Lessons from Japan: a day with Shohei Toyama from the JKS headquarters honbu dojo in Japan
Updated: Nov 13, 2019
One of the many great advantages of membership of JKS is the opportunity that presents itself to regularly train, not only with Shihan Kagawa Chief Instructor of the JKS but also with the instructors from the JKS headquarters in Japan.
At the most recent event that we attended in Bolton courtesy of Red Tiger Karate Clubs (Manchester), we had the privilege to train under Shohei Toyama who is one of the club instructors at the headquarters in Japan. Notwithstanding the pleasure of training with and seeing high level instructors, these events also present an opportunity to glean insights into what it takes to reach the very highest levels of both competitive and technical mastery of karate.
So rather than bore with monotonous accounts of the day that, it is sufficient to note, was both physically and mentally challenging, I hope to shed light on Sensie Toyama's observations from the day. It was obvious that Toyama is highly skilled, possesses excellent muscular control and co-ordination, has razor sharp reflexes and lightning speed.
He also had a broken thumb - incurred whilst blocking a kick, as Sensei Wolstencroft (JKS Chester's grading examiner) pointed out to me in reference to our last visit to Manchester w,hen I also sported a broken finger from blocking a kick. And while I may not possess Sensei Toyama's other attributes, it was some small comfort to me to know that even HQ instructors can similarly attempt (unsuccessfully) to use their digits against a leg!
The training course concluded with a Q&A session during which Sensei Toyama disclosed that of all the aspects of karate that we (as a group) would benefit from, it would be increased attention to kihon or basics. The continual practise of basics until they are second nature and then continued application so that they remain so, is distinctive and characteristic of Japanese martial arts practise. During an average 2 hour training session it is usual for 1h30mins (75% of the time) to be given over to the practise of basic and basic drills. It is rare in British karate schools that so much time is given over to basics, on average one would suggest that kihon correponds to about a third of total training time (and this is sometimes less during senior/advanced classes).
It was Sensei Toyama's opinion that no further training outside karate was required in order to improve ones karate. So no need to run, lift weights, do yoga, swim etc etc. This viewpoint seemed a little odd (although I for one was pleased to hear it!), until he answered a supplementary question about his own training.
Sensei Toyama then revealed that on Mondays and Tuesdays he practises karate for up to 6 hours per day, on Wednesdays thru Fridays he will then also practise for 2 to 3 hours per day. These hours are reduced because... on those days he also teaches karate!
That's a total of between 18 and 21 hours of training per week. As Sensei Wolstencroft observed 'it kind of puts our average students 1-2 hours per week into perspective!' Clearly in order to become truly great at karate, as with any endeavour, it is a requirement that one focus on that endeavour to the exclusion of almost everything else. That said, for those that wish to be better than average, simply training more often, and with a decent teacher, if you can find one, will reap excellent rewards!
And in closing just a few remarks from Paddy and David on their experiences with meeting other JKS students and sensei - both of them were blown away by the incredible welcome that they received. From the most senior instructors right down to the newest recruits everyone was open, friendly, personable and their joy in, and passion for, the sport was evidenced throughout the day. In Paddy's words: 'it was absolutely brilliant'.
Can't say fairer than that.
So train well, train often and make sure you get down to one of JKS Englands Courses - or any of the courses that we promote - they'll only do you good!