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  • Feb 23 / 2015
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Articles

Competitions in Karate, Sport vs Martial Art

One topic which splits many karate-ka and has always been a bone of contention is competitions within karate, indeed master Gichin Funakoshi the founder of modern karate often said “There are no contests in karate”, the Shotokai style does not have competitions for this very reason. With this in mind have we all lost our way, should we throw away our medals and trophies and return to the true art? I would personally say no.

I think this is where it is important to distinguish between karate the sport and karate the martial art. Master Funakoshi was indeed correct that in karate the martial art there can be no contests. Why? The aim of karate as a martial art could be summarised as learning means to effectively and quickly incapacitate or eliminate your attacker. To do this a number of techniques are employed that may break bones, maim or kill the attacker. Clearly this is incompatible with a sport as if these techniques were applied as intended there would be very few competitors after the first competition. These are the techniques taught in the kata and used in bunkai. Karate the sport however has a completely different emphasis, it is about scoring points. In sport karate a limited number of techniques are allowed with those deemed to dangerous explicitly forbidden indeed use of excessive force will get you disqualified in most karate competitions. In kata competitions the emphasis isn’t on the application of the techniques but on the form in fact the bunkai is entirely dismissed. As anyone who has watched a kata competition can tell you this has led to sometimes exaggerated and ineffective techniques and breathing for increased showmanship and can lead to the opinion that kata is just a dance. Let’s not even mention the horrible trend that gained traction in the late 80’s and early 90’s to do kata to music as some form of glorified aerobics. Even with sport karate there is disagreement as to how bouts should be scored with more traditional shotokan students often favouring shobu-ippon as it sticks to the killing blow philosophy whilst others prefer three or five point bouts as they allow for greater risk taking by competitors as so more varied bouts.

So having just split karate into a traditional martial art and a sport why should we as traditional shotokan karate-ka take part in competitions after all I have just effectively said that when we compete in a competition we are not doing karate as a martial art. Competition does teach you valuable skills, the ability to use your techniques under pressure, the opportunity to spar with different opponents and the ability to block out all distractions and perform your kata. Last but not least it can also be fun and a good team building experience. As long as we remember that there is far more to karate than competitions and the differences between the sport and the martial art we can enjoy both for what they are.

Richard Amuzu 3rd Dan.

 

 

  • Feb 15 / 2015
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Articles

Kata, It’s not just a dance

I often hear people who do karate or have done karate in the past say they don’t like kata. Sometimes if they have done it in the past and quit they will say something along the lines of karate is too formal or rigid and when you dig a bit deeper inevitably kata is cited as an example. For those doing karate the statements  tend to take the form of not liking kata as they prefer fighting. In all of these cases I tend to think that the person has missed the point of kata either due to their instructor not teaching them anything other than a set of movements to learn by rote or by them misunderstanding what they have been shown or disassociating the application with the kata seeing bunkai and kata as two completely separate entities.

Shihan Cummins often says that kihon is the heart of karate and kata is the soul of karate and I think this is a very apt description. The Shotokan kata contain the core of the system encompassing strikes, kicks, defence against and the use of weapons and grappling techniques such as locks and throws. These are usually taught when students study the kata bunkai or oyo. Indeed I would argue that there is far more “fighting” within kata than competition karate as it contains techniques that whilst usable for self defence would be considered too dangerous for use in competition such as breaks and techniques to maim the attacker. So why does the myth that kata is just a dance persist? Part of it may be related to the age at which a lot of people start karate and the grade they attain. There are often many ways in which a particular movement in a kata can be interpreted and often when teaching beginners and lower grades a simpler application is used more consistent with their level of experience so a wrist lock may become a two handed block for example. Then of course a lot of people start karate as young children, obviously a responsible instructor is going to be very careful what they teach young children and so they will mostly learn the kata as a set of moves with some very simply bunkai if any.

Over the years I have been training I have also met many people who have done karate and then gone onto a grappling art who have then commented that they can now see far more locks and throws in kata than they could before. This may be due to the subtle nature in which some of these are exposed in kata and so those who know what to look for can identify them more easily. Some of this may also be related to the typical background of karate students outside of Japan where at a young age children are taught Judo as part of their standard physical education lessons. Very few people who start karate in the UK already have this background and so are not familiar with throws. All of these factors no doubt help contribute to the kata is a dance myth and so when students are taught no bunkai or bunkai which seems completely impractical it is no wonder that some assume that kata has no purpose other than passing gradings and competition.

Those who attend Shihan Cummins Saturday kata class will be familiar with the use of wrist and arm locks in Bunkai and he always emphasises the importance of kata and understanding the meaning of the movements. Black belts especially should aim to fully understand the bunkai for the kata they know and how an application can work for them. Indeed for later black belt exams you will be required to explain and demonstrate bunkai for a kata.

I have been lucky over the years having regularly trained with both Shihan Cyril Cummins and Sensei Aidan Trimble both of whom emphasise the importance of kata and understanding the bunkai/oyo which has helped me to see beyond the basic movements and appreciate the rich tapestry that is kata. I would urge anyone who doubts the importance of kata beyond gradings and competition to reconsider and take another look.

 

Richard Amuzu 3rd Dan

  • Feb 08 / 2014
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Articles, Courses

A review of the Kata and Bunkai Course with Shihan Cyril Cummins 8th dan and Sensei Slater Williams 7th dan

Saturday 8th February 2014

Bartley Green Community Leisure Centre

On Saturday 8th february 2014 Shihan Cyril Cummins 8th dan and Sensei Slater Williams 7th dan (Redditch Shotokan Karate) held a special kata and bunkai course. The course was well attended with a number of students from different clubs attending. After the introductions and warm up the class was split into two parts with Shihan Cummins initially taking the dan grades and Sensei Williams the kyu grades.

The black belts started with Shihan Cummins who taught the kata Unsu. He explained the name meant Cloud Defense and the myth behind the name. As he taught the kata to the count he stopped at points to explain the bunkai for particular movements and demonstrated the application of the techniques. We did the kata several times like this before Shihan Cummins gathered us all around so that students could ask questions about the kata and bunkai. We then split into pairs to perform he bunkai for the first few moves with Shihan Cummins moving around the groups to answer questions and offer advice on how to apply the techniques. This was very helpful as only a slight adjustment in how to perform a lock can be the difference between it being effective and ineffective. Finally we performed the kata again to a faster count as the class was now more familiar with the kata a couple of more times before it was time for the sensei to swap groups. During his session Shihan Cummins emphasised the importance of understanding the application and intent of the techniques in order to understand how to perform them correctly and thus achieve correct form. Shihan Cummins also pointed out that at advanced levels a lot of the blocks in kata should be interpreted as strikes. This interpretation in the bunkai can give a kata a vastly different feel.

Sensei Williams then took over the black belts after a brief break for water, first establishing how many people in the class knew the kata Kanku Sho and to what degree of familiarity. As everyone on the class had done it before to some degree he then proceeded to start to teach the kata. Sensei Williams emphasis was on the form of the kata and technique. He asked the class to slow everything down and really concentrate on fluid movements, especially in the first few moves where there is a tendency for people to jump rather than slide. He also stressed the importance of maintaining correct formal stances and using the hips and lower body correctly. This was illustrated in the first two oi-tsuki followed by uchi-ude-uki techniques where he emphasized the importance of the punch being an “ippon” technique and the correct use of hips for the block. Sensei Williams summed this approach up with the phrase “Technique First”. We then went through the kata to the count several times with Sensei Williams illustrating certain aspects at various points throughout the kata including the importance of relaxing in order to be able to use your whole body correctly when performing the techniques. The class then split into pairs to perform bunkai using various moves from the kata after a demonstration of these by Sensei Williams. Sensei Williams moved around the groups during this period explaining how to do the bunkai he had demonstrated. Whilst we were trying to do this we especially found the lock following the throw extremely hard to apply as we often ended up in the wrong position to apply that particular lock and so ended up applying another. Finally Sensei Williams called each rank of dan grade out to perform Kanku Sho after which he offered advice on how to improve.

Whilst I regularly train with Shihan Cummins this was the first time I had trained with Sensei Williams and so it was very interesting seeing another instructors perspective on the kata. Every sensei brings their own insights and observations into their teaching style along with slight variations of techniques depending on what they were taught and their interpretation of the technique so training with a different sensei like this can provide another perspective for your training. In this case I noticed the difference in emphasis to achieve the same goals between the two sensei. Shihan Cummins emphasis is on understanding the application of the technique to achieve the correct form and understand the kata and how to perform it. Sensei Williams emphasis was on the form of the technique to perform a correct kata. From the course and the different emphasis in teaching I get the impression that Shihan Cummins intrinsically links the bunkai with the kata whilst allowing for individual interpretations whilst Sensei Williams sees these as two more distinct aspects of the kata again allowing for individual interpretations of bunkai.

This was a very enjoyable course which gave me areas to think about in order to improve my kata further and I like many of the other attendees look forward to further courses in the future. I’d like to thank Shihan Cummins and Sensei Williams for arranging this course.

Richard Amuzu, 3rd Dan, BHSKC

 

  • Oct 03 / 2013
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Articles

An interview with Sensei Cyril Cummins 3

Interviewed by Matt Russell 3rd Dan

Matt_RussellI find karate is the main focus of my day, to what extent and how does it affect yours?
I find it impacts a great deal, I have to think of my students and
set a program out for that evening to teach them, it is very im-
portant to me. In terms of my personal training, I supplement
my karate with weight training and good nutrition, but regular
training is so necessary. It certainly impacts on my life a great
deal.

Who was your favourite sensei to train under and why?
There was no favourite, they were all important. But the most prominent one was of course master Enoeda. Kenosuke Enoeda Sensei, he was very famous, a very strong man. There was also
Kanazawa Sensei who was brilliant. Another was Nakayama Sensei, who was the Head of JKA. As well as Osaka and Sensei Ohta, there were also British Senseis such as Andy Sherry and the hierarchy of the KUGB.

What was your most memorable fight?
For my fifth Dan grading perhaps, it was the nastiest, but mostly because it was so dangerous, so nasty, so painful. There was also my Shodan grading where I received a broken nose and some broken teeth. But all the fights were hard. Most of my opponents controlled their techniques but they were still hard and frightening, but we overcome that through training.

What is your favourite aspect of Shotokan Karate Do?
Kata. Kata and Bunkai. It’s the very essence of Karate-Do. Interwoven into kata are all the different techniques of karate. It is very important to understand your kata for self-defence. Freestyle fighting is also important to keep you sharp and strong, but kata is the soul of karate.

If you could repeat any of the past fifty years, and do anything differently what would you do?
Probably nothing, because the way I’ve come forward has led me to the knowledge I have today. It’s taken almost 50 years, but it’s been a voyage of discovery, some of it was hard, some of it was good, some of it bad but you’ve got to overcome these things, Never give in, Never give up.

  • Sep 20 / 2013
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Articles, Courses

Special Weapons Course

Friday 20th September 2013

Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centre

The special weapons course, was a great success covering an array of traditional karate weapons including the bo, tonfa, sai and nunchaku. What follows is a brief summary of the course and the weapons covered.

I have now been to a few of Sensei Cummin’s weapons courses and so at last I am beginning to feel comfortable with the bo but am not that familiar with the other weapons covered. I started the class at the point where Shushi No Kon, the first Bo kata was being taught. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I remembered a fair part of the kata since the last course (although I had only practised a few times in between) and so felt a bit more confident in performing the kata rather than the more hesitant  feeling from previous courses. Shihan Cummins went through the kata a few times starting slowly and going through every move at a slow speed so that those attending who had not used the bo before or had only used it one or two times could follow and slowly increased the count speed until by the end of the class everyone was performing the kata at a good pace. This all took place at various points during the class with the other weapons interspersed in between. Shihan Cummins also explained how the moves of the kata could be applied and then held a question and answer session so that the students could clarify the parts they were unsure of which was very informative as Shihan Cummins explained the details of the application relating to the questions and the history where applicable.

Sensei Austin Birks took the class through the use of the nunchaku, this was only the second time I have used them and thanks to Sensei Sue Hession generously donating her time to purchase weapons on behalf of myself and others on the class now had my very own pair to use. Whilst the first time I had used them they seemed to flow naturally for me, this time this was not the case initially and it took some time to be able to get a rhythm going when swapping hands. This is definitely a weapon for which practice is a must to be able to use them in any capacity and you will almost certainly hit yourself a few times whilst doing so. Sensei Birks then demonstrated how these could be used in defence against attacks from weapons or the empty hand before giving a demonstration of the nunchaku in which he would have given Bruce Lee a run for his money in that famous scene from Enter the Dragon.

Shihan Cummins returned to the helm for the Sai, explaining the origins of the weapon, and demonstrating their use in kata and kumite which in many ways is similar to that of the Tonfa and how they were traditionally used to defend against attacks by katana (Japanese swords). We all then tried to use these which again was a second time for me. I still haven’t got to grips with the sai finding it very hard to spin them with any consistency. Shihan Cummins emphasised the importance of having the blade running along the arm when performing blocks in a similar manner to when using a tonfa. He then held a question and answer session about the sai in which the students again asked questions and Shihan Cummins explained the usage and techniques.

The weapons course finished with a last performance of Shushi No Kon to the count followed by Sensei Sue Hession demonstrating the kata at full speed.

As always this was a very informative course with the attendees all asking for more courses in the future. I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t tried weapon training to attend any future course as it really does add a new dimension to your training and helps when interpreting some of the advanced kata such as Bassai Sho and Jitte.

Richard Amuzu 3rd Dan, BHSKC

Special Weapons Course class attendees

  • May 09 / 2013
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Articles, Courses

Blackpool Training Weekend – A review

by Melissa Daly, 3rd Kyu

Blackpool Weekend Training CourseFrom the 3rd to the 5th of May 2013, a number of karate students from BHSKC went to Blackpool for a special weekend training course organised by Sensei Cyril Cummins, now 8th Dan. For the duration of the weekend, we stayed in a lovely, homely hotel owned by Sensei Cummins’ son. We were all made to feel welcome by the staff and received delicious, home cooked meals. The rooms were comfortable and clean and we all thoroughly enjoyed the time we stayed there.

The dojo, which is part of a newly built leisure centre, was exceptional. The hall was very spacious and the walls were mirrored so that we could observe ourselves and not miss anything and the floor was completely covered in mats.

During the weekend, we focussed on kata, kumite, bunkai and physical strength. The advanced katas Sensei Cummins taught us were Kanku Dai and Meikyo. Kanku Dai, for me is an enjoyable kata to learn. Despite it being an advanced kata, it is quite basic because it contains essential elements of all the other katas. Although I found this kata quite long and challenging, I managed to complete it eventually.

Sensei Cummins also taught us the bunkai to Kanku Dai, with him demonstrating on Sensei Austin Birks, 4th Dan and Matt Russell 3rd Dan. It was interesting to be shown how to use certain moves from the kata with attacking and defending.

The kata I personally enjoyed the most was Meikyo. To me, the kata was quite simple to pick up because most of the sequences are mirrored. I especially liked how the kata started off in a slow movement and then quick and repeated. I also enjoyed the spinning jump towards the end of the kata.

Sensei also took us through Bassai Dai, which was extremely helpful for me, as this is my grading kata. We went through the kata step by step and then completed it in our own time.

  • May 05 / 2013
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Articles, Courses

Blackpool Weekend Karate Course

Friday 3rd May till Sunday 5th May 2013

On the 4th and 5th of May 2013, Sensei Cyril Cummins held an advanced training course in the Palatine Leisure Centre in Blackpool. Both of the 3-hour training sessions were extremely intense and physically challenging. The course covered kihon, kata and bunkai, as well as kumite in great detail.

The basic techniques were geared towards the individual grades, so that each person was given a challenge and pushed to the limit. Kata and bunkai were studied in depth; Sensei Cummins’ extraordinary knowledge and ability to find numerous interpretations for every single kata made this an invaluable experience for any karateka.

The kumite sessions allowed everybody to try new techniques and to enhance their overall ability. Not only did this course focus on practical issues, but Sensei Cummins also provided background knowledge on a large number of theoretical and historical aspects of Shotokan karate. Sensei Cummins will soon be celebrating 50 years of training.

Few people have done what he has done and during this training weekend, he generously gave participants a unique insight into his training journey. The ethos of the course was to push oneself to the limit, which is what we did. This course was a priceless experience for everybody who took part. Make sure you don’t miss the next one!

A selection of photos from the course can be found on our Flickr album here.

  • Apr 19 / 2013
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Articles, Courses

Special Weapons Course Featuring the Bo, Sai & Nunchaku

 Friday 19th April 2013

Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centre

 

Sensei Cyril Cummin’s continued his kobudo (weapons training) sessions with a course featuring the Bo, Sai and Nunchaku. What follows is a brief summary of that course.

The course started with the bo, as this has featured in a number of courses I felt that I was now coming to grips with the use of the bo and when we revisited the bo kata shushi no kon I now felt reasonably comfortable doing it. This was reflected with the rest of the class who had all participated in some of the previous sessions and it felt more like revision and polishing the techniques rather than trying to remember what came next for the most part.

After the Bo we moved onto the Sai, Sensei Cummins explained the history of the weapon before demonstrating its use. We all then attempted to perform basic techniques with the sai. Personally I found the sai extremely difficult to handle especially when swivelling them and as a result found even performing kihon kata with the sai a challenge.  This seemed to be reflected with most of the class and Sensei Cummins with he help of Sensei Susan Hession slowed down and helped everyone understand how to swivel and manipulate the sai.

After the sai came the nunchaku, again Sensei Cummins explained the history of the weapon and demonstrated a number of ways in which they could be used. Then we all had a go. I found the nunchaku easier to handle than the sai and fear of hitting myself in the face with the wooden nunchaku I was using soon evaporated. Whilst I wont claim to have replicated that famous scene from Enter the Dragon, I was able to swing the nunchaku around myself and swap hands and arms with relative ease.

Finally we partnered up and participated in some basic sparring defending attacks from a bo with the sai and counter attacking. This was interesting and felt far more difficult than using the tonfa in a similar situation to me.

Alas time was up and another very informative kobudo session concluded. I look forward to the next one as everyone else who attended also indicated and hope to practice more with the weapons covered so far.

A selection of photos from the course can be found on our Flickr album here.

Richard Amuzu, 3rd Dan BHSKC.

  • Mar 29 / 2013
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Articles, Courses

Choose a Kata Friday – Jitte

Friday 29th March 2013

Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centre

 

The second of the Choose a Kata Friday nights took place on Friday 29th March with Matt Russell selection Jitte as his chosen kata. This is a preview of the night with a few photos of Matt performing the kata with Matt’s review of the night to follow.

More pictures from this session can be found in our Flickr Album here.

Jitte Bunkai 1 Jitte Bunkai 2
  • Mar 05 / 2013
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Articles

An interview with Sensei Cyril Cummins 2

Interviewed by Steve O’Reilly 2nd Dan

at the Halesowen Dojo on Tuesday 5th March 2013

 

Steve_OReillyOver the years, you have trained thousands of fellow karate ka, visiting many different countries. What do you consider to be your most memorable experience over this time?

“Taking my 5th Dan examination at Crystal Palace under the Japanese Sensei. It was a very very hard grading and I prepared for it all the week by training every day with the Japanese Sensei. So at the end of the week I took the grading and I passed it.”

 

How do you think karate has changed over the years that you have been training and teaching?

“Traditional Karate goes on and on forever and there are many other types of martial arts coming out now like mixed martial arts etc. but traditional karate goes on and on.”

 

What is your favourite Kata to perform and why?

” I don’t have any favourite Kata. All Kata are important and so I practise them all.”
As one of your students, I have always been amazed by your vast knowledge of the history and origins of karate. How did you gain all of this knowledge?

“Research and training. Thinking about it and working out the bunkai etc. A lot of research!!

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