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.
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.
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.
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.
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