Beginner's Guide

Beginners should initially just enjoy their first few lessons with an open mind and try not to overthink what they experience.  You might feel clumsy and uncoordinated compared to the rest of the class, however remember that every one of us has been in this position.  Once a little familiarity sets in, more effort can be made and you can challenge yourself to improve.  It will take some perseverance to overcome the initial learning curve, but in doing so you will find the classes even more rewarding.  Your Sensei will guide you on what you should take away from lessons to practice.  For those keen to maximise their progress, the following guide will give you some direction.  But do not just read this guide and leave the actual training for another day.  You must get up and train, as much as possible!  That is the only way​ to improve.

Summarised review sheets for the techniques below can be downloaded here:

Stances

The primary stance used in Shotokan is ​zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) and the sooner you can effectively maintain and move in this stance the better.

There are 3 stances you must learn as a white belt:

  1. Zenkutsu-dachi (front stance)

  2. Kokutsu-dachi (back stance)

  3. Kiba-dachi (horse-riding or side stance)

Check the key points for each in this video tutorial.

Just keep your hands on your hips at first and practice stepping and turning in each of these stances.  There is a tendency for students to relax their stances and straighten their legs, e.g. the front leg in front stance.  You must stay low and maintain correct form.

Blocking Technique

Gedan-barai (lower sweeping block) will be the first and perhaps the most practiced block in Shotokan.  There are 5 blocks white belts must learn:

  1. Gedan-barai (lower sweeping block)

  2. Age-uke (upper rising block)

  3. Soto-uke (outside to inside block)

  4. Uchi-uke (inside to outside block)

  5. Shuto-uke (knife hand block) - almost always practiced in kokutsu-dachi (back stance).

Observe the video tutorial for details on each.  Once you get the hang of each block, try executing the age/soto/uchi/gedan blocks alternating quickly with each arm.

Stepping with blocking

Trying to execute techniques whilst stepping in the correct stance will be challenging for beginners and will take some time to become natural.  Its important that you constantly try and remind yourself of the key points for stances and correct execution of blocks with the right timing.  You can then self correct as you practice and eventually muscle memory will take over.

Punching technique

Beginners may find it easier to learn how to punch correctly whilst standing still in shizentai (ready stance - feet shoulder width apart slightly turned in), alternating left & right fists punching to body-level (chudan).  Concentrate on correct fist rotation as you strike and draw the opposite fist back to the hip (hikite).  This will allow you to focus without worrying about correct stances.

There are 2 strikes you must learn as a white belt:

  1. Oi-zuki chudan / jodan (lunge punch to the body / head).  This is nearly always executed whilst stepping forward in zenkutsu-dachi (front stance).

  2. Gyaku zuki chudan / jodan (reverse punch to the body / head)

This video outlines oi-zuki, tutorials for other punches can be checked here: Kihon - Punches

​Make sure your fists are tight and focus your punches on target, aiming to impact with the front two knuckles (seiken).

Mae-geri (front kick)

The first kick that beginners will learn is mae-geri chudan / jodan (front kick to the body / head).

Pronunciation: ma [as in mum] e [as in egg], ge [as in get] ri [as in ring]

In your basic drills you will be stepping forward in zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) with the kick.

The knee must be raised as high as possible tucking the foot in before kicking forward before retracting the foot again keeping the knee high prior to placing the foot on the ground.  Ensure both your arms are raised in guard position and cover is maintained through the whole technique.

Yoko-geri-keage (side snap kick)

You will be expected to be able to perform this kick to chudan / jodan level (body / head).  Beginners will kick stepping sideways in kiba-dachi (horse riding stance).

Despite it being learned at beginner level, this kick is notoriously difficult to execute correctly.  The knee leads the kick drawing up and pointing towards the target and the foot snaps out impacting on its outside edge before retracting back.

Ensure both your arms are raised in guard position and cover is maintained through the whole technique. 

Kata

What is a Kata?  Well, the best way to describe it is to show it.

This video shows the first kata that you will learn as a white belt which we call, "Kata Kihon".

It consists of 20 steps using only 2 techniques, gedan-barai (lower sweeping block) and oi-zuki chudan (lunge punch to the body).  Zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) is used thoughout the whole kata.  It takes about 40 seconds to perform.

At first, performing a kata may seem overwhelming with turns, stance, blocking, punching, techniques, etc to worry about.  The best way is to simply learn one or two steps at a time until you can perform half of it up to the first "kiai" (spirited shout).  Then come back to it another time to learn the rest.  Do not be tempted to rush the kata as many do, make sure each technique is completed with power.

Gohon Kumite

Gohon Kumite (5 step sparring) will be your first experiance with partner sparring.

It is a formalised training routine aiming to get the student used to distance and timing involved with the actual application of the techniques learned.

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