DO I HAVE TO GET FIT BEFORE JOINING?
No. It is not necessary. The training programme is designed to improve fitness, strength and flexibility. In line with one of our Academy motto however, we do encourage our students, regardless of their level of fitness to: "regulate your practice to your physical condition".
ARE THERE SEPARATE BEGINNERS CLASSES?
No. We don't have beginners classes as such, beginners can join at any time. New beginners first join in for the warmup activities and then are taken aside by an assistant instructor to learn basic techniques at their own pace. Later in the lesson they rejoin the group for conditioning and cooldown exercises. During exercises and training drills the new student is paired off with with a more advanced student who will help explain and demonstrate what is required. In this way a beginner can learn faster than they would by training with other new beginners only.
CAN I ATTEND A FREE TRIAL LESSON TO SEE IF I WILL LIKE TRAINING AT THE ACADEMY?
You are most welcome to attend an introductory class, however from the start of 2008 a fee for one class is charged. Contact us and nominate a day you would like to come along. You will need comfortable clothing suitable for training in such as a T-shirt and trackpants.
WHEN WILL I BE ABLE TO DEFEND MYSELF?
There is no moment at which you will achieve a mystical ability to defend yourself from any attack. Clearly there will always be someone who is bigger, stronger, faster or more experienced than you are. Moreover your attacker may be armed or in a group. The best way of answering this question is to say that you will progress within your own framework and even after one lesson you will have a better chance of defending yourself than you did before. The longer you train, the more you will improve your chances relative to how you were when you started. Your rate of progress will also depend on your consistency in training and your overall attitude. As a general rule we normally expect to see students performing at a much higher level within a matter of months. Remember also that your first few levels include a very practical self-defence component.
DO CHILDREN AND ADULTS TRAIN IN THE SAME CLASSES?
No. Children under the age of 13 train in a separate class. Furthermore Childern and teenagers have different belt grading systems to differentiate their grades from adult grades. In the Academy you will not find any 8 year old or even 17 year old 'black belts'.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE THERE IN A CLASS?
Our classes are small with no more than 10-15 people in a class. Furthermore, we often divide up the class into smaller groups for the practise of grade-relevant techniques. In these instances, the instructor is assisted by a number of senior students who help watch over these groups.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO TRAINING?
It is not necessary to purchase a training uniform immediately. All you need is comfortable clothing suitable for training in such as a plain coloured T-shirt and trackpants to begin with. If after your introductory lesson you decide to become a member we would advise that you purchase at least a white belt as the belt is used for certain exercises. We would however expect that a beginner would have a uniform by the time they qualified for their first grading (about 3-4 months after joining).
WHAT IS THE ACADEMY TRAINING UNIFORM?
The uniform (gi) comprises a dark blue karate jacket with the Academy logo on the left front, dark blue pants with elasticised ankle cuffs, an appropriate colour belt and an (optional) Tee-shirt with a Academy logo. Unlike many other martial arts schools that have white uniforms, our uniforms are dark blue so that they are less easily stained and last longer.
I'M AN OLDER PERSON - WILL I BE ABLE TO TRAIN AT THE ACADEMY?
Yes, but bear in mind that the fighting system taught in the Academy constitutes a physical activity on a par with circuit training or an aerobics class in terms of physical exertion. If in doubt - check with your medical practitioner.
DOES THE ACADEMY HAVE A BELT GRADING SYSTEM AND WHY?
Like many other martial arts schools the Academy has a belt grading structure within which the syllabus is taught. Unlike most martial arts schools the Academy has 3 different grading systems depending on age. These are as follows:
- Adults: 17 years and over (see Adult Belt Colours)
- Juniors: 13 - 16 years inclusive* (see Junior Belt Colours)
- Children: 7 - 12 years inclusive# (see Child Belt Colours)
The function of the grading system is to assist both the student in learning, and the instructor in teaching, the techniques relevant to the student's level of expertise.
WHAT AGE CAN CHILDREN START TRAINING AT THE ACADEMY?
Children are eligible to start training at the Academy from 8 years of age. We have found that children younger than that do not yet have the coordination, maturity and concentration span to train and learn what we do without becoming frustrated and bored. When this happens it is often the case that they may be a put off martial arts forever. Naturally there are schools that will happily accept children of any age but the truth is it is better for a young child to begin with less complex physical activities so as to build up the foundation to start martial arts a year or two later.
IS THERE A SPECIAL CHILDREN'S CLASS?
Yes. There is a dedicated once per week childrens' class (for children 8-12 years of age). Teenagers may continue to attend this class and are also invited to attend adults' classes if they wish. There is a separate syllabus for children that is specifically designed to cater for their needs and prepare them not only for the possibility of continuing their training as adults, but also to give them general coordination and other kinaesthetic skills required in life.
WHAT SORT OF WORKOUT CAN I EXPECT FROM A TRAINING SESSION AT THE ACADEMY?
Academy trainings begin with structured warm-up and conditioning exercises, then move on to the vigorous practise of martial arts techniques and drills before concluding cooldown and stretching exercises. Overall the workout provided is on a par with circuit training or an aerobics class in terms of physical exertion.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ME TO GET TO BLACK BELT?
It takes on average 7 years to achieve a 1st Dan Black Belt (Shodan), although some have managed to reach this level of proficiency in approximately 5 years. By the same token, some take longer than 7 years, particularly if their training is interrupted at various stages. It is important to note that the Black Belt means different things in different martial arts schools. In some a Black Belt grade can be attained within 18 months, in others the average is 10 years. In the end seniority is determined by years of experience, not by the colour of your belt. Remember also that the Black Belt is a grade like any other and no grade marks any particular milestone. As in life, the journey is what is important, not the destination.
WHY DON'T KARATE PUNCHES SNAP BACK LIKE THE KICKS?
They do. Initially punches are practised only as a thrust so as to develop kime or focus. Focus is the ability to generate a hydrostatic shock to your opponent's system and involves bringing your punch to a "dead" stop so that all your energy is transmitted into your opponent. If your blow is poorly focused your punch may end up being more of a push. Alternatively if you snap back too soon, you may end up reabsorbing some of the energy. Once you have developed a certain amount of focus you will learn the snap punch (or "jab" as it is known in boxing).
Remember that unlike kicking, punching carries no imperative to snap back. If you are kicking and your leg is caught you may be in a great deal of trouble. However the techniques taught in the Academy’s fighting system, Wu-Wei Dao, anticipate your arm being grabbed and even enable you to use this to your advantage. Furthermore snapping punches back in no way increases their outward speed.
Lastly, not all the kicks snap back. There are many thrusting kicks such as yoko geri kekomi kansetsu (or side thrust kick to the knee) that do not. Your first 2 kicks are snapping ones because these are the most immediately practical, having regard to the need to avoid getting your leg caught. Moreover legs are at least 3 times as powerful as arms and the same degree of subtlety in focus is not essential.
WHY DO WE PRACTISE IN LOW STANCES?
In most fights people stay high for reasons of mobility and this is often used as a criticism of low stance practise. This however misses the point: the low stance is a training tool or aid, rather than the fighting style you would necessarily adopt in a real confrontation (although you may, depending on the circumstances). Just because boxers use the speed ball in punching practise does not mean that they expect to punch someone in the same way.
The principal function of the low stance (apart from teaching you to lower your centre of gravity, increasing your kinesthetic awareness and improving your balance, muscular strength and endurance) is to put your body under an extra load. If you can perform from a very low stance your ability to do so in a higher stance will be greatly enhanced. Accordingly low stances have much the same function to a martial artist as hill training has for a runner.
Remember that the stress and tension of facing a real attacker adds an extra "load" for which you need to be prepared. There is also no danger of "going too low" in a real fight. Our natural tendency is always to increase the height of our stances. That's why it's so hard to stay low when your instructor tells you to.
Finally, stances are not used statically in combat. Rather they are used dynamically as one moves from one position to another (e.g. while lunging into an attack or evading your opponent).
WHY DON'T WE SKIP AROUND LIKE BOXERS?
Boxing is a very different discipline and demands different footwork. For a start a boxer is not anticipating a blow to the groin so he or she can afford to move around in a skipping fashion, with his or her legs permanently apart. A boxer also doesn't expect to be caught by a foot sweep. For our purposes jumping up and down has no real function: it uses up valuable energy and also sets up a rhythm that your opponent can discern and use to his or her advantage. However if you were to try boxing in a ring, the situation would be quite different.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOXER'S PUNCHES AND OUR STRIKES?
We focus our punches, strikes and kicks with a view to generating a hydrostatic shock in our opponent. A boxer does not work on focus because he or she has to punch through a thick padded glove. Accordingly his or her punches have to have a great deal more "push". A good analogy would be to liken our striking to flicking someone with a wet towel, and the boxer's punch to hitting someone with a heavy pillow.
WHEN CAN I START PRACTISING FREE SPARRING?
Students do not practise free sparring until they have attained White 4 belt and are preparing for Green belt. This is necessary:
- to ensure safety in training;
- to teach correct form;
- to concentrate on more immediately useful and practical practice methods (free sparring is very different from self defence); and
- to avoid the "grooving" of bad habits.
WHY DO WE KIAI (shout)?
The kiai (or "spirited shout") has been used by warriors from earliest times. It is also manifest in practically every human activity requiring the expenditure of physical effort (an example being a tennis player's "grunt" as he or she hits the ball). The primary functions of the kiai are:
- to maximize your effort and focus on a particular movement;
- to motivate or encourage yourself; and
- to shock or even injure your opponent.
In relation to the last point it is worth noting that a shout into your opponent's ear at close range (e.g. during grappling) is a very useful technique. There is even an ancient (though rare) art practiced in Japan that focuses on perfecting the use of the kiai as a weapon (called kiai jutsu).
DOES THE ACADEMY TEACH A CONTACT SPORT?
First of all the Academy does not coach sports. It teaches martial arts with a focus on health and practical self-defence. Students in the Academy progress at their own rates and there is no room for 'competitiveness' within that framework. The nearest we come to competition is our concept of the 'Festival' which is more in the form of a series of demonstrations. Martial sports are very different activities with very different objectives.
As far as 'contact' is concerned, in most training drills conducted with a partner, all punches, strikes and kicks are 'pulled' short of contact. The objective of the training is to develop the ability to deliver full power techniques focussed one millimetre short of contact to specific vulnerable points on a sparring partner . Naturally one begins with a greater margin of safety and with time and confidence this distance is reduced. The exception is when practising on 'air shields', bags or makiwara (striking posts) where hard contact may safely be made.
As a result the Academy provides healthy, safe and controlled activities in which injuries are rare and, when they do occur, are usually minor - unlike the situation of competitive contact sports such as various football codes where the goal of winning often outweighs that of safety.
It is important to understand that control of techniques (and of self) is the cornerstone of the teachings of the Academy as it is based on a philosophy of victory over self as opposed to victory over a defeated opponent. Once a student has learned to control his/her techniques this control factor can be removed if the situation arises (and there is no alternative) with the resulting destructiveness. However just as a dog does not need to bite someone for you to know it can, we do not need to hurt someone to know that we can. Remember that 'the fastest swords are never drawn'.
WHAT LANGUAGE IS USED IN THE ACADEMY TO DESCRIBE TECHNIQUES?
In the Academy Japanese, Okinawan, Mandarin, Cantonese, Filipino and English terminology is used although Japanese and Okinawan words tend to predominate. This does not imply that other language words cannot be used but is merely a result of Japanese and Okinawan martial arts being the most systemised. Alternatively, attempting to translate the names of all of the techniques into English would frequently render the names meaningless. In the syllabus notes the shape or appearance of a technique is described in English but in some instances the name of the technique in a particular language has been used exclusively for reasons of clarity or because to attempt translation or even describe appearance would be confusing. Finally, it must be borne clearly in mind that the mere use of the name of the technique has no special significance other than for teaching purposes.