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.

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” »

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” »

The Bunkai Challenge: Iain Abernethy Vs Jesse Enkamp

This is a light hearted fun challenge from Jesse Enkamp to Iain Abernethy.  The rules are that each of them chooses a movement from any Kata and the other one has to give a practical street application to that movement.

The judges . . . . . well anybody watching the video can put there vote in the comments section (in Youtube) below the video. Continue reading “The Bunkai Challenge: Iain Abernethy Vs Jesse Enkamp” »

Sensei Paul Mitchell’s Karate Kata Bunkai

Sensei Paul Mitchell has uploaded some more videos onto his Youtube channel.  These videos are taken from his recent Practical Shotokan: Beginner To Black Belt Course which covered various aspects of Karate Kata bunkai. Continue reading “Sensei Paul Mitchell’s Karate Kata Bunkai” »