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

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.

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.

Kata And Its Bunkai Is Like A Sword

The following is para-phrased from part of a lesson given by Sensei Pete Manning 6th Dan Shotokan Karate, during the recent residential course hosted by the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association:-

“Kata is like a sword.  If you strive only for technical excellence, then it is like putting the sword in a glass case and hanging it on a wall for display.

However, if you learn how to use and apply the kata bunkai, then it is like taking down the sword from the glass case on the wall and actually using it”.

I liked the analogy, so I thought it was worth sharing.

 

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.

 

Practical Shotokan – Beginner to Black Belt – Sunday 29th Jan 2012

Sorry for short notice, but this course is being run my very own Sensei, Paul Mitchell, 4th Dan.  Any course by Paul is always worth attending.  Sadly, I’m not going to be able to make this on myself due to work commitments, but I highly recommend it if you can.

The course will be held on Sunday 29th January from 11:15am to 2:15pm.

As usual with Sensei Mitchell, this course will teach Karate bunkai including practical locks, take-downs and throws as well as the more obvious strikes and kicks.  These defences will be geared against ordinary everyday street attacks, rather than traditional Karate Lunge Punches  and Front Kicks.  The techniques and principles taught will come from basic techniques through to complex kata.

All Karateka of any style and grade are welcome, though there is a minimum age of 12 for anybody below 4th Kyu.

For adults it is £15.00 and for juniors it is £12.00.  To book a place please email shotokankaratewells@hotmail.co.uk, or call 01749 670105.

Enjoy a great course.

Truly Inspirational Karate Bunkai

Just seen this on another blog and had to share it.  It features Sensei’s John LiButti and Allan Acosta, (not sure which is which) of the U.S.Kodokan Federation demonstrating some Karate bunkai.  It just goes to show what can be done when the mind is set to it.  You can’t help but to respect this guy, what an example to all of us.

Karate Kata Bunkai: Bassai Dai

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do any videos on kata bunkai, which was a very prominent element of this website when I first started it.  Unfortunately I still haven’t been able to, yet recently I’ve been asked if I will be doing any more.

So what I’ve done below is take an excerpt from my DVD, Inside Bassai Dai.  It features some kata bunkai from the opening sequence of Bassai Dai.  I hope you enjoy it.

Many visitors to this website don’t get taught this kind of bunkai at their own Dojo, so please leave your feedback below and tell me what you think.