Reading Shotokan Karate Club

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By Neil O’Connor

It’s an old saying but there is always an inquisitive mind that needs to know.

Recently, I was one of those minds, wondering what it would be like to try another martial art, and see if I could learn another skill or supplement my karate training. I carried-out a bit of research on the internet, looking for a kick-boxing club.

I chose to search for kick-boxing/semi-contact sparring, as this “martial art” is something that seems to receive a lot of praise from those outside of the martial arts world. Was this praise warranted or was this just a naivety on the part of those not in the know? I had always been curious about the training regimes of those fighters who seem to wear the most garish outfits. Stars and stripes, gold satin fight-wear……no two fighters have the same outfit on. In addition, I was always skeptical about the motives of these martial artists, as to why they took up the “art”.

When I found a club, the location and class times suited me perfectly.Monday evening, 7-30pm and only a 10 minute walk from my house.

I would later realise that this was a sub-conscious lure…….drawing me into a false sense that “The grass is always greener on the other side”. However, I decided to go along and see what was on offer. The website was certainly informative, in so much as it promoted martial arts as a method of learning self-confidence, self-defense and overall a way of a achieving a more balanced lifestyle.

Upon entering the “dojo”, I noticed that the students weren’t all lined-up, nor wearing anything that resemble a club uniform. What style of martial arts was this? From the website, the information section stated that they “… not specialise in one style but believe that the whole family of Martial Arts out there is to be practiced and respected, and used to our advantage.” Jack of all trades, master of none ! Now this set off small alarm bells in my mind, but I let it pass until I had actually completed my first complementary lesson.

The warm-up sessions consisted of a light jog around the court followed by a few leg raises. I should have read the title of the club “Martial Arts & Fitness Club”, as the next 45 minutes would be the most grueling I’ve been through since leaving Japan. An uncountable number of press-ups (normal, wide, close, one leg raised etc), burpese etc, all repeated several times after a short jog across the court. At the end of these exercises and if my arms had a mind, they would have disengaged themselves and walked home. They were shaking though excess lactic acid. A number of other exercises were performed, but these resembled basic resistance techniques, with partners. They were actually quite interesting, in so much as they teach you to stand in a certain position such that you have to use the correct muscles.

Once the warm-up or overheating session was complete, we moved onto exercises that started to resemble martial arts training. This consisted of pad work for kicks and punches. These types of exercises are very good for beginners, as they provide good feedback for your techniques. If you hit the pad incorrectly, your wrist or ankle will immediately let you know. These are also good for a cardiovascular work-out, when performed at a fighting speed.

Throughout the evening though, there was nowhere near enough direction from the instructor.The instructor would come around and adjust a few of the students, but this didn’t seem to have the desired effect. During an interim warm-up/down (between press-ups and pad work), the students appeared to gravitate towards the centre of the court, to perform simple leg and arm stretches. Throughout this period, the instructor proceeded to tell the gathered students about his busy weekend. Not really what one would expect from 4th Dan kick-boxing instructor, who’d won numerous UK and European titles.

The 2 hours of this free session were very tiring. It certainly highlighted where I was weak and unfit. Not to say that I’m unfit or not strong. This martial art demands a different level of fitness to what is expected in JKA karate. It is no less of a combat art. However, the single most important aspect that I’ll take away from this insight, is that JKA karate commands a huge amount of respect for two good reasons……..quality and etiquette. I consider myself a reasonably good karate-ka, putting maximum effort all the time, but looking around the court at this session, I was surprised at the lack of technicality and commitment from the senior grades. The general focus of the class was to become fighting fit, which in itself is not a bad thing.But at the expense of technique and a deeper understanding of the spiritual side of martial arts can be a dangerous thing.

Having an insight into another martial art has made me become more focused on pursuing JKA karate through the ranks.(JKA) Karate should not be viewed merely as a method of learning self-defense.There are much better places to learn realistic self-defense techniques, but I truly believe that following the way of karate (karate-do) as laid out by Master Gichin Funakoshi in his 20 guiding principles, you will move towards a more rounded person.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 13:06