One Way to Practice Karate
The practice method outlined below is mine. It was inspired by a practice method passed down from Sensei Eizo Shimabuku to my Sensei. Sensei has the exact method, the exact elements, in his notes, but please understand that the method presented here is merely an interpretation of my own.
According to Sensei, Sensei Eizo Shimabuku recommended that each kata be practiced seven times, and that each time the student should focus on one of seven elements of execution, such as breathing, stance, eyes, etc. This seemed to me a very wise approach. As everyone who has ever studied karate or taijiquan knows, there is a lot to think about during practice, and that can make practice quite daunting. Concentrating on only one element at a time frees up the mind by focusing practice on getting just one thing right. This time your feet didn't land right, but this time you don't have to worry about it because this time you're working on your breathing. And then later, when you're working on your stance and putting your feet right, you find that your breathing is better and you didn't have to worry about it! It's an excellent system.
The night we were discussing this, Sensei didn't remember the list of elements exactly, but we came up with this: breathing, eyes, stance, form, focus/power, kiai/timing, and integration. My list here is only slightly different. The interpretations of the elements here are mine, based on the principles of karate as I presently understand them.
I have found this method to be beneficial to my practice of karate, and I recommend it to you as a much less stressful way to practice.
Here are the elements:
- Breathing & Kiai
Generally speaking, breathe in on blocks, out on strikes. Keep the breathing as natural as possible. Kiai with your whole being.
Focus the eyes and let them follow the direction of defense or attack (the direction the qi/power flows). Try to expand your field of peripheral vision and extend your senses so that you are aware of everything around you.
Be sure your stances are precise and correct and balanced. Allow the soles of the feet to sink and attach to the ground.
Be precise in each move. Be sure each block, strike, or kick is technically correct. Be loose or tight as appropriate, being aware of how the power for each form is being generated. Practice slowly to be sure your are doing everything right.
Notice the rhythm of the forms in each kata. Be sure each block, strike, kick, and kiai is delivered at preciesly the right moment in relation to the forms before and after.
Imagine your opponent is real. For each application feel the power travel through your body to the precise spot you intend on your imaginary opponent.
Make each form in the kata flow smoothly and connectedly without unevenness or interruption, allowing all the other elements above to manifest naturally. Practice this integration slowly to begin. As you gain in experience, practice faster. Practicing fast will help you determine your weak points. Fast or slow, be sure the pace is kept even.
Practice one element any number of times, or practice one kata seven times. The important thing is to concentrate on only one element each time. Do not worry about any of the other elements; you'll practice each of them in turn, giving each your full attention. In the end, they will all come together.
Domo origato, Sensei Shimabuku. Domo origato, Sensei.
||Eizo Shimabuku* Sensei
Eizo Shimabuku was born on Okinawa in 1925. He studied karate with a number of great Okinawan karate masters including Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, his brother Tatsuo Shimabukoro (who founded Isshin-ryu Karate), Shinken Taira (student of Kentsu Yabu and kobujutsu expert), and Master Choto Kyan.
Because Master Shimabuku maintained the traditions and excellence of Shorin-ryu after Master Kyan's death, Kangen Toyama, President of the All Japan Karatedo League and founder of Shudokan Karate, promoted him to tenth degree Black Belt. Kangen Toyama also appointed Master Shimabuku the chairman of the All Japan Karatedo League, Okinawan Headquarters. Two years later, in 1961, he was awarded the tenth degree Red Belt denoting his status as the head of the Shobayashi Shorin-ryu karate system, the youngest man ever, at the age of 36, to attain this status.
Master Shimabuku has always believed in maintaining the purity of the Art he teaches. Since Shobayashi and Kobayashi Shorin-ryu are the same, in the 1960's he removed his Red Belt and asked Master Chibana of the Kobayashi Shorin-ryu karate system to correct his kata. Through Master Shimabuku the teachings of Master Kyan are kept alive.
* Also Shimabukoro or Shimabukuru
The word is composed of two Japanese words, "ki" meaning "energy," and "ai" meaning "to meet with." "Ki" also means "breath." The kiai is a shout delivered by the karateka (karate practitioner) and is most usually heard when delivering a strike. The combined meaning of the words implies that kiai may be interpreted as a kind of energy that accompanies the strike.
There are two main reasons for using the kiai. One is to frighten, distract, or disconcert, the opponent. The other is to tighten the muscles and empty the breath from the body to prevent injury. This is why kiais are heard both when striking an opponent and when taking a fall. Expulsion of the air from the body prevents ruptures to the lungs and other organs which may be caused by violent expulsion of trapped air during the impact of a fall. A third reason for use is that the kiai focuses the ki, making the strike more powerful.
The kiai should originate from the hara (tantien in Chinese), a spot located two inches below the navel, which is the central storage place of the body's ki, or life energy. (This area is usually referred to as the diaphragm when talking about breath control and sound production.) The effective kiai must originate from the hara, tighten the muscles of the body, expel all the air from the lungs and chest cavity, and be loud and intimidating.
The sound produced in the kiai is composed of two syllables. "Eye-ee", "Ee-eye", and "Aah-sah" are common kiais. The karateka must shout it with conviction, putting as much ki into it as possible. Then, while the opponent is stunned by the kiai, the strike must be made swiftly before the opponent can recover.