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