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Discussing all things martial arts related!

5 Reasons Why Your Karate is Terrible (and how to fix it)

Have you ever wondered if your Karate is any good?  Well, firstly I commend you for asking this of yourself.  To get the answer, you really need to be honest with yourself.  You need to critically analyze your Karate training routine and give yourself the feedback required.  It can be a tough pill to swallow; many who practice Karate are not as ‘good’ as they think they are.  But how do you know?  What sorts of behaviors lead to poor Karate?  Below we touch on 5 important points.  Remember, the purpose of this article is not to cut you down.  It’s to help you critically analyze your training and make adjustments if necessary.  If you’re too sensitive to take critical feedback, then it’s simple – don’t read this article.

  1. Lack of serious training.  Do you go to the Dojo 2 or 3 times per week?  Do each of those sessions last about 90 minutes or so?  Well guess what – your training routine is amateur and you’ll never progress to the level that you want.  Professional fighters train every day.  EVERY SINGLE DAY.  And when they train, they don’t just go to the Dojo and train aimlessly.  They have a specific plan and they follow it.  They have specific goals and they work to achieve them. If you’re going to the Dojo a couple time per week – your karate is not as good as it can be.  Good Karate (just like anything else) requires tons of practice and training.  If you’re not willing to make the sacrifice, then your Karate will always be amateur.  If this is your goal then okay.  There’s nothing wrong with training just for fun and never really being great.  However,   if you’d rather pull up your socks and get better – then keep reading.

2. Your instructor is terrible.  Karate has to be one of the only activities I know where basically anyone can  pretend to be a “expert”.  You just need to buy a black belt.  Why is this the case?  Well, there are several reasons but if I may be blunt, perhaps one of the main reasons is because ultimately, the only way to really PROOVE your karate is any good, is to fight another person (preferably someone else who trains) and beat them.  Then fight another person… and beat them too.  We can safely assume that the more people you beat – the ‘better’ you are.  Now I know I’m taking a slightly skewed perspective here, because Karate is not all about fighting.  There is the “art” part of Martial arts.  But let’s boil this down to its most common denominator – the preface for the very invention of Karate was because Okinawans wanted to be able to defend themselves against armed opponents.  The ‘art’ aspect of it merely incorporated many of their pre-existing cultural behaviours into the practice of Karate.  Not the other way around.  Anyways, where was I?  Oh ya, your instructor (unless they are a recognized MMA fighter or has some other qualitative and verifiable reference including who trained them) has likely never had to prove that their Karate is any good.  So, what are we left with?  Scores of instructors who can TALK about what good Karate is – but very few instructors who are actually good at Karate.  THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS!  I’m generalizing here folks – and this logic does not apply to EVERY SINGLE Sensei.  I’m merely pointing out that the vast majority of instructors (and there are literally tens of thousands of them), don’t know what they are talking about.

3. You don’t exercise.  Karate has developed this weird characteristic where-by many people who practice it have come to believe that practicing Karate in itself represents a complete and effective exercise tool.  WRONG!  My God, this is so wrong.  Actually, it’s completely the opposite.  Your karate will only be as good as your physical conditioning.  And you can only condition your physicality by exercising – in addition to your karate training.  People are always looking for shortcuts.  There are not shortcuts.  Do you want to be better at Karate?  You need to go to the gym, ride your bike (hard) for cardio, lift rocks, squat your refrigerator – do whatever it is you need to do to build strength (a.k.a muscle) and develop your cardiovascular system.  You will not be able to do these things by just going to the Dojo a couple times a week.  Honestly, if you want to really make good Karate a priority, then stop being lazy and get your butt to the gym.

4. The training you do focuses on the wrong things. This is a HUGE problem.  Not just with Karate but with many other activities like golf, weight lifting, running, skiing, etc., etc., etc.  If your Karate is lacking – you’re probably focusing on the wrong things (by the way, this could very well be your Sensei’s fault.  See Point #2).  Being able to fight is about developing amazing body dynamics (at least, more amazing than your opponent.. hopefully).  All too often, lack-luster Karate instructors spend all of their time focusing their students on the wrong things.  It’s difficult to write a quick reference guide to this element – because I could write an entire book but here are some of the wrong things:

  • Endlessly drilling out Kata
  • Endlessly drilling out basics
  • Compulsion around hand and feet positions (e.g., 45 degrees instead of 50 degrees, etc.)
  • Too much time dedicated to wrist locks and other ‘defensive’ techniques.  If you’re an instructor reading this – don’t get bent out of shape.  Of course there is some element of this – however for the context of this article, it should be a minimal amount.
  • Bonkai.  Totally useless.  Fun?  Maybe.  Effective? No.

Writing this article (specifically this point) it’s clear I need to write an article on what IS proper training.  I’ll have to begin putting some points together.  But you can start here: O’Brien Sensei: The Feeling Of No Cap or here: Pennell Sensei: Rohai Kata or here: Hotton Sensei: Inside Breathing

5. You diet and/or lifestyle is horrible.  Honestly, this is something that EVERYONE can improve on.  Generally speaking, the “North American” diet is the Worst. Diet. Period.  Once again, I can probably write a rather lengthy article on this subject, but for now let’s keep the following things in mind.  You likely eat:

  • Too much refined sugar
  • Not enough protein
  • Not enough vegetables
  • Not enough fruit
  • Not enough water (drink)
  • Too much processed/refined food

There are tons of resources online about proper diets – and opinions vary greatly.  It takes time to figure out what works right for you.  No pre-arranged diet is perfect for you.  If I could give some advise – Start researching a balanced diet.  A diet that consists of ample protein.  A diet that consists of ample minerals and vitamins from fruits and vegetables.  Then – use that diet for a while and adjust it to suit your needs.  Lastly, drink water.  In fact, I challenge you to only drink water for 1 month and see what happens.  You’ll almost definitely loose weight.  Especially if you generally drink lots of juice and soda-pop.  Yes – orange juice is horrible.  Eliminate it from your diet right away.

I sometimes get some critical feedback about my articles.  I certainly don’t mind.  It means people are reading them!  People sometimes say my point of view is so black and white.  Firstly, I couldn’t agree more.  I tend to look at something as either right or wrong.  The whole ‘grey-area’ concept does not sit well with me.  In my opinion, the ‘grey-area’ exists because people can’t make decisions.

Happy Training!

Sensei Pennell

“…I expect my students to fail.” – Pennell Sensei

Failure.  It’s a part of life.  Athletes fail in spectacular fashion.  And quite often their failure is shared with hundreds, if not thousands of spectators.  Sure – it hurts.  The humiliation of it all; exposing one’s self to the bitter reality of failure.  It can affect your career.  It can affect your personal relationships and indeed, it can have an effect on your perception of the world – sometimes, in a negative way.

No one wants to be hurt – obviously.  However, I think (and perhaps many of you have had the same thought) that failure really does build character.  Sure – perhaps we’ve all heard our grandparents talk about this mystical quality of failure.  “When you fall down, brush yourself off and get back up again!”  Now, Call your grandparents old fashioned, but I think they have grown to appreciate the lessons learned from failure.  Maybe they have seen the long-term effects of failure and have grown to appreciate how it can mold an individual.

Not to jump all over the ‘helicopter parent’ or anything – but I’ve seen first hand how fear of failure – or more specifically, fear of our children’s failure, has caused many parents to turn into overbearing watchdogs who are quick to fight their kid’s fight on their behalf.  I get it, you love your kid.  I appreciate and respect the love you have for your children.  But perhaps – in the right circumstances, a taste of tough love is appropriate.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “what the heck does this have to do with Karate?”  Well, a lot actually.  I feel like in the last 20-25 years what could once be considered a healthy supply of traditional karate dojos have turned into these hyper-safe playpens that cater to the constant worry and interference of all!

The ‘helicopter parent’, I see it all the time: Parents who try to tell Karate teachers when their kid is ready to grade.  Teachers who only test a student, “when they are ready”, parents who berate instructors who discipline their child – the list goes on.  Now, am I saying that the institution of Karate should be immune to discipline when teachers get out of line?  No – that would be silly.  If a Karate instructor crosses the line, he/she must answer for it.  But, for a moment, try to be bi-partisan and listen to what I’m trying to say.  Karate teaches us valuable lessons.  It’s meant to build character, teach focus, etc., etc., etc.  However in today’s world where many live under the “fear of liability”, where at any moment a wayward parent is “always right” when they stomp their feet and throw their own temper tantrum – it can be very difficult to teach the life skills that Karate can offer.

“In my Dojo, students are not immune to failure.  I expect my students to fail.”

More importantly however, I expect them to learn and grow from the experience.  I expect them to learn from it the same way I do.  Failure builds character.  Period.  Only when we subject ourselves to the possibly of failure, can we hope to learn from it.

Life is not always going to be a cake walk.  It seems silly to say it – you’re probably thinking, “ahh – duh! Of course it’s not.”  Well our kids need to learn to experience failure without being molded into believing that mom and dad are always going to be there to save them.  Because whether parents are ready to believe it or not – their child is going to face difficult decisions in their life and you’re not always going to be around to tell them what to do – so the sooner they can forge a strong character, the sooner they will be able to deal with all the curve balls that life will throw at them.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill.

Happy Training

Pennell Sensei.

Eihachi OTA Seminar May 2017

Hi Folks!

I wanted to post a few pictures May’s Ota Seminar in Orillia.  Thanks again to Campbell Sensei for hosting.  It was a great workout!

Sharpen Your Tools

Carpenters, mechanics and other tradespeople all have their own tools of which they rely on to get the job done. Maintaining and sharpening their tools assures that when the time comes to use whatever it is that they need, they have confidence in that tool’s ability to work as desired.

As karateka, the obvious tools at our disposal are namely our hands and feet used to strike and/or block.

Hands are very versatile tools in that we can form fists, half fists, spear hands, knife edge hand, palm heel, etc., etc.

Conversely, our feet are tools that may deliver strikes with ball of foot, toe kicks, shins, foot edge, heel, insteps etc., as well as further up, the knees.

These are the more obvious tools that we have to use. We could delve into more weapons within our bodies but to be brief, we’ll use these examples for now.
Having recognized that we too, must maintain our tools, we must also sharpen these tools so that when called upon, we may rely on them to achieve a desired result (defending ourselves.)

Maintaining and sharpening our tools require training on the makiwara with various hand and foot strikes and hitting the heavy bag with both. When we practice with a partner striking, blocking and flowing within each other’s actions we can hone our distance and proximity skills, along with the sensitivity required and thereby, sharpen these tools, also.

We must always explore the various strike and block permutations of our bodies weapons looking at shapes and tool configurations to achieve desired results. Be aware of what is useful under the circumstances presented and recognize the appropriate tool useful to us.
Practicing kata, reinforces our patterns, develops our form and timing as well as allows us to use those tools of ours. We mustn’t be content with just blocking and striking empty air with these tools, we must also be able to actually develop our ‘tool’ confidence for real by striking, blocking and kicking something!

Honing those tools, also involves doing various strength exercises and working on stretch flexibility. All of this tool maintenance, combines to give us the confidence required to make us effective karateka.

Recognize and develop your own weapons/tools so that they are always available.

Most of us have 3 – 5 favourite go-to techniques that we rely on. Make sure we always have those techniques backed up by our sharpened tools.

Yours in the arts,

Gary Christensen