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.

Moving Meditation: Kata/Forms/Patterns

It’s often been said that performing Kata/Forms/Patterns (Kata for convenience) is like moving meditation; but what exactly does that mean?

Well first let’s look at meditation then see how performing Kata can be similar. Meditation is a practice which (amongst other things) aims to silence the mind and help focus the intention. There are many variations, but (put very simply) one of the most common methods of meditation is simply to sit and focus all your minds attention on the breath so as to “distract” the mind from other thoughts. With time and practice, you get used to distracting the mind till it gets used to becoming quiet and absent of thought. Continue reading “Moving Meditation: Kata/Forms/Patterns” »

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 Continue reading “Martial Arts: A Mental Rehearsal For Success” »

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what? Continue reading “Kata: Training Beyond Technique” »

Bunkai From Tekki/Naihanchi (Chul Gi) With Cross Reference To Wing Chun

Most Karate systems that evolved from the Okinawan style of Shuri Te tend to use big steps to capitalise on forward body momentum and inertia to transfer impact into the opponent.  As a broad generalisation, this tends to distinguish them from the styles derived from Naha Te and most styles of Kung Fu which prefer the use of circular (or centrifugal) force for generating power.

However, the Tekki kata’s (called Naihanchi in some styles and Chul Gi in Korean) which are still present in many Shuri Te derived styles contradict this forward momentum method in that they are not very mobile and are far more “static”.  Another characteristic of the Tekki kata’s is that they make more use of a punch with the palm facing up as opposed to the usual “cork-screw” punch where the fist ends up facing downwards and the arm is not fully extended.

Tekki is obviously a close quarters fighting kata.  As such a number of its movements are quite close to Wing Chun Kung Fu which specialises in close quarters fighting.  On the surface, Wing Chun and Tekki look quite different, but as usual Keith and I look below the surface and find some similarities which can be used by practitioners of either system. Continue reading “Bunkai From Tekki/Naihanchi (Chul Gi) With Cross Reference To Wing Chun” »

Fighting Dirty With Karate/TKD/TSD’s Most Commonly Used Technique

The most commonly practiced technique in Karate, TKD, TSD and many styles of Kung Fu is Hikite, which is Japanese for pulling the hand back (usually to the hip), and is usually performed in conjunction with a punch, strike or “block”.

Applications for Hikite are usually depicted as grabbing the opponents wrist and pulling them on, whilst the other hand/arm attacks the opponent, either by striking or applying some kind of joint lock/break. You can see this application in some of the video’s below.

However, for this posting I would like to look at other self defence applications for Hikite when the fight get close in and dirty. Continue reading “Fighting Dirty With Karate/TKD/TSD’s Most Commonly Used Technique” »

Bunkai: Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan (Won Hyo, Chum Kiu)

In the clip below, we look at some applications from the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan/Won Hyo.  We don’t say that this is necessarily the best or only interpretations for these moves, it just our take on it.  Although Heian Nidan and Pinan Shodan are in effect the same kata (just named differently in different styles) and Tae Kwon Do’s Won Hyo pattern is closely based on it; Wing Chun’s Chum Kiu is essentially quite different.

However, some of the moves in Chum Kiu quite closely resemble the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan, although is performed quite a  bit more tightly. Continue reading “Bunkai: Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan (Won Hyo, Chum Kiu)” »

Is Kata (Forms/Patterns) Without Realistic Bunkai “Organized Despair”?

Bruce LeeBruce Lee once famously referred to the way that many traditional martial artists train as, “organized despair”.  The full quote is reproduced below for you:

“Instead of facing combat in it’s suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate “fanciness” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat”

So, are our katas/forms/patterns “flowery forms and artificial techniques“? Continue reading “Is Kata (Forms/Patterns) Without Realistic Bunkai “Organized Despair”?” »