Matt Price

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  • 107th

    FEATURES


    TAKAYUKI MIKAMI 8th Dan JKA Interview
    HIROKAZU KANAZAWA 10th Dan SKIF Interview
    Developing Mae-Geri By Richard Amos

    Editorial.


    SENSEI TAKAYUKI MIKAMI 8th Dan JKA. Interview By Seamus O'Dowd.
    DEVELOPING MAE-GERI: By Richard Amos.
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
    COMPETITION KARATE: A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE. By Matt Price.
    KUMITE TRAINING DRILLS (PART 5). By Bryce Fleming.
    THE CREATION OF THE PINAN (HEIAN) KATA. By Josh Stewart.
    HIROKAZU KANAZAWA KANCHO 10th Dan. Interview By Glenn Stoddard.
    BUDO KARATE: 'I JUST DON'T GET IT'. By Mike Clarke.

    EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.


    We receive many letters regarding injuries from training in karate. Anyone involved in some form of strenuous, dynamic physical sport/art all have injury problems from time to time. Some, like many karateka carry permanent injuries and like us (karateka) they have to work around them if they wish to continue with their sport/art. Prevention obviously is the answer to this injury problem but in reality it's virtually impossible to put into practice. Many karate related injuries come from 'wear and tear' to joints due to over-work, especially to knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. We are not alone in this however, you only have to talk to runners, footballers, dancers or weight-trainers etc and they too have the same problems. Unfortunately it's part and parcel of the activity we are involved with. But I would say one thing... if you are relatively young and you have an injury, don't ignore it, don't think that it will just go away, they usually don't, you have to treat them and look after them or they will definitely come back to haunt you!!


    One of our featured sensei in this edition is Takayuki Mikami 8th Dan JKA, who holds unique standing in the history of post-war Shotokan karate-do. He was the very first JKA instructor to be sent to another country to teach and spread the Shotokan word. He was also, along with Kanazawa sensei, one of the original karateka to undergo the first JKA Instructors' Course. He has spent his life in the United States since the early 1960's with a dojo in Louisiana. If you have a copy of the video/dvd of the old Black and White JKA 8mm movie films from around 1960, you will see the young Mikami performing kata, Heian Yondan, Kanku Sho and Hangetsu plus all the tsuki waza (punching techniques). Yet here he is today, one of the few JKA instructors who featured on that film still alive, training and teaching with as much enthusiasm as ever. Sadly we have lost senseis Nakayama, Kase, Enoeda, Asai, and others who were part of that historic Shotokan film. I love watching that film sometimes... it's quite simply raw. They were all young with their own unique style and the kata bear no resemblance to what we see in competition these days, there are no cosmetic tricks or fancy athleticism, just honest, strong, spirited, realistic karate; how it was meant to be.


    The other interview in this issue is with Hirokazu Kanazawa, Mikami sensei's contemporary. As you probably know now from the last edition, Master Kanazawa has decided to limit his time travelling the world teaching his brand of Shotokan karate-do. This job has been handed over to his son Nobuaki (featured in the last issue) and other senior SKIF instructors. Kanazawa sensei will be based at the SKIF Hombu dojo in Tokyo. However, from what I hear, he will still make occasional visits to other countries. This interview is interesting because it focuses on his SKIF teaching syllabus; (many organisations have an actual set syllabus). And also he explains why he teaches kata from other styles as well as the usual, standard 26 Shotokan kata.


    Good health, good training. Editor.


    COMPETITION KARATE: A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE. By Matt Price.


    I personally find it a great shame when I hear instructors not promoting tournament karate to their members. Many instructors proudly boast that they do not do tournament karate. Telling anyone that will listen that they have no interest in this watered down touch-tig karate and the karate they teach is the real deal.

    Before I put forward my defence, I would first like to answer a question I am frequently asked as I feel it will add to my case. Since retiring from competition I am often asked, "Do you miss competing?"

    It's an easy answer to give. No, on the whole I do not miss competing. I do miss aspects of competing; I would be fibbing if I said that I didn't miss winning. Now I could tell you that I only started competing to gain a higher level of Budo understanding, but the truth is I did it to win. I enjoyed the feeling of being able to beat an opponent, looking for a weakness that could be exploited. It was exhilarating when a technique, combination or tactic that I had spent hours working on just happened as if by itself and worked. But as I said, no I don't miss it.

      
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    Matt Price in action in the WSKA Championships, 2005.

    I feel that the years I devoted to tournament success (I started competing at age 13 and retired at age 36) were fantastic for me. I eventually achieved all the goals and targets I set myself. I fought against many of the world's best competitors in both the all-styles and Shotokan circuits, winning more than I lost. I would spend almost all of my training time perfecting tournament techniques with the aim of winning. Most days I would train twice and spend the sessions pounding out the same techniques and combinations and working on my tournament kata. I would get together with my training partners and work pad drills and sparring. We would watch videos of the top competitors from around the world and work out their techniques and tactics. We would set ourselves punishing fitness drills. Hill sprints with sparring at the top, only stopping to let a car or pedestrian pass. Sometimes competing almost every weekend for weeks on end.

    I loved all this and believe it acted as a great base for my future development as a karate-ka. I believe competition karate has many great benefits that will help the student become a better karate-ka.

    An extremely valuable lesson that can be learned form tournaments is controlling the inevitable stress of competing. Going into an environment where you could end up getting punched or kicked by an unknown aggressor is obviously scary. The inevitable fear of the unknown makes it very different from dojo training. Overcoming this barrier is something a karate-ka should endeavour to do, and a tournament is an excellent environment to do this. Anxieties and fears will always be there when you compete; it's learning to control these emotions that will improve your ability as a karate-ka. As Master Funakoshi said "First control yourself before attempting to control others." We all turn up at an event and look at the draw sheet to see who we will be competing against, looking for the big names. We walk around the arena looking at competitors thinking how sharp or aggressive they look, a little voice in the back of your head saying, "I hope I don't get him," this is human nature. As a competitor I had to learn to deal with the demons in my head, I learned to take them for what they were, just thoughts. I learned to believe in myself, knowing if I'm having these thoughts then so is my opponent. So just accept they are there and get on with it.

    I understand that competition karate is not for everyone and that many students will consistently train and never feel the need to compete. I am also sure that many karate-ka would like to compete but fear taking part in tournaments. For these students I believe they should do it at least the once and face their fears. You never know, they may love it and they will be at the dojo every week. Training hard preparing themselves for the next event. For many just having them compete and conquer a fear will progress them as a martial artist. For them winning or losing is irrelevant, just doing it is enough.

    Competition karate will also help you deal with failure. Unless you are superman you don't just start entering tournaments and winning them. At first you will probably feel completely out of your depth. Learning to accept the setbacks and build on small victories is vital for success. The ability to bouncing back is an essential part of competing. You learn to analyse your failures and work to eliminate then.

    A good competitor must also learn to cope with and come back from disappointments. In a shobu-ippon contest your fight can be over in a flash. You may have trained for months leading up to a particular event and you could be packing your gi back in you sports bag after a fight that lasted a few seconds. Sometimes you may rightly or wrongly feel that you have been hard done to, by a referring decision. In tournaments we have all suffered from "I've been robbed" and it can feel devastating after you have dedicated so much time and effort in the run up to the event. Do we spit our mouth guard onto the mat, refuse to bow to our opponent and stomp out of the arena? No we do not, as karate-ka we learn to take it and control our emotions. If a competitor of mine acts like that at a tournament they will be severely reprimanded. My students are taught self-control, if they need to vent some steam they can do it away from the public eye.

      
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    Matt here with sensei Masao Kagawa on an Open course in March 2009.

    As you improve you will also have to learn to deal with pressure. The expectation on you to win can stifle your ability to perform. If you want to reach the top and stay there for any length of time you must learn to cope with the pressure of expectation. When you arrive at a tournament and someone comes up and tells you that everybody else may as well go home now you're here, is horrible. They probably think they are being nice, but that weight on your shoulders can drag you down. So you learn to deal with it, you have to if you want to remain successful.

    I believe that if you want to keep younger members of your dojo motivated to train, tournaments are a great incentive. I started karate aged 9, and I have to wonder would I have kept training throughout my teenage years if tournament karate hadn't been there for me. My early years in karate were fuelled by stories of Yahara Sensei leaping into the air for a kick and Terry O'Neil Sensei somersaulting across the floor into an axe kick. This is what made me get on the bus and go to the dojo. At 16 I remember making my dad bring me home a day early from a family trip because I had to go training. I remember explaining to him that due to injury Randolph Williams wasn't competing and a place was up for grabs on the Leeds 5 man kumite team. I told him that I couldn't miss a Wednesday night kumite lesson as someone else may get the place. My determination to succeed in tournaments instilled a discipline towards training that could only benefit my karate. Many a time I could have stayed home and missed training but the discipline I new I must adopt to succeed in competition made me get up and go. That same discipline is still with me now and I hope it always will be.

    An argument levelled by some anti-tournament instructors is that competition karate is just touch tig. This I find frustrating, I can tell you that in the 20 years I spent on the KUGB National Kumite Squad starting on the Junior Squad age 16, tig was never played. These sessions were frequently brutal and I don't want to get into the in's and out's of what went on in the sessions, that's maybe for another article, but conquering the fear of the sessions was all part of the growing process. The all-style squad sessions were also hard hitting affairs maybe without quite the same level of ferocity, but with an added element of extreme fitness to push you to your limit. If you want to compete as an International level karate competitor these sessions were essential as top-level competitors hit hard. This is as true in WKF fighters as it is with Shotokan competitors.

    Now that I have been retired for a few years I still do a lot of the training that I mention above, just not the same amount. This has freed up a lot of training time for me and has enabled me to do the training I never had time to before. In the past when the opportunity to train on a course or seminar with a visiting instructor came up I would rarely get the opportunity to do so. I would inevitably be away competing or at a pre-training camp, or often I just couldn't afford the time away from my tournament training schedule. That has all changed now. I have trained with many different instructors both within Shotokan and top martial artist outside of Shotokan and karate. I along with members of my club have travelled to Japan to train with Kagawa Sensei and Yahara Sensei and their instructors (see SKM issue 101) and we are currently in the process of planning our return trip for spring next year. Since retiring from tournaments I have been able to expand my knowledge of karate as a complete art. I find that almost every top-level instructor that I train with is able to add something to my understanding of karate.

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    Course with Keith Geyer (left) June 2010.

    I enjoy my training now more than ever and I believe the reason I get so much out of it and enjoy enhancing my karate spectrum is the solid base it gained from my competitive years. I never find myself bored or disheartened with karate, I always have new ideas to work with and to teach. I am constantly inspired both by competitive karate-ka and senior instructors. For me karate is fresh and alive, not stifled and dying. For a dojo to stay fresh the young blood must be encouraged and kept and I believe tournament karate can do this. These days most dojos struggle to recruit members who are already into their teenage years. By their mid-teens their interests are already formed. So get them young and mould them, use competition to fire them up and keep them motivated. Give them goals to achieve and watch them grow. Before you know it they are adults who have a fantastic karate base and hopefully a thirst for further karate knowledge.

    About the author:

    Matt Price 5th Dan KUGB has been training in karate for 29 years. He is a KUGB Grand Champion, and a European and World Kumite Champion. He is a full time instructor and can be contracted on Tel: 01423 549618 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. The dojo/club website: www.lka.org.uk

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  • 111th

    FEATURES


    RICK JORGENSEN 7th Dan CHAIRMAN ITKF
    PART TWO MEMORIES OF YOSHITAKA FUNAKOSHI By Graham Noble

    Editorial.


    SENSEI RICK JORGENSEN 7th Dan ITKF.Interview By Bryce Fleming.
    PUTTING 'WHIP' INTO TECHNIQUES. By Charlie Wildish.
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
    YOSHITAKA FUNAKOSHI (WAKA SENSEI – PART TWO) By Graham Noble.
    COMBATING THE CLOSED MINDSET. By Matt Price.
    ATTACHMENT... AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS. By Mike Clarke.
    YOSHITAKA FUNAKOSHI (PART TWO CONTINUED). By Graham Noble.
    MAE GERI – ANOTHER VIEWPOINT. By Felipe Martins.

    EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.


    The interview with Rick Jorgensen is very interesting and clears up many wrong ideas people have had about why Karate never became or probably will never become an Olympic Sport. For me personally I'm more than happy about this but it's still an interesting point. The problem lay with the conflict between WUKO (now WKF) and ITKF under the leadership of the late Nishiyama sensei.


    However, it was not only a 'political' problem – but as sensei Jorgensen explains, it was more to do with the philosophical differences between WUKO and ITKF (who represent Traditional karate-do) and also the rules of competition. Rick Jorgensen has taken over as the Chairman of ITKF and he intends to carry on with the philosophy and teachings of Nishiyama sensei. Of course, many Shotokan organisations even though they follow a traditional line in training and philosophy, do actually compete under WKF rules, it's a matter of choice as far as I can see, although many groups still adhere to the 'shobu ippon' competition rules, of which Nishiyama sensei sanctioned and preferred. This was one of the stumbling blocks with WUKO. Anyway, you will read what Rick explains and make your own conclusions. But I have to say that Rick Jorgensen knows exactly the in's and out's of what went on, 'warts an all'. It's a good read!


    We have the second part of the Yoshitaka Funakoshi story, carrying on from the last issue of SKM. This is a fascinating tale by Graham Noble. Graham Noble has done a fantastic job with this story and the rare photo's of Yoshitaka in both this edition and last issue prove what an excellent technician he was. Personally I believe he was a very important influence on the early development of Shotokan. The difference between his father's karate (Gichin Funakoshi) and Yoshitaka's, is black and white! What we practice today owes a lot to what went on in the old Shotokan dojo in the early 1940's under the instruction and ideas of Yoshitaka. However, the JKA equally have had a massive post War influence. It's all part of Shotokan's very diverse and colourful history.


    Unfortunately there is no old movie film of Yoshitaka, although there is a Youtube clip claiming it's Yoshitaka performing Heian Godan, I can tell you for an absolute certainty that is NOT Yoshitaka. This guy has a completely different body shape and also his version of Heian Godan differs greatly from Yoshitaka's, just look at the photo's in this issue of a sequence from Yoshitaka's performance of Heian Godan, the stance and blocks are very different from Mr Youtube's. Whoever posted that clip on Youtube has got to be joking! Get it off there please it's not Yoshitaka Funakoshi.


    We had a lot of letters and comments about my article on Mae Geri in issue 109 and it seems like we have kicked off another technical debate in SKM.


    Good health, good training. Editor.


    COMBATING THE CLOSED MINDSET.By Matt Price.

    As a karate-ka failure must always be seen as a part of the journey. It is something you will meet on your chosen path. You will learn from your failure and move ever closer to your goal. To continue to grow as a person and a karate-ka you must accept failure as part of the growing process.

    The fear of failure can cripple your growth in karate as well as in life. The fear of failure can become stifling, stopping you from taking a challenge that would see you flourish. As a karate-ka there are many challenges that can help you grow and improve. Challenges such as grading, competition, training with an instructor outside your comfort zone, even the fear of demonstrating your karate to a class can all become huge obstacles that are never undertaken because of the fear of failure.

    As instructors and coaches it is important that we understand what can lead to this closed mindset, where failure must be avoided at all cost. We must understand the process that can help lead our students and ourselves to have growth mindsets where failure is just another stop on the road in the journey. As soon as failure is no longer seen as a humiliation to be avoided at all costs, you can take part and enjoy activities that will see you take great leaps forward in both your technique and understanding of karate.

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    Author, Matt Price 5th Dan during a demonstration at the KUGB Nationals 2010.

    A growth mindset karate-ka is one willing to take risks and except challenges. A closed mindset karate-ka is one who doesn't want to do anything that could result in failure. Sometimes the smallest and most insignificant comment to a student can result in a closed mindset. The most common error whilst instructing is praising preserved talent. This error could be something as simple as telling a student who is performing well that their karate, kata or kumite is good. The instructor will obviously be praising the preserved talent as encouragement for the student. With the thinking that if the student knows that you appreciate what you are seeing that this will motivate the student more. Unfortunately this is not what will happen, the praising of talent will cause the student to fear taking risks that could put them in a bad light. The student will come to believe that some natural talent that they possess has taken them so far but to risk losing face is too much to bear. I am sure that we have all had a student come into the dojo that seemed to take to karate very easily; they show natural timing and almost immediate good posture. They pick the kata up straight away and look the part during kumite. They start shooting though the grades with ease and as soon as they enter competitions they are relatively successful almost immediately. Everybody including the instructors tells them how great their karate is, you think 'wow I have a star for the future' and then they disappear. Further following up on the lost student will often reveal that they had shown great progress and promise like this in previous activities. These students have been given a closed mindset.

    So what do you say to encourage your student? Well instead of praising preserved talent, praise effort. Show your students that you value working hard and trying your best as the most important thing they can do (which it is!). A ground-breaking study by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and one of the most influential psychologists of modern times shows the incredible affect even the most innocuous comment can have on our mindset. Dweck and a fellow researcher took 400 students between the ages of eleven and twelve. The students were given a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Following the test the students were given the results plus a single six-word sentence of praise. Half the group were praised for their intelligence, "You must be smart at this", and half praised for their effort, "You must have worked really hard".

    The students were then tested again, but this time they were offered a choice between a harder or easier paper. Of the students that had been praised for their effort 90% chose the harder test, but the majority that had been praised on their ability chose the easier test. A simple six-word sentence praising their talent had already made the students fear failing and losing face in front of the researchers.

    The next stage of the study saw the group all given a much harder test. None of the students did well, but the two groups responded very differently to the situation. The 'praised for intelligence' group spent very little time trying to solve the problems and gave up easily. When asked how they found it most said that they had not enjoyed it it. The 'praised for effort' group responded by getting stuck into the puzzles and trying different strategies and spending time trying to come up with the answers. When asked how they had found it, most said that they had enjoyed the challenge.

    In the final stage of the study the students were given a test at around the same level as the initial test. The 'praised for effort' group increased their scores by an average of 30 percent, whilst the 'praised for ability' group scores dropped by an average of 20 percent. All this because of six words! Dweck was so surprised by the results that the test was repeated a further five times in different schools all with the same results. As part of Dweck's conclusion she wrote, "We are exquisitely attuned to messages telling us what is valued. I think we go around all the time looking, trying to understand, 'who am I in this setting? Who am I in this framework?' So that when a clear message comes, it can send a spark."

    Whilst competing I have felt the pressure brought on by the wrong thing being said to me. I can clearly remember warming up at a National Championship and a coach of mine coming over to me and saying, "I don't know why everybody else has bothered turning up today you're going to win this easily." Now my coach obviously told me this as encouragement and motivation but all I felt was a whole heap of pressure landing on my shoulders. I remember thinking, "Can I live up to this?" I felt in a no win situation. If I did win, so what? That's what I should be doing anyway. If I lost I was letting my coach, my supporters and myself down. If this comment had come from a general friend or just somebody at the event the impact would not have been so great, but as it came from a coach I respected the pressure seemed overwhelming. To combat this I had to reset my whole thinking on the day and convince myself that the event wasn't important (even though it was!) and I was free to enjoy my day with no pressure. This change of attitude worked and I did manage to win the event, but then perhaps the coach went away believing his comments had inspired me rather then potentially stifling me.

    A very good friend of mine has recently taken over a role as a national karate coach. This talent rich team had been performing poorly but almost immediately there was a massive improvement in their results. When I asked my friend what he was doing differently to cause such a fast change in their results, he told me the only thing he had done differently so far was to tell his fighters to feel free when competing, to enjoy themselves and to have no fear of failure. The difference this change in attitude made was staggering. The fighter's mindset had been changed and they no longer lived in fear of throwing the wrong techniques and losing the bout. They fought with confidence, not dread of doing the wrong thing.

    Dweck's study shows how easy it is to create a closed mindset. Her work, along with others in this field like it, have helped the world's top coaches in many different disciplines develop athletes and competitors whose minds are open to learning and free from the restraints of fearing failure.

    About the author

    Matt Price 5th Dan has been training in karate for 29 years. He is a former KUGB Grand Champion, and a European and World Kumite Champion. He is a full time instructor and can be contracted by Telephone on 01423-549618 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    His club website is www.lka.org.uk

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  • FEATURES


    MATT PRICE 6th Dan JKS

    Editorial.


    MATT PRICE 6th Dan JKS.Interview By Simon Bligh.
    PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL SECURITY. By Peter Consterdine.
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
    SHAPELESS KARATE.By Scott Langley.
    MEASURING THE VALUE OF KARATE – IT’S IN THE NUMBERS. By David Deveau.
    ADDICTED TO BEING RIGHT. By Mike Clarke.
    THE OKINAWAN ORIGINS OF JAPANESE SHOTOKAN.By Sean Marshall.
    CONTINUING THE PATH: TRAINING AS WE AGE. By Matthew Michaelson.

    EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.


    The last time we had an interview with Matt Price was in Issue 74, the January 2003 edition of SKM. So it’s been a while since he was featured, although Matt has had several of his articles published in SKM over the last few years. This really shows how Matt has gone full circle from being a top Shotokan competitor at World level in both Kata and Kumite to becoming an experienced instructor with a wealth of knowledge. Of course he is still quite young but like many other karateka, he started his training at a very early age.


    Most kids who start karate very young rarely carry on past their early teens when they discover other interests. When I started in the early 1970’s the classes were mostly full of adults jumping on the Bruce Lee bandwagon! There were children’s classes in those days but nowhere near on the scale of today where most dojo are 90% kids. Matt Price also decided to test himself to the full by going to the JKS Honbu dojo in Japan to take his 6th Dan examination. Personally I would love to have seen that because I bet the instructors who had to fight in the kumite with Matt had a hell of a shock!! He would not have been intimidated one iota, and I can tell you Matt Price is a ‘fighter’, he’s been there many times before!


    Scott Langley’s article is a bit different to the norm, as rather than the usual photographic examples of the techniques he discusses, you can actually see Scott do these excercises on Youtube. Also there is a brilliant example of a modern Sport karateka, Junior Lefevre, performing kata and the late Asai sensei performing the same kata... the difference is black and white! To me personally there is absolutely no comparison. No disrespect to Junior but in general WKF, competition style kata to my mind is virtually meaningless other than being very clean, sharp, speedy with great athleticism – but totally a sport version of karate kata... Whereas Asai’s kata has real depth and understanding of karate. To a none practitioner or maybe even people who follow and practice Sport karate, I’m 100% certain they would view the younger man’s (Junior’s) kata as by far the best and consider it far more powerful!! How wrong they would be in that assumption! But unfortunately this is where the direction of karate has headed, especially in sport competition where ‘how it looks’ completely outways ‘what it means’. I really like Scott’s article and this comparison puts into perspective exactly what he means by, ‘making shapes’. This point is quite interesting because when I bought the old JKA Black/White 8mm movie films (circa 1960) in Los Angeles in 1974, I was disappointed when I first saw Asai and Kase perform kata. I was a Brown-belt at the time, and obviously did not have an understanding at that level, I was looking for nice ‘shapes’ as Scott calls them. I’ve got a lot wiser as the years have passed and I can tell you for certain that many experienced karateka can look quite untidy, but most importantly they are using the ‘principles’ of the movements without appearing to have wonderful technique.


    Good health, good training. Editor.


    CONTINUING THE PATH: A philosophical and physiological approach to training as we age. By Matthew Michaelson.

    One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed as a long-time reader of SKM is the continued articles on training as we get older. Certainly when we were younger, we could kick harder, punch stronger and faster, and could perhaps train for longer periods of time than we can now. Our bodies were young and supple, and we relied on youth, speed, and muscular strength to power our techniques, engage kumite opponents, and excel at Kyu and Dan examinations. But as time passes – and I’m sure many loyal readers of SKM can attest to – entering our third, fourth, or even fifth decade of regular training, the body inevitably ages (too bad). Our joints tighten, the injuries add up, and over time we feel the effects of years of regular, hard, and indeed good Karate training. Maybe some of it was even not so good (meaning, smart to do), but we were motivated and inspired, and we trained hard as we both enjoyed and we were expected to. Those were excellent years, weren’t they! Banzai!

    But as we age, things change a bit, and it’s important (and smart) to take inventory of where we are now, what tools we (still) have, and perhaps (be wise enough to) make modifications, as necessary, to ensure many more years of continued training. (Disclaimer: The recommendations contained in this article are for information purposes only and by no means are meant to or should take the place of guidance and/or the professional opinion or direction of a registered medical professional/physician. Everyone is different, and everyone needs to chart their own Path in Karate-Do, as in Life.)

    The first philosophical commitment that I would offer one make is to simply commit to continue training. This may be harder than it sounds. Children, family and work commitments, illness/injury, etc. all have a way of requiring our time, effort, and resources that perhaps as younger Kohai we did not have to contend with. Thirty-five years ago, I needed only to secure a ride to the Dojo to ensure four or five days straight of two-hour training sessions, not including that awesome Saturday morning Kubudo (weapons) class. I paid no fees (thanks Mom and Dad), had minimal homework, and certainly only myself to look after so spending maximum time in the Dojo constantly was normal. Oh yeah, and the injuries healed much faster back then, too. For one to train now, you have to make a commitment to yourself, and to the Art, to suit up, warm up, and train for the sake of training. The majority of us don’t train for accolades or trophies anymore, but instead for other, indeed more mature, reasons. Whatever yours may be (health and fitness, self-defense, additional rank, a clear Mind, social group/support, etc.), I’d offer that committing to stick with it, whether it be before work, with the kids, during your lunch hour... however, would be the first order of business.

    Once that’s done, it’s important to get thoroughly checked out by a medical professional to ensure everything is still good to go, so that the body can withstand what you intend to put it through. A full physical with your Primary Care Physician and/or medical specialist (as needed) is always a good idea to ensure stable cardiac and overall health, body processes, joint health/Range-of-Motion, etc. to experience, in a healthy fashion, traditional Karate-Do training as we did in our teens, 20’s, 30’s, etc. Perhaps a diagnosed onset of some lower back (lumbar) disk disease/bulging/herniation may require post-Mokuso stretching modifications or a historical rotator cuff issue may require slower, less ballistic rotational movements during kihon, kata, and kumite (Uchi-Ude-Uke, as one example) until full healing and rehabilitation are complete. Whatever it may be (and most everyone has something they contend with), be smart in designing or amending your training as necessary, whether temporarily or perhaps permanently if needed, as not to exacerbate an existing condition or create a new one. This, in fact, remains one of the hardest aspects of training as we age – where our well-intended Strong Spirit for the toughest training of our ‘younger’ years meets the onset of supposed wisdom to now know, through experience, what our bodies can and cannot withstand, and then ultimately respecting our chassis enough to work within our limits to ensure still challenging and healthful training. To be clear, I’m not saying not to train hard, I’m just saying to train smartly in accordance with reflection and perhaps modifications according to your individual situation – there’s a difference. As Musashi recommends often in Gorin No Sho, “You must consider this deeply.”

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    Once you’re cleared for training, listen to your body before, during, and after training. Are the aches and pains a sign of distress/pending injury or just overuse after a hard session or multiple sessions? Should you perhaps substitute a scheduled hard kumite night with slower kata training to allow some Achilles tendon healing and recuperation? Even if one was to sit in seiza (or in a chair, if needed) in extended Mokuso, simply practicing full-belly breathing, this is as well high quality training and should be considered as such. Be smart enough to ebb and flow as your body provides feedback on and off the Dojo floor and you can last a long time. If one listen’s well, it can be relatively easy to train in some way, even if small, every single day. Breath control and slow-motion kata, etc. are all staples of a well-rounded training program just as much as Makiwara, muscular conditioning, and kumite ever were. The trick is knowing what to do, how much, and when, and then allowing the body the healing and recuperation time necessary its repair and continued work. When in doubt, consult your medical professional (and don’t let ego get in the way).

    Lastly, on the philosophical side, I’d offer that as much as possible, to simply keep moving is critical to long-term training (and health). Nothing seizes the joints and body up quite as fast as lack of use, so while I am recommending smart training in accordance with one’s limits, I’d also offer that to entirely stop and then restart the engine again is much more difficult than just keeping with it, albeit if it needs to be of different intensity, frequency, etc. than when we were younger. It’s also important to train for yourself, not to try to keep up with the guy on your left or right, but for you and your Spirit alone. At its core, following the Martial Way has always been an individual endeavor, as no one could ever throw the punch for you or block/parry soon enough to evade an attack. Perhaps now you may be coming into your more formidable years of true Spirit, breath, and Ki training... melding the Mind and Body as one, not relying on youth or sheer power anymore, but instead on wisdom, efficient technique, and the steadfastness to train as one who truly knows who and why they step on the floor. Now decades removed from our youth, we are now ever more mindful of the Tao, the Do, the true Way of Training. Again, one must consider this.

    From a physiological perspective, there are many ways to adjust one’s training as we age, with much or all of such modifications being based on the physical conditions of the individual Karate-ka. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on offering considerations for how to work with, or prevent (as best possible), three of the more common physical maladies that ‘older’ Karate-ka may experience – knee issues and injury (worn cartilage, ligament deterioration, etc), the ‘bad’ (lower) back, and shoulder rotator cuff injuries. If needed based upon a previous injury or the threat of pending injury, modest modifications to one’s training in these areas can assist in dealing with these maladies both in and out of the Dojo.

    photoA-B
    Photo C
    Photo D

    As the largest joint in the human body, the knee is a wonder of evolutionary design: it connects our upper leg to lower leg, supports our full body weight, and remains instrumental in all locomotion and lower-body movement actions. But because it is such an intricate mix of bone, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, it can be easily overused, inflamed, or damaged with excessive or biomechanically adverse activities. Two such activities that should be considered for reduction or avoidance by older Karate-ka include an exercise commonly referred to as ‘duck-walking’ and the ‘hurdler’ stretch. In duck-walking one crouches as far down as they can in a forward direction, and then proceeds to walk, somewhat closely resembling that of a duck. Biomechanically, duck-walking places exponential tension on the patellar tendon, a fibrous tendon that stretches from the main quadriceps (thigh) muscle over the kneecap, attaching distally to the main shinbone of the lower leg, the tibia.

    When flexing the knee far beyond 90 degrees in the full squat and movement of a duck-walk, this tendon is stretched to problematic and potentially dangerous levels and can lead to inflammation and injury. A good alternative to duck-walking that builds a strong core, leg, hip, knee, and ankle joint stability, and enhances balance would be the lunge (Photo A above).

    The hurdler stretch is another exercise that places the knee joint in a precarious position, which becomes further problematic once the athlete attempts to stretch or twist. By twisting the lower leg via the knee to the outside, unhealthy shearing forces occur in the entire knee capsule, with potentially dangerous effects to the several stabilizing and internal ligaments of the knee. A much better option for desired hamstring and lower back (lumbar) stretching would be the seated stretch with the leg tucked, where the lower leg is rotated medially versus laterally (Photo B ).

    With many years of use, including twisting, forward bending (flexing), kicking, jumping, etc., the inter-vertebral disks of the lower (lumbar) back can take a pounding, and degenerate over time, leading to ‘bulging’ disks that can protrude backwards towards the spinal column. Such degeneration can lead to chronic lower back pain, tightness, ache, and injury, and in worse cases tingling sensations, radiating pain, numbness, leg weakness, and loss of bowel control. Older Karate-ka should ensure their backs are fit for the energetic and sometimes ballistic kicking and twisting involved in karate training, and if needed amend their training to care for their lumbar disks (and their entire back) over time. Practitioners should consider adding back extension exercises and stretches to their training regimen (if approved by a doctor) to balance muscular strength and flexibility in addition to controlled flexion movements, and they can be as part of a complete core training and stabilization program. Excessive forward flexion of the spine should be carefully managed, especially when loads (weights or resistance) are used during such activity. Such exercises to be wary of for older students would include exercises such as weighted ‘good-mornings’. A better alternative would be lying prone back extension, or, as a more advanced version, partner-assisted (legs held) back extensions (Photo C) and stretches such as in Yoga’s common ‘Sphinx’ and ‘Cobra’ poses.

    Karate-ka with known lower back issues should also be wary of doing lower back/hamstring stretches where partners provide additional assistance by pushing on their lower back to further the stretch, as this could trigger to muscular/ligament aggravation/pulls or disk injury. Again, when in doubt, please consult your medical professional and/or Sports Medicine professional for advice and direction of proper exercises and technique in regards to your specific health and condition(s).

    Lastly, the fabled muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the shoulder, or ‘rotator cuff’, provide tremendous upper arm and shoulder flexibility, stability, and range of motion control while performing many blocks and strikes in Karate-do. It is important for older Karate-ka to manage and be conditioned to listening and feeling for any grinding, popping, looseness, or (hopefully slight) shearing sensations when blocking, striking, or performing throws, as these could indicate pending weakness, degeneration, or injury. Any direct blows or impacts that force the upper arm directly backwards in the shoulder socket should be avoided, as these can lead to a painful dislocation or subluxation (partial dislocation) needing long-term recovery. To help prevent against injury and to overall strengthen the shoulder capsule, older karate-ka should consider adding internal and external rotation exercises to their normal training/fitness regimen (Photo D and E,).

    These exercises rotate the humerus (upper arm) in the shoulder socket against light resistance, strengthening the internal muscles and ligaments so crucial to long-term shoulder stability, range of motion, and health. The longer one trains, it is also recommended that these exercises be added to a warm-up regimen before quick, powerful blocks or strikes are performed.

    When trained completely and with focused attention, Shotokan Karate-Do/Ryu provides a complete fitness system with aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility, strength, balance, and power training all designed for the complete development and health of the practitioner.

    As with all exercise/fitness systems, however, sometimes we can overdo it, or as years pass by the body can wear down. The ideas offered in this article, both philosophically and physiologically, provide some insights and recommendations for continued training as training years mount up, and they are all designed to provide older Karate-ka some thoughts and tools that could contribute to many years ahead of enjoyable training.

    The late Taiji Kase Sensei once said most simply and directly, “The Way is in Training”. As the years pass, continuing to “Walk the Path” from an energetic, inspired, and healthful point of view can go a long way to maximizing our wonderful years in the Dojo. Train well, and smart, and I’ll see you on the floor. Osu!

    Matt Michaelson, Godan (SKJF), M.S., is a Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, veteran of both Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine. He enjoys training and teaching Shotokan and Personal Training/Wellness Consulting in Northern Virginia, USA. His Path in Karate-Do began in Long Island, New York, in 1979.

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