Karate PunchI must say, I can’t help but compare the new Shotokan-based Funakoshi karate system in a far less favourable light to that of my previous style, Kyokushin. Gone is the rigorous focus on basics, a far less stringent Dojo etiquette and in general, it just comes across as a less powerful form of the martial art (when looking at the lower grades in particular).

It’s frustrating not training one’s low and thigh kicks and its frustrating that the almost complete lack of physical contact means that almost no body condition can be obtained even in the slightest. It is at the moment very focused on the semi-contact, sport rules side of the martial art, and in that I feel that a lot of the students suffer because should they be hit in real life, they simply wouldn’t be able to respond accordingly or even take the blow for that matter.

But there is something that I do find quite interesting, and that’s their way of grading. Gone are the mass group workouts, pounding away at basics and katas for hours, only to be rewarded your belt upgrade after you collapse to your knees in a steaming pile of sweat. No, Funakoshi have adopted quite an interesting approach to grading in that it focuses entirely on the individual, thereby dismissing the possibility of simply ‘fading into the crowd’.

Simply put, each karateka gets called up on their lonesome, stepping up before a panel consisting of the head Shihan and all the group black belts, and then asked to perform their required level grading forms or kata as well as literally a handful of moves. Alone. No one to copy, no one to rely on. There is no count, no sound. It is just you performing what you have learnt.

Apparently the pressure is immense. Many first timers freeze up completely, or simply totally forget what they have to do. Some people panic, others get such an adrenaline rush that they race through their routines at such a speed so as to render it a mixed up mush of unrecognisable techniques.

But once you have completed your routine and the Shihan asks you to step down (an remember, you could literally be finished in under five minutes for the lower belts!), that’s it. You have graded and now taken that one further step into the Karate fraternity.

It’s an interesting approach to grading which I haven’t encountered before and as such, look forward to see how I will react the first time I go up. Admittedly the white belt grading is an absolute joke, an extremely short first grading routine that essentially just shows off each one of the main blocks with an associated punch and the followed with three forward thrust kicks on each leg. Pathetic I know, but I have to get it over and done with that I can start climbing the ladder once more.

And on a completely different side note, as much as belt colour doesn’t matter to me, I must admit that it is beginning to grate on my nerves. I’ve been doing martial arts since my early twenties, and still I’m on the lowest level possible. I’ve started off with Tie Hou Quan kung fu which didn’t have a grading system, then I’ve had three restarts with Kyokushin, two of which were with Shihan Hennie Bosman’s branch of the style and one with Shihan Kenny’s split under Sensei Dawson. Now I’m under Sensei Birgitt Smit for Funakoshi, and yup, right back down to level 1. The bloody beginner belt yet again.

Sigh, at least I’m the most knowledgeable white belt around! :P

But the restriction on the knowledge in terms of katas that I have access to because of my non-existent belt colour is beginning to bug me, and I guess just that little bit as well, the lack of respect inferred by a higher grade colour is starting to irk me too – it’s embarrassing stepping out in public still wearing a beginner’s tag! (not to mention this strange basketball like shape I’ve now seemingly tucked in under my dogi!) ;)

Thank goodness April 21st isn’t too long from now! Bring it on Sensei!