Thursday, December 30, 2010

Santa San and No Senbonzuki?!

Peter Here,

Because of having to work, I think I might be the first Intern to have not completed the Senbonzuki (1,000 punch) practice. I must say, I’m more than a little sad about it, as I was really looking forward to the challenge. However, such is life in Japan- if you are contracted to work, there’s little you can do (enter that handy “shooganai” – ‘it can’t be helped’ - phrase again).

Instead of training, it was the final English class for ICE in Nerima on Thursday 23rd December. We had a party for all the kids where we played English games and ate lots of unhealthy cakes and sweets (it is the season after all!).

I was asked to prepare the games, so I made a bingo sheet based upon the vocabulary I taught this year, then Pictionary (drawing what is on a flash card for others to guess), and finally Twister. Even though I missed training because of it, I had a very good time and Oguchi Sensei and my adult student Kondo san even gave me presents! It was very unexpected!

The Shiramizu English Club party was the next day-Christmas Eve! All English students were invited, but some couldn’t come because of school (it’s almost unthinkable to me that some kids are still at school on Christmas eve, and even Christmas Day!), but there were enough there to have fun!

First up was an English lesson – this was a bit difficult because of the difference in abilities between the kid's ages, but after changing the lesson into a learning game, they soon all became interested. Well, at least as interested as kids get when being taught at a party!

Second was ‘Magician Arakawa’, performing mighty feats of magic under a lot of pressure from a tough crowd!

After a small break of food and ball games, we had another special guest... Black Belt Santa San! Before giving the kids presents for being good he reminded everyone of the virtues of studying and practising hard. Obviously his schedule was very busy for the day so it was a quick visit. It was a shame Arakawa Sensei was somehow occupied while here was here though!

In the evening, Arakawa Sensei, his family and I went out to a steak house for dinner- this has happened with almost every Intern on Christmas Eve since Mark was the intern, so I’m glad to have kept the tradition. It was also great to just talk and relax and ask Masatoshi about what he wants for Christmas, and what Sensei’s plans were for Christmas and the New Year.

With my work duties done for the year, the rest of 2010 was spent relaxing, training when I can and making sure my toe recovers as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmastime goodies!

Peter Here,

My old sparring mitts had finally fallen apart after their long years of service, so I asked Arakawa Sensei to order me some new ones. At the same time, I thought I would invest in the Shiramizu Karate Team wear; I had wanted the jacket for quite a while!

So now, they’ve finally all arrived. The quality is great, and the jacket and pants are really warm. With all this Adidas equipment and clothing, you start to feel more professional about your karate, or at least a little bit sponsored- even if you’re not!

I’m also glad that I’ll finally not get any problems about my mitts in tournaments. Because of the helmets used in Japanese competitions, all mitts must have a thumb sleeve to keep the thumb in the glove (which doesn’t exist on the UK mitts- this was a major problem to some of the England Wadokai team at the World Cup and Nationals) to stop potential injuries. These will not be necessary when I go back to England, but at least then I can just tuck the sleeves in.

I do like getting new things though!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Peter here,

It seems that I was tempting fate with my blog entry about getting hit, for I was injured with a dislocated little toe on Friday 10th December and was told to rest for 5 weeks.

I was training with the junior high school high-performance class and pushing ourselves in jyu kumite (free sparring). The eldest kids and I were together and was sparring with Rikito (who was giving me the customary pasting he usually does) when I felt my little toe ache a little after a badly timed sweep. It was only when I looked down when we finished that I saw that my little toe was pointing sideways.

Arakawa Sensei told me to immediately get to the local hospital, which I did with Rikito showing me the way to go.

In Japan, hospitals (byooin, or 病院) can be very small as well as like the large buildings that exist in the UK. I suppose we call the smaller ones ‘health centres’, but the Japanese make little distinction between the two.

After confirming that it wasn’t broken (hurrah!), the doctor then tried to relocate the toe (ouch!), with no success. We were told to go to a larger hospital in Miyashiro for an X-Ray and a further attempt at relocation. Arakawa Sensei took me to the hospital the next morning, where two further very painful attempts were made to put the toe back, before admitting that I may need to go to an even bigger hospital in Shin-Shiraoka.

The news at that hospital wasn’t good. After a two-hour wait (and being wonderfully ferried about and tended to by Uchida-san, Yamazaki-sensei and Arakawa Sensei) I was told that I may need an operation to put the toe back, which would cost 130,000 yen! But when we returned to the Sugito hospital, the doctor there was very sceptical of the operation, thinking the doctor was a little ‘op happy’. Also, talking it through with Richard, we all agreed that we will wait and see for at least a few weeks before signing anything about an operation.

On the plus side, I have learned two new phrases: “Koyubi dakkyu shimashita”, which is “I dislocated my little toe”; the other is “shooganai”, or “it can’t be helped”.

So, every cloud, eh!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

JKF National Tournament and Bonenkai

Peter Here,

The Winter chill settled into Tokyo on a bright Sunday 12th December morning, where Arakawa Sensei took his family and me to see the JFK Japanese Zenkoku Taikai (National Championships).

The JKF Tournament is a massive event (the finals of which is televised a week later), which is the climax of many prefecture, regional, company and university competitions, so to get here you must be really good.

Before setting out though, we first visited Masatoshi’s school, where there was an art fair and Masatoshi’s Karate Monkey had won a gold award, which we all marvelled at. Although this was a ‘best of school’ fair, it still amazes me just how good and advanced some kids can be in their field in comparison to back home, and we had a good look around the other displays before setting off to the Nippon Budokan to watch the tournament.

Richard and his international students were already there and quickly gave me a catch-up. Next was Kata, and Richard’s tournament game, which is to guess who wins each kata round before the judges raise their flags (with bonus bragging rights if you guess the correct amount of flags too). I joined in too, but as he has played the game much longer than I have Richard ran out comfortable winner.

Watching the amount of support (the audience, the recording crew, the support for the atheltes too) that the National competition has in Japan is really heart warming, and an inspiration to try and get even more support for the sport back home.

Sadly we could not watch the end of the competition because we had to get back to Kuki for the Shiramizu Bonenkai. As every Intern has written, a bonenkai is a large party to celebrate (or ‘forget’ as the name suggests) the passing of the year. This is done using a lot of speeches, food, and of course the natural amnesia aid, alcohol!

Everyone arrived in good spirits, and after settling down in their tiered positions (in such an event, seating positions are very important- with the most senior person right at the top of the banquet) we all ate and drank and listened to each other’s speeches. I had prepared one with the help Setsuko - one of my English Students - however in my ambition to make a good impression I think I made it far too long for the rapidly diminishing attention spans of the alcohol-fuelled revellers. Other people, such as Suzuki Sensei and Uchida-san, are amazing speakers and can really get everyone laughing.

The Bonenkai also had entertainment, firstly in the form of Bingo! Everyone was given a card, and a wealth of presents were available to select from. Naturally the first winners had the better pick. Gradually everyone had their numbers called, including me. What did I get? Some underpants that said ‘stinky’ and a lovely mask:

After this, Mikya performed on the guitar, singing in English as well. Very impressive! Then, a performing monkey came out and played keyboard, that monkey being me. I didn’t play very well, the nomi-hodai (all you can drink) starting to take it’s toll on my fingers a little, but people seemed to enjoy it enough. Perhaps that was because of the nomi-hodai too!

Although this was the last social event on the Shiramizu calendar, training continued right up until 23rd, with the customary 1000 punch drill.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Internship application period extended until January 15, 2011

We are still looking for the right person for the next internship, starting April 1, 2011.

The application deadline has been extended until January 15, 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sen-no-sen arimasen

Peter Here,

This week we have been working on 'Sen-no-Sen', which is essentially the interrupting of your opponent's intention to attack just before he starts it.

Not wanting to sugar coat it or anything, but I don't think anyone in Shiramizu could be worse at this than I am. It's just something that doesn't happen at the moment as I think too much about fighting options, what I could or couldn't do. 'hmm, maybe I could.. Oh dang, too late- he's just scored.'

So because of that I was really trying to focus in on the training routines this week.

One of the most basic (and most often used) techniques is the gyakuzuki counter punch. Especially in the typically more linear style of Japanese karate fighting, the punch is launched just before the opponent begins his technique so it lands first, but with the opponent's aggressive momentum helping your cause. In Japan, I've also learned that dropping the body level can also help with the speed of the hip rotation with the added bonus of getting your head out of danger. This works as long as you keep your posture upright, as if you lean forward 'into' your counter you run a high risk of being hit harder by the opponent. What I need to focus on however is that I keep my posture upright in the counter and that the distancing between myself and the opponent is correct.

A drill is set with both attacker and counter-attacker in an uncomfortably close mawai (distance), with the attacker trying to launch a front jab without 'telegraphing' movement (telegraphing is preparing the shot in a way that gives away your intention to attack, such as pulling back the punching arm or excessive bending of the knees). The counter attacker must 'sense' when this is about to happen, then launch and land the counter punch.

As I said before, this is very difficult for me, so I ended up falling over a couple of times being overly twitchy or not registering the attack enough. It will take me a while to get this, but I am hoping I will have improved enough for the next tournament in January.

Arakawa Sensei also says this is good practice for me as I kick too much. Not only that, but it's a good sign that I have run out of an attack plan so I try and earn the larger points. Because of this, it's been really good to try and use my hands more to improve my armory. My reach is ok, so it is the timing and confidence that I need to work on.

Practise, practise, practise.

Kata Focus: Seishan Problems

Peter here,

This week's kata problem focus has been on Seishan, particularly the shiko-dachi section.

Intern alumni Louise Fisk showing good form!

Having finally got my shiko-dachi to a less embarrassing level, I'm now working on the kick-through-to-gedan notsukkomi part. Typically for me, the problem is with keeping the centre line when kicking out and because of this I tend to thrust too much and 'fall into' the no-tsukkomi position rather than pull back and quickly place my foot down into kamae. Uehara Sensei has consistently lamented this part of my kata, so I have been determined to put it right.

In my Training diary, I try and keep as much of it in diagrams as possible as it visually reminds me what I have to do (they aren't technically excellent sketches as they more of a visual prod than figurative examples), so the example below is the difference in the position that I should be in (top, far right) and the position I have been in so far (bottom, far right).

The important part is to stop the hips thrusting out, as you can't then return to a safe position before placing your next stance.

The problem is that I use the momentum of the thrust to get the kick out as quickly as possible, but sacrifice form because of it. Richard has pointed out to me in the past that I tend to 'scoop' my kicks too much (this happens in Chinto as well) and it slows me down, so I've been working on this too. The unfortunate part of this is that now I'm not in the proper body position when I place down in no-tsukkomi- my body faces forward instead of turned. However I'm sure with enough practise the creases will be ironed out!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fear in the place of Form

Peter Here;

Last week I was kicked hard in the mouth during training, and it split my lips open. the force wasn't intended, and the risk is part of the chances you take when you practise a contact sport or budo art like Karate. In fact, I am actually quite happy it happened, and I'll explain why.

The simple thing is, I have been afraid of getting hit and it tends to show in my form whenever I feel I am facing a stronger opponent. Arakawa Sensei notes that my weight is on my back foot and I turn my head far too much (he even penalises me in training because of it), and the fear ruins my kamae and speed.

But what is it about being hit that I am afraid of? Part of it is that I am afraid of the damage it could cause. I have been injured heavily a couple of times before but then I have to accept that this can happen to anyone who does this kind of sport. But the main reason is just the fear of how much it could hurt at the time of impact.

The problem with fear is that it makes a wonderful magnifying glass, taking any worry or concern and then multiplying it many times until it becomes irrational. One hit could really hurt a lot, my fear told me.

Particularly with lower grades and members who 'cross train' in popular full-contact sports in the UK, people are more likely to hit harder than karate students in Japan. This could be due to physiological reasons (they are generally bigger people), lack of controlled contact training, or just the belief that other students can 'take the hits' and that it is character building (this kind of 'Kibishi' or 'hard training' has it's place, but there must always be control, particularly in WKF Sport Karate- it is not MMA or Kyokushinkai)

So, when I was hit in the mouth, although it hurt a lot it didn't hurt as much as I was worried it could. The magnifying glass was, if not broken, at least a little chipped.

Now I can focus more on my form for the next tournament!