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Guest Post: How I Practice Karate

This Guest Post is by my friend, Angel Lemus, of the Zentokukai Okinawa Shorinryu Toude Association. Angel was a writer and editor of Bugeisha, one of the finest Karate journals ever published. He teaches at the Ninchokan Dojo, in Los Angeles, California.

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A recent conversation with another karate-ka got me thinking and I wrote this for it is something I felt is important to share.

"How I Practice Karate"

It is a really difficult task to convey to someone else what internal mental, psychological, and physical processes one has going on inside of them while practicing. I have broken down systematically below an outline of how I approach practicing and what goes on inside my noodle. I hope my "processes" help you think about how you practice (internally and externally) and if anything you can compare your internal learning processes to someone else's. I have found that the old mantra of "Karate is 10% physical and 90% mental" is so true. Over the years I have noted how many of my "revelations" come to me during a time after a training session when I am thinking about what just happened, and other times they are right at the time that I execute a movement, like being hit with a lightning bolt. When I say practicing, I do not refer to mere repetitions of something, to me practice is not the right word, for it is vague at face value, more appropriate words that describe the process of practicing are words like:
a. Observation
b. Analysis
c. Discovery/Revelation
d. Interpretation
e. Adaptation
f. Internalization
I believe that this whole process is done in 2 parts:

PART ONE (what you actually do when you practice).

I have put together a 20 point checklist, Im sure we could think of more, but for our purposes here lets leave it at 20. Take a movement, part of a kihon, or a part of a kata, or even hitting the makiwara, work it like this:

1. Do it slow, break it down.

2. Study the upper quadrant of the body.

3. Isolate and do the the arms/hands.

4. Study the lower quadrant of the body. Isolate the hip joints, knees, ankles, foot, toes.

5. Do the same with the right and left quadrants (hands, legs, shoulders, chest etc.)

6. Focus and observe your stance see how it feels (strong, weak, painful, not sure?)

7. Isolate the large/small joints and work them loosely within the context of the movement you are trying to study. Are you using Gamaku or the region above the waistline?

8. Apply "Koshi" or body dynamics to all parts of the body to enhance the movement.

9. Repeat many times as fast as possible (during each repetition increase the speed each time until you burn out) take what you felt during this exercise during the rep that was the smoothes and fastest and classify it in some way in your brain (i.e- call it speed), then apply this "speed" mechanism from now on, it becomes the standard for when you want to really do things in "REAL TIME".

10. Study the timing of your breath during execution (are they timed, are you actually exhaling or holding breath, are you keeping quiet in your exhale or allowing your body's natural accelerated exhale to make its sound?).

11. Are you rigid? Is your body stiff? Are some parts loose while others stiff? Some need more muscle tone than others, analyze, note and correct.

12. Are your joints loose? Is your skeleton being pulled or pushed as it is being moved throughout space in your movements? It should be mostly pulled not pushed, by the larger joints adjoining the center mass.

13. Are you using natural momentum, inertia, in your movement? Or are you using raw muscle to push things around?

14. Are you using an taking advantage of mother natures gift to us - GRAVITY?

15. Are you applying the universal martial arts principles?

16. Are you aware of the different energies being used in any one movement? Sometimes you can use all of them depending on the movement or only a few, you must be aware of each one, otherwise you may be missing a critical one (i.e.- dropping, bumping, leaning, shifting, rotation, vibrating, shaking etc.)

17. Is your mind wandering off, or is it actively guiding and focusing on the task at hand?

18. Is your mind guiding your Ki (or Chi), towards the current goal, is your INTENTION ahead of the force traveling within the body part (s) you are using?

19. Are you applying KIME or FOCUS past the imaginary target at the time of the imaginary impact (assuming you are doing solo practice in the air)? Without awareness of the concept of "impact" even when you are not really hitting something, it is impossible to practice things like punching, blocking, striking in a way that truly mimics the real thing. In order to know this, you must first be adept at makiwara training so this feeling can be applied to "imaginary impacting". In simpler terms, in order to know what it feels like to hit things, you must hit things. We cannot practice karate in the air all our lives.

20. Finally if you do not feel that you own the movement, if it is not 100% natural to you, like breathing, or walking, then it is not yet internalized. Only when something is internalized will you be able to fully employ it "on demand". If not internalized you must continue to seek through the process (above) towards the goal of internalizing it.

PART TWO will be the next post.

Angel Lemus