Last weekend Oxford Kase Ha Shotokan Ryu Karate‑Do hosted Sensei Velibo Dimitrijevic, 7th Dan, on a wet and blustery weekend in Radley, near Abingdon. It was a whole year since Sensei was in the UK, as he missed the April course in Tewkesbury due to illness, so it was fantastic to see him again and have the opportunity to check our progress, as well as topping up our knowledge.
The weekends was attended by karateka with a range of experience. There were some who have trained in Kase-Ha for 15+ years, and others who are very new to the style. Despite the level of experince it was clear that everyone was progressing well and Sensei Dimitrijevic was pleased with the standard.
One of the major points of the weekend that was really emphasised was warming up from within, rather than the usual external calisthenics. When we begin our exercise, maybe the start of an hour long to two-hour session, we are cold. Working at a desk all day, or, especially at this time of year, outside in the cold means the muscles will also be cold and tight. If we were to begin a session stretching out cold muscles the chance of injury is much higher. Instead we should be using our breath control and muscle contraction to wake the body up. Then it is ready to take on rigorous training.
One new element of this internal warm up was to contract the leg muscles set by set. Beginning with the calf muscles, moving upwards through hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, rotating the pelvis, and finally contracting the lower abdominals (hara). At first we were instructed to isolate each one individually, which was very difficult. The level of control we have over our lower body is so limited, especially when compared with the control we have over our upper body. This fact is brilliantly displayed in the Cortex Man, motor model, in the Natural History Museum. This model sizes parts of the body in representation to how much control we have over them (shown below). As you can see the legs are tiny in comparison to the hands (even the arms are tiny). The mouth, which is also very active and nimble, is also huge.
As we wake up these parts of our body through breathing - misogi, ibuki, and haku - pushing more oxygen through our bodies and stimulating the cells which, along with muscle contractions, generates a lot of heat. You cannot warm up much more internally than from your cells out. Once everyone had been doing this for 10 minutes or so it was clear to see that everyone was more than ready to begin training. No stretching, no jogging on the spot, nothing more than just breathing and tightening a few sets of muscles.
Now the training began. At first it was a lot of familiar movements. Pinning the upper and lower parts of the body together with the pelvis rotated upwards and the hara tight and moving the body, making sure to rotate from the hips, not moving the leg and then following with the body.
Although it may sound strange the physical contents of the training were really not the important part. What really matters is the internal development. Rooting, hara control, breathing. These are what Kase-Ha is really all about. Stemming from what was said above about waking the body up with breathing and contraction this then permeates every part of our karate.
For a lot of the newer karatekas the realisation of how powerful this can be when combined with karate techniques was apparent. The quality of movement, punching, kicking, stability, speed, and power rose steadily across the weekend. There is so much to write about that I don't think I have enough time in this little post, but if your appetite is whetted then there is another course with sensei in April with us in Tewkesbury. Come along and give it a try.
A last note of congratulations to Sensei Norman Gomersall and Sensei Dave Evans who were promoted to 5th dan and 3rd dan respectively. Well done to you both, very well deserved.