About our syllabus
There are several key features of our syllabus:
Wide and evenly weighted syllabus
Typically most karate clubs have three key areas of training:
- Kihon – basic or fundamental techniques
- Kata – Traditional prearranged forms or patterns of movements
- Kumite – Sparring, which in some clubs also includes pre-arranged partner drills
On the surface, this seems well balanced, but in practice most clubs have Kata dominate the grading decision, heavily outweighing the other two. Additionally, kumite is so stylised that it has major flaws when having to use sparring skills in real life situations, namely having never dealt with swinging punches in sparring leave student vulnerable to this the most common attack in reality and conditioning students to stop and pull away after the first strike is scored. And finally, some techniques in basics have also become so stylised that they don’t work without major modification to how students are conditioned to perform them.
Shinkyu Karate’s syllabus is designed to focus on more practical skills and in general to be more balanced. We have five evenly weighted criteria:
- Kihon – basic or fundamental techniques. We only practice practical techniques
- Kata – pre-arranged forms or patterns of movements
- Combinations – Practical combinations and techniques for both sparring and self-defence applications. This includes a variety of counterattacks, takedowns and throws as well as striking and kicking combinations
- Kumite – Sparring, we have 3 levels of sparring which are designed to build students confidence and competency as they progress through the grades. The final level allows students to use an almost full compliment of self-defence tactics while still remaining safe
- Self-defence – student’s self-defence skills are tested against an escalating scale of self-defence scenarios
Each of the five grading syllabi is tested in class or at specialist classes or workshops before formal grading. This milestone system gives students interim goals to achieve between each formal grading and change of belt. Milestones are awarded with an iron on tag which is pressed onto their belts.
This not only provides short term engagement and motivation but also gives students a clearer picture of what they need to achieve in order to progress to their next belt.
Pressure tested self-defence.
We must constantly remind ourselves that in a self-defence situation if you freeze, panic or hesitate you have already lost. Things happen quickly in self-defence and one of the major problems is that you need to be conditioned to have good reactions. In a high-stress situation, your brain is flooded with stress chemicals which are designed to make you react, they inhibit your ability to stop and think about what to do because if you hesitate you get hit. The problem is in modern society we encounter violence so rarely we don’t have appropriate natural reactions anymore which can cause people to freeze or panic which is even worse than hesitating. To build high effective reactions we must train and pressure test ourselves in realistic scenarios so we are conditioned to act effectively.
This is what we do in Shinkyu, we regularly train for all the most statistically probable habitual acts of violence and more importantly we pressure test students abilities to defend themselves in class and in gradings.
Modern and traditional kata
The study of traditional kata is a big cornerstone of karate, that has a rich and interesting history. Hidden in its abstract movements are many secrets and subtleties that may otherwise be overlooked if it wasn’t for the study into this art form. However, the biggest benefits of learning kata is that it teaches principles of movement and self-mastery.
That being said it is essentially an abstract art form, the practical application of many of the techniques is either performed wildly differently in kata to how it is practiced in self-defence, or the techniques in the kata have been superseded by other more realistic or reliable techniques that you would choose to use in a real-life self-defence situation.
The abstract nature of traditional kata means that the value of it is often lost on lower grade students and worse most clubs will spend countless hours teaching it to lower grades (especially children) in spite of it having exceptionally little practical value for them, while other practical skills are being neglected. This causes great frustration in both the student and teacher.
So why do they teach lower grades and children kata? The hope is that practicing kata early will set a foundation and appreciation for kata study in advanced levels.
Shinkyu’s solution to this problem is simple. Rather than teaching abstract traditional kata we introduce students to kata by teaching them modern forms that are based on practical skills that they are learning for the self-defence portion of their grading. So the techniques they learn in the modern forms are the formalisation of practical techniques they are learning in self-defence, so the study of both of them support each other. More importantly, this teaches students that kata is not abstract but rather a different way of practicing practical skills. This is what kata was originally designed to do in the first place. So these modern forms these modern forms are closer to the intent of kata training than their more abstract traditional cousins.
We still teach traditional kata but we only introduce it at intermediate grades once students have developed the understanding to appreciate it. Of course student’s will have already learned several modern forms at this point so they will be familiar with the concept of kata, and more importantly, because they learnt practical and modern forms first they are more interested in the application of the traditional kata, rather superficially being focused on the performance of the pattern.
The first of these modern forms or modern kata, is very simple with only 10 moves that also includes a lot of repetition. There are no difficult turns to remember so it is easy to learn.
Three levels of sparring
Sparring in martial arts is limited by two major factors – safety and sporting rules. Having rules for safety makes perfect sense, most martial artists need to go to work or school the next day without having to carry injuries and be black and blue. However the more rules there are for sporting reasons the more stylised and frequently impractical a martial art becomes. If you are purely treating your martial art as a sport this is perfectly fine, but when the sporting rules make the way you spar so stylised that it becomes unrealistic for self-defence then you are probably conditioning yourself to have bad habits that will fail you if you ever need to rely on your art to defend yourself.
While Shinkyu Martial Arts does run tournaments our sparring rules are not designed for competition they are, first and foremost, designed to maintain a safe sparring environment while developing realistic skills. We have 3 levels of sparring that gradually increases the levels of confidence of participants while simultaneously building on competency in increasing broader ranges of skills, while also gradually increasing realism.
These levels are:
Non-contact points – Essentially this is an introductory level of sparring for developing control and familiarity with basic attack and defence.
Continuous – A significant step up from points sparring, continuous broadens the range of legal techniques significantly. But most importantly the continuous action prepares students for the reality of self-defence and fighting.
Free fighting – Free Fighting is the final level which is designed to simulate self-defence. This is only performed by experienced, advanced students.
Advanced specialist training
Shinkyu Karate currently offers two kinds of specialist classes:
Sparring and self-defence, commonly known as “Combat”
Kata and traditional training workshops
The specialist classes have several purposes which are key to Shinkyu Karate and the development of our students.
- Specialist classes allow students to focus on one particular element for an entire class, this specialisation and concentration on one subject allows the instructor to teach in depth which in turn exposes the students to higher levels of understanding. As opposed to regular karate classes which usually have a spread of exercises covering a wide range of subject from our syllabus. This specialist focus in order to gain a higher level of understanding is key to progress to higher of proficiency in advanced skills.
- Specialist classes are in general smaller and therefore students get more attention as well as instructors being able to teach subjects that are of interest to the students who are present and at a level more appropriate for them.
- Attending specialist classes also means students will meet and train with other students most of whom are relatively advanced. Training with different people and different instructors exposes students to new ideas, challenges and inspiring examples.
- Having to train at higher levels with different peers and with different instructors also pushes students out of their comfort zone and into a broader and deeper martial arts experience.
- Specialist classes also allows students to do more of the kind of training that they love and enjoy, to a degree tailoring their martial arts experience.
For all the reasons above, once a student reaches orange belt (7th kyu) attendance of a set number of specialist classes is a grade requirement. This usually involves attending around 6-10 specialist classes for each grading green belt (6th kyu) and above. These specialist class do not cost more, they are just like any other class.
Elective Black Belt syllabus.
In Shinkyu achieving your black belt does not signify that you are now a master, far from it, it signifies that your apprenticeship is over and that you have learned all the most fundamental skills and now you can really get into advanced training.
One of the exciting things about Shinkyu Karate is that the form this advanced training takes is up to the student. Rather than continuing to only assess a student’s journey through a generic grading, black belts also complete elective modules which they can choose from a variety of subjects that will push them to learn and grow. These modules take various forms: some are physical challenges, other test understanding and other again challenge students to take on new skill sets.
This elective syllabus allows students to specialise and tailor their karate journey so the students who love sparring can focus mainly on this area, while those who are interested in traditional training and kata can indulge their passion in the art form.
This creates a rich, and most importantly meaningful and purposeful post black belt experience.