Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka that I know. He runs the Genjitsu Karate Kai, is an author and runs seminars all over the country. Like many of us in traditional martial arts, he had many doubts about the practicality of what he was being taught, so he sought out teachers to fill the gaps. He has trained with some of the top names in the Karate World as well as some of the top experts in reality based martial arts and the psychology of violence outside of Karate. He has re-structured his own training and the syllabus that he teaches, gearing it real life self protection rather than sport or simply to preserve tradition that he did not feel serve any practical purpose (from a self protection point of view).
Iain Abernethy who is world renowned Bunkai expert and author of numerous books and DVD’s, said of Andi: “Andi Kidd is one of the most impressive bunkai teachers I have worked with. His ceaseless exploration of the pragmatic aspects of our tradition have seen him develop a way of approaching kata that is very holistic. Andi is not one to be trapped by dogma, but instead he questions deeply and it is this approach that ensures what he teaches is always focused on the core traditional values of functionality and practicality. It’s not just Andi’s material that sets him apart, it’s also the way in which he delivers that material. Andi is a warm and humorous guy who is able to effectively communicate his thinking. I highly recommend Andi to anyone who wants to practise karate in an logical and open-minded way”.
Andi has recently had his first book published, From Shotokan To The Street. Don’t let the title put you of if you’re not a Shotokan practitioner as it is aimed at helping like minded martial artists of any style who may be interested in making their training more practical.
I asked Andi if he’d do an interview with me and he accepted. The interview, like his book and the rest of his teachings are thought provoking, humorous and honest. So here we go:-
CW: Andi, you have over 25 years experience in the martial arts, was Shotokan Karate your first style? Or did you dabble with other styles first (before you saw the light)?
AK: I first started martial arts training with a friend of a friend who did Lau Gar. We trained in my mum and dad’s front room and had to move the furniture for sparring. We did stupid things like hit the focus mitts till our knuckles bled, you know stupid stuff that young people do that makes them think they are training hard! Then at college my friend said we should start a club and we did, he found a local instructor who would come in, I had no idea what the style was or anything, it just happened to be Shotokan. People generally fall into their martial arts style by luck, beginners don’t know enough about the subject to make an informed choice and that is why instructors need to be honest about what they are teaching.
CW: Since you’ve started Shotokan Karate, what other traditional martial arts have you practiced and how have they influenced your approach to training and teaching Karate?
AK: Practiced or dabbled? There is a huge difference. I have had a few lessons or seminars with a whole host of other arts. The only two that I have played with for more than a year, other than karate of course, are judo and kobujutsu. Judo is obvious, it gave me a much better appreciation of throwing and groundwork. The biggest lesson on the floor was to relax, this really helped! Kobujutsu was fun and helped with my hips, which was interesting after so many years of karate.
Everything I have done has aided my appreciation of karate, you see the same things through a different lens and some things that karate-ka feel are advanced are much more basic in other styles. Having seen some other styles punch, they may well feel the same way. Most of all, training in other styles can be fun and training needs to be fun!
CW: I agree, I’ve trained a few other styles as well and I always feel that I learn more about my Karate from doing so.
From talking to you and from your book, you obviously had serious doubts about the way mainstream Karate was being taught with regard to real world self protection. However, something made you stick with Karate and not give up or change style as so many others have done in order to find “the truth” elsewhere. So what is it about Shotokan that made you stay and stick with it for all those earlier years despite the lingering doubts?
AK: Good question. The early years I figured I didn’t know enough to make a decision so I plugged away assuming that the secrets would come to me eventually. Plus I knew and knew of a lot of karate people who could fight, so it had to work, right? I am also stubborn. Maybe I should have given up and moved on, but I thought there had to be something in it. When I came close I had my own club and I felt guilty about bailing out on them, so I stuck it out. This went on through a couple of cycles!
CW: Can you tell us more specifically what your doubts were about the mainstream approach? I know you could write a whole book on this subject (and you have), but could you give us a summary?
AK: Firstly was ‘could I fight’? Was my training helping? I assumed it was as I traded blows on a regular basis during kumite. I was further encouraged as one guy in the club would only spar with six people as the others he thought were pointless (he was big and a few belts ahead of me) and I was one of the six, so that bolstered my confidence.
I couldn’t see the links between the three K’s. Kata and Kihon (basics), yes, kihon and kumite even to a degree but kumite and kata, what was that all about. We never did kata stuff in kumite yet everyone said kata was the key to karate. I was confused!
Kumite also didn’t look like a real fight, not at all. So would it work in a real fight? I wasn’t sure.
Also shouldn’t we be trying to avoid fights, didn’t Funakoshi say that? Was there any training for this?
It seemed to be a bit like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing and some others from another picture thrown in for good measure.
I wanted to piece it all together and I wanted it to make sense, so I kept digging.
CW: I know what you mean, I used to have similar questions too. Having sought out the teachers to fill the gaps in your knowledge, you’ve adapted your own training and teaching in ways which overcomes these doubts whilst still sticking to a Shotokan framework and syllabus (unlike many who go off and create their own style)! Who were the main influences leading to these changes and what were the main lessons learnt from each of these people respectively?
AK: Wow, how long have we got?
Firstly some people say that I don’t do Shotokan. In my opinion they are right and wrong. My syllabus differs from the majority of Shotokan practitioners but I use the Shotokan kata and use the principles I learnt from my Shotokan days. So I usually say we are a Shotokan base. Does this mean I do Shotokan? Does it really matter? Funakoshi said he didn’t want the style named after him anyway!
As I said above, you can learn stuff from everyone but a few people who put me on the right road are listed below and I am sure I have missed lots so apologies to anyone who I leave out.
Peter Manning of the TSKA helped me sort my basic Shotokan technique, it was also where I first saw bunkai not being taught as an aside every month or so, you could see he’d actually thought about it. He was also totally open in letting me bring in guest instructors to teach for the association.
Vince Morris was one of those teachers. As we know Vince drastically changed the way he taught karate and what he was doing made a lot of sense. I saw that I didn’t have to be trapped in what I was doing and that kata had a meaning. He really helped kick start the transition.
I met Iain Abernethy at Andy Daly’s dojo in Bridgewater and he seemed to have done a great job at working out a plan of how to train bunkai in a logical and progressive manner. I invited him to come and teach at my dojo and he has visited every year since. I went on his instructor’s course and picked his brain, I owe a lot to Iain.
I read Rory Miller’s ‘Meditations on Violence’ not too long after it came out. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but whoever you were, thank you! As soon as I had finished it I recommended it to my fellow instructors and students. This was a whole new perspective and it made so much sense. I started looking into bringing Rory over to teach when I got an email from someone else looking to do the same thing. Rory has visited every year since. Rory has an amazing ability in explaining real violence and putting your training into context.
CW: Yes, I’ve trained with Peter Manning and Iain Abernethy too and was there the last time you had Rory Miller over. All great instructors.
You relate the oriental concept of Zanshin to what modern reality based martial arts refer to as Soft Skills! For those not familiar with this term, could you elaborate for us please?
AK: Zanshin is awareness, avoidance, de-escalation; it’s everything that is not the actual fight. A lot of time there is talk of zanshin but little explanation of what it is and how to train it. Sparing in a crowded dojo is not zanshin training, there is so much more to it. Estimates vary but the fighting part of self-protection is often quoted at being only five percent of the total. Five percent! If that is the case then surely we should be paying more attention to it. Everything needs to be put into context. Legal and ethical implications, types of violence, the freeze. There is so much to look at apart from just the actual act of violence and I think sometimes karate, or indeed any martial art, people miss that.
CW: You said that some people suggest that what you teach “is no longer real Karate”. I personally would say that your approach to teaching Karate is going back more to the Okinawan way of doing things as it has long been established that the Karate taught to the Japanese by the first Okinawan masters was dumbed down for social and political reasons. However, how would you answer this accusation?
AK: It’s pretty simple really, each to their own. You need to look at karate, or whatever you do, and ask a simple question, why am I doing this? If you are doing it for sport, follow that path, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. If you are doing it for fitness or spiritual reasons, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. My main focus for my karate is self-protection, so guess what I try to do. Yep, I read about it. I talk to experts in the field. I experiment. I play. When I say experts in the field I don’t just mean karate, I also mean violence.
The problem is that when you start a martial art you may know what you want but in most cases clubs promise everything. Self-defence, fitness, inner peace, trophies and to be honest that would be great, all in one package, you can have it all. So you go to your nearest club, you don’t know enough to be able to judge. Some years later you may, or may not, find that your club is not teaching what you want, then you have a decision, do you stay or do you go?
Of course there are overlaps and quite large ones but the main failing I see is context. Karate works for self-protection, or can work, it just needs the right context and in my opinion that is what a lot of practitioners lack. I know I did.
So being accused of not doing real karate doesn’t bother me, it is my path and for me it is right. I keep learning, researching and if needs be altering what I am doing. It is not the path for others and that is fine, there is room in karate for many approaches.
CW: Moving on to your new book, From Shotokan to the Street, who is your main target audience and does it include non-Shotokan people?
AK: My main target audience is anyone who has been training for some while and wants to look at their karate from a self-protection point of view. I say karate but it could really be any art. I know the title may limit it but it is indeed for anyone who wants to follow that path.
I have feedback from several non-karate-ka who tell me it is applicable for any art. It is not meant to be a ‘how to’ book but one to make sure you are on the path you want to be on!
CW: Now we’re not just talking another Bunkai book are we, with a lot of kata moves and their applications. Nothing wrong with those books, they’re great; but you’re coming at this from a very different angle and I think you’ve created something quite unique. Please tell us what the reader can expect to gain from your book?
AK: Firstly can I say that bunkai is starting to get some backlash from certain quarters at the moment. We have seen it on the letters page and in articles and you know what, some of that criticism is valid. I don’t want to be labelled in a ‘bunkai’ camp. One of my test readers for my book is a good friend and follows a different karate path to me. He said that he thought that bunkai was a distraction from self-protection and I thought about this for a while and you know what, he could be right. It could be as much a distraction as line work, competition work or anything else really. Bunkai is a tool, a means to an end, part of a process. I think karate people should really be careful about labelling themselves; different approaches bring different things to the party. Know what you want, question, analyse and importantly, be prepared to be wrong and then take your new knowledge and move on. Karate guys shouldn’t be fighting with each other, we can disagree but as my friend says ‘truth before tribalism’.
Sorry for the aside, let’s get back to your question. All I have tried to do in this book is give some direction to people who are at the same stage I was maybe 15 years ago. They have done the line work, know some kata and can spar but find something missing. Again we come back to context. The book isn’t a how to, it’s more a look at your training from your own perspective and asking yourself if you are doing the stuff you need to be to make that training effective.
I want this book to save some people time, it took me a long time to bring all this together from varying sources and I don’t think anyone has written it from a karate perspective before. So if you train karate and are interested in self-protection this may help, I hope!
CW: I see. But despite these changes you’ve introduced to your own teaching/training, I think it is fair to say that you still have a love of traditional Shotokan, its basics and kata etc. Can you comment on this?
AK: People see some of the stuff I do and think that it is divorced from basic club training. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Basics are the fundamental building blocks of how you fight, they include the principles of your style and how to use it. All styles, all martial arts have kihon (basics) in one form or another and getting good at them is essential. Although I must stress that kihon is not always line work. It can be hitting pads, performing locks or throws or ground positions. You cannot be good at karate without solid kihon.
To me karate is kata. You can learn to fight without kata, you can be a great competition fighter, you can be a street brawler, all of this can and has been done without kata. If you drop kata from karate then you aren’t doing karate, you are doing a fighting art, but it isn’t karate. Kata defines karate in my opinion. Everything is based on kata and the lessons it contains.
CW: You’ve been quite open that this book has been a few years in the writing and you’ve been pushed a bit by some of your friends to complete it. Why has it taken you so long and who have been the main influences pushing you to complete it?
AK: The simple answer is that I keep learning new stuff. I got to a stage a few years back when I thought it was nearly done and I was quite happy, then I read ‘Meditations on Violence’ by Rory Miller and I realised I didn’t have the context quite right. So I hosted Rory and read his stuff, which led me to other stuff and then integrating it and making sense of it has taken a few years. My fellow instructors at Genjitsu Karate Kai, Steve and James kept hassling me to finish it as did Rory. In fact if you ask James I think you will find he may have had a wager that it would never come out! I already think that there are bits missing and expansions I could make but that will happen forever so at some point you have to stop. So thanks to all the aforementioned, without you I’d be on draft 782!
CW: I do know that you’re one for continual learning and development as I’ve met you a few times now on seminars with Kris Wilder and Rory Miller. Are there any other particular teachers that you are yearning to train with that you haven’t done so yet? And what would you specifically like to learn from them?
AK: That is a tough one. There are a lot of people who are really good and I’d like to train with loads of them. I am much pickier now than I once was for seminars as time is precious. I have trained with a lot of the people who I admired over the years so this list may be missing notable names!
I’d love to train with Kanazawa as he is a living legend but I’d like a small session as being in a group of hundreds staring out isn’t the way I’d want to do it. Dave Hazard would be awesome, I just keep missing his seminars! Patrick McCarthy is another karate pick as he just has so much knowledge.
Outside of karate I’d like to train with Jamie O’Keefe, he offered me some great advice when I was thinking of bouncing and spent ages on the phone with me when he didn’t know me from Adam. I still haven’t trained with Marc MacYoung and I’ve read loads of his books, so that would be fun. I have wanted to train with Nick Hughes since reading his column in FAI many years ago.
So many people with so much to offer, I have so many more, I could go on forever.
CW: I’ve trained with Dave Hazard and Marc MacYoung, so I can tell you, you will enjoy it! I’ve only trained under you at the Bunkai Bash (sadly I could only make the last day). However, your style of teaching is very relaxed and informal with a lot of humour. I haven’t seen you teach at a club level, but do you feel that the formality with which much of Karate is taught is no longer necessary?
AK: The early clubs I trained with were quite strict. In one of them the instructor wouldn’t even talk to you outside of the dojo, not in the changing area, nothing! I believe that there is a place for humour in the dojo, why not, you learn better when you are enjoying yourself. Adults react to this well I find, although some seem to be seeking either a really militaristic style of teaching or some sort of oriental mystical wise man to teach them. Generally they have been watching too many movies! I like the relaxed style, especially for adults, it doesn’t mean that the training is weak which seems to be a common misconception.
With kids, I like to have fun as well but they need more structure. You can still have fun and laugh but sometimes they need reigning in, although I do have some adults like that!
When I visited Japan I only attended one club for karate and that seemed less disciplined than many I have seen in this country but they had some great karate-ka. I think a lot of people want to be more like the Japanese but don’t know how the Japanese act. Are the Japanese right anyway, as far as I am aware they changed the teaching model from the one in Okinawa.
CW: You’ve answered more of less how I thought you would, your approach is quite similar to my own. You now teach at seminars throughout the country and in particular you organise the very successful annual Bunkai Bash. Can you tell the readers how long you’ve been running this event, what your aims were in creating it and how you select your teachers (as they’re not all Karate-ka are they)?
AK: The Bunkai Bash has now run three times and from feedback this was the best one yet! I planned to do a gasshuku some years back with a couple of friends of mine and it got postponed due to mad cow disease! Some years later I was toying with the idea and so decided to combine it with one of Iain Abernethy’s visits and so the Bunkai Bash was born! The only real aim was to bring together like minded people, train and chill together. So far I have been lucky as everyone seems to get it and the atmosphere is really quite special.
As for teachers, there is, of course, me as well as the other Genjitsu instructors. Year one we had Iain and just other random people I know. I try to change the instructors each year and try to have at least one non karate session, so year one we had Matt Sylvester from TKD, year two we had a problem as the Kung Fu guy coming to teach was injured just before hand. This year we had Garry Smith from Ju-Jitsu.
As long as they have some bearing on reality training I am happy to have a go at anything!
15. Although being known for his book, Practical Taekwondo, I believe Matt Sylvester is also a 3rd Dan at Karate. Do you intend to keep this event going indefinitely each year? And if so, how do you plan to improve the Bunkai Bash next year?
As long as it keeps working well then I’ll keep doing it. It is a lot of work but I get lots of great feedback with some people saying that is one of the highlights of their year! How could I stop doing that!
There is a feedback session going on now and I am gathering ideas for next year. One of the problems with organising any outdoor event in this country is the weather. I’ll be writing to potential Instructors soon and possibly a new venue. Watch this space!
CW: I look forward to attending next year. Separate to teaching Karate, you also teach Self Protection both to individuals and groups, as well as running scenario training. Can you tell us about these seminars, how they differ from mainstream traditional martial arts and how mainstream martial artists can benefit from this training?
AK: That is a lot of questions in one go! So self-protection is, as I talked about earlier, more about soft skills than your fighting ability. When I teach we spend more time on awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and strategies to avoid problems. We talk about the nature and causes of violence and where all of this fits into their world. Of course we have some basic physical techniques but the first course is mostly non-physical. If we can only get people who are physically gifted to look after themselves, then we are doing it wrong.
Scenario training is something I have been planning for a long time but we have only recently got off the ground. This is generally for martial artists who want to put their training to the test as close to reality as we can get. This doesn’t mean it always ends up in a fight, a lot of people seem to think that is what scenario training is, but all your skills are tested, including your zanshin, articulation and judgement. We try to tailor it to the student’s needs so that they get the most out of it, it’s a good day and something that practical martial artists should do more of.
CW: I agree totally, having done a few similar courses myself. It really brings martial arts alive. What are your future plans in terms of building your own school, writing more books and teaching seminars nationally and internationally?
AK: My club is relatively small. That is Ok but who wouldn’t want a couple more students? I had plans for my next book but after a chat with Kris Wilder, I am now possibly thinking of doing something else first. I have plans for a couple of DVD’s and other writing.
I’ve done a few seminars and I really enjoy them, you get different people with different perspectives and different questions, I am hoping that I get to do a lot more as they are great fun!
So just need to keep plodding on, writing, working and training, the next year looks as though it is going to be busy!
CW: Should anybody be interested in having a signed copy of your book or hosting you to teach a seminar, how should they contact you?
AK: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through my website www.andikidd.com it would be great to hear from them! We can discuss what they want and come up with something that will fit their needs!
CW: Thank you very much Andi for an interesting and informative interview. I wish you well with your plans and look forward to training with you again sometime.
I would also like to recommend Andi’s book From Shotokan To The Street, to any martial artist who is serious about real world self protection, not just Shotokan practitioners. It’s available from Amazon, just click on the image below.
Disclosure: The link above is an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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