The Quest For Original Kata – Iain Abernethy

Although this post is primarily referring to Karate, I think a lot of it will also apply to other traditional martial arts that practice kata (forms/patterns) just as much.

Iain Abernethy is a world renowned teacher on the practical application of traditional Karate.  I’ve trained with him several times, found him to be really good at what he does and a really nice approachable guy with no ego at all.  He’s very knowledgable both in terms of practical application, the history of Karate and is a truly inspirational teacher on many levels.

So when Iain talks, people should listen and learn.  Below is a recent video that he made on the Quest For Original Kata.  Iain makes the case that many people often search for the original version of a kata on the assumption that it will contain the most combat effective version of the techniques (being closest to the originating Masters intention).  I will admit to having been a little bit guilty of that myself in the past.

But as Iain points out, as subsequent people have learnt, progressed and become teachers themselves, they might have changed things to improve them.  The old saying holds true, that we sit on the shoulders of giants.  Even the originating Master may have changed it several times him/herself as with anything that anybody produces, we seldom settle for the first draft.

Also, position of a given technique might change depending on whether the practitioner was tall or short.  So functionality does not just depend on it being the original version, but partly on how the given technique relates to the actual individual performing it and their environment.  So without any more ado, lets have a listen to Iain!

Iain makes the point that this thinking of original version is best, probably comes from “3 K thinking” where emphasis is often put more on form of the technique, rather than function.

For non-Karate people, 3 K is:-
Kihon (basics)
Kata (patterns/forms)
Kumite (partner work – prearranged and free fighting)

I’d respectfully like to add a bit to Iain’s reasoning.  Many of us have long since become aware that much of today’s martial arts have been dumbed down.  Many of today’s Masters (especially in Japan and Korea) have only really learnt to fight in competitions, NOT for the street; so their interpretations of kata applications is often seen through the filter of sport fighting.  Therefore they see it all in terms of kicking, striking, blocking; with little regard to throws, locks, takedowns etc.  This is particularly true of Shotokan Karate (which is my primary style so I’m allowed to say it 🙂 )!  But in fairness, I don’t think we’re the only ones guilty of this.

So when people with only competition fighting experience change kata, they often do so without a real understanding of the original combative principles behind that movement.  Furthermore, the kata has been changed to make them more aesthetic for kata competition.  Just watch how slowly some of the competitors perform their kata, some of the functionality is lost just by the enormously long pauses between movements (put in purely for dramatic effect)!

Add to this, that it is alleged that Giching Funakoshi (who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan) stopped teaching throws and locks etc out of respect for Kano Jigoro; who was the founder of Judo.  Kano was high up in the Ministry For Education and his support was very important to Funakoshi.

So taking these factors into account as well, it’s little wonder that people look back to earlier versions of kata.  So my own outlook is that by all means look to earlier versions, but we don’t have to (as Iain says) go back to the very first original version.

The Real Purpose Of Makiwara Training

Gichin Funakoshi on a makiwara

Personally, I like makiwara’s (padded striking post).  And I’m talking about the traditional post type which have a bit of give in them, as opposed to the wall mounted type which generally have no more give than the padding (though they can be good too).  Originally in Okinawa, a traditional “post” type makiwara would have it’s base buried in the ground for stability.  That is not always practical these days as your partner might not like the garden dug over to put a post in and here in the UK the weather isn’t very conducive for training outside much of the time!  I have one bolted to the floor in my loft which is more convenient.
Anyway, some people argue that as a makiwara has so little give in it when you hit it, your striking hand therefore is forced to stop very soon after impact.  So (it is argued) you don’t get the feeling of going through the target as you might when striking a punchbag or focus mitt and therefore you are training yourself to stop short.I respectfully don’t agree as I believe that if you Continue reading “The Real Purpose Of Makiwara Training” »

Interview With Rob Jones, 5th Dan Karate & Founder Of Zenshin Dojo

Rob Jones & wife Kate
Rob Jones with his wife Kate

I first met Rob Jones round abut 2009 (I can’t remember the exact date/year). I’d been out training for number of years due to various domestic reasons and looking to get back into it. With the club that I’d previously been training with closed, I tried a couple of clubs in my area. During that search, I met Rob Jones and his club, Zenshin Dojo.

I didn’t end up training with them permanently as I was looking for a Shotokan club and Zenshin Dojo are Shotokai based. I’ve nothing against any other style of Karate and believe in learning from others; I just wanted to continue with my own primary style which was Shotokan.

However, I found both Rob and his members at Zenshin Dojo to be an extremely friendly group and very good at what they do. We’ve kept in touch over the years, I’ve been included in several of their functions both training seminars and social and I’ve even been invited to give feedback on one his students going for her 3rd Dan.

Continue reading “Interview With Rob Jones, 5th Dan Karate & Founder Of Zenshin Dojo” »

I first met Rob Jones round abut 2009 (I can’t remember the exact date/year). I’d been out training for number of years due to various domestic reasons and looking to get back into it. With the club that I’d previously been training with closed, I tried a couple of clubs in my area. During that search, I met Rob Jones and his club, Zenshin Dojo.

I didn’t end up training with them permanently as I was looking for a Shotokan club and Zenshin Dojo are Shotokai based. I’ve nothing against any other style of Karate and believe in learning from others; I just wanted to continue with my own primary style which was Shotokan.

However, I found both Rob and his members at Zenshin Dojo to be an extremely friendly group and very good at what they do. We’ve kept in touch over the years, I’ve been included in several of their functions both training seminars and social and I’ve even been invited to give feedback on one his students going for her 3rd Dan.

Continue reading “Interview With Rob Jones, 5th Dan Karate & Founder Of Zenshin Dojo” »

A Different Take On Bassai Sho Karate Kata Bunkai

The 2 Bassai katas (patterns/forms), Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho are thought to have been authored be the martial arts genius, Soken Matsumura.  Matsumura was head bodyguard to the King of Okinawa in the mid to late 1800’s.  Bassai is often translated as “storming the fortress”, which is very ironic, as Matsumura being head bodyguard for the King, with most of the official work being conducted in the Shuri Castle, would in fact of been defending the fortress (Shuri Castle) rather than storming it.
Continue reading “A Different Take On Bassai Sho Karate Kata Bunkai” »

Do Traditional Martial Arts Really Work Under Pressure?

This is an old chestnut that keeps going around every now and again; do traditional martial arts really work under pressure in the street?

Many people argue that they don’t, after all, we’ve all heard of a story where a black belt in whatever style ends up getting beaten up by a street fighter.  There are also lots of stories of martial artists, some even quite low grade, who have used their martial arts to successfully defend themselves.  Which story you quote depends on which side of the debate you’re on.

Now when you consider that there are literally millions of people around the world who practice martial arts, just by the law of averages there are bound to be some who are successful in defending themselves and some who are not.  So until somebody can come up with some studies and statistical data (I’m not aware of anybody doing so yet) I think we have to be careful how much we read too much into such stories. Continue reading “Do Traditional Martial Arts Really Work Under Pressure?” »

Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan – Partner To Pad Drill

Brian Bates practising kata
Brian Bates demonstrating Karate kata

I saw this video today and liked it, so I thought I’d share it.

It features Brian Bates, 4th Dan of Zanshin Karate Academy who I’ve had some interaction with via Facebook.  He’s very good at Karate kata practical applications (bunkai) having trained with many of the top kata bunkai experts in the UK and also having a background in Aiki Jujutsu, which gives him considerable extra insights.

This video looks at the Karate kata, Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan.  What’s clever about it, which you don’t often see, is that he demonstrates the applications to the kata movements with a partner, and he also does them with pads so that you practice and hit the target hard at the same time.  So without further ado, here’s Brian’s video: Continue reading “Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan – Partner To Pad Drill” »

Kata Bunkai From Jion Kata

Haven’t done a bunkai video for a while, so here we are taking a look at the opening salutation from Kata Jion (same as Jiin and Jitte),and also quite similar to the salutation or Bassai Dai.

I have to apologise that the battery run out just before the end, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

What Are The Differences Between Karate and Tang Soo Do

As usual with any such comparisons on the differences between styles, we have to accept that all comments are generalisations as there are many styles of Karate and Tang Soo Do, so it’s impossible to make comparisons which hold true for every single style of Karate and every single style of Tang Soo Do.

Also, I have to say that although I have had influences from many different martial arts I am primarily a Karateka and have not Continue reading “What Are The Differences Between Karate and Tang Soo Do” »

How To More Effectively Use Haito Uchi: Ridge Hand Strike (Korean: Sonkal Dung)

A strike that is often not very well explained is the Haito Uchi: Ridge Hand Strike.  Or as it’s known in Taekwondo, Sonkal Dung:  Reverse Knife Hand Strike.  The focus is usually on striking with the hand, making it of limited use under pressure as it requires quite a lot of accuracy and the small bones in the hand can be damaged if they strike the wrong target.

A simple modification to focus on striking with the forearm makes it more powerful, requires less accuracy (very useful under pressure), can be used at multiple ranges, reduces the chances of Continue reading “How To More Effectively Use Haito Uchi: Ridge Hand Strike (Korean: Sonkal Dung)” »