Paul Wolstencroft Sensei: JKS Hombu Dojo Training Diary 2015

I have just returned from my first trip to the JKS Hombu Dojo in Japan and I am pleased to say it was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I have kept a training diary to share with the members of Red Tiger Karate Club.  It certainly was one of the most challenging and memorable weeks of my life and I have learned so much. This year marks 10 years of running my own Club and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than learning from the very best Karateka in the World in their own dojo. This will enable me to not only improve my own karate, but everyone else’s in our Club. This trip will be the first of many, I hope that you all find this an interesting and inspiring read.

Japan Diary – Day 1 – Thursday 4th December 2015

The long journey started in the early hours of Wednesday morning with a trip down to Birmingham airport. I met up with Alan Campbell Sensei 6th Dan and Head of JKS England, Steve Carless Sensei 6th Dan JKS & Matt Price Sensei 6th Dan and England Squad Coach.

Our first flight was to Amsterdam airport followed by a long flight to Tokyo arriving at around 10:30am on Thursday morning Japan time (1:30am Thursday morning UK time). We then took a few connection trains to get us to The Homeikan Ryokan, a traditional Japanese style hotel, which was to be our home for the next week.

I was sharing with Shyam Riathatha Sensei and Matt Price Sensei for the week. We laid our traditional futon type beds out on the floor, had a little time to unpack and then met up with Nick Heald Sensei and Ashley Scott-Heald Sensei who had been staying in Okinawa for the K1 WKF Premier League event the week before.

We had just enough time to grab a bite to eat in a Tokyo café, which was the first major big culture shock for me. The food is very different indeed.

We managed to get in an hour of rest before taking the train to the JKS Hombu for evening training. Getting to the dojo was by train again, everything moves by train. There are some cars and retro looking state taxis, which look really cool.

Whilst taking the short trip to the Hombu Dojo we bumped into Yamaguchi Sensei in the underground. He was very polite and welcoming. He explained he was keeping well but was carrying an injury and apologised that was not at the Hombu that evening. He was heading to another location for some personal training.

We arrived at the Hombu to be greeted by Koji Arimoto Sensei who was leading the session for the evening. I was looking forward to training with Arimoto Sensei as I had seen and heard very good things. Arimoto Sensei is Nidan and very high-level Karateka- his session definitely did not disappoint. We watched the remainder of the first session in which he was covering Kata Kanku-Dai. The students must have done the kata around 5-6 times in the last 25 minutes of the session.

Sensei spoke about transfer of weight and correct hip rotation in the first two high level shuto at the start of the kata. Other points centred around smooth movement throughout the kata with correct foot position and weight transfer when moving from one stance to the next.

After meeting a few international seniors, we were quickly called to make our lines by the dojo captain. Our team captain took us all though a very light warm up and stretching before training began with Arimoto Sensei.

The session then started with reps of Kihon from zenkutsudachi. Jodan oizuki punch followed by gyakuzuki reverse punch. Sensei talked about keeping the lead knee pushed forward and not allowing it to drift side to side when punching. Keeping the head back and making good rotation with plenty of hanmi and gyaku hanmi. After a fair few reps with various students calling the numbers we moved onto kicking drill using mae geri.

Sensei wanted to see us push more using the hips to drive the kick. The kicking section closed with us practising yoko geri keage (side snap kick). Sensei explained the difference in the correct position and how the kick should return. We did a short section on kibadachi (horse riding stance) with sanbonzuki – straight punch then punch to each corner. The emphasis here was on keeping the heel down on the twist and driving the weight forward into the attack, as opposed to backwards.

Sensei explained Shito-ryu practitioners often drive their heel backwards, but Shotokan practitioners should drive the weight forward, as well as pivoting.

The last section of the class was spent covering the Kata Sochin. We worked through the whole kata several times before breaking it down and working on small sections.

This was a very enjoyable session from a very talented Karateka.

Japan Diary – Day 2 – Friday 4th December

We woke up nice and early for a Japanese style bath and some breakfast, before setting off to the Hombu Dojo for the morning training session. There was a real buzz about the place as Kanayama Sensei 7th Dan was taking this session. Sensei is the Head of the Domestic Department in Japan and one of the most senior Hombu Instructors.

Kayo Someya Sensei, fresh from taking Gold in the K1 WKF under 55 kg Kumite, led warm up. Kanayama Sensei then took the group through basic chudan punches and added stepping into zenkutsudachi in different directions.

Sensei then took the group through Kata Heian Shodan. Due to the lack of space in the Dojo, Sensei had us switching on the spot with quick sharp movement. After a short drinks break we were asked to pair up. I partnered with Matt Price Sensei and covered some punching drills.

The session concluded with Kata Bassai-Dai. Several points were made and practised repeatedly including the opening move being a drive forward with no knee lift but foot stamp on the landing and correct posture when performing the double punches.

This was a very warm but enjoyable session, which left me looking forward to evening session.

We had some free time in the afternoon and made the most of it by visiting the Sensoji Temple, which is the oldest Temple in Tokyo. It is said that it was built in around 628AD. It’s famous for its Kaminarimon gate, where a giant lantern hangs. We also walked around the markets and had our fortune read by a fortune teller.

Kanayama Sensei again taught the evening session. Sensei took us through more Kihon training, working zenkutsudachi with gyakuzuki punch, followed by a drop down to the floor coming back up into a punch. We did 20 repetitions on both legs and later added maegeri front kick. This was a very challenging exercise, but Kanayama Sensei did every one with us!

Sensei then took the group through Katas Junro Shodan, Junro Nidan, Junro Sandan, Junro Yondan and Junro Godan. We were corrected on important points throughout each Kata. The session for the day concluded with Kata Kihon, repeated several times.

It is quite inspirational to see a Sensei lead by example. Kanayama Sensei has got a reputation for being the iron man, who motivates his class to work harder then they have ever worked before. I found this to be very true.

Japan Diary – Day 3 – Saturday 5th December 

On Saturday, we were attending the International Technical Seminar that we’d travelled so far for, which was held at Teikyo University. Senior Instructors from all over the world travel to train under Kagawa Shihan, in order to make sure that there is teaching consistency throughout the world.

The day started very early with a long journey to the university ahead of us. We had to get three tube trains and a bus. It was a lovely sunny morning without a cloud in the sky. Just travelling through Tokyo, taking in the sights and seeing the differences in lifestyle and infrastructure is a great experience in itself.

Kagawa Shihan opened the International Seminar. He gave us all a warm and friendly welcome and said that he was very happy that JKS was growing with increasing numbers of international instructors joining the seminar year after year.

After a short warm up by a member of the instructor programme, Kagawa Shihan then took the group through Kihon training covering chudan punches with emphasis on hikite (pull back of the fist). We then moved onto sanbon kumite and finished the punching drills with an 8-step combination, moving forward and back, left and right.

Kagawa Shihan than demonstrated how to kick making mae geri from, dropping the back leg down and sinking back into a stretch position and coming back up kicking kizami maegeri (off the front leg). We did this twenty times off each leg. This was very hard on the legs. Shihan said Asai Sensei used to do 100 repetitions on each leg every day.

After a short break, we the split into three groups with Shodans, Nidans and Sandans in one section and Yondans and above in the other group. Our group was led by Yamaguchi Sensei 7th Dan and Head of International Affairs. Yamaguchi Sensei took the group through standardisation of the Kata Kanku-sho.

At various points throughout, we were corrected and shown how the JKS practise the Kata. We repeated the Kata several times, which allowed us to improve. Yamaguchi Sensei mainly used Arimoto Sensei to demonstrate. The demonstrations were very clear and stunning to say the least.

Kagawa Shihan then stepped in and demonstrated the yoko geri keage (side snap kick) with uraken (side back fist) and empi (elbow strike) that is present in a number of kata. Shihan wanted us to use our hip more on the kick and make direct movement towards the target. The group was then split into two and we were asked to show Kata Kanku-sho to our own timing. It was a fantastic and humbling experience to be able to watch the senior grades in the JKS perform this Kata.

Session two was lead by Kanayama Sensei, where he taught Kata Ji’in. We worked through the whole Kata several times while being corrected throughout. Again, we were able to watch the senior grades perform this Kata and they were incredible.

Kagawa Sensei taught the last section of the day and again took us through stances, movement and Kihon drills. He corrected the group throughout and paid so much attention to detail, he explains and inspires, it is easy to see why he has produced and continues to produce World Champions. He thanks us all for our hard work throughout the day and seemed to be very grateful for our efforts.

Japan Diary – Day 4 – Sunday 6th December 

Day 2 of the International Technical Seminar. Another early start for the long journey to Teikyo University, the Seminar opened with a warm up by one of the students from the Hombu Dojo Instructor’s Course.

Kanayama Sensei took the first session and kicked it off with more Kihon training. We worked on kicking techniques performed very slowly; this was hard and burned the legs. He then followed this up by taking us through yoko geri kekomi (side thrust kick) in kibadachi (horse-riding stance). This exercise was repeated 20 times on each leg. Sensei wanted the group to make sure they were not stamping the foot down after each kick and staying in control of their movement. The section finished with the whole group holding hands in line kicking mae geri without putting our foot down.

After a short break, Yamaguchi Sensei took the whole group through Kakyoku Nidan. We were told that this is one of two Koten Katas needed for the preliminary rounds at the 2016 World Championships in Scotland.

The Kata was performed to a slow count to familiarise people with the pattern. The pace was picked up with Sensei asking students who didn’t know the Kata to work on getting a feel for how the Kata should be done, rather than just learning the pattern.

Yamaguchi asked Arimoto Sensei to assist him and demonstrate the full Kata. After he bowed out of the Kata, Yamaguchi Sensei said that it was done incorrectly because there was too much tension in the moves. It was very inspiration to see a top-level karateka working on a low-level Asai-Ryu Kata and still trying to improve and refine it.

Last up was Kagawa Shihan, who was on fine form taking the whole group through tai sabaki (evasive foot work drills) in lines before pairing us up. I paired with Steve Carless Sensei. We covered several drills that aimed to improve our movement during kumite. Kagawa Shihan performed several demonstrations, which had the whole group in awe of his exceptional technique.

The seminar concluded with Dan Grades Examinations and Instructors Examinations behind closed doors. Alan Campbell Sensei, Matt Price Sensei and Steve Carless Sensei all took the various examinations for Instructor and referee qualifications. At this time the results remain unknown.

Nick Heald Sensei from LKA was successful in his attempt to cross over 6th Dan. He performed Kata Nijushiho and was asked to perform random kata. Kagawa Shihan chose the Kata Kanku-Dai. He performed both Katas to a high standard before demonstrating Jiyu Kumite.

Shyam Sensei was also successful grading to 5th Dan. He performed Nijushiho and demonstrated technical ability with a round of Kumite. Well done to both for the months of hard work that go into preparing for these Dan grades and keeping their composure on the day.

Japan Diary – Day 5 – Monday 7th December

Following our marathon weekend of training, we turned up at the Hombu dojo for more training. I was pleased to see that once again we were going to get to train with Arimoto Sensei. The first part of the session was more kihon training. The 2nd part of the session focused on Kata Hangetsu (half moon).

Sensei demonstrated the correct form of hangestsudachi, which is the stance used throughout the Kata. It was just shorter than a long stance with the front leg turned in he also described how the stance should feel. We also touched on the breathing side of the Kata. Sensei said he sees lots of students holding their breath or breathing incorrectly.

Watanabe Sensei taught the evening session. I was hoping to get the opportunity to train with the JKS World Kumite Champion and his session did not disappoint one bit.

The session started with some kihon training, which was followed up by going through Kihon Ippon. The only real difference being the addition of an ushiro geri (back kick). We did a few rotations between partners and I actually got to work with Watanabe Sensei, which was very inspiring and slightly painful!

Watanabe Sensei closed the class with Kata Junro Shodan and Junro Nidan performed slowly, at a medium pace and full focus.

Japan Diary – Day 6 – Tuesday 8th December – Our final day 🙁

Inada Sensei & Okamoto Sensei took the morning session; I was very pleased to be training with Inada Sensei for the first time ever and eagerly anticipated getting the opportunity to train once again with the ultimate taskmaster – Okamoto Sensei. I knew this session was going to be hard and every minute of it was!

Inada Sensei took the first part of the session taking the class through double punch drills in long stance and moved onto working in pairs on kicking drills. This was challenging and enjoyable at the same time.

After a short drink break Okamoto Sensei led the second part of the session and took us through Kata Kanku-dai. We worked through the kata slowly to the count, and then repeated the more technically challenging parts of the Kata. We finished the kata with a strong pace to our own timing.

Okamoto Sensei then took the group through Unsu. We again started with a slow pace before breaking the kata down. We worked specifically on the two mawashi geri kicks from the floor. We spent around 15 minutes on repeatedly trying to get correct form and position of the leg and foot, and the correct position of the leg on return. Sensei demonstrated this several times before taking us through the whole kata to the count to finish.

The final session was led by Matsue Sensei. I have trained with Matsue Sensei before at the LKA Dojo and I thought I knew what to expect. This time he did more kicking drills and made it even harder. Mae geri, yoko geri, mawashi geri and ura mawashi geri all from zenkusodachi, 4 repetitions to one count, over and over again. This was hard on the legs and Matsue Sensei enjoyed every minute of it.  He allowed us a short and much needed break before teaching Katas Junro Shodan and Junro Yondan. He broke these down and asked us to practise the Katas over and over again. A fantastic way to end what was a tiring but thoroughly enjoyable trip.

I have really enjoyed the training I have received from all the Hombu Dojo Instructors throughout this week. It has been an experience of a lifetime and I have learned so much from my first ever week in Japan. I cannot wait to share my experience with the students of Red Tiger and would encourage anyone thinking about travelling to Tokyo to train at the Hombu to go ahead and do it.

I would like to thank Alan Campbell Sensei for giving me the opportunity and making a dream come true.  Thanks to all the Instructors who have covered my classes this week and enabled me to take advantage of this unique opportunity. I wold also like to thank all of the Seniors from JKS England who made this such an enjoyable and unforgettable trip; Matt Price Sensei, Nick Heald Sensei, Ashley Scott Sensei, Steve Carless Sensei, Ben Richardson Sensei and Shyam Sensei.

I have added a few photos below from the trip.

Matsue Sensei SessionKayo Someya SenseiKanayama SenseiOkamoto Sensei SessionSunday evening celebrationTeikyo University DojoWatanabe SenseiYamaguchi SenseiNagaki Sensei