Yoga & Karate

By Susan Elrod

My first time teaching yoga was to Sensei Hofmeister’s karate students.  This was years before I started training in karate myself, and I assumed the students would find my curriculum unchallenging and even boring.  Thirty minutes into class, these extremely capable martial artists where puffing, sweating and in serious need of a break.

Once I started training in Yoshukai myself, I was surprised at how much my yoga practice had prepared me for traditional karate.  As I continued teaching yoga in our dojo, I began to select particular poses and stretches that I found to be especially helpful to karate training.  The series of posts below are some of those poses, grouped by the karate techniques I find they best correspond to.

Yoga for Beginner/Intermediate Kicks

Yoga for Intermediate/Advanced Kicks

Yoga for Stances

Yoga for Hip Stretches

Yoga Philosophy and Yoshukai

A couple things to remember if you decide to try these poses for yourself: 1. If anything you try causes sharp pain, especially in the joints, stop.  Every body is different, and some of these poses might not be helpful for you.  2. These poses are by no means comprehensive.  If you’re interested in trying yoga on your own, you’ll find almost all yoga practices develop the strength, flexibility, and body control that are beneficial to martial arts.  Finally, if you have any questions or want any more information, please feel free to contact me through the athensy.com website or find me at our next Yoshukai event.  Osu and namaste!

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Continued Improvement

By Megan Lyn PowellMegan Powell with Soke Yamamoto

I began taking karate classes in the Fall of 2012 in the Tate Student Center at UGA. I had never been an athletic person, so this was all new to me. I was there to learn a few things, have some fun and workout. Mostly I just wanted to have fun!

Right away I learned some need-to-know basics such as punches, blocks and kicks. When it came time to learn inside and outside center blocks, one word described me: uncoordinated. Just when I thought I did it correctly and tried to replicate it, something would go awry. Sensei Dawkins was patient. It took me about two or three weeks of classes to finally get the hang of the blocks, but I finally conquered them!

Fast forward a few weeks and I was learning kata (Nijushichi No Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan). We had class twice per week and I wanted to practice more. One of the topics discussed during warm up was practicing on your own. Sensei Dawkins emphasized how useful it was to practice more. My thought at the time was, “…but I don’t want to mess up and learn it the wrong way.”

Athens Tournament with MLPSoon enough I began practicing in my apartment. I cannot say I always did my kata correctly. I am quite sure there were times when I messed up the order of the blocks in Nijushichi. Or I probably had my feet in the wrong position in Kihon Kata Shodan. The most important thing was just that I was doing it for myself.

Slowly but surely I began to notice that karate was helping me. I soon noticed that I could perform the correct block, punch, or kick the majority of the time. The most important lesson I have learned is Continued Improvement. What does it really mean?

Continued improvement is a common thread that is tied to almost every aspect, if not all, in the WYKKO. In testing to 4th kyu we learn that Yoshukai really has two meanings (Strive for Excellence and Association of Continued Improvement). We all have some aspect of Yoshukai that we strive to improve. We want our kata to look sharp, our fighting to be top-notch, etc. We may aim for a stronger mae geri, becoming more efficient with nunchuka/sai, and so forth. This gives us that drive to want to improve. There is always a technique or kata that we can become better at executing, or teaching to other students. This is what helps us to continually improve and grow as martial artists. It also can impact other facets of our lives. School, work, parenthood, working out, etc. are just a few examples where we can always aim for continued improvement. Taking what we learn from martial arts and applying it to everyday life helps us as human beings to constantly progress.

Continued improvement really just means to always aim to be better than you were yesterday or the day before. Whether this be in the form of martial arts or not, it is an important lesson that we can all learn.

Rikki Hitatsu!

Athens Yoshukai Karate - MLP Brown Belt

Working Out on the Go

By Hali Serrian

There are times in every martial artist’s life when they can’t be at the dojo. Maybe you’re Athens Yoshukai Exerciseon vacation, interviewing for a job in another state, or just away for whatever reason. You can still practice karate, even in a hotel room! And it’s good to keep up your practice so when you return you’ll be able to jump back in right where you left off. In this post, I’ll be focusing on some exercises you can do in a hotel room, or anywhere there’s not as much space as we have in the dojo.

Kata

You can run forms in a small space, it just takes creativity and a bit of flexibility. Try to find the most open space you can and get started. Once you reach a wall (if you’re doing the I-Forms this will probably happen somewhere going up or down the “I”), just scoot back a couple steps and keep going. It can be a bit weird at first, but you’re still getting practice for the form in.

Kicks

Kicks are fairly easy to practice on the go because they don’t take up much space. The same applies for punches and blocks. If you’re looking for a different way to work on yourhttps://i1.wp.com/amkorkarate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Aston-Wall-Kicks.jpg kicks, try the exercise where you hold one hand on a wall, chamber for your kick, and extend out and in without putting your foot down 10 times. Then on the last extension, hold your leg out for a 10-count. This can be quite a workout, and it helps you with your kicking form without having to worry about balance.

 

Balance

You can work on balance while you’re away, like the drills that you do while practicing at home. Stand on one leg (Ippon Ashi Dachi) while you watch T.V., brush your teeth, or talk on the phone. For a tougher version, try moving your leg up and down, side to side, or in a circle, all while keeping the 90 degree bend in your knee. Then try straightening the leg without setting it down. Lean forward and backward on one leg, and then shift your weight side to side. If it gets too tough, focus your gaze on one spot. If it gets to easy, let your gaze wander or close your eyes completely.

Calisthenics

If you don’t feel like working karate specifically, you can simply do some basic exercises, most of which don’t take up a lot of room. Pushups, bodyweight squats, lunges, crunches, dead cockroaches, jumping jacks, shadow boxing; the possibilities are endless. Anything that gets your heart pumping and your blood moving can help you in your martial arts training.

There is plenty to do for your training even when you’re not in the dojo. Keeping up your practice is what helps you continue along a steady path even if you can’t always have steady attendance.

Body Conditioning: Toughening Up

Body conditioning is a part of traditional Okinawan karate. Body https://i1.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/RZjQ1WOTUBA/hqdefault.jpgconditioning is the practice of taking hits to the body or hitting something fairly tough in order to strengthen one’s ability to “take a hit”. It is supposed to make the body stronger, but often it’s mostly the fighter getting used to being hit. When fighting, blows don’t hurt as much because they’re used to it through body conditioning.

In our dojo, we typically introduce the idea of body conditioning around blue belt. We might have blue belts work their targeting by punching their partner in the stomach instead of a pad. Both partners would alternate. Obviously, we wouldn’t be using our hardest punches right off the bat. As with any new exercise, we start slow and easy and work our way up.

My first experience with body conditioning was with me acting as the conditioner to some black belts. They were working conditioning by being punched in the stomach by yellow belts. We yellow belts were working on being able to hit people with some actual force.

https://i1.wp.com/iainabernethy.com/articles/images/makiwaralk-1.jpgIn Okinawan tradition, makiwara, or punching boards, are used to toughen up striking surfaces. These are exactly what they sound like: boards that you hit in order to toughen up. Trees and poles are acceptable makiwara substitutes.

Working with our heavy bag is akin to working with a makiwara. It’s tough against the hands, and can hurt the wrists if you aren’t punching properly. Proper technique is absolutely necessary before you attempt to condition that body part.

Body conditioning sounds a bit scary and intimidating as a concept when you’re a white belt, and even when you’re a blue belt. But body conditioning is built into training. Sparring is a form of body conditioning. The more you punch, the tougher you’ll get, even if you’re not consciously focusing on it. However, focusing on body conditioning helps it get that much better.

Fighting

By Dala Griffeth

I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar!

Any time I tell someone for the first time that I practice karate, they always start talking about how I must be able to beat people up, or I must love to fight. The truth is that while we all know fighting is part of our traditional training, it is not who we are. I believe sparring as well as kumite to be incredibly valuable in martial arts training to help develop the reflexes, strength and stamina necessary to practice our art at the highest level. However, your attitude and intentions regarding this training and its use are equally, if not more important.

Through my years training with the WYKKO, I have met and fought some incredible fighters, and I have learned something from every single one. And while many of these incredibly talented individuals spend a majority of their training time developing their fighting skills, there is not one of them that I would consider violent. This is something that I love about training with the WYKKO, and particularly Athens Yoshukai. We, as martial artists, understand that we are participating in a combative, contact sport, but I feel that we emphasize the sport aspect more than the combat. We never go into the ring attempting to injure our opponent, or hoping to cause any lasting damage. We instead focus on improving our own skills and fitness levels, as well as helping our training partners improve themselves and develop new skills. As a result, we build an incredibly tight network of, not just training partners or teachers and students, but true friends.

My personal philosophy regarding fighting and sparring can be summed up pretty simply by the title of this post: I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! When I think of fighting, I think of a situation where there are no rules, and I am in a struggle to protect myself or my loved ones from an opponent that wants to cause real harm. And while we practice full contact kumite, there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of participants. And that, I think, is the big difference, the intent. In a real-life situation, I would do whatever is necessary to protect myself or my loved ones. But in general, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to improve myself. So please, to anyone out there who wants to teach me something, or would like to learn from my experience, I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! Osu!

Too Much Karate? Avoiding Burnout

By Hali Serrian

Those of us who are training martial arts have—to a greater or lesser Karate Burnoutdegree—been bitten by the martial arts bug. For some of us, this means enthusiastically coming to class once a week and moving along at a nice steady pace toward rank goals. For others it might mean three classes a week.  For those at the more intensive end of the scale, this can mean 8+ hours of martial arts a week, in multiple styles, ranking in each style. Whatever your martial arts fever, given enough time you run the risk of becoming burnt out.  Here are some of the ways to recognize if you are becoming burned out and how to keep something you love from becoming something you grow to resent.

If someone is close to burning out, they might feel tired, apathetic, annoyed or uninterested in the activity. In the case of karate, you might be tired every time class rolls around, or you might not want to go. You might even be annoyed that you “have to” go to class.  You might be uninterested in your material. If one or all of these feelings are present, recognize that you might be on the verge of burnout.

In order to keep burnout from taking you out of martial arts, take the following steps:

  1. Take a step back: Remind yourself why you started martial arts in the first place. For fitness? For fun? To achieve black belt? Why are you here?  Repurpose your goals if they have changed over time.  Create new goals!
  1. Be honest with your goals and how hard you want to work. If you only want to commit to one class a week, that’s OK. It means you won’t advance as quickly through the ranks.  If you want to make excellent time moving up the ranks and you want to be an excellent teacher, then you have to come to at least two and probably three classes a week. Be prepared and know what your path means for your development.
  1. Talk to someone. Be it a higher rank, one of the instructors, or someone in your rank group, let somebody know that you’re not feeling as excited right now. Ask them for help, or just let them know to keep an eye out for you since you don’t want to drop off the map.
  1. Come to class, and have fun! Remember, you definitely enjoyed martial arts. Get back to that starting point. Simplify your reasons for being here, and everything else can sort itself out.

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Teaching Tips

At the end of August, Master Ken Blumreich and I put on a Certified Instructor Training course for AKF Athens, Athens Yoshukai, Clarke County Yoshukai- really any martial artist who wanted to improve their teaching.  I’ve been a part of this course about 6 times now over the years, and I continue to get something positive out of each and every time I participate.  This year, I was reminded of a few good teaching techniques- PIP, DDD, planning, timing, and warm-up pacing.

The first actual teaching technique I ever learned from participating in the CIT was PIP.  It stands for Praise, Improve, Praise.  The principle is you are providing feedback, which is essential to student learning.  The first piece of feedback is something the student is doing well.  The second piece of feedback is something for the student to improve.  The key to each of these pieces of feedback is they need to be specific.  A positive feedback of “Good!” is not useful to the student.  “Good foot position” is more helpful.  “Now keep your guard up,” is a good piece of feedback for improvement.  The final piece of positive feedback is given once the student incorporates the feedback and makes the improvement.  “Good job keeping that guard up!”  It an extremely simple but highly effective way to give feedback, and is one of my core teaching strategies.

Demonstrate, Detail, Drill (triple D, or DDD) is a recent addition to my repertoire.  The principle is you show the student the technique, provide some details about the technique, and then give them opportunities to practice it.  For psychomotor skills, the more time students have to drill, the better they get at it.  It’s a good tip to give new teachers, as they often want to talk techniques to death before showing them or letting the students try themselves.  This tip helps to keep newer instructors on task.

Throughout any level of teacher education and preparation, professors tell you to plan.  Overplan.  You can never do too much planning.  It’s easy to get complacent, as an experienced instructor, and just make up lesson plans on the fly.  That works fine, and I’ve been doing it for years.  On those days that I do plan ahead, I find classes run much more smoothly and efficiently.  Whenever I can, I try to plan what I’m going to work on that day during class.  It may change based on which students come to class, but having some framework makes the lesson better.

Timing is one of my weaknesses as a teacher and, more importantly, I am starting to see that same weakness in the students I have taught.  Good time management is important so that students and teachers don’t get burned out, everyone has an optimum opportunity to learn, and everyone can count on class starting and ending on time.  Good planning will help ensure good time management.  One area I am working on is telling instructors how much time they have when the group splits up.  This allows them to budget their own time effectively.  It’s a work in progress.

The pacing of warm-ups- especially intense cardio or strength-training exercises- is always an important consideration.  This is particularly true in a class of mixed strength and physical abilities.  Doing exercises to a certain number (everyone do 20 pushups) may be too easy for highly athletic students and too hard for others.  One solution is to do exercises based on time. For example, however long it takes the _instructor_ to do 20 pushups is how long the class does push-ups.  This allows students to go at their own pace- stronger students will do more than 20 and weaker students will do less.  Another option is to pace to the fastest student- whenever the first person finishes the count, everyone is done.  Regardless of method, making sure that each student gets an warm-up that is challenging to them is good.

I have been teaching martial arts for more than 20 years, 12 years of that as a head instructor.  I’ve been teaching swing dancing for 12 years and veterinary anesthesiology for 14 years.  Even with all that teaching experience, I still learn about teaching and continue to try and improve my knowledge.  In studies of experts (such as expert coaches), one characteristic is consistent- they have a thirst for knowledge of how to do things better.  You keep coming to class to get better with your martial arts.  How’s your teaching?