Riz's Martial Arts Training

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The Heart of Karate-Do

(Original release titled "The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique")

I first read this book many years back and I have to say, it has remained one of my favourite guides to Karate to date. The author, Shigeru Egami, studied Karate under Gichin Funokoshi (yes, as in the founder of modern Karate) and following Funokoshi's death went on to found the Shotokai style of Karate, which he believed to be a truer system; more loyal to Funokoshi's original system (which had become diluted through competition).

I'll admit right now, that I've had a very limited amount of training in the Shotokai style. However, from the 12 hours of training (that is, attending three classes at two different clubs and a six hour advanced seminar) that I could bear I've come to the conclusion that the Shotokai system (at least the version I witnessed) is the worst bastardization of Karate currently known to man.

And I do genuinely feel really bad saying that because I really do love Egami's book, The Heart of Karate-Do. Strangely enough, I also feel that the Shotokai classes I attended seemed to ignore much of what's written in Egami's book (but at the same time, many of my friends have reported similar issues to my own when moonlighting at other Shotokai clubs). Regardless of my truly horrendous experience with Shotokai, this book affirms that not all Shotokai is without worth.

Aimed slightly more towards Beginner-Intermediate level students, The Heart of Karate-Do is wonderfully written; Egami not only takes the reader through many Karate basics but he articulately expresses his beliefs and rationales in regard to the art. Be warned though, Egami was a spiritual man who carried lifelong repentance – there are some references to ki and personal harmony (personally, this doesn't bother me at all but I know such references do cause some to burst into flames… metaphorically speaking of course). As well as his Ueshiba-like esotericism, there is also some wonderfully poetic rationale to his Karate:

"Animals are not muscle-bound; why should a man be? Pliancy and flexibility are natural characteristics of the human body; rigidity is the mark of death."

The book includes a myriad of warm-up exercises and stretches (which was fairly unique at the time of its release) before proceeding to information regarding stances and offensive/defensive techniques.

If you're looking for some of the lesser used techniques in Karate, this probably isn't the book for you (try Oyama's 'Essential Karate') however this book does have a surprisingly vast collection of Kicking Techniques. Egami pays a lot of attention to developing a strong, supple body – reflecting this; he provides a wealth of high and jumping kicking techniques that wouldn't be out of place in Korean or Northern Shoalin Kung Fu systems.

Furthermore, the descriptions are easily understood and the photos (of which there is an ample amount) are clear and well shot. The Revised Edition uses brand new photos, which have been criticised for the new demonstrators not being able to match up with those from the original release. Personally, I own both editions (greedy, I know – okay, I lie… I thought they were two different books *hangs head in shame*) and the photos in the Revised Edition are much clearer and thus probably more beneficial to the target audience; the demonstrators while maybe not of the same calibre as in the original are still exceptionally good.

Lastly, the best aspect of the book is simply its humble yet devoted tone. You can really feel the emotion and love that Egami had towards his Karate (it helps if you know a bit of Egami's history); inspirational and packed with solid information.

"Train as much as you sleep."

             ~ Shigeru Egami


Toe Hold Ankle Lock

Sometimes referred to simply as a ‘Foot Lock’, the Toe Hold Ankle Lock is a submission that is applied via the twisting and applying torque around one’s instep and the axis that runs along the centre of the foot.

It is easy to apply and worlds safer than the Heel Hook; as such, it is the second most frequently used ankle lock (following the Achilles Lock) and probably one of the most popular leg locks used.

The submission is applied using both your arms. In the case of applying the submission to your opponent’s (who has his/her back to the ground) right leg, your right arm grasps his right foot with your hands placed over his toes (your fingers should be curling in below his foot). Your left hand should move in front of his shin and wrap around his leg (thus encircling it with your arm) and then grab on to your right wrist using a five finger ‘monkey’ grip. Using the left arm as a fulcrum, apply pressure by pushing down on the foot/turning your body and twisting the toes towards your opponent’s groin.

Here it is explained by Bas Rutten in his 'Leglocks & Legbars' instructional video:

Key Points to Remember:

  • You’re not grabbing his toes, you’re encasing them.
  • The monkey grip may feel awkward at first but it is a lot more secure than a standard ‘four fingers + thumb’ grab. Given the size of leg muscles, you’re going to need a secure grip!
  • Make sure to pay attention to his free leg, the fight may end badly if he lashes out with kicks.

Here are a few of my favourite transitions to the Toe Hold Ankle Lock:

  • Whilst passing your opponent’s guard
  • From an incomplete Omoplata set-up, or ‘Jiu-Claw’
  • From just about any X-Guard sweep
  • Whenever you’re in a scramble!                                                               

The submission however presents some simple escapes/counters and as such is relatively difficult to use against experienced practitioners. The most common escape is simply turning your body in the direction of the torque; an attempt I made some days ago was countered by my partner stacking/rushing into me and applying a neck crank. My personal preference is to counter the lock with a heel hook.

Previous Leg Lock: The Heel Hook

Next Leg Lock: Achilles Ankle Lock & Knee Bar


5 Keys to Being a Good Training Partner

Your progress in the martial arts is generally a result of three things: Training, Instruction, and Natural Attributes. This post is relevant to the ‘Training’ aspect, which in my opinion is the most important of the three. 

Despite what you see in the movies, martial arts are not a solo gig. Solo training certainly plays an important role but sooner or later, you need to work with a partner. The calibre of your partner directly affects your progress and vice versa – it’s actually a pretty big responsibility (as such, this is going to be a bit of a long post!)! It’s also a two-way street; your partner is there to help you, just as you are there to help your partner. And while skill level does play a factor, it is not the most important trait of a good partner. Here’s a rundown of what I believe to be the 5 key aspects of being a good training partner (in no particular order):

Maintain Proper Hygiene

No one likes a stinky training partner (not even if you reek of expensive cologne). The only acceptable smells in a dojo/gym are that of Tiger Balm and the sweat that occurs during the training session (…and that peppermint foot sanitizer stuff too). Be sure to wash your gi/clothes between training sessions (always a good idea to keep more than one gi if you’re training regularly) and make sure you’ve washed your body and checked your breath before you start class. Make sure to clip your nails and remove any piercings/items of jewellery. And finally, the reason I was inspired to write this article…don’t do anything ridiculously unsanitary (such as biting your partner… you know who you are)!


If you remember only one point from this post, make it this one. Communicating with your partner is essential. Ask whether you’re providing enough resistance or using enough force. Similarly, if someone is going too hard on you or you have an injury – let them know! Communication is about more than just safety (though safety should be your number one concern), partnered training is an opportunity to learn from someone other than your instructor – make the most of it. Ask questions and offer advice (but don’t nag).

Developing a rapport with your partners is generally a good way to go. If you are comfortable with someone then you are more likely to enjoy training with them. Sometimes ‘friendly rivalries’ may develop – these can push you to work harder than you have previously, but don’t fall into the trap of training to beat one person. Use these rivalries as motivation to grow as a martial artist.


Don’t be a downer – no one wants to train with someone who looks like they’re not interested in what they’re doing. It is natural that certain aspects of training will be more appealing to you than others but it is important to participate with good spirit in every aspect (yes, even drilling techniques without any resistance is important).

Make sure to train regularly; attend every session you can and be punctual. Not only will this breed familiarity but it also builds discipline, which will help you train more efficiently – that is, if you are disciplined whilst training, your partner will feel compelled to match your level of commitment.

Etiquette & Equipment

Preserve dojo/gym etiquette. Etiquette is not just about imitating Japanese (or wherever else) traditions. At its most basic level, dojo etiquette can be considered part of class structure, for the sake of letting go of your ego and, to keep the class in order.

The man who rows the boat doesn’t have time to rock it. 

~ Anonymous

On a deeper level, dojo etiquette is an outward expression of your awareness in the martial arts. By observing proper etiquette, you are demonstrating understanding of your relationships with other students/teachers and also with the martial nature of your training.

All martial arts carry with them a degree of risk. It is important to maintain the required safety standards of your class. However, make sure you are using the same or similar equipment to the rest of your class:

About six months back, I was at a local throwdown where I was pitted against a local TKD practitioner who was known for his terrible body conditioning. From the beginning of the fight, I used a lot of low leg kicks…but they barely fazed him. In fact, they hurt me! Checking my legs at the end of the fight, my shins had gone a funny shade of blue. I was terribly demoralised that this guy known for being an easy win had absolutely destroyed my legs…until I saw him remove a pair of footballers’ shin pads from under his tracksuit bottoms.

Now while you may be able to get away with that sort of thing in poorly regulated competitions like the one I had entered, it’s not something that’s done whilst training. I.e. if you have knee problems, wear knee supports – but don’t wear them because it makes your Closed Guard harder to pass; If your class trains using Pride mitts, which offer 2 inches of padding, don’t use MMA gloves that offer less. Be safe…but be fair.

When Drilling / Sparring / Rolling

Always use the appropriate amount of force. If you are just drilling with resistance, the appropriate amount of force/resistance is however much it takes to make your partner really work the technique, but not so much that your partner gasses himself/herself out on each rep (this of course doesn’t apply if you are Live Sparring / Rolling). Remember: Drills are to improve technique, not strength.

Do not put power into the form. Let power arise naturally from the form.

 ~ Old Tai Chi Proverb

When Live Sparring / Rolling, you should generally be going at 70-90% - going ‘all-out’ at 100% often leads to bad judgement and injuries as a result. Always maintain some degree of control as to what you (and if you can, your partner) are doing.

If you are sparring against someone weaker than you, your aim should be to elevate their game by using them as an opportunity to work on fundamentals. If you are sparring with someone much better than you, use it as a learning opportunity – they are providing a demonstration of how to put to practice what you’re learning.    

A final point - Selfishness and bullies are easy to spot. Karma’s a b****; if you’re picking on the smaller / less experienced members of your club, sooner or later your seniors will give you a taste of it. If that’s not enough, think of it like this – if you break all available training partners, you’ll not be able to train. If you help them reach your level, you’ll get plenty of practice as well as find stronger challenges within your club.

Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you (…provided you’re not a masochist). 


Sanchin-dachi: "Three Battles Stance"

Sometimes referred to as the “pigeon-toed stance”, sanchin-dachi is a basic Karate stance. When I say ‘basic’, I mean it is a core stance in various styles of Karate that requires years of dedicated effort to truly become proficient in. Regarding its name, ‘Three Battles’ is commonly said to be referring to the unification of mind, body and soul though there are various other interpretations (such as the optimistic literal, ‘defence against 3 people’; or as the likely practical name of a sequence which uses 3 battle steps (in relation to its basic Kata format) – with the ‘steps’/“bu” removed).

A bit of an awkward looking stance (especially since many practitioners traditionally perform the Sanchin kata – also known as Peppuren – topless!), Sanchin in my understanding is all about condensing power; developing explosive force.

When in movement, we naturally create momentum (and as a result ‘force’) – punches in coordination with steps have the natural momentum generated by our bodies’ movements making them stronger. Sanchin-dachi is a stationary stance used to develop force without a reliance on bodyweight or momentum.

By forcing you to keep your body rooted, the stance reinforces the habit of coiling energy before you expel it as a punch. Power shifting using your hips is essential.

Key Points to Remember:

  • Relax, but drop your weight so you are rooted to the floor.
  • Your toes are turned in slightly (“pigeon-toed”).
  • Think of the arm action as the same movement as forcibly breaking a two-handed shoulder grab from the inside-out.
  • Tighten your muscles; pull your inner thighs towards each other in order to protect the groin and help coil power. Your entire body is tensed, punches are as if you are pushing through resistance – it’s meant to be very strenuous (nowadays, we call this an isometric exercise)!

Common Mistakes:

  • Unlike many basic Karate stances, Sanchin is not a deep stance – your feet are only shoulder width apart.
  • Don’t hold your breath! Controlling your breathing is a key aspect of the stance (and kata too).
  • Make sure to tense your muscles… but not so much that you enter cardiac arrest or have some sort of aneurism.

By the way, don’t be too surprised if your instructor happens to give you a slap, punch or kick while you’re in Sanchin. Given its physical structure, the stance protects many of your body’s weak areas and as such is often used for body conditioning.                                                                                                                


My Nemesis: The Neck Crank

A neck crank (or a ‘cervical lock’ for the pedantic amongst you) is a spinal lock applied to the cervical spine (your neck) by pushing, pulling or twisting it in a direction it doesn’t want to go. ‘Clickity clack’ is usually a sound associated with a successful neck crank and while in the grander scheme of things, only a small percentage of submissions are the result of a neck crank, they remain feared due to their potential to cause serious injury (…no explanation needed).

There are a wide variety of neck cranks in most martial arts and all are fairly dangerous. Most BJJ competitions forbid cranking the neck although it is still permitted in Judo, Wrestling and other grappling competitions. The technique is often used by beginners as well as advanced practitioners as its application can be as simple as the ‘Can Opener’ or more complex like the ‘Twister’ (otherwise known as the wrestlers’ Guillotine) or the Crucifix Neck Crank.

Here’s a video tutorial by Submissions 101 of the basic 'Can Opener' neck crank:

Key Points to Remember:
  • A fairly low percentage submission; consider using it to break someone’s guard.
  • Keep both your elbows tucked close to one another on your opponent’s chest.
Traditionally, the can opener has a relatively low success rate. In most instances, people use it to break someone’s Closed Guard. That said, it is remarkably simple to apply and I’ve been caught in it (usually when I’m stuck under someone’s Mount) more times than I care to mention (look at the title of this post to get an idea how the neck crank plagues me!)!

Below Bas Rutten demonstrates another neck crank from Side Control (technically, Scarf Control). A senior at my gym loves this move, and speaking from experience – it is ridiculously painful. An alternative counter to that explained by Bas in the video is to pull the knee of your free leg up by the side of your head and then kick it up and drop it in front of your opponent’s face/neck and push out (there’s a submission here if you angle yourself correctly). 


MMA's Contribution to Martial Arts

Following the rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), many Traditional Martial Arts fell under heavy scrutiny for their relative inability to prove their effectiveness in what is possibly the closest mainstream simulation to no-holds-barred street fighting. Early UFC events saw Royce Gracie (and the then relatively unknown art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) tapping out opponents from a variety of martial disciplines - many of whom had what were considered to be vastly superior physical attributes. Representatives of Karate, Kung Fu, Boxing, and Tae Kwon Do seemed to be outmatched by their grapple-savvy opponents 9/10 times.

As the rules of MMA evolved (became tamer so as to capitalise the main stage via the pay-per-view bandwagon), a new breed of fighters started to dominate - stand-up fighters who had branched out to complement their striking skills with an effective ground game (or at least enough of one, to sully the submission and positional dominance that the 'pure' submission artists had thus far possessed) but still, representatives from TMA styles continued to provide a poor performance (it is only recently that TMA-based fighters who have branched their skills are coming out on top – though little credit is given to most of their traditional base styles).

The weak performance by those alleged to be top level traditional martial artists in the UFC (coupled with the rising McDojo trends in the US and elsewhere) led to the development of a widespread belief that TMAs are outdated (at best! others claim they were useless from the start). But why? Could the mechanics of a punch or a kick really have changed that much in the last hundred years? In truth, techniques haven't changed (not to any significant degree anyways) - true, people don't have the same lifestyles, or wear armour as was done in the past, but this only serves to make TMAs more effective (no longer a protective barrier to work around/through). 

The crux of the matter is this. The standard of martial arts training in the mainstream has fallen. Here are some of the factors leading to this:

  • 'McDojos' which focus on turning a profit rather than actually teaching the student. 
  • Unrealistic training - usually the fault of the instructor who doesn't bother to teach students how to apply their training.
  • Encouraged Laziness - many MA schools teach one hour classes, twice a week....progress is going to be VERY slow (moreso, if the students are not encouraged/forbid to train outside of class whether it be at a second club or solo) and this is nowhere near enough time to condition and train the body while also training techniques.
  • Unqualified Teachers - I've actually met Karate teachers who've had literally 2 weeks of training. No joke (Needless to say - not only do they provide poor instruction, they are also useless examples). 

MMA has raised awareness in TMAs. Less than 15 years ago, McDojos were only really recognised by experienced martial artists/fighters - now a much wider audience is able to see the amount of hard work martial arts really require, and though many are still only interested in a quick black belt, many more realise that half-hearted training is little more than a rhythmic delusion. Royce Gracie put it quite nicely, "A belt only covers two inches of your ass, and the rest you need to back up on your own." 

TMA practitioners are reminded of the need for realistic application and body conditioning as well as regular training routines. MMA reminds TMA that a black belt means only that, a black belt - if you want to defend yourself, if you want to fight... the colour of your belt will have little effect on anything. The only thing that will help you is training, not just repetition. Remember: Practice doesn't make perfect...Perfect practice makes perfect. 

( Note: Depending on the art, there are many levels of black belt. A shodan - 1st degree - generally means that the student has become proficient with the basics of the art ...don't be fooled into thinking that black belts are necessarily all masters! I know I'm certainly not! )

PS: Happy New Year Everyone! :-)