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 a works meeting where we have to make a presentation or a job interview.

It is often said that we only use about 10% of our brains.  I think it would be more correct to say that we only consciously use 10%.  Our unconscious minds control many of our behaviours and automatic responses, but can be accessed with various techniques.  The strange thing about our unconscious minds is that it does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  For example, have you ever been watching a scary film and found your heartbeat increasing or your breathing getting shallow and quick (effects of adrenalin).  Then the villain jumps out unexpectedly with a burst of dramatic music and nearly jump out of your seat.

Why did you react like that?  You know that you are safe in your home, watching the TV, on your sofa right? Continue reading “Martial Arts: A Mental Rehearsal For Success”

Adaptive Karate Blog: With John & Elaine Johnston

John and Elaine Johnston have started up their own blog which will be well worth checking out.  Sensei John Johnston is a 6th Dan Shotokan Karate and the people who he has trained with reads like a “who’s who” of early UK Shotokan Karate.  He has competed at high level when it was much rougher than today’s competitions and has also done a lot of door work.

His wife, Elaine is a 2nd Dan and has an interest in psychology and Yoga, so she also bring her own unique insights into the mix as well.  This will make it a very well rounded martial arts blog. Continue reading “Adaptive Karate Blog: With John & Elaine Johnston”

Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is.  It actually helps us on a number of different levels.

But first though for anybody new to martial arts (or this concept) lets have a look at what diaphragmatic breathing actually is.  Most adults breathe into the top of their lungs and as they do so their shoulders and collar bones rise slightly.  But with diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm (which is a large internal muscle at the base of the lungs) is used.  This pulls down on the lower part of the lungs, opening up the whole of the lungs and thus pulling in more air (hence more Oxygen).  When breath is pulled in this way, the shoulders and collar bones do not rise.  However, as the diaphragm pulls down it displaces the lower torso organs and the stomach area in particular is pushed outwards. Continue reading “Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts”

Engage Your Opponents Brain To Increase Their Vulnerability

Since the last of the Neanderthals died out about 20,000 years ago the human brain has continued to evolve from what was primarily an animal brain governed by instinct, to a much larger and more complicated brain capable of logical thought.  A very large part of our brain today deals with communication, reason, social behaviour/interaction and a whole lot of other things that other animals are not capable of.  The ideas of guilt and remorse, right and wrong, good and evil, are all absent in the animal kingdom.

However, we still have the primitive parts of our brain which controls many of our more basic instincts, including amongst other things: violence.

When we find ourselves in a confrontational situation, decades of social conditioning and logic will often restrain us.  Even most thugs will stop at beating somebody up rather than actually killing them, whereas most animals would not really give killing a second thought.  In a confrontational situation adrenalin is released into the body and extra blood goes into the limbs to prepare for the fight or flight.  A side effect of this is that blood is drained from the brain, so the higher functions of logic, social conditioning and reasoning become much less efficient.  However, the more primitive part of the brain (sometimes called “the reptilian brain”) still functions normally and this is the part that deals with violence.

This is the same for both the aggressor and the victim.  Although not everybody fully understands this process, it is used intuitively to gain advantage.  A bully may shout, swear and threaten to intimidate his/her target; but as they do so they psyche themself up by adrenalising themselves.  This reduces their own higher brain functions and taking themselves to their own lower “reptilian” brain.  By doing this they can to a certain extent anesthetize themselves to their own barbaric behaviour which their higher brain functions might question and reject.  It makes sense then to shut down those higher brain function which might restrict and limit their plan to harm somebody.  It’s a bit like a warrior giving out a battle cry before the battle begins, it serves the same purpose.

Of course there are some exceptions to this.  Sociopaths believe that the rules do not apply themselves, so violence comes easy to them without having to psyche themselves up.  Most “professional” street predators (rapists, muggers, etc) are sociopaths.  But I would guess (and it is a guess) that most average street thugs do have some small level of conscience which they prefer to silence, so that they do not have to face it.

So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage when confronted with a thug who is psyching themself up?

Well the first thing to do is to try to get them back to their higher brain functions if you can, where they are less likely to attack.  You can do this by asking questions that make them think.  In FAST (Fear Adrenalin Stress Training) Defence, they recommend asking in an assertive manner “what do you want”?

But it could really be anything.  You could say something completely random like “isn’t it a shame about the polar bears at the North Pole”?  The normal response will be something like, “What the f***”?  Either way, it gets them thinking and going back to the higher brain function and away from the reptilian brain.  At best this may be enough to avert an imminent attack.  Hopefully it will make them pause as their higher brain functions (including conscience, reasoning, social conditioning, etc) kick back in, even if only for a moment.  This momentary hesitation should be enough time for a trained martial artist to successfully launch a pre-emptive strike and hopefully finish the situation then and there (before they realise and start psyching themself back up again).

I’m not saying that this will work every time against every aggressor, but it could give you an edge when you need it most.  This type of tactic is often practiced in reality based martial art training, but is usually absent where people don’t not look beyond the boundaries of their own traditional martial art.

 

Martial Arts Marketing: How to grow your business By Graham Butcher

Graham Butcher

I asked in my Newsletter and Facebook page if people would like another category on this website for information on marketing their martial arts clubs.  Several people replied that this would in deed be useful.  My friend, Graham Butcher, author and one of the World’s leading authority’s on Stav has taken the initiative to write the first article for which I am very grateful.  So below is Graham’s submission, I hope you find it useful.


When Charlie said that he wanted to include a section on Marketing into his newsletter I decided to offer to contribute to it. Why should you be interested in anything I have to say about marketing? Three reasons.  Firstly my day job is running a Handyman business with my partner and we do okay and have plenty of clients so we must be doing something right. Secondly I have been studying marketing with Chris Cardell and Jon McCulloch for the past couple of years and I will be happy to
share some of the principles that they teach. Thirdly, for the past 19 years I have been teaching and trying to develop interest in Stav.  Many of you will know how hard it is to get people interested in well known Martial training systems such as Karate and Aikido. So you can imagine its rather harder promoting something as unknown and frankly improbable as a Norwegian martial training system brought to the UK by a Scandinavian nobleman with Viking ancestry and a profound knowledge of the runes and Norse mythology. I think you see the problem.

So this September I am launching a new class in Crewkerne (the Somerset town where I live) and I intend to make a success of it by throwing every marketing trick I know at the good people of Crewkerne including having leaflets and website critiqued by Jon McCulloch before the public sees them. I will be happy to share the process with you over the next few months and let you know what works and what doesn’t.

This month’s tip, Chris Cardell’s three principles for growing a business. Don’t object that yours is a club not a business. If you are taking money in return for a a service (providing martial arts training) then you are running a business. Even if the club is run on a cooperative basis and no one actually takes any money out of it personally the organisation still needs an income to pay its bills. If you can increase that income you may be able to rent a better hall, bring in guest instructors or purchase better training equipment.

So in order to grow the business you need:
• More customers (students)
• More transactions with your customers/students
• More value from each transaction

And you need to combine all three because there is a level at which customers/students actually cost you much more than they give you in return. If you offer a free lesson as a taster then every week you might have five more students coming for just that free lesson. Well your marketing must be working well on one level in that it is bringing them in, but they aren’t giving you anything in return and will be drawing a lot of attention away from your regular students. So yes, you want to be increasing the number of students at your club but look at this. If you just increase the number of students by 10% (and they are actually paying for the class) then the income increases by 10% and that is good but if you have say, 10 students paying £5 for one class per week over a 10 week period that is an income of £500 (I will keep to nice round figures for simplicity).

There are three things you can do to increase income by 10%, one more student raises income to £550. On the other hand if you put in an extra class every ten weeks, say a Saturday morning special technique class that would add that extra £50 or you could raise the price of classes by 50p and that would be worth £50 over ten weeks. Now combine those and see what happens:
11 students x 11 classes = 121 at £5.50 each is £655 or an increase of over 30%.

Something to think about and remember that if you are making a better return you can provide a better service.

For more information about Graham, please visit:  www.iceandfire.org.  If you found this useful and would like more similar information, please click the “Like” button and leave your comments below.

Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water

Mind Like The Moon (Tsuki No Kokoro)  and Mind Like Water (Mizu No Kokuro) are old Japanese/Chinese phrases which are integrated into Zen and martial arts and are inter-related to each other.  This posting looks at them primarily from a martial arts context.

Starting with Mind Like The Moon, whereas the light of the moon shines on everything below it evenly, so you should see everything when facing an opponent.  Clouds blocking the moonlight are likened to nervousness, fears, doubts and distractions blocking your mental clarity.  By seeing “everything”, I don’t only mean your opponents physical presence; I also include

  • The whole psychological game (how they use words/threats/body language to intimidate)
  • Anything that they may be trying to conceal (weapons, a friend who might jump you from behind)
  • Their intention and the timing of their attack (by their breathing/subtle shift of body weight/slight tensing of some muscles).

The unconscious mind picks up these (and other) tiny signals that the conscious mind often misses; but feeds the information back to us in what we call intuition or instinct, when you just know what is about to happen a fraction before it actually does; even though you don’t really know how you know!

With this intuitive knowledge, you react appropriately and with correct counter for the given situation in a natural instinctive manner, without any thought or intellectual processes being required.  By removing the thought processes, the instinctive reaction is much quicker and more effective, not giving the opponent any chance to respond.

This is Mind Like Water.  When you stick your hand into a stream, the water reacts instantly and appropriately, to continue its path and just goes around your arm.  There is no pause, no hesitation, no having to think to work out the best root.  It just does it naturally and instantly; which is how you should strive to counter any attacks that come at you (as above).

This intuitive state takes you beyond mere physical response.  Martial art forums are full of arguments about which techniques or styles are best, but as long as you have good techniques, the choice of technique/style almost becomes irrelevant compared to the ability to respond intuitively; as if you know what your attacker is about to do before they even actually attack.

But how do you actually achieve this higher state of intuitive mental clarity (mind like the moon/mind like water)?

I have written before about silencing that little voice in your head, you know, the one that always tells you can’t do something.  Going into a fight with that little voice telling you that you’re about to be killed, beaten up, humiliated, is not good (they are mental clouds blocking your “moonlight”).  In fact it can lose you the fight before the first punch is even thrown.

I have expanded on this by writing about  “living in the present“, rather than keep resenting past events or worrying about the future.  Worrying about “this always happens to me” when somebody picks on you is living in the past, whilst worrying about how this is going to hurt and humiliate is thinking in the future.  You need to be very much in the present (the “now”) if you are going to deal with an imminent assault.  This is very much tied in with little voice in your head undermining you (which usually takes you to the past or future).

I would like to expand on this theme even more.  However, I suggest that you read the other two postings first, as this one will make more sense following on.

Our training is geared to getting us into the moment (into the “now”).  Whether sparring or doing a pre-arranged drill, we need to focus and be intensely in that moment.  In most other sports/activities, lack of focus means that we lose a point/goal, etc; but in martial arts it means that we get a smack round the head which hurts.  This makes it more intense and immediate, so it is better to pay very close attention.  Over a period of time we learn to maintain this focus of attention in the present moment.  When we do this, it helps to silence the voice inside out head, hence our own mind stops distracting us.

Even with kata’s/patterns/forms, we should visualise an opponent, which again brings our mind into the present.

Although this process will happen naturally over years of training, I think it helps to know what we are looking for.  It is easier then to find it and to teach it to others.

If you have trouble silencing the voice in your mind, they there are other techniques that you can practice to help you.  As discussed in the first posting (about silencing the voice inside your head), most people can’t hold a positive/happy thought for just 15 seconds without another random thought interrupting.  Practicing holding a positive/happy thought until you can do it for a complete 15 seconds uninterrupted is the first stage to gaining conscious control of your own mind, without the little voice (your own personal nutter) controlling you in a negative way!

Another way is simply to observe your own thoughts without judgement.  No thought stands still, it either takes you forward or holds you back.  So whenever a random thought comes into your head, just ask yourself “is that thought helping me or hurting me”?   For example, when somebody does something stupid like they cut you up in their car or knock your drink over in a bar and you get angry calling them all kinds of expletives, is that helping you?  Not really, you’re just upsetting yourself further.  You wasn’t hurt, your car wasn’t damaged, your drink can be replaced; so what is the profit for you get all emotional and angry about it as well?

Before somebody says, “yeah but it helps you let of steam and get the anger out”; have you considered, why have the steam and the anger in the first place?  Wouldn’t life be better without them?  Wouldn’t you feel happier, more at peace and healthier if you could react without that anger?

Some will dismiss this idea as “that’s just the way I am”.

But it’s not the way you have to be!  By learning to control your mind through silencing that reactive voice, you can change your emotional response to situations that should really be mildly irritating rather than a cause of great anger!  Ever heard the phrase, “learning to fight so that I don’t have to fight”?

Don’t try to stop the these thoughts or  try to control them or judge them.  Just observe as they happen.  The mere process of observation brings them to your conscious attention rather then them just happening automatically and almost unconsciously.  When you consciously observe them, they have less control over you as you can begin to consciously disregard them.  The thoughts and the negative emotions that accompany them then start to dissipate.  This is a process which takes time and will not have instant results.

Now it starts to get a bit weird.  If you are observing these thoughts, who is the real you.  Are you the observer or the thinker?

Does this mean that you have 2 identities, the one thinking these negative thoughts and the one that is observing them?  This were we could go into the realm of serious mental illness . . . . “the voices told me to do it”!!!!

However, it is perfectly normal to have this inner voice, it is only the degree to which we listen to it or let it control us that can become a problem.

OK, the inner voice, for want of a better name is your ego, and is driven by your past experiences.  It only knows what has actually happened in the past, so it assumes that these things will continue to happen as that is all it knows.  This is why people who are unaware of their inner voice are more likely to get stuck in life’s ruts and not be able to move on in life.  Those who learn to silence the voice are more creative, imaginative, intuitive and do better in all aspects of life.

So who/what is the observer?

This is where different people will have different views.  The more spiritually inclined might say that it is your higher self or inner being!  If you are not spiritually inclined, then consider this; we all know that we only consciously use about 10% of our brain capacity.  That leaves a massive 90% that we don’t consciously use.  Imagine the power of the mind if you could tap into that 90%.  How much more could you achieve and be capable of?  That is the part of the mind that you are beginning to bring into play when you start observing your own thoughts and hence over time, silencing them.

Intuition is when our unconscious mind knows something, but our conscious mind has not recognised it.  People who have learnt to silence their mind can tap into this intuition much more readily than those who live in the constant noise their own personal nutter!  Our subconscious mind (higher self/inner being depending on your belief system) cannot communicate with us by thought, it communicates via emotions.  Whether its a nasty gut feeling when somebody offers to help you and you don’t trust them, or a happy feeling when you are offered an opportunity which you have to make a choice about.

Moving meditation (such as kata/forms/patterns) or still meditation (moksu) will take us closer to this intuitive state over a period of time.  Observing our thoughts will help take us to get there more quickly.

The top martial artists seem to have an ability to almost “read somebody” before they even move.  How can they know what attack is coming and prepare for it or counter it, almost before the attack is even launched?  It comes back to that intuition.  It comes back to the unconscious mind detecting those almost unperceivable subtle shifts in the opponents weight, breathing, body tension, etc; which are too small for the conscious mind to register.  But if the mind is quiet, then those unperceivable signals will be detected (mind like the moon) and fed back into an instinctive reflex counter (mind like water), which even the defender is not really aware of how he/she knew what was coming!  It just happened automatically and without thought.

Have you ever had a fight, (whether real or in competition) where afterwards somebody has said, “that was a good ******** that you did there” (where ******** can be any technique at all); and you can’t properly remember doing it?  That is where you’ve switched of the conscious mind, the urgency of the situation has brought you very much into the present moment and the unconscious mind has recognised the tiny signals that give away the attackers intent, and you’ve trusted this intuition enough to let it chose the right counter for you without you having to consciously decide.  Hence you don’t remember what you did not consciously chose to do, even though it was probably one of your best techniques ever!

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Kaizen: Continuous Improvement And Martial Arts

Kaizen is a Japanese concept which basically means “continuous improvement”.  It can be applied to business, engineering, management; in fact, just about anything.  It is a very powerful tool for self development.

The idea is that you take one small area and work on it for a week.  Depending on what field you are working on, it can be something as simple as just smiling more often (which can be good for building business or personal relationships).  By the end of the week, it should have started to become a habit.  Then you pick some other small improvement to focus on.  After a year, you should hopefully have made 52 small improvements.  This obviously all adds up to a very substantial (and very deliberate) overall improvement.

Very interesting you may say, but what has that got to do with martial arts.  Well our grading system is roughly based on just this same principle.  It should not be a surprise then that it was the Japanese that created the coloured belt system which was later copied by the Koreans, Chinese and many others.  Most martial arts have gradings every 3 months though it will vary from style to style.  Although Kaizen looks for a different subject of focus each week, it would obviously be impractical to have gradings every week.  However, the belt system is clearly following the same underlying principle.

Each grade has clearly specified requirements for kata/patterns, basic techniques and sparring (free or pre-arranged) and generally the student will not move on to the next level of training until they have been examined for the current level.  It is a very well defined and structured system that ensures that the student learns the required skills in logical and progressive sequence.

Another powerful tool for self development is goal setting.  Everybody who teaches self development always recommends goal setting as it is a way to focus the mind in order to achieve the best results.  The belt system sets our goals for us.  As soon as we decide that we want to take a grading, we set ourselves the goal to learn the next set of techniques (or combinations), the next kata/pattern, and the next sparring drill.  We also set ourselves the goal learning them to the required standard.

Kaizen is actually a very structured form of goal setting.  The Japanese really took this process very seriously as they rebuilt themselves from the devastation the Second World War to become almost an economic superpower.  The South Koreans who took a similar approach punch well above their weight economically for such a small country.  Yet the principle of Kaizen is intimately ingrained into our martial arts and goes almost unnoticed as we take it for granted.

This is another serious lesson that we can learn from our martial art and take into every area of our lives.  There is nothing in life that cannot be improved by looking for constant small changes and practicing them until they become ingrained, just as we do with martial art training.

Some purists will point out that originally there were no grades in martial arts.  However, martial arts was usually taught secretively in very small groups, with a master and just a few select students.  Those students would normally be motivated by wanting to stay alive if they become involved in a physical conflict (rather than scoring a point or keeping fit, etc).

They were warriors.  Most of us today are not, but that’s OK, we don’t need to be.  Our motivation and mind set is often different to their’s, therefore its reasonable that different things will work for us as worked for them.  Gradings may not be necessary in small motivated groups, but make it much more practical to teach in today’s much larger classes.

It’s a shame that some people just become obsessed with getting a grade and they miss out on learning some of the finer points and applications that are not included in the grading syllabus.  However, they still have to perform the syllabus for their grade to the required level so some standards are still maintained.  There are definitely faults and limitations within the grading system.  There are also many abuses on many different levels, by students and examiners.

But overall, it is a very good system which when you look at it more closely, teaches us a method to live by as well as for learning martial arts.

 

Is Joint Pain Interfering With Your Training? And What Can You Do About It?

It is very important to look after our bodies, especially those of us who put extra duress on our bodies with regular training.  However, many people develop joint problems throughout their martial arts careers and simply assume that it is the price we pay for training and/or getting older.  But although some training methods can be damaging, there are other things that we should look at too as I’ve learned from my own personal experience of consistent knee problems.

Although I’ve had some knee injuries caused by training, my knees actually got a lot worse during an extended period when I was out of training due to domestic issues (very long story).

Did you realise that our feet were not designed to walk on a completely flat surface.  But what do we walk on all day (indoors, at work and on the roads); then go and train on in bare feet?   Yes, flat surfaces!

The reason that our feet have an arch in them is that back in our cave man ancestry our feet were designed to walk on earth, sand, muddy fields and so on, where the foot would sink in slightly and the arch would be supported.  However, without well designed footwear, we often have no support in our arches at all these days.

On average most people take 8,000 – 10,000 steps per day.  This is a high demand on a foot that is not properly supported.  As each foot contains 28 bones, it is not surprising that some thing is going to start moving around.

This lack of support in the arch can often lead to it collapsing.  In itself that is quite innocuous.  However, a collapse arch causes the foot to pronate (most of the foot twists inwards, whilst the heel turns the other way to compensate).  When you walk, as well as your foot going from heel to toe, it also rolls from rear outer edge to front inner edge.   This in turn causes the bones of the legs to re-align in order to compensate (knees tend to turn inwards).  Over a period of time the muscles, tendons and ligaments will actually re-adjust themselves too and take up new positions.  Then when you train, muscles that have become overly strong on one side will start pulling your knee joint to that side, whilst the weakened muscles on the other side are unable to balance it.  Tendons and ligaments that have been pulled out of place will rub against the bones, especially when doing fast kicks or deep stances.

This is what happened to me.  When I first started training again after a long break, I was not sure that I’d be able to continue due to constant pain in my knees.  Fortunately the problem was not too severe in my case.  If left unchecked, pronation can also go on to effect the hips and spin, as they adjust to compensate for the mis-aligned legs.

Women in particular are vulnerable.  I don’t know why, possibly it’s due to woman’s shoe fashions, possible the effects are made worse by carrying extra weight during pregnancy, but I’m guessing here.

So if you think this may be a problem that is affecting you, what can you do about it?

You can start by going to see  an osteopath or chiropractic.  They can check whether or not you are pronating.  If you are, then you may be recommended to use orthotics.  These are inserts which are placed inside the shoes, which support the arch and restrict the heel from rotating.  It is a slow process, but after a while your foot should become accustomed to this new corrected position.  This will of course reverse the procedure described above and the rest of the body will start to realign and correct itself.

orthoticMy knees are still far from perfect, but they have made a very notable improvements due to orthotics.  My ability to kick and go lower in my stances are much better than when I first returned to training.

Being naturally flexible and fastidious about technique, I was noted as a good kicker in my younger days.  But I could hardly kick at all on my return to training.  Now I can kick reasonably well most of the time.  For the first hour of training I usually feel quite good.  Sometimes if I go over that I start to get sore knees, but I am able to train and I know that I’ll be able to for many years to come.  It’s a slow process, but martial arts are for life.  So if you are having joint or back problems which effect your training, then I seriously recommend that you get your structure checked.

Many people turn to supplements when they have a joint problems, but if the the joints are not aligned correctly then you are throwing your money away.  Don’t get me wrong, some supplements can be very good and I use them too.  But the most important thing is to correct the structure first to prevent further damage.  Then you can look to repair the damage that has been done before.

Many people often have to face the stark choice of whether or not they give up the training that they have loved for many years, and it’s a horrible choice to have to make.  I know, I’ve had to consider it; but I always look for a way to solve my problems.   If you know anybody who you think can be helped by this article, then please pass it on to them.  Don’t just assume that it comes with age, because sometimes it doesn’t have to.

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.

Martial Arts: Fighting Spirit Vs Technique

Sometimes you see in martial arts forums and/or magazines, debates on what is most important in training; focusing on pure technique or developing a fierce fighting spirit?  Everybody seems to have an opinion and as the old saying goes . . . . opinions are like a**e holes, everybody has one.

So I though I’d add mine to the mix as well.  Opinion that is.  Obviously both are very important and nobody will get far without a certain amount of both.  However, as for which is most important . . . . . . I would say that depends on what stage of your training you’re at.

For beginners, I would say that more emphasis should be placed on technique.  Good technique is the foundation to traditional martial arts.  It is the basic building block on which all else is built.  People often argue that pure basics are unrealistic in a real fight.  I would agree.  However, when you build a house, the first thing you do is dig a great big hole and fill it in with cement.  This is your foundation.  When the house is built, you don’t actually see the foundation, but without it the house will fall down.

It’s the same with fighting skills.  When you fight or spar you take short cuts and you seldom see pure basics being used, but without good basics the techniques that you do fight or spar with will be limited.

I do think it is good to do some reality based scenario training (see the video’s in my post below) early as well, as that does teach the student tactics to deal with the raw aggression and pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you.  This form of training can yield very quick results, particularly at overcoming any likelihood of “freezing” in a confrontation, so I don’t really feel that you need to do a lot of it.  Also, it should be separate from technique training, at least in the early days.

To learn good techniques takes time and is best learnt in a relaxed environment.  Learning under pressure tends to hard wire results into your brain very quickly, hence bad habits from early training can become hard wired and be difficult to remove later.

However, when the student becomes proficient at their techniques, then you can bit by bit build up the pressure and intensity.  But by this time, there should be a good foundation in place.  This can of course be done through several different methods:

  • Sparring is the most obvious as the student is on the receiving end of random attacks and has to react to them as they happen.
  • Even pre-arranged sparring can be intense.  When you are partnered with somebody who is fast, powerful, accurate and they come in at you with full intent (and you have to wait for them to initiate), it can requires full attention.
  • Kata/patterns/forms or even basics can be used too if you really visualise an opponent in front of you.  The body’s nervous system does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined (that’s why you heartbeat goes up and you jump at a scary movie, even when you brain knows that you’re safely snuggled up on your sofa).
  • More reality based (scenario) training, though now you can involve more technique.

This is particularly good at the approach to 1st Dan, when the balance can shift in favour of emphasising the spirit a bit more than technique.  Throughout the kyu/kup grades the techniques have been emphasised, but when the student goes for their Dan grade, they really need to show that they have the will to fight for it (mentally as well as literally).   It is often said that it is harder to live up to a black belt than it is to earn it, as a black belt is supposed to be courageous, confident and an example to others.   Somebody who folds under pressure (no matter how technically competent) cannot really be held up as an example.

Besides, martial arts are not only there to teach us to take the physical knocks of the Dojo (or even a street fight), they are also supposed to teach us to take the mental and emotional knocks of life itself.  That certainly requires great spirit.

However, as you continue to progress, (especially as you get older), you should learn to relax both physically and mentally under pressure.  This means switching back to focusing more on technique again.  I would say that by the time you’ve passed 2nd Dan or above, you should be accustomed to being place under pressure and rather than continuing to meet it with a “GRRRRRRR” mentality, you should be looking to casually evade, become deceptive, learn how to incapacitate using the least amount of your energy as you can.

Why?

Two reasons.

Firstly, martial arts are a lifetimes study and if you want to keep training as you get older, you need to consider the implications of age.  A lifetime of martial arts does not mean that you the same thing throughout your life.  A martial arts matures as the martial artist matures. Why would people in the 60’s or 70’s want to kick head height?  But without evolving into pure (and softer) technique as we move throughout our lives, then we bring forward our sell by date when we are forced to stop training.

Secondly, its a far more effective and efficient way of fighting, especially against multiple opponents.  A real fight can be exhausting, so using up all your energy fiercely and spiritedly defeating the first guy, just to find that his mates want to have a go too, is not wise.