Beach Time Improves Your Kata

Our karate and kata style comes from Okinawa. The Okinawa main island has over 100 beaches. Karate started with the notion that defenders needed a solid footing to repel invaders. If you lived on an island, you would have plenty of beaches and need to learn how to defend in the sand.

We just came back from our travels out to San Francisco. Even though we may not generally associate the beach with San Francisco they do have a few. Practicing kata on the beach while on vacation is always a joy. We do get a few looks and people tend to move away from your area. In San Francisco where it was likely in the mid 60’s while we were at the beach, not too many were just lying down and sunning themselves.

kata on beach

Kata on the beach!

The sand and water offer their own unique challenges.

  • The fresh air and bird songs are good for your emotional well-being.
  • Sand is constantly shifting and changing, demanding various muscles in the body to come into play that might not normally engage on a dojo floor workout.
  • The sand is on different levels, and you have to adjust to that difference, which brings a new element to our kata and really checks the balance.
  • Jumping is much easier on our joints in the sand.
  • I loved the spray of sand when I kicked as it kept my focus on good technique.
  • The water was cold and kept filling in my marks.
  • Grounding is a theory that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot leading to multiple health benefits. We have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of our feet so let them loose every now and then.

One big visible benefit of the beach is that the sand leaves a pattern of our kata for us to review. We reference our feet when performing kata. The sand impressions let us know how well we are doing. In wet sand you need a little more pressure to leave your mark and in the dry sand, with no wind, you can easily see the referencing.

Our challenge this week is to take some time off and find a local beach, any sand will do for the sensation. Practice your kata on the sand and find what else your kata can teach you while you are enjoying a relaxing time on the sand. I know that my practice session on the beach helped me with my kata.

Going to the beach this summer? Please let us know in the comment section below. See you in class soon.


Small Steps = Big Improvements

Our family is moving to a new house soon. We are downsizing. Not to worry, we are still near the dojo.  We are losing some of our at home training space and gaining a right sized house for us. One of the first things I did prior to putting an offer on the house was to run our white belt kata in the finished basement. Our rule of thumb is that if we have enough room for that kata, we have enough room for all of the others and can move into the house. Do you have a similar measurement or wish you did prior to moving?

Kata in a new house

Practicing kata while house hunting. This one fits!

As we are getting ready to leave our current house, we are taking a critical look at what we possess and asking if it comes to the new house.  We have looked and included some items as transitional, meaning they are coming until we purchase a replacement. Other items are being restored. My grandfather was a carpenter and put together a night stand for me when I was a child. That one is being restored and coming to the new home. Other pieces are being sold on Craig’s list or eBay.

As you look at your kata, does it need the same critical eye applied? In studying for my second degree black belt test, I found that the kata sometimes spoke to me and some of the technique I thought I knew needed abandoning and other techniques needed restoration to their correct form. Of course it was a constant question at the dojo the week prior to the test…”Where is the kiai in this kata and tell me again how does that move go?”

The week prior to the test, our Sensei was focused on our technique. In performing an opening move for one of our advanced katas, our Sensei took 10 minutes to explain the first several moves. We had looked at them as the opening sequence and it turned out that there was more to the story. When we went to the test, I participated in a bunki exhibition with another candidate on the same opening moves and he had yet another interpretation of the same sequence. Wow, that was fun and opened us up to a better kata performance during our test.

A simple word of caution, please do not plan on completely gutting and renovating from scratch your kata. It will become overwhelming.  The world has so many options; limit yourself to a one or two so you can make improvements.  When it all feels overwhelming, and it will, stop and just make little choices (see the blog post testing today? and chunking) because one by one added up they will give you a completed and updated kata.

A good sensei will work with you on the frequent, small do-able steps so you not get overwhelmed with the task itself. I am glad my Sensei did not tell me everything to improve, as I would become overwhelmed. Instead, he focused on one or two points to create or restore me back to a great kata.

Our sensei coaching model says that in the beginning, we break down tasks into small improvements. All of the improvements at once, as I just noted, is overwhelming. A coaching session prior to the testing should occur a few months in advance and be followed up with other senseis or the same one in a few weeks so the refinements continue and the practice is sharpened.

Every day we are all “renovating kata,” whether that is in the form or learning a new skill or accomplishing our entire kicking task. We are constantly doing things that can overwhelm us if we let them. If you meet me in the next few months and I look a bit frazzled, it won’t be because I am doing small incremental tasks, it’s going to be because I am trying to renovate an entire kata. I will come back to the advice I’ve received about breaking my kata down, time and time again, it’s what will keep me sane. If you’d like to learn more about preparing for your next test and getting recommendations about breaking down tasks for your kata, we’d be happy to help you at a private session. Ask us after class. We are happy to assist.


Sensei Glen after passing the second degree test.

Just a note to congratulate Josh, Emily and Cathy who, along with me, passed the test for their second degree black belt last Saturday. Well done! Of course, we applied the little bits together and made big improvements in our kata and techniques. See you in class soon.

Have You Hit Something This Week?

Baseball season has begun and this is not what our Sensei was on fire about. Karate is the way of the empty hand. This means we are striking, or hitting, or in some way using our hands to defend ourselves and well, I can say, attack others after they attack us. Gichin Funakoshi has on his gravestone this quote, “Karate ni sente nashi” or “There is no first strike (attack) in karate.”

As karate practitioners, we hit things! It is what we do. That was the point Sensei was making for us all in class on Tuesday.  We started with a simple reverse punch and moved to a front punch. We did combination strikes front and reverse punch. It was a lot of fun after a long day of working to punch a bag. We did have a go at my favorite, back fist. It felt good to do back fist drills.

Sensei Glen with a back fist as part of the ten strikes for the day.


This is the first class this year that I recall us focusing on striking. Our Sensei shared with us that we are a karate dojo and we hit. He then listed some of the other martial arts:

  • Taekwondo emphasis is on kicking
  • Judo is designed to grapple and throw
  • Aikido has an emphasis on throwing

Sensei Glen hitting the bag. Have you hit yours today?

The point for all us on Tuesday was that we needed to go back to the bag and ensure we were hitting and striking daily. He gave us the 10 hit a day challenge: each day punch a bag or other object ten times with each hand to improve our strikes. I am happy to report that so far I have participated every day and met this challenge.

In studying for our black belt test we had a series of over 100 strikes to perform both standing still and moving. It was a challenge to master all of the different strikes. It is interesting how many of them we use in our various katas. The next point that was made on Tuesday was that our katas all have strikes in them. Not just blocks. We need to work on both. Even with no first strike in karate we need to know how to strike properly.

Have you noticed that katas begin with a block? Take a look at the kata you like the best and let us know if you see that as well. I am sure our Sensei would also like us to make good punches in our kata. Block, punch is a basic winning formula for a good kata. Yes, we have the occasional kick as well. When we teach striking, we use our bodies, not just our fists. Throwing our hips and weight into a punch makes it land better.

At our dojo, we incorporate the best of martial arts into our teaching. We are a karate dojo and we also teach kicking, grappling, throwing and weapons. Our teacher is real. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and tried out the material he teaches us to ensure it worked. Besides the confidence that comes from learning a new technique or drill, we want to ensure that it works. What if, like the Music Man, you used the “think system” to learn any drill. In the movie, the boys to learn to play via the “think system,” in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments. That is not what I want for me and my family. We want the real deal.

I know that I am practicing my strikes and here is our challenge for all of you. How are you doing on your strikes? Could you make 10 strikes a day for the next ten days beginning the day you read this? Follow us on twitter and you will hear how we are doing #10strikestoday. Put a comment on Facebook or on this blog post. We are interested in how you are doing.

See you in class soon.

Looking Forward to Training on Mats?

Yes, I for one am looking forward to getting back on the dojo floor training mats. We used to train exclusively on mats in the former location. While at our temporary dojo we have had the opportunity to work out and train on carpet and on a gym floor (I hope you did not miss that training session!). Of course, outside of a few weeks on the “old mats” we have spent most of our time training on carpet. The new dojo will again have training mats and it will be an almost new experience getting used to training on mats.

I practice at home on carpet and at the gym on wooden floors (after racquetball I run kata on a gym floor). Each time I switch surfaces, I notice that I have to stop and pay attention to some of my moves as my feet transition differently on each surface.

In the most generic terms, floors seem to come in two broad categories:  hard or soft.  Harder training floors are generally faster but lack padding.  Softer floors have more padding but are sometimes squishy and generally slower. For the recent black belt test the candidates kicked and performed kata on the carpeted concrete floor in the temporary dojo; this was a “hard surface.” We also used a double layer of mats brought in for the purpose of self-defense and fighting; this was our “soft surface,” and it was better being thrown on this surface than the carpet!

Looking forward to these mats at the new dojo!

Red mats at the former dojo

The carpet system in our temporary home has some advantages. We will not always meet opponents on dojo mats or gym floors. This is good training in multiple settings. In addition, the one foot squares appeal to me during kata and other drills when I am looking for square edges and marks on where I am going. Today in kick class we worked on skipping from one square to another and the students liked the drill on the carpet patterns.

We have a lot of room in the temporary carpeted dojo. As we move to a smaller space, are we going to lose something? Do our temporary large surroundings give large quality skills?  No, those skills we learn are not from the room or even the floor. We learn skills from our quality instructors. I am sure that if we would travel to Okinawa we would not see roomy, fancy, well-appointed facilities. It is likely that the opposite is the case and most, not all, would be small and dimly lit. That would not diminish the karate teaching.

So, Sensei Glen, are you saying we need Spartan surroundings to produce Spartan warriors? (I did graduate from Michigan State University, home of the Spartans.)  No, Spartan surroundings do not make Spartan warriors. I am positive the new dojo will have what we need to become successful.

Success comes from the inside and not the floor covering. I am still looking forward to seeing the training mats as a part of the new dojo. How about you? See you in class soon.

Application of Technique

Sempi Glen here. Like me, I am sure you sometimes wonder, “When will I ever use this technique?” I think of the countless hours of drill and formal and informal attacking and defending. One thing our Sensei always says—some day you will fall. And when you do, you need to know the most important aspect, how to land.

Last month when at a class teaching how to fall properly, our Sensei challenged us to practice falling several times a week. At the gym where I work out, we have a stretching area with padded matting, the perfect place for this practice. So, I added to my stretching routine a few minutes of falling practice.

In addition to Karate, I have participated in the MS Bike ride several times. A great cause and a fun ride. I have done a few century rides (100 miles) for the Bike MS ride and my training and planning was for another century ride that Saturday. The training, like Karate, is a big commitment of time, practice, technique and discipline. It is too hard just to pick up a bike and ride for 7 hours!

I did not know that this weekend the most important practice I would do was practicing to fall. At mile 46 of my planned 100 mile ride on Saturday going over 30 mph on a downhill (twice as fast as I can ride!) I applied the brakes incorrectly and fell. My bike was fine…I know you were concerned. Fortunately I remembered the falling lessons—tuck the chin!

I ended with a few scrapes on the shoulder and leg and some gravel (yes it hurt) on my elbow as I went down. My head was fine, in part because I was wearing a helmet. I will note that I never did hit my head. The least amount of scraping was on my legs and shoulder as I mostly hit my back. My Garmin bike computer says I was going 120 mph at the point when I was thrown from the bike—and it just measures the speed that the bike is traveling. No time to think, just do!

I am glad I was practicing! Yes—we will all fall and yes I will again. I hope to walk away as well. I did ride another 30 miles after getting cleaned up at the rest area on the ride. After the fall I settled for 75 miles foregoing the 100 mile course. Always next year for that ride! See you in class soon. What drill or exercise should you be practicing?


Falling practice at the gym after working out and having kata practice!