Training With Sensei John Bruce and Sendai Kushiro SKC
I had admired Sensei John Bruce over the years as an excellent competitor in both kata and kumite at the highest international level. His record of competitive success is exceptional as one of the KUGB's most gifted competitors, with three world titles and four European championships under his belt. He has, as they say, "been there, and done that". Indeed, the last time that I saw him, he had just completed an exceptional demonstration at the finals of the KUGB National Championships at the NIA, just ahead of the finals.
The demonstration was in my view excellent. Superb skill and technique, with drama and purpose. It was simply compelling to watch. Therefore, when the chance came to head up to Newcastle for the Easter bank holiday weekend, it seemed like a good idea to see if Yvi and myself might pop in and train with Sensei John at his dojo in Sunderland.
Sensei John welcomed us to his dojo, and we duly lined up for an hour and a half of quality, traditional Shotokan taught and demonstrated by a man who, over 25 years, has learned his craft. To be honest, for me it was a joy to be lined up and taught; I have spent the last two years since my Sensei Cyril Cummins, 8th Dan, passed away from bowel cancer in May, 2017, teaching Karate, which I love, but not training or indeed learning. Therefore, for me, it was a breath of fresh air, and in all honesty, I absolutely loved it.
The lesson itself was measured and technical, with the emphasis on letting the natural techniques flow, unimpeded, and without the addition of strong mechanical robotic movement. Sensei John used simple but at the same time challenging kihon punching combinations to encourage natural technique. Using strong hip rotation and including all parts of the body to create dynamic and explosive power, with the secret to success being relaxation and natural hip-generated power to control the technique, rather than individual limbs in isolation.
In addition to excellent well-explained verbal instruction, he also demonstrated precisely what he was looking for by doing the technique both as it should be done, and equally important, how it should not be done and why. This was seriously helpful as it deconstructed the techniques down to component parts. What was really noticeable was that each time he did this, the improvement was immediate, across the dojo.
Personally, I was grateful, as he gave me a lot of really valuable feedback about my own Karate, and how it could improve. And it all resonated as what he was telling me I knew to be true. Similarly, when we took the same principles of relaxation, hip rotation, and the focusing of Kime, coupled with the ability to not use physical strength but to rely on technique and natural flow, so the kata performance also improved. One exercise that I particularly enjoyed was when he encouraged us to focus on a particular part of the kata, where we could explore the sense of flow, and seek to control and manage the mindset of strength and robotic movement. I found this a great challenge applied to the katas Heian Yondan, Tekki Shodan, and then a personal choice of kata, in my case Tekki Sandan.
Here, Sensei John's advice was especially useful, as the kata is a close quarter, high tempo, sequence of short, sharp moves where any staccato movement prevents the natural flow of technique. He showed me what I was doing and then what he wanted and an immediate result followed.
The final part of the lesson focused on Kumite drills, and yet again the message was clear and consistent: let your energy flow, use the legs and deliver the punches with power that travels through the opponent with speed and aggression.
And here I think lies the real message of this well thought out lesson in Shotokan Karate: you do not in isolation practise Kihon, Kata, And Kumite; no, you practice Karate - that is it, all flow equally. The hip generation is equal to everything.
The KUGB are excellent in teaching this aspect of Shotokan. I was lucky to be with them for nearly 30 years. I got my first license in 1976, ran my own KUGB dojo with two dear friends until 2006, when we left the KUGB and joined NAKMAS. But, the point is simple: excellent Karate is excellent Karate, and Sensei John Bruce, along with his equally gifted wife Sensei Holly who is also a hugely successful competitor, dominating the ladies Kata and Kumite scene which she still continues to do. Both foster and demonstrate this excellence in technique, attitude, and delivery which explains the exceptional success of Sendai Kushiro in all levels of completion, as a well as high quality Karateka.
In conclusion, a great experience and I hope that Sensei John and Holly might come and join us to teach in the Midlands where I know that many Karateka would both benefit and enjoy from their experience and engaging teaching style.
We were made to feel exceptionally welcome as guests to this excellent dojo, and if you ever get the chance, please do go and experience the atmosphere and the warmth for yourselves.