Martial Arts: A Mental Rehearsal For Success

In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), they have a technique called Mental Rehearsal.  This is where we know that we have a particular situation coming up and we rehearse/visualise how we want it to go in our minds a number of times before the actual event.  It could be a grading or a competition.  Or it could be an everyday life event like Continue reading “Martial Arts: A Mental Rehearsal For Success” »

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what?

Whilst we are learning our kata, then obviously a certain amount of our concentration will be on making sure that we get the techniques and sequence correct.  With practice we should be able to perform our kata without having to think about them very much.  So now that we no longer have to think about the movements, what do we think about?  What’s for dinner?  Going for a drink afterwards?  Or how cool we look doing this kata without thinking about it?

Well my answer might surprise some people, especially as a large part of our training is about self development and making ourselves better people.  What I think you should do when you perform a kata that  you know well is to pour all you nastiness, malevolence, viciousness and malice into your kata.  That may sound strange from somebody who believes in self development as well as practicality, but please bear with me.

Real violence is nasty, malevolent, vicious and full of malice; and performing kata (or basics) is a mental rehearsal as well as a physical rehearsal.  Thugs may not have good technique, but they are used to “training” in the “adrenalin zone”. When you have to fight to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you are entering the thugs world of real violence and you have to be able to cope with it.  Adrenalin will effect your body, your perceptions and your ability to think. Your training should be real enough in your mind that you get a small adrenalin rush each time.  Whilst too much adrenalin can be unhealthy, a regular amount at low levels is fine, plus you become more immune to it’s negative effects after a while.  You will be able to remain calmer in a crisis.

Now some people may be concerned that training with this mindset may also train a thuggish mentality.  But as soon as you finish your kata, you step up into Yamae (finish position), you go back to calm.

We train ourselves to “switch on” quickly and “switch off” just as quickly.  If somebody attacks us, we do not want to freeze in shock (which happens even to high grade martial artists).  That said, if we successfully defend ourselves and incapacitate our attacker, we do not want to jump up and down on their prostrate body or perform River-Dance on their head.  We need to be able to stop and not be carried away in the heat of an unfamiliar moment.

As martial artists we need to know when to stop for  legal and even more importantly; for moral reasons.  We need to enter the world of vile malevolence when needed and exit it just as quickly when the job is done.  However, nasty the thug may be, we as martial artists should be able to show mercy once we overpower him/her.  It is part of the Yin & Yang of training and of our development.  Its about balance in our personality.

The only way to have little or no fear of violence is to be good at it.  I am not advocating that you act in a violent manner, but when you know that you can handle yourself in most situations, you project a confidence which most predators of the human world will recognise and they will be more likely to avoid you.  Please note that I say “most situations”, as there will always be someone more experienced or better armed then you.

Most human predators mirror the animal predators.  Think of the lion, king of the jungle.  They hunt in prides, but do they for the big muscular young bull buffalo with the great big horns.

No.

They go for the old, the young, the weak, the one with the gammy leg that can’t run properly.  Basically, for predators its about finding an easy target.  For us training is about making you a hard target, physically and emotionally.  The big fit bull with the horns does not need to threaten the lions, the lions just know.  So it is when you walk with an air of confidence, the human predators just know.

But projecting true confidence is not just about how you walk or your posture.  It’s about knowing that you are prepared physically and mentally should a conflict make it necessary.  As Bruce Lee once said in his films, “the art of fighting without fighting”.

I heard of a study years ago where they got 3 groups and tested them at throwing balls through a basketball hoop.  After recording the results, they had one of the groups practice shooting the balls at the hoop, one of the groups not practice at all; and the third group just visualise throwing balls at the hoop.  Later they tested the three groups again.  The group that practiced improved by something like 24% (if I remember right).  The group that did not practice made no improvement at all.

The amazing thing though was that the group that just visualised throwing the balls improved dramatically, with about a 23% improvement.  Visualisation achieved almost as good a result as doing the real thing.  Therefore whilst practicing kata, using visualisations of the violence and malevolence of the situation can actually help you prepare for it more than most people give it credit for (even if you don’t fully understand the bunkai).  Although good technique is important, unless you are practicing primarily for competition it should not always be your main focus.  Funikoshi said that spirit is more important than technique and he primarily taught by kata rather than kumite (sparring).

This concept may be a bit new to some people.  Whether it’s new to you or not, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think, I’d like to hear from you.

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what?

Whilst we are learning our kata, then obviously a certain amount of our concentration will be on making sure that we get the techniques and sequence correct.  With practice we should be able to perform our kata without having to think about them very much.  So now that we no longer have to think about the movements, what do we think about?  What’s for dinner?  Going for a drink afterwards?  Or how cool we look doing this kata without thinking about it?

Well my answer might surprise some people, especially as a large part of our training is about self development and making ourselves better people.  What I think you should do when you perform a kata that  you know well is to pour all you nastiness, malevolence, viciousness and malice into your kata.  That may sound strange from somebody who believes in self development as well as practicality, but please bear with me.

Real violence is nasty, malevolent, vicious and full of malice; and performing kata (or basics) is a mental rehearsal as well as a physical rehearsal.  Thugs may not have good technique, but they are used to “training” in the “adrenalin zone”. When you have to fight to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you are entering the thugs world of real violence and you have to be able to cope with it.  Adrenalin will effect your body, your perceptions and your ability to think. Your training should be real enough in your mind that you get a small adrenalin rush each time.  Whilst too much adrenalin can be unhealthy, a regular amount at low levels is fine, plus you become more immune to it’s negative effects after a while.  You will be able to remain calmer in a crisis.

Now some people may be concerned that training with this mindset may also train a thuggish mentality.  But as soon as you finish your kata, you step up into Yamae (finish position), you go back to calm.

We train ourselves to “switch on” quickly and “switch off” just as quickly.  If somebody attacks us, we do not want to freeze in shock (which happens even to high grade martial artists).  That said, if we successfully defend ourselves and incapacitate our attacker, we do not want to jump up and down on their prostrate body or perform River-Dance on their head.  We need to be able to stop and not be carried away in the heat of an unfamiliar moment.

As martial artists we need to know when to stop for  legal and even more importantly; for moral reasons.  We need to enter the world of vile malevolence when needed and exit it just as quickly when the job is done.  However, nasty the thug may be, we as martial artists should be able to show mercy once we overpower him/her.  It is part of the Yin & Yang of training and of our development.  Its about balance in our personality.

The only way to have little or no fear of violence is to be good at it.  I am not advocating that you act in a violent manner, but when you know that you can handle yourself in most situations, you project a confidence which most predators of the human world will recognise and they will be more likely to avoid you.  Please note that I say “most situations”, as there will always be someone more experienced or better armed then you.

Most human predators mirror the animal predators.  Think of the lion, king of the jungle.  They hunt in prides, but do they for the big muscular young bull buffalo with the great big horns.

No.

They go for the old, the young, the weak, the one with the gammy leg that can’t run properly.  Basically, for predators its about finding an easy target.  For us training is about making you a hard target, physically and emotionally.  The big fit bull with the horns does not need to threaten the lions, the lions just know.  So it is when you walk with an air of confidence, the human predators just know.

But projecting true confidence is not just about how you walk or your posture.  It’s about knowing that you are prepared physically and mentally should a conflict make it necessary.  As Bruce Lee once said in his films, “the art of fighting without fighting”.

I heard of a study years ago where they got 3 groups and tested them at throwing balls through a basketball hoop.  After recording the results, they had one of the groups practice shooting the balls at the hoop, one of the groups not practice at all; and the third group just visualise throwing balls at the hoop.  Later they tested the three groups again.  The group that practiced improved by something like 24% (if I remember right).  The group that did not practice made no improvement at all.

The amazing thing though was that the group that just visualised throwing the balls improved dramatically, with about a 23% improvement.  Visualisation achieved almost as good a result as doing the real thing.  Therefore whilst practicing kata, using visualisations of the violence and malevolence of the situation can actually help you prepare for it more than most people give it credit for (even if you don’t fully understand the bunkai).  Although good technique is important, unless you are practicing primarily for competition it should not always be your main focus.  Funikoshi said that spirit is more important than technique and he primarily taught by kata rather than kumite (sparring).

This concept may be a bit new to some people.  Whether it’s new to you or not, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think, I’d like to hear from you.

Bunkai From Tekki/Naihanchi (Chul Gi) With Cross Reference To Wing Chun

Most Karate systems that evolved from the Okinawan style of Shuri Te tend to use big steps to capitalise on forward body momentum and inertia to transfer impact into the opponent.  As a broad generalisation, this tends to distinguish them from the styles derived from Naha Te and most styles of Kung Fu which prefer the use of circular (or centrifugal) force for generating power.

However, the Tekki kata’s (or Naihanchi in some styles and Chul Gi in Korean) which are still present in many Shuri Te derived styles contradict this forward momentum method in that they are not very mobile and are far more “static”.  Another characteristic of the Tekki kata’s is that they punch with the palm facing up as opposed to the usual “cork-screw” punch where the fist ends up facing downwards and the arm is not fully extended.

Tekki is obviously a close quarters fighting kata.  As such a number of its movements are quite close to Wing Chun Kung Fu which specialises in close quarters fighting.  On the surface, Wing Chun and Tekki look quite different, but as usual Keith and I look below the surface and find some similarities which can be used by practitioners of either system.

Tekki / Naihanchi Kata Bunkai

Bunkai From Shotokan Karate Kata: Jitte (TSD: Sip Soo)

I am very pleased to be able to include 2 short video clips of my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell 4th Dan.

Sensei Mitchell is a recognised authority on Bunkai within the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association and usually teaches bunkai on TSKA residential courses.  Having originally started my Karate training in Kent, then continued it when I moved up to Scotland and again when I moved to the South West of England; I can say I’ve been about a bit and seen a few different clubs.  I consider myself very lucky to have found Sensei Mitchell’s club as firstly I like the emphasis on good technique and secondly I like the practically of his teachings and bunkai.

Thirdly, I like his quirkly sense of humour, but that’s another story . . . . sorry Sensei 😉

The clips below were taken on a recent Kata course hosted by Sensei Mitchell focusing on kata Jitte. The course started of with structure and form, followed by Bunkai.  After a light lunch (thanks Chris) it was back to work and being Jitte, we did it with Bo’s.  Jitte is unique in that it can be performed empty handed or with Bo, with very little adjustment at all.

Sensei Mitchell hosts these courses every couple of months and they are open to Karateka of any style (including TaeKwonDo) from 4th Kyu/Kup and above.  These are taught in an open and friendly environment and if you would like to attend, then check out the “Calender Of Events” tab on his website every now and then.  If you enjoy Bunkai and practical Karate, then I would highly recommend these courses.

Fighting Dirty With Karate/TKD/TSD’s Most Commonly Used Technique

The most commonly practiced technique in Karate, TKD, TSD and many styles of Kung Fu is Hikite, which is Japanese for pulling the hand back (usually to the hip), and is usually performed in conjunction with a punch, strike or “block”.

Applications for Hikite are usually depicted as grabbing the opponents wrist and pulling them on, whilst the other hand/arm attacks the opponent, either by striking or applying some kind of joint lock/break. You can see this application in some of the video’s below.

However, for this posting I would like to look at other self defence applications for Hikite when the fight get close in and dirty. I would like to approach this from the point of view of being attacked by an untrained thug, rather than a trained fighter (of any discipline).  A trained fighter might well be able to cope with some of these tactics, but an untrained thug probably would not.  And lets face it, we are more likely to be attacked by a thug, then by a disciplined and trained fighter.

Whenever a fist is made (in basics or kata/forms/patterns), it is quite safe to assume that it is either to strike or to grab. As Hikite is pulling back to the hip, then it is safe to assume that the fist in Hikite is grabbing.

First of all though let’s look at Hikite more closely as it varies from style to style.  It normally starts with the arm extended, palm facing down. Some styles start with an open hand whilst others start with a fist. If the hand is open, then the first thing it does is to closes into a fist, which more or less gives all variations the same start point; a grab. From here, some styles rotate the fist to palm facing up as it starts to pull back to the hip. Other styles however, begin to pull back and rotate the fist to the palm up position near the end of the travel (as fist reaches the hip).

The applications covered in this article will work with either variation.  However, in these specific applications, the twist is used to increase the pain threshold.   I would therefore suggest that these specific applications will probably work better if the twist is performed at the beginning of the pullback, rather than at the end of the pullback.

The first application I would like to look at is pulling somebody’s hair.  Although often considered “girly fighting”, it can be a good way to control an opponent (pain compliance) and brake their structure/balance.  With a training partner try grabbing their hair and just holding, it will not be too uncomfortable for them.  If you then pull, it hurts them.  If you stop pulling, it stops hurting. This is why in a “girly fight”, they grab the hair and keep pulling backwards, forwards and sideways, to keep the pain going.

Now grab your partner’s hair and apply the Hikite. First just grab and twist. The act of twisting, drives the small knuckles of your fist into your training partners head and at the same time, maintains the pulling tension to the hair without you having to pull and push their head all over the place. Whereas with normal hair pulling, your training partner/opponent can move with the pull/push to lessen the effect, they cannot do anything to lessen the effect of your grab and twist. The pain is constant for as long as you keep the twist on.

Now pull back to the hip as usual and their structure and balance will be compromised as they are distracted with pain. It will also work if you pull first before twisting, but without the pain of the twist at the beginning, the opponent will be able to resist the pull a little bit more at this stage.

Once you have them prone, in pain with their head by your hip, if you judge the situation as being not too bad, then you may try to talk some sense into your prone opponent. If the situation is serious, then you can beat some sense into your opponent without them being able to resist very much.

This would have been particularly useful when these techniques were first introduced as many men wore their hair in a top-knot, which is quite easy to grab. However, today many men wear their hair short and many are, well . . . follicly challenged. In this scenario, grab the ear instead. There is a reason why many of us can remember parents and/or teachers grabbing us by the ears as kids; it because the ears are sensitive and it hurts. It just requires a bit more accuracy then grabbing hair.

Another application is grabbing the throat. This has to be reserved for all but the most serious of confrontations. Grabbing the throat and squeezing is always dangerous, but grabbing around the windpipe and twisting applies more pressure and can seriously damage the windpipe which can lead to death (and a long jail sentence).  A much safer way, but still very effective, is to use a flesh (or skin) grab.  This is common in many styles of Kung Fu, but has not been transmitted very much into Karate.  For this application, let’s go back to when we first started to learn martial arts and we are taught how to make a correct fist. First, close up the outer set of knuckles (in the fingers), then close the last set of knuckles (where the fingers join the hand).

Try with a partner, clasping their neck, fingers one side and thumb the other side. Now close the first set of knuckles (in the fingers), but as you do so make sure that you secure some skin of the neck. Be careful with your training partner as this can be very painful and usually leaves marks. Now continue to close up the rest of the fist, twist and pull (carefully). This is more painful than the hair pull, but you end up in almost the same prone position where you can talk or beat sense into your opponent.

If you are in a clinch and you are both trying to control each other, grabbing hair, ears or throats will be awkward, as obviously both of you will be trying to guard your heads from attack.   However, whilst so close to each other, your opponent may not notice if you lower one hand to the side of their body, preferably just below their ribs, then grab lower torso flesh by closing up your first set of knuckles as before. You don’t need to grab large amounts of flesh, just some skin on the side will do. Then of course, grab, twist and pull. This should be enough to make them loosen their grip, off-balance them and give you the opportunity to land a clean blow.

Just be aware however that if the opponent is drunk or high on drugs, they may not feel the full effect. That said, as long as you can pull them off-balance, you can follow through.

Take another scenario where some thug has taken you to the floor and is sitting astride you trying to hit you. Grabbing the flesh around their waist, twisting and pulling will to say the least get their attention and probably stop them trying to hit you as they try to release your hands. From here, pull with one hand whilst pushing with the other to remove them sideways. This should be enough to move the average Joe thug; though again, be aware that if they are very drunk or high, they may not feel it so much.

Another defence if you are caught in this position is believe it or not gedan barai (lower sweeping block). The hand that you would normally “block” with is always pulled back to the opposite ear before sweeping downwards. Use this position to cover your head from your opponents blows. Your Hikite hand, slides down the centreline of your body until you find your opponents testicles. From here, your hand should already be in the palm up position (usually only here after twisting). Grab and pull at the same time as you sweep downward to push your by now very distraught opponent off you. You could actually twist your wrist in the opposite direction, just to add some insult to injury. If you opponent is too drunk to feel this, then he should be too drunk to walk, never mind fight.

Basics and kata/patterns don’t just teach techniques, they teach principles and the principle here is grab, twist and pull (or pull and twist depending on style). The flesh grabbing can be applied to most parts of the body, not just the examples above. Anywhere that you can grab flesh/skin, be it torso, limbs, head, wherever, this Hikite principle can be applied.

It should also be noted that our biceps are our main pulling muscles and our triceps are our main pushing muscles. To get the best pull, we want out biceps to be able to effectively contract. They contract better when we twist our palms upwards as Hikite teaches us to do. Hikite therefore teaches us to use our body in its strongest alignments.

This actually leads to one more application, such as pulling clothes.   Although it does not directly cause pain, it can give a momentary jerk to the opponent (another jerk) which can unbalance them just long enough for you to hit them.

These techniques may not be fight finishers, but they can give you an advantage to distract (through pain) and break the opponents structure and balance.  It is a human instinct to try to correct the balance first.  If somebody has to re-gain balance at the same time that an opponent is trying to hit them, they will instinctively try to regain balance BEFORE they try to fend off the blow. This gives you a small window of opportunity to finish them off.  A small window should be enough for a well trained martial artist of any style.

Note:  This article is in Issue No 7 of Iain Abernethy’s Jissen Magazine.

Bunkai: Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan (Won Hyo, Chum Kiu)

In the clip below, we look at some applications from the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan/Won Hyo.  We don’t say that this is necessarily the best or only interpretations for these moves, it just our take on it.  Although Heian Nidan and Pinan Shodan are in effect the same kata (just named differently in different styles) and Tae Kwon Do’s Won Hyo pattern is closely based on it; Chum Kiu is essentially quite different.  It is the second form from the Wing Chun Kung Fu system.

However, some of the moves in Chum Kiu quite closely resemble the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan, although is performed quite a  bit more tightly.

Is this surprising to find such similarities?

Not at all.  Tae Kwon Do is largely based on Karate and Karate is largely based on Kung Fu.  The nearest part of China to Okinawa (where Karate developed) is Fukien Provence and it is known that White Crane Kung Fu was particularly popular in that area.  Wing Chun Kung Fu is based mainly on the Snake and the Crane, so there is a common lineage.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy our short video:

Is Kata (Forms/Patterns) Without Realistic Bunkai “Organized Despair”?

Bruce Lee once famously referred to the way that many traditional martial artists train as, “organized despair”.  The full quote is reproduced below for you:

“Instead of facing combat in it’s suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate “fanciness” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat”

So, are our katas/forms/patterns “flowery forms and artificial techniques“?

Whilst some undoubtedly are, I don’t believe that all of them are and I think that it helps to look at a historical perspective.  When Bruce Lee made that statement, martial arts were very new to the West and they were not as well understood then as they are now.

Traditionally masters would teach a small number of students and the students would have to gain the masters trust before being taught anything of consequence.    However, when fully accepted the student would learn a full system of self defence which would include kicks, punches, locks, throws, breaking bones/joints and much more.

So when Karate was introduced into the Okinawan school system, would you want the school kids knowing how to break each others bones?

Funikoshi took Karate to Japan at a time when Japan was building up for war and saw unarmed martial arts as obsolete, except for personal development.  Do you think Funikoshi who wanted to gain acceptance for his art challenged this stance?

When the Americans occupied Japan after the war, they banned martial arts.  To get permission to train, the Japanese had to play down the martial aspects in favour of sport and self development.  This is the version that the GI’s learnt and took back to America.

The Chinese community in Bruce Lee’s day, were very reluctant to teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese.  When they did finally open up to the Western public, do you think that they would teach mass audiences their best techniques?

Even Ip Man who taught Wing Chun Kung Fu to Bruce Lee is believed to have held back information from Bruce Lee because Bruce was not a full blooded Chinese.

The bottom line is – a lot of information was held back for one reason or another and in Bruce Lee’s day, many people did not have much clue about what the katas/forms/patterns were for.  With Bruce Lee’s very pragmatic approach and with information held back by even his own teachers, can you blame him for seeing it as “organised despair”.

Although so much has opened up today and is continuing to do so all the time, there are still very many people (and whole associations) still caught in trap of not knowing what there katas movements are really for.  So we go back to the question, is Kata without realistic bunkai, just organized despair?

Undoubtedly kata WITH realistic bunkai is a much better way to train.  It brings the katas to life.  However, there is always the old maxim, that before you can control somebody else (in a fight), you must be able to control yourself.

This is where I believe that kata will always be useful.  The turns and spins in different directions; landing with co-ordination, speed, power and crispness are excellent ways to learn that control of yourself.  You will learn more control and co-ordination with kata than you will by pounding pads or punchbags.  You also learn form, structure and principles of movement that you can apply to other things.  That is not to say that pounding pads/punchbags is not useful, because obviously it is.  However, I believe that kata training in its own right does have something to offer martial artists of all styles, even without good bunkai.

I do not suggest that kata training kata should be pursued at the detriment of other aspects of martial training and I agree with Bruce Lee, that in itself kata does not prepare you for actual combat.  However, as part of an fully rounded taining system I do believe that it plays an important part.