How to – Mae geri

One of the most common kicks in Karate is a front kick or ‘mae geri’ in Japanese.  In this article I would like to provide my take on how we perform mae geris in our style.

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There are a few ways of performing this kick.  The two most common are:

  • Mae geri keage, which is quick and powerful but snappy.
  • Mae geri kekomi, which is a thrust kick.

Both of these methods are useful for different situations.  From these two basic methods we have a few variations like a stopping kick, a toe kick, a kick that changes trajectory as executed and so on.

In describing these kicks, let’s start with the body mechanics.  Mae geri is a kick to the front and our focus is to deliver most efficiently maximum power, to do so we need good posture, appropriate muscle contraction and accuracy.

There are a few variants of foot positioning within this technique. Nowadays the most popular form is kicking with the ball of the foot, where the toes are pulled back upwards.



In the old days the preference was different, with some schools preferring to use a foot position where the toes were pulled back in a similar fashion to the fingers of a fist.




In my opinion this was a very dangerous way of performing this kick as the toes are very fragile in this position.  Older Okinawan styles use the tsumasaki method (as shown below).



Personally this is my favourite way of kicking.  The small surface area created by the top of the toes makes for very painful kicks.  This method needs practicing and conditioning to be able to perform it properly and safely.  This setup works great when wearing shoes in a street confrontation.

Another often used surface is the whole sole of the foot (mostly in kick boxing).  This setup gives great support for stopping kicks or stamping.



Given that mae geri keage is the most popular form of front kick in Karate I will focus on the mechanics of this method.

Starting with a proper base for the kick is very important, some Karate styles teach that the supporting foot should face straight forward when kicking.  From my point of view this is less powerful and reduces freedom of movement as our hips are closed and therefore block each other. From anatomy we know that our hips open up when we walk, that is why our feet turn outwards to allow the maximum range of movement.

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We want to take advantage of this range of movement when kicking.  By doing this we have quicker, stronger kicks with a longer reach and the additional benefit of not putting stress on our supporting knee.  When kicking without a target (in the air) we must concentrate to make sure that we do not straighten our knee as this dynamic movement is bad for our joints.

When we execute a mae geri we do the following:

  1. Turn our supporting foot outwards (opening our hips)
  2.  Raise our kicking knee up whilst bringing the heel of our kicking foot towards our glutes (stretching our quads, which provides for a more explosive release of the foot as we kick as the quads go back to their natural tension). Aside from making our technique powerful and quick, by raising our heel up to our glutes and our knee to our stomach we essentially hide our foot from our opponent and then as we kick in a straight line it is difficult for our opponent to see.  This is because our eyes have evolved to detect motion from side-to-side at a distance (to identify potential threats or prey), but we are not good at judging the distance of an object moving directly towards.
  3. As we raise the knee we also pull the kicking hip back slightly, as we execute the kick the hip will rotate forwards bring more speed to the kick. We make sure that supporting leg is little bit bent, as this gives us stability.



  1. As we move the foot forwards to strike the target, we ensure that our foot position is set (depending on the type of kick we decided to use) and that the foot muscles are tense to protect our joints. As mentioned in point 2, as we kick our hips move forwards to help drive the kick forwards.


  1. As we hit the target we tense our leg, back and stomach muscles to help transfer energy into the kick.
  2. Keeping the knee up we then pull back the kicking foot. This pull back should be even quicker than when we drove the foot forwards.  This is partly to create a shorter impulse of energy, which is more painful, but also to ensure that our leg is not caught by our opponent.
  3. We then place the foot back down.


Some common mistakes that occur when people kick a mae geri is that their upper body is leaning too far forwards or back.  Leaning forwards too much makes us vulnerable to a punch in the head.

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On the other hand tilting back too much will make it impossible to tense our stomach muscles and keep balance.   If in a fighting position, it is also important for us to keep our hands protecting our head.

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Mae geri is a great weapon in fighting and can be used in different ways, as an attack, for defence or as a distraction. We can perform it on the move forward or backing up and it can be snappy or thrusting.

I hope you found my description of a mae geri useful, however describing how to kick is no replacement for feeling how a kick works for you through training and under the supervision of a good instructor.  Please feel free to share.

“Black belt- target or side effect of training”

First black belt in Shin Ai Do Karate in Poland, kept in nice box.

This time I would like to write about approaches towards gradings, belt systems and the black belt. Starting with my story, I began training in martial arts when I was 14.  The same as all beginners I dreamt of becoming a black belt and being able to kick ass! After 13 years I achieved my goal of attaining a black belt.  By the time I achieved my black belt my attitude and opinion of what it meant had changed – I was happy to have it, but now I realised that it was not that important.  During my time training in Karate my teacher did a great job of imparting the belief that it is only a belt – “belts do not fight, they are only there to hold your Gi top together”.   This was his endless mantra.  Looking back, I am very grateful for him impressing this view on us.

Now I am teacher myself, I try to pass this approach on to my students and friends. Looking around I see lots of people chasing the dream of being a black belt, but they do not want to invest time and effort, they want it now, almost instantly.  In this way, the black belt has become something like a driving licence.  You go for a course, when you have done your hours you go for a test and if successful, receive a certificate.  You can then hang this over your toilet for all your guests to admire!  Then you can retire from training as you now know it all – you are the master, the black belt holder…

With more and more people looking for an easy way to achieve this holy grail of martial arts, there are more and more opportunistic teachers and organisations that give away black belts, for a certain price of course.

Another growing trend for extracting money from people is the creation of grading systems with up to 20 kyu grades (or more!), each of which having a separate belt colour.  So the student not only spends money on taking many grades, but also has the pleasure of buying many belts as well.

belt progression
Shin Ai Do have only four colour of belts.


Shortening the times between examinations to 1-3 month intervals provides a steady income for examiners. Students on the other hand may experience a fake impression of progression and achievement.  Such short interval between gradings does not usually provide enough time to properly learn techniques (unless of course you are training every day for many hours).  Speeding through grades at such a pace creates students who often can only remember techniques associated with the current (or very close) grade as they are constantly having to focus on the requirements for the next grade rather than building a solid body of knowledge based on an accumulation of techniques.  Organisations then build black belts and instructors on this foundation.  This causes a lowering of standards within an organisation and damages the image of Karate.  Unfortunately this practice has become very popular in martial arts as a means to make money.  I cannot understand how students are being charged (sometimes ridiculous amounts) for gradings on top of their membership, classes and licence fees.  I understand that obtaining knowledge costs time and money, but to my mind this is extortion.

In line with the realities of supply and demand, people want a black belt quickly and so other people provide this service.  Having a very small Dojo, I try to fight this approach.  At my club we have gradings typically once a year, if (and only if) the instructor decides that a student has done enough to be graded.  When permission is granted to grade, I consult my opinion with one of the other instructors within the organisation to see if they agree with my assessment of a student.  If we are all in agreement that a student(s) should grade, then a grading is organised.  However, we do not setup an isolated exam for only those that are being graded, but observe the students during a few hours of normal training, with a panel of instructors present.  As a panel of instructors are required, our gradings often coincide with international seminars.  The benefit of this is that students can be judged not only by instructors from within our own style, but also by instructors from different martial arts.  All of our gradings are free of charge until black belt when there is a small fee for producing a dan grade certificate and embroidered belt.

Recently at our club we have decided not to wear belts at all as we are a small group and know each other well.  We now only wear our belts when joining our friends on seminars, competitions etc.  I have noticed that this approach is putting off some potential students as one of their first questions when they come through the door is “how long do I have to train to become a black belt?”  After I finish explaining our philosophy on the subject of belts I can see the disappointment in their faces, most of them do not come back…

Another thing I have noticed recently (and is the subject of one of my previous blogs) is that people want easy training, where they pop in for classes for a bit of a workout and social interaction, but do not want to get tired.  At our club our sessions are physically challenging and often involve students having to consider the details of techniques, which requires concentration and constant correction,  hence my popular catch-phrase “something like that”.

I suspect that most people expect from their instructor a ‘pat on the back’ and encouraging words like “yes, you are doing this well”, but being from Eastern Europe I am often seen as being rude as most of the time my focus is on ensuring techniques are performed correctly.  Besides, I do not like to lie and “beat about the bush” and so I am very direct and honest – some people do not seem to get on well with this.

In an age where everything is nearly instantly accessible, people do not often have the patience for long, hard training and being told that they are not ready to grade makes them angry.  That is why McDojos are doing so well.  Organisations like this have adapted to the modern, fast pace of life and fulfilling peoples demands for a quick route to black belt.   However, it is my view that when we start travelling on the path called Karate our focus should be on training and improving, not on grading.  In my opinion obtaining a black belt should be a “side effect” of training and not the target of training.

If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.

Shin Ai Do introduction and concepts

In this article I would like to say a few things about our karate style, Shin Ai Do. I have been prompted to write this article thanks to a question from one of my blog readers, Alex. His question made me realise that perhaps I should explain a little bit more about our club and the history of our style. I hope you will enjoy it.
What is Shin Ai Do?
Shin Ai Do Karate is a modern Karate style that inherits from traditional Karate schools such as Goju Ryu and Kyokushin. The name Shin Ai Do was first used in 1989 to describe a school of Karate developed in Russia


Our logo comprises an outer circle, known as Enso in Japanese, and the Kanji for Shin Ai do

Enso is a Japanese word signifying a circle and has no single, fixed meaning. A popular expression in Zen painting, it symbolizes a moment when the mind is free enough to simply let the body or spirit create. The brushed ink of the circle shows the expressive movement of the spirit in time. The Enso circle also symbolizes strength, enlightenment, harmony, elegance, and the universe.

The term “Shin Ai Do” means “Way of True Harmony”, which echoes the principle aims of the style. These are for a practitioner to execute techniques in a flowing manner that is in harmony with the advances of an attacker, and more broadly, for a practitioner to find a style of fighting that is in harmony with their own abilities.

As illustrated in the graphic below, as well as being interpreted as “Shin Ai Do” our Kanji can also be read as “Makoto Ai Michi”, which means “Sincere Teaching”.  This also represents our way of training in that there is not an emphasis on making money from our students.


The main distinction between Shin Ai Do and some other styles of Karate is that Shin Ai Do training focusses on adopting a way of thinking as opposed to just learning a particular set of techniques by rote.

Components of Shin Ai Do

Shin Ai Do uses strikes, throws, sweeps and ground fighting techniques that support fighting against an opponent in a variety of scenarios. In all cases the aim is to use an attacker’s power against him/her.


We strongly emphasise safety in our club for our students and so we use head guards and small gloves with a variety of other standard protective equipment such as shin pads, groin protectors, gum shields etc.  Using these safety measures we are able to simulate realistic fighting, but in a relatively safe environment.



A few words about me

My name is Les Bubka and I am the instructor at Guildford Shin Ai Do.  I originally started training in Oyama Karate in 1992 in Krakow, Poland.   In 1997 after a short break due to injury I was dragged by a friend of mine to begin training in Shin Ai Do Karate under Sensei Artur Marchewka.  (A big thank you to my friend Piotr as switching to Shin Ai Do has changed my life!)

In 2002 I passed my instructor’s exam and opened my first dojo in Krakow. Two years later I opened another two dojos in Proszowice and Koscielec and by 2003 my students were taking part in many competitions with great success. Training hard whilst working as a professional instructor, I successfully gained my 1st Dan in 2007 having completed my exam in front of an international commission from Idokan Europa and Idokan Europa Poland. After moving to United Kingdom I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to start the UK branch of Shin Ai Do in 2008.  In 2009, at an international seminar in Krakow, I achieved by 2nd Dan.  Currently as I am writing this article I am preparing for my 3rd dan grading in August.


Training Goals

PRESSURE – our students set their pace and priorities.  If they want to train without testing, that is up to them.  Most martial arts instructors will constantly assess the progress of their students. There are basically two paths trainee can choose when training with us. 

  • Rank and File – they want to continue the association path to black belt and above.  Learn all the history, ceremonies and Japanese names etc.

Just Train –Students just want to train and learn.  They will not be expected to memorize the Japanese words and philosophies.



Shin Ai Do Functional Karate.

In my opinion the main function of Karate is fighting. That is what we teach and therefore some of our kata performances are far from aesthetical perfection, but they work on a resisting opponent.

I hope that this short description of Shin Ai Do Karate will help in understanding my points of view.

Our vision of Functional Karate is not the only way, there are others great paths, but all the roads lead to the same mountain peak, whichever way we get there is not important.

I will mention one more thing which makes me stay with my teacher Sensei Artur and the very small school of Karate that he represents – Shin Ai Do.  When I arrived for my first lesson Artur said very few words to me. He told me about his school and what I could expect, but also he told me something very unexpected which I did not understand at first. He said “After this class please visit a few of the other schools of martial arts around here and attend some lessons there so that you can choose the right school, the one best suited for you.  One day I hope you will return and join our club”.  And so I did after a few visits to other clubs…  It is now my 17th year with Artur as my teacher. Through all these years he has always encouraged me to visit different martial arts and sports, to learn from them what I can. As a result of my Sensei’s influence I am now training in Wrestling, Kempo and other systems.

Now that I am a teacher myself I try to encourage others to be open and to try to explore other possibilities as we never know what is just round the corner.  It makes me proud when my students find the art, sport or hobby which makes them happy even if that means that they are leaving my dojo, I am happy for them. They all know (so I hope) that from the first time they step in to my dojo they have entered the family of Shin Ai Do where they can get Sincere Teaching in the art of Karate.

If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.





Gradings: Careful what you Wish For…

Good article by Wonderingfirst about belt system in Gongfu, have to say that as a karate person, I am drifting away from belt system in my club. There will be Article about it soon 🙂

The Wandering Fist

Coloured sashes to designate rank are a foreign concept to me. I do not wear, and have not worn, a belt within this kind of system. Yet the plot thickens: the story I tell is of two groups within the same organisation, one of which used a belt system, while the other did not.

Historically, Wuzuquan had no coloured belts. The system that we hear of in a lot of arts – white the lowest belt, black the highest – seems to originate in Japanese systems, to have thereafter been adopted by (Korean) Taekwondo groups and even some (Chinese) gongfu schools. In traditional gongfu, the only sash was worn under the clothing, for medical purposes: it wasn’t tied like a belt, but was wound around the abdomen to reduce the risk of hernia, like a weightlifter’s belt. The coloured belt system has both critics and champions:

  • “It’s commercialised, the…

View original post 281 more words

Bunkai session @ our club

Here is a little insight into our approach to functional karate and kata. This video shows the first level of bunkai (application) of Tensho kata. Note that the video does not provide all the details of what we do. It is best to meet, try and feel the techniques for yourself. I hope you enjoy.

Seminar Schedule


Seminar Schedule

With only a few weeks left until our seminar we are delighted to be seeing more and more people registering.  To keep you all up-to-date, please find below a detailed schedule for the day (note that this may be subject to minor changes as a result of unforeseen circumstances).   Unfortunately we have had to make a few changes to the programme as Sensei Jacek will no longer be able to join us due to work commitments.  As a replacement we have invited our great friend Sensei Marek who is an annual guest at our club.  However, as is often the case with the best laid plans, we might have to make a late substitution for Sensei Marek as he has just recently broken his leg and it is not yet clear if he will be able to teach by the end of August.  We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him at the seminar in any case.

Plan for the 31st of August 2014:

  • 9:00        – Arena opens (please make sure you are on time as we will not wait!)
  • 9:15        – Opening of the seminar with instructor introductions
  • 9:20        – General warm up
  • 9:30        – Zendo Ryu with Kyoshi Dietmar Schmidt (Greece)
  • 10:40     – Ju jitsu with Renshi Jim Rooney (UK)
  • 11:50     – Kempo with Sensei  Marek Mroszczyk (Poland), please note that in the event that Sensei Marek is unable to teach Sensei Les will teach a Wresting session.
  • 12:30     – Lunch break. Please note that lunch is not provided.  For those who do not bring their own lunch the Spectrum has a coffee bar and a Wimpy.
  • 12:50     – Return for afternoon session. 
  • 13:00     – Demonstration of Seitei and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu sword work by Hanshi Roger Payne and his students.
  • 13:15     – Shin Ai Do Karate with Sensei Artur  Marchewka (Poland)
  • 14:25     – Aikido with Hanshi Roger Payne (UK)
  • 15:30     – Closing ceremony

I might be being a bit pedantic but please be prompt so that we can stick to the timetable. By doing this you are showing respect to our guests, friends and to the other attendees. Another thing I would like to ask is that all attendees aim to promote a friendly and inclusive atmosphere.  This event is aimed at providing the opportunity to meet new friends, see how others train and enjoy Martial Arts in general.  In support of this aim we seek to avoid any politics.

Please note that for insurance purposes we will ask you to provide some details prior to the start of the seminar (next of kin contact information, pertinent health concerns etc.), so once again I would like to stress that it is important that everyone arrives on time so that we are not delayed.

I hope that this event will be memorable and fruitful for all of us! New knowledge, new friendships and little discoveries – feel free to ask as many questions as you like, all of the instructors are friendly and approachable.

See you soon,

Regards Les.  

Is doing basics always good for you?

“Doing basics is always good” I have heard this so many times! It is often used by instructors all over the world as an excuse, to cover their lack of advanced knowledge. From a Karate perspective I would consider basics to be the standard Kihon – single techniques that are executed in a repetitive fashion.
I can understand those who wish to perfect a single technique through years of dedication to the art of movement.
For most practitioners, how long does it take to learn the basics? Are you ready when you graded as a black belt to do advanced stuff? Probably you will hear “now you have to master the basics”. It is bit of a phenomenon in martial arts, as you have never been told in school “OK you have learnt the alphabet, now go and master it!” You initially learn the alphabet so that you can progress on to reading and writing words, which then leads to sentences and so on.
I have never heard of someone who is already literate going back to learn their ABCs… As a comparison, in martial arts you learn the basics, then you do combinations and kata, but then you are told go back to basics. I guess I have been very fortunate to have teachers that have encouraged me to do more advanced training and have always supported me in looking for someone who can teach me more.
Regressing back to basics is a common practice in martial arts. Having visited seminars with high grade masters with 6th, 7th, 8th dans it has always seemed odd to me that we do basic techniques such as tsuki, mae geri etc. for hours.
I personally disagree with this approach, yes from time to time we need to refresh our memory by going through basics but basics from a certain grade upwards cannot replace quality advance training. In my club, students from about fifth Kyu are introduced to more advanced concepts of Bunkai (applications) and Kumite (fighting). Having become dan grades, our students should attend regular advanced classes that do not repeat basics – basics can be done at home or when teaching other students. I believe that after attaining black belt we should switch our focus from technique in favour of adopting a way of thinking. What do I mean by this? We have all been told that this technique is for this or that. For example let’s take Soto Uke, which is taught as a block for an incoming strike. Yes you can use it like this, but there are multiple techniques that you can use for blocking a strike.
Perhaps more useful applications of Soto Uke is as a take down, high throw, joint lock etc. What we aim to achieve with students by getting them to adopt a way of thinking is to stop them worrying about specific techniques for specific attacks and shift the emphasis to responding fluently and automatically to a threat.
When we start discovering all the advanced applications for basics the reason why we are taught them in the first place becomes clear, with the result being that we change the way we execute the basic technique to suit its application to each threat that we are faced with. Every student will begin to tailor their basics differently as we are all built differently and think in different ways – we often have our own favourite ways of doing things.
So to conclude, we need to have a solid foundation in our basics in order to progress, but if we do not make this natural jump from basic technique repetition to understanding their advance application then we are missing out on a big part of the depth of our art.
I hope that you found this article helpful. I think the practice of basics is a contentious issue as lots of people have their own thoughts on how to effectively incorporate them into training. I look forward to further debates on the issue!
If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.

Kihon kata- bridge between classical self defence application and free fighting

In Shin ai do karate we have two kinds of kata: classical and modern. This clip shows one of our quick forms with application. Function of this form is providing the bridge between classical self protection captured in old Kata and modern sports fighting.