Kata Study – Tensho

In Shin Ai Do karate every student on one stage of their progression through grades is given a kata.

This kata is specially chosen to suit his or her ability and character. This kata is the main one to study. You need to know other forms within the system but this one you have to specialise in and know it thoroughly. For me it is Tensho kata.


I was “assigned” to study it around 15 years ago. I have tried many versions and adaptations in search of knowledge and efficacy of movement.

This kata was introduced by Chojun Miyagi in to the Goju Ryu system in 1921 as a softer Sanchin. The name Tensho is translated as “revolving hands”, “rotating palms”, or “turning palms.”  Some researchers suggest that it is a modified version of the Rokkishu form from Chinese Kung Fu.

Movements in Tensho are flowing but under tension with deep breathing. Over time many versions have developed. Every master did a little bit of modification. Nowadays every school where this kata is taught they have their own adaptation.

In our school we teach a version introduced by Mas Oyama. Although over time it is bit different few movements were changed to fit with the analysis of hands on interpretation.  We are using this magnificent kata for various reasons ranging from health, strength through self-defence, meditation and relaxation training.

Tensho for Relaxation

Focusing on the self-defence aspects we have three levels of understanding the Tensho:

  • Kuzushi, Nage (off balancing and throwing)
  • Tuite (joint manipulation)
  • Atemi, Kyusho (strikes in to the vital points)

Beginners are introduced to the flow of unbalancing and takedowns with use of the stances and hands movement with use of Tai Sabaki (body movement). In this way students learn effective way of using their body and directions of the techniques.

Intermediate form focuses on the joint and muscle mechanics and how to take advantage of body responses to pain signals. All the movement are transformed to joint locks with use of the stances, body and arms.

The advanced version exploits weak points of the body, putting pressure or strikes to the nervous system, muscle system and other tissues of the body. Neurological responses to the pain.

All this makes Tensho kata very effective weapon in karate, which is often not recognised and used only as a “breathing “Kata.

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Off balancing

Performing and studying this kata for 15 years now I keep finding new ways of using it for different purposes. Understanding this kata opens up body strength, effective self-defence and mental relaxation. Teaching it on the seminars more and more people are discovering benefits of this form. Next time you do Tensho please try to find ways of using it not just for breathing.


short clip of possible analysis for Tensho.



Les Bubka

About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.

Aggressive sales, email lists ….

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I have been qualified as a personal trainer for over a year now and have dutifully joined professional governing bodies that regularly send out magazines, links to web articles etc. in order to help you keep up-to-date with the latest developments and fashions.  In particular they provide a lot of information on how to run a successful business.  I have to say that the marketing techniques material that they send me makes me cringe.  Some of the ideas they suggest are against my philosophy of how I wish to train people and are at times completely opposite to how I believe a successful business should be run.

I have formed my beliefs and perspective as a result of having spent 15 years teaching groups of students in martial arts and having taught at seminars around the world.  During this time I have gone through a variety of different approaches whilst running clubs in different cities and countries and one thing that has always become apparent to me is that the best thing is to just be yourself and do the best that you can.  In this way people are more likely to recognise you and your efforts.

Here are a few examples of the types of suggestions that I do not agree with:

  • SalesTo make it to the next level you need aggressive sales. No I don’t.  What I need is to provide quality training and great customer service, which will make clients to come back to me.  I don’t believe that my clients will be happy if they are forced to buy stuff.  Personally, if someone tries to aggressively sell something to me I immediately decline and will avoid this provider in the future.
  • Sell only in packages – “Selling individual sessions is a waste of time. Yes, but only if your aim is to extract as much money from your client as possible. I prefer the approach of aiming to impress my clients at every session so that they want to come back to me and book more sessions.  If they specifically inquire about or request a package, then sure we can look at developing one.  Again, for me personally, if someone said to me that I could only train with them if I bought a whole package I would walk away.  For example I like to train with specialists in particular areas, but I would only train with them say once a month.  In this way I can train with a variety of instructors who can each provide input on different areas of my progression.
  • Email list – “Your goal is to add new names to your email list. We are told that our target as personal trainers is to have a massive email list that we can send countless emails to with offers and advice. I personally don’t do that.  My clients receive one email from me after a consultation with their tailored training programme, corrective exercises or treatment schedule.  As a part of their consultation we will agree a means of contact so that they are happy with how and how frequently I will get in touch with them.  I don’t understand this obsession with the number of email addresses.  My email is constantly flooded with offers and information from different fitness sources and most of it goes straight in the bin.  In my view it is a waste of my client’s time going through a lot of spam messages.  I would rather my client be out on a relaxing walk then be sat in front of a computer reading my emails on random fitness fads.
  • Workout plan – “Never give your plans and training secrets away. I am not sure how that would actually work, as every time you train someone (or a group) you have to show then your plan for the session and so they know it.  If we do not share our methods then there would not be any progress as everyone would have to rely on their own development rather than being able to gain from sharing best practice.  We need to be transparent so that others can learn new methods and we can in turn learn from others.  In any case it is not the workout itself that is the most important aspect of personal training but the quality of instruction.  You could have the best workout but if you cannot teach it effectively then no one will want to do it.
  • Success – “Getting a fitness business over the £…k per month will make you more successful. Only if this is your vision of success.  I believe that if you are a better trainer that you are likely to have more money as you will build a stronger client base, but I do not believe the converse is true.  As you help people they are happy to pay you a fair price for your services.  For me personally, being successful is about being able to bring smiles and confidence to people, enjoying their achievements and being a part of their story on their road to success.  So long as I have enough money to pay the bills I’m happy, but maybe that is just me – I don’t need much to have a contented life.

These are only a few points that make me doubt the intentions of the fitness industry.  It seems to be more about making more sales then help people.  An example of this is a survey that one of my tutors did on my course.  His question was Why are you here on this course, what is your deepest motivation to become personal trainer?” 29 out of 30 people responded with “to make money”.  You are probably wondering what the response was from the other person, well I said that I wanted “to help people”.

I’ll leave it on that.  Please take time to think about what your motivation is…

Moral spine of Karate


When I started my training in martial arts I did not think about all of the culture, rules and traditions – “I just wanted to kick some ass!”  As I was always one of the smallest on my estate I tried everything to make myself bigger and to be able to fight.  So I started going to the gym and I joined a Karate club.  I had a clear vision of being just like Bruce Lee.P6070005.JPG

Moving forwards 20 years and I now appreciate all of the rules, traditions and morality associated with The Art of Empty Hands, especially the aspect of “Do”.  Looking around I find that the emphasis on the moral aspect of martial arts appears to be decreasing.  Quite a few teachers seem to promote aggression and the disrespectful behaviours of macho men/women.  Good examples of this can be observed in the worlds of Boxing and MMA where fighters try to dominate their opponent before they even step into the ring, making as much hype as possible around their persona in order to generate more money.  Two fighters who highlight this particularly in my opinion are Connor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.  Both are exceptional fighters with excellent skills, but they are extremely rude to and about others.  Behaviours like this puts me off from watching MMA and makes me question whether these famous fighters are the best role models for young people?  I personally do not think they are and I have more respect for an average fighter who has respect for others.  He might not be at the top of his profession but he is a humble hero who promotes the best behaviour for the young people that take up martial arts classes.

From running my own classes I have noticed that people are drawn to moral martial arts where you can learn honour, diligence and respect and how this fits in with traditional systems such as Karate, Aikido, Ju Jitsu and others.

For me the philosophy of Karate works, giving people that train not only a physical workout, but in addition teaching them a structured, moral code.  This is the essence of the phrase “Karate ni sente nashi”, “Karate does not attack first”.  The name Karate “Empty Hands” is telling in itself in that it signifies that empty hands are about protection and that the hands being open is a welcoming gesture.   Karate should be used only for good reasons with respect to others and in case of danger to self or others.  Kaicho Nakamura has pointed out a few key principles in Karate that really resonate with me and that I try to impose in my training and life so that my existence is meaningful and helpful:

  • GI – Rectitude – To take the right decision in every situation and to do it without wavering. The right decision is the moral one, the just one, the honourable one.
  • YU – Heroism – Bravery means taking risks to our position, status or self-interest on a daily basis.
  • JIN – Compassion – We should always try to find ways to express our compassion for others.
  • REI – Courtesy – We should practice it constantly especially in modern times where we are lacking in courtesy.
  • MAKATO – Truthfulness – In all dealings with others, we should develop a sincere, honest straightforwardness.
  • CHUGO – Devotion – always be devoted to your family, friends and teachers.

The above are great tips for an honourable life.  I guess the question is how many of us follow them in our lives once we step out of the dojo?  We can hear in the media about martial arts instructors scrounging on benefits, molesting children and taking people’s money.  It is easy to preach about honour, diligence and respect on classes and then get involved in corrupt behaviours and doing harm to others.  Many instructors want to be perceived as holy, without a mark against their character.  We would all like to be like that, but reality if often different.  We all have faults, but we can strive for perfection through our choices and actions.  I do preach about honour and respect and I have to confess that I am not always perfect, but I try to follow the path of Karate do, self-education and excellence.  Since I started to employ these principles I have noticed that my life has changed for the better and I am now helping others through Karate.  I wish for all instructors to be an excellent example to their students, we certainly need more respectful people in this world.


Les Bubka


Loyalty to organisation, teacher, dojo

loyaltyOn a previous training session I discussed the topic of loyalty in martial arts with my students.

The definition of loyal (from www.dictionary.com ) is:

faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity”

From this we can see that you can be loyal to a leader, cause or a person/thing.  So which one would be applicable in the case of Karate?  Your teacher, style or maybe just to Karate itself?  How to choose so as not to upset anyone?

In my experience the most common form of loyalty in martial arts is to the first two – loyalty to a teacher or to a style.  Some people get very angry when their student tries someone else as their teacher or trains with another system(s).  I believe this stems from a fear and insecurity of the instructor or organisation, or just selfishness, but I will not dwell on this as it has not been something that I have experienced with my teachers.

Instead I would like to focus on how I see loyalty in my club and with my students.  This is nothing new and it has been embedded in me by my teachers, for which I am very grateful.

I expect from my students that they be loyal to themselves, to follow their gut feelings in martial arts.  Their best guide is their own intuition, which will give them ideas and concepts to follow so that they can achieve their maximum potential.  However, with this type of loyalty I also expect them to be honest with me.   Not because I want to know what they are planning, but because maybe I can help and guide them to the best possible teacher, saving them the effort of following dead ends that I or my teachers have followed before.

From my perspective the more important aspect of loyalty is that of the teacher to the student.  As a teacher I have to provide my students with assistance for them to find their path through martial arts.  It is my job to indicate to them other options not just Shin Ai Do and to encourage them to ask questions and to try other arts and teachers.  Being loyal to a student is to not judge them on their actions and to understand that they are going through a process of self-development and self-discovery.  To be honest I have been going through the same process myself in martial arts for nearly 20 years and I have certainly made some mistakes along the way.

I expect my students to not be afraid to come to me and tell me that they are going to other clubs, teachers and/or organisations.  Honest behaviour makes me proud of them and saves us all any unpleasant feelings later.  I will not stop any of my students from following their own way and I hope that we will always remain friends.

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In my view respect has to be earned from both sides.  You earn each other’s respect by following your passion and by being honest.  From my perspective as an instructor I am more than happy to see that a student has found their ideal art/activity elsewhere and will encourage them to try it out, with the knowledge that the doors of my dojo will always be open to those that showed the respect and courage to do what is best for them.

Being loyal does not mean to be blindly following a teacher or organisation, it is to follow your own passion with respect to your teachers and mentors.

By Les Bubka