I recently travelled to America on a week-long business trip where I took the opportunity to train on two occasions with a club belonging to the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF). The Club�s competent full time instructor, Sensei Peer Halperin holds a 4th Dan in JKA Shotokan Karate in addition to a Dan grade in Batto-do and Iai-do (the way of sword drawing and cutting). The AAKF is a member of the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) who�s President and Chief Instructor is Hidetaka Nishiyama 9th Dan. Sensei Nishiyama began his training in 1943 under Gichin Funakoshi at the original Shotokan and has been instructing at his Honobu Dojo in near by Los Angeles for the last 30 years. Sensei Halperin regularly trains under Sensei Nishiyama and his sensor student Avi Rokah (who readers may recognise as a regular contributor to Shotokan Karate Magazine).

Sensei Halperin�s full time dojo is open 6 days a week and is available for in excess of 20 hours training in the disciplines previously described (1). Having initially made contact with him through the American version of Yellow pages he warmly welcomed me to his Dojo. I managed to train at two mid-week sessions that concentrated on predominantly kata and partner combinations. The following paragraphs summarise some of the subjects covered and training drills.

Students repeatably performed their chosen (Tokui) kata slowly, initially concentrating on a number of key elements involved. Sensei Halperin explained that kata performance is made up of four key elements. These being Go (soft), Ju (hard), ryu (flowing) and Ki (energy). Correct breathing with compression and relaxation of the hara is critical. The change from one state to the other must be utilised to accelerate the practitioner into the next move. An analogy was given concerning a large compressed vertical spring positioned behind the navel. Having been fully compressed through contraction at the moment of release this reactive force must instantly be used to propel the karate-ka into the next move. Any delay between movements will only allow this energy to disperse wastefully.

Great emphasis was placed on correct body positioning and alignment to maximise stability and strength. Sensei Halperin explained that many karate-ka are encouraged to use excessively long stances. Although good connection is maintained with the floor, stance to stance movement and correct hip rotation becomes awkward. Low centre of gravity should still be sought but in shorter more practical length stances. This also allows correct centre rotation of the hips around a vertical spine. The head position should be maintained in a forward facing direction independent to a shomon or hanmi hip position.

Without correct alignment of the shoulders and elbows techniques such as rising block and knife hand block are significantly weaker. This was demonstrated with the static strength of a rising block in the completed position. Elevation of the shoulder of the leading block arm significantly weakens the technique. Lowering of the shoulders allows the latissimus dorsi muscle to have a greater influence in the whole body�s structural strength. This muscle runs from the shoulder across to the lower central back hence linking to the body�s centre of musculature (low abdominals/lumbar vertebrae, glutes).

The following simple and effective training drill allows the use correct kime and body alignment to be practised. To focus on upper body and hip position, individuals stood with their feet together in a natural stance so that the rear leg thrust from a front stance that provides most of the reaction path was isolated. Hands and arms were positioned in a choku tzuki position with care being taken that the punching fist was centre line, shoulders dropped, hikete hand was fully back on the hip and elbow tucked in. Care was also taken that the head and neck was in a straight line with the spine, and the sacrum was tilted forward (2) to maximise pressure to the floor.

A training partner then struck the punching fist with an open hand gradually increasing the force over a number of repetitions. These were initiated at the will of the training partner and sometimes avoided striking the fist as to discourage leaning into the technique. On impact the practitioner would compress the hara and concentrate on whole body kime. A successful resultant meant that the blow was resisted and that neither leg was moved backwards to prevent toppling. Having established correct form and resisted the blows, individuals were instructed to introduce singular errors into the stance. Typically head leaning forward or one shoulder elevated or hikete hand not fully back. This resulted in toppling backwards and provided an excellent demonstration of the importance of body position and it�s affects on strength and stability.

Kumite partner drills concentrated on Sen no Sen principles (simultaneous or early responses to an attack). Sensei Halperin encouraged the Uke-te (defender) to react and move at the instant of the Tzuki-te (attacker) attack. The Uke-te must move as no increase in energy is generated from a static position. Under some circumstances the Uke-te can move towards the Tzuki-te spoiling the Tzuki�s ma-ai (attacker�s distancing) before the technique has reached it�s maximum potential (Oji waza), to spoil/suppress or kill the opponents technique (Koroshi waza).

While other Go no sen (reactive response to an attack) drills involved a minimal slide back just outside the range of the attacking technique and then immediately countering as the Tzuki-te recoils (Amashi waza). Partner work then progressed to the Tzuki-te pressurising the Uke-te by compressing the distance with each attempting to dominate and control the fight�s rhythm. Each individual was asked to try and connect with their partners energy and breathing. To tune to the opponent�s timing, space and line of attack. Adjusting your rhythm to the opponents but leading it rather than following while taking care not to get drawn in.

No thoughts of pre-arranged responses should be in the mind of the Uke-te. Gyaku tzuki counter attacks were not snapped as it was seen as more of a tagging technique that was more appropriate for competition karate. Instantly withdrawing the technique was seen as not allowing the technique�s momentum to be fully delivered through the target. In addition, prematurely withdrawing a technique gives away space and the initiative for the opponent to counter. The previous exercises are described in detail in articles written by Avi Rokah in Shotokan karate Magazine (3), which indicates the regularity/importance placed on these drills within this Club�s syllabus.

Paul Edwards