Beginners- White, Orange and Red belts
By Jess Muller
I feel that beginners should spend the majority of their lesson time working on their fundamentals. This should include: the stances, the blocks, kicks and punches. Also, correct positioning of the body should be taught (weight distribution,) as well as how to correctly execute the moves.
So, in a 90 minutes lesson, 60 minutes should be spent on basic training, with the rest spent on warming up and cooling down. This will ensure that good power, skill and precision is learnt early on without overloading the brain with trying to learn a form as well as basic moves.
Once they have gathered some knowledge on the basics, and can complete each move without assistance, fighting can now be introduced. This is because they have now developed good skill, precision, control and concentration, due to the time spent learning the basics. Now the blocks, kicks and punches can be incorporated into the fighting. This is far more effective (I feel,) because it is easier to develop as they can see the moves being put into practice. Also, there is a smaller chance of injury as they have more knowledge on how to execute the techniques carefully and correctly. Therefore, rather than going into a fight blind with no previous experience, they will be prepared with some moves. By having good fighting skills the individual can gain good power, skill, precision, strength, control and timing, which can be incorporated into the basics and then katas/forms.
Once the basics have been further improved and the individual can now fight with relative skill and competency, it is time to introduce kata and/or forms. Heian Shodan is the first kata that is taught in Shotokan Karate. It encompasses the basic head and stomach height punches, as well as the downward block (Gedan Barai.) This is all the kata includes so it requires the very basic moves to be correct otherwise this won’t allow the kata to look good and be good. By having a good kata the individual can gain good balance, precision, strength, skill, control and concentration. Thus making the basics better as these new found skills can now be used to improve their basics and fighting. If the club starts learning forms first instead of katas, then the first form they will learn will be the Kickboxing Form. This includes the basic punches (jab, cross, hook and upper cuts to the head,) and two of the basic kicks, front kick (mae-geri,) and roundhouse kick (mawashi geri.) From this you can then learn the same skills as katas, just in different ways.
Advanced Practitioner- Purple to Brown and two white stripes.
By the time that practitioners have reached this level, they are considered advanced grades. The time should be split accordingly to their strengths and weaknesses. For example: if there are 30 people in the class, and 18 aren’t very competent at kata, and the remaining 12 need practice on their fighting, then the time should be split in half evenly. This ensures that everyone can improve in their certain weakness, but also improve in another area even more. By improving your weaknesses, you are making yourself a rounded martial artist as you are good at everything and not just one thing.
In a 90 minute class, the time divide will probably not be equal. More time will be spent or fighting drills or combinations rather than the basic techniques. Or you may start off with the basics quickly (as a warm up for 15 minutes,) and go into kata for 45 minutes and then fighting for 30 minutes. This helps to make sure that everyone is improving in every area, and not just in one.
As advanced grades, they should be learning more advanced fundamentals like multiple kicks on one leg and combinations of moves. There shouldn’t be a long time spent on fundamentals (like there is for beginners,) but the focus should be on the fighting and kata.
In fighting, individuals should now be thinking about: the gaps for the techniques, the speed, precision, guard and the techniques. This is because they can fight at these grades, and know what they are doing, but they need to understand their opponent too. Also, it is about pushing the individuals so that they have to think about where they are going instead of aimlessly throwing techniques. By understanding your opponent, you can read them to see any tell-tale signs of movement, or to see what techniques they do the most.
In their kata/forms work, they should know at least 3-5 forms (kickboxing form, close quarter form, power hands, 16 gates and possibly 13 hands.) This is for purple belts – higher grades should know all of the forms. Or the katas: heian shodan, heian nedan, heian sandan, heian yondan and tekki shodan– if they are taught the katas and not forms. This will increase their memory bank of moves as the different katas/forms contain different moves. In addition, they also begin to show different techniques which advanced practitioners need to work on. For example, in tekki shodan, it begins to teach the action of moving the waist and not the hips to generate more power. Likewise the close quarter form teaches this too.
Differences between the grades
A beginner should spend most of their time repeating: basic moves, katas and sets of moves. This will make the muscles remember the move and also make their brains remember how to correctly do a technique, or kata/form or fighting. However, an advanced practitioner would spend their time on increasing the speed of a technique, or the precision of a move or kata/form. They would spend less time repeating the basic moves, just briefly going over them to make sure that everything is correct.
The attitudes should be different as lower grades should be trying to catch up with the higher grades, and trying to improve as quickly as possible. The advanced grades should be looking at improving everything to get to black belt standard as it is in their reach, and still trying to prove how much of a gap there is between them and the lower grades. This shouldn’t be a negative thing; it is a good way of improvement, when you have a target that you are desperate to reach as it is achievable.
Summary of differences
- Lower grades should spend more time on their fundamentals than any other area to get a good basis for katas/forms and fighting. Advanced grades should split the time between the three areas, especially the area that they aren’t so good at.
- More repetition of fundamentals is required for lower grades compared to advanced grades.
- Advanced grades should be improving the speed and precision of the fundamentals whereas the lower grades should be focusing on doing the moves correctly.
- Advanced grades should try to learn harder techniques (multiple kicks, or hard combinations,) compared to lower grades who should get the very basic moves correct first.
- In Katas/Forms, lower grades should know one or two, and make sure that they can remember them and demonstrate them independently. Advanced grades should know multiple katas/forms all at a good standard.
- Advanced grades should think about their body positioning, weight distribution and waist movement to generate power and make every move as strong as possible. Lower grades should think about where the target is for every move and think about what the moves could be used for (Bunkai– analyzing the moves within in a kata/form to see what they could be used for.)
- In Fighting, lower grades should try and use a few basic moves that they know (blocks, punches, front kick and roundhouse kicks,) to the best of their ability. Advanced grades know more techniques, so they should put them into practice to see if they work well for them as an individual.
- Advanced grades should think about the openings of the opponent, and throw suitable techniques for that gap. Lower grades should think about where they are aiming their technique – head, stomach or leg.