A Forgotten Use Of Hiki-Te (Pulling Hand)

When I first started Karate, most people, especially our Oriental masters, would teach that the primary function of the Hiki-Te hand (the one that pulls back to the hip) was to increase the power of the other hand going out in a punch/strike/block.  This is undoubtedly a useful training method for beginners as it helps to teach them to rotate their hips and as such this explanation was not questioned very much in the early days.

However, with the advent of Mixed Martial Arts/Cage Fighting and the Internet, such ideas have come under more and more scrutiny.  Boxers, Kickboxers and other such stylists can generate powerful blows whilst still keeping the other high as a guard to the head.  When experienced Karateka (and other traditional martial artists) start to experiment, they find that they can too.  Hiki-Te is simply not necessary for generating power once good technique is established. Continue reading “A Forgotten Use Of Hiki-Te (Pulling Hand)”

Techniques As A “Shorthand” For Learning Principles

Some of the newer and more reality based martial arts which emphasise real self protection (as opposed to sport) such as Krav Maga and Systema argue that the strength of their system is that they emphasise principles of movement rather than techniques.  They argue that most of the older Oriental martial arts by contrast put the emphasis the other way round, on techniques more than principles.  They argue that this makes their arts better for learning self defence more quickly and effectively.

Note:   Systema is actually quite old, but has been seriously re-vamped and modernised by the Russian Communist government.

When you think about it, learning a principle is more important then learning a technique.  If you learn one technique, you have just that, one technique.  If you learn a principle, you have something that you can adapt to many different techniques and scenarios which makes if far more useful and versatile than a single technique.  A system that places emphasis on learning principles over techniques would have a number of advantages as it wouldn’t take too many principles before you have a fairly wide range of applications in your arsenal.

Without any disrespect to these newer and reality based systems, but I think that they misunderstand how the Oriental martial arts are structured.  I think it’s easy to forgive them for that as most people practising Oriental martial arts don’t fully understand either.  I’ll take Karate as an example as that it my main style (though it applies to Taekwondo, Kung Fu and other styles too).  What most of the Japanese Masters emphasise above all else is good form.  Whilst I agree that good form is important, what I don’t like is that most senior Masters emphasise form over function and the functions are largely lost in history.  Again, you can forgive them for this, as that is the way the Okinawans taught them.  I won’t go into the political and social reasons for this as I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

But when you put emphasis on form and forget (or at least don’t study in depth) the function; then you end up being technique orientated.  When you focus primarily on the form of the technique, you end up with a very restricted view of how you can use it!

However, each technique is really a shorthand method for studying principle(s) of movement and function.  If I take a stepping punch for example.  As a technique for stepping forward and punching somebody it’s a bit limited.  It’s easy to see it coming!  Usually to make it work you have to use a distraction as it’s a bit long and slow as a single technique.  That said, distraction is always good and should be practised as a matter of course!

However, if we look at the stepping punch in terms of learning principles, what principles can we learn.  Well there are several.

–  Co-ordination of the breath with the strike.
–  Co-ordination of punch with forward body momentum.
–  Sinking the body weight at the end to have a good “root” when striking.
–  Correct alignments of the skeletal system to impart maximum impact.
–  Compression of the stationary leg (the one that does not step) during the first half of the step allows you to propel yourself forward in the second half of the step (release the compression).

Stepping Punch

So lets say for example that you are confronted by an aggressor.  You do all the right things to try and de-escalate the situation and it doesn’t work.  For whatever reason, lets assume that running away is not an option!

You decide you have to strike!

Note:  Under UK law, you’re legally entitled to strike first if you honestly and sincerely believe you are in imminent danger of being harmed (but you may have to justify that belief in a court of law).  If you’re not in the UK, you’ll have to check the law in your country/state!

So you’re in the fence position (or a guard).  Either way, you have your hands up and front of you, between you and the aggressor; and one foot in front of the other.  If you were to execute a classical stepping punch, by the time you’re half way there the aggressor will likely know it coming and be preparing his/her counter!  That said, bullies often come close into your personal space to try to intimidate you, so you might not have room anyway.

However, lets just say you slightly lower your weight so as to compress the rear leg.  You then slightly lift the front foot of the ground and allow your body weight to move forward.  You enhance the forward movement by releasing the prepared compression and propelling yourself forward.  As you move forward you use the correct skeletal alignment, exhale and sink your weight on impact!

You haven’t performed a classical stepping punch.  In fact you haven’t even stepped through properly, you’ve just slid forward on your front leg!

However, you’ve used all the principles of movement/alignment/power generation, listed above which you learn from practising the technique of stepping punch.  The untrained observer wouldn’t even recognise that there was a connection between the movement described above and a stepping punch; yet the movement described above would not be very powerful without a lot of repetition of the stepping punch.

This works with just about all of your other techniques.

And this post only covers the use of this technique for a strike.  Most techniques are multi functional and can be used for striking, grappling and weapons, but the that’s for another post!

Reverse Punch With Sliding Step

I have done a very similar video to this before about maximising the thrust in the reverse punch (gyaka zuki).  This time however, I wanted to take it a bit further by adding a sliding step, which is a very useful and powerful technique from both competition and self protection points of views.  It moves the body weight forward further and even more rapidly giving a lot of acceleration, impact and covers distance in a very deceptive maner.

In the video, I look at some of the details of the technique to achieve this sliding step more easily and efficiently.  It’s nothing new, it just goes a bit more into detail which I personally feel not people explain in much depth.  If you find it useful, please “like” it and leave a comment below.

John Johnston & Iain Abernethy Applied Karate Joint Seminar Oct 2015

1 seminar.

2 of the Worlds very best masters of applied traditional martial arts.

About 3 hair follicles between them 🙂

Sensei John Johnston adaptive Karate and Sensei Iain Abernethy are coming together again for another joint seminar in Derby, UK. Although they are both Karateka, the seminar is open to other styles, especially Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do which have close links to Karate.

I’ve attended courses with both of them individually as well as their last joint seminar and I can highly recommend this seminar to any traditional martial artists who want to be able to apply their art for real World self defence, not just sport.

For details, the poster below. See you there!

Johnston - Abernethy seminar Oct 2015

 

Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

Joint Applied Karate Seminar (John Johnston & Iain Abernethy)

This was a great seminar hosted by 2 world class instructors, held on the 4th May 2013.

Sensei John Johnston in action

Sensei John Johnston, 7th Dan, has worked nightclub doors in one of UK’s roughest city’s.  He’s been a high level competitor (back when competitions were a bit more “Wild West”) and was Geoff Thompson’s first martial arts instructor, introducing Geoff to the concept of reality based martial arts.

Iain Abernethy & I (previous course)

With him was Sensei Iain Abernethy, 6th Dan, who has taught all over the world, authored numerous books on the practical application of Karate kata bunkai and has produced a number of DVD’s.  The chance to train with both of them in one seminar was not to be missed.

There were Karateka there from numerous different styles and it was nice to see some Taekwondo guys too.  I was also a bit surprised to see Jamie Clubb there.  He’s not an easy guy to pigeon-hole, but if you had to you’d probably put him primarily in the Reality Based Martial Arts camp.  Yet here he was training with 2 traditional Karate guys, which is a testament their practical and effective approach and application of their art.

The first session was taken by John Johnston, which looked at the use of “blocking” techniques for destabilising, disruption and striking.  We started by looking at using basic blocks for covering up the head to absorb haymakers whilst moving in on an opponent and countering at close quarters.

We also looked at double blocks (simultaneous Lower Block with Inside Block, then the same on the other side), where the arms cross over each other in front of the body (as in the 2nd and 4th movements of Heian/Pinan Sandan).  Rather than blocking 2 attacks simultaneously (as used to be taught by our Japanese masters), this was used to block one high attack with the top hand, then use the second hand to come up to trap and secure the attacking hand, leaving the attacker vulnerable to a counter.

Another example was taken from Heian/Pinan Godan where the attacker grabbed the wrist with a cross hand grab and prepared to strike with their other hand.  The defender would move to the side, away from the attackers striking hand whist applying Uchi Uke (Inside Block) with the arm that had been grabbed.  This releases (or at least weakens) the attackers hold and sets them up for a counter.  At all times John emphasised that we should use whatever counter presented itself, rather than rigidly following the kata and thinking that we must follow up strictly with whatever the next kata move might be.

Numerous other examples followed with counters including releases from grabs, taking the attackers balance, striking and taking them to the floor; all taken from or set up by basic blocks.

The second session was taken by Iain Abernethy which looked at grappling and gripping drills from a Karate perspective.  Iain has a lot of Judo experience as well, but is very clear on the different requirements of Judo compared to Karate/self protection.

The first emphasis was on establishing a grappling hold which would prevent the opponent from being able to strike us (not an issue in Judo).  This involved placing one hand round the back of opponents head and pulling it in to you so as to prevent head-butts (and bringing in your own head in tight as well).  This arm was also “inside” the opponents arm so making their arm less effective to attack you.  Your opposite arm circles over the top of your opponents arm to secure it to your own body, again to neutralise it.  We had to circle over the top of their arm, as they could escape much easier if we tried to circle from underneath.

From here Iain introduced drills where the person at the disadvantage could reverse the position so they they had the advantage.  Then we added to the drill to block the previous move and keep the advantage and so on.  It is too complex to explain accurately without the use of many pictures or a videos (which I don’t have) and would take pages to explain.  So I’m going to cop out on that one.  You’d have to experience it for yourself to really understand, but I can say that it was a very clever and practical drill covering an area that most Karateka/TKD practitioners do not explore.

The third session was back to John for bunkai of the Shotokan kata, Wankan.  John explained that bunkai does not just mean “application” as it is often taken to mean, but it means “analysis”.  We should analyse not just the different movements of the kata, but the different attacks we might face, size/strength differences that we might encounter and the environment we might be in.

He made his point quite succinctly when he called up a young lad (probably early teens) and the smallest person in the room and told the lad “pick me up throw me”.  There was a pause and a silence, so John repeated he himself.  This time there was some laughter as people realised the point that John was making.  It is no good saying that any given application will work for everybody.  There was no way that the small lad would be able to pick up and throw a big man like John, so just teaching a given movement such as a throw and a throw only would be selling the bunkai short.

We looked at the first movement of Wankan kata which is normally seen as a high X block, or raising your arms between the attackers arms when he has a 2 handed hold to your neck, then lowering and separating your own arms to break his grip.  John gave us several potential uses for this movement including moving inside a haymaker and blocking with both arms and following up with a strike, or moving inside a haymaker and blocking with one hand whilst simultaneously striking with the hand nearest to the opponents head.

Other applications included stepping to the outside of a straight punch and using both arm to grab the attacking arm and apply an arm lock/take down.

At this point John told us that he wanted us to “do my job for me”.  By that he meant that we should experiment and work out applications for ourselves; applications which suit our own build, size, strength and experience.  In conversation with him later, we discussed how many people don’t realise that they are actually allowed to do this and wait for somebody to teach them every move.  The concept of finding out what suits you, (rather than one size fits all approach) is very central to John’s teaching.

Next comes 3 rapid steps forward with the arms held up (forearms together) in front of the face, followed by a reverse block and punch.  John demonstrated this as grabbing somebody by the lapels (or wherever convenient) and forcefully marching them backwards to take them off balance, then use the reverse block (see kata) to pull their leading arm to the side where it is neutralised, whilst turning their body so that they can’t use their reverse side either.  They are left we no hands that they can use, whilst you have one holding and one free to punch.  Again we were encouraged to experiment with this to find what worked for us best.

A few more applications followed, then back to Iain for the fourth and final session, covering throws and takedowns.  This built up on Iain’s earlier session on gripping.  Having gotton ourselves into a position of a good grip, we could then go for a throw or takedown.  Iain explained that although throws are a good tool for our arsenal of techniques, they should always be for back up and not what we rely on.  A strike or punch can incapacitate somebody much more quickly and effectively than a throw/takedown, less skill is required and there is less to go wrong.

Iain also explained how a number of throws had appeared in Gichin Funakoshi’s early books, yet they had been removed from the later editions and why the requirements of Karate/self protection throws would be different to those of Judo.  We then worked our way through Funakoshi’s original 10 throws, some of which I’d never seen before.  Rather than blocking a punch then throwing, we started from the gripping positions used in Iain’s earlier session.

Overall it was a great seminar bringing together people from a number of styles.  Both instructors were approachable, helpful and extremely knowledgable.  I would certainly recommend either of them in isolation, but together, you’ve got to go.

Further information on their up-coming course and contact details for booking are available on their websites.

Sensei Johnston’s courses are available at:  www.adaptivekarate.com/events
Sensei Abernethy’s courses are available at: www.iainabernethy.co.uk/seminar-dates

Psyche of a Warrior: John Johnston by Jamie Clubb

My attention was recently drawn to a post on Sensei John Johnston’s Adaptive Karate Blog.  This post has been written by Jamie Clubb and was about John Johnston himself.  It also quotes Geoff Thompson a number of times talking about his training and experiences with John Johnston.   Having interviewed Sensei Johnston myself some time ago and also had the privilege to train with him, I was of course interested as this is a man that I hold in very high regard.

Also, during an age where traditional martial arts come are criticised so much, it is good to see a classical traditional martial artist getting so much respect from some of the leaders in the world of Reality Based Martial Arts.

Anyway, I don’t often do this, but I thought I’d reproduce the post share it with you here.  The original posting can be found at:  http://adaptivekarateblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/psyche-of-a-warrior-john-johnston-by-jamie-clubb/

So, over to Jamie:-

 

“John was and still remains probably the greatest influence to my development in martial arts, taking me through all those vital fundamental lessons, offering me (free) private lessons when he saw my potential; he even bought a suit and belt for me when I didn’t have enough money. He is a great influence and a great friend and a powerful presence in British martial arts. Without John I would not in any way be doing what I am doing today” – Geoff Thompson (BAFTA award winner, best-selling author and world authority on martial arts and self defence)

It is too easy for my generation to be dismissive of traditional martial arts. Most of us began our training when the most popular systems had become commercialized and branded. We witnessed the dawn of the McDojo. The mystique of the 1970s’ Kung Fu Boom and the 1980s’ Ninja-mania was over when we began. The 1990s spawned some huge changes in the martial arts world; a fair amount was instigated by criticism of the old guard. This led the birth of the mainstream “Reality-Based Self Defence” movement and the emergence of “Mixed Martial Arts” as a limited rules combat sport. The McDojos didn’t decrease; in fact, they continued to grow along with the mystical schools. More martial arts were discovered and created. Along the way revisionists took the traditional martial arts back to their functional roots and created another subculture. However, there is still yet another area of training from the pre-cynicism and scepticism of the early ‘90s that is still healthy today and is also being “re-discovered”. These were tough instructors who believed in teaching the hard basics of their art, who were more concerned with developing the original intentions of the “do” way of early 20th century Japan than anything else. They came from an era when karate was still a minority quantity in the west, when the training was tough and when the rank of black belt was rarely seen in the UK. John Johnston comes from that era and today he embodies the strength of his times.

John ran a Shotokan karate dojo in Coventry. Among his students would be the man who would spearhead much of the martial arts controversy in the 1990s, Geoff Thompson. This article varies from many others I have written on individual martial artists in that I have stepped aside from giving my personal reflections and sought those of Geoff’s. Geoff had a profound influence over my development in the martial arts during the early ‘90s and he continues to do so today. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting and perhaps more revealing to co-interview Geoff about his experiences with John rather to give any surface impressions the man made on me. To begin with I asked Geoff to sum John up to me:

“I first started training with John in the early ‘80s, before my door period, way before leaving my real job to train full time; in fact I got my black belt with Enoida sensei in karate under John’s tuition. He had a big class and he had a strong reputation as a former fighter and city doorman, and as a class karateka. His karate was and still is very dynamic, he is a big man and when he moves the whole room crackles. For a big man he is very fast.  He was also as a man that spoke his mind and not everyone liked that (I did), so he did not suffer fools. It is what really drew me to him”.

To John mindset, attitude and the psyche of the individual is the foundation of the good karateka. He had a tough upbringing, which inspired him first to fight and later to seek discipline through fighting:

“I was a mixed race kid growing up in Coventry just after the war had finished. I mentioned the war because if people understand their history, they will understand that colour prejudice was a propaganda tool that the American administration used to keep their coloured GIs segregated from the British public, mainly the women.  Therefore it was very strong in the minds of a lot of adults and was consequently passed onto their children. I was brought up by my English Grandparents who were very loving, but lacked the understanding to be able to equip me to deal with the overt prejudice that I found, other than to tell me that if I was picked on I was to fight back. Consequently I was in a lot of fights at school and at play. I had to fight from infant school through to my second year at comprehensive school. I was not bullied after that because I had dealt with most of it by then. At that time, there were only five coloured kids at my senior school, which made me a target.”

Being naturally athletic, John was not your obvious victim of bullying. This only goes to show how bad racial tensions were at the time and how deep the propaganda was in the collective psychology of those growing up during the era of John’s childhood. Born in 1951, he would have experienced the nationalist racism of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s that was inspired over fears regarding mass-immigration. John did not seek martial arts to solve his bullying problem – he would be 20 years old before he took up karate. He learnt how to fight well through hard experience and understanding how to utilize his natural attributes. He was an able rugby player at school, becoming a member of the Warwickshire Colts and then later the Coventry Welsh. He boxed for a little while and dabbled a bit in judo, but it was karate that eventually captured his heart.

“I was influenced by such films as ‘Our Man Flint’, starring James Coburn, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, starring Frank Sinatra, and later the Bruce Lee films. Having looked at several kung fu and karate clubs in the area I was fortunate to watch a class taken by Rick Jackson shortly after he had returned from training in Japan. I instinctively knew that Shotokan suited my physiology.”

Rick Jackson had recently been training in Japan. A much revered instructor, Rick taught John for two years. John’s dedication to the art was evident and it wasn’t long before he was entrusted with his own class to teach at Henley College. The scarcity of British born karate black belts in the early ‘70s was probably comparable to the number of British Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts in the 2000s. John was just a green belt when he first taught. Always the avid sportsman he took to karate kumite with predictable enthusiasm and vigour. In fact, it would seem he was a little too enthusiastic in his first competition when, as a purple belt, he was disqualified for excessive contact at the Larcano Ballroom in 1973.

However, he would soon become a regular on the competition circuit, fighting successfully at regional and national level competitions. This helped prove himself to the higher echelons of the British karate scene. He and his fellow club members began training with the British squad at the notorious Longford Dojo. Here he would trade blows with some of the best in the sport, and as time went on he became far more than a plucky sparring partner. John rose through the Shotokan ranks, taking instruction from some of the luminaries of his day such as Enoeda Sensei, Kawazoe Sensei and Andy Sherry. Despite learning some control from his early days on the tournament circuit, John was still feared for his devastating sweeps. By the time he was running his own clubs as a professional instructor he had caught the attention of the best in the sport and was selected for the Central Region Squad coached the British and European Champion, Frank Brennan.

The esteem that John was to be held in by his peers was explained to me by Geoff Thompson, who is one of today’s most respected martial arts instructors:

“He was a senior with the KUGB (Karate Union of Great Britain) and everyone knew at the time that they were the elite, it was an amazing association manned by some very serious players, Terry O’Neil, Frank Brennan, Andy Sherry, Bob Poynton, Ronnie Christopher to mention just a few. Just getting a brown belt with these folk was seen as top end, so getting my black belt with them was a life time ambition”.

And yet despite this awe he was held in and his reputation for not “suffering fools”, John, according to Geoff, was a man that was generous with his time and cared about people. Long time readers of Geoff Thompson’s work will be only too aware of the author’s dark days of regularly jumping from job to job. During some of these transient periods of Geoff’s life in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, John ran a building company and gave Geoff work:

“I even worked for him for a time, again there was always the sense with John that even if he didn’t have any work for me, he’d find work for me, he was that kind of person”.

However, John was always a realist when it came to self defence side of martial arts training. His initial karate training can be seen as a type of buffer period that helped turn the street fighter who was born in order to cope with childhood violence into a warrior that could turn his skills to a profession. Three years after his first lesson he began work as a doorman. He worked in Coventry during a time when the city had a fearsome reputation for violence. This was just prior to the era that Geoff made famous in his autobiography “Watch my Back”. John ended up becoming head doorman of a top Coventry nightclub and explained to me what a career in door security was like in those days:

“Initially the majority [of doormen] were boxers and a couple were rugby players. A lot of the guys that I worked with had criminal records for violence and it was after a particularly bad incident at a club that the police made it a condition that no one with a criminal record could work on the doors. It was at this point that I was promoted to head doorman and had to find replacement staff which I recruited from the karate club I was training at and a kung fu club”.

His work in door security was very successful. Geoff Thompson told me that John was once probably “the top doorman in the city”. This reputation led John onto other security work including “overt and covert operations protecting high profile business men, TV personalities and recording artists”. The “Adaptive” karate he teaches today doesn’t fall into the category of either literal interpretation, as portrayed by the pre-arranged sparring drills promoted in the 20th century, or the bunkai promoted today by the likes of Iain Abernethy and Gavin Mulholland. It is a more principle-based approach than a dissection or testing of bunkai. John told me,

“I feel that my karate is more instinctual than conceptual, so it isn’t easy to translate it to the written page. I try to encourage students to develop a very positive attitude when training, as well as being honest and realistic about real combat. I try to get them to understand that it’s not just physical; there is a psychological aspect which is also affected by the chemical reactions within the body. I believe that if you have these precepts in mind when you engage in training, and the training is hard and focused, you can help prepare them for the eventuality of conflict, and also give them the tools to be able to deal with conflict with the possibility of resolving it without resorting to violence, but worse case scenario, to be able to manage the situation with a favourable outcome”

“I stayed with Karate because its philosophy and its rigorous training methods have helped me to shape my life and has steered me in a direction which has been good for my wellbeing.

“I still teach and train in traditional Shotokan karate but I believe that to make it viable, the mind set in conjunction with the techniques require adaptation to be able to apply them in a way which would be effective. You can take competition techniques, Kata sequences and adapt them for street level protection. It’s not only the physical delivery of techniques that require adaptation but also you have to adapt your psyche”.

The mindset, attitude and psyche seem to mean everything to John and his approach to martial arts. It is something that I have noticed most experienced martial artists with a strong background in handling violence outside of their training came back to when they teach. When I pushed John on this subject he explained,

“I would say that attitude is not only a key part for the foundation of martial arts and self defence training, but is paramount and fundamental to a successful outcome, more so than the physical. If you train for competition you are preparing to attempt to win competition, however, if you prepare for war, you are attempting to avoid war. The attitude and mindset for these two concepts, albeit related are completely different”.

Today the martial arts world is very open to cross-training and hosting other martial arts and it is hard to remember a time when the norm was for most clubs to forbid training at another school. Knowing that much of the controversy surrounding Geoff’s early work came from his experiences in traditional martial arts, I wondered how he correlated this with his time training under John:

“It is hard to find other good teachers after working for so long with John because he was so charismatic; many of the people I went to afterwards, in my search for more martial arts information, were diluted by comparison. But he did also encourage me to explore, he was not one of these ‘jealous husband’ teachers that were afraid of you training with anyone else. Through John’s inspiration I later took my skills to the nightclubs and pubs of the Coventry to further forge and develop myself, and later when I wrote my first book, ‘Watch my Back’, he was very encouraging”.

Geoff Thompson often talks about stepping outside of comfort zones. Indeed, much of his philosophy is steep in metaphors about putting yourself into the forge as often as possible and moving toward discomfort in order to achieve the targets you desire. I can’t help but wonder whether John Johnston’s hard earned lessons didn’t have some degree of influence over him. John stepped from an outside world that had shown him cruel violent and irrational persecution and into another focused and disciplined type of discomfort. I asked John what the karate was like when he began and the changes he has seen during his lifetime.

“The Karate that was being taught at that time was very basic and very strong physically and mentally and often brutal, with a lot of misguided honesty to it”.

I queried what he meant by “misguided honesty”

“Misguided honesty or naivety: Various training methods which our instructors honestly thought were good for us. Sports science has recently shown us that many of these concepts were not only bad for us but also dangerous. I would say, however, that that kind of regime built a strong mental attitude. Unfortunately it also wheedled out the weaker students very quickly. They wouldn’t come back, which made it elitist. The students that really needed it should have been coaxed and encouraged instead of being put off. Here are a few examples.

“We used to block against an unpadded length of 3 by 2 hardwood that was being rammed at our abdomens with considerable force. This was supposed to toughen our arms up, which it did. However, if you didn’t block it you would have a rib taken out.

On one course held just before Christmas, a senior British instructor told us after three hours that he was now about to give us our Christmas present. We were told to kneel down, arranging ourselves round the Dojo, which was a converted Ice Skating rink. The last man in line was told to start bunny hopping around the room and over the students that were kneeling down. All the rest of the students followed round in succession. We all did three laps, no body was allowed to give up or be excused before we were allowed to finish. I and my fellow students spent three days virtually unable to walk. Thanks for my Christmas present!

“One last but not least of the so called body-conditioning exercises: We were regularly encouraged, advised to go on barefoot runs at least three miles long, around streets and parks. So when I say misguided honesty, I refer to instructors that genuinely thought that this type of body conditioning would have immediate and long term positive effects”.

It is not surprising that among the good things that John believes has happened in martial arts is the adoption of modern sports science. This has helped influence many schools to drop outmoded, counter-productive and potentially damaging training practices. However, he concurs with Geoff’s sentiments regarding the dilution that has happened within many traditional martial arts. This is not just in terms of the pragmatism, but also the morality. John told me “There are a lot of people that have no concept of the real values, ethics and aims of true martial arts” This side of John was echoed with some of Geoff’s points about the man I mentioned earlier such as providing Geoff with a suit and belt so he could train or giving him some paid work. Geoff sees John as one of his inspirations to compete in martial arts tournaments and then to work the doors. The era that Geoff trained in was a time when the unheated dojos and hard training that had made karate and other martial arts minority activities were beginning to give way to the commercialism that would jade my generation’s early experiences. On that note I would like to leave you with Geoff’s memories on the balance of values and pragmatism that John taught him during his karate days:

“I can remember being a purple belt (and feeling as though I was almost at the top of the world) and telling John my belief that karate was all about self defence, that was its real essence, and even then, way, way back then he pulled me to one side and explained that

self defence was only really a by-product of karate, and that good karate was about self development, about development of the virtues, ultimately it was about taking your skills to the level where you become of service to your community, to the world at large. I had no idea what he was talking about, and yet, here I am nearly 40 years on teaching just that.

“He was always like that though, John, so far ahead of the curve. He once told me that when you were good at your art, even painting a fence became an extension of your karate. Painting a fence, who ever heard of such a thing? The man was clearly mad (I thought). And yet…and yet here I am (again) painting fences and writing books/plays/film/articles all as an extension of my karate. As you can see I owe him a lot.

“I also remember a time when he gave me a real bollocking. We had a couple of black belts in the class that I didn’t think represented Shotokan, certainly not Shotokan as I saw it. They were haughty and arrogant. Good technicians I thought but not good men. I told John this; I said, accusingly, that he had let them slip through the net. He told me (with raised voice) that his job was not just to teach the people that were palatable, but also to teach those that had lost their way, teaching pleasant people he said was easy, any instructor could do it, but his job as he saw it was to help everyone, especially those that had drifted from the path. That has always stuck with me. It was a very profound thing to say, and I have quoted it many times since. In the Toa it says that a good man is a bad man’s teacher, a bad man is a good man’s job. He knew that all those years ago when I was still arrogant enough to think I had any idea what I was doing.

“John’s emphasis in training was always on good basics. He drilled them again and again. Obsessive basics made me so strong that it literally saved my life. One time in a club in Coventry I was attacked by a gang en masse. They were literally trying to kill me, but my basics were so strong that they could not keep me down, and everyone I hit fell over. Afterwards I said to a friend proudly (I was battered and bruised, but still standing), ‘that was Shotokan!’ I knew why the basics were so important. John taught me that”.

 

I have to say that I enjoyed Jamie’s account and found it very interesting.  For anybody interested in training with John Johnston, he is teaching a course with Iain Abernethy on the 4th May which I highly recommend.  The details are on the poster below.

Alternatively, you can find out more, contact or book your own seminar with Sensei Johnston from his main website at: http://www.adaptivekarate.com.

Naihanchi (Tekki) Karate Kata Bunkai By Ryan Parker (Ryukyu Martial Arts)

I have recently been sent some excellent videos via Youtube on rules for interpreting bunkai (applications), examples of bunkai and training drills for Naihanchi Kata by Ryan Parker of Ryukyu Martial Arts, from his own Youtube Channel, The Contemplative2.
Note:  Naihanchi Kata in Okinawan Karate is known as Tekki in some Japanese styles.

Having previously done some Youtube videos myself with a friend who does Wing Chun where we looked at similarities between Wing Chun and Naihanchi/Tekki kata bunkai, I was taken by how these videos also had so many similarities with Wing Chun close quarters trapping/striking and flow drills.  As mentioned before, Karate is largely derived from White Crane Kung Fu, whilst Wing Chun is largely derived from Snake and Crane Kung Fu, so there is a common lineage between the two systems.

In this first video, Sensei Parker looks at 2 rules for interpreting bunkai in a very straight-forward step by step manner, demonstrating how to interpret which hand is defending/trapping and which hand is striking/locking and also how to interpret what direction you should be in relative to your opponent.  This is built up into flow drills, including how to maintain control of your opponent as he tries to counter your moves.  I won’t try to explain it all hear as that is done so much better by the video itself.  All I will say is that having done a lot of Shotokan Karate and some Wing Chun myself, parts of this video will be more familiar to Wing Chun exponents than most Shotokan Karateka!

The second video builds on the first one and goes more into “Renzoku” drills.  These are not bunkai, or self defence drills, they are just drills which are designed to teach specific skill sets.

The final video goes through the Naihanchi kata and demonstrates a number of it’s bunkai.  In Sensie Parkers own words:

“These are just old tapes which I made for individual students as reference material to study. They weren’t intended to impress anyone (as they were made for people I trained with many times a week). The kata is just done in “walk-through” mode without any koshi action.

The bunkai are also done pretty lackadaisically, without any speed, power, or much attention to form and are just meant to be a memory aid”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these videos.  To find out more about Sensei Parker, to contact him or read his own blog, go to http://ryukyuma.blogspot.co.uk.

Striving For Perfection: Combat Effectiveness And Spiritual Development

How often have you heard the phrase “before you can overcome others, you must first overcome yourself”, or “your main opponent is yourself”.  If you’ve never heard these phrases, then take a long look at who’s teaching you!  You should have heard these phrases before as this really is one of the most central core philosophies of doing any traditional martial art.

Whether you are looking for effective self defence, sport or simply aesthetic mastery of the art you practice you must first develop co-ordination, agility, speed, power, poise, balance and grace.  From a combative point of view, the need for speed, power, co-ordination and balance are obvious; but grace?  Do we need to be graceful in a fight?  Many consider the very act of fighting to be very disgraceful.

However, if you execute a technique and for whatever reason the opponent deals with it and counters, you have to react exceedingly fast to defend against his counter.  This kind of speed requires an instinctive reaction rather than a thought or reasoned one.  If we are focusing on strength, we become rigid (the more you tense a muscle the less it can move).  If we are rigid, then we cannot react very fast to an abrupt reversal in the fight and we have to hope we can absorb the punishment long enough for us to recover the initiative.

Whilst we would all no doubt agree that the ability to absorb punishment is useful, I’m sure that we would also all agree that it is not something that we should rely on as a fighting strategy.  If we can move out of the way with ease and fluidity, we don’t have to absorb so much punishment and can regain the initiative much more quickly by simply not being where our opponent expects us to be.  To move very quickly like this requires a high level of fluidity, and fluidity requires graceful movement!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that grace lacks power, as it is quite the opposite.  Grace comes from perfection of technique and perfection of technique comes from mastering the self.  This brings us back to our opening paragraph about overcoming yourself before you can overcome anybody else.

This is why so many traditional martial arts place so much emphasis on drilling basics and kata, and why these are very often done before any partner activity.  In the modern world where there is an upsurge in what has become known as “reality based martial arts” and the pressure testing of mixed martial arts cage fighting; traditional martial arts have become seen by many as obsolete, too stylised and more for sport or self development than for real world self protection.

Note:  Reality based martial arts are often scenario based.  It may include shouting, swearing, abuse and verbal threats to psychologically prepare the defender as this is obviously more real to a street confrontation.  Sometimes even high grade martial artists do not know how to deal with this raw aggression and psychological pressure.

It is often pointed out that many traditional martial arts applications only work when the attacker is co-operative and conveniently attacks with a single straight punch (or kick) then freezes whilst the defender practices his counter.

These charges do hold a lot of merit.  However, reality based martial arts can easily be included into traditional martial arts (and in my view, should be) and there are many people researching practical applications to replace the pre-arranged stylised attacks and counters that are still very widely taught.

Traditional martial arts however, are more technique based than scenario based and goes deeply into perfection of movement.  Is this waste of time compared with learning the psychological aspects of scenario based training?

To draw an analogy, many professional dancers in the big shows, backing the world’s most famous pop stars have a foundation in ballet.  Ballet is such a precise and co-ordinated art form that once the dancer is adept in it, he/she can apply that high level of control and co-ordination to almost any other form of dance.

Some of the most charismatic actors have a background in Shakespeare.  Look at the authority and commanding screen presence of actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  The classical background in most cases (dancing, acting, martial arts and others) gives the practitioner a deep foundation on which almost anything can be built.

Kevin O’Hagan, internationally renowned teacher of reality based martial arts and author of many books has said that traditional martial artists always pick up the reality based teachings more quickly than those who have not.

Seeking perfection of technique is not only developing us physically and mentally, but is actually very practical in the long term for building a foundation for self defence skills.  Over the years I have visited many martial arts clubs.  In one particular Kung Fu club, the instructor was proud to tell me that he made all his classes different every time.  He did not bore his students with endless repetition.  One of students agreed enthusiastically, telling me how he used to do Shotokan Karate and got bored drilling the same old basics every single class.  However, this student who had done the Shotokan drilling stuck out amongst the rest and was clearly better than the other students.  The repeated drilling had given him a foundation and an advantage that he had not appreciated.

I want to make clear that this is not a criticism of Kung Fu, only the way that this particular instructor taught it.

Striving for perfection, even though we know that we’ll never actually reach it, does in itself also develop a certain mindset.  A mindset of wanting to make something the best it possibly can be.  This has many connotations for other areas of our lives, be it school, work, relationships, driving, other hobbies, whatever!

The Japanese have the concept of delayed gratification.  This is also known in the West, but is not emphasised as much.  The idea is that we work at something over a period of time and delay our feeling of gratification until we have achieved it.  Like a grading for example.  Even going through the Kyu gradings (coloured belts) we have to wait 3 months in between each one.  But when we do pass it, we have a feeling of gratification which lasts.  When we get our 1st Dan the feeling of gratification is much stronger and lasts much longer.  We still have a feeling of pride years afterwards as we know that we have achieved a benchmark in our training.  For many of us, it even becomes part of how we identify ourselves, which along as it is not accompanied by arrogance is a good thing.

Too many people, especially in the West are very much into instant gratification, be it drink, drugs, sex, smoking, or just watching a good movie.  I’m not saying that these things are necessarily bad (being a normal healthy guy myself who . . . . err . . . . likes a good movie); but if they are our only sources of gratification in life, then they will be short lived as there is not much to sustain us and maintain a feeling of fulfilment from one source/event of gratification to the next.   We are therefore not really at peace with ourselves.

Having a long term goal, a long term project or training regime does give us that something to sustain us and help us maintain a feeling of fulfilment in between the other more instant sources of gratification.

There are countless things that people can work on, train for, set goals about; but few can inspire for a lifetime like martial arts.  In most sports or physical pursuits people reach a peak then tend to move on as they age.  Martial arts (when taught properly) can be adapted as we age and we can work on other aspects.  In our youth it is good to make the most of our raw athleticism of, but as we get older we may focus on for example our timing and deception.  No matter how much we know, how much we’ve trained, how much we’ve taught; there is still something else we can work on and improve however old we get.

The fact that we will never reach perfection means that we can spend our whole lifetime looking for it and rather than feeling bored we feel fulfilled the closer we get to it.  This is part of where spiritual development comes into martial arts, something often referred to but seldom explained.

Practical Kata Bunkai By Iain Abernethy

I haven’t covered much in the way of bunkai (applications) lately, so I thought I’d put in a few videos from Iain Abernethy, one of my favourite applied martial arts teachers.  Although Iain is a primarily a Karateka, he has a following from many other systems, especially Taekwondo due to it’s Karate background.

The first sequence is from the kata Wanshu/Enpi (depending on which style you practice).  It has an interesting application for the lower block which can be applied to any place that the lower block is used (not just in this Kata).

Next we look at knee attacks.  High level knee attacks look good and look dangerous but have a lot of limitations, which Iain demonstrates here before showing how to make them more practical.

And we finish of with a nice bit of strangling and takedowns which appears in a number of kata/patterns.

For more information about Iain Abernethy and to join his newsletter, visit his website at:  http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk.