On Saturday 8th January 2022, Sugasawa Sensei led the traditional New Year training with the Shikukai club instructors in the dojo, marking the first opportunity for face-to-face training since the usual schedule was rudely interrupted by the Covid pandemic. For me personally it was a privilege to host the session and a sheer joy to be training with Sensei and the instructors again. The session was also the first hybrid instructors training session with a further 24+ people joining via video link from their own dojos or homes.
The session began with some words from Sensei explaining that we cannot be ruled by coronavirus and that we need to find a way around the predicament. He also explained that this session was an opportunity for some intensive training to kick-start the New Year.
After some gentle warmup stretches from Pam Rawson Sensei, we moved on to sonoba-waza with a variety of hand forms, and then Unsoku, or Ashi-sabaki practice (stepping or moving forward with different foot movements.) Despite the way the practice is named, it became clear that this is about generating momentum and range of movement from a stand-still position while keeping your Sei-chu-sen intact and protected, regardless of which stepping pattern is being practised. The level of success being achieved soon became apparent when striking techniques were added. The first hour was rounded off nicely with an increasingly vigorous kicking drill from Pam Sensei, built on Tsugi-ashi and requiring different preparation of the hips for each kick.
Tim Shaw Sensei then led the practice with a look at how certain aspects of Kihon Kata evolve into Pinan Nidan. In particular he explained how dropping energy is introduced in the first movement of Pinan Nidan (something that would come up again later), and the way each half of the body is utilised in equal measure in executing Jun-no-koshi. The points Tim Sensei drew out, illustrated how even a simple kata contains endless fine details that can improve our practice.
We then moved on to some pair work drills (with actual partners to practice with!) practising Nagasu movements, utilising Jun-no-koshi and Gyaku-no-koshi, against the same Gyakuzuki chudan attack.
Steve Rawson Sensei then led the final section of the day’s training, returning to kata with a detailed breakdown of Seishan movements. He explained how creating tension in the Tanden stabilises the body, whereas excessive tension in the arms leads to unwanted shaking. The switching between tensed and relaxed states is an obvious feature of the first (slow) section of the kata, but Sensei explained that a similar principle is used in the Age-waza section, where the body goes into full stretch to make a high-rising technique and then relaxes and contracts to add energy to the following dropping action, enabling the body rather than the arm to add energy to Ura-uchi. The same principle was in fact practised earlier in the opening movement of Pinan Nidan!
Steve Sensei’s session closed with some Ura-no-kumite and Kumite-kata drills, where he observed that the former are simply building blocks that can be combined into more elaborate forms as found in Kumite-kata and Kihon Gumite. It was interesting to make some connections between Seishan and these pairwork drills, the most obvious being the concentration of energy in the Tanden to stabilise the defensive postures. Seishan dachi also featured in the practised Kumite-kata, as did the stretching-contracting principle (again) and even the arm shape practised in the opening section of Seishan is found to be the strong option for the first movement of the Kumite-kata.
By now we had gone over time. I don’t think anyone minded and we could easily have continued for another hour. It was so refreshing to be training together again. Now looking forward to the Winter Course…
Richard Barham 6th Dan.