Shotokan Karate Magazine: My Article & Letter From Reader

I am honoured to have recently had a second article published in Shotokan Karate Magazine.  The article was titled “Using “Whip” Technique”, which I have written about elsewhere on this site.  Although it primarily relates to Shotokan Karate, it should be relevant to other styles too.

I have recently received an email from the editor John Cheetham informing me that the article has been well received and forwarding a letter from a reader.  I thought this letter raised some interesting points.

I have therefore responded to this letter and asked John Cheetham’s permission to reproduce the letter and my response here on this website.  John has kindly agreed, so here below is the readers letter:-

Dear John, I read your magazine (issue 111) with great pleasure, as always!
Time over time you manage to find interesting aspects and trigger discussions that are of great value. I thank you for that!

In issue 111, the article by Charlie Wildish especially caught my attention!
Even though I am just a humble 1st kyu, I have often thought about this method of whipping the techniques.  I found it to be very fast, and also I felt as if it took less energy to perform.

However, I was only really able to perform this somewhat successfully with a Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). I have not really been able to apply the whipping effect in other techniques. Therefore, I wonder if you could ask Charlie to go into more detail of how to apply this for other techniques, including kicks.

The other thought that comes to my mind is that of possible injury during training.

First, I am thinking about how easily I could hurt my own joints due to the fact that I am performing such extremely fast movements with less tension on my muscles. What I am trying to say is that it is probably very difficult to fully control the movements and the stopping point (moment of impact) every time.  So I fear for my elbow.

The other worry that I have is with respect to injuries due to possible blocks that are performed against my whipped technique. In order to perform the whipping effect, I have to keep my arm ( e.g. Gyaku Zuki) extremely
relaxed. I hate to imagine, what a hard block, such as Soto Uke would do to my arm and elbow at that point (i.e. before I maximize the tension at the end).

Maybe these are stupid questions, but as, I too, am getting older, I am continuously thinking of ways to train healthily. As you get older, every
injury takes longer to heal, and coming back after a pause of training due to injury gets harder.

If you don’t want to publish this, I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this via Email. And also, maybe you could forward my questions to Charlie?

Thank you and best regards,
Frank Kretzschmar
(Bad Soden, Germany)

And my response to Mr Kretzschmar:-

Dear Mr Kretzschmar

Thank you for the positive feedback about my article.

Starting with hand techniques, you should be able to apply the whipping feeling to techniques other than Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). The main points are:

  • Focus on generating movement from the hips.
  • Keep the torso as relaxed as possible so as to allow the hips to slightly lead the shoulders, thus creating the wave effect through the body (the wave culminates in the whip). 
  • Keep the hand/arm from moving as long as possible until the “wave” reaches the shoulders, then the hand will feel like it is being thrown rather than having to thrust it forward.

One of the easiest techniques (other than punching) to feel the “wave” is Age Uke (Rising Block), so maybe focus on that for a while till you have it, then put it into other techniques.

Kicks can use the whip too, but it is a bit more difficult. As power comes from the hips, it helps to pull the foot in as close as possible to the hip before releasing it to the target, (hence the emphasis on raising the knee).

Creating the wave through the body is about sequence. You will probably have to practice this slowly if it is not coming easily; but first raise the knee and bring the foot in as tight to the hip as possible without creating too much tension. Then move the hips/foot as one unit, then release the foot when the hip nears the completion of its movement. If you’re interested, I have actually produced a DVD which might help you understand this a bit better at: http://bunkaijutsu.com/store/

This is just brief overview (which I might expand on later).

I understand your concerns about the lack of muscular tension to protect your joints, but ironically you are less likely to damage your joints this way. With this relaxed technique, the joints actually open up lightly letting more fluids in which actually keep them lubricated. This is a Tai Chi principle. When somebody uses too much kime/tension, they actually pull the 2 sides of the joint together which more likely to create wear and tear. It also makes for a less efficient punch as the fist is actually being pulled slightly back by your own muscles rather than releasing all of the energy forward into the target.

The other factor is that when you have good structure, the reaction to impact is easily absorbed by the body’s skeletal system as the bones are in the correct alignment. 

As for hard blocks like Soto Uke (Outside Block), the original function of this technique was not to block straight punches. Just try sparring with a club mate for a while where one can only do straight punches and the other can only do classical blocks (Soto Uke, Uchi Uke, age Uke etc). You’ll find that the blocks simply don’t work. On top of that, in a real self defence situation, you are more likely to be attacked by swinging haymakers rather than straight punches. The creators of Karate centuries ago (who had to fight for their lives, rather than points) would not spend so much time creating “blocks” that don’t work – to defend against attacks that are not likely to used.

Therefore (coming back to your question), the only time you’re likely to be blocked with a full Soto Uke (Outside Block) is when you’re doing pre-arranged sparring when you can if you deem necessary brace yourself as you know when its coming. Having said that, even without using the whip technique, the arm should still be relaxed when moving (only tensing on impact) and the Soto Uke should intercept it before it reaches that impact (or its too late – you’ve already been hit). Therefore, with respect, you should be used to being blocked with your arm relaxed.

I do not think that you are asking stupid questions at all. Quite the opposite, as we get older we are wise to take our age into account, it would be stupid not to 🙂
I am luckily that my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell, is very aware of this subject. One of his sayings is “young people should use the full dexterity of their bodies, older people should do it properly”. An example of what he means by this is that high kicks are good for youngsters to develop their bodies, but not effective for self defence, so older people should keep their kicks to a practical height (doing it properly for self defence).

I hope this answers your questions to your satisfaction.

Best Regards

Charlie

Please leave your own feedback below if you found this useful, or if you would like to add your own knowledge to my answer.  I always welcome input from others.

“Sinking” In Your Stance At The End Of A Technique

In many martial arts we are taught that on the climax of our technique we should “sink” into our stance.  I will admit that if my knees are sore, I sometimes find this quite difficult to do.

But firstly, why do we do it?  “Sinking” at the climax of out technique is a way improving our skeletal structure and helping us for form an immovable “root” to the ground, thus enabling us to more efficiently absorb the reaction energy to any impact from our blows.  Or more correctly, we don’t absorb the that reaction energy as it tries to go through our structure, finds the immovable ground, and is rebounded into our opponent again (so he gets it twice).

So why do a lot of people struggle with it?

Although you obviously have to bend your knees more in order to sink, if you focus on bending your knees then ironically it will probably not come easily.  It’s a little bit like doing a squat, the more you bend the knees, they more you intuitively tense your legs to absorb the weight!

In some styles  such (as in the early versions of Shotokan exported from Japan) there was an over exaggerated exhalation/tension in order to produce kime (focus).  I remember being taught to tense the whole body including the legs, which will obviously make it them a bit more resistant to bend, in order to sink further.

Also, if you have knee pains, you intuitively tense the muscles around them in order to prevent your knee bones/cartilage/ligaments/tendons/etc from moving about too much (hence less pain).  I know this from personal experience.  But this tension makes it difficult for you to bend the knees more and sink.

The best ways to “sink” into your stance is by getting the right feeling rather than focusing on a physical movement itself, because focusing on physical movement tends to make you focus on muscles, hence – tension.  Some say it is like “falling down a hole”, but obviously you stop yourself before going too far.

Different things will work for different people, but I’d like to share something that has worked for me.

We are usually taught in most martial arts to “breathe into your stomach” (or hara/dan tien).  This is of course not actually physically possible as the air we breathe in goes into our lungs and can’t get passed the diaphragm to our stomach.  Our diaphragm moves down and displaces our internal organs, so that it feels like we’re breathing into our stomach.  In fact it’s a visualisation that we use help get the right breathing technique.  It is however a very popular visualisation which most of us are taught right from the very beginning.

We can however build on this.  When you want to sink in your stance as you exhale, try to visualise the breath leaving the stomach through the legs, to the feet and out into the ground.  If you focus on the breath going down (rather than your weight going down), you should find it relatively easy to sink slightly without unnecessary tension.  The whole process becomes much more relaxed and natural movement which is what we should be aiming for.

I actually learnt this through Tai Chi, but have applied it to my Karate.  Of course, once your body gets used to the correct feeling, you can drop the visualisation as your body will know what you are looking for, but it is a useful tool to help get that feeling in the first place.

Sensei Paul Mitchell’s Karate Kata Bunkai

Following on from my earlier posting dated 29 Jan 12, Sensei Paul Mitchell has uploaded some more videos onto his Youtube channel.  These videos are taken from his recent Practical Shotokan: Beginner To Black Belt Course which covered various aspects of Karate Kata bunkai.

Sadly I missed it due to work commitments, but here are some of the highlights.

 

A Private Class With John Johnston, 6th Dan

Having recently completed an interview with Sensei John Johnston, I was lucky enough to secure a private lesson with him.  Having discussed his approach to realistic Karate for self defence and the Adaptive Karate that he teaches in his seminars, Sensei Johnston was keen to show me in more detail and I was very keen to learn from him.  So John came down from Coventry with his wife Elaine, who is a 2nd Dan, and we had a class.

Sensei John Johnston and myself

It started of with some open hand techniques in basic form including Outer Knife Hand Strike, Inner Knife Hand Strike, Palm Heel, Spear Hand and Ridge Hand. Many clubs do not place much emphasis on these techniques outside of Kata, so I was happy to see this.  Also, although some of these techniques are circular in function, many Shotokan clubs/associations perform them in a linear fashion.  This is probably because they are more easy to control when performed linear, and therefore better for Kata competition (for anybody who receives Shotokan Karate Magazine, this was discussed by Scott Langely in Issue 109).

Anyway, when I saw John perform them in a circular fashion, it re-affirmed to me that he was a practical man, rather than one who wanted to simply look good.  After practicing them forward (with leading hand) and stepping back (with reverse hand), Elaine and I were invited to use some of them on a focus mitt.  After observing us, John had two main points that he wanted to make.  Firstly that the strike should go right through the target (whereas some people focus on the target itself).

Secondly, being 2nd and 3rd Dans we should be making more use of shuffling the body forward (sliding step) with the strike to put more body weight behind the target, rather than simply performing the strike in our basic stationary forward stance.  This is part of where his “adaptive” principles come in.  Rather than regimenting a set stance and/or step, as Elaine and I are of quite different builds, the way that we use the sliding step and the amount of penetration through the target focus mitt would be different and we had to adjust to our own physiques.

A similar exercise was carried out with kicking.  After practicing basic Front Kick a few times, John explained that usually in Karate, we aim the kick to the stomach. This is not the best target as it is relatively easy to defend against and the stomach muscles are the hardest in the body. Even a kick to the groin is not such a good target as it is a relatively small target and again quite easy to defend (and very intuitive to defend against simply be bringing knees together).

John told us to use the opponents thigh as a kind of “runway”, so that the kicking foot almost “runs up the opponents thigh”.  This is so as to aim for the hip joint or pubic bone.  If you get the hip joint you easily collapse the opponents structure leaving him very vulnerable to any follow up attack that you like.  If you get the pubic bone, it is very painful and not quite so easy to defend against as a stomach attack.

Next it was kicks against a kick shield.  Starting with Front Kick, where the kicking foot was pulled back (after the kick) to the supporting foot, whilst the supporting foot rotated, so that the back was facing the opponent.  From here, we were to kick again with a Back Thrust Kick. The idea is to set up the opponent, so that they think if the first kick has missed and that you have left yourself turned and vulnerable.  When they try to move in to take advantage, you immediately kick with a Back Thrust Kick and they just run onto it.

Sensei Johnston training with his wife, Elaine

Again the “adaptive” principle came into play and the Back Thrust Kick could be delivered from either leg, depending on which leg we favoured, our balance and distance to the target.  John likes to give and opening technique and then you adapt to the follow up which suits you best.  He will give a few examples, but then leave it to the individual to decide what suits them best (just as long as it works).

Next followed some applications from Heian Godan.  Firstly the opening sequence of Inside Block followed by Reverse Punch (both in back stance).  When performing the Inside Block, the reverse hand (which is usually just seen as the “pull back hand”) was the hand used to perform the actual block.  The hand which is normally seen as performing the “block” was used to push the opponents arm and put them off-balance. Then of course follow up with Reverse Punch and anything else that just felt right at the time.  John explained that he did not hold with the idea of one application being used just for one given attack.  It has to be capable of being adapted to a range of different attacks. Hence John had Elaine and I using this application against punches from both sides and both straight and hooking punches.  John explained that without this kind of versatility, you can come unstuck if you practiced an application against only one type of attack, then somebody came in with something slightly different.

We also examined the low X-Block.  Typically this is explained as blocking a kick which is very impractical.  John had us looking at the scenario of somebody stabbing to the body with a knife.  The leading hand of the X-Block was used to block/strike the attacking arm, knocking it downwards, whilst the other arm simply used as a punch to the opponents forearm to incapacitate the arm and neutralise the immediate threat of the knife.  This was followed up by whatever felt natural and Elaine and I (being very different builds) experimented with different variations.

Overall, it was a very interesting and enjoyable lesson, for which I am very grateful.  Having worked the doors for many years, John is very sure of what will and what won’t work in the real world.  He sees a lot of bunkai being taught which simply would not work under pressure.  The hallmark of John’s methods are that they are direct, effective, and for an experienced martial artist they can be used almost instantly without having to drill them for weeks to internalise them. I would recommend John to anybody in traditional martial arts who wants to make sure that their art is practical and valid on the streets.

To find out a bit more about how John teaches, you can check out his Youtube channel at: www.youtube.com/user/shotokanjohnny.  Alternatively you can check out his main website where you can also contact him and book him for seminars at:  www.adaptivekarate.com.

Practical Shotokan Course: Karate Kata Bunkai

The following video clip is taken from the Practical Shotokan: Beginner to Black Belt Course taught by Sensei Paul Mitchell, Chief Instructor of the Wells Traditional Shotokan Karate Club earlier on today.  Sensei Mitchell is talking about stand alone karate kata bunkai which could be fight finishers by themselves.  As Shotokan Karate puts a lot of emphasis on multiple assailants, there are many techniques which can incapacitate an opponent very quickly, although they are not always obvious and have been dumbed down a lot over the years for many social and political reasons.

Kaki Waki Uke (Reverse Wedge Block) is usually seen as breaking somebody’s grip when they try to strangle you.  However, if they have both of their hands on you, why not just punch/strike them?  It is much quicker, they have nothing to defend themselves with (as they’ve committed both of their hands to your neck) and it could finish the fight then and there.  If you use Kaki Waki Uke to separate their arms and release their grip, then you can both continue the fight on an even basis.

So what is Kaki Waki Uke more useful for?  Well one of the most common street attacks of all is a swinging haymaker, which as Sensei Mitchell demonstrates here can be easily stopped with one side of the Kaki Waki Uke.  Note that when he does this, that his opponent head is jerked slightly downwards and onto the other arm with is attacking to the neck.

In this instance Sensei Mitchell quite lightly attacks a specific point on the  opponent neck causing him to almost pass out straight away.  Had the blow been delivered with any real force, the opponent would have out cold.

Now if you’re thinking multiple opponents, you want techniques which give instant results and doesn’t waste a lot of your own energy (which you’ll need for fighting the others).  Sensei Mitchell demonstrates how this can be done very simply using a common technique which most people happily overlook on a regular basis.

 

Interview With International Instructor, John Johnston, 6th Dan Shotokan Karate

The people that Sensei Johnston has trained with reads like a who’s who on the early Shotokan Karate scene in the UK.  He has also trained at many seminars with other leading martial artists outside of the Shotokan world.  This is all backed up by years of experience at the sharp end doing door work at the toughest nightclubs in Coventry, as well doing personal protection for some high profile businessmen and celebrities.  Unfortunately, John can’t really talk about  his personal protection work for reasons of confidentiality.

Many people these days talk about “reality based martial arts”, but John was poineer these methods long before it entered in the mainstream of martial arts.  In fact Geoff Thompson, who’s name is synonymous with reality based martial arts received his early training and many of his early ideas from John.  In Geoff’s own words:

“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 brought my suit and belt for me when I didn’t have enough money. He is a great influence and 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 and I am very grateful to him for that, and I highly recommend him and his instruction to anyone looking to fast track their martial arts”.

John is a humble man and not a one to push himself forward.  As such he is not as well known in the wider martial arts world as he deserves to be.  I have been very lucky and honoured to have secured this interview with him.  Later this month, I will be having a private lesson with him, which I shall report back on later.

In the meantime, here’s that interview.

 

CW:      Please tell us about your early training in martial arts and who your main teachers and influences were when you started?

JJ:      My first teacher was Richard Jackson. I started training with him shortly after his return from Japan. Having trained out there and taken his 2nd Dan. The reason I started with him was after having looked at some other Karate styles and Kung Fu, the immediate impact of the Shotokan style and his method of teaching. Seeing that made me realise that it was exactly what I was looking for. By the time I got to around 4th Kyu (2nd purple belt) Kawazoe Sensei had arrived in Britain and started to spend allot of time with myself and other colleagues from the Coventry Dojo. Someone else that also had a profound influence on my Karate was Neil Thomas from Wolverhampton, whom we had regular mixed sessions with. We were also very lucky and privileged that the Coventry Long Ford Dojo was used for the National and International squad sessions, which were taken by Enoeda Sensei and Andy Sherry. We were allowed to train alongside such names as: Steve Cattle, Billy Higgins, Bob Rhodes, Bob Poynton, Terry O’Neil, Mick Dewey, Dave Hazard, Mick Ragg and countless others from that era. I say we were allowed to train alongside them it felt more like we were being used for cannon fodder. I could tell you countless stories about those times, suffice to say  training was very hard on many levels, retaining students for financial purposes was not a criteria, you could either put up with the harshness or pack up.

John was renowned for his fantastic leg sweeps

CW:      You competed quite a bit in your younger days.  Competitions and training could be much tougher and harsher back then, can you tell us about some of your experiences from those days?

JJ:      My first experience of competition free style came when I used to visit one of the local Wado Ryu clubs at 8th Kyu stage.  I remember my basics although stronger seemed slow and ponderous in comparison and finding it strange when Randori was called, watching everybody pad up and starting to dance about. On reflection I look back at those times and think about my frustration at not being able to score points the way they were initially. Visiting the Wado Ryu club periodically over an 18 month period I started to find it very easy to overwhelm and score points on people of a higher grade than myself. In the first competition that Coventry Shotokan Karate club attained, we were nearly all disqualified in the team event and the individuals because of our strong technique, lack of experience and understanding. Although other styles were allowed to use protective equipment, it was frowned upon for us to use, we neither wanted to or were allowed any type of protection for many years. Only after at least 10 years of training was it that groin protection and gum shield became mandatory. Any other form of protection required a doctor’s consent and would meet with disapproval from your team mates. I think because of this we all myself included gained far more control, precision and was better able to apply our techniques. Initially myself and likeminded colleagues would enter the open competitions with which we had some minor success and also gained allot of experience. Later I became a member of the KUGB Central Region Squad which was coached by Frank Brennan. I was with the squad for many years as its Captain and as a full competing member. The experience gained from being on the squad was phenomenal. We had many senior and junior champions on the squad of international and national level, people like: Ronnie Christopher, Dean Hodgekiss, Ronnie Cannings, Donald Campbell, Glen Davidson and Bruce Thomas, these all won either national, European and world championships. Along with the fact that whilst being coached by Frank Brennan who that over this period of time was at the top of his game. I was very lucky and privileged to have been a major part of the squad for 12 years or more. Any new members that were selected to the squad would quite often be initiated with a line up. I can’t describe how devastating that could be on a young lad who’d never encountered such action before.

John fighting Shotokan legend Frank Brennan . . . and taking him down

CW:      How do you feel that Shotokan Karate has developed and how have training methods changed from those early days to what it is today?

JJ:      I see many changes in Shotokan over a long period of time. Quite a lot of it I feel is detrimental to the ethos, attributes and benefits of Shotokan. It has been diluted and lessened either because of financial considerations, fear of prosecution on health and safety grounds and or lack of understanding and knowledge of instructors that were badly taught themselves and do not have enough courage to step outside their small comfort zone and seek further knowledge and experience in a larger arena. They inherited inadequate and poor technique from their instructors and seem blind to the fact that they are passing on their bad technique to their students. I could write pages and pages on this topic but it needs to be said that it’s not all gloom and doom, there are allot of really good instructors on many levels, club, seminar and courses who are doing great work. I think that Kata especially has developed and improved from my early days. This has happened on both the competition and Dojo level. This seems to be a greater understanding of biomechanics, breathing and psychological focus combined with greater athleticism, speed, analysis and understanding of movement. It is a pity that this only happens in the more progressive Dojo’s. I know that in my case when I gave greater focus to my Kata training over long periods of time I became so much more successful with my Kumite. I think that there is quite allot of instructors who’ll teach only certain aspects of Karate which they may favour themselves. I feel that we should be teaching what the students need rather than what they want or we as instructors favour.

CW:      As you progressed and became more knowledgeable, did anybody else especially influence your martial arts development, and have you tried other styles of martial art?

JJ:      As I have explained in previous questions I have had many influences and I have experienced one or two other styles of martial art but I only train for Shotokan and in Shotokan. I have enjoyed some experiences of dabbling in Judo, I taught Karate at Neil Adam’s (who was the Judo World Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist) Dojo in Coventry for 11 years and for the fitness aspect I did boxing training for a two year period. Occasionally I get the opportunity to train outside Shotokan with various people i.e.: Steve Morris, Master A, Dev Barrett, Ian Abernathy. These have been within the last two years, previous to that there have been countless others in different styles of Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Aikido and Jujitsu. Although having enjoyed these as one off sessions it is Shotokan which I find suits me physically and psychologically.

CW:      You spent a lot time working on the doors in Coventry, which was noted for being a tough city at the time.  Can you tell us about some of your experiences and what effect these experiences had on your approach to your Karate?

JJ:      First I started working part time as a doorman alongside some ex boxers and local hard men. Later working full time until there was a major incident at which point the police came back with the condition that to keep the licence for the club which was one of the largest in Britain, the club could no longer employ anybody with a criminal record. I would say that this was a precursor that helped to establish today’s criteria for door staff. It also helped to elevate me to head doorman. As you can imagine there were numerous incidents every night, unlike Geoff Thompson I never kept a diary otherwise I would have written a book long before now. I would say working on the doors gave me allot of experience in understanding the psychology of confrontation and was a good testing ground for various Karate techniques and it taught me that your basic technique needed to be adapted and refined depending on your intent. Not only physical adaptation but mental adaptation is required to be effective as a doorman.  Charlie I would love to tell you about numerous colourful incidents but 1) I cannot just pick one out and 2) I would have to kill you so as not to incriminate myself.

CW:      Karate these days has become very diverse with some people adapting or adding in things to make their teaching more realistic.  However, do you feel that despite individual initiatives, most mainstream Karate is still lacking elements of realism which would make a difference in a real life confrontation?

JJ:      The simple answer to this question is yes. The majority of my senior students have never had a serious or violent confrontation in their adult life and I think the same applies to the majority of society.  Karate can be used for self defence/ protection and I believe that to teach this should come from experience and requires a certain mind set for it to be of benefit to a student. Most Karate is done or practiced for recreation, some for self development and improvement and some to fulfil a spiritual need.

CW:      You have taught for many years that traditional Karate (as passed to us by the Japanese) needs to be modified to make it work in real live confrontation.  Can you explain what you mean by this and what elements need modifying?

JJ:      I would say as a way of explanation that training needs to be done in a very robust fashion with correct intention from all participants and with an intensive competitive mindset. That is to say that you could have really good Karate technique but when put under pressure or in a stressful situation you lose the ability to apply it. Conditioning mentally and physically needs to be part of a comprehensive training regime for you to be effective with Karate in a real life confrontation.

CW:      Does this only apply to Shotokan, or do you feel that it applies to most traditional Oriental  martial arts?

JJ:      I would say yes in the greater majority

CW:      You call your teaching method, “Adaptive Karate”.  Can you please tell us exactly what that means and how it relates to making Karate more effective in real confrontations?

JJ:      I don’t call my teaching method Adaptive Karate. The majority of my teaching is in Shotokan Karate. However, I do Adaptive Karate courses and seminars in which I try to teach people how to apply techniques. I take people through drills to increase their skill level and give them a greater understanding of disruption, destabilization and distraction against an opponent and how to use the body as a unit.

CW:      With other instructors making a name for themselves with practical applied bunkai, do you feel that your approach is different to the way most other instructors apply Karate for self defence?

JJ:      Yes.  I will take moves from Kata and make them as straight forward and effective as possible. I do not believe that we have to call this Bunkai and directly relate it to a given Kata. I do not wish to go on a crusade or preach to other people about what they believe to be their version of correct Bunkai. However honesty has to play a major part in what you say and do in reference to your Karate. If you have not robustly pressure tested your technique as it applies to Bunkai. In reality, it is only your theory. If you can prove that the techniques that you are teaching are realistic and valid then your Bunkai will stand up to scrutiny, in other words if it don’t work then don’t teach it.

CW:      On your Adaptive Karate website, it says that “Traditional Shotokan Karate has an underlying spiritual essence that builds character and inner strength which empowers the mind and so empowers the body”.  How important is spiritual and character development to you?

JJ:      My personal development is of paramount importance to myself and to be able to give my students the advice, information, instruction and tools so that they can develop into considerate, humble, courteous, respectful, strong minded and determined members of society.

CW:      As somebody who puts a lot of emphasis on real world no nonsense self defence, do you see spiritual development and realistic self defence as being intrinsically linked, or are they separate elements where the student can focus on one more than the other?

JJ:      The answer to that question I would say is down to the individual; on a personal level for me they are linked but other people will have different perspectives and priorities at various times throughout their lives. Their needs and ambitions will fluctuate, vary and change depending on what their immediate influence in life is. That makes it a very difficult question to give any sort of definitive answer to.

CW:      Modern trends in martial arts tend to go either towards sport (primarily MMA) or “reality based”; both of which tend to move away from the emphasis that traditional Oriental arts placed on etiquette and pure form (such as kata).  What do you feel traditional Oriental martial arts have to offer in the modern world which can’t be found in the more modern approaches?

JJ:      I feel that in today’s fast moving and instant gratification society, that something such as Traditional Shotokan Karate taught correctly and progressively with the correct emphasis on courtesy, humility, self discipline and respect; has an enormous amount to offer to both children and adults. The benefits to children are obvious, but to adults there is the added bonus of a certain amount of spiritual fulfilment which can fill the void if you have no religious commitment or as an add on if you do have a religious conviction. It is so much more than a young person’s sport. It is a lifetime endeavour and commitment if you so want it to be.

CW:      You have at least 2 testimonials on your website which mention that you have given free lessons to students who had financial difficulties at the time (including the now famous Geoff Thompson) and that you even went so far as to buy them their Karate uniforms and other training equipment.  In a world where many people are just looking to make money, that was very generous.  Do you have any criteria for the people you help like this?

JJ:      The criteria which I have is that people are honest, and want to train and advance in their Karate. I don’t want to open the floodgates but I feel  and have always said that if somebody can’t afford to train, I would rather they came training for free up until such time as their circumstances change.

CW:      I understand that your wife, Elaine, does talks at local schools about peer pressure and bullying.  Do you help her with this and how important do you think this work is?

JJ:      Yes, everything that we do is some form of collaboration and we do almost everything together, and yes this type of work is important because not only as a Karate Instructor but as a member of the community, you have a civil and moral duty to help out wherever possible.

CW:      Although you’ve trained in other martial arts, you still teach primarily pure Shotokan.   Have you ever been tempted to add elements of other martial arts, or do you feel that Shotokan is complete enough without any other influences?

JJ:      Anything positive from other Martial Arts are always worth integrating into your training. Pad and bag work should be an essential part of any Martial Arts training regime. Strengthening and fitness exercises of the right nature are always valuable. Nothing should be set in stone, that is to say that we should look at other Martial Arts and use and incorporate anything that is beneficial and effective. On my Adaptive Karate courses I have incorporated techniques from Judo, Aikido, Taekwondo, Jujitsu, Boxing, Thai Boxing and other forms of Martial Arts and styles that I believe have any validity and effectiveness and the people that train with me in the Adaptive Karate are not expected to do things exactly the way that I demonstrate but to find their own way of executing the basic principle of the drill that it suits themselves.

CW:      What are your future plans for your own personal Karate development and for teaching?

JJ:      For the future I hope to be able to expand my teaching base so that I can instruct on more courses and seminars as well as developing my clubs. As for myself, I train every morning, mostly on my own, in which I will go through drills that I have devised for myself as well as Kata. I know that this year I am booked to train on several courses with people such as Sensei Dave Hazard, Sensei Aiden Trimble, Sensei Ian Abernethy and hopefully will attend other courses with other Senior Instructors. I still sometimes train at some other local clubs occasionally.

CW:      Are you available for courses and seminars outside of your own Karate Association, and if so, how should people contact you?

JJ:      I am more than happy to teach outside the association to any Karate style or Martial Arts discipline. I can be contacted several ways. My website is: www.adaptivekarate.com. Any telephone enquiries can be taken by my wife and Secretary Elaine Johnston on: 07791 635958 or drop me an Email:j.johnston@adaptivekara

CW:      Sensei, it has been a privilege to have done this interview with you and I look forward to training with later this month.  Thank you very much for your time and your interesting and informative insights.

The “Corkscrew” Punch (The Devil In The Detail)

The “corkscrew” punch where we rotate the fist at the end of the punch is unique to Oriental martial arts.

Twisting the fist  is something that we all know about and take for granted.  And why shouldn’t we, we’ve been doing it since our very first class in Karate/Tae Kwon Do/most styles of Kung Fu .  The reason that I write about it here, is because I believe that it is something that though deeply ingrained into us, is still not done quite right by a good many people.

It may sound a bit strange to question something so basic, but bare with me.  Although many will be doing what I describe below, a good many others will not be.

Why not?  Because people will rotate the fist to get it into it’s correct finishing position, but not think about how the rest of the arm is moving to get it there!

It would be more correct to say that you should “twist your forearm”.   The fist is actually incapable of rotating on its own, it is only capable of moving up and down in a waving/hinged motion when isolated from any other arm movement.

Try this little exercise.  Perform any linear punch, then just freeze for a second with the arm in the extended punch position (no snap back).  Now keep check if the crease of your elbow joint (where it folds) is pointing upwards or inwards.  If you are not sure, then being very careful not to move the upper arm at all, bend the elbow.  It the fist rises up then the crease of the elbow joint is facing up.  If the fist moves inward (parallel to the floor) then the crease of the elbow is pointing inwards.

So why should you care about that?

Like the fist, the elbow is incapable of rotating itself, it is a hinge joint rather than a ball joint.  From the starting position with the fist at the hip, the crease of the elbow joint points forward.  As the arm is extended forward (without rotating), the elbow crease should end up pointing upwards.

For the elbow to rotate (so that the elbow crease points inward), you actually have to rotate the arm in the shoulder socket.  To be a bit more technical, you rotate the humerus bone in the ball socket at the shoulder.

This is something that you shouldn’t be doing.  Firstly it is an unnecessary movement of the shoulder joint and as we progress, we should be looking to take out all unnecessary movements.  Secondly, it creates a small jarring feeling at the elbow, so it is not good for the long term health of either shoulder or elbow joint.

Furthermore, it’s a less efficient punching technique, so it is less effective if you really need it.

Try standing in front of a mirror with you arm and shoulders exposed.  Now extend your arm in front of you and towards the mirror.  Don’t worry about making a fist or any technique, just relax.  Now rotate the whole arm several times at the shoulder joint.  You will notice when you look closely that upper arm actually moves very slightly away from the body when you rotate the arm so that the elbow crease points inwards rather than upwards.  Linear techniques are based on having the body weight behind them, so anything that takes the strike sideways away from the body will weaken that technique.

Granted, this is a very slight outward movement, but as you get more advanced, so it become more about fine detail.

It also effects your muscular alignments too.  The shoulder and lateral muscles (underneath the arm pits) act as shock absorbers and maintain the body structure when you strike a target and receive a reaction force from the impact.  Rotating the humerus outward in the shoulder socket slightly stretches those muscles making them less efficient at absorbing that reaction force.

Furthermore, when you punch, you use your triceps to extend your arm.  The triceps work more efficiently with the crease of the elbow facing upwards.  Don’t believe me?  Ask anyone who does weight training, or look up “triceps curls” on Youtube.

The bones of the forearm (the ulna and radius) are much smaller and they can rotate around each other.  There is not a big ball in socket rotation required as with rotating the humerus in the shoulder socket.

If you are not used to doing it this way, it may feel awkward at first and you may not be able to fully rotate the fist all the way over.  Stick with it, your forearm muscles will become more flexible and it will become easier.  You’ll find when you get used to it that the whole punch is much smoother than when you rotate the shoulder joint.

There is an argument that the bone alignment is weaker when the ulna and radius are rotated about each other.  However, the idea when punching is that you actually make contact with the target before rotating the forearm (when the fist is still palm up).  So the point of impact is when these bones are still in a strong alignment.  You only rotate the forearm after contact has been made so that the rotational energy is added to forward impact to the punch, giving it a very penetrating “corkscrew effect”.

This forearm rotation comes into many other techniques too, such as at the very end of Soto Uke (Outside Block), Uchi Uke (Inside Block) and others.  With these blocks, the rotation of the fist at the end of the technique cannot be supported by the rotation of the shoulder joint because of the arm being bent and the elbow joint being lower than the fist.  Practicing for maximum forearm rotation in the punches will help maximise the forearm rotation in these other techniques too, making them more powerful, even with smaller movements.  It helps to give a small “whip” on the the end of these other techniques.

Do You Train To Win A Fair Fight?

A little while ago on the BunkaiJutsu Facebook page, I put on the following quote by Gichin Funakoshi:-

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him, concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point, and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter or help. It is most important to be on guard without becoming excited and to act with presence of mind throughout the situation from the beginning and even once the situation is in hand.
When delivering the one blow against the attacker, the importance of using one’s whole strength and being especially accurate cannot be overemphasized”.
Gichin Funakoshi, from his book Karate-Do Kyohan,

It generated quite a bit of interest and comment, so I thought I’d explore it a bit further.  What is easy to over-look here is that it shows a very different ethos and approach to how we are taught in most traditional martial arts today.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

Today if we do any sparring, we face each other from outside of striking range, bow, take up our fighting stance, then start inching towards each other until we start to exchange strikes/kicks.  Basically, its all about having a “fair fight”.  It’s sport.

Even when we practice bunkai (applications) against more street style attacks such as haymakers, in most clubs, the attacker usually start out of striking range first, then moves into distance with the haymaker.  Again, this partially reflects the “fair fight” mentality; as if two guys have agreed to “step outside and sort it out”.

Note, I did say “partially” as I do realise that somebody could randomly swing at you, ready or not.

Even in that step outside scenario there is the concept of an even one on one fight.  I know it’s not always adhered to as one may pull out a weapon or mates my join in, but the concept is still there, and most traditional training seems to buy into it.

What most traditional martial arts do not train for the guy being right up in your face shouting and swearing, then head-butting you.

The old Okinawan masters did not practice sport.  Several of the old Okinawan masters are recorded as saying that Karate is mainly for defending oneself against untrained thugs (rather than matches with other trained martial artists).

Funakoshi always taught that fighting (even a “fair fight”) was wrong and should be avoided if at all possible.  He taught that Karate was mainly to make you a better person rather than a better fighter and as such if you were set about, he advised that the first course of action should be to run away.  That way nobody gets hurt.

On the few occasions that Funakoshi was forced to physically defend himself, he felt that it was a personal failure to have gotten into that situation in the first place, or for not having handled it better.  I personally think he was a bit hard on himself, but that’s just my opinion.

So if you hold true to the philosophy that you should decline any fights and run away if you can, then what do you do if you are cornered and have to fight whether you like it not?  The person picking on you is usually doing so because he/she thinks you are an easy target.  Are they looking for a fair fight?

No!  They’re looking for an easy victim.

So should you be expected to fight fair against somebody like that?

No, you shouldn’t have to, because you shouldn’t be put in that position against your will.  You didn’t pick the fight and you didn’t agree to have one.  Self protection is about defending yourself from harm, it is not about having a fair fight.

Should you step back into your fighting stance and warn them, “back off, I do martial arts”?

No.  That warns them to be more careful.

This is the scenario Funakoshi was talking about.  Let them bluster at you and become over confident, then hit them with a pre-emptive strike to a vital point.  Then run!

This is the way that modern Reality Based Martial Arts train.  Don’t you find it a bit strange that people talk about Reality Based Martial Arts as if it is still quite new, when Funakoshi was talking about it decades ago?

To my mind, it suggest that most of today’s so called “traditional martial arts” are not that traditional.  It isn’t what Funakoshi taught!

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies?

We so often hear that martial arts are good for our health and well-being, but is this always the truth?  I would say in the main . . . . yes.

However I do feel that there are exceptions.  All to often you hear of the more mature warriors amongst us having hip or knee operations.  Many (who are not professional teachers) have to give up training all together.  So if martial arts are a lifetime study (as is often said) how come the people who are left training over the age of 50 is such a small percentage.

Funakoshi, who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan, said in his latter years that the Karate being trained at that time in Japan was very different to the Karate of his youth.

The Karate that Funakoshi would have learnt in his youth in Okinawa would have had a very strong emphasis on combat effectiveness.  It also had a strong emphasis on health.  Many masters were originally introduced to Karate training in their childhood because they were sickly children and Karate was seen as one of the best ways to improve their health.

So what happened to Karate after Funakoshi introduced it to Japan in the 1920’s?

At that time, having relatively recently been forcibly dragged out of centuries of isolation, Japan was modernising very fast.  As such the Japanese saw the modern weapons imported from the West as the way to go and saw the old martial arts as obsolete except for physical and character development.  Furthermore, Japan’s militaristic character at that time, especially during the build up for the war, meant more emphasis on toughening up and strengthening up quickly, rather than looking to the longer term health.  Physically gruelling training was good for the spirit!

Emphasis on real combat was not really necessary in traditional martial arts as Japan was far more focused on how to use the newly found power of guns, warplanes and battleships.  The subtleties of Okinawan karate would be dumbed down to make it more acceptable to Japanese popular ideas of the time.  A more physical emphasis was required.  Dumbing down also made it easier to teach to large classes.

Funakoshi focused on teaching in Universities which meant introducing Karate to the higher strata of Japanese society (hence more respectability for Karate).  It also meant that as Karate was now being taught to relatively large numbers and as students left University and moved on, they did not form the deep relationship that the Funakoshi and his peers would have formed with their masters, so the transfer of knowledge would not have been quite so deep.

Unfortunately many of Funakoshi’s top students lost their lives during the war.  By the end of the war, Funakoshi was in his late 70’s and although still training himself, was getting a bit old for regular teaching, so to a certain extent the surviving students had to work it out for themselves.

Furthermore the occupying American’s banned martial arts training.  During the war, the Japanese had displayed a ferocious fighting spirit which for obvious reasons the Allies wanted to curb.  The Japanese had to make a case that Karate was not a real martial art, but more a way for self development.  As such, they got permission to train.  However, traditional weapons like the Bo, Tonfa, Sai etc were dropped from the syllabus as the Japanese realised that they would really be pushing their luck to ask permission to train weapons (of any kind) as well.  Karate was dumbed down even further.

With Funakoshi’s influence diminishing and most of his most knowledgeable students gone, Shotokan began to evolve (or devolve depending on how you look at it) into a forceful system with a heavy emphasis on the physical side.  This led in part to the stances becoming longer and deeper placing more stress on the lower body joints.  If you look at any photo’s of Funakoshi demonstrating technique, he is always in a fairly high stance.  Shotokan was mainly derived from Okinawan Shorin Ryu (created by Yasutsune Itosu).  If you go to Youtube and search for “Shorin Ryu kata”, you’ll see that most of their movements are done in a higher stance than modern Shotokan.

Just compare the Shorin Ryu and Shotokan versions of the same kata below:-

Shorin Ryu

Shotokan

A large group wanted to hold competitions which Funakoshi vehemently opposed.  However, after Funakoshi passed away in 1957, the movement to introduce competition went full throttle ahead and the first All Japan Championships were held that year.  Again the emphasis on being fit, strong and athletic grew with the short term goal of winning competitions rather than longer term goal of life long health.

Okinawan Karate was would have expected most fights to be at relatively close range (which is how most real fights are) so it would have geared its techniques that way.  But the new competition fighting where neither fighter was allowed to grab their opponent necessitated a longer range of fighting.  This in turn necessitated being able to take long steps, to cover relatively large distances.  This again creates more stress on our bodies and joints as we get older and was absent from the original Okinawan Karate.

High kicks (which had barely existed in Okinawan Karate) become much more common place, putting even more stresses on the body (especially hips and knees).  Again if you watch Shorin Ryu kata on Youtube, you’ll see less emphasis on kicks.  Furthermore, you won’t find Side Snap Kicks anywhere.  In Shotokan kata where we use a Side Snap Kick, Shorin Ryu uses a Front Kick).  Not only that, but the Shorin Ryu Front Kick is usually no more than groin height.

Side Snap Kick is one of the most difficult kicks of all for people who have hip and knee problems.  It is also not nearly as practical as a Front Kick in most real combat situations.  So why did Side Snap Kick replace the Front Kick in so many Shotokan katas and why did it end up usually being done at head height rather than groin height?

Well at that time, the Japanese had very little understanding of bunkai (fighting applications of the kata).  Not only that, most of them were not really interested either.  Kata competition was becoming very popular too and that was the driving force.  Kata had to look good.  The head height Side Snap Kick looked much better than the mid level Front Kick.  Many techniques performed in Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance) in the Shorin Ryu kata were changed to a much longer deeper Kokutsu Dachi (Back Stance) in Shotokan kata.

Much of this has improved over the years and many branches of Shotokan has change quite radically even in the time that I’ve been training.  When I first started, we had to keep the back leg straight when performing any technique in Forward Stance.  This put pressure on the lower back and hips.  Now the back leg is slightly bent, relieving the pressure.  This and many other modifications have greatly improved the way that we train today.  In many ways many schools of Shotokan have become much “softer” in their training (and I softer as in how technique is performed, not as in “taking it easy”).  However, many still train the old way and many styles (Japanese & Korean) which are derived from Shotokan still bear some of those old hallmarks.

Training can be great for health, but if you are not careful, it can be damaging to your body, especially hips, knees and lower back.

What Are The Differences Between Kung Fu & Karate?

One of the most popular and most frequently visited postings that I’ve ever done on this website has been an unbiased look at the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do.  So I thought I’d do the same between Karate and Kung Fu.

As with Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I believe that there is often a lot of misunderstanding between Karate and Kung Fu practitioners as they don’t really understand what  the other one is doing or why!  That said, there are many people who cross train between the 2 styles, in particular Karateka who train in Kung Fu to better understand the roots of the their own system.

This post is not aimed at arguing that either martial art is better than the other, as I have always maintained, there is no “best style” only a “best style for a given individual”.

But to  tackle a question like this is a massive subject as there are hundreds of styles of Karate and thousands of styles of Kung Fu; so I am going to have to lay down some parameters before I start.

Firstly from the Karate perspective; most modern styles trace back to the two Okinawan styles of Naha Te and Shuri Te.  There is arguably also Tomari Te, but that is really a branch of Shuri Te.  To confuse the issue further, many modern styles are also a hybrid of the two (like Shitoryu).

Naha Te (which later became Goju Ryu) was almost completely based on White Crane and Praying Mantis Kung Fu, whilst Shuri Te was quite extensively modified by the Okinawans.  So for the purpose of this posting, I’ll be looking at the Karate styles from the Shuri Te/Shotokan lineage.  Ironically, much of this will apply to Tae Kwon Do as well, despite significant development by the Koreans.

Kung Fu is even more difficult due to it’s huge variety.  So for the purpose of this posting, I’ll be looking at the traditional Shaolin styles of Kung Fu (rather than modern Wu Shu, Wing Chun or the Daoist based internal arts).

Usually one of the first things that people say when comparing Karate and Kung Fu is that Karate is more linear and that Kung Fu is more circular.  But what does that actually mean in application?

If you look at a Karate reverse punch, the hips are rotated, yet the arm goes out straight; so there is a combination of circular and linear movements within the same technique.  Many (if not most) Karate techniques are powered by a hip rotation, so does that make them partly circular.  Furthermore, although Kung Fu tends to have more techniques where the arms attack in a circular fashion, they also have a lot of techniques that come out straight forward, so are they linear?

Basically, what defines a linear or circular technique is not just whether the body rotates or not, or even if the attacking hand/foot moves in a straight or circular motion.  It is how the technique is powered.  A linear technique is powered by the forward inertia and momentum of the body, whilst circular technique is powered by the centrifugal force created by a rapid rotation which does not necessarily move the body forward.

You can see this more clearly in the 2 videos below.  In the first one you see a Karate reverse punch.  The hips rotate from being pulled back approximately 45 degrees to being rotated square to the front.  But overall the body weight moves forward in the direction of the punch.

In this Kung Fu example, you’ll see that the hips are rotated much further, so much so that the stance is facing at 90 degree’s to the direction of the punch and opponent.  When he performs the second punch, his hips rotate almost 180 degrees around to face the other direction (compared with Karate’s 45 degree hip rotation).  This obviously creates more centrifugal force.  The technique will vary from style to style, but it does demonstrate the general principle.  However, it does not create any forward momentum towards the opponent.

Again, I do not suggest that either method is superior to the other, they are just 2 modified ways of achieving the same result, which is putting down some b*****d who seriously deserves it.  It should also be made clear that Karate and Kung Fu both contain linear techniques and they both contain circular techniques.  It is just that Karate puts more emphasis on linear whilst Kung Fu puts more emphasis on circular.

Some people say that Karate is more aggressive.  Shuri Te was developed by the bodyguards to the Okinawan king.  They were the masters who evolved linear technique.  When you examine their requirements and the challenges that they faced, they needed a system of taking the fight quickly and ruthlessly to their enemies.  To do this you need to be able to move forward (linear).

With a circular system, to a certain extent you are letting the other guy bring the fight to you.  That may not have been an option for the Shuri bodyguards, but for us today who should only be interested in self defence, it is fine.  You can still take the initiative and give a pre-emptive strike if somebody comes too close (which an aggressor will do) but you don’t need to take the fight to him.

Circular technique is better for grappling, spinning very fast when you have hold of somebody is a good way to of-balance or throw them.  It also helps to apply locks to any trapped limbs very quickly.

Linear technique is less versatile in application, but was designed for very much with multiple assailants in mind where running away was not an option (as in bodyguards).  For this they needed to take the fight to the opponent, put him down very quickly, then move onto the next.  I believe that this is where the Japanese maxim of Ikken Hissatsu (one strike, one kill)  comes from.  Grappling techniques are too slow when you’re outnumbered, so that versatility was not required.

Furious 5 from Kung Fu Panda

Many of the Shaolin styles are based on animal movements such as Tiger, Snake, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Crane and many others (even mythical creatures such as the Dragon).  Although these styles imitate animal movements, they are still very effective in application.  Drawing from the movements of mammals, birds, reptiles and even insects has led to a great deal of innovation and inspiration, not only in fighting techniques, but in the principles adopted (for example, power from the Tiger, but flexibility from the Snake).

Karate however has been more influenced by the Zen philosophy which is (or was) very popular in Japan.  Part of Zen is to minimize everything, which has also been applied to the movements in martial arts.  Only the movements strictly required for a technique are included, all else is striped out giving it a much plainer appearance in many ways.  This also fits in with the linear concept of less emphasis on grappling and versatility, but focusing more on multiple opponents instead.

Of course this is a very broad subject as already mentioned and there is a lot of overlap between Karate and Kung Fu, so this posting can only be a guide rather than a definitive in every case and every application.  As such there will be plenty of exceptions, so any writing on this subject (by me or anybody else) should only be regarded as a generalised guide.

If you have found this useful, or if you have anything to add to the subject, then please leave your comments below.