El Karate tiene a su Roger Federer

¿Qué necesita hacer un deportista para que sea catalogado una leyenda?  Podemos estar de acuerdo que necesita ganar muchos trofeos individuales, ganar campeonatos mundiales o su equivalente, tener un dominio sobre la disciplina en un tiempo determinado y por supuesto,  dejar una profunda huella en el deporte que desempeña.

Si hacemos una analogía con el tenis, el nombre se ubica fácilmente: Roger Federer. Este señor tiene desde el año 2003 entre los primeros 3 del ranking mundial, ha ganado un record de 20 Grand Slams, Oro Olímpico, y con sus 37 años sigue activo siendo un ejemplo dentro y fuera de la cancha. Actualmente es el número 3 del mundo y es considerado una leyenda en vida.

En el caso del Karate como arte marcial y deporte, tenemos la fortuna de ver, no a uno sino, a dos atletas cuya trayectoria deportiva ilusiona a miles de karatekas y cuya carrera tiene semejanzas importantes con la del mencionado tenista. Sus nombres son Rafael Aghayev de Azerbaiyán competidor de la modalidad de Kumite, y Antonio Díaz de Venezuela competidor de la modalidad de Kata.

 

En el recién celebrado Campeonato Mundial de Karate en Madrid, el último Campeonato Mundial previo a las Olimpiadas en Tokio 2020, se pudo ver la evolución del nivel deportivo del Karate, el incremento de las exigencias físicas y técnicas, y entre otras cosas, la aparición de una nueva generación que viene a desafiar cualquier tipo de límites. Es en este escenario donde precisamente estos 2 karatekas se destacaron, ambos llegaron a la semifinal de su categoría y el mensaje que le enviaron al resto fue claro: su nombre pesa en el tatami.

Aghayev en resumen es 5 veces Campeón Mundial y 11 veces Campeón Europeo en la categoría de -75Kgs, desde el año 2004 ha sido el peleador más determinante en un tatami internacional y es probablemente el gran responsable de popularizar las técnicas de evasión y proyección que son tan comunes hoy en día. Es este mismo Aghayev que con sus 33 años y siendo uno de los competidores más “viejo” en la modalidad de Kumite, no deja de impresionar con sus acciones, su estrategia, su enfoque de cada combate, pero sobre todas las cosas son su dominio de la pelea.

En el caso de Antonio Díaz ocurrió algo similar. Desde el año 2002 logró quedar en el pódium en los Campeonatos Mundiales en 8 ocasiones consecutivas (record para cualquier categoría) , en 2 de esas 8 ocasiones logró la medalla de Oro, y en el caso continental tiene un record sin precedentes de 16 medallas de Oro. Antonio con sus 38 años, y también siendo uno de los mayores en su categoría, impuso la calidad de su técnica sobre una tendencia más física del ejecutante de Kata moderno, y ejecutó una planificación cuasi perfecta de su estrategia de Kata ante cada competidor.

 

 El reinvento

Cuando afirmo que Aghayev y Antonio Díaz son los Roger Federer del Karate, no es solamente por lo anteriormente mencionado, sino porque ambos lo están haciendo a una edad cuando, según estándares tradicionales, deberían estar retirados. Y si lo están haciendo es porque supieron reinventarse.

Un reinvento de tal magnitud representa un grado de madurez, de entendimiento del arte marcial, de estrategia, poco antes visto.

Federer cambio su juego para mantenerse en el tope, economiza esfuerzos y ajusta su estrategia en cada pelota. Cuando todos los daban por perdido, teniendo casi 5 años sin ganar un Grand Slam, respondió ganando Wimbledon y el Abierto de Australia. Aghayev y Díaz estuvieron rozando el retiro, pero la inclusión de Karate como deporte Olimpico los motivó a hacer este último esfuerzo. ¿Pero quien los culpa?

Aghayev cambió su pelea y ahora es mucho más efectivo que antes. En promedio gana las peleas por 1-2 puntos, ejecuta menos acciones, pero su experiencia hace que sea un peleador muy incómodo para sus contrincantes. Perfeccionó el manejo de la distancia y sigue teniendo un repertorio de ataques envidiable. Antonio desde el Mundial de Linz de 2016 cambio su nutrición, depuró aun más su técnica y ha sabido llevar su cuerpo a los límites para alcanzar esa explosión que es vital en el Kata. Ambos además son competidores selectivos, escogen muy bien en cuales torneos participar y trabajan muy bien todo lo referente a su imagen.

 

Sí, el tiempo no pasa en vano. En ambos competidores hay rasgos de la edad que tienen. Pero su hoy sigue siendo infinitamente mejor que el de la gran mayoría de los competidores en su categoría. Para llegar a Tokio 2020 no basta con tener buena técnica y buen físico, se necesita ganar y sumar puntos. Se necesita tener buena relación con la Federación del país, tener una buena imagen pública y por supuesto unos patrocinadores de lujo. Estos señores cuentan con esto.

Así como los enfrentamientos no se merecen sino que se ganan, para estar en la selecta lista de 10 competidores por categoría que harán historia en el Budokan de Tokio, se necesita planificación y estrategia, ambas enfocadas en cómo ganar y sumar puntos. La viva legenda de estos competidores, el respeto y reconocimiento tanto de colegas como de árbitros, y una terquedad absoluta de formar parte de la historia, hace que las probabilidades de que cumplan ese sueño sea mucho más alta que el resto.

Pero, lleguen o no a Tokio, ganen o pierdan, la historia de estos dos competidores inspira y motiva a miles de personas, invita a luchar para cumplir un sueño, y eso, vale mucho más que cualquier medalla de Oro.

Karate Olympian

Karate is making its debut on the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and the qualifying process has just begun. Many athletes are still not so clear on how the qualification system approved by the World Karate Federation and the Olympic Committee works, however the bottom line is very simple: there are 4 male divisions and 4 female divisions, and 10 competitors will participate in each one. That means that only 80 Karatekas will actually participate in Tokyo.

Now the million-dollar question is, how do you actually get there? Very simple, you need to win many events and aim to be top 10 in your division for a long long time. That means that you need to stay way up there in the ranking for almost two years.

 

To dominate any given sport for that period of time is a huge challenge and is easier said than done. But it CAN be done. It requires about 6-8 hours training sessions, a strict sports nutrition, a lot of sacrifice, paramount discipline, a bit of luck, and again a lot of sacrifice. Want examples of these type of athletes? I´m talking about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, LeBron James, Tom Brady or in Karate Rafael Aghayev in Kumite and Antonio Diaz in Kata.

 

If any athlete is dreaming of going to the Olympics he/she has to put in some serious training and also some serious planning.  I truly believe that in order for an athlete to win systematically they need a strong strategy and a holistic view of what is at stake. If they fail to see the big picture, chances are they are not going to make it.

 

Here I´m going to share a first approach on how to tackle the big picture.

 

Technique: this is the main platter. All around the world there are different methods of training for both Kata and Kumite. Which is the best one? Is it the Japanese, the Turkish, the Iranian? The best one is the one that gives the best results, and since there are many strong countries in both disciplines, is hard to pick just one. But for the athlete, what´s important is to understand the duration and purpose of each cycle. What`s the objective of that week´s training? The technique training divides itself in three parts: technical, tactical and situational. Each part should be trained with the volume of minutes according to each phase of the cycle.

Conditioning:elite level Karate competition requires a strong athleticism, especially with the new rules. Speed, power, balance, stamina, just to name a few, are being judged both in kata and kumite. Hence the athlete must train very intelligent and adjust the conditioning training for karate. Let me be more specific. An elite level competitor does not need to run 10 miles, swim 2.000 metres, or squat 400 pounds, what they do need is to be as explosive as possible in a very short period of time and then recover even faster. I believe that Hiit (high intensity interval) training is the type of training that will bring the best benefits. This is the type of conditioning that many MMA fighters use.

 

Judges:in karate this has always been a very debatable and sensitive subject. But if we are to speak freely, then we must say it, a karate judge favors many times the athlete that is well known, the local athlete, the Japanese competitor, or even the athlete that they personally know. I am not making this up, I´ve seen this in many top-level competitions and have been both victim and witness of this type of decisions. Of course, this is not always the case, but it happens. So, given that it does happen, then the athlete and the country´s federation must act accordingly. A competitor must be an example on the tatami, respect its opponent and the referees. Nobody likes a spoiled and disrespectful competitor. And off the tatami it should not be any different. I personally applaud all the top-level competitors that give seminars and share their knowledge. That branding is the type of lobby that they need.  And from the country´s federation point of view, they must have judges in all the top-level events. It´s a must. The judges speak amongst themselves like in any other sport.

 

Federation:if an athlete does not have the support of his/her countries federation, then the chances of going anywhere are very slim. As I said earlier, the qualifying process is complex, yes you need to have as many points as possible but there are events such as the World Championships or the Pan-American/European Championship that could give you a direct ticket to Tokyo. How do compete in those events? Well that varies from country to country. But in any case, I believe that lonely rangers will not make it anywhere, as much as that hurts. If you are not a top 50 athlete then you need to win a couple of Series A tournaments, which are very difficult due to the numbers of competitors. Just in Chile last week there were more than 120 competitors in male kata.

 

Sponsors: a competitor needs to travel a lot to compete and sum ranking points, but also to train with top level coaches. Usually a federation does not support the competitors for K1 Premier League Events and Series A, which sum 11 events in total, that means that a competitor wishing to assist to all the events, by himself, must raise at least $30.000. This amount for an amateur sport is a lot of money. That´s why an athlete needs sponsors. This many come in many ways or forms, such as family members, friends or colleagues, or any type of company, but what the athlete must keep in mind is that nobody is willing to give money without a tradeoff. There is no free lunch. What can the athlete offer? What can be of interest to that person wishing to support you?

 

Branding: this basically has an impact in every part of the big picture, especially for the judges, federation and sponsors. An athlete needs to transform itself into a brand and use social media to communicate their training, achievements and hard work. A professor of mine use to say: “ If you don´t communicate it, it does not exist”. Remember this is a two year project, that´s why its approach must be as professional as possible.

 

 

Benjamin Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. It does not get any more clear than that my dear karateka friends.

A short and simple feedback will do

One of the most common things I hear from parents in the dojo is that they don`t really know if their child is making true progress. And because of this, many get disappointed, anxious, and even frustrated. This is perfectly understandable if we take into account that most parents are not karatekas and that in many cases the parents cannot stay to watch their child during the class.

How-To-Build-A-Solid-Parent-Teacher-RelationshipThe question is: what can we do? The answer is pretty simple, inform the parents periodically of their child`s progress, strengths and weaknesses, just as a regular school does. That`s it.

I´m a firm believer that the feedback in Karate is generally too slow. A parent’s key performance indicators (KPI) is the belt test and a competition. The time between belts varies from style to style, but in most cases is between 3 to 9 months. This is way too long!

Now, I`m not saying that we should speed up the tests or competitions, I`m just saying that communicating with the parents is fundamental for a child`s education. The Instructor can be many things, but one of them is definitely not a magician. If a child is not behaving properly, or has a special condition, or maybe even has a low self esteem, these things should be addressed beyond the dojo, and the only way we can achieve that is by working as a team with the parents.

Parents are used to this system because schools generally work this way. That means that this is the bar we should be comparing ourselves with. A short and simple feedback will have a huge impact in the service that is being provided, and in the long run it will add a very strong value to the dojo.

Whenever you start hearing from a mother or father that their child is not participating in an activity because they were not aware of it or the information was sent too late, then that raises a red flag. A dojo needs happy parents, because a happy parent will participate more actively in their child`s martial arts education.

This type of customer service is not seen often in martials arts schools, so differentiate yourself. Dare to give a better service by improving the feedback!

Key check points for a Kokutsu Dachi

Kōkutsu-dachi is a mirror image of zenkutsu-dachi, where the rear leg is bent strongly at the knee and the front leg is either straight or slightly bent, depending on the style. The rear foot is turned 90 degrees to the side, so basically your feet will be in a letter L position.

The body is turned 90 degrees or more away, except for the head which looks to the front. Kokutsu-dachi is a great defensive stance because of the amount of energy stored in the rear leg, ready for a counter-attack.

 

A magic instant in the Dojo

This article was published by Karate Do Magazine in Italy.

At the end of the article is the link to their site, which is very interesting by the way.

Hope you enjoy it!!

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The relationship between a Sensei and his student is often very special because of the amount of time they spend together, because of obstacles that the student overcomes with a proper guidance, because of the values, because of the intensity, because of the high emotions, and I can keep on going. However, despite all this, the magic moment in class does not happen often and that`s why Sottaku Doji is so special.

Now, what`s the meaning of this expression?

The literal translation is: “Simultaneous pecking from the inside out”. It refers to the action that occurs between the chick that is about to be born and its mother, so that together they can break the shell of the egg.

When this action occurs simultaneously, something special happens, the chick opens its eyes to the world for the very first time. However, if the mother decides to break the egg prematurely, the chick will basically die. And on the other hand, the chick will never be able to get out by itself for more pecks that he tries.

This analogy also occurs in Karate or in any other martial art. A few years ago my Sensei Hitoshi Kasuya at a seminar held in Tokyo told us about this expression and its relationship in the dojo. A student may be very keen to learn something specific, for example a special technique for kumite, an effective counter attack, a proper stance or even a jump from a kata, but if his Sensei does not identify that need and he does not dedicate an appropriate quality of time to that student, then the student will not be able to advance technically.

It works vice versa. It also happens that a Sensei can have all the disposition, will, time and desire to teach, but if his student does not pay attention to him, if he is not conscious, or if his mind is not in that precise moment, then the student won`t be able to absorbed what the Sensei is saying, resulting in a very slow improvement on the best case scenario.

That’s why the moment of Sottaku Doji inside the Dojo is so extraordinary. Sottaku Doji happens when the student’s thirst to learn equals the Instructor’s willingness to teach, then for that period of time there are no limits to what both can achieve.

Despite this being a philosophical approach of the Japanese culture to the martial art, when can experience this situation at the dojo at any given time. When we go to the dynamics of a real class in a traditional dojo, we can realize that reaching or identifying this level of synergy between Student-Instructor very complex.  Among other things because of the number of simultaneous students that are in the class and in many cases the ages of the class groups. That is why it is always advisable, regardless of the number of students you have, to take the time to listen to each one.

A strong recommendation is to take the time to valuate them separately, identify the real need of each person. Specially when working with children. A child`s attention interval is very short and that`s why the Instructor must do everything he is capable of doing to maximize his learning.

By being aware of this situation, and the importance of the connection between them, is that we can make a real impact on that student`s martial art career.  Sottaku Doji is special, but once we know that, can we give as Instructors that key advice or correction that will change the direction of our student forever.

 

A magic instant in the Dojo

A magic instant in the Dojo

Warm Up like a pro

Many athletes often wonder what is the proper warm up for a specific activity. A warm up for a regular dojo class is different from a warm up for a competition, for a Kata competitor and of course for a Kumite competitor.

But what about when we are training outside the dojo, how should we warm up? Plyometrics training is key for any athlete looking for speed, power, and explosion.

Check out this video. It has been very helpful for my training.

Is anything a point now in Kumite?

It is often said that competition Kumite in recent years has distorted the true core of the martial art. In other words, we often see techniques that are far from being well executed but they are fast and on target, and hence effective in the point system. This fact proposes a very interesting question, in competition which is more important: to reach the target regardless of the trajectory of the technique, or is the trajectory as important as reaching the target itself.

This is a complex and tricky question, because when you think about it, by weighing the trajectory vs the target, we´re leaving out very important issues on the judgement system. However, many competitors and referees think this way, it doesn´t matter how well or bad you kick or punch, if it’s on target, then it’s a point.

escorpion

I disagree with that statement. I truly believe to my core that with that mindset, the kumite we´ll see in competition in ten years is going to be a soulless karate, in other words and to make a more graphic example, it will be like eating without being able to flavor anything.

I have often said that I´ve been lucky to train with many great instructors. But when that great instructor writes something you should pay special attention because that doesn´t happen often.  So this time I want to share a concept that of the Japanese Archery called Yaiki. I first came around this word in 2011 in Tokyo, but just recently my Sensei Hitoshi Kasuya wrote about it and it´s worth reading it. It illustrates and adds to the discussion. This word basically summarizes the entire point.

 

There is a word “YAIKI” in Japanese Archery. It means the moment of arrows. Even if an arrow hits the target, we can see if the way of hitting it is bad or not. You might think that if the arrow hits the target, the way of hitting is not so important. However, if the arrow has bad “YAIKI , the arrow can hit the target, but cannot go through an armour or board.

This can be applied to the techniques of KARATE. First class Karate Player’s techniques make people shudder by their speed, power, and control. Immature players can play with speed, but lack something.  Though they might get points, not to improve their techniques with thorough going practices. This is same as bad YAIKI, which lacks something essential in martial arts.
In sports, getting points tends to be considered important. Actually, many Karate instructors teach players how to “win” the match. However, although Karate has an aspect of Sports, It is yet based on the concept of BUDO, martial arts.

Karate is not about winning, the way of winning and the process of challenging a match is most important. In this process, players learn many things, not only technique but also mental toughness. Doping issues and illegal acts by judges and players in Olympic games are a warped aspect of the doctrine of winning.

Jump Higher. Train Smarter

Many competitors believe that katas that have jumping techniques are more attractive than those who don`t have. Despite the debate over that argument, what is a real fact is that a vertical jump in a kata is completely different than a regular vertical jump.

Here is why.

A regular vertical jump, like a basketball player jump, usually comes from a running/standing position; that means that for the most part the muscle is not tense. So the instant before the jump, the players squats a little and the boom, touches the ceiling.

Well, in Karate it`s different. Specially in Shotokan Katas because the stance tends to be low. Low stances throughout the Kata make your legs tired, and then you have to jump. A typical case is in Unsu or Kanku Sho.

So if you want to jump higher in the kata, then you need to train smarter off the dojo.

Here is a routine that I often do, with plyometric involved, that have helped me a lot.

1)Plyo

5 sets for maximum speed and height

7 Jumping Barbell Back Squats @ 40-50% of 1RM

4 single leg vertical high jump

Rest 3 min

 

2) Conditioniong

AMRAP 5:

Buy In: 100 Double Unders

12 Front Squats

4 Burpee Box Jump Overs

 

-rest 5 Minutes-

 

AMRAP 5:

Buy In: 100 Double Unders

8 Front Squats

4 Burpee Box Jump Overs

 

-rest 5 Minutes-

 

AMRAP 5:

Buy In: 100 Double Unders

4 Front Squats

4 Burpee Box Jump Overs