the corona chronicles – day 56

it’s been a while since my last post. this is a strange time in our life indeed. a bizarre mixture of great change and upheaval alongside mind numbing monotony. at times it looks like time itself has stood still and then all of a sudden one realises that whole months have gone past.

it is a period characterised by many changes, many unpleasant, but some that could benefit us and as such we might want to maintain even once this pestilence is vanquished. one such change born out of necessity is online social interaction. we resorted to meeting online in order to continue training and later on we formed a discussion group fondly called “the armchair karateka” in which we discuss various aspects of karate.

our last online session took place last saturday and the chosen topic was books about karate and martial arts. in this post i will cover the various titles we discuss.

the first book we reviewed was Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. the book tells the story of a brit who lived in japan for a while and decided to take up a martial art and chose aikido. the book tells through very vivid descriptions about the arduous training regime he endured and life in japan in general. whilst it doesn’t give much insight into the mechanics of aikido nor martial arts in general it is a pleasant and worthwhile read that tells the story of one man’s journey. the edition i read has the tagline “a normal bloke becomes a deadly weapon” which gives the allusion that at some point in the book there will be a story of a confrontation where the hero’s skill is tested, however that never happens. neil revealed that his edition features a different tagline reading “an Oxford poet trains with the riot police”, which is much more accurate in describing the main theme of the book.

next neil reviewed Karate Stupid by sensei Scott Langley. in karate stupid scott langley tells his story of attending the JKA instructors’ course. the main theme of the book is in a way similar to the one above with the differences being that on the one hand the book is about karate and shotokan karate in particular, but on the other that Robert Twigger is probably the better writer. the release of the book ultimately led to scott langley and the JKA parting ways as they were unhappy with they langely’s portrayal  of the course and the association by extension.

after that neil produced some DVDs from his extensive library including titles by sensei Frank Brennan, sensei Richard Amos (WTKO), sensei John Bruke (specialises in bunkai), and the late sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa (SKIF). from there we discussed the benefits and scope of learning from video especially in the current circumstance. the general consensus was that the lack of feedback was a major drawback.

next richard, who also practices aikido, presented Aikido – the Tomiki Way by Neil Saunders. the book provides a brief introduction about aikido, but is mostly a technical manual of aikido techniques.

from there, combining the two topics – aikido and videos – i talked about the youtube channel of an aikidoka who trained for 14 years until he realised it did not live up to its promise of and effective self-defence system and so made the transition into MMA. whatever you think about aikido or martial arts in general it is a very honest and inspiring personal story of a person with tremendous integrity.

that led into a discussion about practical self-defence at which point neil produced two books by Rory Miller: Meditations on Violence and Facing Violence. Rory Miller worked in the US correctional system and had to face a multitude real life violent situations that informed his approach to developing effective strategies for dealing with such circumstance, which also cover legal and psychological aspects.

we then went into discussing a plethora of self-defence issues and fighting systems including Israeli Krav Maga, Russian Systema, and ultimately discussed the karate concept of “one punch, one kill” and whether it holds true. at this point neil produced a book with the promising title of Shotokan’s Secret by Bruce Clayton, a book that pertains to reveal the hidden origins of shotokan karate and the secret therein, a book that neil admitted to never finishing.

next richard introduced Autism and Martial Arts by Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis, which is a martial arts guide for people on the autistic spectrum aimed at students, parents and instructors. the author is a 6th dan karateka and holds a degree in education with a focus on autism. richard also presented Ki and the Way of the Martial Arts by Kenji Tokitsu, which explores the cultivation of one’s inner energy (ki).

i then presented a book recommended to me by neil – the Sports Gene by David Epstein. as i have only just started the book i cannot give a full review, but its tagline of “talent, practice and the truth about success”, is reflected well in the opening chapter. the book examines what really contributes more towards success – talent or practice.

from there we talked about zanshin and whether it was merely experience gained through training as opposed to some kind of unique intuition which is divined in the dojo. we also discussed how training can engender behavioral changes that in their own right make one less likely to become embroiled in a fight.

finally neil present The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. neil described it as “not a comfortable read”, but one that “would change the way you think”. the book discusses the importance of tuning in to our innate primordial sense of fear in order to avoid dangerous situations. neil summed up his review with “buy it. read it.”


the corona chronicles – day 19

another fantastic video by sensei Christian Øygarden from Vestby karate (Norway). i like minimalism and here christian very skillfully condenses heian nidan to a space so small it can be practiced virtually anywhere.

the commentary is in norwegian, but watch the video nonetheless. the demonstration is very detailed and karate is an international language. note how christian generates power from his legs and hips. another technical point is that the 90° angles have been reduced to 45°. note how cristian aligns his feet with the angle. this is necessary to generate power in the correct direction and also in order to protect our knees.

also note the modification of morote uke. in his modified form christian executes the technique as a right handed uchi uke block and left handed ura zuki (uppercut) strike. this is something we have discussed in the dojo in the past and is a more contemporary way of interpreting the technique rather than merely as a more solid block.

at any rate, what i like the most about this video is that it’s a single unedited shot. at some point in the demonstration christian gets a bit muddled with the sides, but he just gathers his thoughts and carries on. some people would have perhaps edited it out, or reshot the section, but christian chose to just leave it in. this shows us that mistakes are a natural part of the training and learning process. they are definitely something we should strive to minimise, but they are also an integral part of our training and more generally our life.


the corona chronicles – day 16

tonight was my turn to teach. it was hard, a lot harder than teaching in a dojo, but just as satisfying and exhilarating. i found it harder because you are very limited in what you can do during the lesson and also the medium, wonderful though it is, is still no substitute to being in the same room with your students.

we worked on some punching techniques focusing on the interaction between tension and relaxation and how they are applied in difference scenarios. that’s a capture of me from the live feed. can you spot the lesson plan cheat sheet?


the corona chronicles – day 14

we had our first #homedojo online session today and it was AMAZING! obviously going cold turkey for two weeks had something to do with how good it felt to train again, but still it was a great session. sensei neil delivered a lesson that was basic due to the space constraints, but at the same time challenging and insightful.

we used zoom which is very affordable and easy to use. chances are you are already familiar with the technology, but just in case – zoom is a video conferencing service over the internet. you pay a very reasonable monthly fee to be able to host sessions and the app for the users is free meaning that running costs are minimal. it’s an absolute godsend for the particular predicament we find ourselves in. i only wish i has some shares in a company that is undoubtedly doing very well at the moment.

when using zoom you have two views: gallery and speaker. in gallery mode you see all the feeds from all the participants tiled on your screen, whereas in speaker mode you get one main feed (the speaker’s) on most of the screen at the expense of the other feeds which are made smaller. normally the instructor would use “gallery” view, so they can observe all the students, and students would use “speaker” view, so they can see the instructor in more details.


i started the lesson in “speaker” mode so i could follow neil, but then half way through switched to “gallery” because i’ll be teaching myself the day after tomorrow and i wanted to observe the other students. after a little while i discovered that i preferred that view because it felt more like training in a group rather than a 1-2-1. i had my laptop plugged into a 40″ tv, so even in a smaller tile i could still see neil well to follow him. at the same time i benefited from the energy of all the other people participating in the session. definitely something i would recommend.

another aspect of training online is that you can train from wherever with whomever. we had 15 participants of various grades all the way from 7th kyu up to 4th dan, and from 4 different countries: the UK, Norway, Iceland and Israel.

so, i want to thank zoom for making a fantastic and affordable tool that made this possible, neil for a very enjoyable lesson, and also everybody who participated and made it a success. oss!

the corona chronicles – day 10

amongst all the kata tekki shodan is perhaps my favourite. its compactness and symmetry appealed to me instantly, however its apparent simplicity belies what is in reality a complex and challenging kata replete with practical implementations. according to katate folklore tekki shodan ought to be practiced 10,000 times before it can be fully mastered. that is about 10 years if you practice it three times every day, which give you some idea.

whilst never really counted how many times i performed i’ve it, i started learning the kata as soon as i became aware of it, which was when i was still a 9th kyu. that was about two years before i actually graded on it (in the KUGB syllabus tekki shodan is the grading kata for 4th kyu).

because the kata is relatively short, with a very simple embusen (line of movement), and is symmetrical it is relatively easy to learn to a basic level. furthermore, its compact embusen make it ideal for the particular predicament we find ourselves in right now – being sequestered at home. if you don’t already know the kata, now could be a great time to learn it, regardless of your grade. it might end up keeping you company for a while.

one of the many challenges in tekki is maintaining a good strong kiba dachi throughout whilst twisting the upper body as far as possible and generating good power. it requires both strength – glutes, abs and obliques – as well as good mobility and flexibility.

many movement is tekki shodan require activating the muscles diagonally across the body, from one hip to the opposite shoulder. a very good functional exercise to help strengthen the body for tekki is the low-to-high woodchopper. the woodchopper is an exercise mimicking the action of chopping a log with an axe – a lift under tension followed by an explosive downswing. the low-to-high variant is a reverse whereby the lift is explosive and the down movement is under tension. this is another good exercise you can do at home using either a resistance band, a weight or a fitness sandbag.


the corona chronicles – day 8

over the last few days the corona crisis has deepened with many new restrictions imposed. it is a difficult situation for most if not all with some challenges up ahead. still, the only thing to do is to remain positive and make the most out of the situation.

the positives are that everyone is at home and technology is on hand to help. many dojos have already taken to the internet and i was convinced to do the same. we’ll be launching next week with three weekly sessions every monday, wednesday and friday 6pm-7pm.

the situation has also presented a unique opportunity to include instructors (and students) who would otherwise not be able to attend a real dojo. i am very pleased that we will be joined by sensei Neil Jerome, 5th dan, and sensei Rosie Lau, 4th dan.

training in a virtual dojo isn’t ideal, but at the moment it’s the only option. for me it is actually more of a necessity, not just in order to keep our karate form, but also to maintain our mental fortitude, which will be tested no doubt and the weeks and months to come.


the corona chronicles – day 5

today i want to talk about the virus in the room – SARS-CoV-2. it’s name tells us that it is a close relative of SARS-CoV, which is a virus that struck in 2002. it is also a more distant relative of MERS-CoV that struct in 2012. all three belong to a family of viruses called “corona” because of why they appear under the microscope (hence the “CoV” for “coronavirus”) and they all cause respiratory difficulties in humans (hence “RS” for “respiratory syndrome”).

all three also crossed from other species of mammal (most likely bats) into humans, which meant we had no defences against them (neither our immune systems nor medications), so they had the potential of spreading rapidly like a fire that starts in an unmanaged forest after a long draught.

SARS-CoV that struck in 2002 infected about 8000 people and caused 774 deaths with a mortality rate of about 9%. luckily through the introduction of various measure we managed to eradicate it by the summer of 2003. MERS-CoV came a decade later and is unfortunately still on-going, although it has been largely contained. to date it has infected about 2500 and caused 858 deaths with a frightening mortality rate of about 35%.

SARS-CoV-2, the most recent strain to evolve, has already infected over 300,000 people and caused nearly 13,000 deaths. it has an estimated fatality rate ranging between 2% to 6%. more worryingly is the fact that current figures relating to SARS-CoV-2, which has now been recognised as a pandemic, are just the tip of the iceberg. by the time we get on top of it fatality numbers are probably going to be higher than one would wish to even contemplate.

the obvious question is therefore how a virus that is seemingly less dangerous becomes a greater killer.

to understand that we need to go back and look at what a virus is. the next few paragraphs are probably not entirely scientifically accurate, but for the purists amongst you i hope not too inaccurate.

a virus is essentially a short piece of DNA (sometimes RNA) or in other words a little bit of genetic material. as all DNA it has a sole directive which it follows ruthlessly and single-mindedly –  to spread itself as far as possible. i used words like “ruthless” and “single-minded”, but probably “mindlessly” would have been more appropriate if at all, because a virus is nothing more than a chemical machine. actually it is not even that – it is just a set of instructions for a chemical machine to make infinite copies of the virus. it has no desires nor cognition. it is merely obeying the programme embedded into it, which is to continue making copies of itself.

to us a virus – particularly the above three – or a menace because the present a mortal danger. However, for the virus we are merely ships navigating the oceans on which it travels in its never ending quest to conquer all the corners of the earth. if fact for the virus to kill us makes as much sense as for passengers to drill holes through the hull of the ship carrying them. when a person infected by a virus dies all the copies of the virus still in that person will also perish and thus fail in their ultimate quest to spread themselves.

this gives us the first glimpse into the greater spread of SARS-CoV-2 and therefore its greater success in its mission. by not killing its hosts as ruthlessly as his cousins it has managed to travel much farther and will unfortunately continue to do so. if you look at the numbers above then there is in fact a reverse correlation between the fatality rate of each of the three viruses and the number of people each has infected and so how successful it has been. this clearly demonstrates that killing the host is counter-productive from the virus view point.

there is another aspect to this story in the fact that those viruses infect humans. over and above our immune system, which many other animals have too, and which fight infections like viruses, we are also highly intelligent and highly organised. that has allowed us to develop more tools to fight viruses such as medicines, chemicals and various social structures. for a virus to be successful, and that is to become widespread, it has to overcome those too.

the first two coronaviruses were very aggressive. they were very fatal, but also provoked a very strong response by our defence mechanisms – both immune system and health care systems. because they were so aggressive we acted equally aggressively and managed to defeat one and contain the other. by contrast, the most recent strain – SARS-CoV-2 – only causes very mild symptoms in most people and relative to its cousins causes far fewer fatalities. it also has a longer incubation period during which it is able to cross from person to person before it is noticed. by not alerting us to its presence it is able to spread without having to contend with out immune system as well as the other tools we have to fight it.

this gives us an insight not just into how viruses work, but also how natural selection works. SARS-CoV-2 is clearly more suitable to spread amongst humans. by modulating some of its aspects – lowering the fatality rate and having a longer incubation period – it has become much more successful than its predecessors and particularly its now extinct close cousin SARS-CoV.

but what all that has to do with karate?

well, consider this in the context of self-defence:

remember that from the virus’s view point its success isn’t measured by whether it has managed to defeat us, but by whether it has managed to live on and spread itself beyond. when we are faced with a self-defence situation, or more generally any adverse situation, we should remain focused on what is the most desirable outcome for us. defeating an aggressor isn’t and should be a goal onto itself – it is merely one possible outcome. our sole focus should be on surviving with as little harm to ourselves as possible. if we have an option to leave with our pride injured, but out body whole then so be it. similarly, if we have an option to leave with a hole in our pocket instead of a punctured abdomen, so be it. we should think like a virus – be only as aggressive as the situation warrants because any aggression will provoke an equal response, and focus on surviving the situation rather than coming out on top.

more generally that applies to any confrontation in life even if it is a mere heated exchange of words. always remember what is your ultimate objective and focus on achieving it rather than winning the argument. consider the option of giving way, but if the attainment of your objective necessitates a form of aggression don’t shy away from it. and then use only the necessary minimum.




the corona chronicles – day 4

today dealing with the pandemic is going to get just that little bit harder – the schools are closing. never mind the possibility of a visit by the grim reaper or food shortages, but the prospect of being quarantined at home with the kids for the next 12 weeks must be a realisation that is sending a chill down many a spine up and down the country.

our friends from chelmsford karate have put together a few fun puzzles suitable for young kids. it probably won’t keep them occupied for very long, but every little helps. click on the links below to download (those are pdf files which you will need to print):


word search 1

word search 2

tiger colouring

also, many clubs are offering on-line classes. i will put together a list which i will publish shortly, so stay tuned. in the meanwhile – keep calm, but stay isolated!


the corona chronicles – day 3

i’ve got muscle aches. no, don’t worry, it’s the good kind. i’ve been exercising daily and the aches are just a sign i hadn’t been doing it enough, but also that at least i’m doing the right thing now.

another form of exercise, which is also excellent for enhancing your well-being is yoga. yoga improves strength, flexibility, balance and body awareness – all very useful in karate. yoga is also a good way to stretch aching muscles and leaves you feeling nourished and reinvigorated.

there is no shortage of videos and resources on the internet and i will let you do your own research to find something that’s suitable for you. if you’re not sure where to begin look for “yoga sun salutation”. that will help you sort out your down dogs from your up dogs.

one thing i do want to add is that good technique is as always crucial for maximising the benefits and avoiding injury. if you’ve never done yoga (and even if you have) the video below is a very good introduction to the basic movements and techniques in yoga. enjoy!

the corona chronicles – the late edition

nothing to do with karate, but i’m bored, so here goes anyway. it definitely has to do with the corona virus.

on monday i want to the supermarket. more concerned about avoiding crowds than actually buying anything i went an hour before closing time. the place looked like any other supermarked on a typical day. that is if you were living in soviet russia sometime in the 70’s. rows and rows of empty shelves. and i’m not talking about toilet paper. there wasn’t even a single pack of chicken of any kind left.

ok, that i can understand – you can freeze chicken – but no bananas? ok, i suppose you can bake banana bread and freeze that. explains why there was no flour of any kind either.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-16 at 9.37.11 PM

i did find some duck. just the last one. but then you begin to think “what’s wrong with it that nobody wanted it?”. i boughted thinking that if i cooked it the next day it’ll probably be alright. it was.

anyway, i loitered around knowing that staff start stocking up the shelves at that time. they obviously work through the night, so i could not hope to get much in the short time before closing, but i remained optimistic. sure enough they brought out some baked beans. i even managed to get a four pack of reduced sugar baked beans. just because there is a pandemic raging doesn’t mean i’m going to stop looking after my waistline.

feeling pretty lucky i headed to the checkout just as the announcement came to urge shoppers to do the same. then home.

today i went again. in fact i’ve only just come back.

as much as it’s hard to imagine it was actually worse. the place was stripped bare. it was as if the store had only just been put up and and was still waiting for the first delivery of goods. other shoppers like myself were roaming the aisles with empty trolleys looking for something remotely edible they could purchase. on and on we went like lost souls searching for a hidden aisle that had somehow escaped the swarm of shoppers that in the hours previous descended upon the place like a cloud of famished locust. as if somewhere in that place there was an aisle from a harry potter film. a magical aisle number 9 and 3/4. you just needed to know which wall to ram into.

“did somebody discover that over-eating is effective against COVID-19 and forgot to tell me?” i wondered. it was as though the population was planning to eat its way out of the pandemic.

a polite announcement came reminding people that they were now restricted to a maximum of three units of each product. if the person making the announcement was taunting the shoppers then their tone, devoid of any irony that was clearly present, did not betray that.

still, i managed to pick up four lemons and some fresh figs. that’s the sort of thing you can still find – stuff you can only have in small quantities or over-priced luxuries. so couldn’t find ketchup, but there was plenty of tabasco sauce and marmite if one is so inclined.

anyway i kept strolling through the empty aisles waiting for the trolleys to come out. like a vulture circling above a dying animal waiting for it to take its final breath. on my way i passed by the gluten-free section, which had somehow survived the onslaught. if you are unfortunate to suffer from coeliac the good news is that at least you can get some food. and all those people who are “on a gluten free diet because it’s healthy” – liars!

finally they started to come out. the trolleys. i quickly scanned one – some uncle ben’s red sauce of some description and more baked beans. having no interest in the former and having already bought some of the latter on the previous visit i quickly moved on. i only had a few precious moments before closing time.

i moved from aisle to aisle looking for basic necessities. they brought out some super strong flour which i needed, but it was all the way at the bottom of the trolley and i knew they wouldn’t get to it in time, so i moved on. tissues? could be useful, but i had enough.  nappies? thank god i don’t need those.

then i struck gold. PASTA! yes, of course it was italian pasta. the other stuff only looks like pasta. admittedly it was de cecco and being something of a snob when it comes to anything to do with food i usually only eat barilla, but desperate times. moving nonchalantly, so as not to attract the attention of other shoppers who might beat me to it i moved towards the prize. like bilbo sneaking up on the sleeping smaug, i made my way towards the single carton of fusilli pasta glistening in glorious isolation against the desolation of the otherwise empty shelving unit. having finally got there i quickly grabbed two packets. yes, i could have taken a third, but i’m a snob, not a pig.

one final scan to see if there was anything else and then to the checkout. on the way i had an itch in my nose and instinctively i gave it a good rub. i rubbed my nose with the same hand that was grabbing the trolley’s handle a moment ago. the same handle that had been touched by scores of people in the hours before. could this be the most expensive pasta i’ve ever bought? well, at least i won’t die hungry.