"We gave 100%, 100 times!"
It was on October 25th 1936 that the Ryukyu traditions of Okinawa-te 沖縄手 or Kara-te 唐手 (China Hand) were officially named as Karate 空手 (Empty Hand). In 2005, October 25th became recognised as ”Karate Day” to pray for the expansion of traditional Karate, world peace and happiness.
This year, an event was conceived and produced by James Pankiewicz, owner of The DOJO Bar in Naha and director of ‘Challenge Okinawa! He "challenged" karate dojo of all styles to pick their favourite kata and perform it 100 times. The invite was extended to the world martial arts community who's styles hold true to the ethos of traditional Okinawan Karate. E.S.K.K members have known James since 2012 from our our trips to Okinawa and I can tell you that he's is a true gentleman plus one of the most dedicated traditional karate-ka you will ever meet.
The E.S.K.K dojo registered to take part as one of over 200 groups from around the world and our 24 volunteers were among some 5,000 registered entrants spanning over 40 countries. The time to begin the challenge on Okinawa was to be 6am (dawn) at Zakimi Castle in Yomitan village. For us that meant 10pm on 24th October at the rather less exotic sounding (but to us, equally as valuable) home of our Sunday Karate dojo - The Jubilee Community Hall in Cleator.
Sensei Chris Denwood had unsurprisingly selected Naihanchi Shodan as our kata to repeat 100 times. It is at the very heart of how we train, encapsulating key concepts, fundamental combative strategies and core body dynamics. Why 100 times? Well as James said, "It was inspired by the classic karate phrase – 百 練 剛, which means - “Train hard 100 times”.
You can see E.S.K.K members perform our version of Naihanchi Shodan along with some associated training methods below at their display performed at The Martial Arts Show in Birmingham back in 2012.
So by 9.30pm on Friday evening, the volunteers and supporters mustered outside the hall ready to go! Many of us have performed the kata multiple times during normal dojo training, but no one really envisioned what 100 consecutive performances would feel like. Performing many repetitions is a necessity for developing skill and is obviously hard work. As the body physically tires, good technique begins to shine through as efficiency begins to replace excessive muscular effort. Plus, a high number of 'quality' repetitions encourages greater muscle memory and as a result, our proficiency improves. So, what would 100 repetitions of Naihanchi Kata feel like? Well, we were about to find out!
Sensei stood at the front of the group and the remaining 23, including myself, found a suitable place and began to get into our own "zone". After a short opening etiquette, the command to take up the ready position and a strong collective announcement of "Naihanchi" signified the count to begin.
I can only speak directly for myself, but I could certainly feel a sense of great energy in the room. There was tension and focus as the sounds of 24 dedicated karate-ka gave it their all, 100 times.
I didn't get every technique right and I didn't always get them in the right order. As the fatigue set in, I made mistakes and occasionally missed a command. Most of the time though, it felt fantastic as my autopilot kicked in, allowing my concious mind to focus on small changes and improvements.
By the time we hit 70 repetitions or so, the clock showed we had been working for around 90 minutes (with a couple of short water breaks in between). Sensei then said, "let's do this in under 2 hours." - Well that was a challenge we couldn't resist! It's one thing to rush through the moves to chase time, but it's a whole different story to maintain focus, pressure, strength, and deliver 100% in every technique at a high pace.
Well, the energy in the room instantly escalated for the final 30 minutes and we conducted our 100th repetition with time to spare before midnight. The walls and windows were awash with condensation. We had sweated the very essence of karate with the spirit given to each kata performance. Every one of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the point that our faces could not contain the huge smiles. That's what this art and our dojo is all about!
We'd like to extend our thanks to everyone who took part, plus to Paul Mills and Sam Dever for assisting with the counting and photographs etc.
If you fancy joining in next time then watch this space...There's always another challenge!