Progression from Basics
It seems like many people doing karate are in far more of a hurry to do “advanced”* training than is good for them. Many seem to think that once a new, more “advanced” practice is introduced, they can now discontinue training in the more basic exercises that they were doing previously. Actually, advanced training is meant as practice to be done in addition to that which was previously practiced. Just as when we learn a new kata, the others that we already learned should not be ignored. We should continue to practice the basics, even as we progress and add more “advanced” practice to our routines.
In Shotokan, many people around the brown belt level are introduced to jiyuu-ippon kumite [semi-free sparring]. Prior to that, they were most likely practicing kihon-ippon kumite [one-step basic sparring]. As this is what is on their tests, these students usually concentrate on this type of sparring. There is nothing wrong with spending a lot of time on this kind of practice. But I have found that often around the brown belt level students develop certain bad habits that may even make their basic sparring worse.
Here is the way sparring practice usually progresses in Shotokan:
· Basic one-step sparring
Attack side starts from zenkutsudachi/gedan-barai [front stance/reverse punch] and steps forward with oizuki [lunge punch] to jodan [upper level], and then, after recovering, to chudan [middle level]. Defense side starts from hachijidachi or heikodachi [standing] and steps back to block with ageuke [rising block] for jodan or sotouke [outside block] for chudan, then counters, usually with gyakuzuki [reverse punch]. Sometimes, kicking attacks are substituted for/added to punches, other basic blocks are substituted for/added to the two mentioned here, and/or other counters are used in addition to/instead of gyakuzuki.
· Semi-free sparring
Attack side starts from jiyuu-kamae [free-sparring stance/guard] and steps forward with oizuki to jodan or chudan, having first called out the target area. Defense side also starts from jiyuu-kamae and shifts/steps back/side/front with block/no-block and counters. Both sides may shift around before the attack, feints are sometimes employed and both participants return to jiyuu-kamae after completion of their attack/counter. As with basic sparring, sometimes kicks are also used in addition to punching attacks.
This is actually quite a jump from basics to semi-free sparring, when you stop and think about it. There are so many variables introduced all at once between these two steps. That is why I often add more steps to bridge the gap between basic and semi-free sparring, and again between semi-free and free sparring. Consider the following additional steps possibly added between the above examples, to provide a smoother transition from basics to “advanced” sparring:
· Basic one-step sparring (as above)
· Add option of using blocks other than ageuke & sotouke
· Add option of using counters other than gyakuzuki
· Add option of stepping off at an angle, rather than always straight back
· Defense side also starts from zenkutsudachi/gedan-barai
· Both sides start from jiyuu-kamae
· Attacking side can shift in before stepping forward and defense side must match the stepping pattern
· Defense side does not need to match the stepping pattern of the attack side
· Semi-free sparring (as above)
The above covers most, but not all, of the steps between basic one-step and semi-free sparring.
Between semi-free and free sparring, there are again many steps possible. Here are just a few examples for creating a smoother transition:
· Attack side calls “jodan” but is not limited to oizuki [lunge/step-in punch]. The punch can be oizuki, kizamizuki, gyakuzuki or step-in gyakuzuki.
· This time, “jodan” can include any attack to the head that uses the arms
· This time, “jodan” can include any attack (kicks, too)
· Attack side blocks/counters the defense side’s counter
· Attack side does not call target or type of attack, but gets only one chance. Defense tries to block and then counter (no “deai,” or countering before the attack is complete).
The above are simply examples. There are other ways to create steps between the basics and more “advanced” sparring. My point is that we should not lose sight of the connection between basics and “advanced” practice methods. Even a high-ranking instructor should realize the value of extreme basics and be able to practice them in the basic form as it is originally taught to beginners. The idea is to grow in our capabilities, not simply to substitute them.
*(I am putting “advanced” in quotes here to remind us that some of the most advanced training is really found in basics. The fancy and freer types of practice are just that, not necessarily more advanced.)
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published December 1998)