Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Making the grade.

Kikuchi Sensei, Suzuki Sensei, Arakawa Sensei & Uehara Sensei judging a grading.

This past November 5th-9th was the second Shiramizu kyu rank tests of the year. I managed to sit through both the elementary school 5th years and the junior high school/adult gradings.

The tested material was standardized across all the gradings and varied only according to the student's kyu. For ido kihon, lower ranking students finished after junzuki, gyaku zuki, and shuto uke. Middle ranking belts moved on to junzuki tsukkomi as well as kette versions of all three zuki variations. Lastly, higher ranking belts ran the gamut of the ido kihon including everything before and gyaku zuki tsukkomi, tobi komi zuki (but no tobi komi nagashi zuki), as well as various kumite renzoku drills such as mae geri, mawashi geri, ushiro geri combinations and nidan geri.

After ido kihon came kata. Students had to perform two kata (provided they knew two) and higher ranking belts were given the chance to pick from a choice of three. Popular choices included godan and seishan, although I distinctly recall not a single student in any of the gradings picked kushanku if the choice came up.

Afterwards, any student 3rd kyu or higher donned kumite gear and sparred. Though the kumite was refereed as per a tournament match, there was no time limit nor was the score kept. Instead, when all the Sensei felt they had seen enough, a buzzer was sounded and the match stopped.

Once finished, all the Sensei retreated to the office whereby they made the final decision about the students' performances. Then everyone was lined up once again and Arakawa Sensei read out the decisions in front of the class for everyone to hear. He would accompany the result with comments on the student's performance which I felt was an excellent way to discuss important issues with the whole class because what one student needs improvement is certainly applicable and useful to other students. The 2 hour grading finished with final comments from any other Sensei that attended the grading.

As Richard Sensei mentioned in the JKFan post before, there is no rubber stamping of belts with this many students and this fact was very much true, especially in the junior high school/adult grading where only a handful of students passed. It's a good thing I didn't wager on who would pass and who wouldn't because I handed out more passes than actually happened, even having readied myself with strict observation.

Which brings me neatly to what I had learned watching the students and listening (as best I could) to the comments made by all the Sensei. Motivation was definitely a key factor as, underneath any level of ability, motivation to improve provides the greatest possibilities for results. Some students only par for the level or even slightly below in certain aspects passed because the Sensei had a sense for whether their work ethic would bring about the required changes.

Beyond that, it was interesting to see which students had passed even with the occasional mistake surfacing. Again, a sense for what is easily fixed and what isn't is important and, as it varies from student to student, is something that comes only with experience and a good understanding of each student's abilities.

But the one aspect I admired the most was that every student was judged upon the same standards and although that means sometimes quite a few students don't make the grade, those that do can be relied upon to be the model for the younger students to strive towards.

One look at (or, rather, one practice with, in my case) the black belt class for the JKFan shoot clearly demonstrates the results.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shiramizu Kumite Training Camp report!

I've been meaning to up load some pictures and put up a small report on the Kumite camp we had June 23 & 24. Arakawa Sensei organized the weekend camp using 2 large dojos at the Kuki City Recreation Centre. Over 200 people participated, mainly from his dojo.

Seiji Nishimura - Pro karate coach many people know, 2x WUKO champion, great seminar instructor with lots of interesting drills. He's very much into the WKF 3-point scoring system, known for his leg skills and take-downs, among other things.

One thing he taught were lots of plyometric drills all contained inside one ring for the kids where they ran different footwork patterns. One drill he did was stick down numerous bits of white tape on the floor in various positions and then ran the different groups (I saw him drill the elementary kids) through various kumite drills where they ran all sorts of routes between the tape.

Another thing was he had them do was run between 2 litre pop bottles filled with water (so they wouldn't topple so easily) doing a new set of patterns.

I didn't see his kumite technique seminar, although I have been lucky to attend many other ones here and in Vancouver when he came several times in the late 90s, but the plyo drills were great and very karate specific.

Ko Matsuhisa - Current Japan National Team member, he took 3rd place at the WKF 2006 Worlds 75-80kg. With amazing leg skills, he fights with a mix of Japanese & European styles. The session of his I took was all about being relaxed and exploding into a technique. He warmed us up by running about 5 metres, jumping, landing in a small athletic crouch, and then rebounding out into a lunging gyaku zuki. Very helpful.

He was extremely quick and light on his feet. If you watch my Seiritsu Karate Club video intro on Youtube, you will see his amazing ushiro mawashi techniques.

Shun Matsumoto - Head coach of the Utsunomiya Bunsei Girl's High School karate team, by far one of the most successful clubs in Japan, having produced JKF and WKF champions. I watched him only for a short while he was really digging into a description of how to launch an attack from a position with the least pre-notice possible - no pre-loading of techniques and using the centre of the body coupled with relaxation in the lead knee to start the motion.

While I couldn't be there for all 3 days (!) one day was more than worth it. And I was glad to see Arakawa sensei had organized such a great event, pulling in very knowledgeable and experienced instuctors from within the Wadokai to teach things that can be of important use both in the association and in general tournaments.


Online video shoot for JKfan karate magazine!

On Sat Oct 27th, a videographer came from JKfan magazine, the most popular karate magazine here, and shot some video of a special black belt only class held at local recreation centre (Satte City Rec Centre) in the centre's large dojo. The main purpose was for taking some footage of kata performed by Mikiya (Wadokai junior high boy's national kata champ) and Kana (Wadokai junior high girl's kata champ).

This footage will be uploaded to the magazine's mobile cell website from which users can pay a fee of about 350yen a month to view many different short videos of major national and international tournaments, plus instructional videos right from the screens on their cells.

Arakawa Sensei gathered together almost all of his 53 black belts that he has trained from the day they first wore their white belts in their first class. Not bad for the dojo only being 12 years old when it started in a little community hall with 3 people! I'm sure many other people know this type of history in their own clubs.

But at 450+ students, there is no rubber stamping belts, as a recent week long grading session didn't see many people pass up to their next kyu ranks. Hence the quality is quite exceptional, especially when one looks at Mikiya and Kana. If I can get my hands on that footage, I will load it onto my Youtube site.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Kita-ku? More like kita-COOL!

Seiritsu High School Team Champions with Head Coach Richard!

One of the many clubs warming up in the morning.

Sat, Nov 3rd was the 41st annual Kita-ku (North Tokyo area) Taikai. It is an open event for any club based in the north part of Tokyo. It is also one of the longest running karate tournaments in Tokyo itself (actually a local township taikai was expanded to cover with the whole district 41yrs ago, so really this event has actually been going for 50yrs as of this year!)

Suffice it to say, it drew quite a few competitors, perhaps 350-400. Due to the event's age, it also meant that it had a rather old-fashioned air to the proceedings, for example how there were no competition mats laid down on the event's Kami-Nakazato area's community centre gym floor, to the occasional barked order from anyone one of the many much older karate instructors during the set-up in the morning.

Despite that, the tournament ran extremely smoothly, with some of the 6 rings finishing all their kata divisions and starting on kumite well before lunch time. Richard Sensei's Seiritsu Gakuen high school entered 4 competitors in 3 divisions- adult men's kata (graduate was entered), high school boys individual kumite, and adult men's team kumite (high school boys entered as the main team). Richard Sensei and myself were also registered on the kumite team as support in case, for instance, both kumite divisions ran in parallel and the team was short of the 3 required.

The coolness of it though was how successful the team was. Seiritsu took the gold in all the divisions as well as the second and fourth place in the individual kumite. The Seiritsu boys happened upon some rather heavy hitters in the men's team kumite division from the numerous clubs that showed up, but held their own in some very exciting matches.

Beyond winning though, there's just something about the momentum the team gained through their matches and it culminated in an awesome 2-0 win against the opposing JKA team in the final. Pictured above are Seiritsu's Sho (aka) and Ryota (ao) squaring off for first and second place in individual boy's kumite.

With much elation, the day ended off with dinner with Richard Sensei and Shun Tanaka, a graduate of Seiritsu and multi-time Japan Paralympic karate champion. One of the places we went to was a standing oden shop in Akabane where you pick your food and eat standing up. They even provided the most eye-wateringly strong mustard to go with your food.

One key thing I learned from that day was you never know what kind of people are out there in the karate world. It's easy to stumble into a little world where some students have been training since they were 5 and are now national champions making you think that you've sort of missed the train. But, at the Kita-ku Taikai, it taught me more than any other taikai that there are people from all walks of life who have approached karate from all different angles. I can't go back in time to start karate earlier, but I can challenge myself to put in more effort, and seeing so many people give it their all further drives my motivation.