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.

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!!

_CT_2193

 

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

Kumite Scoring System

Kumite rules are a little bit confusing, specially if you are not familiar to Karate at all. Many people have argued over the years that this was one of the main reasons that it was so hard for Karate to be considered an Olympic sport; it was simply not that attractive.

As an athlete myself, I`d have to say that even for us sometimes was complicated, because the rules changed so much during the years.

In case case, regarding the scoring system, this is a nice simple video that the WKF made.

 

Share it with your parents! They will appreciate it!

HiiT Training for Karate

Many people wonder what´s the best way to complement the Dojo training; is there some kind of secret or magic potion? Truth be told, there are no shortcuts for success, however, there are some very effective ways in which an athlete can take his conditioning to a more competitive level.

Welcome HiiT training, or High intensity interval training. These type of training is basically when you alternate between high and low intensity exercises or between a high intensity exercise and a short period of rest. Typically these intervals range between 10 seconds to 30 seconds.

If you don´t have any idea about this type of training, the pros and cons, the rest you need to have, I suggest these two short readings: The American College of Sports Medicine has a very clear brief about this type of training which is very helpful https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf and I also found this well referenced article that addresses the stages of a workout: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-hiit

Many Mix Martial Artists in the UFC (the famous octagon) train this way because of the huge benefits it has regarding fat loss, blood pressure and conditioning.

For Karate it´s very useful for both Kata and Kumite athletes. In Kumite for example, all matches have several “Yame” to either score a point or to give a warning/penalty to on competitor.  Consider this your rest period. In other words and strictly from a conditioning point of view, in a tournament a Kumite is just a set of work and rest intervals. Same thing applies to Kata. All Katas have a rhythm or a pace, but it´s speed actions usually are no longer than 3-4 techniques followed by a slow movement.

I just started a 6 week training program and it is awesome. It definitely takes a toll on the body but you feel the improvement of your performance in a short period of time. One very important thing, it´s recommended that your rest the next 24 hours after this type of training. What you want to avoid at all cost, is overtraining.

I´m going to be posting Workouts 3 times a week, so feel free to ask any questions.