Training in Shotokan Karate
Training in Shotokan Karate can't be described in a few sentences, it has to be experienced first-hand. However, here are a few words outlining the main features.
Kihon (or "basics") are the building blocks of karate; the individual stances, blocks and strikes, performed singly or in combination. When executing any karate techniques the right mental attitude is as important as the physical action. All the following elements need to be applied correctly, depending on the situation: speed (or slowness) of movement, physical strength (or relaxation) and extension (or contraction) of the body. The student's entire being, mind and body, has to be focused on the desired outcome, or target, of the technique. Because of this, karate is an excellent way of escaping the stresses of everyday modern life. Correct breathing is essential to karate practice, and this has its own health benefits.
Kumite is the practice of karate techniques with a partner. In the simplest form (five step kumite), a single pre-set attack and pre-set defense are performed to the count. Students progress through increasingly more complex one-step techniques to include semi- and fully freestyle fighting. However ferociously this may be executed at higher grades, it must always be non-contact.
Rather than kumite, as people might assume, the practice of kata is often said to be the key to understanding karate. A kata is a pre-arranged sequence of techniques performed by the solo student in a continual sequence, as well as he or she can possibly perform. As well as being an exacting test of ability, kata is also a 'library' of highly effective unarmed combat or self-defence drills. Many of the kata in the shotokan syllabus were adapted from earlier Chinese and Japanese martial arts that existed before Sensei Funakoshi's time.
There are twenty-seven kata generally regarded as "belonging" to the shotokan style. These cover the entire range of a karate student's training, from Taikyoku Shodan, the first kata learnt by beginners, through to highly advanced forms such as Gojushiho Dai or Gankaku Sho, which are usually only practiced by experienced black belt students. Learning to perform all these kata well and understanding the meaning of all the movements in them will often take decades of training. Many of these kata also exist in different forms, with different names, in other karate styles. Some of these are included in the Seishin Kyokai syllabus.
Karate, as a Japanese martial art, has a certain amount of ritual and etiquette associated with it. While some of this simply expresses karate's place of origin (the names of the various techniques, commands and other terms used are Japanese), it also provides a useful basis for the discipline necessary for everyone to train safely in the dojo, and for students to conduct themselves properly outside the dojo and not misuse the skills they are taught.