Friday, October 28, 2011

Gi Reviews

KI International, a company where we get our gi's from, donated us 2 brand new karate-gi's for the tournament, and Nate and Makoto received them based on their excellent performance. Congratulations guys, and thank you, KI International!

The line of gi most of us wear is called "Mugen" and is becoming one of the most popular choices around the world. This particular line is popular because of its high quality and low price. 2 gi's donated by KI International were 2 different types: "Orange Label" is of lighter material, and "Yellow Label" is of heavier material. Other than the material and the color of the label, I believe they are identical. They also carry "Black Label" which is in between the above 2 for the weight of the material.

Since most of you buy your gi at the dojo (and we pretty much only sell Mugen gi's) you may not know the difference between different brands, and if you're happy with what you got you may not have to know. But since several people had asked me about differences between them, I'm going to write what you may need to know when choosing one and my opinions about various types.

How to choose one for yourself? There are several criteria when choosing a gi:

1. Material - light/medium/heavy, cotton/mix
2. Brand - KI, Tokaido, Shureido, Hirota, Tokyodo, Tokon, Juka, Adidas, etc.
3. Cut - traditional/tournament
4. Size

1. Material
This is the most important aspect, in my opinion. Do you like a light and soft material that allows you to easily move around with, or do you want a heavier material that keeps some space around your body and makes snappy sound when punching? A gi you can buy for $15 is made of a very light, flimsy material. Mugen Orange Label is heavier than those, but still considered to be of lighter material (or perhaps light/medium). Many people choose lighter gi for Kumite, heavier gi for Kata, and some actually do switch their gi when competing in Kata or Kumite tournament. I personally like medium weight since it works fine for any occasion: Kumite, Kata, daily training, long seminar, etc. Some prefer heavier gi for cold weather and lighter gi for hot days, but I sweat a lot so I need my gi to absorb enough and not to stick to my skin.

Cotton 100% has been the traditional and favorite choice of all, and any poly-mix material was considered to be a cheaper/lesser quality - until a few years ago. Now some brands offer "light but crisp" or "fast drying" type of material, which usually is not 100% cotton. I bought one of these in Japan (from Tokyodo) and this one rocks! I now use this one for competitions only; you see my gi with the US flag on the chest, that's the one. This is so light but does not look or feel flimsy. Some dislike the texture of poly-mix materials, but it doesn't bother me at all.

2. Brand
I have owned about a dozen different brands. Many of them Japanese brands and highly regarded as the "best", while some others from Europe or America that are less known among Japanese karate people but are in pretty good quality. The differences most of the time are in the quality/durability of the material and the quality/craftsmanship of stitching/construction. As long as you buy one of these brands listed below you're safe. Of course there could be many that are not listed here; in that case, buy it at your own risk! I recently bought one called "Butoku"; the material was too light/soft despite it claims to be medium weight, and the craftsmanship was somewhat poor. I think I'll sell this one at the garage sale soon!

KI (Mugen), Tokaido, Tokyodo, Shureido, Hirota, Tokon (Kamikaze), Juka, Arawaza

3. Cut
There are mainly 2 types of cut/patterns: traditional cut and tournament cut. Traditional cut usually has shorter jacket, longer sleeves and legs, narrower sleeves and leg opening. Tournament cut became popular, I believe, in the last 15 years or so, and has longer jacket, shorter and wider sleeves and legs. Being a short guy, I always have to cut the sleeves and legs off, but some brands had very short sleeves that I did not need to cut. Even among the tournament cut there are variations between brands. Some brands provide measurement charts that you can check and compare with your current gi, but ultimately, you have to test it on yourself to make a decision.

4. Size
Karate gi, as any cotton clothing, shrinks big time, so caution when buying one. Size 4 in one brand is not the same as that of another brand. In most cases you will end up shortening the sleeves and the leg hems (especially if you have short limbs and/or if you order a traditional cut), which most dry cleaning/alteration stores can do for you.

WARNING: DO NOT cut the sleeves before you wash/dry a few times or you may end up with a short sleeve jacket and shorts once they shrink.

It comes down to your personal preference. I recommend Mugen gi for the quality and price, but I personally don't wear one because it does not fit me well for some reason. It may be that I owned a wrong size, but I have seen on some other people, too, that it didn't appear to be a good fit. My personal favorite for a long time was Tokaido (medium weight, tournament cut) which I bought some 10 years ago that still looks decent. As I mentioned above, my favorite now is Tokyodo (super light weight called "Athlete 2", tournament cut). These Japanese brand gi's cost over $150 a set (in Japan; they could be over $200-250 in the US), so I suggest most of you not to invest that much unless you plan to be the fashion leader of the dojo... Instead, donate to the dojo or pay for private lessons so that you can be good at karate, not just looking-good in karate-gi!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 16 - 22, 2011 (and Kyu Level Tournament)

Training focus was on some "quick tips" (as if there is anything you can learn quick in karate...!) for the coming up tournament: Kata and Kumite (rule reviews).
As a result (?), you guys all did well! I'm very proud of you. I wish there could be more participants (especially from other dojos) but hey, we wanted to finish the tournament before the sun comes down...!
It was a long day but I hope you all learned a lot. I learned that 8 people are too many for 1 Round Robin group!!! :-) Hopefully we can do this again soon. Maybe not too soon though?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 9 - 15, 2011

I've been trying to cover different timing strategies on top of some basic ones. I hope you're having fun! I'm updating this blog late this time and there will only be 2 more of my classes
(Thursday and Saturday) before the tournament, and I'm hoping to cover some
basic points that are helpful when competing.
Now the kumite rules for this tournaments are set: one-step sparring (attacker will call a technique) for white & yellow belts, offense/defence
(loosely based on Kogo rules but less strict on penalties) for green belts, and free sparring for brown belts. Hopefully we get enough competitors in each division, but if not, we will be
forced to mix 2 divisions and apply the rules of one division or the other.
Kata will be a side-by-side flag system, in which 2 people come up together and perform their kata, and judges will decide which one was better.
In both Kumite and Kata, hopefully everyone in a division can face everyone, instead of a single elimination. After all a tournament is for your training, so we want to give you as much training opportunities as possible.
...I'm talking too much about the tournament, but anyone can certainly benefit from these training.
I already wrote about different Kumite timing strategies that we're learning the other day. Here let me write about basic Kata elements that we should always be thinking when practicing Kata:
1. Body dynamics: how well you demonstrate your "center" action applied to each technique, i.e., hip rotation/vibration, body weight shifting, muscular contraction/expansion.
2. Power: how much force you apply on each technique. Muscular power helps, but karate power comes from the total body engagement focused on the contact area. This can only be achieved by producing strong pressure down to the floor (and directing the reaction force off the floor to the target).
3. Form: not just to look nice, but is each technique with proper intention? - target, contact part, alignment, connection. Includes stance/posture.

4. Transition: smoothness/flow of the entire Kata, connecting one action to the next without
cutting/pausing/breaking. Remember, the ending position of a technique is supposed to be the best starting position for the next technique.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avi's Blog

Someone requested this information:

For those of you who don't know Avi, he had been a long time Sensei Nishiyama student, and one of the most accomplished athletes/instructors among his students. He dedicated his life to the training and teaching of Sensei Nishiyama's karate, and he really is an excellent teacher.

When I came to the US and started looking for a dojo to train at, I was skeptical about finding a good authentic traditional karate dojo. I still remember, that I took a couple of buses to get to Avi's dojo which I found on Yellow Pages (no Internet back then!), and I said to myself "This is it!!!" the moment I saw him teaching a class. I almost peed in my pants from excitement...! I was already a black belt from training in Japan, but my true karate training started with Avi in 1993. I still take his classes occasionally, and Jon and Eiko do, too, on a regular basis.

He will be teaching a class here at VTK/VMAC on November 6th, on the occasion of Nishiyama Memorial. Don't miss it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 2 - 8, 2011

We've been covering different timing strategies. It may not be easy for you to sort things out just by getting bits and pieces of information here and there, so I'm laying it all out here for you to easily understand:

Oji-waza is "to respond to opponent's attack". When opponent is committed to hitting you with a punch, he cannot switch his mind to defend himself if you attack right at that moment. So you expect him to attack, then simultaneously ("Sen") or immediately after his attack ("Go-no-sen") you counter attack. Remember, you're not "waiting" for his attack; rather, you're reading his mind and always on top of him both physically and mentally, so when he attacks you, you're already in motion to counter attack.

Shikake-waza is "to set the opponent up to create a Kyo". "Kyo" is a mental or physical imbalance, in other words it is a chance for you to attack. If he is going to attack you without you initiating a move you can simply use Oji-waza to counter. However, when he is not going to attack you soon (maybe he is waiting for you to make a move, maybe he is afraid of you, etc.), then you have to create a situation that he exposes a Kyo.

One of Shikae-waza we've practiced many times is Renzoku-Kogeki-Waza (combination attack). In this case the opponent is ready to back up once you throw a technique; so you let him escape the first one but you quickly switch to the second or third attack, breaking the distance and rhythm each time to get closer, and finish with the last technique.

Another Shikake-waza is Koroshi-waza, which we've practiced last week. In this scenario he wants to hit you with a specific technique as soon as you come in, and you know what technique he wants to use (maybe he is telegraphing, maybe that's his favorite technique, etc.); so you just touch that technique as you move in, and almost simultaneously counter attack before he has a chance to move again. By just quickly touching, he is already disarmed or his technique was "killed" before it was born, and the moment of confusion he's in is Kyo that you use to attack him.

3rd Shikake-waza, which we will practice this coming week, is Sasoi-waza. This is actually the most popular form. Similar to Koroshi-waza above, you know that he wants to hit you as soon as you make a move; so you give him a "fake move" to bring out his technique, then you quickly avoid his attack and then counter attack. You use "Sen" or "Go-no-sen" timing explained above to counter attack, but initially you're "inviting him" to attack you by giving him a cue.

...Well, maybe my attempt of "sorting things out" was not very successful...! If I confused you too much, ask me questions, or try to learn it in class!

By the way, as you know we started announcing the top students who attended training the most in a month. Last month's winner was Emmanuel. We're doing this to make you realize how many classes you're missing in a month, comparing to those who come regularly. I totally understand that your work/family/life situation often prevent you from coming to the class, but I have to tell you that karate is not easy and the only sure way to improve is to keep on training. If our current schedule doesn't fit yours let us know; we're always willing to listen and try to accommodate if demand is great. Also I'm available for private lessons throughout a week for low cost, so contact me if you're interested.

Lots of things continue to happen at the dojo. Check out the Gi store display in the lobby (work in progress). We're only less than 2 weeks away from the tournament, then Nishiyama memorial, then a garage sale! Then I'm off to Chile. Oh, it's time for me to get into the competition mode!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September 25 - October 1, 2011

Oh, less than 3 more weeks until the Kyu Level Tournament! If you're still wondering whether you should compete or not, I'd say just do it! It's a great learning experience, beer always tastes better after a good workout (except when you get hit and cut inside the mouth... ouch!), and it also is a fundraising event for the Nationals next year. Too many reasons not to pass...

So I should be focusing primarily on your favorite Kata and basic Kumite timing/strategy, assuming all our students will participate. If you choose to perform another Kata than the one you're currently working on at the tournament, let me know so that I can let you practice it.

I just randomly decided to present you "Karate Book of the Month". This month, it is Sensei Nishiyama's book: Karate, The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting. This is such an old book and a lot of contents is outdated (remember, Sensei Nishiyama's karate evolved/refined tremendously over the years) but it still is considered a definite text of the subject, and it actually is the world's best selling karate book. I have one copy available in our kitchen, for you to take a look.

Those who are subscribed to this blog, there is a way to receive an e-mail notification every time I update it. I usually try to write a new post on weekend (or sometimes Monday) but you can just get it e-mailed to you so that you don't have to check it. I'm not announcing something extra important here exclusively, so you shouldn't miss much even if you don't check it regularly, but I sure hope your training will be facilitated by the info you find here.