Mario McKenna Sensei on Correct Practice

Mario McKenna on “Correct Practice”

Mario McKenna Sensei (guest on episode 13 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) on the importance of correct practice in karate and kobudo training:

So what is correct practice? Correct practice for beginners means focusing on fundamental exercises that create a strong base for more specific ones later on.

My former teacher, Masayuki Hisataka Sensei always emphasised that it wasn’t enough to turn up and train, but that you had to have:

  • Correct mind
  • Correct practice
  • Correct technique

Hisataka Sensei used always emphasise that the starting point was the correct mind. This mindset lead you to practice correctly, which was the only way to develop correct technique.

I liked that in McKenna Sensei’s post he emphasised that the three fundamental aspects of correct practice in Naha-te based systems like Gojuryu are junbi undo (preparatory exercises), kihon gata (fundamental kata) and hojo undo (supplementary exercises).

In the Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo practiced at the Kengokan Dojo junbi undo and kata are clearly common elements of our correct practice. The third element would undoubtedly be futari geiko (two person practice) exercises, including yakusoku kumite (pre-arranged drills) and bogu kumite (kumite utilising body armour).

It’s important to consider the foundations of your training. What are the fundamental aspects of your system?

Chiishi, Kettlebells and Strength Training

Following my earlier post discussing Joe Berne sempai’s article about the importance of strength training comes a thoughtful piece from Mario McKenna sensei [guest in episode 12 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) about the value of the chi-ishi for strength development in traditional karateka.

Chi-ishi on the right. Image by Dormis

Mario sensei compares the relative advantages of the chiishi versus tools like the kettlebell and Indian clubs, stating that chiishi are

heavier than Indian Clubs and allow the development of strength, but lighter than Kettle bells to allow more variation in the exercises that can be done. Chiishi design is similar to the Indian club which allows a greater range of motion. So to me I find Chiishi the “best of both worlds” as they say.

Mario sensei explains his own approach to strength training:

I alternate between modern weight lifting (barbell, dumbbells, & machines), body weight exercises and traditional weight lifting using Chiishi, etc.

I agree that body weight exercises are a staple exercise for the karateka, and in an ideal world I would alternate body weight exercises with traditional hojo undo equipment. I set out to do just that a decade back or so, and found that there was virtually no supply of products (in Australia), a very ill-defined training regime (outside select Gojuryu schools), a scarcity of instructors and a scarcity of books or videos on the topic. I wish that Mike Clarke sensei’s book The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate was available then!

In my own search I came across the Russian Kettlebell. With an excellent training regime based on the approach from the pioneer of kettlebell training in the west, Pavel Tsatsouline (guest in episode 10 of The Applied Karate Show podcast), his books and videos and a ready supply of kettlebell products, I “got into the swing”. I undertook training (and later a kettlebell instructor course) with Don Stevenson.

I think that the kettlebell continues to be an awesome tool for a martial artists. The grip development, the off-centre centre-of-gravity, the range of compound exercises and the development of explosive power from the core make it suited to the needs of a karateka. These reasons are, as Mario sensei outlined, similar with hojo undo tools like the chiishi. But for me, the availability of product and the availability of quality instruction and instructional resources make the kettlebell my preference for strength training.

Joe Berne on Training Prioritisation

Joe Berne sempai (guest in Episode 15 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) has posted a thought provoking article about how you should prioritise your workouts when time is limited.

Joe makes several great points, and the whole article is well worth a read. But I particularly enjoyed the following:

I’d say you probably shouldn’t spend any time on actual karate unless you have more than an hour a week to train. That is, your first hour of exercise (I don’t mean the first hour on Sunday, I mean the first hour we’re counting) should be dedicated strength training. Keep your muscle and bones healthy. If you have 2 hours a week, still spend 1 hour of it strength training, but add in dynamic stretching and skill training sessions for the second hour. And, if you have it, the third.

It should be no surprise that I am a big fan of strength and conditioning training, particularly using kettlebells, and I suspect that my approach is similar to (but perhaps not as well develoepd as) Joe’s. The point Joe makes is that strength training should be the foundation – strong bones and muscles will help us prevent injury as we age. And then being able to move dynamically is the next piece of the puzzle.

I also like a key point in Joe’s article:

Try this conditioning trick: stand on a soft-ish surface, maybe a yoga mat or a wrestling mat or even an old futon. Fall to the ground – break it as well as you can. Then stand back up. Alternate falling to your left and to your right. Repeat for 2 minutes. You want to live long and be healthy? Be strong and learn how to fall without getting hurt. Don’t think it matters? Visit a local nursing home and walk around for 15 minutes. Then come back and we’ll talk.

Learning ukemi waza (breakfalling techniques) is not just a lesson for martial arts, but a lesson for life. Kind of goes with one of my favourite kotowaza (proverbs): nana korobi ya oki – fall down seven times, stand up eight.

The Classical Budoka talks Dojo Variations

Wayne Muramoto Sensei talks about Dojo Variations:

And I think, too, of what my jujutsu sensei said once; that before dojo structures, martial artists used to train outdoors, out in nature, so they were in tune with the greater natural world, the “daishizen,” much more than we were. Handling a sword, maneuvering for a throw, handling a weapon, were part and parcel of their total world experience, as much a natural part of their lives as cutting firewood, knowing when it would rain or snow, intuitively sensing the lay of the land or knowing the changing of the seasons. In that sense, even the most “traditional” dojo is still a controlled environment at least one step removed from the roots of ancient martial arts, which came out of being embedded in nature’s own environment and rhythms

I’ve long been of the opinion that the dojo functions best as a home base, but that you need to get outside and train also – gasshuku (training camps) are one opportunity, but so too are everyday opportunities to train in the park.

In the karate tradition, few master had dojo, as such, before World War 2. Most trained in backyards, and even at the family tomb.

The dojo is a laboratory, but outside is where the real learning takes place.

From: The Classic Budoka | Dojo Variations

Hydration for Karateka

Refreshing glass of water by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Photo by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Karateka and author Chris Denwood, Sensei has penned a nice article on The Importance of Water for people in training – a topic I’ve written about before. Although there isn’t a universal recognition of this issue, some scientists believe that chronic dehydration is linked to a range of diseases.

75% of people around the world are chronically dehydrated.

This is amazing on the surface, when you consider that people are drinking so much – coffee, softdrinks, alcohol, energy drinks, etc. But how much is enough? Well some experts state that you should drink a litre of water per day per 25kg of body weight. I don’t know many people that would actually do that!

alcohol and many soft drinks actually steal water from the body and other beverages such as coffee require water from the body to be digested.

It seems like good, old fashion, natural water is the best thing. The 25 litres/kilogram guideline applies to water only. Other drinks are at best neutral, but most require you to add more water in order to be correctly hydrated. One rule of thumb is that every cup of coffee, softdrink, alcohol means you should add the equivalent quantity of water back into your system.

Of course, this is a base level – when we train hard we need to replenish the water lost through perspiration.

A recent piece in The Conversation pointed out that softdrinks in particular are a growing problem in modern society, and that the levels at which they are being consumed present a growing public health issue.

I’ve come to the opinion that it’s not just the sugars in softdrinks (which are bad in and of themselves), but the chemicals in diet softdrinks are also a factor in the obesity epidemic, and serve to reduce people’s satiety levels.

This is a double-whammy. As Chris said in his post:

In over a third of all people, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.

So people have reduced satiety levels from drinking too much diet softdrink, and they are also dehydrated, leading to more hunger! Not a healthy mix.

In the old days, karateka were often not allowed to drink water during class. We were told that sweating was good for us. In the Kengokan Dojo, I allow regular “water breaks”hydration pauses”, and insist people have some, especially during hard sessions or when the weather is particularly hot! I believe every instructor should take the same approach.

So for all reading this:

  1. Make sure your base level of water consumption is appropriate
  2. Eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the amount of softdrink you’re consuming
  3. Take regular hydration pauses during your training

Oh, and one more thing – if you’ve not subsribed to Chris Denwood’s blog, do yourself a favour and do so now. Or follow @chrisdenwood on Twitter.

Latest Iain Abernethy Podcast: Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts

Iain Abernethy Sensei has posted his latest podcast, a discussion on the 20 Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi, the pioneer of karate in Japan.

Iain does a great job of discussing each of the 20 precepts, and providing his own insight into them.

I always find that Iain’s works are thoughtful and insightful, and well worth the read/listen. Enjoy!

The Applied Karate Show Episode 15 – Joe Berne Sempai

Applied Karate #015 (mp3 – 40MB – 84 mins)



Well folks, my intentions about getting a monthly podcast out were pure. Following on from the September episode with Chris Denwood Sensei, I recorded the October episode in plenty of time, only to have a bunch of gremlins strike. They seem to be resolved now, so hopefully we’re back on track.

Our guest for Episode 15 of The Applied Karate Show is Joe Berne, Sempai, a Seido practioner and blogger behind the Karate Conditioning blog.

Joe began training in Seido Karate in 1988 at the Karate Club of his college, the State University of New York at Buffalo.  The class was taught by Shuseki Shihan Christopher Caile (who went on to create, a well known website with content about a variety of martial arts).  He trained there, and at the style’s New York City Honbu dojo, through 1994, at which time he earned his shodan in Seido Karate.  A variety of injuries and life issues kept him away from training, but he returned in 2006.  Then living in Maryland, he began training under Jun Shihan Kate Stewart, and has remained there since then.  He recently earned his sandan at the 2011 Gasshuku in upstate New York.

Joe began studying strength and conditioning informally in high school in a vain attempt to qualify for the (American) football team.   He resumed his studies with a vengeance after taking up karate again in 2006 as he tried to use science to make up for the damage done by over a decade of a sedentary and hypercaloric lifestyle.  He has made a part time job out of reading and viewing everything available in the field of strength and conditioning that can relate in any way to martial arts performance.

The wide ranging discussions with Joe covered such topics as

  • Joe’s introduction to, and background in, karate
  • Strength tools (including the wonderful kettlebell)
  • Training for martial arts skills
  • Stretching for karate
  • Training for injury avoidance
  • Nutrition tips and the Paleo diet

This was a fascinating interview with a karateka who has clearly invested a lot of time and thought into his training and the strength and conditioning program required to support it. I heartily recommend you visit and subscribe to Joe’s blog Karate Conditioning.

Applied Karate #015 (mp3 – 40MB – 84 mins)


Shin Gi Tai: New Book By Mike Clarke, Kyoshi


Shin Gi Tai: Karate Training for Body, Mind and Spirit (aff.) is a new book by Mike Clarke, Kyoshi (guest on Episode 4 of The Applied Karate Show podcast).

Mike Sensei is a classical karateka of the Okinawan Gojuryu line who emphasises the complete development of the individual, looking at aspects beyond the physical skills emphasised in many dojo. In his own Shinseidokan Dojo in Launceston, Tasmania (Australia), Mike Sensei accepts and trains only a small handful of students who focus on traditional karate methods.

Shin Gi Tai follows on from previous books, the latest of which was the excellent work The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate (aft.).

The following text from the back cover of Shin Gi Tai provides an excellent overview of what the author is emphasising in the book:

Prepare to have your beliefs challenged about what karate really is.

Within these pages, you will discover traditional karate; along the way, perhaps many of your own beliefs about karate will be confronted. You might have a body capable of mastering karate’s physical techniques, but do you have a mind with a level of awareness that is able to grasp the true spirit of karate?

For adults only. Regardless of how many people you can defeat in combat, the deeper aim of karate has always been to conquer your own ego, and by doing so, you increase the likelihood of avoiding conflict. When you can control your ego, you have a chance to establish peace in your life: this is the tradition of budo karate.

Shin Gi Tai has a literal translation: mind–technique–body. A karate-ka’s mind (shin) must be developed ahead of his technique (gi) if he is to discover a sense of balance within his body (tai). While the mental and physical aspects of karate are daunting and causes many to stop training, if you can just endure the early years, say–the say – the first decade–then there is opportunity for real and lasting benefits.

Budo is a concept more often discussed than put into practice, and yet, as part of traditional karate training, it has the capacity to dramatically change lives for the better, but only if you are prepared to move past the obvious and strive to understand the philosophy and the morality of budo.

Your life is yours, your karate is yours, accept ownership of both and reap countless rewards.

The concept of Shin Gi Tai is a personal favourite of mine, as I believe that what separates karate (and other classical forms of budo) from pure sport-oriented fighting systems is the emphasis on developing a strong general knowledge and knowledge of the theories and principles of the art, and an open-ness towards introspection and self-discovery.

Shin Gi Tai: Karate Training for Body, Mind and Spirit (aff.) is available now from Amazon and other sources in paperback. I am not sure if it will be released as an eBook, although there is a Kindle Edition of The Art of Hojo Undo (aff.), so I am hopefully we will see this soon.

Book Review: How To Win a Fight by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder

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Prolific martial authors Lawrence Kane & Kris Wilder (guest on Episode 3 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) have done it again, with a brand new book targeted to young people (actually young men) helping them to win in physical conflict.

How to Win a Fight: A Guide to Avoiding and Surviving Violence (aff.) is purposely written and illustrated with a tone and layout that the authors hope will get the message through to a large audience who needs to hear that fighting and violence is hardly romantic, is generally not “fair”, and rarely resolves the issue.

To get their message across, Kane and Wilder teamed up with veteran DC Comics artist/illustrator Matt Haley. The comic-book style imagery engages the mind and tells the story clearly and succinctly. With the popularity of comics in recent story telling (see TV shows like The Big Bang TheoryHeroes, and even NCIS for examples), I applaud this approach, and really enjoyed the parallel approach with the detailed written descriptions.

I like it that How to Win a Fight takes a pragmatic view of violence, detailing how most seemingly random violence is unnecessary and is for the most part avoidable. The authors describe the pre-incident indicators that lead up to violence, and describe how to recognise these and (critically) avoid them!

The book continues into detail into escape and evasion techniques, then describes the mental and physical techniques that are vital if the encounter is unavoidable. Unusual for a self-defence book, the authors then describe what to do after a fight, including aspects of first aid and the need for first aid training, dealing with the police and possible legal problems and the post-traumatic stress aspects.

How To Win A Fight is a terrific book that tells a sobering and realistic story of violence, and is one that all karate and martial arts enthusiasts who study the defensive aspects of the tradition should own. It’ll be on the reading list for my students at the Kengokan Dojo in Sydney, Australia. The message is important, and I love how Kane and Wilder have worked hard to get the message through to the group of people that most needs it.

Messrs Wilder and Kane teach Goju Karate at West Seattle Karate, and are the hosts of the always excellent Martial Secrets podcast.

Buy How to Win a Fight: A Guide to Avoiding and Surviving Violence (aff.) on now. On sale from 4 October 2011.