What’s My Favorite Kata?

By Ray Tio

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In this day and age of Mixed Martial Arts, and the huge growth of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships), which I am also a big fan of by the way, many people have written off the importance of Traditional Kata training and have instead adopted an attitude of learning what they believe to be the most practical training specifically for one-on-one fighting that would work inside a cage. Traditional Kata is the essence of  Traditional Karate. It is comprised of basic and advanced techniques that strengthen the body and mind, give you means to defend yourself in multiple attack situations, and also self-defense hand-to-hand combat situations. Kata helps to improve your Kumite and it is also full of artistry and quite beautiful to watch when performed correctly. Think of it this way, If you could perform kata strong, fast and sharply, moving in so many different directions while at the same time in low strong rooted stances, imagine how well you would be able to move once you transition that training into a free fighting kumite stance!

Over the years many students have asked me “Sensei, what’s your favorite kata? Unsu right?”

Of course it’s fair to assume it is “Unsu”  because that’s the kata I have always performed at tournaments. The truth is, it is a very difficult question to answer because it really depends on how I’m feeling and what I’m training for.

As a child blackbelt growing up, hands down my favorite kata was “Unsu”, no doubt about it. Like many young brown and black belts, after watching a great performance of “Unsu” at a tournament, I was in awe. Such a beautiful kata with sharp movements, kicks on the ground and of course…the jump!!! I grew up watching videotapes of the legendary Yahara Sensei performing this kata in the 80′s, the same one almost every shotokan practitioner grew up watching. In the nineties I witnessed Hiroyoshi Okazaki perform it live at international tournaments with great success. How could I not want to learn and perform this kata after watching them!? They were both my kata idols, as well as my brother Stan’s, so we both would try to emulate them in our parents basement all the time! Since the age of 13 I have been performing this kata at tournaments. Now grown up I have come to realize that it has become a part of me to the point that, as difficult as it is for most to perform, It has become the most comfortable kata for me to perform even more so than the “Heian” Katas. Is it still my favorite? Not necessarily, but it is the one I am most comfortable with.

Growing up as a teen, I used to despise the katas “Bassai Dai” and “Jion”, and instead chose to perform katas like “Enpi”, and “Kanku Dai”. I found they were more beautiful because I could could perform “Enpi” sharp and quick, and again it had a cool jump. “Kanku Dai”, although the longest kata and the one I always felt the most fatigued after performing , had cool moves like an uppercut punch and duck to the floor, plus side kicks which I could show off when kicking to the face level, and once again a flashy jump at the end.

Now as an adult I love “Bassai Dai” and it is the kata I love teaching and performing in the dojo the most. I feel the strongest when performing this kata and love the emphasis on hip rotation, and sharp timing. I also love to practice the Heian Katas because I can perform them quickly and still apply lots of power (kime), and best of all they are short! LOL!

I love to watch a beautifully performed “Sochin”, yet I find it the most difficult kata  to feel comfortable with when performing. It’s that kind of kata for me that I lack consistency with. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I don’t. But to watch it performed properly for example by Kurihara Sensei or Tsuchiya Sensei, the two best “Sochin” performers ever along with of course Master Osaka, is another story. I could watch video of the three of them performing this kata for hours!

There was also a time when I was in my early twenties, that I did not like performing the kata “Gojushihosho” because it was at that time our kata we’d use for Team Kata and we would perform it so often that eventually I grew bored of it, and also felt that it had no flashiness to it at all. Now, older and wiser (I hope), I have a new fondness for this kata and have been practicing it on my own lately.  I love that it consists of strong basic techniques, yet has elements that can be performed sharp and quick. When performed correctly is quite beautiful, a perfect example would be the performance by former female JKA World Champion, Terumi Nakata.

So what’s my favorite kata? Who knows! Soon I’ll be retiring from competition which means the kata “Unsu” will be performed much less, also due to the fact that I’m getting older and in my opinion it’s a young man’s kata. So, I guess this means that right now my favorite kata to perform for tournaments and for now the one I am most comfortable with is still “Unsu”.  “Bassai Dai”, “Gojushiho Sho” and the “Heian” Katas are my favorite’s currently to practice in the dojo, and the kata I love to watch and to one day be able to perform more comfortably would be “Sochin” .

Of course this may all change again in a years time, which of course is the beauty of Kata and Karate in general. Never ending training!

Osu!

My Most Memorable JKA Karate Experiences

Unsu_jump Team2011

 

By Ray Tio

 

Many of my students have asked me about past tournament experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve been around the world to compete in. Thanks to my devotion to JKA Karate, I have been able to travel within Canada as well as internationally numerous times for JKA Karate National, Invitational, Pan-American and World Championship tournaments over the past 29 years. Rather than to list all my JKA Karate tournament accomplishments over that length of time in this blog, I decided rather to list the the dates and places I’ve traveled to, specifically for The JKA Karate World Championships and highlight the things that standout in my mind from each of these events. I have been to every single one since 1992, a total of 8 World Championships in the last 20 years and have been blessed to have achieved a total of 5 medals. I plan to take part in my final World Championships next year in Tokyo, back to where it all started for me, a full circle. I have learned and grown so much as a karateka due to these experiences and have been blessed to witness first-hand incredible feats of athleticism, the evolution of JKA Karate champions, the last JKA Karate World Championship performance of a future UFC Champion, while at the same time I was extremely blessed to visit some of the most beautiful countries around the world.

 

1992

I was 17 years old and competed for the  first time at The  JKA Karate World Tournament (Then called The Shoto Cup) held in Tokyo, Japan. I was competing in the Men’s Team Kata Event with Chris Troch and Greg Findlay, both from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. My brother Stan, was at the tail end of a 5 year hiatus from karate training during this time.

There is nothing like being at a JKA Karate World Tournament for the first time. It is awesome, overwhelming, incredible!

It was the  first time witnessing the amazing Frank Brennan of Great Britain in action! He placed 2nd in the Kumite event losing to the impeccable timing of the equally amazing Tomio Imamura of Japan. Both of them are in my top 5 list of favorite JKA Karate fighters of all time, the others being Toshihito Kokubun of Japan, Johan La Grange of South Africa, Masao Kagawa of Japan, and I should also mention another favorite of mine, female champion Hiromi Hasama of Japan. What’s even more incredible was the fact that the Japanese team had to compete in their National event (All-Japan Championships) the day before! Since then they have never again done this, understandably.

I remember it being extremely hot in Japan but as always beautiful and full of tradition. We visited many beautiful temples and I particularly remembering eating lots of chinese food, ironically.

Frank Brennan   Frank Brennan

 

1994

The JKA Karate World Championships were held in Philadelphia, USA. It was very well organized and took place in the basketball stadium used by the NBA Team the 76′ers. There was a huge parade consisting of karateka from all over the world that walked the streets of downtown Philly to open the event the day before. I competed in Individual Kata, Individual Kumite and once again, Team Kata alongside my brother Stan and our good friend Craig Ashman, who is now a dedicated ETF (Emergency Task Force) Police Officer. We placed 2nd in the semi-finals right behind Japan, but fell to 4th place in the finals. Still, it was a great accomplishment for Canada and the highest placing Canada ever accomplished at the time in any event. I made it to 3rd round in individual kata, losing to Hisashi Terashima of Japan. In individual kumite I made it to the 2nd round and lost to a fellow from Sweden.  This was the year that the camaraderie between Stan and I really began to develop. We pushed each other to be the best we could be, without any sibling rivalry, just two brothers helping each other to reach our potential. I was 19, Stan was 23.

It was also the first time that a non-Japanese competitor would win an individual event, with Pavlo Protopapa from South Africa doing so when he became the Kumite  Champion.

This was also the first time we witnessed the best JKA Karate Women’s Kumite fighter of all time, Hiromi Hasama of Japan win her first title. To this day she is probably still the fastest fighter I have ever seen! She would go on to win this event a total of  3 times before retiring as champion.

Hiroyoshi Okazaki from the US, was the reigning Pan-American Kata Champion and was my idol as well as my biggest kata influence at the time. Stan and I were in awe of his kata! So sharp, precise and what a jump! He placed 2nd in the individual kata event behind champion, Takenori Imura of Japan. Hiro, alongside Kazuaki Kurihara (the current reigning world champion), Yoshiharu Osaka, and Mikio Yahara, from Japan, as well as former female kata champion, Yuki Mimura  are my favorite JKA Karate kata practitioners of all time.

hiro2 Hiroyoshi Okazaki   Hasama_Karate Hiromi Hasama

 

1996

The JKA Karate World Championships were held in Osaka, Japan.  Stan and I both made the Individual Kata event finals for the first time placing 5th and 6th respectively. The top 4 ahead of us were all from Japan. We also placed 4th again in Team kata. But even more importantly we witnessed our teammate, Don Sharp win the men’s Individual Kumite Event! To win this event he had to win close to 10 fights and along the way he beat incredible fighters such as Katsutoshi Shiina and Takuya Taniyama, both from Japan. In the finals he met Toshihito Kokubun, my favorite JKA Karate fighter of all time. They had a great battle, with Don winning by disqualification. It was a just decision. Team Canada was really put on the map after this JKA Karate World Championships.

Kokubun Toshihito Kokubun

 

1998

The JKA Karate World Championships were held in Paris, France. As beautiful as Paris was, this was my least favorite of all my trips to the World Championships.  I did get to see most of the beautiful sites in Paris, like the Eiffel Tower, and The Arc de Triomphe, and The Louvre, but was too young and immature to really appreciate all its beauty and history. I was even dismayed to find out that when making a crepe in Paris, they use the same old nutella chocolate that we do here in Canada, lol.

The tournament site was pretty bad in my opinion, as well as that of most of our team. It was way outside Paris, apparently not such a good part of town, and was way too small to be holding such an event. The highlight of the tournament for me was watching my kumite idol Toshihito Kokubun win his first World Championship beating future starand champion, Koji Ogata in the finals. I found that this tournament was marred by many questionable judging calls, specifically in the kumite events. Due to karate politics in Canada, Stan and I were not listed to compete in the kumite events even though we both qualified for it. For the third time, we placed 4th in the Team Kata event. This time the team consisted of myself, Stan and Eddie Leung, who was a long time senior instructor of ours growing up. Incredibly Eddie was in his forties at the time, yet it was still the best team technically that we ever had. Although we placed 4th again we knew our team was definitely looking up. I made it once again to the Individual Kata finals and again placed in the top 6, with the top 4 being from Japan, and the 5th being my idol Hiro Okazaki from USA. I was truly honored to be part of such company.

Team1998 1998 Team Kata (Stan Tio, Ray Tio, Eddie Leung)

 

2000

This was by far my most memorable JKA Karate World Championships ever! It was once again held in Tokyo, Japan. This was a World Championship that was filled with highlight, after highlight, after highlight for me. Where to begin?

The tournament was held in the Budokan, or “Martial Arts Hall”,  an historical, beautiful stadium in Tokyo used for big martial arts events in the past for Judo, Kendo, Aikido and of course Karate.

Nippon Budokan Tokyo Japan_1

Prior to the championships, Saeki Sensei 7th Dan and now the Chief Instructor of our Canadian JKA Association, had arranged for our team to stay at an affordable campground used for military training just outside of Tokyo, in Gotemba. Coincidentally, staying at the same location was the Brazilian National Team that consisted of the Machida brothers, Lyoto and Chinzo. The team was coached by their well respected father, Master Yoshizo Machida. Lyoto would have only been around 22 at the time and Chinzo 24. Of course as most know, Lyoto Machida would go on to become The UFC Light Heavyweight Champion close to 8 years later and his brother Chinzo would go on  to becoming the JKA Karate World silver medallist in the individual kumite event in 2011, narrowly losing to winner Koji Ogata from Japan. Stan and I remember sneaking a peak of the Brazilian team training and thinking “Damn good fighters, but we should be able to beat them in kata”, lol. Ironically, in the Team Kumite event we were paired against Brazil in the first round. We narrowly lost to them but it was an amazing learning experience. We were particularly impressed with Lyoto’s fighting prowess and watched him closely in the Individual Kumite event winning fight after fight each time more impressively, before losing in the quarter-finals to eventual two-time world champion, Toshihito Kokubun. It was a great fight, but a young Lyoto was no match for the seasoned Kokubun at this time. It was the last JKA Karate World Championships that Lyoto would ever compete in.

The Men’s Individual Kumite final fight was between two of my all time favorite JKA Karate fighters, Toshihito Kokubun and Johan La Grange of South Africa.  The full point that La Grange scored on Kokubun is still the best point I have ever seen! To this day it is still my favorite JKA fight ever!

Hiromi Hasama, won her 3rd and final Individual Kumite Championships as well in always impressive fashion.

To cap off such an epic World Championships, our kata team, once again consisting of Eddie Leung, Stan and myself finally found ourselves on the podium placing 3rd! This was the first of my 5 World Championship medals.

lyoto-machida

 

2004

The JKA Karate World Championships were once again held in Tokyo, Japan. It was originally to be held in my home country of Indonesia but was cancelled, and later delayed two more years due to the SARS outbreak in Asia.

My first born daughter, Isabella was born earlier in the year and I was not even sure if I’d be able to attend this championships. Thankfully, I was. Stan and I were now considered veterans at the ages of 30 and 34. Even more impressive, Eddie Leung now in his late 40′s was still a member of our Kata Team and in his best shape ever! Due to our success 4 years earlier we knew we had a good chance of medalling again, maybe even placing 1st or 2nd this time. We, along with the rest of the competitors and spectators were pleasantly surprised to see a new, super impressive team from the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) crush our chances of bettering our result from 2000 once again pushing us to 3rd place, with Japan again placing 1st, and Myanmar 2nd. This was my 2nd World Championship medal and I could not have been happier.

With the retirement of Kokubun, a new Men’s Individual Kumite Champion emerged, Koji Ogata who won the title, his first of two, impressively and with much ease.

The Men’s Kata Championship was surprisingly won by Kastutoshi Shiina, from Japan. Terumi Nakata, also from Japan was super sharp winning gold in the Women’s Kata event for the 2nd time.

In the Women’s Kumite event a new young champion emerged, Satomi Okuie.

 

2006

The JKA Karate World Championships were held in Sydney,  Australia. I was so excited to travel across the world to a continent I’ve always wanted to visit. What made this event even more exciting was the fact that it was held in the same stadium that was used for the 2000 Summer Olympics!

Sydney lived up to all the expectations I had, it’s beautiful! We visited the awesome Sydney Aquarium, King St. Wharf, and Cockle Bay Wharf which was just a short walk away from Chinatown, where we spent alot of time eating! As a city it actually reminded me of  Toronto, great nightlife, quite multicultural and great food!

Again in the Team Kata event, this time alongside my brother Stan and Ignacio Gamsawen, who is originally from the Phillipines we placed 3rd, however we were quite lucky to make it into the finals. In the semi’s we didn’t quite score so well and were tied with two other teams for the 8th and final spot to enter the finals. To make matters worse one of the teams we were tied with was Australia, the home team. We buckled down in the tiebreaker and managed to get that 8th spot. Again luckily, scores from the semi-finals are not carried over to the finals. We were the 2nd Team to perform in the finals, not the best place to be, but we again performed our “bread and butter” kata Unsu, and managed to reach the podium again. This was my 3rd World medal. In the Team Kumite event, which both Stan and I were a part of, we again went head to head with the home team Australia, and they beat us by the smallest of margins to reach the final four teams. For the third time I made the finals in the Men’s Individual Kata event,  and placed 5th behind four Japanese competitors (each country is allowed to field 4 competitors per country in each individual event). I was very happy to be once again considered one of the best in the world outside from Japan. Chinzo Machida, Lyoto’s brother turned a lot of heads by placing 2nd behind the repeat champion, Koji Ogata in the Men’s Kumite event.

This was also, a very memorable World Championships for me, and definitely one of my favorites, especially right after the event when I was able to exchange team jackets with one of my all-time favorite competitors from Japan, Takuya Taniyama.

Machidas Silver Medallist, Chinzo Machida alongside his brother, Lyoto Machida former UFC Champion

 

2011

The last JKA Karate World Championships (now called The Funakoshi Gichin World Championships, named after the founder of Shotokan) was held in Pattaya, Thailand. There was a five year gap instead of the usual two years due to the terrible economic situation the entire world was experiencing.

Thailand in a nutshell: hot as hell, beautiful beaches and water, awesome food at awesome prices, makes you feel happy yet sad at the same time due to living conditions and practices, great place to visit but not to live in.

For this world championships Stan and I both felt very confident that we were ready to reach new heights at this championships. We both had seen what it takes to win and felt that we were finally at that level that we could take home a medal in a kumite event as well as a kata event. For the fourth time I reached the Men’s Kata final, a feat that no one else has ever done and again placed in the top 6 in the world. For our Team Kata, now coach Eddie Leung, Stan and I decided that our Team Kata was getting older and we needed a young blood on our team who could add a spark that could help us reach to heights we never have been able to reach before; one of the top two teams in the world. That spark came in the form of Colin Chin, from Calgary Alberta, who just happened to be living in Toronto for the two years prior to the championships for dental hygiene school. Perfect timing! It must have been meant to be because not only did he add the spark we needed to place 2nd in the World behind Japan, but he also added the spark we needed to place 3rd in the Team Kumite event, an event Canada has never placed in ever before! Thanks to Colin’s help alongside Stan, Eric leung (son of Eddie Leung), Don Sharp, and Etienne Herady, and myself, we got passed Team England, Team Uruguay, Team Russia and Team Norway to place third after losing to Team Brazil (which notably consisted of third Machida brother, Taka and Jamie Sandal who was the striking coach for former UFC Champion, Vitor Belfort) in the semi-finals. This added the 4th and 5th World Medals to my list as well as Stan’s and we both considered retirement from competition after this amazing one. Not only did the Canadian men do well, but also the women’s team, specifically the Team Kata (Manon Quirion, Carole Canaan, and Sandrine Ng, all from Quebec) who placed 7th, and Carole Canaan in the Individual Kumite event, who placed in the top 16. This was by far, the best team effort and result that Canada had ever produced!

Stan decided that at age 41 it was time to step away, and he did retire from competition but will remain as one of our coaches. Being that I’m three and half years younger than Stan and I would like to finish where I started, in Tokyo Japan, I decided that I will retire next year after the 2014 JKA Karate World Championships.

Team Kumite

Osu!!!

 

 

 

 

Why Traditional Shotokan Karate Is Great For Kids

By Ray Tio

I have been a traditional shotokan karate practitioner nearly my whole life, since I was 9 years old. Since then, the longest time I have ever taken off from training or teaching was exactly one month, when my first daughter Isabella was born and that was nine years ago. In the past 30 years I have met, trained with, competed against and taught many children of different ages, races, personality types and social classes. Therefore I believe that I am able to address this topic with sincerity and confidence better than most can.

First off, let me tell you about myself and growing up before starting karate. I was a very, very shy kid to the point where I was almost held back in kindergarten. My mom was told by my teacher that I would barely speak in class and always looked down at the floor. I was the epitome of a child who lacked confidence and was the perfect target for bullies to pick on. By the time I was 6 years old, my parents went through a divorce, we ended up moving to a different neighbourhood and moved in with my grand-parents and aunt, where we lived for the next 3 years. It was definitely a rougher neighborhood. My older brother Stan who is three and a half years older would get picked on by older, bigger kids at school and would get into fights often. To the bigger kids dismay, they always came out on the losing end of the fights not realizing the anger that these life-altering changes had instilled inside Stan. He never put up with anyone’s crap! Me on the other hand was affected the opposite way. I shied away from conflict always looked the other way and always prayed that no one would pick on me. Inside I wanted to be strong like Stan, but knew I wasn’t. The good news was that I was rarely picked on because Stan was my older brother. So you have two kids living in the same household, one who is angry and loses his temper easily and in a violent way, and the other one who is shy and lacks confidence. During this time my mom met my current step-father and eventually the four of us moved in a house together. My step-father was currently training in traditional shotokan karate and was a brown belt. He felt it would be good for both of us to train too. I was 9 going on 10 and Stan was 13. Who knew that this would turn out to be a life-long passion for the both of us?

Through traditional shotokan karate training I became physically stronger, outgoing and more confident to say the least. Stan learned to control his emotions and channel his aggressiveness positively through karate training and this eventually led to both of us becoming multi-time International and National Karate Champions. I now own two traditional dojos located in Vaughan and Mississauga, Ontario and I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love and am passionate about as a career.

So why traditional shotokan karate, and not any other sport or martial art you ask? I would never say that karate is the only way to go and is the best for every child, I can only explain why it was best for me and the numerous other children I have seen positively affected by it. So here goes:

Positive Moral Values

Traditional shotokan karate is a form of oriental fighting, or “martial” art, but it transcends cultural and social differences as it is practiced by people throughout the world. Its fighting tradition is potentially harmful if practiced irresponsibly, however, students are instructed to behave in the same civilized manner as in their daily lives.

Traditional shotokan karate training begins and ends with respect, and these values are embodied in the Dojo Kun (Club Oath), which is recited at the conclusion of every class:

Seek Perfection of Character.

Be Faithful.

Endeavour.

Respect Others.

Refrain From Violent Behaviour

This constant reminder after each class reinforced to me that it was more than a just a sport, but rather a way of life for me and a means to becoming a better person.

Effective Self-Defense Against Multiple Attackers

Traditional shotokan karate offers a practical and thorough approach to self-defence. Techniques are practiced repeatedly with one or many partner opponents. This teaches students to understand how to use force in proportion to their attacks. Traditional shotokan karate aims to develop the ability to make a natural, decisive, and appropriate response to physical acts of aggression against multiple attackers. A martial art, like say Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand, is very effective in a one-on-one situation. When the aggression is non-physical, karate training helps to diffuse a threatening situation in an assertive and non-violent way, instilling the importance of self-control and self-advocacy.

Karate For Children

Traditional shotokan karate training for children is not only fun, it provides many important benefits to young people. Some of these benefits are referred to in Japanese as chiiku (mental development), tokuiku (moral development) and taiiku(physical development).

In terms of chiiku (mental development), karate helps build concentration, focus, clear thinking and decisiveness.

Physically (taiiku), it trains you to use your entire body to deliver blocks, punches, kicks and strikes and stances, therefore strengthening muscles in your body equally.

Both my girls ages 5 and 9 train diligently , 3-4 times per week, and I have seen the constant improvement in all of these three aspects within them.

Traditional Karate Practices

As it was in the beginning, traditional shotokan karate practitioners wear traditional white gis (uniforms) to represent purity and humility. The gi also reminds all practitioners that regardless of rank and social class, all students begin as equals. Student progress is demonstrated through a belt ranking system, rather than adopting various coloured gis.

Basic karate movements begin with the correct relationship between feet and floor. Most traditional shotokan karate dojos use hardwood sprung floors, similar to those used in yoga and dance studios. As such, practitioners are able to gain maximum force as they push across the floor; matted floors tend to absorb the pressure that is necessary to execute a sound technique. For a precaution however, these dojos usually have portable mats which are placed on top of the hardwood, so that takedowns, throws, and rolling techniques are practiced safely.

I personally have trained on both matted and hardwood dojo floors and to me hardwood is the way to go, and therefore I had them installed in both my dojos.

Both an Individual and Team Sport

Traditional shotokan karate organizations have local, regional, national and international competitions as do most major sports. Members are able to compete not only as an individual but also in a team setting, and are able to compete in Kata events (Pattern or forms) and or Kumite (Sparring) that are separated by gender and age divisions for children, youth and adults.

Speaking for myself, karate competitions played a huge part in bringing up my confidence and my mental toughness. I probably would have grown bored by my teenage years if I hadn’t competed. However, not everyone trains for the same reasons and competitions are never made mandatory.

 

So there you have it, my take on why traditional shotokan karate is great for kids, and how it changed my life forever…and for the better.