by Sensei Walt Fast
There used to be five major styles of karate: Shotokan, Wado Ryu, Chito Ryu, Shorin Ryu and Goju Ryu.
Now there are as many styles as there are former "World Champions". I'm not talking about Mr. Lewis and Mr. Wallace who are the real thing, but those who aspire to greatness by adding music or superficial changes to an existing martial art.
From a down to earth perspective, these original five styles are all the same: kick punch and block. What describes the style more accurately is the kata practised by its members.
If karate is seen as a house, then kata is the shape or framework of that house. Each style of karate has a different looking house.
Further, if kata gives the house an outline or shape, then basics are the foundations of that structure. With a good foundation any structure is ensured function, stability and longevity.
The underment (foundation) of the house must be maintained; any weakness or cracks will result in structural damage to the building. Similarly, weak basic stances will show up in kata as well as kumite.
A very strong support means a larger more intricate building can be erected. Well performed basics and sharp movements translate explosive power to kata and kumite alike.
Any number of similar analogies can be drawn here yet I'd like to emphasize the next point.
The basics are the same from white belt through to the oldest black belt. It is our perception and execution of these basics that change as we progress through the ranks.
This was abundantly clear to me at the Peter Ciolfi Memorial Tournament in Welland on the 21st of March. The mandatory kata for black belt levels was a random pick from the Pinan katas.
It was great to see kids, teenagers, adult kyu belts as well as all black belts doing the same katas.
Though the basics are all the same, the delivery and intensity of the katas were vastly different. Even in the black belt levels, the impact of the moves was clearly more explosive in the higher ranks.
Doing the basics are where karateka first find strength, and where karate first begins to make sense.
When I first learned karate the movements seemed awkward, the stances hard to hold. As time progressed I became aware of the inherent strength in having a good stance when doing a technique. I'll never forget the day I discovered real power with a reverse punch in zenkutsu dache.
We'd been punching for what seemed like hours and were covered with sweat. I felt tired yet calm. I also felt as if my whole body from the tips of my toes to the top of my head was behind that gyoku- tsuki.
I remember thinking "Wow, that's it! And it seemed effortless!". I looked over at my Sensei and saw a satisfied smile on his face as he nodded slightly, then continued the count.
Here I am years later still doing the basics, still teaching the basics in every class. Basics are the vehicle where I first found power and made karate my own.
Doing basics is like going to the well for a cool drink of water. It's like touching base or like going back home.
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