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What can Karate teach us? By Shinji Akita

What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta

What can Karate teach us? Follow me on my quest through Japan to answer this question. By Shinji Akita

The Shotokan Times asked me this interesting question a few month ago. I wanted to pursue it further during my recent trip to Japan. When I addressed different Karate Sensei, they all gave me a very similar answer. They all indicated how much the values we learn in the Dojo also characterize Japanese society. In Japanese language we have a term for these values. They are called: Reigi.

The Foundation: Reigi

The term has a major significance in the various Japanese arts, at school, work, within the family, in public etc. Reigi means etiquette and courtesy and should be reflected in one´s behavior and actions. It is not only the respect towards others but also towards the Dojo, the environment and nature.

Reigi also characterizes the relationship between Senpai and Kohai – senior, older graduate and junior, less experienced. This concept exists in the Dojo as well as in school or between colleagues.

What can Karate teach us? Watch Akita Sensei on his incredible journey through Japan.

Shin-Gi-Tai: The “Mind of a Beginner”

Matsuda Hisashi Shihan, under which I started practicing Shotokan in my hometown Gifu, also mentioned the term Shin-Gi-Tai. The term describes the connection between mind and heart on the hand, and technique and body on the other hand. It is not easy to translate “Shin” with one word as it has a deep meaning for Japanese people. The mind or heart (“Shin”/“Kokoro”) amongst others stands for the attitude of a person. According to Matsuda Shihan, students must wish to learn something and get better. This “mind of a beginner” is the precondition for “Gi” (technique) and “Tai” (body). Good techniques and the benefits for the body will come naturally based on that kind of attitude.

Greetings, responses, and lining up quickly, for instance, reflect shin. These things appear simple. However, they are not that easy and need to be taught properly.

  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Karate: A Path to Self-discovery

I had the chance to interview Richard Heselton Sensei during the Summer Gasshuku of the Takudai Karate Club this year. I also asked him about what karate can teach us. He said that “Karate is a path of self-discovery, teaching us many different things.” This could also be modesty and acceptance, making one´s expectations and physical abilities match.

After all, nobody is perfect. There is always something we can learn and improve. This is what makes Karate so interesting. It is something one can do for life.

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How to do a Choku-Zuki? Use your Hip and Pelvis!

Our friends from Karate Dojo WaKu in Tokyo allowed us to share the following video. This time, they explain how to do a choku-zuki.

How does it work?

A choku-zuki is a punch in an upright stance called heiko dachi. Although, it belongs to the most basic punches, it poses many difficulties for beginners to execute it with a maximum of power and speed. No forward body-movement supports the punch. Therefore, the secret to the choku-zuki lies in the utilization of the hip and pelvis rotation. Both have to move slightly back and forth in order to initiate the movement and to create a whiplash-effect. Without the hip and pelvis rotation only the shoulders and arms generate power. That limits the efficiency and effectiveness of the punch.

Basic Posture of Choku-Zuki

The starting position comprises the front hand in a zuki position while the back hand rest in hikite position between the hip and the rips. Do not forget to pull the hikite hand as much back as position. As a result the arm muscles create some tension. That makes it possible to release the arm like the arrow from a bow. When the fist reaches it target, the arm will have accelerated to maximum speed and thus power.

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki.
Hirokazu Kanazawa doing a choku-zuki.

Basic Movement of Choku-Zuki

When you move your fist an arm forward focus on a straight motion. Your arm should not rotate towards the target. Keep it straight without tensing up. Therefore, the elbows must stay inside. If the move outside you lose a lot of energy and disrupt your joints. During the whole motion stay relaxed. Only a few millimeters before your arm has fully extended use kime for a split of a second.

What to Consider

Do not forget to use a slight hip-rotation in order to initiate the punch. However, do not leave your hip at the front. Create a tiny counter motion by pulling it back before your fist reaches the target. Once you have mastered this you will experience the so called “whip-lash-effect“. You then create power and tension without using to much of your muscle power. Thus, your punch will become way more efficient.

You must also focus on you knuckles (seiken). Only the inner two (index and middle finger) should hit the target. The physical idea behind that is to maximize energy on a very small spot. The effect of the impact will then much stronger.

How do you do your choku-zuki? Critical comments are welcome!

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What does Kata mean to you?

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing kata during a tournament.

What does Kata mean to you? Many karate practitioners interpret it in different ways. This article will attempt to bring some clarity and explain how a Karate-ka can benefit from performing kata. By Derick Kirkham

The Meaning of Kata?

What is the meaning of Kata? What’s it all about? What’s the point of it? Many people have asked me these questions over the years. Among them were

  • members of the general public,
  • novice students,
  • advanced students,
  • teachers of the subject,
  • kumite specialists,
  • kata specialists,
  • sport-only karateka,
  • self-defense enthusiasts,
  • petty politicians in karate,
  • pundits, who are deliberately trying to be controversial,
  • heads of other associations,
  • practitioners of other style of martial arts,
  • mean spirited individuals, who are just looking for loop holes, who have an axe to grind,
  • candidates for a promotional exam,
  • Japanese cultural enthusiasts,
  • karate historians,
  • traditionalists and
  • modernizers.

I have gone into print and given a wide range of answers to the same question. Not because I constantly change my opinion. But my answer was dependent upon the recipient of the message, their motivation for asking, their area of interest and what is their level of experience.

What Does Kata Mean to You?

However, I believe, that many of them meant to ask: “What does Kata mean to you?” If they had asked that question then they would have got a completely different answer.

I feel whatever the person believes to be true about Kata, is as valid of an explanation as every other persons interpretation. As long as a practitioner gets something in exchange for them holding their particular belief of what it is, then I think that this is a good thing. However, the return on investment must enhance their experience of, their practice of, and their performance of the kata.

But What Does Kata Mean in General?

It is part of the physical culture of Karate. The Japanese term means shape or form. All Kata have individual names. They comprise of a set number of prescribed basic techniques and performed following a specific route Embusen. Although different styles of Karate use different names to describe the same Kata, one can recognize them as being from the same root.

The picture shows the Embusen of Kanku Dai. The Embusen is one way to answer the question: What does kata mean?
The Embusen of Kanku Dai.

Kata can be seen as a martial war dance, similar in nature to the New Zealand “HAKA”. They hold similarities to shadow boxing or gymnastics floor routines, as the student practices them individually. Aesthetics play a major role in the appearance of it. But they are definitely Martial and warlike by nature.

Kata as Library of Basic Karate Techniques

Kata can be viewed as a library of rehearsed fighting routines. While in reality they do not portray an actual continuous fight scenario. That does not mean that individual techniques or mini sequences of techniques in it would not work in a real fight, because they do work. It holds self-defense nuggets of gold, but not necessarily in the format they are often presented when cumulatively performed in Traditional Bunkai. As a result, every kata depicts a library of basic Karate technique put together in a series of combinations. They are misleadingly represented a series of continuous techniques against four or eight imaginary opponents instead.

Despite some kata having been invented only 50 years ago, the roots of the majority date back several hundred years. Some people gain great strength and enjoyment during practice when they think about the history and tradition of the it. It creates great pleasure to reflect how they have been handed down from generation to generation.

Kata Changes – Constantly

In reality it has been changing over the generations. The kata, which Gichin Funakoshi taught, varied slightly from how he was taught and likewise Masatoshi Nakayama, taught them slightly differently to his students.  Hirokazu Kanazawa teaches them with slight nuanced differences to the way that Nakayama taught him. Nevertheless, it links us all to the past. For me personally Kata are even more enjoyable for that very reason.

Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of kata. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of techniques. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.

Enjoy It!

Keep in mind: Kata is not a punishment beating for the performer. So, whatever ones motivation to practice it is: Please enjoy the experience, even if you only perform it as a means of physical exercise and perform it without any traditional appreciation whatsoever. One should still enjoy the experience.

How to Study and Perform It?

When one has chosen a kata to study, the first aim must be to achieve excellence in the delivery of the techniques. Then the secondary aim is to perform it to express the elegance of the Art and to execute Kata with martial intent. Kata practice and performance should lead to the experience of personal growth. For me it is a form of moving Zen, something that allows me to gain a focused state, albeit for the duration of the performance.

Kata is the ideal vehicle to allow one to block out the everyday worries of life and channeling ones concentration elsewhere in a positive manner. If one performs it well and the viewer understands the broader message. As a result they appreciate the effort, time, and levels of hard work that has gone into delivering that performance. Then that in itself is a bonus but that should never be the aim. Perform Kata with the initial intent of you being the main beneficiary.

Good Luck and Good Practice.

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Is Shotokan Karate Effective? About The Effectiveness Paranoia

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

The effectiveness of Shotokan karate as self-defense has caused plenty of discussions in the last decade. But is effectiveness even important? Are we paranoid when it come to effectiveness? By Jonas Correia

A few weeks ago arriving from Brazil, I had to go through the USA immigration. The immigration agent asked me what I was doing in Brazil. I replied that I went to compete and see my family. Asking me what I practice, I promptly answered: Karate. He asked me if I taught my students how to defend themselves from grappling and submission techniques. I said no, since most of them are children and barely learn the basics of karate. I didn’t find it necessary to teach techniques like the ones he mentioned.

He Questioned My Effectiveness

The truth is that he seemed to be a jiu-jitsu sympathizer and even questioned the effectiveness of my teaching method. Believe me, this conversation happened during my reentry in the US! I looked at his gun at the waist and said, if we are going to think about effectiveness obsessively, I should teach them how to fire too. He smiled. I mentioned that most jiu-jitsu schools only focus on competitions these days. But they also do not prepare you to face two opponents at once.

What does Effectiveness mean?

The point of this text is not to discuss the effectiveness of Jiu-jitsu or Karate. Because we can be the strongest of fighters and a simple microscopic virus can knock you down. So what is your perspective on effectiveness? How many martial arts masters have ever been shot? And how many martial arts masters have died from drug or alcohol use? How can someone who can’t beat himself get into a discussion about effectiveness? Wouldn’t being effective mean everything that makes you survive longer?

The Effectiveness Paranoia of Shotokan Karate

Whenever people ask me about the most effective martial art, I answer: the most effective is the one that makes you happy to be training. The rest is brainwashing and repetitive marketing.

Is Shotokan Karate effective?
Our authors, Jonas Correia, in Berlin. Jonas has an incredible fighting record. Fighting in shobu ippon, 8-point fights, and Karate Combat.

But the paranoia about the effectiveness of certain martial arts has grown so incalculably. As a result, even great masters get carried away with it. It is disappointing to come to a dojo and encounter the abundant collective narcissism that has become a kind of sect. We see this thinking within Karate organizations as well. Due to different founders’ perspectives, the arts constantly change and their style may be totally different in the future.

Train, Whatever Makes You Happy

The best thing to do is to humble down, and recognize the qualities and defects of the martial arts you practice. That makes it possible to turn yourself in an effective fighter. But if you do not care much about it, train whatever makes you happy.

I believe we should think less about issues like this. However, we should train to improve ourselves to become better practitioners. Nothing is perfect and totally effective. Better to learn it this way, to than become disappointed later.

The more we talk the less we train.

Oss.


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by external authors in the commentary section are solely their current opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Shotokan Times and their respective editorial staff and management. The external authors opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither The Shotokan Times nor its affiliates warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.

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The Kumite Queen From Malta: Yuki Nocilla and Her Best Fights

Yuki Nocilla belongs to the highly talented karatekas of her generation. Just last weekend, she proved again her class and won the German Championships. We take this as an occasion to portray Yuki Nocilla and to explain to you why we will see more of her in the future. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Yuki Nocilla does not create a lot of sensation when she enters the pool. Humbleness, coolness, and calmness seem to be her nature. However, right after hajime she “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee” (Muhammad Ali). “Her fighting style is very efficient and merciless”, says Keigo Shimizu, member of the advisory board of The Shotokan Times and former sensei of Yuki Nocilla.

Yuki Nocilla: Strong Kihon in Malta as Foundation

How efficient she fights became obvious last weekend during the German JKA Cup. It took her in sum about 4 minutes to eliminate five opponents and to take the trophy back to Malta. “In the last three years, since she lives and trains in Malta, she has improved a lot. The strict focus on excellent kihon in JKA Malta SKA Dojo has been having a huge positive effect on her movement and fighting intelligence” said her former sensei at the Yamato Dojo Düsseldorf, the city, where she lived from 2012 until 2016.

Yuki Nocilla training together with Keigo Shimizu.
Yuki Nocilla training together with Keigo Shimizu in the Yamato Dojo Düsseldorf.

From Japan to Germany to Malta

Yuki started her training at her high school in Japan by the age of 16. A year later, she could already win the North Japanese Championships and also became champion of the Miyagi prefecture. Both became the first milestones in an excellent competitive career. During that time she trained 7 days per week at her high school.

However, Yuki also wanted to broaden her horizon and to live abroad. She made this decision after Northern Japan was hit by an earthquake and right after that by an tsunami in 2011. With 18 she moved the Düsseldorf, the Japanese capital of Germany. While she was working in a Sushi restaurant during the day, she started training karate again at night with Keigo Shimizu. He saw her unprecedented talent immediately and fostered her development for the next three years.

Yuki Nocilla Defeats European Champion

During that time, Yuki achieved one of her biggest successes: The victory at the German JKA Championships 2015. In the finals, she defeated Michaela Rein from Munich, who became European Champion two years earlier. In the same year, the mayor invited her together with other top-athletes from Düsseldorf, who became World-, European or German champions the same year, to the city hall for a joint celebration.

Yuki Nocilla after winning the German Championship
Yuki Nocilla after winning the German Championship

Strong Footwork and Consequent Execution

Yukis fighting style combines an excellent footwork with a strong focus on Ikken Hissatsu. With a height of around 1,65 meters Yuki measures often smaller than her European opponents. A high agility through a dynamic footwork is, therefore, the key to her success. In addition, her disadvantage in height makes it necessary to fight forcefully. She must push for the target merciless, especially when her opponents are taller. Because counter attacks and retaliation punches become even more difficult to handle for smaller fighters.

Yuki Nocilla

Malta as Yuki Nocilla´s Homebase

Today, Yuki lives and trains in Malta. She moved to the peninsula three years ago in order to study English and because the climate is better in the Mediterranean than in Germany. But she found more on Malta than good weather and the language of the Queen. She trains in the JKA Malta SKA as many times as possible. The Dojo maintains a very high skill level due to Edward Aquilina Sensei, who is chief instructor of SKA.

Together with Yuki three other competitors from Malta started in Germany last weekend. All of them made it to the podium and finished among the top three in their group. Therefore, Keigo Shimizu is sure: “We will see and hear more about Yuki Nocilla in the future.”

This prediction maybe will become a reality. Because the chances are high that Yuki will enjoy Malta and training with JKA Malta SKA a little bit longer. Then beside the Dojo she also found the most important thing on the island: a loving husband.

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What is Fudoshin? And How to Achieve It?

Fudoshin (不動心) means indomitable, incorruptible. It is the achievement of a clear and determined mind, and having a centred spirit. Fudoshin translates as ‘immovable mind’ or ‘unshakable heart’. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The True Meaning of Fudoshin

It is composure under pressure. It refers to a state of having an unwavering will. A spirit, undeterred by obstacles in the chosen path. It calls for a state of commitment coupled with fearless determination. With Fudoshin, one can maintain a state of mind unmoved by distractions. A state of internal tranquillity in the midst of external conflict, if you will. Fudoshin is the manifestation of fortitude, and has its origins in the guardian deity, Fudo Myōō.

Fudo Myōō

Fudo Myōō is a guardian deity in Shingon (True Word) Buddhism (真言宗, Shingon-shū). Shingon Buddhism constitutes one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia. It originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vadjrabohi and Amoghavajra. Fudo Myōō, a patron of martial arts, carries a sword in his right hand (symbolically, to cut through delusions and ignorance) and a rope in his left hand (again symbolically, to bind evil forces and violent or uncontrolled passions and or emotions).

Fudoshin serves as a shield of the heart. In Japan, there is a concept of Shikai: the four sicknesses of the mind that a budoka has to avoid at all costs:

  1. Kyo: surprise
  2. Ku: fear
  3. Gi: doubt
  4. Waku: confusion

Kyo

If you are surprised, time stops for you. You may actually stop moving, hold your breath even, while your mind catches-up with what happens around you. With Kyo, one’s concentration breaks. In that split-second of broken concentration, defeat can be upon you.

Ku

With fear comes a distorted sense of reality. The attacker may seem bigger, stronger and more fearsome than he really is. Hence, fear may have one mentally defeated before the conflict begins. There is no chance of victory when one’s mind is already defeated.

Gi

Doubting your expertise leads to fatal consequences in a martial situation. The way to safeguard against doubt goes through incessant training. As a result, doubt is the back-stabber of belief. One cannot respond to an assault properly with a lack of conviction stemming from a mind that doubts. Above all, indecision will cause your defeat.

Waku

Mental confusion stems from a lack of focus. The mind wonders and tries to consider too many things. Movements become unrefined, timing suffers, and reactions stifle. A lack of focus makes you surprised. Surprise may cause fear, and fear sows the seeds of doubt. As a consequence, confusion follows soon. And to be confused is to be overwhelmed.

The Necessity of Fudoshin

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’. The mind that has met all challenges of life, and has attained a state of complete composure and fearlessness. This state of equanimity is essential to the Budoka or accomplished karateka.

That is to say, fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It consist of a state of a spirit filled with courage and endurance. It means: The determination to win. Fudoshin relates to the feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by surprise, fear, doubt or confusion.

Samurai and Fudoshin

In Feudal Japan, fudoshin was manifest in the Samurai: in his unquestionable courage and determination, without fear in the face of danger, pain and even death. As the great Japanese swordsman, Tsukahara Bokuden said: “Mental calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai.”

From a Western point of view, the idea of violence coupled with a peaceful and calm mind poses a difficulty to comprehend. The concept of a Warrior (Samurai, Bushi) without anger or rage, a peaceful warrior, would seem to be an oxymoron. However, fudoshin constituted the state of mind essential to the Samurai. It is an imperturbable state of equanimity, and an essential philosophical dimension to most martial arts, but especially Shotokan Karate-Do.

Fudoshin: The Unshakeable Heart

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote: “Mankind is divided into three classes: those who move, those who are movable, and those who are immovable.”

On a personal level, if I set my mind on something, I do not allow anything to shake my belief in myself and my ability to reach the goal I have set. ‘Nothing will stand in my way.’ This unshakable resolve is Fudoshin.

Depending on the Budoka or karateka’s end-game (what they hope to achieve, their goals, their purpose in life et cetera): of all the esoteric terms adopted by the martial arts fraternity, the acquisition of Fudoshin is probably the most difficult, and perhaps the most important concept to master. Therefore, it features definitely the most pivotal philosophical or mental dimension, at least to the Japanese martial arts. Hence, it contributes, immeasurably, to the effectiveness of the advanced practitioner.

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Shinji Akita in Malta: A Seminar Report

Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinki Akita hold a seminar in Malta. The focus of the course laid on efficient technique and mindful bodywork. A seminar report by Luke Rocco

Between October 18 and 20, 2019, Shotokan Karate-do Association Malta hosted world-renowned Shinji Akita Sensei, 6th Dan, to lead a training seminar for the first time in Malta. Amongst the 100 Maltese participants, were also international guests from Belgium and Scotland. All came to Malta specifically to join us for this special event.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Focus of the Seminar

The three-day seminar focused on intriguing concepts in Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It emphasized especially on using body bio-mechanics to enhance the effectiveness of technique regardless of age or gender. Akita Sensei’s passion for deep technical knowledge was effortlessly conveyed to all students. He utilized simple, practical exercises that lead to

  • immediate improvement in effectiveness of technique,
  • a gradual progression in mindful bodywork,
  • integrating proper posture, shime and spirit to produce an even more powerful technique.
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinji Akita

Shinji Akita Sensei started his karate journey at the age of 12 under Matsuda sensei and Aragane sensei. Then he joined the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University, Japan. Here he trained under Katsunori Tsuyama Sensei. He later moved to Europe, founding the Shotokan Karate-Do Association International (SKAI). His ultimate vision for the SKAI was to create a platform for high standard, traditional karate regardless of gender, age, race and politics.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

About SKA Malta

SKA Malta always strives to seek further knowledge and promotion of true traditional Budo-Karate. We give this opportunity to all who want to grow within their martial art journey, irrespective of any political backgrounds. We would like to thank Akita Sensei for sharing his exceptional knowledge throughout the seminar. His dedication and genuine approach towards teaching traditional Karate made it a truly memorable event for all.

We also wish to thank: The Shotokan Times, ST Hotels, Media-Link, Union-Print and Chamar D Owl Photography for their outstanding support at Sponsoring this Event.

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Footage: Mikio Yahara 10th Dan Exam

Mikio Yahara 10th dan examination published.

Yesterday, it was reported that Mikio Yahara past the physical exam for 10th Dan. While most commentators found the awarding of the rank of a 10th Dan to Yahara sensei plausible. Many doubted that he had to take a physical exam.

The Shotokan Times found new evidence in the internet that shows Mikio Yahara in front of a committee performing an unprecedented Tekki Nidan.

The Leopard

The publisher of the video claims that it shows the Dan examination of Mikio Yahara. In the background one can see that the examination took place at the KWF World Conference. The KWF hold this conference from November 7 to 10, 2019 in Tokyo.

Further videos have appeared in the internet. All videos show an excellent performance of Mikio Yahara. His 73 do not hold him back to be still a very dynamic and fast karateka with a strong focus on budo. Due to his agility he got the nickname “Leopard” during his competitive career. Whether the exam consisted of more exercises than just Tekki Nidan is unknown to that point. We will report about further information.

Mikio Yahara Joins 10th Dan Club

Mikio Yahara has joined now a very exclusive club of 10th Dan holders. Beside him Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Hiroshi Shirai, and, also since this year, Ueki Masaaki had been awarded the rank of 10th Dan. However, according to our information has Mikio Yahara been the only awardee so far who went through a physical exam. This might set new expectations for the awarding of higher Dan ranks in the future. Because committees lent higher Dan rank for outstanding achievements and service to associations and karate in general in the past. Thus, Mikio Yahara has perhaps set a new mark.

Congratulations to Mikio Yahara, oss!