Notes on Somerset Budokai Karate
Karate is a martial art that involves the quest for perfection. We see that as perfect harmony with everything around us, not least with ourselves and our opponents. Delivering perfect attacks at the best relaxed speed for power delivery combined with the best physical and mental technical ability and economy of movement
All Karate training must be intense and with purpose. Correct etiquette during practice is essential.
Respect for our fellow students and Instructors is paramount in our dojos. Attitude during training is important, as a poor spirit will render the training useless, breed discontent in fellow students and finally respect for the art and instructors will disappear. Mostly the last person to notice this is the student with poor spirit and bad attitude. Always strive to be keen and attentive and prepared for discovering the new in the old and to see your own faults first. All students should stand in yoi when the class is being addressed by the instructor and a strong oss should be heard at the end of the address.
Karate is not primarily a spectator sport and is not so in our association and is not practiced for flashy reasons. The etiquette is important not just because it is of Japanese origin, but it is useful to have true respect for your teachers as more insight and technique will be revealed to students. We observe and promote the spirit of never attacking first (Karate Ni Sentenashi) but when the situation arises we will be prepared to stand our ground with confidence.
Much of the Karate training may appear to the new observer, never to go beyond basic punching and kicking without thought of the needs of real use effectiveness and the strategy and tactics for surviving an unprovoked attack by unarmed or armed assailants. We address this situation very seriously and sessions include the dissemination of basics for real life confrontations.
Karate is a life long study and we are careful not to develop a system which is superficial and has no depth beyond that which can be seen immediately.
Sport Karate is mistakenly seen as the end goal for Karateka and the casual observer wonders at its effectiveness in real life, when there is little or no heavy contact allowed in practice.
If these disparities are looked at closely, with the help of high grade karateka, it will be seen that the training for karate is to deliver one punch or kick to end the confrontation. This is to save energy and reduce the risk of being hurt during a free for all as the more time it takes to subdue an opponent, the more risk there is of the karateka being injured, especially if the assailant is armed. This kind of training needs a very special attitude since not only does the Karateka need to learn the techniques, he needs to learn how to deliver them with full power, fast, fluidly and effortlessly. Styles such as Shukokai and Shitoryu concentrate a lot of time to this effectiveness. We also train with various weapons, how to use them and how to defend against them.
In sport karate the pads are worn to mainly protect the user (cuts from accidental contact with teeth or the pain associated with shin contact to hard bone). Other contact arts wear thicker padding to protect the opponent. Much of the focus of the attack can be lost here as the punches or kicks have to be followed through in order for them to be felt and that extends the dissipation of energy over a longer time, whereas Karate teaches to expend all the energy in a very short space of time in a short distance for maximum effect so training with such pads would not help with proper focus training.
With this in mind it can be seen that real contact sport Karate would be out of the question.
So the Karate basic training can look stilted at first as the beginner battles with new postures and stances, trying to remember to ‘keep his ribs covered at all times’, ‘protect his groin when kicking’, ‘keep his head up to avoid it getting punched on the top’. High elbow, hunched back stances are fine in the right circumstances but should never be considered the only way to fight. The basic training is the foundation for all the other training however advanced it seems. In fact it could be said that the basic training is the most advanced of all and is taught at the very beginning as it is so difficult to master. What appears to be a flashy technique is useless unless it is backed by years of hard training at the basics. Also, the idea of driving in and pushing home the attack is emphasised, as is turning and side stepping if the attack is too strong. Moving backwards is only for moving forwards next, to bring the opponent into range for counter attack in the attack.
It is to be remembered that engaging in dojo contest is necessary from time to time especially in the early years, in order to remind students of the need for constant alertness, speed and stamina. The winning strikes in karate contest, especially for the high grade are only awarded if the technique is correct, fast and expertly delivered. The trained Karateka will know how to extend the punch or kick, or to move in fractionally closer in order for his attack to make contact. His mindset at the beginning of a dojo fight will be different from normal everyday life. It is a mistake to engage in free fighting without a sound knowledge of techniques and application, otherwise bad technique habits are formed which reduce the effectiveness and give the user a false sense of security.
Therefore it can be seen that dojo kumite and tile or board breaking are tests that the Karateka may want to put themselves to in order to see their own progression. They are not primarily shows for the fight culture audience nor should they be promoted as such.
The Somerset Budokai syllabus includes all the tools necessary to make a well rounded fighter for real life. Joint locks and throws are just as important as all the many and various ways of hitting and this is why it takes so long to progress up the black belt ranking. This progression should not be seen as the goal either but just a marker for the karateka’s own use as to their achievement so far. It also means they have to keep up their training in order to warrant the grade. The first Dan Black belt is just the start of advanced training. A slackening off after gaining a dan grade only results in a deterioration of any skill gained hitherto.
Karateka should never crow at success nor cry at failure. It is a personal thing and success or failure is irrelevant since the passage through Karate training is merely a learning process and success only comes with the experience of some failure. Expect that and the training will be easier.
Gambatte kudasai. (train austerely, please)
Fred East, Somerset Budokai