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Sushi, Sake, Karate & Kettlebells

Gary Music
The karate tournament competitor’s guide to success.
"It’s not always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger...And I won’t."
-- J. B. Books as "The Shootist" starring John Wayne.
"Great Warriors of old first became invincible and awaited their enemies vincibility."
-- Sun Tzu on training.
(Warning: This is a sport specific training program designed for competitors at the national and professional levels only under the direct supervision of a coach. Others are advised to use Enter the Kettlebell for strength training and practice their sport separately.)
Karate and Kettlebells is a perfect match, and if you follow the RKC doctrine of Hardstyle the two arts are a perfect match. Just like sushi goes with sake, kettlebells and karate make an unstoppable combination for fitness, strength, speed, power and tournament skill.
Why the John Wayne quote? This workout is difficult, and you better be willing. As John Wayne's character tells his young student, most men are not willing. These will be the individuals you will conquer at your next karate tournament. The statement also points out the importance of striking first, this is very important in a karate tournament. Don't hesitate; when you sense a void in his defense fill it with an offensive technique. Remember any offensive technique will by its nature have a weakness, hide your weakness in speed and find your opponents weakness and capitalize on it.
The Hardstyle hip snap of the RKC swing is borrowed from the hard style martial art karate-do. This ancient method of self-defense is indigenous to the small Japanese island of Okinawa. Karate-do is primarily descended from Chinese martial arts but it also has some influence from Ju-jutsu indigenous to mainland Japan.
Pavel Tsatsouline was not only a girevek and power lifter but an avid karateka. He took the hard style philosophy of one punch one kill and applied it to kettlebells and the rest is history. This popular style of weight lifting has spread across the world due to its effectiveness in producing strong, fast and powerful men and women that compete in every sport one can imagine. Pavel also has reverse engineered the physical movements of some of the most successful athletes in the world; together this doctrine has produced the most effective strength system in the world.
But how does one apply these principles to karate-do? What type workouts should a competitive karateka practice with kettlebells?
This is the method I follow and I think you will find it effective in increasing hand and foot speed, bullet-proof resiliency and power. Although I have only been using kettlebells for a little over 4 years, I have been practicing this competition workout with dumbbells and barbells since I was 12 years old. I have used it to train numerous state and national karate champions, it is a proven workout and I highly recommend it.
Kata and Kettlebells
About 8 years ago I was competing in a pro NASKA Pro tournament. I did well but did not make it to the grand championships normally fought in the evening. I decided to watch the adult male black belt division in kata. In the grand championship the open class is mixed with traditional kata. The open division has basically become a highly skilled gymnastic routine, and it is very rare for a traditional karateka to place let alone win.
A young black belt was performing the kata Kusanku or Kwanku Dai. Since the division rules followed the open class this young man added one movement to the classical kata. He froze his leg in a perfect front kick and performed a perfect pistol very slowly up and down with maximum tension but a relaxed look upon his face. The crowd went wild; he won first place and 10,000 dollars. All this because he had the ability to perform a pistol and a technically perfect traditional kata; the pistol is a RKC staple exercise tested in the RKC II certification.
For a kata competitor this should be reason enough to pick up a kettlebell and learn the RKC doctrine.
Sparring and Kettlebells
Pavel likes to say that the kettlebell swing is as close as you can get to fighting without a fight. Why does the swing help you spar? The swing builds explosive power and endurance while simultaneously improving the tense-relax (contract & expand) skills used by highly skilled fighters.
The one arm snatch and the one arm jerk will give you the feel of throwing a punch if you visualize this while practicing. These two exercises will improve not only your punching power but also your speed. But how do you ensure specificity from kettlebell exercises to sparring and kata?
By using a method favored by weight lifters for years called super setting. Although strictly speaking the following method is not a superset I believe this word describes the training method better than any other weight lifting term. This method is simply alternating rounds of fighting drills with kettlebell exercises. We shall refer to this method as a modified super set.
This workout can easily be used for any sparring type sport. Just modify the sparring and bag work to reflect the competition, Boxing, MMA, Judo or Karate.
Strength workout
The one arm overhead press – I perform this grind first for 10 sets; the progression is simply 3 reps twice, 4 reps twice, 5 reps twice and add weight. Drop back as far as you need to on reps, 2 works well. Even if you can lift three or four, still drop back to two reps and do the entire progression. The progression could be started with 1 rep x 10 sets if you need to do so. Optional especially for Kempo practitioners start with the 8 lbs shot put working up to the 20 lbs shot put in the non-pressing hand for grip and tension. You will know when you can grip the heavier shot put. This is done with RKC doctrine of maximal tension. Tension = Strength. Explode into the positive and lower to a count of two on the negative.
The barbell dead lift – Similar progression to the Overhead Press. Perform 10 sets x 1 rep twice, 2 reps twice, and 3 reps twice. That is a total of six workouts, add weight; usually 5 lbs, I know this sounds like a small amount of weight but this is a quick progression.
There is a difference however, now we add 10 karate kicks between sets of dead lifts. I do 10 different kicks. Throw your kicks hard but stay loose, be careful of the lower back, concentrate on your hara and you will be fine. Do one dead lift at a time. Always sit the bar down, stand, stretch your back and do the next rep. On the kicks, concentrate on the retrieval of the kick not the kick itself, this will increase speed.
Heavy Bag--6 three minute rounds, during the one minute rest perform 100 fast jumps with the jump rope.
Run 1.5 miles. Moderate pace.
I use a combination of stretches I have learned over my martial arts career. For stretching, I recommend Bill Wallace's, "Super Stretch". Pavel Tsatsouline also has many excellent stretching books available through Dragon Door. Spend at least 20 minutes on stretching.
This workout is a grind, so time is not critical. However, I will give you some average times for completion of the workout for planning purposes. At the lowest level of reps expect to complete this workout in 1+50, at the top of the rep ladders 2+30. This includes breaks between workout events.
It is a long workout, but remember you are training for an event that will last all day for most people. Karate tournaments are the king of hurry up and wait sporting events. This will not only make you strong as Choki Motobu, but it will prepare you for the grind of tournament day.
I like to drink fluid or a healthy energy drink and even snack a little during this long grueling workout.
Never lift to failure; it will slow your progress.
Speed Day
I start speed day out with the Convict Conditioning workout. That is the strength and conditioning portion of the workout. Just buy the book from Dragon Door and start the progressions. Start at step one no matter how easy you feel it is.
Then it's time for bag work and jump rope.
Shadow box 3 minute rounds x 3 sets
1 minute jump rope--goal is 100 jumps
Double end Bag 3 minute rounds x 3 sets
1 minute jump rope
Heavy bag 3 minute rounds x 3 sets
1 minute jump rope
3 minutes speed bag
1 minute jump rope
5 – 40 yard dashes working up to 10
200 round house kicks shadow box style, throw them loose and fast concentrating again on the retrieval of the kick for speed.
Stretch same as power workout
Time for this workout will only vary with the 40 yard dash progression. It will take you approximately 1+40 to 2 hours. This includes breaks between workout events. If you only have a heavy bag substitute the heavy bag for all bag work but still practice shadow boxing.
Explosive Power day
This workout is simple but effective.
Start the workout with 5-10 minutes of the Kalos Sthenos Turkish get ups. The progression works this way, when you hit 10 minutes for five workouts increase weight. For info on this get up just check with Brett Jones and Gray Cook's "Kettlebells from the Ground Up".
You will now hit the heavy bag 3 minute rounds x 10 sets. You will complete 20 double hand single kettlebell swings during the 1 minute break. For a progression start at 3 rounds and work up to 10. Do not go over 10 rounds. Use the TGU to key your progression on swing weight, I have found when the TGU goes up I can increase weight in the swing.
20 cossacks working up to 30, when you hit 30 for five workouts begin to use a kettlebell for weighted cossacks. Hit 30 five times then add weight.
Wall stretch 20 minutes.
Sparring day
On sparring day you will practice your competition kata 5 times for a warm up. Then spar, 5 three minute rounds. Do nothing during the 1 minute rest, simply rest. You want to be fresh during sparring, do not spar tired or exhausted. This will induce bad habits and poor technique. This is not the 100 opponent sparring test, you are training to win a tournament, not practice bleeding.
Your choice of wall stretch: the Bill Wallace method or one of Pavel's stretch workouts from his books at dragon door. I would use this as your long stretch day, it will feel good after the sparring. Up to an hour is acceptable no less than 20 minutes.
Advice on sparring training: I have trained with national and world champions in various fighting styles. They all had different ideas on intensity during sparring training. Some like to go very hard, while others sparred fast but light. I know from experience that both methods work, but all champions will agree on game day you have to know when and how to let the badger out of the cage.
Next time, we’ll look at putting it all together.
# # #
Sensei Gary Music began training in Sang Moo Kwan Taekwondo in 1973 at the age of 13. Sang Moo Kwan Taekwondo is an offshoot of Shotokan Karate-do. Sensei Music attained a rank of first Dan in 1976 at the Gary Harris Taekwondo Institute in Mansfield Ohio. Gary began weight training at this time with his father, James Commodore Music, (101’st Airborne WWII and Korean war Vet) who also taught Mr. Music boxing, shooting and survival skills. These skills were later honed in the military as a USAF aviator and parachute rigger specialist, Officer Music retired in 2002.
During Sensei Music's 22 years in the military he traveled worldwide searching out instructors in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Philippines and Thailand honing his hard style striking skills and becoming one of the countries leading authorities on old style kata training and advanced bunkai. Sensei Music also holds a black belt in Ju-jitsu, training with notable instructors such as Dr. Don Smith (taught by Don Dreager at the Kodokan) and John Saylor founder of Shin Gi Tai Ju-jitsu. Sensei Music’s primary instructors are the noted Aikido and Karate Master Vic Louis, Kempo Master the late Stan Hart, kicking master and fighter the legendary Bill Wallace.
Sensei Music continued his study of Karate-Do to this day attaining 6th Dan ranking in Shotokan Karate-Do and Taekwondo. He also is ranked at 6th Dan in Shurite Kempo, and is the Chief Instructor for the Shurite Kempo Technique Association and the Ohio Kettlebell Club in Shiloh, Ohio. Sensei Music began studying Shurite Kempo with the late Sensei Stan Hart in 1984. All of Sensei Music’s rank is certified through the AIKA.
Mr. Music’s kettlebell training began 6 years ago in his basement as a self training hobby. In 2009 Sensei Music decided to search out the leading authority on kettlebells and receive formal training from Pavel Tsatsouline and the RKC staff. He is now a cert I instructor in hardstyle kettlebell training, and training for a cert II level.