the word itself.

先 Sen This means, before, previous, preceding or precedence
生 Sei This means, life or birth

The two characters Sen & Sei together broadly mean “A person or one who is born before”. In Japanese society it is often used when showing respect to someone who has achieved a high level in an art form or holds a position of high social standing, as in doctors, teachers or lawyers. You do though have to watch how literally you take this meaning as the born before is not always as it seems, as is not necessarily used because one is an elder, a Sensei may then of course be younger than oneself. A good way of looking at things is that a Sensei is one who has preceded you and gone there before, thus having vast previous experiences in a way or field of expertise that you also wish to follow or maybe receive some guidance in. They have been there before you, have a deeper understanding, whilst being wiser, knowledgeable and more experienced.

There are then varying questions to be asked upon the usage of the term Sensei. When is one a Sensei? When is one not a Sensei? How does one become a Sensei? What are the requirements of a Sensei? Will all Senior Karate Ka become known as a Sensei? Of course there are varying answers to these questions too. My own Sensei as in Senaha Sensei, mentions that one can not really be a Sensei if they do not have any direct students of their own. He likens this to being a parent, saying that you can not really be a parent if you do not have any children. In the same way that there is a close bond between a child and it’s parent, the child is guided, respects, obeys, and also learns from the life experiences of the parent. In the same way that becoming a parent is a daily learning curve that requires difficult decisions and with time one usually becomes more accustomed and better at, due to experience, being a Sensei in many ways is just the same. The more children one has the more difficult the task is, just like having more students of course.

“After executing a kata, I would await Azato Sensei’s verbal judgement, it was always tense. If he remained dissatisfied with my technique, he would murmur, “Do it again,” or, a little more!” a little more, a little more, so often a little more, until the sweat pored and I was ready to drop: it was his way of telling me that there was still something to be learned, to be mastered. Then, if he found my progress satisfactory, his verdict would be expressed in a single word, “Good!” That one word was his highest praise.

Lastly, If you happen to be lucky enough to be a part of a quality Karate Dojo and have a true Karate Sensei who is one of deep understanding and knowledge. Then please do look after him or her, as in today’s day an age they are so scarce it’s unreal. I would also advise those who are serious about studying Karate to go out of their way and seek out a true Karate Sensei. You make the effort as ot will truly be worth it.

Okinawa Time

During the early hours of today in England we moved our clocks forward an hour in time. This act may seem a little strange to others, but to us English it was done for good reason during times of war but more to do with longer day light time, now though it actually feels quite good as we now instantly gain an extra hour of light on an evening during the summer months, whilst being a firm sign that the warmer weather is now upon us. On the down side of things there are of course some who complain about losing a mere hour in bed. The good thing here though is that we will gain this hour back in the autumn, which is all quite confusing I know. Time can in fact be a strange old thing and in many ways it can have a significant impact upon our lives, to the point that if we allow it to our lives can in fact be ruled and maybe even spoiled by thoughts of time.

Many words just like the following are often spoken; “When the time is right I’m going to move away from around here”, “In a few years time I’m going to visit Okinawa to train in Karate”, “When I retire I’m going to cruise around the world”, “Next year I’m going to get fit and in better shape”. “By the time I’m 60 I will have my house paid off and then I’ll take things easy”. Where by in reality these words are often spoken with genuine intent, but actually just end up becoming time talk or a distant dream that for one reason or another will rarely ever be fulfilled.

We can and should all make good use of our time on earth as it is very very precious, we all certainly waste a lot of time, we even get lost in it or maybe even lose it altogether, the same as remembering past times or researching the past times of others who have gone before us, together with looking to plan our future time wisely too. But at the end of the day with time we just can’t stop it or get it back either. I’d say that almost everyone who has walked the earth before us or is still with us and is of a late elderly age, would give anything to have their time again.

This time for me is one area where by the people of Okinawa are so different to most. There’s a well known time saying on the home of Karate known as “Okinawa Time”, of which there are a few varying interpretations to the meaning, but the main theme of things is that there is time and there is Okinawa Time (no not the pop band either). On main land Japan the people are very strict and in many ways controlled by time, but in Okinawa the pace of things is so different as things go by what they term as “Okinawa Time” of which they are very more relaxed generally and don’t get so stressed out by the clock, in many ways you can expect people to be late to social events and it’s no big deal. In the same way that they will do things but don’t stress over doing them now. However, bad time keeping for classes or meetings is frowned upon so please don’t misunderstand me here. There’s even a time for Okinawa time…

The way of the island people is that they make such excellent use of their time; they enjoy it to the full and use it wisely. They rise early in the mornings and lay late in the evenings, whilst they work hard to a late age as they still go about their daily chores, whilst finding time to look after and visit family members, all being done within a relaxed stress free kind of way, which we all know is not easy by any means. Whilst not only finding but making time to consider their bodies own well being as they balance out hard work with regular socialising and physical exercise, together with local activities like Karate and dance. You will often here it mentioned in Karate talk that all the Okinawans seem to do is party and Karate, and Karate and party they do…. Anyone who has ever visited Okinawa for training will know to well that time and training is no issue, entering the Dojo as arranged at say 9am then training until the Sensei decides to stop is the norm, be it 12pm, 2pm or even 5pm, that’s just how it is and it’s no big deal.

Many put the excuse of time in the way for not doing many things (like practicing Karate) when in reality that’s all it is, an excuse. We’ve certainly all wasted time in the past; including having our time wasted by others too, especially as a teacher, wasting time on poor students or surrounding ourselves with negative people is a downwards direction for sure. But I think that as we get older we all tend to become wiser in these matters by being more careful whilst both respecting and appreciating life a little more, especially if we’ve lost loved one’s, I know I do and I’m only 42, I say only… The people of Okinawa have so many lessons they can teach us, no not just on the Karate front but on how to enjoy and live our lives to the full. In many ways they are a rural unique born people that have not become accustomed to the frantic turmoil of many modern
day big city life styles, thus preferring to embrace and retain the slow pace of time and life style, whilst being surrounded by nature’s beauty. A combination that is conducive to living a good, long, and healthy stress free life.

The next 12 months or so my time is certainly going to be quite busy as I have more than a few things to sort and plan out, so I for one have to be extra careful to make sure that I use my time wisely as I give it much more serious thought and consideration…There’s the relocating with my family to the South West coast of England. The setting up of a new small private Karate Dojo for my own personal training, together with a list of other things…

Oh and lastly I intend to keep my blog going and keeping those interested up to date on training and development, but only time will tell as they say…