Monday, January 10, 2011

First Karate Practice

I just got back from my first Karate practice here in Japan. And after over a decade of training in so many different styles, I couldn't help but think of a line from that mediocre movie starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom: "How can you fill your cup, if it's already full? Empty your cup." [Note: according to my friend Clint, who studies Kung Fu and Chinese Culture/History, the saying is actually quite old, so I need not worry. :-) Thanks, buddy!]

In that scene, the protagonist, whom I shall refer to as "Idiot," was discussing Kung Fu with Jackie. But every time Jackie would mention something, Idiot would say, "Oh yeah, yeah! I know that!" and proceed to annoy Jackie. Jackie told Idiot to fill his cup, which was clearly full. Idiot said, "I can't." To which Jackie replied with the above quote.

In order for Idiot to properly learn from Jackie and Jet, he must forget everything he thought he knew. I felt a little bit like Idiot during the practice. After years of practicing a martial art in a certain stance, it's difficult to train in a stance that is only similar to that stance, but not the same. To learn the nuances of a new style, one must (I must) unlearn habits acquired from previous training. Many martial artists would agree that it's actually more difficult learning a brand new style of martial art after building years of experience versus someone starting a martial art for the first time with no prior experience.

To break it down, what happened tonight was that my years of experience practicing American Kenpo Karate made it difficult for me to properly perform the Japanese Karate Kyokai Shotokan versions of techniques. I kept reverting back to the Kenpo style that has been ingrained into my body's muscle memory. It happened when I was practicing basic punches and kicks in basic stances, and it even occurred when I performed kata. At my home dojo in the US, my master adjusted the traditional Japanese kata to better fit the form of our style, and it works very well for its purpose. But it makes it difficult to learn the original versions. The good thing, though, is that it provides a good foundation, as I already know the basic movements; I must merely learn the differences between the details. But that might end up being harder anyway, haha.

In case you were curious, let me mention some of the differences that I experienced tonight. The forward stance. In Kenpo, it's more shallow. But in Shotokan, not only is it deeper; it changes depending on whether you're blocking or striking. At least, for the downward block and reverse punch. Whereas, in Kenpo, you merely have to change your arm placement and maintain the same stance. For things like middle inward block or rising block, as well, there were slight differences in the trajectory of the hands and movement of the arms. Slight, but enough to be incorrect.

So anyway, it was still a good time. I enjoyed it. I forgot to mention that another thing that made practice difficult was the language barrier. I simply never had the opportunity to learn any specific martial arts jargon in class, nor any words that would be used in the description of techniques. I'll describe more about Karate in a later post and about the history of this style versus the "other" Shotokan style. And I'm not talking about the one featured in Street Fighter.

Word of the Day: 空手道 「からてどう」 "karatedou", or "The way of the empty hand."

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