1000 Kicks

Congratulations to all those that took part in the Kicking for Cancer event on 17 February. It was hard work but everyone did a fantastic job. With a combination of air kicks, partner work and pads the time was around 35-40 minutes all in. Our star turn was Jonathan, who turned up for his third lesson unaware of the event but jumped in anyway and rattled the kicks off!

The video is now up in the gallery and on YouTube. Just click the logo on the frontpage.

We are yet to get the final figures in but provisional numbers are around £1000 raised for Macmillan. Well done all. My father would have been very proud of the martial spirit!

Can I Kick It? (Yes, You Can!)

With the kickathon fast approaching it seems an opportune time for some hints and tips on kicking (keri waza). Kicking well is actually the hardest thing to do in goho waza (hard techniques). Hand work is simpler…it requires little conditioning and flexibility and people have better coordination and balance. Kicking requires all of the above. Even gedan geri (low kicks) which we do a lot of, requires good form to execute effectively. Here are some simple rules: 

  1. It all starts with the foot. The kick starts with the supporting foot. The foot should almost always turn outwards to open the hips for support and power. Generally you keep the supporting foot at 0º for a back kick (ushiro geri), 45º forwards for a straight kick (choku geri), 135º for a turning kick (mawashi geri) and 180º for a side kick (yoko geri). You should always turn on your ball of your foot and never your heel (like a lot of Chinese internal styles do). Actually, your heels should barely touch the floor most of the time!
  2. Strong support. Your supporting leg should be bent initially and only straighten towards impact. If you start with a straight leg you are sure to lose balance. You need conditioning in your hamstrings and quads to provide a good lift off.
  3. Knee lift. Make sure you lift your knee first, otherwise you will be doing a footie kick. Most people think a simple knee lift is all it takes but in my experience this is where they go wrong. One of the tricks to a really good, sharp and powerful kick is what I call the “tuck”. You basically lift your knee and bring your heel to your bum at the same time. The kick is tighter and comes out like a cannon.
  4. All in the hips. The difference between a power kick and a wafting, flappy kick is the hips. Or more specifically the glutes. Engaging these by pushing your hips forwards is what drives the whole of your bodyweight into the kick. Otherwise you are just using your legs. You really need strong, conditioned glutes to have good balance and power. You also need to learn to be able to relax them when stretching to get good flexibility. I can not emphasise enough the importance of glutes in kicking. If you are unable to do a slow, controlled kick then you are quite simply not even in the kicking game.
  5. What do I do with the toes? This depends on what you have on. Generally, mawashi geri is better performed with pointed toes, even when you are barefoot. It’s too difficult to be accurate with the ball of the foot and you can generally take a bit pain on the top of the foot if you hit something boney. Kinteki geri (groin kick) is also performed with the top of the foot but the foot is loose to provide a whipping action like me uchi (eye strike). Choku geri (straight kick) is with the ball of the foot: the foot pushed forward and the toes curled back. Otherwise you will break your toes. Ushiro geri is with the heel and yoko geri is with the side of the foot (sokuto or sword foot). Its important to get your toes in the right place otherwise you’ll suffer the consequences. It’s best to practise these by stamping on the floor or lightly kicking a wall. Break boards are an excellent way to get a good foot position too.
  6. Body structure. It really important to keep a solid body structure. This is to keep your balance and engage your body into the kick, maximising power. The way to do this is engage the core and keep a straight back. Never tilt your head…keep it straight. The best way to know if you have the right structure is how your kick looks. If it looks untidy, then you need to engage your core more.
  7. Snap vs. lock. There are many ways to execute a kick. You can snap, smash, lock or push. Snap kicks are usually stingy and really painful. Kicks which smash, like thai kicks, generally hurt but wear you down over time. I prefer snap kicks to get me in and smash kicks to finish. For long range kicks like yoko geri and ushiro geri its better to lock the leg slightly. This gives more power and makes sure you have the right execution. Yoko geri is the hardest kick to do well…my old Shorinji instructor used to always say it shows how good a kicker the person is. The trick is to lock the leg for a second before retracting. If your dogi trousers make a nice snap sound then you are probably doing it right.
  8. Flappy arms. The arms should really do two things: counter motion and protect. You generally use one arm to counter balance your kick. The other arm should be used to protect the head or some other body part. Always assume you are being punched in the head when you kick and you will keep you hands up as habit. If you are a hand dropper, which is most people’s habit, its only a matter of time when someone steps inside your kicking range and clocks you one.
  9. Smooth action. The beauty of kicking is that most of the above bits come fairly naturally to the body. It’s just a matter of fine tuning them. Fast kicks are usually much easier than slow ones but it’s easy to fall into bad habits. Its best to practise one bit slowly till you get it right and the muscle memory kicks in. Then add speed. Then go onto the next one. The more boxes you tick on this list the better and smoother your kick action will be. Quick and powerful kicks are effortless. Your body is relaxed to get the leg out quickly, you gear up the momentum and then delivery with power and aggression.

There will be plenty of chance to practise on Thursday for the kickathon. Doing 1000 kicks is tiring, particularly on your glutes. The trick is to keep the right technique and keep relaxed. Can you kick it?

Barker’s Beard

Yes, the beard is back. I’ve had a number of people ask why…Actually, for those that know me before Bushin you will remember I had one previously. While it’s never been a huge, bushy affair it was always there. For 10 years in fact I had it…almost as long as the shaven head.

When I moved to Japan in 1998 I had a reasonable head of hair…about the length of Olly’s. I went to live in Japan to study Shorinji Kempo and got a job at an English conversation school to pay the bills. My first week consisted of a training course and I met up with my teacher trainer and had a day of orientation. The next morning I decided to get a haircut. Obviously the hairdresser didn’t speak any English and my Japanese at the time was quite limited. “koko yon” (pointing to top), “koko ni” (pointing to side), I said. “Here four, here two”, referring to the trimmer size to be used. “hai hai hai” she replied. She picked up the trimmer, set it number zero and put it straight down the middle of my head. After my initial scream I decided I had to let her carry on and finish the sheep shearing exercise. At least it would be even.

The next day I went back to my course. My teacher trainer introduced himself to me again, not recognising me from the day before. I then had my first lesson. I prepared my materials and sat down in the room. The teachers were all staring at me in fear. I asked them what was wrong. They all pointed at my hair. “why you have short hair? Are you army?”one asked. In those days short hair was a rare sight, especially with foreigners. “No” I replied and recounted the story. They all fell about laughing. I seemed to have the perfect icebreaker for my job. So there it stayed until this present day.

The beard came one year later. I grew it on a trip to Thailand for a bit of fun. The Japanese immigration officers didn’t take to kindly to it though and on my return questioned my passport picture and gave me the third degree about my trip. It took me the best part of an hour to clear customs, despite my fluency in Japanese at the time. Obviously it was the fashion for drug dealers then. Again it became another story to amuse the English students with, so I kept it.

I shaved the beard off when I started Bushin at the beginning of 2009. It seemed an opportune time as a fresh start and a new beginning. I missed the beard but enjoyed the new look which allowed me to be a bit lazier about my shaving habits (which seems a bit trendy these days). But now the beard is back. I’ve grown it back in memory of my late father, Lawrence Barker. The Barker stubble is endemic and it took years for us to convince my Dad to cover the six o’clock shadow with a beard. When he first grew it, it looked more like Bill Odie’s…a huge multi-coloured badger style. Over the years it shrunk and eventually he had a goatie like mine. He kept his beard right up until the last week before he died.

My dad was a proud father. Many of you have met him from the Bushin opening demonstration. In fact the picture of him watching in the audience is my favourite one. He was always there to support me in my martial arts career, even from when I was a kid. My old training partner, Joseph Koniak, said to me only the other day how he was always jealous that my Dad would always come along to watch while his own parents were never present. Even in his final days he was still asking how the club was doing and how I was managing to run the class while still looking after him.

Dad took an avid interest in my endeavours and always asked what martial art I was training in at the time and how my club was doing. He was the only visitor who ever managed to come to my Shorinji Kempo dojo in Japan. He loved the visit and it was the first time he had been called a young whippersnapper by my old instructor, Goda sensei, who was 76 years old at the time and a 9th dan, the highest rank in Shorinji Kempo. I recently found a number of pictures on his computer of Hombu, the headquarters, which he also visited with much interest. A lot of senior Shorinji Kempo students have never even been.

Dad was a fitness fanatic and even at the grand age of 71 he was going to the gym twice a week and having a workout everyday. He would put his fellow gym-goers to shame and would probably give most of the Bushin students a run for their money. We often swapped notes on stretching techniques and various fitness torture devices.

If there is anything I can thank Dad for it’s for passing on his ability to work hard and keep going until you get the job done. To never give up, whatever the hardship. He fought his cancer all the way to the end, even though he knew it was a lost cause. He never gave up hope despite the fact it took him from us in a mere seven weeks. The bulldog barker approach. We never give up a fight. “Nana karobi ya oki” as the Japanese say…if you fall down seven times, get up eight.

I can only hope that by having a rather feeble attempt at a beard, a small part of this great man can live on in me. Everyone always says you grow up to be your parents. If I turn out to be half the men my father was I would be very proud.