Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saifa #1

My current focus of training is the kata saifa.  I know, I know, sequentially it is the first "real" kata in most goju schools and could be viewed as a poor cousin to its more glamorous and senior katas such as kururunfa or sepai, but I really, really like it.  (I haven't learned sepai yet either, so that rules that out)

Coming from a shotokan background (and an eclectic one at that:  the only kata were 6 taikyoku and the 5 Heian - the remaining majority were not practised at any level within the organisation), saifa was a revelation to me.  Our method of training it (learning the meaning of the technique represented in the kata), the manner of body movement and the way in which it immediately "fit" with me were all pleasantly surprising. 

For a short, relatively straightforward kata, there is a high degree of finesse and technical complexity contained within it.  It contains (apparently) relics of the old, hidden manner of passing on kata in its mis-directed head turns; the tai-sabaki concepts include direct and angled opposition, redirection and encircling methods of movement.  And at its core, it takes a direct, no nonsense approach to the age-old problem of: "oh shit!  How do I get out of this?".

As I do more work with saifa, I will blog more on how I am viewing it, and what I am doing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

DIY Training Equipment #3 - kakete striking post (wooden dummy)

This is actually the first piece of DIY training equipment I made.  It's just over a year old now.  I have long been attracted to the mook jong (wooden dummy of Wing Chun kungfu, and have often thought it would be useful somehow to a karateka.  But until I started doing goju, with its emphasis on close-range technique, I hadn't been able to quite work out how. 

While the primary inspiration for me was the Wing Chun mook jong, I actually based the main part on the Choy Lay Fut mook jong which has a counterweight arm.  Under this, I put Wing Chun-like lower limbs, creating a hybrid I felt would be useful to practice the range of karate technique I wanted to.

Then, in doing some research, I came across Mario McKenna's blog (listed on the left) in which he makes mention of the kakete.  Right! I thought, it's a valid thing to do for karate! (and it has a name into the bargain)  So I set off to make one.

It's very, very hard to get an untreated round post.  Everything is treated with either cyanide or arsenic based compounds, none of which I want to pound into my skin.  So I opted for a 90mm (4") square fence post of untreated pine.

At the time, I had no idea where to put it, so I opted to make a "mobile" kakete by placing the post upright in a large tub, and filling it with quick-set concrete.  A couple of cross pieces on the post help keep it firm in the concrete.   I'm using the term mobile fairly loosely, as it ended up being around70kg in finished weight.
The centrepiece of the kakete is the swinging arm.  I made the rectangular hole by drilling out inside the hole and squaring it up with a chisel.
You can see below how I worked out the dimensions it should be.  It gives me a nose-navel swing range, with the centre position at my solar plexus.

It's held in place by a 100mm bolt through the arm.

The arm itself is mountain ash, an Australian eucalypt.  The length of the arm is the same as my extended arm from my body with hips square and fist clenched.  I made the "wrist" with a jigsaw and sandpaper.

An angled hole drilled through for the leg, and a partial hole to put in a lower arm, and the work on the body was done.  I used 30mm mountain ash dowel for the leg and PVC pipe for the lower arm (because I ran out of dowel).

To give resistance in the main arm, I opted for a non-traditional approach, using bungy cords to give me resistance when pressing up or down on the arm.  It worked fairly well, but the degree of resistance isn't huge and the hooks I used to attach the cord keep pulling out every month or so.

Recently, I have switched to a more traditional design, hanging 12kg of window sashes from the rear of the arm. 

To start with, the kakete sat on the floor of my garage, and would move as I struck it.  This meant I could use it like a makiwara, and follow its movements around.  On the down side, it meant that there wasn't a great deal of horizontal resistance.

So about 6 months ago, I buried it in the garden.  Now it is solid, provides good resistance, but has no give so isn't the best for makiwara-work.

I have also built an additional piece that slots in, in place of the main arm, converting the kakete into a wing chun dummy.  I have found that different kata lend themselves to this:  tensho, for instance, works very well with the single arm, but seienchin works best with the double arm arrangement.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why do kata?

Because I am doing karate, it follows that I am also doing kata.  It is one of the few things that all karate styles, schools and organisations have in common (daido juku notwithstanding).  It doesn't seem to matter as to what use you have for them, but if you're not doing kata, you're not doing karate.

Beyond the definitional usefulness, why do kata?  For most karateka, there will be several reasons, but usually one will predominate.  I have considered these as stereotypical schools, but in reality, there will be elements of several in any karate organisation/dojo.

So, why do kata?

For some schools it is, in the immortal words of Tevier, "Tradition!".  It was passed on to them by their sensei, or their sensei's sensei, or from the founder of the style himself.  They do it because they do it.  There doesn't need to be rhyme or reason to how or why kata is included beyond this.

For others, it is art.  For these and the next category, kata are "performed".  How it looks is of prime importance and the form of a kata gazumps its function every time.  For many of these schools, there is no functionality.  It's not needed, and gets in the way of a good performance.

The other performance schools are those for whom kata is a competitive endeavour.  The kata's function is to be honed to a finely crafted piece of performance where each millimetre of positioning of the limbs and body is crucial.  Why do certain movements in a certain way?  Because that is the ideal that the kata is being judged against.

Some schools use kata as curricular material; thus on discussion fora you will see people discussing which kata they are learning for their next grading, or the scandalous occurence of a brown belt performing a (in hushed tones) "black belt kata!".  Kata for these schools are a means of enforcing an hierarchy and creating a sense of "secret" knowledge, in that only certain levels have access to certain information.  In order to gain this information, the karateka needs to toe the party line and rise through the ranks, gathering their knowledge piece by precious piece.  The functionality in the kata is there as a discriminator.  People who have learned their kata this way tend to get irritated or even outraged if others learn the kata out of turn, or "before their time".

For others, kata are a form of martially-oriented calisthenics.  The stances are exaggerated to enhance their difficulty, and vigour and repetition are promoted as of prime importance.  The techniques exist to be physically demanding of the practitioner.

Then there are the schools for whom the kata is a catalogue of martial techniques and principles.  The kata contain the means to deal successfully with any attack.  Diligent practice and analysis of the kata will provide the keys to these techniques.

Superficially identical, but in reality almost the opposite are the schools for whom kata are a solo form of practising techniques and principles.  The difference is, is that the techniques are already being practised and honed in partner-training, and the kata hone the techniques and allow them to be practised alone.  Analysis of the kata is not a major focus as the techniques and principles are known and already being trained regularly.

Which school(s) do you belong to?  Are there any I have missed?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

DIY Training Equipment #2 - Makiage

I first got the idea for this from an article by Michael Clarke in Blitz Magazine, and have since refined it after purchasing and reading his book "Hojo Undo - Power Training for Traditional Karate" (a book I would highly recommend, by the way).

It's a wrist and forearm conditioner.  You hold it between the hands, and roll the weight up, then down.  After 2 or 3 times doing this, while trying to keep it steady, you can really feel it working.  I use it with hands in the sanchin ready pose, both palms up and palms down, which gives the shoulders and lats a bit of a workout too.

Construction was from a scrap of 30mm Mountain Ash dowel I had lying around, some 4mm polypropelene rope and 5kg in dumbbell weights.  A hole drilled through the dowel, and voila, a makiage.

The makiage is one of my favourite tools, probably because I like to get close and offbalance/interrupt my opponent by grabbing and pulling, pushing or turning.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

DIY Training Equipment #1 - Punching Bag

Being of a frugal and handy nature, I have made many of my training aids myself.  One of the first that I constructed was a heavy punching/kicking bag.

New ones of any size cost around $150-$250.  This is money I don't have, and couldn't really justify at this point in time anyway.  So I scrounged around and found enough material to make a functional bag.

I used an old brazilian hammock (without the wooden spreader), a 25kg bag of sand, a couple of rubbish bags, lots of old curtains and a couple of rolls of duct tape.

To construct it, I taped up the bag of sand into the rubbish bags securely, then wrapped it in about 10cm thickness of old heavy curtains.  This gave me the core of my bag.  I folded the hammock in half, and placed a large wad of curtain in the bottom of the fold.  Then, I hung the hammock by its ends from the garage ceiling and tightly wrapped it up with duct tape, stuffing more curtains around and over the top of it.  Finally, I did a second layer of duct tape, making sure there were no sticking out seams or rucked-up bits.

You can see the result here.  It weighs approximately 35kg and is about 1.5m long.  It hits well and my kicking is improving markedly now I have an appropriate target to work with.  The bottom third of the bag is very dense, and if I were to build it again, I would have divided the sand up, so it was in two bags, and distributed them better along the length of the heavy bag.  The duct tape surface is smooth and doesn't wear or catch at the knuckles, but can get slippery with sweat.  Still, for $8 for the tape, and the rest from junk lying around the place, it's not too bad.