Monday, October 22, 2012

haito uchi + mawaru + kiba dachi = takedown

One of these days I'll have to start recording my own videos to demonstrate what I'm rattling on about.  Fortunately for me, and you, there's lots of good video already out there.  This brings me to the thought for the day: haito uchi (ridge hand strike), mawaru (turn), and kiba dachi (horse back riding stance) combined yield a quite effective takedown.  Alvin Guinanao demonstrates.

Note:  If you are re-reading this and notice a change in the title, it is my fault.  Originally, I had zenkutsu dachi in the title, but on reviewing Alvin's video, I noticed that the zenkutsu dachi is not there, though kiba dachi is obvious.  Rather than search all over for the video I had in mind (it's out there) I left it at kiba dachi.  If any of you show up at the NYC seminar this year, or get to meet me, ask me about the zenkutsu dachi and I'll be happy to demonstrate.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

gedan barai reconsidered

In karate kihon and ido geiko we practice gedan barai, usually as a block against an attack to our abdomen (presumably a kick-shudders- or perhaps punch).  Another application I have seen advocated, by myself as well, is as a wrist grab release technique.  In both uses, the "blocking" hand is chambered near the collar bone and brought down smartly in a diagonal motion and stopping abruptly just before the elbow is fully extended.   The problem with how karate kihon, ido geiko and kata are practiced is that these movements are often done without a partner and under the assumed operating environment of kumite.  Karateka chop down with their forearm as they perform gedan barai, and much is lost.

The term "barai" implies a sweeping motion not a chop. Consider the sweeping motion of the strong arm in this video of Maul Mornie demonstrating knife defenses.  The lead hand deflects the strike, the strong/rear hand sweeps down and across, and traps the attacker's hand against his body.  Conventional karate wisdom holds that the lead hand is extended so that one might retract it forcefully and thereby speed up the blocking action.  What is evident in Maul's video is that the lead hand is playing an active role in deflecting(passing) and checking an attack, rather than simply acting as a reciprocating limb.  I would argue the Maul's downward pass, parry, trap and check is the proper gedan bari, where both arms have equal and important roles.

Done this way, a proper gedan barai accomplishes three things: it allows the defender to gain an advantageous position; it prevents the attacker from utilizing his lead arm; it allows the defender to sense through proprioception the attacker's next move.  It is necessary, therefore that besides sweeping the strong arm down and across, the defender must push forward maintaining contact with the attacker's arm.  The defender then checks the attacker's arm with his lead hand, freeing the strong arm to counter.

Is this too much gedan bari?  Is the simpler version better?  Personally, I think it makes for better karate.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Underutilized Shuto Uke

Pity the poor shuto uke (shuto mawashi uke, double knife hand block).  When does it ever get put to use except in kata practice?  Forget about fighting, right?  It seems traditional martial artists only use it for getting into a fighting stance.  They'll wave their hands in the air and Presto!  I'm a karate guy!  But there's so much more to it.

I like to think of the technique as a multi functional tool.  You parry and trap your opponent's strike.  Equally important, if not more so, while parrying and trapping you to cut an angle on your opponent to get into a safe position while leaving your opponent vulnerable.  If karate is a fighting system of multiple distances, shuto mawashi uke is the technique that enables you to close the distance.  Those familiar with Wing Chun, JKD, Silat will recognize what I'm talking about.

Kyokushin karateka who remember pinan sono ichi, might wonder about the different angled shuto mawashi uke at the end of the kata.  No, they are not intended to allow you to meet additional opponents coming from different directions.  They are meant to reinforce the idea of approaching your opponent form an angle instead of straight on.

Above, Alvin Guinanao, of Open Circle Silat, demonstrates how to get close to an opponent and take him down.  Pay attention to the hand movement starting at 0:10.  Notice how he's close and outside.  For karateka, imagine what moves follow shuto mawashi uke in kata.  They are very likely close-in fighting technique.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Moves like Jagger

I have been quietly (ok, maybe not so quietly) bemoaning a development in karate I find disturbing: musical kata.  The state of kata is bad enough, what with the narrow understanding of bunkai, adding music pushes the martial arts to the glittery side of art and rendering the martial unrecognizable.  Is there a way out of this death spiral?  I would argue in the affirmative.  Understanding is the key.  The truth is easy to recognize, even if disguised by music and dance.

Take the kembangan (flower dances) of Silat.  I've asked Alvin Guinanao to provide me with a vid of his moves which you will find above.  Notice the fluidity and balance.  Note the delicate hand gestures and intricate footwork that belie truly powerful and destructive self-defense technique.  "Well that's all nice," you might say. "But where is the powerful and destructive self-defense technique?"

Here's a view of Alvin's ground fighting class.  It doesn't look so dance like anymore.  Some of it vaguely resembles certain Judo throws (osoto gari, kosoto gari, kosoto gake).   You might remember my post on stances, or heard me in conversation refer to karate's funny ways of standing as takedowns.  Compare Alvin's flower dance to his ground fighting.  Now think about kata and how you might reinterpret it.

As for Alvin's delicate hand gestures while performing a kembangan, check out his class on blocking technique.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why Silat?

When it comes to kata bunkai, it helps to view it from a distance, and I don't mean from the nose-bleed section of the bleachers.  I mean view it from the perspective of South East Asian martial arts like Silat. For the past few months I've been training with Duane. D., the US representative of Maul Mornie's  Silat Suffian Bela Diri and I must say that the experience is like hitching a ride on the long journey to understanding bunkai.  If you look at the some of the video's in Maul Mornie's YouTube Channel, you'll get a glimpse of the type of applications to be found in this rich and varied system.

Today, I had the good fortune to have met and trained with Grant S., SSBD's group leader of Germany, who happened to be visiting.  With Duane, I had been practicing basic knife and open hand fighting drills.  From Grant's perspective, the most advanced technique is simple technique.  In two hours, Grant taught a progression of simple knife passing and blocking technique, culminating in wicked joint destruction technique.  Duane and Grant assure me that what I have been exposed to is just a hint.  Maul Mornie's seminars are the main courses to the appetizers I've been given.  Maul Mornie is coming to NYC in October and I plan on being there.

While training with Duane, I was driven to find out what else is available in the world of Silat.  I contacted Alvin Guinanao of Silat Buka Lingkaran to see if he gave any seminars in my area.  Alvin teaches a comprehensive fighting system which includes weapons, standing and ground fighting, as well as locks, chokes and grabs, or pretty much what I think Karate could be if more folks understood the kata.  I became familiar with Alvin's work while researching all things Silat.  I am fascinated by the way he turns what looks like a dance into a full-blown deadly martial art.  Karate's kata always seems to fall short in this regard.  For some reason, karate's proponents focused on the individual and lost sight of the opponent.

Anyway,  I asked Alvin if he would consider giving a seminar in NYC and he has agreed.  I am very excited about this.  My karate buddy, Joe C. is helping me put this seminar together.  If you are in the NY tri-state area and want to experience Silat, or are more than mildly curious about making your karate a better karate, you have got to participate in these seminars.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thought Experiment: the history

Last time, I suggested we try a thought experiment: assume something is wrong with our fundamental understanding of kata. How would we know and how would we fix it? If you remember the joke, in which a misunderstanding of basic principles becomes unquestioned "truth," the misunderstanding is resolved by going back to the source.

So let's go back to old Okinawa.  From the 11th century until 1477, when the king of Okinawa, Sho Shin, banned the private ownership of weapons, Okinawa enjoyed a burgeoning martial arts culture due to a political alliance with China (1377) and a rich trade with the neighboring peoples of South East Asia and of course Japan.  The banning of the private ownership of weapons in 1477, and a second ban on weapons ownership in 1609, when Japan took possession of Okinawa, forced the development of karate along a peculiar path.  These events created a motivation for unarmed fighting.  They created a reason for maintaining secrecy.

Billy Blanks, creator of Tae Bo, wasn't the first to market a wildly popular, albeit watered down, fighting system as exercise.  In 1901, Anko Itosu introduces such an exercise program to the Okinawan school system as part of its physical education curriculum.  In order to make the practice suitable for children many of the martial applications were deleted or obscured.  A few decades later, in 1931, Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Itosu,  introduces "karate" to the Japanese school system.  Again, like the prior introduction of martial arts to public education in Okinawa, there is a winnowing out of martial technique.  In addition, there was a deliberate obscuration of Chinese and other influences in karate, and a move towards sport.  If there were a great book of karate/kata, it should be clear by this brief history that many chapters were redacted.  So, when critics of bunkai say that there are no hidden technique in kata, they are partially correct.  It is no wonder that many karateka who have devoted years of practice and study know little of it.  How could they?

Returning to the joke that inspired this thought experiment, we are the monks who upon opening the sacred texts in the vault, find them to be neither original nor complete.  What to do?  Can we remain content with reduced content?  If your answer is in the affirmative to this last question, read no further.  You'll probably get upset.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Thought experiment

The story goes that what we know today as Karate we owe to intrepid Okinawans who travelled to China to pick the brains of Chinese masters. Later generations of karate masters based their authority and expertise on how close their relationship was to the original travelers to China, which brings me to a joke told to me by my friend, Bob the chef.

It goes something like this:

A new monk, let's call him Brother Al, is assigned the task of copying ancient manuscripts by hand. The original manuscripts, too valuable to be handled by the monks, are kept in a vault where they've been stored for ages. Only copies are available to the monks in the copy room. Brother Al, being a sharp guy, his joining a monastery not withstanding, asks Abbot Bud, most senior of monks,"Abbot Bud, how can we ensure the accuracy of our work if we only copy from copies?"

Abbot Bud ponders the question as Brother Al looks on. Alarm builds in Brother Al as Abbot Bud's demeanor changes from beatific calm to wide-eyed concern. "Good question, Brother Al, mind the other brothers while I run down to the vault." And with that, Abbot Bud hikes up his robes and sprints as fast as his sandaled feet can carry him across the stone floor. Hours pass, no Abbot Bud.

A concerned Brother Al and two other monks, Josephus and Reggy, make their way to the manuscript vault and find a distraught Abbot Bud. A page of illuminated vellum is crumpled in his tight fist. "It was never ib, it was never ib, it was never i frickin b" Abbot Bud repeats, his eyes swollen with tears. Josephus and Reggy steady Abbot Bud while Brother Al smoothes the wrinkled page. "He's right, my brothers," Al reads, "it's e b r, the word is supposed to be celebrate."

I often think kata can be like ancient manuscripts with transposed or missing letters, even missing pages. Here's a thought experiment-if the first transcription of the kata "manuscript" was flawed, how would you know?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Omote, ura and the poetry of kata

The art in kata is not in the visual appeal of it's dance like moves, nor in the simple kinesthetic appeal of moving. For me, good kata is very much like good poetry, where instead of a few words we have a few gestures communicating volumes. It's the economy that I appreciate.

Misunderstanding kata is like expecting poetry to read like prose. Kata is not prescriptive-if attacker does "x" you respond with "y." The newer, so called fighting kata, attempt this. The traditional kata are a bit more complex. An appreciation of symbolism, pattern and structure is requisite. There is a reason beginning readers start out with "Fun with Dick and Jane" books instead of say the words of Robert Frost. First get command of the language, then develop an understanding of its nuances.

Symbols? A punch is a punch, a kick is a kick. This is true if your karate is merely kick boxing in pajamas. At first, I thought the problem in understanding kata lay in the Japanese concept of omote, what is out front and observable, and ura, what is behind and unseen. This suggests perhaps a conscious effort by early karate masters to conceal secrets. Maybe in the old days, today I believe it's analogous to a failure to appreciate poetry. It is difficult to understand metaphor and simile with a limited vocabulary. There's no spark of recognition.

My prescription, increase your martial arts vocabulary by cross-training. Then go back to your kata and see if that has not made all the difference.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Te Waza: Nukite is not a spearhand

The opposable thumb and a big brain enabled our ancestors to survive in the wild. Key to their survival was tool building. It went from fire hardened wooden points to stone tools and eventually through the various metal ages. The progression was always towards better efficiency. In some styles of Karate, we see a regression rather than a progression in the use of hand technique, te waza. Of course, our understanding of karate is that it is an art of unarmed combat; however, this is no reason to believe that through effort and a casual disregard for physics and material science we can transform our bodies and hands into shields and spear points. This kind of thinking, to me, suggests a misunderstanding of kata bunkai.

The nukite in Pinan sono ni is often explained as a spearhand strike to soft body parts of the attacker: eyes and throat. First I would ask, what is the significance of teaching eye jabs? The Three Stooges, if you are familiar with these exemplars of slapstick comedy, demonstrate the simplicity of the eye jab with only two fingers and no training, and yet we have karate masters stabbing pots of gravel, bundles of bamboo and other targets all in an effort to transform multi-jointed fingers into a stabbing tool. Neanderthal man might ask, "why not just use a pointy stick?" A pencil is handy enough. Also, if empty hands are the only tools you have, why run the risk of jamming your fingers if you miss a soft body part and hit something hard?

I am pretty certain that in most cases spearhand strikes are not strikes at all. Jab an eye if you must, but stabbing pots of gravel in preparation is overkill. In the case of Pinan sono ni, the nukite is preceded by an open-handed block. The movement is strikingly similar to the Kyokushin's mawashi uke. So what's the point of the nukite in Pinan sono ni? My suggestion, an entry technique. The downward blocking hand parry's or slaps down the opponent's outstretched arm (presumably a punch or grab), the "nukite" traps, controls, grabs whatever it can. The open hand is open to whatever tactical opportunities present themselves, and not, I would argue, so that the finger tips can stab. In Pinan sono ni, the nukite is immediately followed by a turn of the body. Pay attention to turns in every kata. To me, they suggests throws, particularly when you consider what the hands are doing in the kata immediately prior to and after the turn.

Coincidentally, Te Waza in the Judo world refers to throws precipitated by hand motion. My favorites include ippon seioi nage and tai otoshi. There are many other throws in Judo, all involve turning, precise hand and foot placement, lowered centers of gravity, kinda like kata, only the emphasis is on optimal leverage rather than esthetics. Striking? That's the simple stuff in kata that hardly need elaboration.

Friday, March 30, 2012

From Tachi Waza to Ashi Waza

My 7th grade teacher, Miss B, was fond of saying, "Keep things for 7 years before throwing them out." That's not a bad rule. My sock drawer could use a little of this discipline. The point is reducing clutter, getting rid of the useless. If Miss B took a look at a typical karate lesson plan I just know there would be a number of things she'd love to trundle off to the dumpster. Take the tachi waza, stances: kiba dachi, zenkutsu dachi, sanchin dachi, kake ashi dachi. Like sweater vests, how many do you really need? What are they doing in the syllabus except to have students stand in funny ways while developing leg strength and preserving tradition? Miss B would have gotten rid of them all. I am all for reducing clutter, especially as springtime approaches. Before we fill the dustbin with seldom used and appreciated karate technique, let's see what can be put to good use.

In my previous post I spoke of neko ashi dachi, the cat stance, as a counter or defense to leg attacks. The unweighted leg is immune to sweeps, trips and reaps. These leg attacks are found in sanchin dachi (ouchi gari) and kake ashi dachi, the cross legged stance. Kake ashi dachi can be interpreted as almost any of the ashi waza in Judo (deashi baria, kouchi gake, kouchi gari, hiza guruma, sase tsurikomigoshi). Note, I am not implying that Judo is the source of this bunkai. Throwing and leg attacks are found in many martial arts older and contemporaneous with Karate and Judo, Shaolin Kung Fu most importantly. However, Judo is the most refined of martial arts when it comes to throwing and provides handy terminology.

So now we have a great bundle of ashi waza instead of funny ways to stand. Throw them away? I think not. Try out a few of these ashi waza. Your tachi waza will never be the same. Sorry Miss B, I'm keeping my tachi err ashi waza.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sweep the leg!

If you are a martial artist of a certain age, the movie line, "Sweep the leg," should conjure up images of the original Karate Kid struggling to win a match and the girl. The Karate Kid was your standard morality play: overmatched good-guy versus technically excellent, but heart-in-the-wrong-place, bad guy(s). The karate matches themselves, and in particular, the tactical use of neko ashi dachi, tsuru ashi dachi (might as well include kokotsu dachi) illustrate the disconnect between the real physics of fighting and fantasy.

In the real world, Daniel-san would have been creamed by opponents who actually trained fighting skills. All that wood finishing and auto maintenance would have little transfer, sad to say, to fighting . Ironically, the neko ashi dachi Daniel-san is forced to adopt because of a damaged knee is the perfect defense against a leg attack such as the dreaded foot sweep. With most of the body-weight on the rear leg, the front is pretty much immune from sweeps. And that's about all neko ashi dachi is good for, avoiding sweeps and trips. Close-in, Daniel-san would would have been able to avoid all the leg attacks utilizing neko ashi dachi.

As a fighting stance? Come on! Neko ashi dachi limits your mobility. I struggle to suppress a laugh when I see opponents face-off a long distance from each other in neko ashi dachi. Neko ashi dachi also fails as a base from launching strikes; there's no way to put your weight behind the strike. You'd be flailing, which is pretty much what Daniel-san was doing. Try throwing a power shot at the heavy bag from neko ashi dachi. You can't. With most of the weight on your back foot, when you made contact with the bag, more than likely you fell over. If you didn't fall over, ask yourself whether there was any knockdown power in that strike.

But, but, but, "What about the crane kick?" you ask. It is after all a front kick launched from a completely committed neko ashi dachi (that is all of the body-weight rests on the rear leg). Yeah, that's Hollywood. If do right, no can defense. I would have fallen to the ground laughing and ceded the match.

Next: What leg attacks?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The BS Bunkai Test

Some people wanna fill the world with silly bunkai. . . My good buddy J shared a Hein nidan (Pinan sono ni among the Kyokushin karate crowd) bunkai video he had found online. While we both had a laugh at the instructor's expense, deep down it alarmed me. I checked out some other interpretations of this kata on the net. Poor Heian nidan. Sadly, this particular kata is a magnet for very shakey, logic defying interpretation. If your BS detector isn't sounding off, it's time for re-calibration.

The first hint of fishy bunkai is an elaborate response to such a simple attack as a punch to the face (from that pesky guy standing to your left). One doesn't need any special training to respond to a punch to the face. If one is accustomed to sparring, a parry followed by a counter work well. If one is inexperienced, stepping back, covering up, running away work too. So what gives? It seems to me that some folks are offering up hokey cures for non-existing ailments. And another thing, if you were getting punched in the face and you tried doing the "suggested" arm-twisty maneuver, it's a sure bet you'd get a few more shots in the face. Try it. Reality is the best cure for fishy bunkai syndrome.

The test:

Walk into any boxing or Muay Thai gym. Put on head gear and a mouthguard and ask an obliging partner if he or she wouldn't mind throwing punches at your face. Tell your training partner that it is your aim to catch the first punch and turn it into victory. Get back to me with the results.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kata as a mixed martial art training syllabus

I recently had the misfortune to read a book on the meaning of kata by a Japanese author. Besides having his own karate dojo, the author has doctorates in sociology and Japanese civilization. One could argue that this man, on paper, is just the authority we should be seeking guidance from. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book. Chapters on the history of Japan and the uniqueness of its people; barely a paragraph on karate much less kata. I'll leave the author's name and work out.

If you distilled the essence of this book on the meaning of kata down to two words you would get "navel gazing." Let's pause and think about it. Maybe that is all there is to the kata of Japanese karate. Maybe it's like the tea ceremony, which is not so much about serving and drinking a tasty beverage, but "being in the moment" and finding some revelation in the gestures and empty spaces.

Did I sell you? If you're like me, you don't get high off empty gestures. I want to learn how to fight, get good at it, and then get drunk on my awesomeness, or else be teased with the hope that by learning and practicing, something close to awesome is within my grasp. Air technique, and the contemplation of it, won't do it.

And this brings me to where I left off last time. Let's say kata start out with the practitioner emerging from a position of vulnerability with a juji uke, and that juji uke, we agreed (we did agree, no?) was a small joint manipulation, in this case a finger lock. Think of the deadly karate practitioners you'd be churning out of your dojo if they became well versed in the art of finger locking. You could spend weeks, month, even years on this one subset of skills, and that's just the first bunkai in any kata. I could be way, way off. Juji uke might not be about finger locks at all. Bummer. You now have a bunch of ladies and kids capable of destroying their attackers (provided they were actually drilling finger locks and not just dancing the kata), but complete nincompoops at dance. Boohoo.

When it comes to kata practice, instead of counting belly button lint, turning inward and trying to imagine what you don't know, aka the usual approach, take from arts other than Japanese karate. Your karate will be better for it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kata is in your face

How does your kata start? If you answered turn left and face your attacker, you win the booby prize. The lesson is close quarters, self-defense. Most kata start with your eyes closed, legs are straight, heels touching, hands held low and in front of you. In other words, you start from a position of vulnerability. As you open your eyes, it's like the curtains rising to a scene of your own mugging. Your assailant is in your face, maybe applying a front choke. What do you do?

In many kata, the first move is to drop your center of gravity and perform a juji uke. Juji uke (cross block), in this scenario, looks like you are crossing your wrists about face height (hands formed as fists) and bringing your arms down slowly to the sides. If instead of "blocking" you are grasping one or two digits of your attacker's hands placed around your neck, you can make use of the advantage of leverage, peel the attackers hands away and release the choke. Move your hands smartly, and you disable the attacker's hands. This is juji uke as small joint manipulation.

The rest of many kata offer similar scenarios united by a concept of close proximity. I don't for a minute believe any (okay, maybe some) of the bunkai offered by gurus that involve intercepting/catching a strike from the middle or long distance and then applying joint manipulations or throws. It's too hard. Complex motor skills against an ambush attack? Please. Test this out. Have a partner attack you with a barrage of strikes. More than likely, you'll flinch, cover-up, then clinch. The bunkai lessons can be applied once the grabbing starts. If there's no grabbing, run away while you have the chance.

Food for thought. Zenkutsu dachi gedan barai is a lousy block, which is how I learned it many years ago. In the "kata is in your face" paradigm, gedan barai is a great cross grab, wrist release technique: with your free arm smash down on your attacker's offending arm while simultaneously twisting and withdrawing your entrapped wrist (hikite). Of course, gedan barai might be used to block. . . knees for example. Is instruction required for something so instinctual? No. In the case of the wrist release application, the lowering of the center of gravity (zenkutsu dachi), the forearm smash (gedan barai), and the withdrawal of the entrapped wrist (hikite) combine yielding elegant bunkai.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Language: name that stance

That which we call a stance by any other name would be as effective. . . or not. Names matter. What's the difference between Montague and Capulet, or zenkutsu dachi and lunge? A lot.

You say zenkutsu dachi. I say lunge.
I have a beef with almost all Karate stances. Take zenkutsu dachi. It's a lunge isn't it? You are lunging to strike; lunging to sprawl; lunging to takedown; lunging to reap a leg. With zenkutsu dachi we are limited to: take a long step; distribute your weight 60% on your front leg; wait until instructed. What happened to the rear leg? At least draw it up so that you can lunge again, back pedal, turn around, run. And what's going on with the rest of the body? Why freeze a moment in time and give it a name? The emphasis on learning the nomenclature and weight distribution of stances evinces a very superficial understanding of balance and its relation to movement. Call something a stance and you put the emphasis on the legs doing nothing more than rooting the body to the ground, and this is bad. A body moving dynamically teeters on the verge of collapse, and this is good. It's how we run, ski, throw a punch/kick, and yes throw an opponent as in Judo's osoto gari.

By naming something (eg. Chinese Hand=> Empty Hand, aka Karate) we take possession of it. We can also inadvertently place limits on it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bunkai-Do you see what I see?

There are many in the karate world who will tell you that there are no hidden applications. Unfortunately, there are many in the karate world who will teach you bogus applications and take your money too. What's the average know-nothing karate guy or gal going to do? Let me break it down for you.

If you believe kata is open to free interpretation, and depends on your mood and circumstances, you have wasted your time. You should have been taking up boxing and looking up at cloud formations for inspiration; with boxing, at least you'd be able to punch out anyone who disparages your musings on cloud formations. For the poor karate guy who goes to the school where bunkai is up to you, read on. Performing kata, no matter how many times, will get you no closer to learning applications than the first day you put on a white belt. You've heard, perhaps, insanity defined as repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. It's crazy to believe some new self-defense application will come to you in the nick of time simply because you marched through the Pinan series for many years.

Don't despair. Unlike clouds, the marbling of beef, or melted cheese on toast, the forms in kata are not random. This needs repeating. The forms in kata are not random. Did you ever notice that certain movements in kata recur pattern like? Did you ever notice that these repeating movements appear not only in different kata, but in different styles of martial arts? No, I'm not just talking Goju-Ryu and Shotokan, but also Judo, Tai Chi, Kuntao Silat, Aikido, etc., etc. No hwaaay?! Way! Here's something to ponder: maybe the guru's telling you there are no hidden applications, only know one way of fighting, or only one martial art.

Let that thought marinate a while and consider the different ranges in a fight. There's long distance, about as far away as you can kick. There's middle distance, about an arm's length away. Finally, there's close distance, close enough to smell the coffee on your opponent's breath, close enough to drive your forehead into his nose. If you belong to the Shotokan school, or a popular derivative, Kyokushin, you are probably most familiar with long and middle distance fighting. Why? Because tournament rules say those are the only approved ways of fighting.

When all you have is a hammer. . .
everything looks like a nail. The same applies to karate folk who are conditioned to fight in the long and middle distances. To them, everything looks like a punch, kick or block, except for the things that don't. These get dumped into the mystery bin of free interpretation. Be wary of the things that don't look like punches, kicks or blocks: they are the most susceptible to faulty interpretation. You will spot faulty interpretation when sensei says with a straight face,"this spinning jump is for when your legs are attacked with a barge pole," or, "now turn and face attacker number three." If kata were meant to help you fight multiple attackers (not that they can't), or barge pole wielding assailants, kata would come with submachine gun applications.

If you want to understand kata, you must dispense with the tournament mentality and consider fighting as comprising long, middle, and especially close distance engagement. You know that mystery bin, I'll bet the funny stances and gestures can all be explained, better yet applied, in a close distance fight.

Next, on the language of kata.

Friday, March 2, 2012

towards a better karate

I am writing for a small audience of karate practitioners who believe their karate could be improved. If you see the rise of Mixed Martial Arts and begin to doubt your karate training, this blog is for you. If you have heard of hidden applications in kata, this blog is for you. If you are a practitioner of other martial arts like Judo, Aikido, or Tai Chi, and still hanker for more, this blog is for you. If you think kata sucks, this blog is for you. I fit the above profile and these are my thoughts on making a better karate.

The three K's
Traditional Karate may be said to be incomplete without it's three main components:kumite (sparring); kihon (basics); kata (forms). Kata is the DNA of karate. Like genes, kata give evidence of karate's origins, and also its potential. A better understanding of kata will help us determine where our karate may have gone wrong and how we might fix it. Naturally, any change in our understanding of kata will dramatically change our practice of kihon and kumite.

In the posts to follow I will explain how I interpret kata and make it integral to my karate training. For now, I will leave you with the thought that drives my obsession: Kata reveal that Karate is the original Mixed Martial Art.