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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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Master of the Masters: Katsunori Tsuyama

The picture shows Katsunori Tsuyama the head coach of Takushoku University karate club called Takudai.

Katsunori Tsuyama is by far the master of the masters. In this article we are going to portray this extraordinary Shotokan master. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Have you ever thought about who the master of Shotokan masters might be? Who trains or has trained, for instance, Tatsuya Naka? The answer is: Katsunori Tsuyama.

Although he is widely unknown – except for some experts – he has been one of the most important figures in Shotokan over the last 50 years. The reason for his importance is that he has been coaching the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University in Tokyo. In this position he formed many excellent Karateka like Tatsuya Naka, Manabu Murakami, and Richard Heselton.

Who is Katsunori Tsuyama?

Katsunori Tsuyama and Takushoku University

Katsunori Tsuyama (津山克典) was born in Saga on the island of Kyushu in 1936. Not unsual for Japan, he got in touch with Karate during his highschool years. He was around 16 when he started to learn Shotokan Karate. Two years later, he moved to Tokyo. Tsuyama became a student at the already very famous Takushoku University. Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama taught at this institution. While he enrolled in business administration he also joined its Karate club. Only two years later and not in his senior year, he became the captain of the team.

His rigorous training during his university years led him to historical success. At the first ever held JKA All Japan Championships in 1957, he reached the 2nd place in Kumite right after legenday Hirokazu Kanazawa.

The picture shows Katsunori Tsuyama with the famous Takushoku Karate Club. He is squatting second for the right side.
Katsunori Tsuyama with the famous Takushoku Karate Club. He is squatting second for the right side.

From Tokyo to Saga to Tokyo

After he finished his studies in Tokyo, he moved back to Saga and worked as a manager. A few years later, worked for the company of his wife. Besides his business activities he also began to teach Karate. First, he taught at the University of Saga, a local highshool, and at a military academy.

Over the course of the years, Karate became again the major part of his life. In 1968, he got an offer to teach Karate at Takushoku University. He accepted and moved back to Tokyo in order to work as a sports teacher. To professionalize his teaching he enrolled in the faculty of sport science at the University for Education in Tokyo.When he passed the exam he became head coach at his alma mater Takushoku University. At the same time, he was teaching at the Honbu Dojo of JKA.

During this time, he also taught Karate at the JKA headquarter. Many famous instructors learnt in his class. Amon them were Hideo Ochi, Masao Kawasoe, Hideo Yamamoto, Tomio Imamura, Tatsuya Naka, and Yuki Mimura.

Head Coach at Takudai

Since the death of Masatoshi Nakayama, Katsunori Tsuyama leads as head coach the Karate education at Takushoku University. In this capacity he has formed many extraordinary Karate within the JKA, SKIF and JKF. Although Tsuyama Sensei has reached 83 years now, he is still active and teaching. Even abroad he has given seminar in the last 10 years.

Katsunori Tsuyama: Master of Kihon

Master of Kihon characterizes the style of Katsunori Tsuyama best. His major focus lies on basic training. Kata and Kumite always come second. Only when the body has memorized the right execution of a technique it will be really effective. For some this might be tedious. But Katsunori Tsuyama describes his approach in following way:

“At the end there is only one thing that is Kihon. Many complain about the monotonous basic training. The body may, however, be aware only by a uniform constant repetition of movements. One should look for the connection of conscious art and physical strength. The technique must be so trained that it settles in the subconscious. If it is needed, it shoots out, as easy as if you were speaking a word.”

Katsunori Tsuyama

To get an idea of him and his way of training for yourself, we have attached the following video. If you see some familiar faces in the video, please, write their names in the comments. Sorry for the poor quality.

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The Relation Between Kihon, Kata, and Kumite

The picture shows karateka during a seminar in malta. They did kihon, kata, and kumite.

Last week, our reader Giuseppe from Italy raised some questions about the relationship of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. For him it seemed as if their is no direct connection between the three. Due to that he asked several questions and our author, Florian Wiessmann, answers him in this article.

Florian´s Answers

Giuseppe raised some wide spread points. Many Karate practitioners (and practitioners of other martial arts as well) ask them. So, I think it is important to answer his questions.

Kihon Stances

Karate is not a static affair. Stances are mostly just a momentarily expressions while moving (if you could just halt a movement at one point and your feet touch the ground, you have a stance). Don’t think to much about all the formal stances but more about, where your weight is distributed or how feet, knees, hips, pelvis and spine are aligned. Where the center of gravity is and how to shift your center of gravity.

And then you have the characteristics of many stances in all kind of movements, be it in your daily life or in kumite. Karate stances give us an opportunity to experience and learn correct alignment and body shifting in a structured way. In addition, take a look at classical European swordsmen – they probably have never heard of all the Karate stances and do them all the time while moving freely. Because movement and weight distribution inevitably leads to a certain structure.

Classical European fencing: The commonalities with Kendo are obvious. But when it comes to stances they intuitively apply stance like in Shotokan.

Uke Waza

As with stances, just think more about general movements and how to use both hands in a concerted way and not just about the standard blocking (and besides, uke translates to ‘receiving’ – this can be offensive as well). I recommend to experience a bit more the movements of certain uke waza in kihon. Use both hands, do not stop at the end of a technique (try a flow drill by connecting movements instead of just block & punch). Think a bit about characteristics and directions of uke waza movements. I can show you an uppercut punch I do 100% exactly as a basic soto uke. Age uke is also quite common as a kind of flinching reaction e.g. A look at self defense expert, Lee Morrison, and what he teaches as ‘flanking’. He does a quite basic gedan barai (and probably doesn’t even know the term).

Lee Morrison uses gedan barai for “flanking”.

Hikite

I’m not fond of explaining hikite for adding power to your punches but there are certainly reasons for hikite to be found in Karate practice.

An obvious explanation for hikite is already given by Funakoshi Gichin. He describes hikite as grabbing the opponents arm, pulling and twisting it, to unbalance the opponent. Of course this is not limited to grab the arm – hikite is basically bringing the grappling range into Karate practice.

Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during Kihon clases at a seminar in Munich.
Tatsuya Naka explains the importance of Hikite during a seminar in Munich.

Hikite and Weapons

Hikite is also very present in weapon based training. Look at a bo swing, a spear thrust or a sword draw (saya biki) and what function hikite has there. Please don’t believe ‘Karate is empty handed’ or ‘I don’t carry a bo along when getting into a street fight’. Martial arts usually include weapons training, Funakoshi also included weapon training into Shotokan and being ’empty handed’ also means you have the opportunity to just grab a weapon. You might not carrying around weapons but it’s not so uncommon to be confronted with blunt- or bladed weapons or have them readily available in your environment. So, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself familiar with some basics. Moreover, beside many movement principles of weapon training translate very well into weaponless applications (and vice versa). Weapons are a great training tool for your body as well.

Hikite and Other Body Parts

Hikite furthermore helps connecting body parts. While the shoulder of the punching arm moves forward it helps that the other shoulder opens up a bit, e.g. with hikite. But, of course, this doesn’t have to be at the hip, you could also pull back your hand to a guard position. Just try it in kihon and extend one arm into a tsuki and do a tsuki with the other arm without pulling back the arm already extended. This will feel somewhat awkward, right? Or just do a hikite with one arm while the other arm just loosely hangs down. Hikite will initiate a pendulum movement in your hanging arm, if you are really loose).

A nice explanation is also seen in the following video. Hikite as shown there is about creating the necessary space to punch in an infight situation.

Kihon and Kumite

I agree somewhat that sanbon– and gohon kumite are a sub-optimal affair. You certainly need some kind of pre-arranged sparring to build up experience and confidence for free sparring. But sanbon- and gohon kumite also teaches much wrong stuff, in my opinion. Therefore, we don’t do it in my school (wrong stuff is moving back all the time, moving only back with too much a distance and not teaching how to close distances, enter the opponent or how to angle the attack and so on, only focusing on somewhat unrealistic counter gyaku zuki, nothing else, only blocking with one arm, nothing else…).

So, do pre-arranged sparring. But beside absolute beginners people probably can do better as with sanbon-/gohon kumite. This is also true for a standard block-counter uke waza approach, where people certainly could to better.

Gohon and Sanbon Kumite are just one step on the ladder to Jiyu Kumite - but necessary.
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Oi-Zuki: How to do it correctly?!

In the last two weeks, our friends from WaKu Dojo in Tokyo showed us their approach how to move in Zenkutsu-Dachi and how to execute a Choku-Zuki. Their Zenkutsu-approach caused some controversy. For some it was to sporty.

Today, they combine both motions (stand/move and punch) in one technique: Oi-Zuki. We are very curious whether it causes the same controversy like the Zenkutsu-video. Do not hesitate and leave us a comment with your thoughts. Oss!