Practical Karate for Self Defence


Haiwan Uke Bunkai #1 - posted 22/03/18
I've talked about the origins of haiwan uke. I've talked about its mechanical principles. And I've talked about its tactical principles. Surely its time to look at the bunkai.

Our first application for haiwan uke should come as no surprise. Remember that in our version of the Pinan kata we get into this posture in a slightly different way to other versions. That's a clue as to our introductory application. We move into haiwan uke from a forward stance, sliding the rear foot back and inwards so that it is in line with the front foot as we drop into a straddle stance (shikodachi).

Imagine you have your right foot forward and the attacker throws a big round swing with his right hand. The natural thing to do is to check it with a left rising block. At the same time move the left foot across to the right and turn your hips to the left. This will turn your body side on. Drop into a straddle stance as you do so. The block combined with the stance shift allows you to ride the incoming punch - this can help some of the sting out of a powerful blow. Dropping into the stance also creates the possibility of ducking under the punch and guiding it over your head.

To counter, raise your right fist to uppercut the attacker under the jaw. There are alternatives. If you’re very close the uppercut could become a rising elbow to the jaw instead. If your hand is in a different starting position you could give them a hammerfist to the face. This would feel more like the movement as performed in the major Japanese styles.

All of this MUST happen at the same time. When you're on the inside you haven't got time to block then counter. The attacker's other fist will hit you before you can do that. You must block and counter simultaneously in order to take the initiative away from the attacker.

Tactical Principles in Kata - posted 20/03/18
I often bang on about mechanical principles in kata, but we can find tactical principles expressed in kata too.

Last week I showed 3 different kata moves as possible candidates for the precursor to haiwan uke (as seen in the Pinan/Heian kata). All 3 had something in common, mechanically speaking. The first, from Passai Dai, is very similar to haiwan uke. The next, from Kusanku, a bit less so. And the last one, the double punch from Naihanchi somewhat less so again.

One thing they all have in common is the simple act of raising both arms. There is a clue here to a tactical principle, and it comes in two parts:

"Raise both arms to protect your head; if you can, attack at the same time"

The pictures show 3 applications that employ this principle, for the moves discussed last week. First, from Passai Dai, we see a simultaneous uppercut and rising block. Second, from Kusanku (and also Passai) we see a simultaneous palm-heel and (variation on) rising block. Third, from Naihanchi, we see a simultaneous hammerfist to the head and a further variation of the block. This one is particularly interesting because the attacking arm is also blocking at the same time. Raising the arms and ducking the head slightly creates an excellent cover that is particularly useful against a 'windmilling in' kind of attack.

So while they do have mechanical similarities what really binds them together as a 'family of techniques' is the tactical principle that they share. Let's not forget though that, while practising the kata can reinforce the mechanical principles, it won't do anything in and of itself to help you internalise the tactical principles. For that you will need to practice bunkai and/or some other partner drills specific to that purpose.

Karate History - The Three Kingdoms - posted 19/03/18
Let's start with a bit of background.

In Okinawa a hunter-gatherer culture, relying in large part on seafood, persisted for a long time. Agriculture only took firm hold around the 12th century AD in what is known as the ‘Gusuku’ period. At this time the population began to shift from the seashore to higher ground inland. The gusuku from which the period takes its name were stone structures whose purpose is not always certain. Some were certainly fortifications and later became castles, but others never served that purposes. One theory is that they served some religious or sacred significance.

The tribal groups coalesced into larger groups until they eventually formed the 3 kingdoms: Hokuzan, in the northern part of the island; Chuzan, in the middle; and Nanzan at the southern end. Very little is really known about these 3 kingdoms, its not even clear whether they were genuinely separate or interdependent in some way. There are no Okinawan records of the period to rely on, what we know comes more from Chinese and Korean diplomatic records.

Again, there isn’t really anything meaningful we can glean about the martial arts of this period. We will have to move a little further forward in time to start to learn anything about the development of Okinawan martial arts.

The Origin of Haiwan Uke? - posted 15/03/18
Let's start with a bit of background.

Haiwan-uke is immediately recognisable as the opening move of Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan), but where does it come from? There are several possible candidates from the classical kata.

First off is Passai Dai, specifically the series of double 'punches' just before you turn round at the end. In many styles these are just punches, often one high and one low. In Shotokan this is a highly exaggerated 'C' shaped double punch. In the classical Matsumura version however, these moves are typically performed much more like haiwan-uke. The rear arm does a rising block, the lead arm movement could be seen as an uppercut or an outward block. Its just haiwan-uke in a forward stance. I think this is the most likely origin of the posture we see in the Pinan kata, but there are other possibilities.

The next candidate is the 'mountain block', both arms raised high, as seen at the opening of Kusanku (Kanku Dai) or part way through Passai Dai. Imagine lifting the arms into this symmetrical position then moving them both to one side. You'll come to a point that looks just like haiwan-uke. Not only does it look like the same technique, it feels like it too, ie. its mechanically similar.

Then we have the double punch at the end of Naihanchi Shodan (Tekki). It doesn't feel much like haiwan-uke but imagine being in the Naihanchi position then lifting and rotating both arms so the palms face forwards. This has a lot in common with haiwan-uke, though it does feel a bit different. Most notably, I think, is the fact that the rear hand comes in from the side - this is akin to how some styles do the rear arm motion in haiwan-uke.

These moves are all mechanically different to some extent but they do embody similar tactical principles, which I shall explore next week.

Karate History - Early Okinawa - posted 13/03/18
Let's start with a bit of background.

Karate, as you're most likely aware, originated in Okinawa - not mainland Japan. Okinawa is an archipelago, a chain of about 100 islands (split into 3 distinct geographical groups) stretching between the southern tip of Japan and Taiwan. The largest island by far is Okinawa Island itself. Even that is quite small, about 60 miles long and only a few miles across. But because the other islands are much smaller, and perhaps because of its central location, it has long been the centre of Okinawan politics and culture.

People have lived in the archipelago for tens of thousands of years. They are clearly related to the Chinese and Japanese though they are culturally and genetically distinct from both. Recent genetic studies suggest that the Okinawans have lived in relative isolation for most of their time in the islands.

Given the proximity of both China and Japan, both of these much larger nations have had an impact on the development on Okinawan culture. It should be no surprise then that Okinawa's martial culture owes something to both, along with no small amount of indigenous development. However, we know really know next to nothing about the development of Okinawa's martial arts until really quite recently. Like any other society, there was a longstanding martial culture in Okinawa - the islands experienced plenty of war over the centuries as tribes were consolidated into small states and small states into larger ones. It is this process of gradual consolidation that I will explore in a future post.

Haiwan Uke - Mechanical Principles - posted 12/03/18
The following relates specifically to the way that we perform haiwan-uke in our version of the Pinan kata. There will be common mechanical principles with other versions of haiwan-uke but also some differences too.

The individual arm movements are straightforward enough. The rising block is actually quite a sophisticated movement but, as I’ve previously looked at this in detail, I won’t discuss it further here. The uppercut is a simple enough mechanic, if we consider the arm movement in isolation.

The stance shift, in our version, involves moving from a face on position to side on, dropping into a straddle stance as you do so. This is the key to power generation for the whole technique. Shifting stance and rotating the hips as shown in the photo generates power for the rising block. It also moves the blocking arm away from the incoming limb slightly, thus mediating the impact, even potentially slipping the strike. The same rotation provides power for the uppercut. Dropping into straddle stance can also help to a) duck below the incoming strike slightly and/or b) line the uppercut up for better targeting to the underside of the jaw. Depending on your relative heights this may or not be necessary.

Of course, from the above description, you now have a fairly specific application in mind. Yet the point here is to describe more general principles. But that’s OK, while the example is specific the principles it embodies are fairly general and can actually be applied in a number of ways.

Haiwan Uke - posted 08/03/18
Anyone who has practiced the Pinan/Heian kata will recognise this posture. The name translates as ‘square side block’ – taking into account the usual caveats around the meaning of ‘uke’. What does ‘square side’ mean? I assume (and I could be wrong) that it comes from the shape of the arms as practiced in the major Japanese styles of Shotokan and Wado Ryu. The ‘lead’ arm has a vertical forearm and the ‘rear’ forearm is horizontal.

In these Japanese versions the rear arm sweeps in from the side to reach its final position. I think this is a red herring. If you look at the majority of Okinawan Shorin Ryu styles (and Japanese Shito Ryu) you’ll see it done differently. Here its just a rising block movement, pure and simple. So the arm does not sweep in from the side and the forearm does not finish in a horizontal position.

Similarly the lead arm does not observe the clean lines of the major Japanese versions. Different styles use different end positions, but don’t generally adhere to the Japanese liking for the vertical forearm. Some styles hold the fist side on, but some turn it palm-up so the end result is basically just soto-uke (outward block). Other styles do this as an uppercut movement, rather than a block. This is how I like to do it.

No surprise then that the stance can vary too. The major Japanese styles use a back stance. Okinawan styles tend to use a cat stance or straddle stance. In the Pinan kata I use the straddle stance as it works well with the uppercut. But really, in application the stance can vary according to the needs of the situation. In the context of its position in our version of the kata the feeling is of slipping to the side and dropping down below an attack. This movement powers both the block and the uppercut at the same time.

Karate - Know Your History - posted 07/03/18
Yesterday I touched on the differences between ‘jutsu’ and ‘do’ in martial arts, and in Karate in particular. I find that the majority of Karateka don’t really know much (if anything) about the difference between ‘do’ and ‘jutsu’, and the changes that have occurred to Karate over the years.

We have this image that Karate has been transmitted unaltered down through the ages, from infallible ancient masters. Nothing could be further from the truth! Lets set aside for now the infallibility, or otherwise, of ancient masters. More importantly, just a little digging reveals that dramatic changes have occurred just over recent decades, never mind over the course of a century or more.

Many Karateka don’t even realise that Karate was originally an Okinawan, rather than Japanese art, and that it owes much to earlier Chinese arts.

If we wish to truly understand the nature of our art as we practice it now, we really need to understand something about its history. We need to bear in mind that a martial art develops in a particular social context. The art cannot be properly understood without also understanding something of the society in which it developed. So we need to learn something about the other martial arts of China and Japan, and we need to learn something about the general history of China, Japan and, of course, Okinawa. Only then can we begin to say we’ve got a good understanding of what Karate is all about.

To that end, over the next few months, I shall dip into some of this martial and cultural history, to summarise my understanding of the subject.

Karatedo + Judo ≠ Karatejutsu - posted 05/03/18
Sometimes I worry when I see people practising what they call ‘Karatejutsu’. Sometimes it just looks like they’ve taken some Judo throws and added them to Karatedo. That’s not Karatejutsu! I’m all for borrowing from other arts, but you should take the right techniques, from the right art, for the right reason.

Most ‘do’ arts have one or both of 2 primary aims: a) character development through austere training, and/or b) sport. Contrast this to the aims of older ‘jutsu’ traditions – first and foremost they were about combat effectiveness, by the most reliable, effective and ergonomic means available. These are very different aims. The throws of Judo, for example, were selected/modified to be as safe as possible. They deliberately allow the receiver to breakfall – that way participants can engage in a free exchange of technique with little risk of serious injury. Contrast that idea with the image I’ve used as a background to today’s picture – this throw is designed to prevent a breakfall and instead drop the receiver on their head. This is very much a jutsu throw.

If you combine techniques from 2 ‘do’ arts you don’t get a ‘justu’. What you get is 2 ‘do’ arts mashed together. The result might (or might not) be better for self-defence than either of the original ‘do’ arts, but its still suboptimal for self-defence. If you’re trying to put the ‘jutsu’ back into your Karate this might be a place to start. But its not the best place to start and it certainly isn’t the end of the journey. At best its only the very beginning.

You may or may not be familiar with the symbol ?. It’s the opposite of ‘equals’, it mean ‘is not equal to’. We can conclude then that:

Karatedo + Judo ≠ Karatejutsu

Gyakuzuki Bunkai No. 2 - posted 01/03/18
Gyakuzuki (reverse thrust) is just a punch right? Well mostly yes, although we mustn’t forget what the hikite hand is doing. But even when it is ‘just’ a punch there can still be variation in what part of the arm you use as the impact area. That’s not just about what fist formation you use, you could even strike with the arm rather than the fist.

Here we see an armbar, nothing unusual there. Typically however, I would apply pressure to the triceps tendon with my leading arm, generating power primarily by shifting or switching stance. It feels like gedan-barai (downward sweep). In this case though, I haven’t switched stance, instead I’ve just thrust with my rear arm (supported by the hip of course). It feels just like gyakuzuki, in other words mechanically it IS gyakuzuki. The only real difference is that instead of striking with the fist I’ve actually struck with the distal ulna, ie. the end portion of one of the forearm bones.

The impact of this technique works well to snap the attacker’s arm straight. It works particularly well if their arm is bent with their elbow raised a little. And of course, the hikite (pulling hand) is a vital component. Once the ‘punch’ has extended pressure should then be applied downwards.

From this point I could step forwards and turn it into gedan-barai, using the armbar to drive them to the ground. Or I could pull both hands back towards my right hip to execute gyaku-soto-uke as an elbow drop as shown earlier this week.

Gyaku Soto Uke Bunkai No. 2 - posted 27/02/18
Imagine that you’ve grabbed the attacker’s right wrist with your right hand and managed to blindside them, so that you’re stood to their right. You’ve got your right foot forward and your left hand extended. Typically this might be the case if you’ve just hit them with a left reverse punch, but that’s not the only way to get there.

From this position bring your left hand back and across to your right to meets their tricep tendon. You may need to rotate their arm with your right hand in order to get the correct angle. This is the position show in picture 1.

From this point you could use gedan-barai as an armbar but, on this occasion let’s do things slightly differently. Cut back through their arm with your left ulna, towards your right hip, scraping down their tricep tendon towards the elbow as you do so. Your right arm augments the movement of the left by pulling back on the wrist, to the right hip. This is shown in picture 2. As you can see, done correctly it should force the attacker to bend forwards. This is essentially the chamber position for the gyaku-soto-uke.

In picture 3 we finish off the ‘block’. Slide forwards towards the attacker. Raise the arm and drop the elbow onto the attacker’s back. Keep pulling on their wrist as you do so. The final position of the left arm is exactly the shape of soto-uke, but the path it took to get there is slightly different. There should a hint of tettsui (hammerfist) to the movement, ie. the arm should rotate up and down around the shoulder. Not too much! Just enough, to help you drop your bodyweight into the attacker’s back.

I want to make several further points about this technique but I shall leave those to a further post.

Pinan Shodan Bunkai – Kick, Punch variations - posted 26/02/18
I’ve looked at variations in bunkai for the block-kick sequence in Pinan Shodan. Now for the next piece of the jigsaw, the following punch – gyakuzuki. Specifically we’ll look at the kick-punch combination.

As we’ve seen, there are variations in terms of the kick you can use to follow the block. As a result the attacker can end up in different positions and orientations, at different distances from you. On top of that there is natural variation that you can’t fully control, even though you are holding on to their arm. And of course, how successful your kick is matters a great deal. Ideally you want to knock the attacker down with the kick, perhaps even break their leg. But lets assume that your kick was not wholly successful. It should be no surprise that you may have to pick some different targets to strike as a follow-up. There are a number of variations, here are some of the most commons ones. Note that in each case you still keep hold of their arm, in order to constrain their movements. This is the essence of hikite.

In the top right picture the attacker has stayed upright. So the side of the face (temple, jaw) is an obvious target. As its relatively flat its much safer (for my hand) than striking to the front of the face. In the photo I’ve actually punched to the rear of the jaw, underneath the ear.

In the bottom left picture the attacker has bent forwards. This has exposed the back of his head to attack. I’ve avoided striking the back of his neck, that would be very dangerous. Instead I’ve struck the occiput off to one side, between trapezius and sternomastoid muscles.

Finally, at a similar angle but closer in, I’ve used my elbow to the same point– it may not be gyakuzuki, but the overall body dynamic is the same.

Pinan Shodan Bunkai – Block, Kick variations - posted 22/02/18
The pictures show applications of the rear hand outward block (gyaku-soto-uke) and kick (mae-geri) from Pinan Shodan.

In blocking I’ve slipped past the punch and moved forwards slightly to the outside of the attacker. In doing so my right arm applies pressure inwards and upwards to the punching arm. This is a relatively subtle but important point. It makes it somewhat harder for the attacker to immediately continue with a punch from the other hand, and creates a window of opportunity for me to follow through with a kick.

The kicks shown demonstrate the Karate-jutsu principles of avoiding athletically demanding techniques and of attacking vulnerable areas. These are not kicks for the purpose of sport or character development. Which kick I choose to follow up with depends primarily on our relative positions and distance. Which foot the attacker has forwards also has an impact on my choice of kick. In the example(s) shown we’re assuming that the attacker is punching with their right hand but their left foot forwards.

The top right picture shows a knee strike to the nearest thigh. The bottom left show a toe-tip front snap kick. This can be aimed to the groin or, as shown in the picture, the opposite inner thigh. Bottom right is a front stamp kick to the inner thigh. With this kick in particular take care if you practice it with a partner. It is intended to break the thigh or dislocate the knee – only practice it under controlled circumstances – not free sparring!

With all these kicks the main intention is to break the attacker’s balance so that we maintain the initiative. The knee or the stamp can easily knock them down. Secondarily to that aim of course, the dysfunction caused by stamping on the leg or, less likely, the pain of the kick to the groin could be a fight finisher in itself.

From Seisan to Pinan? - posted 20/02/18
I’ve been ruminating over this sequence in Pinan Daikou (outward block, kick, punch, outward block) for a couple of weeks now. I’ve copied the whole thing from Pinan Shodan to my amalgamated Pinan Daikou. But where did it come from before Pinan Shodan?

Kick-punch seems a pretty standard combination in Karate, but actually its practiced here quite differently to how we see it in the classical (pre-Pinan) kata. Here we kick with the rear foot, put it down in front, then follow with gyakuzuki (reverse punch). That’s different to the classical kata. In those we often see kick-punch with the kicking foot placed back down at the rear, so the gyakuzuki is done on the same side as the kick (eg. Seisan or Gojushiho/Useishi). Or the stance is neutral before and after the kick (which itself is nami-gaeshi - returning wave kick, as in Passai). Nowhere does it appear quite as in Pinan Shodan.

Perhaps there’s a clue in the following technique, the outward block with the rear hand. In the first line of Seisan we have ‘block, step, punch, block’ rather than ‘block, kick, punch, block’, but otherwise it’s the same thing. Generally speaking, practitioners of Matsumura Shorin Ryu consider a step in kata to be interchangeable with a kick, ie. ‘every step can be a kick’. From this perspective the two sequences are just the same. So, for my money, I think this is where the sequence originated.

Gyaku Soto Uke – Version 2 - posted 19/02/18
When I reworked the 5 Pinan kata into one new version, known as Pinan Daikou, I had several aims in mind. One was that every technique should be done on both sides of the body but, other than that, there should be no repetition. It may at first appear that I’ve broken my own rule here, but that’s not quite true.

This is the next movement of the kata, after the kick-punch combination. It is in fact slightly different to the previous gyaku-soto-uke, in 2 ways. The first is trivial - in the only already shown you turn in to the technique. The other difference is more important. The first version utilises both arms in the standard manner for Karate ‘blocks’. The arms cross then one goes back to the hip in hikite while the other completes the ‘block’. The second version is different in that the supporting arm is already chambered at the hip and doesn’t move anywhere. Only the ‘active’ arm moves. At the same time the hips turn a little more into the technique.

If you’re familiar with Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan) you will already have noticed that this and the previous 3 movements (outward block, kick and punch) are copied as is (ie. in sequence) from that kata. And why not? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My main issue with the layout of the Pinan’s is that it’s ritualistic rather than practical in nature, but I don’t see that issue with this sequence of 4 movements. So I’ve incorporated the sequence as is. You might fairly ask the question: where does the sequence, or the individual moves, come from in the first place? I will examine that question tomorrow.

Talk With Your Hands - posted 15/02/18
Recently I’ve discussed the use of the guard, when talking to aggressors or potential assailants. That’s really useful in itself but you need to do more than just hold your hands in a static position. Remember that, at the verbal stage, you’re still in a social situation – not a fight. Humans generally don’t hold their hands stationary in front of themselves while talking to each other. To do so, for more than a few seconds, would look very odd. Its going to draw attention and potentially inflame the situation – not as much as standing in a ‘fighting stance’ but moving in that direction.

So what do we do instead? We talk with our hands. We put our hands in a guard but then use them to gesture with, to accentuate what we’re saying. The movements should be relatively small for two reasons. For one thing, if we move the hands too far away from the basic guard position it begins to lose its defensive capability. Equally importantly, we don’t want to gesticulate wildly – that would serve to inflame the situation, not calm it down. Using the hands in this way can be an immensely powerful tool. There are so many nuances we can communicate simply by the angle we hold our hands at and how we coordinate the movements with our speech.

The process should feel natural however. Its very, very difficult to deliberately control your own gestures consciously without it looking artificial. Trying to do so can make look like a politician – the body language jars on the psyche of the viewer, the discord between what you’re saying and what your body language is saying does nothing to help the situation. So try to stay calm and confident, and just let your natural body language communicate that, without too much conscious control.

This is not rocket science but, even so, you need to practice it in order to get good at it.

Kick Punch Combination - posted 13/02/18
The next move in Pinan Daikou is the mae-geri, gyaku-zuki combination from Pinan Shodan. For many Karate styles this is also a regular feature of kihon practice.

The way I execute this combination has two main influences. The first is the way I learned it in Wado Ryu as a kid. This forms the overall shape for the technique. However, the kick is performed in the standard manner of Matsumura Shorin Ryu, as follows…

Photo 1 – Following the previous technique (gyaku-soto-uke) simply pivot the front foot, from pointing in to pointing out. This is in preparation for the kick.

Photo 2 – The kick itself, as noted above, is not a standard Karate-do front kick. It is a snap kick, with no hint of thrusting the hip at all. It is aimed low about knee height or just a little above. The toes are not curled back to expose the ball of the foot. Instead they are held straight in order strike with the toe-tips. Finally the ankle is held at a right angle, to present the toe-tips in the correct orientation.

Photo 3 – The act of putting the foot down is pure Wado Ryu. It is put down in front, in order to step forwards, with the toes turned in and no weight commitment.

Photo 4 – Only once we feel our footing is secure is the punch executed. The hip turns and the rear leg (nearly) straightens so that we get a combined power generation effect of hip twist and moving the centre of gravity forwards. The front foot being turned in acts as a brake, preventing excessive hip rotation, and the loss of power and stability that would accompany that.

Gyaku Soto Uke Bunkai #1 - posted 12/02/18
This is really our ‘go to’ application for soto-uke. It doesn’t matter too much which foot you’ve got forwards. We’ve seen this technique before, both when I’ve described tegumi and the switching principle. So here goes…

Photo 1 - the attacker throws a left straight(ish) punch. I intercept from the outside with my right hand.

Photo 2 – I start to press the incoming limb across to my left. At the same time I raise my left hand up underneath my right and start to push the attacker’s arm up and across with my supinated (palm-up) forearm. This is the essence of soto-uke, the switch as the arms cross over. It enables me both to control the attacker’s arm and to switch completely to their outside.

Photo 3 – Soto-uke has been and gone. Now I’ve moved on to maintain control in order to counterattack.

Wait a minute I hear you say! Photo 3 doesn’t look like soto-uke! Well like I said, the soto-uke had served its purpose the moment I successfully switched to my left arm controlling (between photos 2 & 3). This is where the ‘magic’ happened. There was no need to hang around at the end of the movement with my arm supinated waiting for a photographer to pass by. I’ve moved straight on to pronating my arm (rolling the forearm palm-down) in order to keep control and press home my advantage.

You may also complain that my right hand hasn’t ended up in hikite at my hip. Well in this application there’s no need to. Between photos 2 & 3 my right hand has retracted but, as its not holding anything, it’s only gone as far as it needed to, ie. into a guard position. Moving further than that would be tactically unsound. Of course, there are other applications that require a full hikite. We’ll look at some of those in the coming weeks.

Origin of Gyaku Soto Uke? - posted 08/02/18
I subscribe to the idea that the Pinan kata were put together from different kata that already existed in the Shorin Ryu / Shuri-te tradition. Given that, you should be able find each technique in earlier kata. How about the Gyaku Soto Uke I described on Tuesday, where you turn from right to left before executing the ‘block’.

If you’re familiar with Bassai Dai you might be tempted to think of the 3 outward blocks that occur early in the kata. But I think that’s a red herring, as I believe those blocks to be a relatively modern alteration. If you look at the Matsumura version of the kata you don’t see these blocks. And if you look at Ankoh Itosu’s version (as preserved by Chosin Chibana) you don’t see them there either. In these older versions what you tend to see is open handed sweeping movements of the arm, often with the other hand held in some sort of guard (as opposed to at the hip). So I think that Gichin Funakoshi introduced the standard inward and outward blocks at this point in the kata, as part of his self-confessed process of simplification.

That said, I do think that Bassai Dai is the right place to look. Think of the end part of the kata, where you do 3 double punches then turn round into a wide stance with a low outward block. This is, I think, where the Pinan version comes from. You’ve got the turn (in Bassai its 180 degrees and in Pinan just 45). But this is a low block I hear you say, not the same thing at all. However, if you go back to the earlier Matsumura version its not low at all. I think the Matsumura Passai is the original in this case, a more generic version of a particular principle. And the corresponding movements in both Pinan Shodan and Bassai Dai are both derivative of that earlier version. Which may give you food for thought when thinking about application.

Gyaku Soto Uke - posted 06/02/18
Last year I described the techniques in section 1 of our Pinan Daikou kata. Now on to section 2. This section consists mostly of techniques from Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan) but also 1 move from Pinan Sandan. Section 2 carries straight on from the end of Section 1.

The first move, Gyaku Soto Uke, is really just an ‘outward block’ (soto-uke). So I won’t review the mechanics of the arm movements. ‘Gyaku’ indicates that its done in reverse, ie. it’s the rear hand that executes the ‘blocking’ motion while the lead hand executes hikite (pulling hand). The other point of note is that the technique starts by sliding the lead leg, followed by the body, across to the leading side. So if you’re left leg forward then you’ll slide to the left. In our version we follow the Wado Ryu approach that I learned as a child, in that the stance is a little shorter and wider than zenkutsudachi (forward stance) with the front foot turned In slightly.

In Pinan Shodan you change direction from South-West to South (relative to the embusen of the kata). In our version there’s no change in direction as such. But as you start in a straddle stance and change to a (shortened) forward stance then you still have to slide the front foot across and turn the stance and hips through 90 degrees.

The Guard Position - posted 05/02/18
The picture shows the standard Shinseido kamae, or guard position. It’s not a fighting stance. Our aim is to dissuade an aggressor from attacking in the first place, but to be ready in case they do. The guard achieves all this while being socially acceptable. It is the perfect combination of de-escalation and readiness.

If you have read anything by the author, martial artist and ex-bouncer Geoff Thompson you’ll recognise the guard as Geoff’s ‘fence’. This is absolutely true, although I didn’t learn it from Geoff. I worked it out for myself, through my own experiences as a bouncer. When I began training in Shinseido Shorin Ryu I also learned the same thing from my sensei, Roger Sheldon. He too had worked the same thing out for himself, largely through his work teaching aggression management skills to National Health Service and Social Services staff.

I think this provides useful validation, when 3 different martial artists with different experiences come to basically the same conclusion – that you to have to have your hands up and posture ready BEFORE the violence starts, or you’ll get caught out. I’m sure none of us were the first to discover it, and that others will discover it for themselves in the future.

There are some differences between Geoff’s fence and our guard. These are about mindset rather than the posture itself. If I remember correctly, Geoff ‘put a fence around his factory’, if someone touched his fence 3 times then he’d feel free to hit them. In Shinseido we take a more tactile approach. We’re happy to get hands on, we can use muchimi (sticking) to control the aggressor, we may even be able to use tactile body language to calm them down. And that has to be a worthy goal – to prevent violence happening in the first place.

Get Ready! - posted 01/02/18
Last week I talked about the difficulties martial artists experience when faced with confrontation. Principally, when does the fight start? As tension mounts, the martial artist wants to drop into their fighting stance in order to be ready. But they intuitively understand that to do so would probably be the trigger that instigates the violence. So they stand frozen in action, then quite likely end up on the receiving end of the first blow.

Take a look at the fighting stances in the picture. There’s Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo. They all share common features. They all have both hands raised in a guard. They all have one foot forward and knees bent. These are important features – the stance gives you a degree of manoeuvrability and stability, the raised guard makes it easier to attack or defend. Now look at these stances from the point of view of body language. The postures (what the body and legs are doing) and the gestures (what the arms and head are doing) all say “Fight Me!” No wonder it doesn’t feel right dropping into fighting stance whenever we feel a potential threat.

What’s needed here is a combination of posture & gesture that doesn’t say “Fight Me”, but still gives the same benefits in terms of its defensive and offensive potential. The answer is quite simple, and you see it in the 4th picture. The Shinseido ‘guard’ or ‘ready’ position has the same basic benefits as the others shown, but it gives a very different body language message. It says “Calm down”. Unlike the others, this is a stance you could use in conversation at the bus stop, the library, the pub or wherever, without feeling that you were antagonising the situation. And that is its simple beauty.

Tsukami Tegumi Waza (part 2) - posted 30/01/18
Yesterday I described the content & rationale of our set of Tsukami Tegumi exercises, today I want to explore that a little further.

The point of these exercises isn’t to be clever, to show how well you can string a whole series of techniques together. I’ve seen plenty of flow drills, for example, that do exactly that. The point here is to give you options.

Firstly, having delivered your ‘finishing’ blow you may find that you haven’t finished it all. Or the finishing throw may have been less than ‘final’. You want to be able to carry on, continuing to erode the enemy’s ability to attack or defend. You don’t want to get stuck, thinking “where do I go from here”. These exercises give you those options, avoiding not knowing what to do next.

Secondly, they help you to progressively weaken the enemy’s position. First they’re standing, then unbalanced, then on the ground, then pinned. At each stage things get more difficult for them and easier for you.

Thirdly, they give you options for different levels of severity. You may not want to strike as hard as you can, but prefer to execute a takedown instead. Or you may not want to break their wrist with a joint-lock, but instead use it to take them down to the ground.

Finally, you want the choice of how to exit from an encounter. You might just want to strike hard and exit the scene as quickly as possible. Or you may want to restrain the attacker with a joint-lock. Or use it to take them down before exiting. Or you may want to pin them to await the arrival of the police. Those choices should be yours, not driven by whichever technique it was that you pulled out of the hat. These exercises help you to develop the skills to make all those choices, as appropriate to the situation.

Tsukami Tegumi Waza - posted 29/01/18
When I started Karate it was a striking art. There was the odd takedown but no joint-locks or pins. Later I learned about more realistic bunkai and the older Okinawan methods. This introduced me to joint-locks & more work on takedowns. Dabbling in Ju-jutsu & Aiki arts added more joint-locks & throws & even pins to my portfolio.

That was great. But I wasn’t so great at joining all these things together. Through lots of tegumi I’d learnt not just to block a punch but to catch it as well. But the joint-locks I’d learned often worked best from a grab, or perhaps a ritualised unrealistic strike. I could do takedowns from some joint-locks but not others. I could turn some takedowns into pins, but not others. It was all disjointed. I needed to learn how to flow from one thing to another, effectively & without hesitation.

Then it occurred to me. I would create a series of exercises which involved each of the above types of technique in appropriate sequences. First the block and catch; then strikes, a joint-lock, a takedown & finally a pin. Each technique would set up the next appropriately.

But which joint-locks to use? The choice was easy, I would start with the 10 joint-locks & holds from the Shinseido Tsukami Waza (Holding Exercise). I’d practice each of these within the context of tegumi, so it seemed logical to call the end result ‘Tsukami Tegumi Waza’. Of course then I had to find the right combinations of takedowns & pins to follow on with.

Let’s be pragmatic, not dogmatic. Sometimes the sequence can vary, a joint-lock after a takedown perhaps. Strikes can be sprinkled liberally throughout. Remember that the point is to defeat the attacker asap. You want the strikes to finish it, but if not you can carry on to the joint-lock, and so on and so on.

When Do Fights Start? - posted 23/01/18
I don’t mean what time of day do they start. I mean at what point in a confrontation does it change from verbal altercation to physical violence?

I’ve observed that many martial artists, at least those who do stand-up striking arts, have great difficulty in working out when a fight actually starts. Is it when the first punch is thrown? Is it when the aggressor shoves, prods or grabs you? Is it when they raise their hand threateningly or when simply when they come into striking range? Is it when the call your mother a ‘*&£%$^’?

The problem is that in most training fights start at a mutually agreed distance, when the referee says “Hajime!”. No matter how well that may prepare you in terms of fighting skills it doesn’t teach you how to handle the transition from verbal confrontation to violence. During the confrontation stage the martial artist may feel the urge to go into their fighting stance, possibly even moving back to get to their preferred range. But they correctly intuit that this would likely be very provocative, probably precipitating the violence that they’re seeking to avoid. Instead they become frozen into inaction, not knowing what to do or when to do it. Then suddenly a fist is flying towards their face, their guard is down and its too close to block. The fight has started and their invitation has arrived late.

This is not a great place to be. Martial artists have lost fights simply because they were backfooted at the very start of the affair. How do we prevent this situation? By recognising that fights happen in the context of a social interaction and learning to better handle that interaction. By better managing that transition from posturing to actual violence. And that of course is a subject of another post.

Tsukami Waza - Holding Exercise - posted 22/01/18
Over the last couple of months I’ve gone through a number of joint-locks and holds. These form our Tsukami-waza, or ‘holding exercise’. Most, but not all, of the techniques are joint-locks. A couple are simply holds, designed to restrain a person who isn’t trying to hurt you but poses a risk to you, themselves, or others. The idea in this exercise is to go through the locks and holds in sequence, smoothly from one to the next. This achieves two goals: a) to remember and practice the individual techniques themselves, and b) to practice the skill of moving from one lock/hold to another. Its important to be able to move from one position to another both smoothly and maintaining control throughout. Practising this will both test and refine your core skills of muchimi (sticking) and kuzushi (unbalancing).

Having said the above, we don’t envisage that in reality you will necessarily transition through the techniques in the sequence shown by the exercise, its just a matter of learning the general principles involved. The transitions themselves can be initiated by uke (receiver) or tori (giver), they can also be helped along by atemi (striking) or some other unbalancing/distracting manoeuvre. It just depends on each transition, there are many possibilities beyond those that are incorporated into the exercise.

Finally, for completeness, here is a list of the individual techniques in sequence:

  1. Armpit arm bar
  2. Wrist reversal
  3. Passive shoulder hold
  4. Passive arm hold
  5. Inverted arm bar
  6. Front shoulder hold
  7. Goose neck
  8. Arm bar
  9. Inverted wrist reversal
  10. Rear shoulder hold

Meet One Armed Bob! - posted 18/01/18
I’ve had Bob (the anatomically correct punch bag) for years, but suddenly he’s grown an arm. Well I say ‘grown’, I confess I helped a bit.

As you can see from the picture, with the arm he’s useful for practising basic principles like pull/push (punch/hikite). But it’s actually useful for practising all manner of variations of muchimi (sticking), a critical skill in Karate. It’s also useful for practising joint locks. To be fair, the more you understand the anatomy of the arm the more I suspect you’ll get out of working joint locks with Bob and his arm, on the basis that you’ll be better able to imagine manipulating the arm’s anatomy. I find it very useful that the arm ‘flares out’ at the wrist and the elbow just as occurs in a real human arm, courtesy of the knots that form those ‘joints’.

Clearly then I’m finding Bob’s new arm a useful training tool, but perhaps the best bit is the price. It cost me £2 to make, that was the price of the plumbing tube. The only other ‘ingredients’ were a couple of old Karate belts I had lying around. Just cut the tube in half, tie the belts together (that knot forms the elbow), add a couple more strategically placed knots, and Bob’s your uncle – or rather your one-armed training partner.

Heavy Hands - posted 16/01/18
Following on from my discussion about the negative effect of kime on force generation…what would happen if we removed the kime? If we do so during impact then more force will be absorbed by the target, which would decelerate our fist til it came to rest. Great! But what if we missed? A linear punch would inevitably come to an end at the moment when the elbow reaches maximum extension, stretching the tendons, ligaments & fascia that connect to the elbow. Not so great! Done repeatedly this will cause a hyperextension injury.

So we must impose some deceleration in order to avoid injury (on those occasions when the punch doesn't connect). I suggest that the amount is a lot less than is required for an 'aesthetically pleasing' kime.

How would a punch with reduced kime feel? More relaxed for a start. Some muscles will tense just as much, others less so, some perhaps not at all. It should feel as if you're cutting through the target rather than hitting it. It should also have a distinctive feeling at the end of the motion, as of a weight continuing to press on to the target. For this reason this way of striking is sometimes called 'Heavy Hands' in Chinese arts.

Ankoh Azata told Funakoshi to "think of your arms and legs as swords". Shigeru Egami echoed the same sentiment: "Practice as if your blow will pierce through your opponent…". So think of cutting or piercing, rather than striking.

In martial arts sometimes we overcomplicate things. A non-martial artist friend read my earlier post on this subject and said something like "Oh, it's like when you hit a tennis ball and follow through". Yes, I thought, that's exactly what it's like!

Rear Shoulder Lock - posted 15/01/18
This is the 10th and final technique in our grappling flow drill. It is a common hold used in many cultures, not just oriental martial arts. Here in the UK it is often called the ‘arm behind back’ or policeman’s hold.

The hold itself is straightforward enough. The arm is bent and pressed behind the back – the elbow is pressed across towards the other side of the back and hand is pushed up the spine. In our variation we’re adding a kote-gaeshi style wrist lock, which makes it more difficult for the person to push their hand back down again.

There are of course numerous variations on how to get into this position. One alternative I like is not to hold with both arms but instead to use one arm as a lever, going under the forearm and over the upper, acting as lever on both parts of the arm at the same time. A number of Japanese arts would call this ude-garame, literally meaning ‘arm entanglement’ – this can be a bit confusing though as there are other arm entanglements going by the same name that work in completely different ways.

The Trouble with Kime (part 2) - posted 11/01/18
Last week I wrote about the negative effect that kime has on generation of force in karate techniques. I argued that kime involves a deliberate and rapid deceleration that occurs during the impact phase of, say, a punch. Newton's 2nd Law tells us that this will reduce the overall force applied by the punch.

It shouldn’t matter what authority I have to make such a radical statement – the argument should stand or fall on its own merits. However, I can understand many karateka might think “well, what does he know”. So let’s re-examine what someone with a bit more gravitas than myself said on the subject – that is Shigeru Egami, arguably Gichin Funakoshi’s top student.

In the 1950s Egami came to believe that the way he’d previously learnt to punch was ineffective. He felt that “concentrating power”, ie. lots of muscular tension (kime), was actually counter-productive. To test this he allowed numerous other karateka to punch him full force in the abdomen. In his words:

“…I thought that this way of striking was not really effective. And this was true, even with karateka who had been practising on the striking post (makiwara) for 6 or 8 years. Because of putting too much power in the wrist, elbow and shoulder, the blows … were already weakened considerably, and I felt no pain whatsoever. Moreover, the greater the concentration and the faster the blow, the greater was the impact on the wrist, which could result in a broken wrist.”

Egami developed a much more relaxed way of punching, which he contrasted with the “stiff, Pinocchio-like movements” that he’d previously learned. He felt “the movement must not be impeded due to tenseness or rigidity”.

So how do we strike in a relaxed way yet generate more force? Some people call this striking with ‘heavy hands’, which I will look at next week.

Reverse Wrist Lock - posted 09/01/18
This is the 9th technique in our grappling flow drill. Its quite a simple wrist lock. The arm is rolled over so that the tip of the elbow is uppermost then the hand is pressed back towards the elbow – this is hyperflexion on the inverted wrist. Ideally the arm should be fully extended at this point.

This is the position shown in the photo. From here you could do a couple of different things. Continuing to draw your own body back should keep the arm extended. You might be able to take the person to the ground with this, it just depends on their wrist flexibility. Alternatively, pressing forwards while rotating their hand outwards may take them down in the opposite direction. To do this press their forefinger knuckle on a line that passes their head. But this could result in their arm bending at the elbow and you losing control of the lock. Personally I often like to transition to a combination wrist-lock / armbar, which gives me an improved level of control.

Walter Seaton - posted 08/01/18
I learned the other day that my first Sensei, Walter Seaton, had passed away. It was actually old news, he died over a year ago but I’ve only just heard about it. I shouldn’t feel sad, he did after all lead a long and – as far as I’m aware – healthy life. Still, I did feel a little sad and the news made me reminisce about my early training days.

I started training with Water Seaton in Wado Ryu Karate in 1977 or 1978. My brother wanted to start, being inspired by ‘Kung Fu’ starring David Carradine. I knew in my heart that if my brother, 4 years older than me, was doing Karate then I’d best have a go too – that or become his daily practice punchbag! At that time Walter didn’t take students under the age of 14. I was the first, just because my mam knew his mam and had a word with him. She convinced him to take us both on. As it turned out my brother stopped quite quickly, but I kept going, for a while anyway.

In truth I was an indifferent student. I remember the training being quite hard, it wasn’t ‘kiddi-karate’. I remember warming up by running barefoot round the grit football pitch outside. I remember many, many knuckle press-ups. I especially remember being the only child in the class on a regular basis. Most of all I remember being amazed by Sensei’s precision and dynamism.

The Karate I do now is a long way from Wado Ryu, but those early experiences left a lasting impression. There’s still a kernel of Wado buried deep within me – in particular some of the inner circular stances and the Wado emphasis on powering simultaneous evasion, block & counter all from the same hip movement. More than anything though, I never get phased by the size of an opponent – thanks to all those sessions in which I was the only kid.

Thank you Sensei, and rest in peace.

The Physics of Impact … or … The Trouble with Kime - posted 04/01/18
Last month I wrote about the physics of impact. I discussed how the force a projectile imparts to a target is equal to the force that the target imparts to the projectile. Further, the force has 2 components: a) the force required to overcome the momentum of the projectile (at the moment of impact), and b) the force required to overcome the acceleration of the projectile (during the impact phase). Let’s call these forces A and B.

I gave some simple examples: a) a cannonball (has momentum but no acceleration at the moment of impact) and b) a push (has acceleration during the impact phase but starts with zero momentum). Typically a punch is composed of some combination of these forces, the proportions varying depending on the type of punch. If we call the total force generated F, then:

F = A + B

Now for the heresy. Lets think about a feature of typical Karate punches – kime. Kime is a deliberate contraction of a range of muscles throughout the body, coordinated with the breath and designed to produce a sharp snap at the end of the punch. This contraction brings the punch to a rapid and definite stop, in other words it decelerates the punch. Wait a minute! Isn’t deceleration the opposite of what we want to achieve? Yes, we’ve already seen that the more we accelerate during impact, the more force produced. Anything that reduces the acceleration inevitably reduces the force. If we call the force produced by this deceleration C then we can rewrite the above formula as

F = A + B – C

So introducing kime actually reduces the force produced! Punches with kime look and feel powerful but would actually have more effect if it were removed. I realise that some will not find this a palatable conclusion, so I shall explore it in more detail next week.

Standard Armbar - posted 02/01/18
This is the 8th technique in our grappling flow drill, although it is actually the first joint lock that students in our dojo learn. In my opinion, this is a fundamental technique in classical Karate.

Armbars are popular in a number of different arts and always, by definition, involve hyperextending the elbow joint. Looking at the photo though, this version is obviously quite different to the armbar as seen in arts such as Judo or BJJ. In these arts the armbar is generally applied on the ground, with the opponent’s movements constrained. As a result a lot of force can be brought to bear (possibly with all 4 limbs) while the opponent is unable to move away from the danger. This gets the result: a submission, or failing that, an elbow dislocation.

Our armbar is quite different in that its initiated in a standing position. With the opponent free(ish) to move around its unlikely to cause a dislocation, but that’s not the aim. As the pressure at the elbow rapidly builds the opponent will try to move away from the stimulus. As their hand is restrained they must move their shoulder – and hence the rest of their body. This is the result we want – they are forced to bend over or even to go face first to the ground. Once there we can use the legs to put more power into the armbar and so use it as a pin or, if necessary, dislocate the elbow. If all the opponent does is bend over that’s still great – they’re in a rather more vulnerable position and we can easily follow up with strikes.

Happy New Year - posted 01/01/18
I’ve just been looking back at my post from this time last year. With the Headingley Karate club growing I was feeling very positive about 2017. I’m happy to say that my positive vibes were justified. 2017 has been a great year. We’ve had two ‘home grown’ students pass their black belt tests. That’s in addition to the new members who have joined over the year. And of course, the continued efforts of our existing members.

Our group is growing and goes from strength to strength. But Karate, for us, isn’t really a numbers game. It’s about quality. It’s about sharing the principles of classical Okinawan Karate. Not as a sport, but as a life-skill – as relevant now to good health and self-defence as it ever was in the past.

So now I’m looking forward to 2018. Training restarts on the 2nd. And I’m raring to go!

Addendum: You may notice a gap of some months between this post and the previous one. I'm currently backfilling the missing posts from my Facebook/Instagram feeds, but I thought I should start 2018 as I mean to go on, ie. keeping this blog completely up to date.

Koryu Throws & Modern Budo Throws - posted 17/07/17
The objectives of a martial have a big impact on the choice of technique. This should be obvious but is often overlooked. Let’s compare, for example, Judo and the Koryu Ju-jutsu from which it was derived. By Koryu Ju- jutsu I just mean those historical Ju- jutsu systems that were around before the end of the feudal era in Japan.

The purpose of Koyru Ju-jitsu was straightforward. It was to kill, maim or subdue an enemy in the shortest time possible with the minimum of risk. The purpose of Judo is very different. It is a ‘do’ art, a method of character development. It is also a sport.

When Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was putting it together he put a great deal of thought into selecting/modifying the right techniques for his new art. First and foremost they needed to be safe, to allow a free exchange of technique (limited by rules) in a live situation with full resistance. This was quite a challenge, certainly as far as selecting the right throws. Many of the throws he came up with were significantly different to their predecessors. The opponent needed to be allowed to breakfall from the throw. And if they could breakfall, chances are they’d land on their back. This is, I believe, where osaekomi came into the picture – that is, to pin the opponent’s shoulders and hips to the ground in order to score a point.

Safe throws followed by pinning the opponent’s shoulders to the ground – its great for sport but not the best tool for the job of self-defence. That’s not a criticism, simply an acknowledgement of Judo’s fitness for the specific task for which it was designed. Judo has other advantages, which I’ll discuss another time.

The photo shows a Koryu Ju-jutsu throw. The intent is quite clear – to drop the opponent on to the top of their head. It would be devastating if properly executed.

What to expect in your first Karate lesson - posted 14/07/17
The following describes what you should expect if you turn up to train at our club, if you’ve never practiced a martial art before. If you do have some previous experience we may structure things a little differently, depending on what your experience is.

First off, you won’t be asked for any money – we don’t charge for your first lesson. Before the lesson starts you’ll have a quick chat with an instructor, so that we can get an idea of what you hope to get out of it, to assess/discuss any injuries or health issues you may have, and to answer any questions you have.

The lesson will start with a warm-up, to gradually increase blood flow throughout the body, preparing you for the physical activity to come. After that you’ll learn our basic defensive posture from which you can defend, attack or – even better – calm an aggressor down. Then footwork – looking at how to move around in the same posture, to better position yourself relative to an assailant.

Next, practice of basic strikes – these are not complicated or acrobatic movements that take years to master. Instead, they’re simple techniques that can be very effective with relatively little practice. These are then put together in a combination and practiced as part of one or more self-defence techniques with a partner.

The same strikes are also practiced against a striking pad, held by a partner. Ultimately this develops striking power, but initially you shouldn’t try to hit hard. Its more about developing correct technique, distance and targeting.

Finally, you’ll learn how to attack one vital point. Vital points are simply areas of the body that can be attacked with relatively little force to produce considerable effect. They’re not magic but can be a great leveller when dealing with a bigger, stronger assailant.

The picture shows new students practising elbow strikes against a pad.

Which type of throw does your art use? - posted 11/07/17
Yesterday I looked at categorising throws as either mechanical or dynamic. Today I want to look at how different arts may favour one category over the other. Let’s start with Judo.

Judo formally includes 67 throws. Of these I would class 58 as dynamic and only 9 as mechanical. Clearly Judo favours dynamic throws.

What about Karate? For the moment, I’m not going to consider developments in the modern bunkai tradition that started in the 1980’s. Rather, lets look at historic documentary evidence. What better place to look on that score than the throws taught by Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi published several books which demonstrated throwing techniques, in particular 6 throws in 1925 and 9 in 1935 (with some repetition) – a total of 10 different throws.

All of these (with the possible exception of Byobu Daoshi – ‘topple a folding screen’) are clearly mechanical. Funakoshi’s Byobu Daoshi is a bit ambiguous, looking at pictures of it from the different publications. I think it could be performed either mechanically or dynamically with minor modification. This accords with my experience of learning Karate-do in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. With the exception of foot-sweeps, all of the takedowns I learnt were mechanical in nature.

I see Karate and Judo as being at two ends of a spectrum of mechanical versus dynamic throws. Other arts sit somewhere between those two points. Aikido sits pretty close to Karate in my opinion. As for Ju-jutsu, well that depends on the particular ryu – there are so many to choose from. Most sit somewhere between Aikido and Judo.

Why do different arts emphasise one category over the other? Why such a dramatic difference between Karate and Judo? That subject I’ll come back to in the next week or so.

The picture shows one of Funakoshi’s throws – Yari Tama, ie. ‘Spearing a ball’.

Mechanical Throws & Dynamic Throws - posted 10/07/17
There are lots of different throws used in martial arts and they can be categorised in different ways. There‘s one categorisation that I see few people making - to distinguish between mechanical and dynamic throws. The difference is actually quite straightforward.

In mechanical throws you apply leverage in such a way that you retain your balance throughout the whole movement. To test if this is the case try executing the throw in slow motion. If it can be done slowly throughout then it must be mechanical.

In dynamic throws you also apply leverage but compromise your own balance in order to do so. This isn’t necessarily a criticism. Rather than thinking of being unbalanced you could define it as controlling your balance dynamically. You create imbalance in yourself in order to generate momentum which is transferred to the opponent. Hopefully your own balance will be recovered in the process. If a throw is inherently dynamic you’ll find it very difficult to apply slowly and smoothly. At some point you’ll have to ‘throw’ bodyweight into it.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, both from Judo. First, o-goshi, a basic hip throw. In order to apply o-goshi you must put your feet close together, get your hips below the opponent’s and project up. At the same time you must lean forward. Typically your heels will leave the ground briefly. Try to do this technique slowly and you’ll really struggle to throw the opponent, unless they’re quite a bit lighter than you. This is clearly a dynamic throw.

In uki-goshi, on the other hand, the feet are firmly planted, somewhat further apart, and the opponent levered over the hip. This can be practiced slowly and smoothly without difficulty, and is clearly therefore a mechanical throw.

Kihon Kata & Bunkai - posted 04/07/17
Recently I’ve described the Kihon Kata that we practice in our club, as well as its associated bunkai. There’s nothing special about the kata itself. It simply runs through a number of basic Karate techniques, more or less on the spot, then repeats them all on the other side. The student can focus more on what the arms are doing, without getting wrapped in complex stepping and turning movements.

As for the bunkai (application of the kata), please note that this is not THE bunkai. Each kata movement encapsulates various mechanical principles. The bunkai, by definition, incorporates some or all of those principles. There are therefore, numerous bunkai for each movement. Bunkai has been selected here because it is:

  1. Relatively simple, and
  2. Clearly representative of the principles embodied in the corresponding kata movement.
The picture is not intended to describe the bunkai. It merely serves as an aide memoire to both the kata and the bunkai. For further information on these applications just look back over my previous posts.

You may notice that there is no bunkai shown for gyaku-tsuki. This is because several of the other bunkai lead very nicely into the obvious gyaku-tsuki application – holding & pulling with one hand, while striking with the other.

Work With Your Startle Reflex... - posted 03/07/17
...Not Against It.

Human beings, like most animals, are awash with a variety of reflexes. A reflex is an action that is performed without conscious thought in response to a stimulus. One reflex of particular interest to martial artists is the startle reflex. This is triggered by sudden loud noise or something moving rapidly towards your head. It sets off a cascade of responses that are expressed to varying degrees: eyes blink, shoulders hunch, arms raise, legs bend, the body leans. All this to protect the head and face, or to move them away from danger.

Everybody experiences this reflex when startled. The effect of a loud noise or rapidly incoming fist can be over-ridden, but only if you know its going to happen beforehand. If you’re startled you will exhibit the startle reflex. Even if you’re a black belt. Even if you’ve practised formal karate blocks for years. You’ll only pull out the formalised response if you see the attack coming, ie. if you’re not startled.

But there is another approach. What about if you build formalised responses on top of your startle reflex? So that they recruit more or less the same muscles in more or less the same sequence. Lets take haiwan-uke, the opening move of Pinan/Heian Yondan as an example. If I’m surprised by seeing a fist suddenly and unexpectedly flying towards my face then I’m going to flinch. Amongst other things my hands will come up towards my face (to cover it) and my knees will bend (to move my head away from danger). I may also lean or move backwards. The result is something surprisingly similar to haiwan-uke. Once the movement is underway its now actually quite easy to build on it and turn it into haiwan-uke.

We might expect then that there are movements in kata that deal with situations when you’re not startled, and others for when you are startled. As you can see from the picture, clearly this is true.

Inward Block Bunkai #1 - posted 29/06/17
This is a simple introductory application for inward block. It addresses a common attack – the one handed lapel grab, which will typically be rapidly followed by repeated punches with the other hand. I find this a difficult attack to address for beginners. There are plenty of things you could do, but they’re usually dependent on the situation – arm orientation, arm straight or bent, size of attacker, whether they’re pulling or pushing. This creates a dilemna for beginners – too many different responses to consider and choose from. This response isn’t perfect, it would certainly be better if it blindsided the attacker. But its not bad as first stab at a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
  1. Attacker grabs lapel. They may pull or push with the grabbing arm.
  2. Prod the suprasternal fossa with your ‘inside’ arm to take the attacker’s attention away from the grabbing arm. It will also halt their push if they’re doing that. At the same time cover their grabbing hand with your other hand.
  3. Now for the inward block. Draw the extended arm back into an inward block, cutting into the attacker’s elbow crease (we could target a vital point but we’re keeping it nice and simple for beginners). It may be helpful to slide or step back as you do this, it just depends on the distance and which foot you’ve got forward. Make sure you end up with same leg forward as you blocked with.
  4. This isn’t part of the inward block, just a nice easy ‘one size fits all’ follow up. Slide forwards, lifting the elbow into the attacker’s face. Done correctly, their face is still travelling forwards at the same time – take care in practice. This of course isn’t the end, but now you’ve turned the assault into an opportunity to follow up. So follow up with vigour!

How Vintage is Your Belt? - posted 27/06/17
Yesterday I saw the most amazing thing on Instagram. Pre-aged 'vintage' black belts for sale. You can get your name embroidered on it (in kanji of course), then select how 'vintage' you want it to be. You can have anything from 10% vintage (bedded in but not tatty) to 100% vintage (faded to white and completely threadbare). Of course, one bit that doesn't fade is the bit that's got your name on it.

You'll forgive me, I hope, for feeling a bit cynical and jaded about this. Practitioners of 'do' arts keep telling me how martial arts are about subjugation of the ego. Mmmh? I'm not feeling there’s much subjugation of ego going on here. But still, what would a soul-less follower of a 'jutsu' tradition like me know about it?

Here's a picture of my belt. I've had it for 17 years. My sensei, in his wisdom, awarded it to me - just a plain black belt. No gold writing. No gold stripes. No silk. Its covered in cotton, which is reassuringly hard wearing. I only wear it in the dojo, not if I'm training at home, so I imagine it'll last me a lifetime. Its certainly durable enough, the only obvious wear is where the knot is tied.

Of course, whenever anyone is awarded their first black belt they can't help prancing about in it as soon as they've got home after the grading. That's only natural, it's a goal they (should) have worked long and hard for, and everyone has an ego. The trick is to acknowledge and accept that you have an ego, then move on and just get on with training again.

My belt is a symbol. A symbol of trust and respect between teacher and student. As such it only really has meaning for my sensei and myself. So the gold writing isn’t wrong in itself, but its not really necessary. But pre-aging it? How much trust and respect would my sensei feel if I did that?

The Trouble with Inward Block - posted 26/06/17
The kihon (fundamentals) of Karate are taken straight out of the kata, right? Yes, of course. You’ve got lunge punch, reverse punch, rising block, downward sweep, knife hand block, outward block. But what about inward block, where is that in kata? Look at the Pinan/Heian kata for example. When these kata were created they were the most basic kata. Odd then that they include all the other standard kihon but not inward block. There are similar movements, for example the 2nd move of Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan) is essentially both hands doing an inward block at the same time. But what we don’t see is the standard way of doing inward block (first swinging the ‘blocking’ arm right out to the side, then sweeping it inwards at the same as the other fist pulls back to the hip in a standard hikite).

What about Bassai Dai, I hear you say. There’s a couple of inward blocks in that. But actually if you look at older versions of that kata you’ll see these movements done quite differently. Generally the blocking arm wouldn’t sweep out anything as wide. More critically, the other hand never retracts to the hip. Like many kata Bassai was modified and homogenised in the early 20th century. I think this is when the standard uchi-uke was incorporated.

Going through the classical Shorin Ryu kata I can’t find a standard inward block anywhere. There are similar movements, but all have the other hand doing something else, never a standard hikite. I can only assume that inward block was made up during the development of the modern Karate-do kihon, sometime after the Pinan/Heian kata were created. Otherwise we should expect to see it in these kata.

That doesn’t mean that the technique is completely without value. But I’d recommend not starting with the wide sweep outwards and not really worrying about what the other hand’s doing – in application its unlikely to be pulling to the hip.

Sticking Sparring - posted 20/06/17
I’ve mentioned this drill before, but not described what it is. Now’s the time. First I’ll describe how, then why.

2 people face each other with their forearms in contact, one on the inside & one on the outside so you’re both in the same position. The idea is simply to push the other person on their head or body. The push could be with an open hand, a fist or even a forearm. Of course, they’re trying to do the same to you so there’s going to be a struggle. The whole thing happens in relatively slow motion. You don’t have to keep your arms at the same point of contact, the idea is to maintain contact, create andadvantage then capitalize on it. Whenever you lose contact completely just come together at the starting position and start again. Its as simple as that.

And now, why? Firstly – muchimi, the skill of sticking to the opponent. This is a fundamental skill in Okinawan Karate-jutsu. To best control the opponent’s movements and their balance we want to remain in contact (I’ve discussed muchimi in detail in a previous post). Secondly - control of the centreline. This is very important in close range combat. You will find by experience that its much easier to control your opponent and to prevent them from hitting you if you control the centreline.

Why practice slowly? Principally this is so that you can engage your conscious mind in the process. The emphasis is on learning rather than winning. Another benefit is that – once you’ve gained some experience and learned to let go of your ego – you can start to add in what would be illegal and dangerous techniques in standard karate sparring – elbows, takedowns, shoulder barges, headbutts, kicks to the groin or knees. You name it, any technique is fair game as long as you can do it slowly and controlled so you can be certain its safe.

Origins of the Pinan Kata - Part 2 - posted 20/06/17
Yesterday I listed the 3 common theories regarding the origin of the Pinan/Heian kata. Each theory involves Ankoh Itosu, the great moderniser of Shorin Ryu Karate.

Theory 3 – Itosu derived them from the Channan kata, imported from China or Taiwan.

I don’t buy this. The earliest references to Channan all suggest that Channan could simply have been an early name for the Pinan kata. Plus, I’ve never seen any form – Chinese or Taiwanese – that looked like a source kata for the Pinan’s.

Theory 2 – Sokon Matsumura developed 1 & 2, Itosu the rest.

I don’t think that Matsumura developed any of the Pinan’s, even though this is a view held by my fellow followers of the Matsumura tradition. I find these kata lean too much in the direction of ‘do’ rather than ‘jutsu’, as I’ll describe shortly. From what I’ve learnt of Matsumura’s character I don’t think he would have developed a series of kata to embrace ‘do’.

Theory 1 – Itosu developed the Pinans from existing Shorin Ryu kata.

This is the one for me. Almost all of the techniques in the Pinan’s can be considered direct copies or derivations from techniques in earlier Okinawan kata. Itosu didn’t need to look elsewhere for inspiration. I think the least practical aspect of the Pinan’s are the turns. They’re basically the same throughout all 5 kata, a strong clue that the overall floor pattern was as important to Itosu as the practicality of the movements. And what’s so special about that pattern? Look at the attached photo. It shows the kanji for ‘pin’ as in ‘pinan’. Turn it upside down and what have you got? A good representation of the floor pattern of the Pinan’s. This is just the sort of ‘word game’ I think we might reasonably expect from a follower of the ‘way’ rather than a hard-nosed pragmatist.

So there it is, but I hasten to add that this is just my opinion.

Origins of the Pinan Kata - Part 1 - posted 19/06/17
The Pinan (aka Heian) kata must be the most common kata taught in Karate and related systems in the world. I think you’d struggle to find many Karate styles which use kata (other than in the Goju systems) but don’t teach the Pinan kata. In most systems they’re the first kata taught, although sometimes they’re preceded by the Taikyoku (aka Kihon) kata. Personally I’ve learnt one or more of them in several different styles, even in Ju-jutsu.

Despite being so widespread they’re actually some of the youngest kata around – as long as you ignore the whole modern cacophony of musical forms. There’s no evidence of them existing before the end of the 19th century. So where did they come from?

There are 3 prevailing theories on the origin of these kata and they all involve Ankoh Itosu, a teacher of Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Choki Motobu and other notables of the Shorin Ryu tradition.

Theory 1 – Itosu derived these kata from the other pre-existing Shorin Ryu kata, for use in his new Karate-do which was introduced to the Okinawan school system in 1908.

Theory 2 – Sokon Matsumura (chief of security to the last Okinawan king and one of Itosu’s teachers) created the first 2 kata and Itosu added a further 3, based on the same mold.

Theory 3 – Itosu derived them from the Channan kata, imported from China or Taiwan.

It is difficult to decide between the 3 theories, there is no evidence to definitively prove or disprove any of them. Tomorrow I’ll present my opinion on which is correct.

The photo shows Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating Pinan Shodan in the mid 1920's.

Early Shotokan Kicks - posted 15/06/17
Now to continue looking at some of the techniques described by Shigeru Egami in his book ‘The Way of Karate – Beyond Technique’. This time, early variations of front kicks.

The first kick I’ve shown here uses the first joint of the big toe. Egami describes it thus:

“The form of the foot in the front kick when I began practice was with the toes folded down. The part of the foot that struck the opponent was the first joint of the big toe. Since the toes had to be strong – otherwise they might be broken – we were made to practice standing, and even walking, with our toes folded.”

Photo 1 shows the foot formation for this kick, photo 2 shows practice of standing on the folded toes. I don’t recall seeing this variation anywhere other than in this book.

Next comes the tip of the big toe, in photo 3. Over to Egami:

“Another way to make contact is with the tip of the big toe, although this is not practiced much today. This is not feasible unless power is concentrated in the big toe. To strengthen the big toes for this purpose one should practice standing and walking on them, in the manner of a toe dance…”

Although the photo shows a round kick the text is talking about front kicks. I’m no stranger to toe-tip kicks but I don’t really fancy training it by walking on my toe-tips as Egami recommends. I prefer to either a) rely on my shoes to protect my toes or b) to moderate the power appropriately.

Finally the heel, in photo 4:

“The heel may also be used in kicking. Although this is a style not practiced much today, I would advise practising it, as it will be helpful when extending your feet backwards and forwards in the warming up exercises.”

Again a front kick with the heel is not something I’ve seen in modern styles of Karate-do, though its not uncommon in various Kung Fu styles.

One does not simply change the kata - posted 13/06/17
One does not simply change the kata to fit one’s bunkai. Or some similar statement. I’m sure most of us have seen such variations on the ‘Boromir meme’ by now. Broadly speaking, I agree.

But what if…? What if the kata has already been changed, messed about with even, by every Tom Sensei, Dick Sensei and Harry Sensei who’s had hold of it before you? That, I think, is the situation we have with modern kata.

We often consider kata to be immutable. Yet every style does them differently. What’s going on? Clearly lots of people have been changing them along the way. Whether that’s a good thing depends on what their reasons are for making changes.

I contend that at one point kata had completely practical purpose, that being to practice the principles required for the bunkai. We know that Gichin Funakoshi (and probably others of his generation) deliberately simplified the kata he taught & modified their purpose. He emphasised kata as exercise rather than a handbook for practical self-defence. Its quite clear when looking at the bunkai taught by his students from the 1930’s to 1950’s that they understood little if anything of the practical application of kata.

Many of Funakoshi’s students changed their kata. But if they didn’t learn the bunkai it seems unlikely that their changes would bring the kata back closer to their original intent. And so on to the next generation. Each successive change is likely to take a kata further away from its original intent. Sometimes change might be beneficial but I suspect that mostly it’s just to make the kata more dynamic, more impressive to watch or even just to be different.

So if you’re tempted to change a kata I’d caution you to think very carefully about it. Only do so with good reason. If its an old kata, well its survived this long, I say leave it alone. Otherwise, give it a whirl. After all, everyone else has!

Early Shotokan Stances - posted 12/06/17
I had the good fortune to come across the book ‘The Way of Karate – Beyond Technique’ by Shigeru Egami. I find it very insightful, partly into the development of Shotokai and partly into early training under Gichin Funakoshi. Numerous times Egami contrasts training ‘now’ with how it was ‘in the old days’.

Gichin Funakoshi arrived in Japan and started teaching in 1922. The Karate he taught underwent rapid and dramatic transition between that time and the early 1950s, when Shotokan as we recognise it now was well established.

Egami began training under Gichin Funakoshi when he was 18, in about 1930. So he wasn’t in the very first crop of Funakoshi’s students. Funakoshi’s own book from 1926 gives us some insight into the Karate of the 1920’s. Egami’s recollections presumably provide insight into the training of the early 1930s. I find these very interesting. For now I’ll just look at one: zenkutsudachi (forward stance). Over to Egami to describe it in his own words:

“In the old front stance the rear leg was kept straight and the navel was pointed squarely at the opponent. The stance was very cramped; eventually it was abolished as a result of discussions between Master Funakoshi and his son Gigo. However many karateka still adhere to and practice this old form. And while it is not practical it will enable one to strengthen his ankles. From this point of view it may be a good idea to practice it. Later the form changed from one in which both feet turned inward to one in which the front foot pointed straight ahead…”

Obviously the stance is smaller than the modern Shotokan or Shotokai stances. No surprise there. But what interests me is the shape. First, the forward facing hips. Second, the front foot turned in. To me this seems more reminiscent of Wado Ryu (as I learned it in the 1970’s) than of either of the modern ‘Shoto’ traditions.

Leading Causes of Death in Perspective - posted 10/06/17
I've seen some amount of discussion recently on martial artists' responses to the threat of terrorism. At the bottom of this post I've linked to a well written piece by Gavin Mulholland recommending various precautions we could/should take. I've also attached an infographic showing causes of death in the UK. I saw this a few days ago, with terrorism inserted as a tiny, barely visible spec. I can't find that version but you can use your imagination and consider how small that spec would be compared to 'war', the smallest category on the attached chart.

Every action we take as individuals has a potential reward. It also has a level of risk (of going wrong) and a penalty associated with that. We continually assess reward, risk and penalty against each other in our day to day lives. And we're often not very good at that assessment, I think especially when it comes to risk. Who in their right mind, for example, would smoke if they rationally weighed up the rewards against the penalties and their risk of occurring.

Clearly the risk of being involved in a terrorist incident is extremely small although the penalty could be catastrophic. But given the far higher chance of falling prey to any of the more mundane causes of death you would, statistically speaking, be much better off concerning yourself with those. Just exercising, eating healthily and taking care when you cross the road are all much, much better ways of increasing your expected life span than taking preventative measures against terrorist attack. Indeed, getting paranoid or even just worried about possible terrorist attack is going to cause you stress which is counterproductive and is just going to make you slightly more susceptible to a whole range of health issues.

So perhaps we should just lighten up and let go of worrying about the whole subject? I think so, but with a caveat. As martial artists with an interest in self-defence shouldn’t we exercising alertness and vigilance anyway? Doing so has certainly saved my skin more than once. To my mind such behaviours are one cornerstone of self-defence. So I think that many of the precautions on Gavin’s list are things that we should be doing as a matter of course. I’m not going to tell you which I think are appropriate and which are overkill, that’s for you decide. But I do think you should be exercising some level of alertness and vigilance. Not with a heavy heart, stressing yourself worrying about the possibility of terrorism, but just as a part of who you are – no stress, just something which is ingrained in you to the point that you barely even think about it.

In Karate You're Allowed to Move Your Feet - posted 08/06/17
Quite often I see people struggling to make a technique work because they’re unable to apply enough power to it. The hand movement may be correct. The stance may be correct. The whole sequence may be correct. But if they’re not in the right position, at the right distance, relative to the opponent then all their effort may be in vain.

To make any sequence of techniques work, you need to be able to make continual positional adjustments on the fly. And of course, ultimately you need to be able to do so without even thinking about it.

Some years ago one of my students had a moment of realisation. He turned to me and said “In Karate, you’re allowed to move your feet”. Euraka!

Over the years I’ve seen many people struggle with this. In free sparring they move around, they bob, they weave, they bounce. But in practising bunkai or self-defence their feet become like lead. Some even stand fixed, unable to even think about moving to a better position – and I’m not necessarily just talking about beginners.

The recent bunkai I’ve been demonstrating for mawashi-uke is as a good example of this. Photo 1 shows me attempting to use mawashi-uke to deal with both wrists being grabbed. Sometimes this can be a struggle at this point in the technique.

Photo 2 shows the same situation from the other side, so you can see what’s going on with the hands. I’ve got stuck at this point, unable to apply enough power to get the release. It also shows what I need to do with my feet to improve my position – pivot the left foot and move the right foot across, so that I move in a circle with my hands at its centre.

Photo 3 shows the result of moving my feet. I’ve done nothing different with my hands but I’ve easily broken the grip and moved to a counter-technique – in this case an armbar.

So the moral of the story is: if you’re struggling to apply enough power to a technique, try moving your feet.

Mawashi Uke Bunkai #3 - posted 06/06/17
Last week I showed 2 applications of mawashi-uke (roundhouse block), the first dealing with a cross-arm wrist/forearm grab, the second with a same side grab. What if both wrists/forearms are grabbed? We can just do the same thing, as follows.

Picture 1 – my wrists/forearms are grabbed.

Picture 2 – I could move either left or right, it doesn’t really matter. But I’m going to move back to my right, simply to be consistent with the previous applications shown. As I move back I swing my right arm up so that my palm faces the attacker’s face. At the same I start to sweep my left arm across my body, underneath my right arm.

Picture 3 – I continue the movement of my left arm, supinating my forearm and sweeping up so that my wrist ends up just in front of my right hand.

Picture 4 – I finish the mawashi-uke movement, pronating my left forearm and sweeping it across to my left. Both of the attacker’s hands are stripped off, leaving me holding their left wrist. Having blindsided them with this ‘block’ I’m now in an excellent position to counter-attack.

Strike From Where You Are... - posted 05/06/17
...Not From Where You'd Like To Be!

Imagine the scene. I’m teaching a group of karateka and we’re doing some padwork. I’ve asked everyone to work on close range strikes. Between each strike each person is getting further and further away from their target. What’s going on?

Most karateka practise hitting pads from the range that they’re used to in karate sparring. If asked to strike from closer range they can’t produce the same level of power as they usually would. Whether consciously or not, they begin to increase the range. Usually this is done by moving back a little further after each strike, or even by ‘winding up’ at the start of the strike.

This is not a fictitious scenario. I’ve seen traditional karateka do it, and sport karate people, and self-professed badass karate-jutsu people.

I understand the desire to move to a position from which you can maximise your power, but I think its the wrong approach. In self-defence you often find yourself at very close range. So you need to be able to generate power from that range. You won’t always have the option of moving to your preferred range.

Now if you want to be able to hit hard from close range, what’s the best way to develop that skill? Well it obviously needs to involve actually practising hitting from that range. The vast majority of martial artists would accept that, so why don’t they do it - even when given specific instructions (and reminders) to do so? Some simply can’t do it, no matter how hard they try, they cannot stop themselves moving to longer range.

The reason is simple, they haven’t learnt to INVEST in LOSS - to practice something which doesn’t feel optimal, until it becomes natural. Its not rocket science, you just have to make yourself do it.

Remember, self-defence is about dealing with the situation you’re presented with, not the situation you’d like to be presented with. Learn to strike from where you are, not from where you’d like to be.

Mawashi Uke Bunkai #2 - posted 01/06/17
On Tuesday I showed an application of mawashi-uke, using it to take control of a cross-arm wrist grab. Now we’ll use the same movement to deal with a same-side wrist grab.

Picture 1 shows the starting position – the attacker grabs my right wrist with his left, with a view to bashing me with his other hand.

Picture 2 - I respond by swinging my right arm up and around so that my palm faces the attacker’s face. At the same I step or slide (whichever is appropriate) back at 45 degrees to end up left foot forwards.

Picture 3 – I swing my left arm up under my right, supinating the forearm in the process.

In reality I do these 2 steps in one movement, the first blending into the second. They’re shown separately here for clarity.

Picture 4 - from this point I complete the mawashi-uke movement, pronating my left forearm to strip off the grip and grasp their wrist. My right hand comes back to guard, which helps to strip off their grip.

It may be that its quite hard work to swing my right arm up in the first place, in which case I can employ a diversionary tactic to take the attacker’s focus somewhere else. Spitting in their face or a straight left punch to the abdomen are both good options which can lead easily into the mawashi-uke.

Mawashi Uke Bunkai #1 - posted 30/05/17
I've previously demonstrated application for mawashi-uke (roundhouse block) but I want to revisit this technique now and look at some applications that use it to deal with wrist/arm grabs. Today's application is against a cross-arm wrist or forearm grab.

The attacker grabs my left wrist with his left hand, as a precursor to hitting with his right hand. Why would he do this? To hold me in place and prevent me blocking with my left hand while he punches. Rather than wait for the punch I'm immediately going to go on the offensive. So I swipe my free (right) hand across his face, aiming to rake my fingers across his eyes. If I were closer this might instead be a slap across the ear. Either way the intention is to distract the attacker's intention away from the grab and simultaneously disrupt their ability to punch with the other hand. This is position we see in picture 1.

Picture 2 looks very similar. If you compare the 2 pictures you'll notice that the attacker has moved his head back slightly. This is a natural response to my hand sweeping across the face, whether it contacts or not. Also, my left forearm has begun to rotate around the elbow, supinating as it does so.

In picture 3 the mawashi-uke movement has completed. My left forearm has completed its supination, followed immediately by pronation. This action enables me to turn the attacker's wrist over, so that I've blindsided them and captured their wrist in one moment. From this point there are a variety of responses open to me.

Kihon Kata - posted 25/05/17
Kata are immutable, handed down from the masters of old, not to be meddled with by lesser mortals like us. Apart from, of course, when they're not. In reality people have been creating, modifying and abandoning kata for at least 150 years, if not a lot longer.

I have created kata myself before now, and I think that's OK, as long as its been done for a specific reason. There are bad reasons to create kata, eg. you have to do so to fulfil a grading requirement. But there are good reasons too. I created a new kata last year, to suit a specific need, as follows.

Our kihon (basics) don't look like standard karate-do basics. They're less formal, without the same emphasis on hikite, plus a number of other differences. So there's a big jump when students go from the kihon to learning the Pinan kata. I decided therefore to put in an intermediate step, the point being to give students an opportunity to practice the arm movements of basic Karate techniques without having to worry about the complexities of stepping & turning. A secondary goal was to allow practice of some basic stances, but again without having to worry too much about stepping. And of course, it should be bilateral, ie. everything done on one side of the body should also be done on the other.

The pictures show the first half of the kata, from the end of that section you simply come back to ‘ready’ with the feet parallel and repeat on the other side. Here is the sequence:

1. Ready
2. Downward Sweep in forward stance
3. Reverse punch
4. Outward block
5. Reverse punch
6. Rising block
7. Inward block
8. Reverse punch
9. Lead hand punch
10. Reverse punch
11. Roundhouse block in cat stance
12. Low knife hand in straddle stance

From this point simply come back to step 1 and repeat on the other side of the body.

To Subdue the Enemy Without Fighting... - posted 23/05/17
Gichin Funakoshi, the ‘father’ of Karate-do is often quoted as saying:

“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”

In doing so, he was actually quoting the famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tsu (who I quoted myself yesterday) in ‘The Art of War’. But another of Funakoshi’s sayings is often quoted in the same breath:

“The ultimate aim of the art of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the characters of the participants.”

I’m not certain that Funakoshi was deliberately conflating these two principles together, but I think he probably was. That’s certainly how I read it when I first encountered it as a teenager, and I think how many others have read it too.

Why is subduing without fighting the highest skill? From Funakoshi’s words we could get the impression that there is a moral imperative, that we do not wish to unnecessarily cause harm to the aggressor. I’m certain that’s not how Sun Tsu saw it. Its clear from reading The Art of War that he had no moral considerations, his rationale was purely practical. Throughout the book there is a recurring theme about minimising the risks associated with engaging in battle. What better way is there than to avoid battle entirely? To achieve your strategic goals without actually engaging in battle at all has got to be the best way.

So when I avoid or walk away from violence is not because I’m a nice person (although I am quite lovely). No, its because my primary strategic goal is to ensure no harm comes to me or my loved ones and, at that moment, that’s the most effective way to achieve that goal.

Attack Where the Enemy Cannot Defend - posted 22/05/17
The picture shows part of the application of soto-uke (outward block) that I described last week. Specifically it’s the preparatory movement where the ‘non-blocking hand’ extends across in front of the body. In this case the movement is used to punch the attacker’s wrist (at the same time that the ‘blocking hand’ begins chambering in the opposite direction).

This is a good example of one of the maxims espoused by Sun Tsu in the Art of War – ‘Attack the enemy where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected’. One of my instructors, Rick Clark, put his own slant on this - very astutely in my opinion: ‘Attack where the enemy cannot defend’.

Whenever the enemy attacks, they create opportunity. If the attack is a grab then they expose the grabbing arm as a target. Momentarily at least, it is impossible for them to properly defend that limb. And that is what we take advantage of in this instance. Its very difficult for the attacker to prevent us from attacking their hand or wrist. The challenge is to make it a meaningful attack, one which won’t simply be shrugged aside by superior strength, or be so fiddly that it diverts our own attention from what their other hand is doing.

There are various forms such an attack could take, depending on the situation. In this case a straightforward punch is just the job. It creates enough disruption of the attack to allow us to follow up with the rest of the technique – unbalancing and blindsiding the attacker, prior to counter-attacking.

Outward Block Bunkai #1 - posted 18/05/17
Here is a nice straightforward application for soto-uke (outward block). Imagine that an assailant has grabbed your left wrist or forearm with their left hand (to restrain you while they punch with their right hand). If you move your left arm in an outward block movement its easy enough to take control, blindside them and grab their wrist. But what if they’ve grabbed your upper arm instead of your forearm? This is shown in picture 1.

Doing the same movement gets a different result. You can force a mild temporary lock on their wrist & strip their grip off in the process. This will make them turn to their right, blindsiding them slightly. But there’s a problem. Unless their wrist is already bent back its quite easy for them to thwart your attempt – unless you’re quite a bit stronger. If their wrist is bent in the other direction it makes it even more difficult for you. But help is at hand, in what your other hand is doing during the preparatory phase of the block.

Picture 2 shows the preparatory position. The left arm sweeps slightly across to the right. The right fist moves over it to the left. Don’t waste this move, punch the back of their forearm just up from their wrist. This will bend their wrist back. I find striking with the middle knuckle, with your forearm rotated as shown, is most effective.

Now you can easily complete the outward block movement. Picture 3 shows the wrist being bent back prior to being stripped off.

Picture 4 shows the final position. Note how the right hand hasn’t been drawn back to the hip - its not holding anything so there’d be no value in doing the full hikite. As soon as its done its job (punching the wrist) its just withdrawn to a guard. Where we go from here is the subject of another post.

Did Okinawan Peasants Develop Karate? - posted 16/05/17
Simple answer - NO!

Look at the picture of an Okinawan peasant, drawn by one of the expedition members of Commodore Perry's visit to Okinawa and Japan in 1853. He has no shoes, his hair is a mess - he can't even afford shoes or a hairbrush. Does that sound like someone who has time or opportunity to practice, never mind actively develop, a martial art? I don't think so.

We may have romantic ideas about what life was like in feudal Okinawa, but we should remember that for peasants life was hard, frugal & with little opportunity for improvement. Like mainland Japan, Okinawan society had a fairly strict class system. Peasants farmed or fished. Merchants traded. The nobility, ie. the warrior class, ran the country. There were many separate hierarchical levels of nobility, ranging from the king down to lowly officials such as policemen, but they all enjoyed various freedoms & all shared in the wealth of the country. The people who didn't get much of the wealth were ones who created most of it - the peasants. Their lot was not much better than that of slaves.

So the warriors ran the country & studied the arts of war, and peasants farmed - probably all day every day. Who then created and practiced Karate? The warriors of course. It's a no brainer.

So where did the myths about farmers practising Karate come from? A misunderstanding of historical events. The Meiji Restoration in 1868 heralded the end of the feudal era for Japan & Okinawa. Soon after that, the warrior class lost the basis of their wealth (free rice etc.) and had to fend for themselves. As in Japan, those higher up the chain likely became large landowners, those lower down had to make do with just a small patch of land. They fell on hard times. Those who were previously conversant with the way of the fist, sword, naginata, sai or whatever, now had to become conversant with the hoe and sometimes the rickshaw.

The Mechanics of Outward Block - posted 15/05/17
Outward block is sometimes referred to as soto-uke and sometimes uchi-uke, depending on style. I use soto-uke. Of course, its not really a block, it's a set of mechanical principles. Here they are (let's assume that the left hand is 'blocking').

Phase 1

From wherever it is, move your right arm so that it is straight(ish), extended in front of view and crossing the midline. If your fist starts at your hip this will feel like a punch (shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction, elbow extension, forearm pronation). Move your left arm across the body, underneath the right arm, with a feeling of punching across in front of you (shoulder flexion and a lot more horizontal adduction, elbow flexion followed by extension, forearm pronation).

Phase 2

The right arm retracts to the hip, ie. hikite (shoulder extension and slight horizontal abduction, elbow flexion, forearm supination). The left arm moves to the final blocking position in the hip/shoulder line (slight shoulder horizontal abduction, slight elbow flexion, forearm supination). The left upper arm and forearm are both at 45 degrees to the horizontal, perpendicular to each other.

Some points of note…

  1. Like the other ‘uke’ movements we’ve looked at so far this move contracts both sides of the chest to generate power in phase 1, followed by both sides of the upper back in phase 2.

  2. Unlike those moves, outward block both forearm rotate in the same way for each phase – pronation in phase 1 & supination in phase 2.

  3. The ‘blocking’ fist finishes at shoulder height. In our Shorin Ryu system there is no distinction between different heights in basic 'blocking' motion, ie. jodan & chudan. I think that distinction was introduced in the 20th century as the basic blocking application was emphasised.

  4. This move is very similar to mawashi-uke, the main difference being around the ‘blocking’ arm’s forearm rotation.

How to form Middle Knuckle Fist - posted 11/05/17
Once upon a time Karate used several different fist formations but most modern systems use seiken (the standard fist) almost exclusively. Personally I use middle knuckle fist (known as nakadaka-ken or chuko-ippon-ken) almost as much as seiken. It just depends on what target I’m hitting and from what angle. Getting that choice right takes practice of course, but first you need to be able to form the fist, and to flip between that and seiken at a moment’s notice.

Photo 1 shows the position of the fingers, with the thumb out of the way so you can see what’s going on. The obvious difference to seiken is of course that the last joint of the forefinger is extended. The forefinger and ring finger touch, which pushes the middle finger foreknuckle forwards. This forms the primary striking surface.

Photo 2 shows the thumb folded into its correct position, so that the tip of the thumb touches the ring finger. This position of the thumb presses the forefinger against the middle finger, helping to hold all 3 fingers together. Now the middle finger foreknuckle is supported by the forefinger, the ring finger and the thumb.

Photo 3 shows the correct angle of the wrist for punching with the middle knuckle. Note how the wrist being bent back slightly creates a straight line through the forearm to the middle knuckle. This is not the only way to strike with this knuckle, but that’s a subject for another post.

A note of caution – don’t punch with power to random targets or you’ll likely just damage your finger. Middle knuckle fist is a precision instrument, treat it with appropriate respect. You need to learn how and where to use it.

A final thought – this fist is so unfamiliar to most karateka that some have thought I couldn’t form a proper fist, simply because they didn’t understand what they were looking at it. What a shame that they’re missing such a useful weapon from their arsenal.

Role Play for Self-Defence - posted 09/05/17
Assaults typically begin in one of two ways – the surprise attack, or the verbal confrontation which escalates into a physical attack. Lets look at the 2nd of these possibilities, the verbal confrontation.

This kind of assault is a million miles away from how sparring occurs in the dojo. As a result, in my experience and no matter how good at sparring they are, many martial artists are not well equipped to deal with verbal confrontation. The simple reason for this is lack of practice. If you don’t practice it how are you going to get good at it?

I don’t want to get wrapped up in the details right now, but do want to make a couple of important points. Firstly, its critical that you employ some sort of defensive posture BEFORE the physical violence starts. Otherwise its most likely that the assailant will get the drop on you, in which you could be in serious trouble. Secondly - and this is what many people fail to appreciate - if you employ the right body language you could well resolve the confrontation at the verbal stage. And isn’t that a worthy goal, to prevent violence from happening in the first place?

So how to gain the necessary conflict resolution skills to achieve this? One part of the solution is to engage in role play. One person plays the assailant. They might be determined to perpetrate an assault at any cost, they might be easy to dissuade, it can be played in different ways. The other person needs to a) maintain an appropriate defensive posture and b) attempt to defuse the situation. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this, more on those details later.4

Naihanchi-dachi - the Ancestor of Kibadachi - posted 08/05/17
Last week I compared shiko-dachi (straddle stance) and kiba-dachi (horse stance). I concluded that everything kiba-dachi can do, shiko-dachi can do as well or better. And without the same stress on the knees!

So what’s the point of kiba-dachi, why use it? Actually in our style of Shorin Ryu, we don’t. And therein lies a clue. Kiba-dachi is a creation of Japanese Karate, not Okinawan.

In the 1920’s when the founder of Shotokan, Gichin Funakoshi, started teaching Karate in Japan he quite quickly began to modify the art that he taught. Later, he stated that “I set about revising the kata so as to make them as simple as possible”. If you look at the differences, before and after his modifications, its clear that one of changes he made was to make the kata more dynamc and athletic. The emphasis was on exercise, not on combat effectiveness. One obvious aspect of this is that he made the stances larger. Look at the 1st photo, from Funakoshi’s 1926 book, showing him demonstrating Naihanchi kata, see how small the stance is.

During the 1930’s & 40’s Shotokan really took on the shape we recognise today. Look at the 2nd photo, showing the same move from the same kata as above, this time performed by a modern day Shotokan practitioner. Naihanchi kata became Tekki. Naihanchi-dachi became kiba-dachi.

Outwardly at least, kiba-dachi is the same stance just writ much larger. But it doesn’t really work. The combative applications of Naihanchi/Tekki don’t generally work in kiba-dachi. And the method of power generation that naihanchi-dachi teaches can’t be learnt or practised in kiba-dachi, you just can’t tense the right muscles properly.

So why do it? If you’re interested in combat effectiveness I say bin it and use naihanchi-dachi instead. If you’re not, just carry on, but do please look after your knees.

This is not the Bunkai you're looking for - posted 04/05/17
As its International Star Wars Day…

Have you ever sat in front of youtube looking at different people’s ideas on bunkai, becoming more and more despairing.

Some of its just so rudimentary, with artificial attacks, hands held pointlessly at hips in hikite, its just never going to work in reality (no matter how respected the master that’s demonstrating it).

Some of its just too fantastical, with no touch knockouts or convoluted combinations of pressure points, its more like a magic show than bunkai.

Some of its impressively athletic and acrobatic, but not actually got much to do with the kata, nor with reality.

Some of it might be quite good but, again, not actually based on the kata.

Eventually you find yourself thinking…

“These are not the kata applications I’m looking for.”

Fear not, help is at hand. I could say “come and train with us” and that would be lovely, but I fear we couldn’t fit you all in.

But the real solution is to learn to think and critically analyse for yourself. Learn what you can from the internet, or from books, attend seminars if you can. But don’t just accept what others tell you - think about what you’re doing. Apply common sense. Find training partners to work with outside normal dojo time. Test the bunkai you learn, try to break it. Ask “what if this, what if that”. Strive to understand the principles the kata is teaching. Strive to understand the relationship between the kata and the bunkai. Perhaps the bunkai is too complicated – what can you do to simplify it? Perhaps the bunkai has got potential but needs a little something extra – what can you add to it to improve it. Make it work for you.

Always, always exercise your strongest muscle – your brain. And lastly … May the 4th be with you.

Shikodachi vs Kibadachi - posted 02/05/17
What is the purpose of shikodachi (straddle stance)? As with any stance its expressing a compromise between stability & manouevrability. Most stances provide a stable platform from which we can generate force in a particular direction (or the converse – dig in to create resistance). In the case of shikodachi this direction is sideways. Being a large-ish stance it confers significant stability but at the expense of manouevrability.

But I think a more important aspect is about how you get into or out of the stance, not about the position itself. Dropping into shikodachi is a great way to generate power by dropping your bodyweight. Standing up from shikodachi is a great way to recruit your strong leg and buttock muscles into the act of pushing upwards.

Another way is to use the stance itself to impinge on the opponent, eg. levering them over your leg.

The application I’ve shown recently uses two of these actions – dropping the bodyweight and using the stance to impinge on the opponent’s leg.

What about kibadachi (horse riding stance)? There’s not much this stance can do that shikodachi can’t do too. In fact, shikodachi seems to be superior in a couple of ways. Firstly its rather easier to drop the bodyweight into shikodachi than into kibadachi. We all know this, dropping into shikodachi is quite easy, in kibadachi its always an effort due resistance in the tendons & ligaments of the legs. A little experimentation shows that its easier to push up from shikodachi than from kibadachi too. Shikodachi makes it easy to push up with the thigh and buttock muscles. The shape of kibadachi makes it more difficult to engage all of the same muscles. Note which stance sumo wrestlers use to drive up and forwards at the start of a bout.

So the question: why use kibadachi at all? And that’s a subject for another day.

How to use Palm-Heels - posted 27/04/17
Palm-Heels – the right way and the wrong way

As I’ve been discussing palm-heels this week I just wanted to go through some do’s and don’ts.

Picture 1 shows a way of using palm-heel that I learned years ago and I understand some groups still use now. The fingers are curled up, apparently to protect them. How does this protect your fingers? Which part of my hand contacted the target first in the photo? It’s the distal joint of the fingers, not the palm-heel. So by curling my fingers all I’ve achieved is to bash my fingers onto the attacker’s skull.

Contrast this with picture 2, which I think is far superior. The fingers do contact the target but the force is very much applied by the palm-heel. Most areas of the human body are curved not flat. The head for example presents a curved target for the palm-heel. So if you palm-heel to the face or side of the head your fingers will flex harmlessly over the top of the head.

Picture 3 shows one way of practising on a pad. This way is bad news. Because the target is flat the fingers are forced back slightly on impact. Most people will be able to feel an uncomfortable stretch on the tendons of the inner aspect of the wrist when they do this. Repeated practice in this way is likely to cause a repetitive strain injury.

Finally, picture 4 shows a better way of practising on a pad, which simulates striking the head quite well. Aiming to put the inside of the knuckles at the top edge of the pad will ensure that the fingers flex naturally over the top. So it better emulates the reality of striking the head and avoids stretching the wrist tendons.

To conclude, think critically about your weapon selection and target selection, and listen to the feedback you get from your body when you practice actually striking things.

Simple Impact Techniques for Self-Defence - posted 25/04/17
Yesterday I looked at the risk of damaging yourself when punching and how using the palm-heel can avoid most of that risk. There are other techniques that are similarly robust – they’re relatively easy to do and forgiving if you get them wrong. The knee strike and the elbow strike are the obvious examples. These are powerful short range techniques, even with relatively little training. If you mess them up you might not generate much power, but you’re not very likely to damage yourself beyond a bit of bruising.

We teach all three of these strikes to beginners in the first session and use them extensively during the early months of training. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’re just for beginners. All three techniques are important weapons in my arsenal.

The photos all show another pertinent feature of good self-defence techniques. Note the other hand holding and drawing the assailant into the strike (hikite) – helping to achieve muchimi (sticking) and kuzushi (balance breaking).

The Problem with Punching... - posted 24/04/17
…is that it’s quite easy to get wrong, and to come unstuck as a result. Of course you need to practice in order to be able to deliver power, but you also need to deliver that power without overly damaging yourself in the process. You could sprain your wrist, damage your fingers, dislocate or break the bones of your hand. I personally know of 2 instances in which the result of a fight was decided by the first punch – the puncher broke his hand on the opponent’s head and got a kicking as a result.

To avoid this problem you need to get a lot of things right when you punch: wrist alignment, fist shape, target selection, striking surface, angle to the target & distance. All this while someone’s trying to knock your block off. It can be done, but it takes months – no, years – of practice to learn to punch both with power and with confidence that you’re not going to damage yourself in the process.

If you do touch contact sport karate this may not be an issue for you. Or full contact in which you wear gloves, well its still an issue, but not at all as much as in self-defence. But when beginners come into the dojo – whatever the style – they almost always aspire to learning some self-defence skills. Yet generally in Karate we start them off with punching, something that’s not going to be much use to them in self-defence for maybe a couple of years. I don’t think beginners would be too happy if they understood that. Frankly I wouldn’t blame them.

So what can we give beginners as a striking tool to start with? It’s obvious – the palm-heel. It pretty much removes the whole issue about wrist alignment, removes the need to be able to form a fist and drastically reduces the need to get the angle of attack just right. Rather than wait a couple of years to be able to actually use it, beginners can finish their very first training session having acquired a tool they can use straight away.

Go No Sen - posted 22/04/17
Thanks to Steve Lowe (of the Wigan Koryu Kyudokan Dojo) for this, possibly the best description of the different ways of seizing the initiative I've ever seen...

Gedan Shuto Bunkai #1 - posted 20/04/17
This week we looked at the mechanics of gedan shuto uke (low knife-hand ‘block’) in shikodachi (straddle stance). Now time to look at application. There are numerous circumstances in which we can use this application, here we’ll look at one arm being restrained by both of the assailant’s hands (see photo 1). Note that this application only works if the assailant’s lead leg is on the same side as the arm they’re grabbing. So we’ll assume the assailant has their right leg forward and is grabbing your left arm.

First (photo 2) drive you’re left arm down (in a spearing motion) to their right. The idea is to draw them in that direction and encourage them to resist that movement.

Next (photo 3) step or slide (it just depends which foot you’ve got forward) your left leg behind their right leg. Drive deeply in so there is no space between your shoulder and theirs, and your hip and theirs. At the same time sweep your left arm up, in a circling motion about your own shoulder, then down slightly so your elbow comes down onto their chest.

Finally (photo 4) the scissoring motion. Simply complete the technique. The left arm drops into the gedan shuto position. The right foot pivots and the knees bend as you drop into shikodachi. This movement pushes your left knee/thigh through their thigh. The combined movement of the left arm and leg feels like cutting through the opponent with a pair of scissors.

Its possible that between steps 3 & 4 that you can feel the assailant is going to be thrown. Or you may feel that they’re going to be able to step back and out with their right leg and thwart the throw. In this case, you can help matters along by catching the inside of their right knee with your right hand and (at the same time as the scissoring motion) lifting it up so that your hand comes to the final hikite position.

Gedan Shuto in Shikodachi - posted 18/04/17
Gedan shuto (lower knife-hand sweep) is very similar to gedan barai (downward sweep). You can think of it as gedan shuto uke (block) or gedan shuto uchi (strike), it doesn’t matter which as the movement is the same regardless of the actual application. The arm movements are virtually identical to gedan barai, the only differences being:
  • The hands are open
  • The retracting hand only comes back to the midline, not the hip
  • The retracting forearm is aligned parallel to the hips, not at right angles to them as would be the case in a normal hikite
The retracting arm can still be thought of as hikite (pulling hand). Done like this its good for pulling the upper arm (rather than the wrist) or for trapping a limb against your own body.

The stance varies from style to style and depending on application. Some styles use nekoashidachi (cat stance) or kokutsudachi (back stance). We typically use shikodachi (straddle stance).

When combined with shikodachi the final rotation of the forearms should be held off as late as possible and timed to coincide with the drop into the stance and pivoting of the rear foot.

This technique (or variations on the same theme) appears in several kata: Pinan Nidan (Heian Shodan), Passai (Bassai), Useishi (Gojushiho).

If I were in charge of naming Karate techniques I’d have called this one ‘scissoring’ because of the combined action of the lead arm and leg. In addition to the arms working in opposition (as in gedan barai) the lead arm and leg also work in opposition to produce a shearing action – hence the name ‘scissoring’.

Are Nunchaku a Gimmick? - posted 17/04/17
Back to last week's visit by Mike Sanderson. I asked Mike to do a demo of his skills with Nunchaku. Some teenagers have a mis-spent youth playing snooker, or nowadays video games. But Mike’s mis-spent youth was clearly emulating Bruce Lee with his nunchuks instead.

I've never really taken nunchaku seriously. When other people thought they were really cool, I preferred to be anti-cool and study dull weapons like tonfa and sai instead (not that I was ever any good at them). But watching Mike work with chucks takes away any thought about them being gimmicky or ineffective. The speed, power and precision with which he wields either one or two chucks is truly impressive. You really wouldn’t want to be on the wrong of them.

The picture doesn’t do it justice. The chucks were moving just too fast for my camera to catch. This is the only photo I took that even remotely captured what was happening.

Age Uke Bunkai #2 - posted 11/04/17
Finally, for now, on Age-Uke (rising block) – here’s an application that uses the action of both hands.
  1. With your arms raised, the attacker grabs both of your wrists.
  2. Drop the left hand and raise the right, whilst moving both hands across your midline. Its very difficult for the attacker to prevent this, even if they’re a lot stronger than you. This is moving into the chamber position for age-uke.
  3. Drive the left hand straight up, now to the outside of the attacker’s grab (to your right wrist). At the same time start pull your right hand down, retracting it to your hip. This combined action squeezes the attacker’s left wrist in the crook of your left elbow.
  4. Keep pulling the right arm down and pushing the left arm up, starting to pronate it into the ‘blocking’ position. The combined action will strip off the attacker’s left grab.
As soon as the left grip is stripped away you can start to take control of one or both arms with your left and strike with your right. Be careful not to keep driving the block up once the grip is stripped away - doing so unnecessarily opens your left chest/armpit area as a target and gives the attacker a chance to regain the initiative.

Power through the Whole Movement - posted 10/04/17
Karate techniques are designed to express power throughout the whole range of the movement. If karate were a purely striking art that wouldn’t be relevant. The point would be for power to be applied just around the end of the movement, the moment of impact. Everything would be geared towards that goal. But Karate isn’t a purely striking art and the movements themselves are evidence of that. Just about any kata movement that I can think of, if done correctly, applies power throughout the whole movement.

Lets look at an example: age-uke (rising block). Imagine you’re trying to raise your arm against resistance, perhaps as in photo 1 where an opponent is using both hands to prevent you raising one hand. Unless you’re dramatically stronger than the opponent you won’t have a chance of just raising your arm. Instead, draw your hand in towards your centre, supinating (rotating) the forearm as you do so (photo 2). From there push your hand straight up, keeping the forearm close to vertical (photo 3). Finally, for the last bit of the push, pronate (rotate) the forearm and let the elbow splay out a little (photo 4). There, you’ve now done age-uke and overcome superior resistance in the process.

So is age-uke a block or is it a grappling tool? It is of course more than either of those, it’s a mechanical principle that can be applied in a whole variety of ways.

Age-Uke as a Glancing Block - posted 06/04/17
We’ve seen how age-uke (rising block) can go wrong if you have the elbow at too acute an angle. There is a further factor to consider. Do we want to do a ‘hard’ block, checking the motion of the incoming weapon by absorbing its momentum? Or a ‘soft’ block, redirecting the incoming weapon?

Remember the adage: strike a soft target with a hard weapon, and a hard target with a soft weapon. The same applies to blocking. A hard age-uke is a good choice for blocking punches from the inside. This is done with the end position of the movement, so the ulna strikes the muscles on the inside of the attacking limb.

That’s maybe not such a good choice for blocking a weapon such as a stick or metal bar. Either could potentially break your arm. Better to use a ‘soft’ glancing block. This can be achieved by contacting the incoming weapon slightly earlier in the age-uke movement. Contact is made with the muscles of the back of the forearm (before it has fully pronated) and the forearm itself held more vertical. The forearm could be held in this orientation so that the stick slides down and is gently redirected (as shown in the photo), or it could be pronated immediately following contact to increase both the redirection and the degree of control. Tai-sabaki (body shifting) can help by combining evasion with the glancing effect.

I’d prefer to avoid a weapon rather than block it (imagine doing any empty-handed block to a blade). And I’d prefer a soft glancing block to a hard checking block. That said, sometimes you don’t get much of a choice. Twice in my adult life I’ve had to directly block attacks with sticks. Once was with age-uke to a pool cue, once was with gedan-barai (downward sweep) to a stick with a couple of nails poking out of it. Evasion or glancing blocks weren’t options in either case. That I didn’t end up a couple of nails sticking in my arm was probably as much luck as skill on my part.

How not to use Age-Uke - posted 04/04/17
If you’re going to use Age-Uke as a block, here’s how not to do it. The problem here is the angle of the forearm at the moment of impact. If its horizontal or close to horizontal (so the angle at the elbow is about 90 degrees) then it becomes quite easy for the incoming downward force to push through, bending the elbow even further. In this instance the attacker had a rubber stick. If it had been an iron bar I’d have had a broken arm and a broken head. So this is definitely NOT the way to do it!

The Mechanics of Rising Block - posted 30/03/17
Known as age-uke or jodan-uke, this is a principle introduced early in most styles of Karate. Phase 1 & phase 2 are not sharply differentiated as they are in gedan-barai, instead one blends seamlessly into the other.

In Phase 1 how the ‘blocking’ hand moves initially depends on where it starts from (picture 1). Wherever it is, it needs to get to the position with the elbow bent and at the hip so that the fist is in front of the abdomen. The other arm moves so that the hand is more or less in front. From here the ‘blocking’ arm moves as follows:

  • Shoulder flexion
  • Shoulder adduction
  • Elbow flexion (if it needs not bent enough already)
  • Forearm supination
The net result is that forearm is close to vertical in front of the chest.

For the other arm the actions are as follows:

  • Shoulder extension
  • Shoulder abduction (just enough)
  • Elbow flexion
  • Forearm supination
The net result for both arms is that they are crossed in front of the chest, with the ‘blocking’ arm further away from the body. This is the (fairly) arbitrary end of phase 1 (picture 2).

In phase 2 for the ‘blocking’ arm the shoulder flexion continues so that the arm continues to rise vertically. Meanwhile the other arm continues the shoulder extension and abduction so that the fist moves back towards the standard chambered position at the hip (picture 3). Finally, at the very end of movement just as the ‘other’ fist chambers, the ‘blocking’ forearm pronates and the shoulder abducts so that the elbow flares out (picture 4).

I’ve labelled some important features in pictures 3 & 4: firstly, the way the forearm drives up the centreline, the forearm being oriented quite close to vertical; secondly, the pronation of the forearm and flaring out of the elbow happen together, as close to the end of the technique as possible.

Principle Driven Kata - posted 28/03/17
Over the last couple of months I’ve banged on at length about my approach to bunkai. I’m not going to say anything new here, I’m just going to summarise as briefly as I can, before moving on to other topics. I believe this approach gives us everything we need to know about the analysis of kata. Everything else can be worked out from this starting point. So here goes:

1. Understand the mechanical principles of the kata

Every move in kata embodies specific mechanical principles that make it a powerful movement. Strive to understand what those principles are, they’re not rocket science.

2. Bunkai must use the same mechanical principles as the corresponding kata movements

Practising the kata should improve your ability to execute the bunkai, or at least maintain that ability (otherwise, what would be the point of practising the kata?). And the only way that practice of one can help execution of the other is if they both use the same mechanical principles.

3. Bunkai must comply with known principles of combat

I’ve previously listed what are, for me, the most important principles of combat. I’m not saying that you should use the same ones as me, though obviously I believe they’re pretty good ones. But you should prioritise what you consider the most important principles and be able to justify why you believe that is so. Your bunkai should embody these principles. If it doesn’t then, no matter how elegant it is or how well it fits the kata, its probably not going to work in reality (assuming you’ve got the principles of combat right of course).

And that’s it in a nutshell. It really doesn’t matter where you get inspiration for bunkai from. I suggest you cast your net as wide as possible. But wherever it comes from, testing proposed bunkai against the two sets of principles outlined above will provide a consistent and reliable approach to separating out the wheat from the chaff.

Gedan Barai Bunkai #1 - posted 27/03/17
Gedan-barai (downward sweep) has many applications, beyond the obvious use as a block. Here is one we use a lot, which we introduce in the early kyu grades.
  1. The attacker grabs your right wrist with his right hand.
  2. Start to reverse the grip so that you’re grabbing their wrist. At the same time bring your left forearm to just above their right elbow. Note in the photo that I’ve switched my stance at this stage.
  3. Continue with the same actions: your right arm extends as you consolidate your wrist grab, your left ulna (forearm bone) slides up, sliding across the attacker’s triceps tendon just above the elbow. This is the chamber position for gedan-barai (or at least its trying to be, even if the hands don’t reach the final position).
  4. Complete the gedan-barai. Your right hand pulls their wrist back to your hip (hikite), your left forearm presses down through their triceps tendon. If you’ve set it up correctly, their elbow will be hyperextended.
In the ground game, joint-locks that hyperextend the elbow are intended to result in a submission/dislocation. But standing up like this that’s unlikely to happen. What is likely is that the attacker is forced to bend over, possibly dropping to their knees. Once you’ve got this far its not too difficult to drive the person face down towards the ground.

Here I’ve shown the technique in isolation. In practice I’m more likely to set it up with a strike first, lets say a punch to the ribs (with the left hand in this case). Once you’ve gained competence at doing it from a wrist grab you can begin to apply it in other situations, pretty much anytime you’ve managed to catch their wrist in a cross-arm wrist grab.

The Mechanics of Gedan Barai - posted 23/03/17
Downward sweep (or gedan barai) is one of the first principles learnt in Karate. It is an extremely versatile movement, that can be used in a whole variety of ways. Like many principles its split into 2 phases, each encapsulating different principles. The phases can be used in sequence or independently.

Phase 1 – the ‘chamber’

One arm, let’s say the left, bends so that the fist comes towards the opposite shoulder. This combines shoulder inward rotation, elbow flexion & forearm supination (rotation). Whether the shoulder extends or flexes depends on the starting position. This compound movement draws on a number of muscle groups working together to produce a powerful effect (I’ve discussed how well elbow flexion and forearm supination work together previously).

Meanwhile the right arm effectively does a low punching motion (shoulder extension, inward shoulder rotation, elbow extension and forearm pronation).

The net result is that both arms move inwards across the body, working in opposition as they do so. The left arm pulls up (to the opposite shoulder) while the right pushes down.

Phase 2 – the ‘block’

Now the left arm sweeps down (outward shoulder rotation, elbow extension and forearm pronation) and the right arm retracts, pulling up slightly to the hip (shoulder flexion, outward shoulder rotation and forearm supination).

The net result is that both arms push/pull apart across & away from the centreline. The left arm pushes/sweeps down while the right pulls up.

Its worth noting that in phase 1 the arms work together to close off your centreline, whereas in phase 2 they open it up.

Gedan-barai is similar in some ways to tsuki (thrust). Tsuki involves simultaneous pulling & pushing more or less horizontally . Gedan-barai involves simultaneous pulling up & pushing/sweeping down. If I’d been in charge of naming Karate movements I’d have called this one ‘Pull Up / Sweep Down’.

Is it OK to mix techniques from different kata? - posted 21/03/17
If a kata is a box of tools is it OK to mix techniques from different kata?

Yes, of course it is. If you’re doing a job around the house are you limited to only using tools from the first toolbox you open? No, of course you’re not. If the next tool you need is in a different toolbox you just open that toolbox and take it out. It would be bizarre to limit yourself to one toolbox just because that’s what you opened first.

Applying this idea to kata would be equally bizarre. However, I did recently come across exactly that as a piece of advice written by a popular bunkai seminar instructor. I was astonished that anyone would think this.

I think though that I can see where the idea sprang from. A popular theory these days is that one kata can encode a whole self-defence system in itself. This is a premise based on the belief that most Karate practitioners in the 19th century only knew a handful of kata. If an expert only knew three kata, perhaps even just one would be enough for a self-defence system in itself? And if one kata is enough then perhaps somehow you’ve failed in some way (to understand the kata?) if you have to draw on other kata for inspiration in a particular situation?

It’s a flawed premise compounded by an illogical conclusion. Its not about how many kata the masters of old practiced. No single kata addresses all the variations of self-defence situations. Whether you regard kata as a set of principles – as I do – or just a catalogue of techniques, there are always going to be situations where you need to step outside the confines of the moves in one kata and seek inspiration elsewhere.

Self-defence must be about pragmatism, not dogma. You can and should feel free to use whatever tools at your disposal, as and when you see fit.

Principle of Combat – Use Gross Motor Skills… - posted 20/03/17
…at least to start with.

When you’re under pressure and your heart rate is raised, such as if you’re scared or undergoing strenuous exertion, fine motor skills degrade rapidly. Fine motor skills are the fiddly tasks performed primarily by small muscles, such as writing or playing a musical instrument. The classic example of the loss of such skills can be seen in cheesy horror films where the hero - while escaping from the chasing monsters/zombies - struggles to get their car key in the keyhole, drops the keys but pulls it together to escape just in the nick of time. OK, its fictitious, but it is an excellent example of a real phenomena.

Martial arts too can rely on fine motor skills, such as seizing a vital point or performing a small joint lock. So how do we address the problem of these skills degrading under pressure? The answer is straightforward, avoid the use of such skills. Instead, rely on gross motor skills, broad brush stroke movements that are easy to do, and are still easy to do when you’re scared or tired.

Does that mean that we should throw all the fiddly techniques in the bin? No, but we should understand when to use them. The main factor determining whether they’ll work is how well you’ve controlled the attacker. As they throw their first punch they’re not really under your control at all. But after your first block you’ll hopefully be able to use your skills in muchimi, kuzushi and tai-sabaki to progressively bring them under your control. And the better that control is the easier it will be to apply your fine motor skills.

There are other factors too. The more you’ve practiced the technique, the more ingrained the skill is, can only help. And the calmer you can be, the less your fine motor skills will degrade. But still, ensuring the right level of control for the technique is the most critical factor.

So start with broad brush stroke movements and progress to fine motor skills only as appropriate.

Does it matter what a kata looks like? - posted 16/03/17
If a kata is a box of tools, does it matter what it looks like?

No, of course it doesn't. My toolbox doesn't look pretty, or powerful, or elegant, because that's not what its job is. Its job is to carry my tools so that they're readily accessible whenever I need them. It wouldn't be a problem if it did look elegant or powerful, but that would simply be a by-product of its true purpose.

Similarly with the tools themselves. Their job is not to LOOK powerful, or for me to FEEL powerful while I'm using them. Their job is to enable me to APPLY power in different ways as and when I need to. The screwdriver turns, the hammer bashes, the vice clamps, etc.

My tools have been with me a long time. The paint may be chipped off some of them, some are worn to the shape of my hand, but they're my tools and I know how to use them. My toolbox is quite old, but it does its job exactly as it was designed to. Painting it bright red wouldn't enhance its functionality one little bit.

Kata is, of course, just the same. Yet in modern Karate kata is mostly practiced in a demonstrative manner, it is performed according to a particular aesthetic. It has become performance art. To me, what's important is whether practising the kata enables me to ingrain the principles it contains. What it looks like is purely an incidental by-product.

Now I don't have a problem with performance art for its own sake. But if you think that the performance art kata is the same kata that will save your butt in self-defence, then I fear that you are mistaken.

The bottom line: Time spent painting your toolbox red is time that could have been spent becoming more familiar with how to use the tools themselves.

Tsuki - Principles & Bunkai - posted 14/03/17
Tsuki translates as ‘thrust’ and is the name given to punching in Karate. I’ve actually looked at the principle mechanics of tsuki already, when I discussed forearm rotation. To recap, the two different ways of rotating your forearm work together with bending/straightening the arm to produce more power. Pronation and extension work together, supination and flexion work together. This is what we do in tsuki. I don’t want to dwell too much on the other aspects of tsuki, but I will draw attention to a) keeping your shoulders down and level, and b) keeping the elbows down. The overall result is a strong coordinated motion.

But you don’t need to practice kata to learn how to punch. Lots of martial arts do that perfectly well without the need for kata. So why bother? I think the answer is simple, its not about punching, its about pushing AND pulling. In kata ‘punching’ is almost always accompanied by hikite (pulling the other hand back to the hip). This, in my view, is what tsuki is about – the simultaneous action of punching and pulling.

So the obvious application of tsuki is to hold and pull with one hand, while punching with the other. The photos show variations on this theme. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking its just about punching, that’s just the most obvious application. If I were in charge of naming Karate techniques I’d have called tsuki - yes you guessed it - ‘Pushing and Pulling’. Thinking of it that way should give inspiration for bunkai (application) beyond the obvious.

Principle of Combat - Qi - posted 13/03/17
Or Chi or Ki or ‘energy’ if you prefer.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all mystical and esoteric. When I talk about qi I’m not talking about anything that can’t be explained by either common sense or science. However, I don’t want to get embroiled in a long and turgid exploration of qi at this point.

All I really want to say right now is that you shouldn’t rely on upper body strength to make your techniques work. Upper body strength is a great thing, but there’s every possibility that the attacker might have more of it than you do, in which case you’ll be out-gunned. Instead you should use correct technique, good use of your own bodyweight, good distancing and timing, and so on and so on.

Quite often I see big strong karateka muscling techniques through – the techniques are OK, but they could be better if they worked on refining the mechanics some more.

In terms of testing your bunkai to see if it embodies this principle, if your bunkai requires superior upper body strength to make it work then its either fundamentally flawed (in which case bin it) or it needs refining in some way.

How to show qi in one photograph? With difficulty. I’ve chosen a picture of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, kneeling in seiza. This image is brimming with ki, in the broader sense, not the narrow aspect of it I’ve described above. Ueshiba looks relaxed but alert, ready to move from his hara (belly) and spring into action at any moment.

Bunkai for Yoi - posted 09/03/17
Here is our entry level bunkai for yoi. It's a nice example in that it uses both phases of the movement, crossing then uncrossing. This technique is sometimes known in Okinawa as the 'old man's wrist release' as it requires little strength to make it work.
  1. Start with both wrists grabbed.
  2. Cross the wrists, pushing one of the attacker's wrists with the palm of your hand.
  3. Grab the wrist.
  4. Uncross your wrists, which pulls the attacker's arm across in front of your body.
What's not shown here is the footwork. Just the arm movements will give you some mileage. But using appropriate footwork to support what the arms are doing will give you a much better result. The kata itself doesn’t tell us much about this – it does tell us that the stance should be a parallel one, but nothing about our orientation to or distance from the attacker.

How does it measure against our principles of combat so far?

  1. Muchimi - great, you can't get much stickier than actually holding the enemy.
  2. Kuzushi - you can get a bit of unbalancing just with the arm movement, but it works really well with the right footwork
  3. Tai-sabaki - again, the arm movement can turn the assailant a bit, but with the right footwork you'll reposition both the assailant and yourself, very much to your advantage

Combining the Principles of Combat - posted 07/03/17
So I've made 3 posts so far describing the principles of combat. You may have noticed that I repeatedly used one particular picture in each of these posts. "What a cheat!" I hear you say. Well, no, that was precisely my point. And here's the same picture again, just to ram the message home.

The principles are not mutually exclusive, they are in fact mutually supportive. Everything I do in combat is geared towards improving (or at least maintaining) muchimi (sticking), kuzushi (unbalancing) and tai-sabaki (body-shifting). Once I achieve each of these I make sure I maintain them until the confrontation is over.

In the picture, muchimi was first achieved when I intercepted the punch. I maintained it by sliding my hand to the elbow and pressing. In this instance I grabbed hold of the clothing. So the muchimi is maintained by the grab and by pressing into the attacker’s arm with the little finger side of my hand.

This helped me to achieve kuzushi, by pressing the attacker’s elbow across his body. The muchimi and kuzushi together helped me to achieve tai-sabaki, not by moving me on this occasion, but by turning the attacker.

From here I think my most likely follow-up would be to strike to the head with my free hand, or to catch the wrist and apply an arm-bar. Or both, first the strike then the arm-bar. Either would be augmented by driving my body forwards, if my lead leg crashes into their leg in the process all the better. So the counter works to maintain and most likely improve the muchimi, kuzushi and tai-sabaki. And that’s as it should be.

Of course, there are other principles we can consider. But I thought it was worth pausing to consider just how well these three work together.

The Three Pillars of Self-Defence - posted 06/03/17
In my view, self-defence has three major components, or pillars upon which it is built: prevention, awareness and preparation.

Prevention includes a whole range of different behaviours such as making sure your car doors are locked when you drive around town, not going to dodgy parts of town especially at night, and so on and so on. The general idea is simply to prevent trouble from finding you in the first place.

Awareness involves being aware of your environment and the people/dangers present, and being aware of the dangers of the different situations you find yourself in. Its value is quite straightforward. It doesn’t matter how good your blocks and kicks and punches are, if you don’t see (or hear or feel) the fist that’s about to clock you round the head then you’re not going to be able to do anything about it.

Preparation is what most martial artists spend most of their training time on – either practising the techniques of combat or engaging in fitness and strength exercise/conditioning to support their combat skills.

All 3 components are important, but they’re not just important in themselves. They also support each other. For example, both awareness and preparation have an effect on your body language which predators find off-putting, in other words they act as a form of prevention in and of themselves.

Perhaps ‘pillars’ are not the right analogy. Perhaps it would be better to say that self-defence is like a 3-legged stool. Remove any one of the three legs (prevention, awareness or preparation) and the stool cannot stand up, it needs all three.

Does the Sequence of the Kata Matter? - posted 02/03/17
So if a kata is just a toolbox and the moves within it just tools (mechanical principles)…

…does the sequence of the kata matter?

Not one jot!

If you do a DIY job, do you take out your tools and use them in the order that they’ve been packed away in your toolbox? No, of course you don’t. You take out each tool you need and use it as required for that particular job. To do otherwise would be bizarre, it certainly wouldn’t result in effective DIY.

Self-defence is just the same. Take the principles (tools) out of your kata (toolbox) and use them freely as required. To try to adhere to the kata sequence is you working for the kata, not the kata working for you.

Seizing the Wrist - posted 28/02/17
Seizing hold of the assailant is a very commonly used tactic in Karate and the wrist is probably the most frequently used place to seize. It is after all a form of muchimi (sticking) and it can help considerably with kuzushi (unbalancing) and tai-sabaki (moving to a better position).

Like any skill, seizing the wrist takes a bit of practice to do well. One good way to practice is to do so from having your own wrist grabbed. Once you’ve got the hang of that you can start to work on other ways to catch the wrist, from a punch for example.

The photos show the key points to seizing the wrist from a cross-arm wrist grab. Note the use of appropriate supination and pronation (forearm rotation) to maximise the power you can apply to the technique. Also note the way the opponent’s wrist is ultimately grabbed, so that their arm and their shoulder are twisted in the process.

Principle of Combat - Tai-Sabaki - posted 27/02/17
Tai-sabaki literally means 'body movement' or 'body shifting'. I'm using the term as a shorthand for 'move to a better position'. This is a concept beautifully expressed in Brazilian Ju-jitsu, where it is central to their approach to groundwork. BJJ rightly recognises that its much easier to apply a joint-lock, choke or whatever finishing technique if you're in a superior position compared to the opponent. So much so that they even do a form of free-play where the aim is simply to get a better position. Points are awarded for successfully achieving one of a number or recognised superior positions.

This concept is equally important in stand up self-defence. Why would you want to stand toe to toe and slug it out with the attacker, relying wholly on being faster and/or more powerful than they are? Far better to move to a position which reduces their ability to hit or otherwise attack you. At the same time it reduces their ability to defend against your attacks. So standing at their side, or even behind them, is great. Generally you want to be facing them but without them facing you. You can move yourself, or the opponent, or - more typically – a bit of both.

Of course, the advantage is only momentary, very quickly they'll adjust position so that they can attack or defend. So the advantage needs to pressed. You need to continually seek to improve your position. Facing away from you is better than facing you. Bending over is better than standing up. On their knees is better than bending over. Laying down is better than kneeling. Lying face down is better than face up.

You could argue that the best position is one where the attacker is lying face down while you're kneeling on top of them (to pin them there). But I've got a better one - they're laying facing down while you're sat in the pub a couple of miles away, having resolved the situation and made a sharp exit.

Power Generation Principles: Yoi - posted 23/02/17
Time to start looking at the mechanics of kata movements in more detail. The logical place to start with is 'yoi,' the 'ready' position at the start of kata. There are of course different yoi positions for different kata and in different styles. I'll look at what I think is the most common yoi of all, that typically found in the Pinan/Heian kata. This yoi, like many karate techniques, has 2 phases to it. In phase 1 the hands generally start open, by the sides of the body. From there the arms move inwards across the body (shoulder adduction), the arms bend (elbow flexion) and the forearms rotate (supination). As discussed in an earlier post, these are mutually supportive movements. Different styles bend the arms to different degrees. In the picture I’ve done it a bit more than I usually do just to emphasise the movement. Phase 2 starts with the hands forming fists, usually normal fist but middle knuckle fist, as I’ve shown, is fine too. Now we do the opposite of phase 1 – the arms move outwards (shoulder abduction), the arms straighten (elbow extension) but not completely, and the forearms rotate the other way (pronation). What is the stance telling us? Given that it’s a completely neutral stance I don’t think its telling us anything. In application you must use whatever foot movements and body position is appropriate.

The most important point about yoi is that the wrists cross and uncross. We can apply force with the crossing motion of phase 1 and/or we can apply force with the separating motion of phase 2. If naming karate movements was up to me, I’d have called yoi ‘crossing and uncrossing the wrists’ as this is what its all about.

Principle of Combat - Muchimi - posted 22/02/17
Muchimi is one concept that didn’t really survive the transition from Okinawan Karate-jutsu to Japanese Karate-do. The word itself is Okinawan (not Japanese) and translates roughly as ‘stickiness’. The idea is essentially to ‘stick’ to the opponent, but why would we want to do that?

Well, violence is inherently chaotic. In order to give some confidence in our ability to resolve a violent situation we need to bring some sort of order to that chaos. In other words, we need to control both our own movements and the opponent’s. In order to properly control an opponent we need to be in contact. We could influence them without being in contact (a feint for example), but for proper control contact is essential.

But its not just about holding or moving the opponent, its also about using your limbs (or whatever part of your body) to ‘listen’ to the opponent’s movement, to determine where he’s moving AS he moves rather than AFTER.

You can effect muchimi with any part of your body. You could grab them or, in the right circumstances, their clothing. You could stick with your arm or your leg, or whatever part of your body works at that moment.

The listening quality of muchimi is very important and its use has been understood in Chinese martial arts for, I believe, a very long time. Tai Chi and Wing Chun are just two diverse arts that put great store on ‘sticking to’ and ‘listening’ to the opponent. Karate, being an offshoot of Kung Fu, shares that heritage.

The listening aspect of muchimi works because it relies on an innate human skill known as proprioception, ie. your ability to automatically know where every part of your body is in relation to every other part. In the past 20 years or so, research into what are known as tactile displays has demonstrated that humans can put proprioception to great use – we can respond to tactile stimulus both faster and more appropriately than visual or auditory stimulus. To put this in a martial context, if you can feel an incoming punch you can deal with it faster and better than if you can see it. And who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?

Can I kick high? - posted 20/02/17
Every martial artist who knows me, knows how sceptical I am of using high kicks in self-defence. So much so, that it now appears there’s a rumour going around that the reason for this is that I can’t kick high. Let me assure all concerned that I can kick quite high enough, thank you very much.

As you can see in the attached photo, I’m kicking a good 20 centimetres or so above my own head height, with no difficulty at all.

Let that put an end to the matter!

Principle of Combat - Kuzushi - posted 16/02/17
A few days ago I discussed testing bunkai to see if it accords with known principles of combat. Time to start looking at what I believe those principles should be.

I’ll start with kuzushi, as its one I’ve already mentioned. Kuzushi is usually translated as ‘unbalancing’ or ‘breaking balance’, in other words the art of breaking the opponent’s balance. I think that definition needs expanding a bit - breaking the opponent’s balance while keeping your own. It also needs extending in time. Its not enough to break the opponent’s balance once. Once you’ve broken it, you need to keep it broken until the fight is over.

So once you achieve kuzushi you need to keep it. Don’t give it back!

But what’s so special about balance anyway? Well, without balance you can neither defend nor attack effectively. Your strikes will lack power and the range of options (what movements you can do) will be limited. Perhaps most importantly humans, like many other animals, possess a self-righting reflex. So when you’re taken off-balance, your nervous system will automatically apply itself to the task of rebalancing, momentarily putting on hold any ‘executive’ commands such as ‘hit the other person’.

So if you unbalance your opponent, they’ll be too busy rebalancing themselves to mount an effective attack, any attack they do manage to mount will lack power. But only if you continue to keep them off-balance.

A 'Grand Unified Theory of Kata'? - posted 14/02/17
Over the past few weeks I’ve made a number of posts about kata and bunkai. I want to summarise that now, to draw it all together into a consistent approach to the subject. Its not that grand really, quite straightforward actually. But hopefully it does take away a lot of mystery and confusion, the need for multiple 'rules' that can only be inconsistently applied. In their place all that should be left is a pragmatic, verifiable approach to using kata to improve self-defence skills. Here goes…

  1. The purpose of kata is to condition into the body powerful ways of moving, ie. valid bio-mechanical principles.
  2. Martial techniques can only be considered bunkai if they rely, more or less, on the same muscle recruitment as the kata, ie. they feel like the kata (whether they look like it is irrelevant).
  3. Bunkai is only valid if it is consistent with known principles of combat.
There, quite simple really. ‘That is obvious’ I hear you cry! Yet I’ll wager that the great majority of people reading this would find that some portion of the bunkai they practice doesn’t feel like any kata, and some portion isn’t consistent with valid combative principles. I challenge you to look at your bunkai in this light and see how much of it actually passes the test. If it doesn’t, throw it out, what you’ll be left with is the bunkai that a) works, and b) is actually sharpened by kata practice.

And finally, how do we define kata itself? Its simply a collection of mechanical principles. You could say that the principles are tools and the kata is just a container to put those tools in, ie. a toolbox. I think this is a nice analogy, one for which I cannot take credit. But I will run with it in future posts, as it has some profound implications.

The picture shows club members demonstrating kata at a recent grading, the only time in my view that kata should be ‘demonstrated’ rather than ‘practiced’.

Does Karate Make You a Better Person? - posted 13/02/17
Does Karate Make You a Better Person?

Yes, of course it does. And also, No, sadly it doesn’t.

The question is, what do we actually mean by ‘better’? I think most people would describe better in this sense as nicer, kinder, more truthful, more principled, perhaps even more enlightened. But that clearly isn’t the case at all. Some of the most egotistical, dishonest and frankly dysfunctional people I’ve met have been martial artists. Quite senior ones at that.

Karate (or any other martial art) training won’t change these basic characteristics. If you’re a saint, Karate won’t stop you being a saint. Equally, if you’re a cad and a bounder, Karate won’t stop you being a cad and a bounder.

What Karate will do, is make you a stronger person. Not just physically, but mentally too. Years of austere training will develop in you resilience, strength of spirit and the ability to endure. In these respects, you will be ‘better’.

And that is exactly what the founders of Karate-do had in mind. They wanted to use Karate as a vehicle to produce young men who were both stoic and obedient. Young men who were strong in spirit, but willing to put the needs of the nation ahead of their own. As Anko Itosu (teacher of Gichin Funakoshi) wrote when he was (successfully) attempting to get Karate-do training introduced to Okinawan schools “I believe this will be a great benefit to our nation and our military”.

It wasn’t about individual fighting skill. It wasn’t about being a nicer person. It was about being a productive and obedient servant of the nation, whether that be in time of war or peace.

In keeping with that ethos, the picture shows militaristic Karate-do training at Shuri castle in Okinawa in the 1930s.

Book Recommendation - posted 11/02/17
Yesterday I briefly mentioned principles of combat. Over the coming weeks I will delve into what I consider the important principles. But for further exploration of your own on this subject, here's one book I would warmly recommend:

The Rules of Combat (the Development of Warrior Tactics) by Vince Morris.

You can get it direct from the Kissaki Kai website. There's an accompanying DVD (or two) available now. I haven't seen these so can't personally recommend them (though I've always found Vince Morris' other videos/DVDs to be packed full of useful information). The book, however, is a must read as far as I'm concerned.

Now, if only I could remember who I lent my copy to...

Bunkai Testing - posted 10/02/17
So you’ve got some exciting new bunkai to play with. You may have picked it up from a seminar, a book, a video, seen it in another art, or just thought it up yourself. I think all these possible sources are perfectly valid. Lets assume that your new bunkai does indeed match the kata, so you’ve got that base covered. But do you know if it would actually work in real life?

How can you test it, without both parties going full pelt to see what happens? If the bunkai is intended to seriously injure the attacker, then testing it so vigorously is going to rack up injuries very quickly. There could be very serious injuries. So that’s no good, there needs to be some other way that you can test it.

You can, and should, practice it to make it slick and try it with partial intensity against partial resistance. But as the resistance and intensity are partial, then the confidence it brings can itself only be partial. There needs to be another way.

Happily there is. That is to assess bunkai against known principles of combat. I believe there are a number of principles that transcend individual arts but which are generally key to successful technique. For example, kuzushi – taking the opponent’s balance. Generally speaking, I’ve found that techniques that achieve kuzushi have a far higher chance of working than those that don’t, for reasons which I’ll explore at another time. So if your new bunkai doesn’t achieve and maintain kuzushi throughout then I’ve got to question its effectiveness.

The task is straightforward then. First, identify what you believe to be the core principles of combat. Second, assess your bunkai to see if it adheres to most (all?) of those principles. If it doesn’t, throw it away, or possibly see if it can be modified to improve it then re-assess. Simple!

Armbar Takedowns - posted 09/02/17
Traditional & Sport Karate focus very much on the striking aspects of Karate practice, so much so that other parts of the whole curriculum became all but forgotten. Joint-locking is one such example. That has all changed in the past 20 years or so, but it astonishes me that there are still many karateka who are unaware of Karate’s rich heritage, and even some who deny its existence.

Yet the evidence is quite clear. The top left hand photo shows Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate, demonstrating an armbar takedown in his 1925 book. He even describes it as a kata application. There can be no ambiguity there.

The other photos show members of our club working on basically the same technique. It’s a relative of armbars seen in various schools of Ju-Jitsu in that it strives to hyper-extend the elbow joint. Applied like this however, its unlikely to dislocate the elbow or get a submission. The intention is to control the attacker, unbalancing them and driving them face down towards the ground. Once there you could dislocate the elbow, or restrain the attacker, or just take the opportunity to escape.

In our club, this is the first joint lock that students are introduced to, at about 8th or 7th kyu, and its an important staple of our curriculum.

Make the Kata Work For You... - posted 07/02/17
... not the other way round.

Take a look at the attached picture. This is a technique that I've seen knocking about for years, taught as an application for Kaisho Haiwan Uke, the opening move of Pinan/Hiean Yondan.

Given my previous definition that bunkai should use approximately the same muscle recruitment as the kata then this technique clearly qualifies as bunkai for this kata. The technique is virtually identical to the kata, just a little difference in how your feet get to where they need to be.

But is it actually any good? Is it tactically the right thing to do? I've got to say that I don't think it is. Let's ask a couple of questions of the technique...

Why the back stance (kokutsudachi)? What extra value is it bringing here? Why strike the face from the side in the manner shown, given that it brings you so much closer to the attacker's other hand?

It seems to me that standing side on to the attacker, in a back stance with your arm raised like this exposes just about everything worth exposing to the attacker - both inner thighs, the side of the chest right up to and including the armpit, and the whole length of the inner aspect of the right arm. Heaven forbid that the attacker should be holding a knife in his left hand. Perhaps the idea is that he's so spoilt for choice of juicy targets that's he's frozen into inaction? One can only hope.

Would it make sense to do something else instead? Well how about you just stay where you are, blocking with the left hand just as in the kata and hitting them with a palm-heel to the face. At least this would expose somewhat fewer targets to the attacker's other hand. It would also be better at breaking his balance - thrusting your hand into the face will unbalance more than the strike from the side. It would definitely make it more difficult for him to follow up his initial attack.

So why do it as shown in the photo, when there are simpler, tactically superior alternatives? The only answer I can see is that it matches the kata. This is you working for the kata. Surely the whole point is to make the kata for you?

So just because something matches the kata doesn't make it the right thing to do. Its not justification for ignoring common-sense.

My thanks to my students, who managed to endure being pushed, pulled and prodded to get them to stand in such a silly position. And also thanks to Alan Platt for saying to me, some time ago, now "Make the kata work for you, not the other way round".

When is bunkai not really bunkai - posted 02/02/17
Have a look at the photos on the right. Here we see Kaisho Haiwan-uke, the name given to the opening move of Pinan/Heian Yondan. The arrow shows roughly the direction that the left arm travels. Also shown are two possible applications (bunkai) for this movement. On the surface of it both may look plausible. Certainly the snapshot in time captured in each photo looks identical.

For now, lets ignore the right hand, which is using a rising block to intercept a round punch. In technique 1 the left hand sweeps inwards to strike the face, in technique 2 it sweeps forward/out to strike the neck. Are they both bunkai for kaisho haiwan-uke? Lets ask that question another way. Will practising the kata movement help you to improve or maintain your ability to do the technique?

For technique 2 I’d say the answer is an unambiguous YES. The movement is essentially the same in the kata and the technique. The height of the hand or the bend in the elbow may vary depending on the height/distance/position of the attacker, but the movement is essentially the same. The same muscles have been recruited in the same order.

For technique 1 I’ve got to say NO. Sweeping the arm inwards is fundamentally different to the kata movement. No amount of practice of the kata is going to make one jot of difference to my ability to do the technique.

So its not about whether the kata and the technique look similar, its about whether they feel similar, whether they recruit roughly the same muscles in roughly the same order. Otherwise there would be no benefit in ingraining muscle memory through repeated practice of the kata.

A final note, this is not about whether the technique is any good, that’s a separate question. Its just about whether the kata and the technique rely on the same muscle memory. Only then can the technique really be considered bunkai.

Awareness, or rather the lack of it - posted 31/01/17
So I was walking through the park, on my way to work, and once again had the opportunity to marvel at the general public's lack of awareness of their surroundings.

The path I was on was split between pedestrians on one side and a cycle lane on the other. The young woman walking along in front of me had headphones on and was strolling along in the cycle lane. Would you believe it, a man on a bicycle came up behind her! Who would have expected that? I heard him call "Excuse me", then louder "Excuse Me!" and finally shout "EXCUSE ME!". Then he slammed on his brakes. She heard the screech of his brakes immediately behind her and flinched, just as he swerved onto the grass narrowly missing her.

If you're so easily surprised by a cyclist on a cycle path, how surprised would you be by a mugger?

To be fair, the cyclist wasn't much better. I'm not sure why he expected that she would hear him, in his place I think I'd have slowed down earlier and simply just moved over onto the grass. Job done.

Still, looking on the bright side, with these kind of willing victims wandering round everywhere, what muggers are going to bother with me?

The Spiritual Side of Karate? - posted 30/01/17
My heart sinks sometimes when I hear prospective new students tell me that they’re interested in the ‘spiritual side of Karate’.

Usually what its telling me is they’re attracted by the ritual associated with martial art practice. They like the angry white pyjamas. They like white headbands with rising sun symbols. They like talking in pigeon Japanese. They like pottering about in a kimono at home rather than a dressing gown. They especially like performing kata on mountain tops and other dramatic locations.

Usually they’re not so keen on the hard work, the repetition, the sweat, the bruises and the pain. What they completely miss is that whatever spiritual benefits Karate might bring, they come as a direct result of the hard work, the repetition, the sweat, the bruises and the pain. Not instead of them!

The picture shows Shoshin Nagamine – founder of Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu and not a man afraid of hard work – in seated meditation.

Funky Fist Forms in Karate - posted 26/01/17
Modern Karate almost exclusively uses only one fist formation - seiken, the standard fist in which all the fingers are curled tightly and the primary impact area is the knuckles of the index and middle fingers. You only have to look in any historical Karate book to see several other variations but they're vanishingly rare in actual practice in most modern dojo. There are a few kata where you see these different fists but you're unlikely to see them in actual practice.

I think the reason for this is that the wealth and depth of understanding that existed on different ways and places to traumatise the human body was deliberately brushed aside and replaced with 3 target areas: high, middle and low (jodan, chudan, gedan). And if you're not concerned with where you're striking you don't really need the different fist formations in order to access and apply pressure to the different targets. And so we see the demise of all those funky fist formations.

I think that karateka should be as familiar with each of them as they are with the standard seiken. You should be able flip from one to another, or from open hand to any fist formation without having to think about it. This, of course, takes practice.

The photo shows how to form the 4 basic variants:

  • Normal fist, Sei-ken - nice and easy, everyone knows that one.
  • Single knuckle, Ippon-ken - the primary striking surface is the fore-knuckle of the forefinger, there are actually several variations on this theme in which the thumb is used to brace the forefinger in different ways.
  • Single knuckle, Chuko-Ippon-ken or Nakadaka-ken - the primary striking surface is the fore-knuckle of the middle finger. Note the way that the end of the forefinger is straightened. If you've not seen this before, ask yourself why that would be?
  • All foreknuckles, Hira-ken - the primary striking is any/all of the fore-knuckle except the little finger.

Another look at Mawashi-uke - posted 24/01/17
I’ve looked previously at forearm rotation and how to combine with arm flexion/extension to generate power. I’ve also looked at how these two together can combine with arm rotation (sweeping the arm across the front of your body, as in mawashi-uke or shuto-uke). But there’s another dimension, or rather plane of movement, that can come into play. That is the vertical plane.

When performing mawashi-uke you get an increased effect if you raise and lower your hand slightly while sweeping it across your body. See the (approximate) line of travel shown in the picture. This works for two reasons.

First, moving your arm in this manner while in contact with the attacker’s arm makes it easier to redirect their incoming force. Their arm is essentially free to move in a (vertical) circle with their shoulder as the centre of that circle. It doesn’t take much encouragement to get their arm to move in that manner. As you do so, the direction of force that you’re applying is continually changing. That continual change is very hard to resist (it would require the direction of their resistance to continually change in harmony with your force).

Second, you will have more muscular synergy (ie. more power) by combining the vertical movement appropriately with the other parts of the movement. Think about pushing up with your hands either palm-down or palm-up. Which will be stronger? If pressing down which will be stronger, palm-up or palm-down? If you’re not sure, a little experimentation with dumbbells will answer the question. So for maximum effect combine forearm supination, elbow flexion, shoulder inward rotation and shoulder flexion. The combine forearm pronation, elbow extension, shoulder outward rotation and shoulder extension.

If that’s a bit of an anatomical mouthful, just do the mawashi-uke properly!

Really No Blocks in Kata? - posted 23/01/17
You may have heard the claim before – there are no blocks in kata. I think this saying was first popularised (invented?) by George Dillman in the early 1990s. Not wishing to put myself in the same camp as George Dillman (heaven forbid!), I’m going to go a step further. There are no punches, strikes or kicks either. There are, in my opinion, no techniques at all. There are simply movements. And these movements express principles, mostly mechanical principles but also some tactical principles.

For example, when I see a lunge punch (oi-zuki / jun-zuki) in kata I don’t see a punch, I see simultaneous pushing and pulling. You could apply that movement as a punch but it could be applied in other ways too. So the main thing we’re getting when we practice kata is practice of the mechanical principles of Karate. Simple:)

The photo shows kata practice at the old Shinseido hombu dojo in Sevenoaks in about 1998. The old dojo was the source of many a splinter in the soles of the feet.

Spot the Kata - Naihanchi Nidan - posted 19/01/17
Spot the kata… Sometimes the students get their revenge. Here we have the ‘separating the elbows’ movement as at the start of Naihanchi Nidan. I think of this as Naihanchi Nidan because the feeling of the left arm is about pulling up to the side, not just pulling the fist back to the hip as in a standard hikite.

From the position in the photo it would have been easy to segue into gedan shuto (low knifehand) in shikodachi (straddle stance) as seen in a number of kata – the arm and leg performing a scissoring action which would have easily dumped me on the ground.

Forearm Rotation - posted 16/01/17
Last Monday I discussed forearm rotation in different karate techniques, describing how supination lends strength to techniques that involve bending the arm, whereas pronation lends strength when straightening the arm. There is another (related) way where forearm rotation can be used to increase the force applied, that is when you externally rotate your arm, ie. move your arm outwards across the front of your body, as seen in numerous Karate techniques, especially uke waza ('blocking' techniques). Consider the attached picture. Imagine your raised right hand has already crossed your centre-line over towards the opposite shoulder and that now you're trying to push something back across the other way - an incoming punch for example. If you push across with your forearm supinated (palm-up) you'll find that this is much stronger than with the forearm pronated (palm-down). Once you cross your centre-line however, and the further you move away from it, the more the opposite becomes true.

There is a synergy going on here between the muscles that rotate the forearm, those that control the elbow and those that control the shoulder. But you don't need to get too involved in understanding the complexities of the muscular interactions. Nor do you need to take my word for it. You can prove it to yourself very easily. Get a partner to stand with one arm outstretched pointing at your left shoulder. Raise your right forearm to the outside of their arm and push it across to your right. Try it with your hand palm-up and palm-down. Feel which is strongest. Now do the same with their hand pointing towards your other shoulder. It won't take long to work out which orientation is strongest in which position.

To make best use of this phenomena, techniques that sweep the arm across the body in this manner should start out with the forearm supinated and end up pronated, ie. the forearm pronates as it goes across. And this is exactly what many techniques do.

Promotions - posted 14/01/17
Recently I awarded a couple of grades to students without going through the formal grading process. This isn't a copout. Both club members have actually been plagued by injury recently. Yet both kept training, despite the injury. It would have been easy for them to take time out to rest and heal. But both persisted in turning up to train and doing what they can. Sometimes I've modified the content of their training so as to focus on areas that weren't going to aggravate their injuries. I ts important, when injured, to keep training if you can - but in a way that doesn't aggravate matters and gives your body a chance to heal properly.

Karate is a personal journey, one that's ultimately more about spirit than technical skill. So its not that I'm unconcerned about these two students' technical development. I'm actually quite satisfied with how they've progressed of late. But I'm most impressed with their determination to persist in the face of adversity. And on that basis I'm more than happy to promote both to their next kyu grade.

Well done guys, you know who you are!

Fallen Tree! - posted 13/01/17
Sometimes its not just the bad guys who are out to get you. Sometimes nature's at it too.

I was walking to work yesterday and came across this tree fallen across the path in the park, blown down in the high winds during the night. I estimate the tree had been about 30 feet tall. It was still very windy. I thought I was being a bit risque walking along the path at the edge of the park, but I kept both eyes and especially ears focused on the task of detecting any falling branches. There were plenty already littering the ground.

What amazed me was the number of joggers running round the park wearing headphones. And the number of students on their way to exams, also wearing headphones. It was business as usual as far as they were concerned.

Awareness is one cornerstone of self-defence. I often berate our club members if they admit to wearing headphones in public. Depriving yourself of one of your primary senses seems like folly to me. But walking through the park in a high wind wearing headphones, while there are branches and even trees falling from the sky? My mind boggles at the lack of common-sense some people display. Like lambs to the slaughter!

More Knee Strikes - posted 12/01/17
Here are some more pics of knee strikes to various targets. I haven’t included a knee to the inner thigh, simply because I don’t have a photo to hand. But these are just as useful as striking the outer thigh. Either way, inside or out, a knee to the thigh works wonders for unbalancing and controlling the attacker.

Forearm Rotation in Karate - posted 09/01/17
Everywhere you look in Karate (in kata at least) you’ll find forearm rotation. There are not many techniques that don’t employ it. Why is this?

The main reason is simple, forearm rotation enables you to apply more force to the task of straightening or bending the arm. It makes your techniques stronger, as long as you do it in the right way at the right time. There are two basic ways of rotating your forearm: supination (as if tightening a screw with your right hand) and pronation (loosening a screw with your right hand).

Exactly how this works is quite involved, the human body being the complicated mechanism that is, but the general idea can be grasped by looking at the biceps muscle. The main job of the biceps is to flex (bend) the arm at the elbow but it also plays a role in supination. If you bend your elbow and supinate your forearm at the same time you will recruit more fibres in the biceps than with either movement alone. Each movement becomes stronger as a result. They are mutually conducive.

Extension (straightening) of the elbow and pronation are similarly mutually conducive. The exact mechanism is less clear cut, but is essentially the opposite of flexion/supination.

The other options, combining flexion with pronation or extension with supination are inevitably weaker. We should expect to see the majority of karate techniques combine the stronger options rather than the weaker options. And that is exactly what we do see, eg. pulling back (hikite) combines flexion and supination, whereas thrusting (tsuki) combines extension and pronation.

Now the challenge is, can you find a karate technique that breaks that rule?

What’s the most important kick in Karate? - posted 07/01/17
Well that depends on why you’re doing Karate. If its for self-defence the answer could be very different than if its for sport or character development. In any case, I suppose the answer is the one that gives the greatest chance of success, with the smallest penalty when it doesn’t succeed.

Personally, I only consider this from the viewpoint of self-defence, in which case the answer is easy. Is it a jump spin frapuccino, or perhaps a flying mocca-latte (I lose track of the fancy names for different kicks)? No, it’s the humble knee strike.

In the close grappling/striking range that so frequently occurs in real violence there are many opportunities for knee strikes – and few opportunities for most other kicks. Karateka often think of the knee only for attacking the groin, or perhaps the head if you’ve happened to pull it down. But it’s highly effective when used to attack the thigh, inside or out. That may not be a fight finisher in itself but it is great for breaking the attacker’s balance, which is absolutely key to successful self-defence. Once their balance is broken, multiple opportunities for follow-up present themselves, while at the same time the attacker is focussed simply on regaining their balance.

The knee strike wins hands down for simplicity, versatility, reliability and speed – easily creating opportunities to finish an encounter.

What is Mawashi-Uke for? - posted 05/01/17
The primary purpose of mawashi-uke is to intercept an attack with one arm then take control of it with the other hand. For example, against a right punch you might initially intercept the punch with your left forearm. Your right forearm then passes up under your left in order to make contact with the attacker’s arm. You right hand is then able to grab the attacker’s wrist. The overall effect is to enable you to block and catch a punch in one movement.

A secondary purpose is to enable to switch from one side of the attack to the other, ie. to go from the inside to the outside, making it much more difficult for the attacker to follow up with another punch.

Some people get confused about mawashi-uke (especially if they practice Goju Ryu kata such as Sanchin or Saifa) thinking that it incorporates a double palm-heel strike. There’s a simple explanation for this misunderstanding - the palm-heel is actually the next move of the kata. The two movements can be used in conjunction (if you miss the grab for example) but they don’t have to be.

Mawashi-uke is hugely important in Karate. The switching movement is actually at the heart of most of the major ‘blocks’. It can be seen in the midway or chamber position of many kata movements, including the ubiquitous age-uke (rising block) and soto-uke (outward block). Its even in gedan-barai (downward sweep) where its done upside down in order to deal with low attacks. Once you understand the principle you start to see it almost everywhere in Karate.

Nice Hikite - posted 02/01/17
In our dojo you’ll often hear me say ‘Nice Hikite’! Hikite means ‘pulling hand’ and usually refers to the act of pulling one fist to your hip while the other hand is doing something. You might think it’s a compliment but our club members know different.

Usually when I say ‘nice hikite’ it’s a gentle form of sarcasm. Apparently beating students with a shinai (bamboo kendo sword) is frowned upon nowadays so grumpy old instructors have to resort to gentler measures.

Joking aside, many Karate students – no, many instructors too – just can’t stop themselves from doing hikite all over the place, whether its relevant or not. But we have a rule – you only pull your hand to your hip if its doing something to the opponent. Anything else is tactically wrong (other than in kata, where you’re practising the movement). As Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate, said “…the meaning of hikite…is to grab the opponent’s attacking hand and pull it in while twisting…”. That’s pretty unambiguous.

By pulling and twisting you can control and unbalance the opponent while at the same time hitting them (with the other hand). This will also increase power but not in some ill-defined biomechanical way, as most karateka think. It increases power simply because you’re both pulling and pushing (hitting) the opponent at the same time.

So if your hand’s not doing something useful it should be held in a guard, never at the hip. And the cardinal sin? Pulling your punching hand back BEFORE you punch. There’s never any excuse for doing that, unless of course your aim is to give the opponent the best chance of blocking your punch.

New Instagram Feed - posted 30/12/16
Following on from the success of the Facebook page, we've now launched a new Instragram feed. You can follow it here.

Barmy Bunkai - posted 13/12/16
I was thinking of doing a regular (monthly?) feature on barmy bunkai, courtesy of youtube. The idea being to examine how silly and unworkable some kata applications are.

That may seem a little cruel, after all people have put in time and effort to produce youtube videos. And certainly I wouldn’t wish to criticise kyu grade students for putting their thoughts out there. But I don’t think instructors should be given the same leeway. If you teach sport Karate and don’t label it as self-defence then I have no problem with that at all. But if you teach bunkai and do claim that its self-defence, then I think you have an obligation to do the best you can to ensure its as effective and practical as possible.

Of course people have different ideas about what’s practical. But a good self-defence instructor should strive to provide the best self-defence they can, which is going to involve some amount of research. To just roll out the tired applications taught in Karate-do as far back as the 1950’s simply doesn’t cut it. Neither does abdicating common-sense by using unrealistic attacks, unrealistic distances or bizarre gymnastic defences. The problem with spotting barmy bunkai is its just too easy. It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel, its like shooting fish in a barrel with a blunderbuss! You just can’t miss. Finding decent bunkai on the web, now that’s the real challenge…

The Proper Way To Tie Your Belt - posted 06/12/16
I looked round the room and saw some interesting variations of knots on people's belts. This despite the fact that some of them have extensive training in other oriental kicky-punchy arts.

"Allow me to show you the proper way to tie your belt" said I. 'This is the proper Taekwondo / Shotokan / GKR way' they chorused back. So we compared methods and found some definite differences in the final knot and/or the setup (for want of a better word) for the final knot. Each was quite adamant they hadn't forgotten or become confused. Their's was THE ONE TRUE WAY of tying the belt, as taught in their former tradition.

Mmmm? Maybe, just maybe, it doesn't really matter? Maybe its OK as long as the belt goes round your waist, doesn't fall off and doesn't involve a bulky knot that will dig in to your abdomen if you lay on your front?

Maybe pseudo-oriental ritual isn't actually relevant to self-defence?

New Facebook Page - posted 27/11/16
Finally I have blasted off into the 21st century and set up a facebook page for the club:

Headingley Karate

I shall continue to make important announcements here on the website as well as on facebook.

Dojo Visit - Mark Bonner's club in Halifax - posted 07/11/16
A couple of weeks ago I visited the dojo of Mark Bonner in Halifax. I'd come across Mark's bunkai videos on youtube and, after an exchange of emails, warmed to his approach to Karate. So, along with club members Martin and Graham, I visited Mark's dojo for one of their training sessions. Mark and his students gave us a very warm welcome. I thought the training session was well paced and well organised. It started with a warm-up based on tegumi (switching) and clinch drills, followed by pad drills - these started basic, ie. just hitting the pad in isolation, then moved onto to incorporate switching as already practiced in the warm-up. Next came bunkai, for the kata Aragaki Seisan, one of Mark's favourites I think. And finally, we had fun just reacting spontaneously to two-handed shoves/grabs. It was a pleasure to meet and train with Mark and his students - definitely worth the drive from Leeds to Halifax in rush hour!

Gradings - posted 21/10/16
Ours being a small club in a small association we don't have gradings with dozens of students being examined at one sitting (a club member told me about a previous grading involving literally hundreds of students). So this is a first for me - this week I tested a record 4 students for their first grade. I've never graded this many people in one week before! All passed, so congratulations to Alice, Gavin, Graham and Mike.

Terminology - posted 08/10/16
Okinawan Karate doesn’t traditionally use a great deal of terminology. Its usually more a case of ‘stand like this’ or ‘move your arm like this’. This is in contrast to Japanese Karate which is a lot more fastidious in its use of terminology. I’m not a big fan of terminology myself, particularly when it comes to naming techniques. If you call movements strikes or a blocks then that’s how you will think of them and not - as Karate movements should be - multi-purpose tools which can be used in various ways. That said, its useful when reading literature on Karate to be familiar with commonly used terms, so with that in mind I’ve listed here some of the more common ones. Most of these terms are Japanese but a few (in italics) are in the old Okinawan language (uchinaguchi).

Dachi - Stances

  • Zenkutsudachi – forward stance
  • Shikodachi – straddle stance
  • Neko-ashidachi – cat (foot) stance
  • Kibadachi – horse stance, not used in Shinseido
  • Kokutsudachi – not used in Shinseido
Uchi Waza – Striking Techniques
  • Zuki – thrust (usually denoting a punch)
  • Oizuki / Junzuki – stepping punch with lead hand
  • Chokuzuki – lead hand punch on the spot
  • Gyakuzuki – reverse punch
  • Tettsui / Tetsui - hammer fist
  • Shuto – knife hand
  • Uraken – back fist
  • Haito – ridge hand
  • Teisho – palm heel
  • Empi / Enpi - elbow
Keri Waza – Kicking Techniques
  • Maegeri – front kick
  • Hizageri – knee kick
  • Yokogeri / Sokuto – side kick
  • Yokogeri kekomi – side stamp/thrust kick
  • Yokogeri keagi – side rising kick – not used in Shinseido but not entirely dissimilar to our side snap kick
  • Mawashigeri – round (house) kick
  • Ushirogeri – back kick
  • Mikazukigeri – crescent kick
Uke Waza – Blocking (Bridging) Techniques
Uke doesn’t really mean ‘block’, a better translation is ‘receive’. In Shinseido we use the term ‘bridging’ as it is less specific and merely indicates that we’re intercepting and doing ‘something’ with the attacker’s incoming technique.
  • Age-uke / Jodan-uke – rising bridge
  • Gedan-barai – downward sweep
  • Uchi-uke – inward bridge
  • Soto-uke – outward bridge
    Note: in some styles uchi-uke is used to describe outward bridge and soto-uke inward bridge, ie. the opposite way round.
  • Mawashi-uke – underarm or switching bridge
  • Karate – empty hand (or according to the original characters: Chinese hand)
  • Tode - the old way of saying Karate (‘To’ referring to China as above)
  • Dojo – training hall (literally: place of the way)
  • Gi – training uniform
  • Obi – belt
  • Rei – bow
  • Yame – stop and return to the basic ready position
  • Yoi – Move to the ready position and be ready to being (whatever exercise you’re doing)
  • Hajime - begin
  • Kata – form (a sequence of movements practised solo then the applications practised with a partner)
  • Bunkai – Application (with a partner) of the movements in kata
  • Kihon – fundamentals / basics
  • Kumite – literally ‘meeting hands’, ie. Some form of partner exercise
  • Tegumi - the same characters as kumite but the other way round. Refers to Okinawan wrestling, but also used now as a drill to practice the switching principle.
  • Hikite - pulling hand, usually signified in kata by pulling one fist back to the hip, the typical application being to grab some part of the opponent and pulling it to your own hip
  • Muchimi – sticking
  • Kuzushi – balance breaking
  • Ukemi – breakfall
  • Kansetsu – joint-lock
  • Nage – throw
  • Shime – choke
  • Kyusho – vital (or vulnerable) points
  • Atemi – striking (specifically to kyusho)
  • Tuite – literally: grabbing hand – Karate’s integrated method of grappling, incorporating joint-locking, tearing flesh and seizing kyusho
  • Do – literally: way – ie. Karate-do, the way of (self-improvement through studying) Karate
  • Jutsu/Jitsu: technique or method, ie. Karate-jutsu, Karate (as a) method (of self-defence)

Weight Training for Martial Artists - posted 27/09/16
Every now and then I'm asked by an enthusiastic student for recommendations on weight training, to complement their martial studies. I don't pretend to be an expert on weight training, but I have done enough of it to have learnt a thing or two. Over the years many different approaches have been developed, but which is the right one for you? Well for different sports different approaches are appropriate, eg. the 100 metre sprinter obviously has very different weight training requirements to the long distance runner - a glance at their respective physiques should tell you that. Where does Karate (as a self-defence skill rather than a sport) fit in? Well for self-defence you want to be able to generate power explosively. Given that real-life encounters are usually decided (if not completely finished) within relatively few seconds, endurance is not as important. Endurance still has its place, so shouldn't be completely ignored. So regimes that focus on explosive power (heavy weights, few reps, rapid movements, plyometrics, perdiodisation etc.) would certainly help to move you in the right direction. But such approaches have an increased risk of injury associated with them, particularly for those of us who are inexperienced, older or simply dealing with already existing injuries. So if you're a bit long in the tooth, nursing old injuries or simply new to weight training, then I'd recommend a regime of ‘anatomical adaptation’. In other words, bog standard weight training.

It should be noted that weight training isn't just about building muscles, its also about building more robust tendons, ligaments and bones. Tendons and ligaments take somewhat longer to adapt to a new exercise regime, so its quite sensible to continue with a bog standard for as much as a couple of years before even thinking about branching out into other approaches.

So, how do we go about anatomical adaptation? First off, there's a choice to be made about the specific equipment to use. Personally I prefer using weights machines in the gym to free weights. Arguably free weights will provide better overall conditioning, especially with regard to core stability. But I find machines easier on my existing injuries, especially for wrists and forearms. This isn't the place to look at exactly what exercises to do, but you should strive for balance (working both agonists and antagonists alike - ie. if you work biceps you should work triceps too), and ensure you involve arms, legs and core - not necessarily in the same session but they should all be worked on a regular basis. In terms of speed the pace of each movement should be steady, not explosive. I'd recommend moving the weight briskly but steadily, but (for heavier weights at least) take roughly twice the time return the weight. This put emphasis on the eccentric contraction phase (you're tensing the muscle as it lengthens) which some believe yields better results in muscle development. I’m sure it helps with neurological control of the muscle, which is just as important as the raw development of the muscle itself. I find that what works best for me is, for each exercise, to do 5 sets of 10 repetitions. Start with a light weight that's quite easy to move then move up a weight for each set. Sets 4 & 5 should be getting quite difficult (but not so much that your muscles are shaking vigorously).

A final couple of points of advice. Many people go to the gym and spend time talking to their mates or just resting between sets. Usually I can do sets 1 to 3 with virtually no rest time, but I need to rest prior to each of sets 4 and 5. However, don't just sit there resting, wasting time. While you're resting your arms you could be working your legs. So be industrious, move from one machine to the next, using the time you're working one muscle group as rest for another. See if you can cut the time that you spend just resting down to nothing. That way you can minimise the time taken and maximise the results. And don't go to the gym with your mates! Or if you do, don't spend time gossiping, just focus on the task in hand. You can go to the pub if you want to gossip.

Any Questions? - posted 16/08/16
A new student asked me about asking questions during training, including questions around the comparison between what we do and what they have learnt previously in other arts. My response...

I wholeheartedly encourage you to ask questions, not just to me but also to yourself. Obviously there are times in training when a question isn't appropriate because it interrupts the flow of whatever we're doing, or when a comprehensive answer isn't possible in the time available. But that's a matter of timing, not whether its valid to ask the question or not. I can't think of any good reason why any questions about training should be off limits. I know of course that there are instructors and groups that discourage students from asking question but, other than just the timing of the question, I can think of only two reasons why they would do so:
a) because the instructor can't answer the question and doesn't want to admit to that, or
b) the aim is to produce students who are unthinking clones of their instructor.

I don't believe that either of these reasons is valid. If I don't know the answer to a question I'll tell you that I don't know. I may offer an opinion, but I'll try to be clear on whether the information I provide is fact or opinion. If time permits I'll try and describe why I've formed a particular opinion. Following in my sensei's footsteps I don't wish to turn out students who are clones of myself. What I aim to do is to produce martial artists who are capable of thinking for themselves, formulating their own conclusions based on evidence and experience, and making their own karate as effective for them as they can. On that basis, I think its vitally important that you do ask questions. Ask me. Ask yourself. Critically examine all that you're taught, so that either your understanding improves or you/we find a better way of doing things.

The same goes for making comparisons with other martial arts you've done in the past. Nobody likes a smart-alec who comes along and just keeps repeating the mantra "in our style we do it like this" without making any effort to understand and explore why in our dojo we do things differently. But, as long you keep an open mind, its still perfectly valid to make those comparisons. The worst that can happen is that you learn something in the process! There are all sorts of reasons why two styles may do the 'same' technique differently. Only by comparing and contrasting them can we really conclude which is the right way to suit our particular purpose.

So all that said, any questions?

Website Hacked - posted 20/07/16
I appear to have been the victim of a website hack - not for the first time! Its a relatively harmless hack, mostly inserting links to other people's websites within the text on my website. I'm trying to get it under control, but if you see any links to, say, dutch sites selling leather handbags - or anything that looks out of place or is just illegible - do please email me to let me know.

Rick Clark, Hull - May 2011 - posted 28/05/11
Last weekend I attended a seminar with Rick Clark in Hull. Its a couple of years since I've had the opportunity to train with Rick sensei. It was good to see that, despite having experienced serious shoulder problems last year, he was on good form. As with his last tour, Rick focussed more on principles than techniques, on the basis that if you grasped the principles he was teaching, you could apply them to many different techniques. As a result of his shoulder problem Rick had lost quite a bit of muscle mass in one arm, so it was particularly impressive that he was able to apply techniques so effectively - a sure sign that his techniques rely on good mechanics rather than strength. I was also impressed that he continues to refine his skills in controlling the attacker's wrist and thumb simply through manipulating his own grabbed arm - definitely a skill worth emulating.

Seminars in Hull - May 2011 - posted 17/04/11
I've updated the events page with details of a couple of seminars in Hull in the next few weeks. Check here for further details.

Terry Wingrove Seminar arranged for Leeds - posted 11/04/11
I'm pleased to say that we've now finalised a date for Sensei Wingrove to come back and do a further seminar in Leeds. The big day is Saturday 8th October. So, a few months away yet, watch this space for more details. By all means though, if you're interested in coming along, feel free to email me and I'll send you more details nearer the time.

Terry Wingrove in Harrogate - posted 11/04/11
This weekend I managed to get out and attend my first seminar in a while - with Terry Wingrove in Harrogate. This was I think Sensei Wingrove's first seminar in Harrogate. It was a fairly small group but that was great for me as it meant we were able to focus in more detail on a number of techniques. This was definitely a good opportunity for me to both blow away a few cobwebs and deepen my understanding of Sensei Wingrove's approach.

Visit from Hull - posted 09/04/11
This week we had the pleasure of a visit from Mike Sanderson and Geoff Crosswaite from Hull Kenkyu Kai. Its been a while since we've had a visit from the boys from Hull, so it was good to catch up. For Mike and Geoff's benefit we went through the new set of kihon (fundamental) combinations that we've been working on so far this year. Then we took a few of those combinations and put them into context with a partner by using them in tegumi drills. And just to finish the night off, we ended with a curry - not designed to help with my current weight loss regime!

Meditations on Violence - posted 02/04/11
I don't usually recommend books on my blog, but its time to make an exception. I've just read Meditations on Violence by Seargant Rory Miller and can't recommend it highly enough. If you're a martial artist with an interest in self-defence then you should DEFINITELY read this book. Rory Miller works as a prison officer in American high security prisons and has a wealth of real-life experience of violence to draw upon. Miller describes in detail the types of people he has had to deal with in his work and how he has managed those encounters - not just the martial techniques that either worked or didn't work, but also how he controlled situations without recourse to violence. Frankly it makes for harrowing reading at times. Its not a 'nice' book to read, but I think it will be a real eye-opener for most martial artists.

New article - Is Your Kata an Empty Vessel? - posted 06/03/11
Here's an article I've had kicking around unfinished for a while. Feeling suddenly inspired this weekend I've dusted it off and got it finished. I hope it rings a bell with some readers and encourages them to review the way they practice kata.

New website - posted 18/02/11
Welcome to the new look website! Much of the content is the same as before (just a different look and feel to it), but there are a few new things. Most notable is the new Bunkai Discussion page. If you have any questions regarding the bunkai for karate kata please feel free to email them to me, and I'll post my thoughts on the subject on the Bunkai page.

Updated Videos - posted 08/01/10
I've updated the Videos page. Gone are the kata downloads. Instead there are now several examples of kata bunkai (applications). These were shot during normal classes - they're not meant to be professionally produced promotional videos; rather they're intended to be instructional, giving detailed insight into how to make the techniques work. Hopefully over time I'll add more videos.

Reflections on 2009 - posted 03/01/10
At the start of a new year I find myself looking at my blog and realising I haven't made a single entry for a whole year! So, time to redress that. ..

Well, its been a busy year. Not so much from a training point of view, but certainly from the point of view of being a parent. My young son is a little over a year old now, growing fast and surprising us every day with the new things he's learning. As you might expect my time has been spent much more on practising my new parenting skills than on martial skills. That said, there have been some notable highlights of the year, martially speaking.

From doing zero training at the start of the year (looking after a newborn is very hectic) I've slowly managed to increase the amount of both exercise and martial training – not to levels I'm entirely satisfied with but better than nothing.

I've had a few opportunities to attend seminars and train with other teachers over the year:

  • In the spring and then again in October I managed to train with Sensei Terry Wingrove, both times in Hull. The session in October included Aikido training with Sensei Alan Ruddock and Daito Ryu training with Sensei Gavin Slater – this was the first time I've met Gavin and it was certainly a pleasure. His session on Daito Ryu was very interesting, including work on the mechanics of controlling the assailant in the brief moments between being grabbed and applying your own counter-technique.
  • In May I had the great pleasure of travelling to Milan in Northern Italy, along with the other senior Shinseido instructors to train with Sensei Guiseppe Meloni in Matsumura Shorin Ryu. Alongside gaining some very useful insights into the Matsumura system we had a great time. Guiseppe Sensei and his students were an extremely welcoming, enthusiastic and friendly group of people train with. The only thing that was warmer than their welcome was the weather – Italy was having a heatwave that week, which certainly meant there was lots of sweating going on in the dojo. It would have been more than hot enough for me even without the heatwave. My thanks to all involved, but especially of course to Guiseppe, Mari & Mauro for welcoming us into their hearts and their homes.
  • Finally, in December, I made it down to Sevenoaks to train in the main Shinseido dojo for an all day Sunday session. I wasn't able to do all that much to be honest - I was just recovering from flu - but it was good to catch up with Senseis Roger & Tony and compare notes on our experiences in Milan and our own current training goals.
During the summer I was asked to carry out a self-defence session for clients of the Leeds Alcohol & Drugs Service. It is always a challenge to deliver something of value in a one-off session. So I focussed not so much on martial technique but rather on using awareness and body language to give the course participants the skills necessary to a) avoid confrontation in the first place, and b) if confrontation does occur, to prevent it escalating into violence. The participants seemed to enjoy the course and hopefully will have been able to take away something of value that they can apply in everyday life (unlike many courses that rely on learning techniques that the participants then fail to practice and so will never be able to apply under stress).

And finally, I'm pleased to be able to say that we have a seminar organised for fairly early in the new year. This time its with Senseis Terry Wingrove & Alan Ruddock, check the seminar page for further details.

Here's hoping it doesn't take me a whole year to make my next blog entry!

Can't find time to train? - posted 06/12/08
A student asked me a little while ago "how often do you train?". Two answer sprang immediately to mind - firstly "Everday" and secondly "Not as often as I used to (or would like)". The simple fact is that no-one can realistically train in as devoted a way as they might like to, all the time. Life gets in the way, which is as it should be. There was a time when I was training many hours every day of the week. But then I was single and not working, so I could. Such a regime is simply not compatible with having a relationship, a family or a job. Its great if you can manage that for a while, but you can't go at full throttle (to the exclusion of everything else) your whole life. If you managed to, you would at very best become a one-dimensional person, not a good thing no matter how good a martial artist you may be. So there has to be a balance between Karate (or whatever art) and the rest of your life. Exactly what that balance is will vary from person to person, and will also vary over time.

This is a subject that's been in my mind a bit of late. In the last year or two I've got married, bought a house, done a shed-load of DIY and - most recently, just a few weeks ago - become a father. Obviously all this has rather cut into my training time. In particular, I'm now acutely aware of how much hard work and time needs to be invested in raising a family. When faced with these competing priorities should a martial artist quit training? No, I don't think so. It has to be accepted that you won't have as much time available to train as you used to. But you can still train every day, and this is one of the things to me that differentiates between a serious martial artist and someone who's just having a bit of fun. Even if its only a minute or two here and there you can still work on refining some aspect of your technique (which means when you do have a proper training session you can give full attention to conditioning your strength, aerobic fitness, speed etc).

So the answer is simple really. If you're pushed for time just do a little bit every day, whenever you can find a few spare moments to do so. Over time it will pay dividends. Now, enough 'jibber jabber' from me, I've got to squeeze in a few punches before the next nappy change...

Price rises - posted 09/08/08
I regret to say that we're having to raise the cost of our training sessions from £4 to £5 per 2 hour session, starting at the beginning of September. Although its the first time we've raised prices since the club opened in 2001, I'd still rather not to have to do so. However, with fuel prices spiralling the church hall have no choice but to increase their fees, so we must unfortunately do likewise. On the flip side, looking around at the costs associated with other martial art clubs I see that our training fees are fairly average. I do note though a trend in surprisingly short training sessions, typically about 1¼ to 1½ hours for adults in most clubs. I even found a couple of clubs online that had lessons 45 minutes in length, maybe OK for young children but for adults (and older kids) this seems rather short. With a warm-up, strengthening exercise, stretching and a cool down one has to wonder if they find time to do any actual martial art in that time! Anyway back on subject, I've come to the decision that, although we're increasing costs in terms of session fees, we shall be abandoning grading fees altogether (for kyu grades anyway). Grading fees are not something I've ever been entirely comfortable with. It seems to me that a teacher should award a student a new grade if they feel the student warrants it, it shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to generate income. Getting rid of such fees altogether gives me greater freedom to grade students formally or informally at a time and place of my choosing and so, I think, sits very comfortably with the Shinseido approach of gearing the training to the individual student's needs.

Hull Budo Sai - posted 08/08/08
On June 28th, accompanied by Martin, I popped over to Hull for a two day course run by Jack Hosie of Cavendish Aikido. The course featured Senseis Terry Wingrove and Alan Ruddock and also a teacher who I've not trained with before - Sensei Tino Ceberano, 8th dan Goju Ryu. Sensei Ceberano trained for many years with Gogen Yamaguchi and also studied Phillipino martial arts since childhood. I was particularly interested to see how his practice of the Phillipino arts has influenced his Karate. It seems that the more I look at different arts - and the more one strips away the stilted formality of many oriental arts - the more I see the common features between truly practical arts. So a good weekend all round, if sadly not well enough attended. Shame on those people who don't take the opportunity to attend such events even when they're on they're own doorstep.

Leeds Seminars 2008 - posted 14/07/08
So far this year we've organised two seminars in Leeds. The first was with Sensei Terry Wingrove in March, followed shortly by a session with Professor Rick Clark in April. I'm hoping we'll have several more seminars with guest instructors before the year's out, hopefully Sensei Terry Wingrove again, and possibly newcomers to Leeds: Bruce Everett Miller 7th Dan Quan Li K'an and Tino Ceberano 8th Dan Goju Ryu. More details to follow soon.

New article - Principle Driven Kata - posted 15/02/08
I've just added a new article which explores the principles within karate kata and proposes a method of analysing kata applications (bunkai). Feel free to let me know what you think of it.

Terry Wingrove Seminar, Lancaster - posted 13/02/08
Following the session on Friday with Alan Ruddock I travelled over to Lancaster (once again with dojo member Martin) on Sunday 3rd February, this time to train both with Alan and with Terry Wingrove. In Alan's session we got a chance to reinforce some of the lessons of Friday night's session. With Terry we spent a good part of the day working on grabs to the pectoral region which, as ever, proved to be extremely painful. Another excellent session from which I've still got a few faded bruises!

Alan Ruddock Seminar, Leeds - posted 13/02/08
On Friday 1st February we held a small seminar with Sensei Alan Ruddock 6th dan Aikido. Alan was passing through Leeds en route to another seminar in Lancaster and kindly offered to teach a session whilst he was here. Kaizen Martial Arts Academy kindly provided a matted room for us to train in, so with a dozen student (mostly from Leeds Shinseido & Leeds Kodokan Ju-jitsu) the scene was set. Having trained with Alan 2 or 3 times before I knew we were in for a good session. He had the privilege of training in the dojo of Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido) in the 1960's. Two things I enjoy about Alan's teaching are a) his straightforward approach (focusing on what works rather than what looks pretty), and b) his connection to the older teachings of Aikido. He clearly takes some effort to present Aikido as he learned it from O' Sensei (as Aikidoka refer to their founder) and the senior students In Ueshiba's dojo. This not to criticise more recent developments in Aikido, but it certainly provides a useful insight into the history and development of the art. During this session we spent some time looking at several variations of irimi-nage, and also a bit of time on nikyo, sankyo (including the 'Hawaiian police takedown') and kote-gaeshi. A most enjoyable session all round which I hope we'll be able to repeat at some point.

Forthcoming Seminars in 2008 - posted 13/01/08
I'm pleased to announce that we have several interesting seminars coming up this year. On 9th March we're hosting our second seminar with Sensei Terry Wingrove. Last year's event was very well attended, but I'm hoping for an even bigger turn out this year. We're also expecting a second seminar with Professor Rick Clark in April, exact date to be confirmed. Professor Clark hasn't been to the UK since 2006 so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. I'll publish the final details as soon as I have them. And finally (for now anyway) this news just in - we're expecting a short visit by Sensei Alan Ruddock on Friday 1st February. Sensei Ruddock is an excellent Aikido teacher who spent some years training at Ueshiba's dojo in Japan. This will be a relatively short session (about 2 hours), but if you'd like the opportunity to train with Sensei Ruddock while he's here please contact me directly.

Training in Sevenoaks Dec 07 - posted 23/12/07
A couple of weeks ago I went down to Sevenoaks for the last all day Shinseido session of the year. I spent a good part of the morning working with senseis Tony & Jim (plus one of Jim's students who's name I'm afraid escapes me now) working on some spontaneous drills receiving and responding to various random attacks. Much of the afternoon was spent working on Passai Dai, it was interesting to see some of the different various that have been practiced in the Sevenoaks dojo over the years - all of them of course being legitimate variations within the Matsumura tradition. Rog sensei again filmed my renditions of the main classical kata, which hopefully were a bit less sluggish than when I'd last been down to Sevenoaks in August.

Dojo Visits - Steve Parker - posted 22/12/07
Had a couple of visits from Steve Parker of Hull Budo Kai recently. When he visited in November the theme we looked at for the evening was the idea of grabbing/holding with one hand and striking with the other. This is something that can often be seen happening instinctively when people (trained or untrained) fight for real (ie. without any dojo rules). In untrained individuals its effectiveness varies, natural fighters tend to be good at 'riving' the opponent around and unbalancing them so they can easily hit them with the other hand, but most people don't do it very effectively at all. Its interesting to note how often the same theme appears in karate kata. So we explored some of these themes to see how to put the principal to good effect. Although Steve is from a Shotokan background it was easy to see he's done a fair amount of training with Ju-jitsu practitioners - he did an excellent job at thwarting my attempts to rive him around in a clinch situation (demonstrating once again the value of training with people from different styles). This is something I've noted in the yudansha (black belt holders) in Hull Budo Kai before - because the group has teachers of several quite different systems they're able to learn from each other and so significantly increase the effectiveness of their own core systems.

Last week, on Steve's most recent visit, we looked at a few techniques for use with relatively short sticks. Obviously if you have a stick (and the attacker hasn't) then you don't want to end up grappling, you want to use your distance advantage and use the stick to strike with. However, the attacker's natural instinct is to try to grab your stick or your arm to prevent you striking them. So we looked at some techniques, again to be found in the karate kata, for dealing with that sort of situation. This seemed to require quite a psychological shift for most of the small group who were attending ("I'm used to dealing with the attacker having the weapon, not me!") so I think this is definitely something worth revisiting in the New Year.

Terry Wingrove Seminar - Lancaster - posted 15/10/07
Oops, been a bit slack of late keeping the blog up to date. A few weeks ago I popped over to Lancaster again to train with Terry Wingrove. The sessions there seem to go from strength to strength with more people attending each time. As usual the group was split into two - an introductory session for those who've not trained with Terry before, and a little more in depth for those who've already done the introductory seminar. This time we spent a bit of time working on techniques for pinning and restraining a prone (ie. face down) opponent. As ever, an excellent and thought provoking session.

Training in Sevenoaks - posted 25/08/07
On Friday 10th August I travelled down to Sevenoaks in Kent to train at the main Shinseido dojo. To my shame, this was the first time this year that I'd managed to make it down to one of the regular bi-monthly training days. With such a long break it was good to catch up with Rog & Tony senseis, and the other students and practitioners in Sevenoaks. On the Friday night we had a go at some semi-free one-step sparring then Rog sensei put me on the spot by asking to see all of my empty-hand kata. I'm feeling a bit rusty at the moment, what with the focus on moving house this year, but I managed to rummage through. Sunday was spent working through the (primarily defensive) principles involved in Shinsei kata - a good refresher for me, not just in the techniques and principles themselves, but also in the manner in which Rog sensei teaches these ideas to students. Its always insightful to see how an experienced teacher imparts their knowledge to students in a way that makes it clear and easy to digest. Unfortunately it looks like I won't be able to make the next all day session in October, so it'll be December before I get back down to Sevenoaks.

50 Years of English Karate - posted 22/08/07
On Friday 3rd August I travelled down to Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, along with club member Martin, to take part in 3 days of training to commemorate 50 years of Karate being taught in England. The event was hosted by Sensei Terry Wingrove, who had arranged training sessions with a number of excellent teachers throughout the weekend. We started on the Friday by working on Goju Sanchin with Sensei Morio Higaonna, followed by a session the Uechi Ryu version of the same kata with Sensei Shinyu Gushi. I took part in several sessions with Sensei Gushi over the weekend, who for me was the star of the show. But that in no way should detract from the excellence of the other teachers - as well as Uechi Ryu and Goju Ryu I was also able to dabble in a little White Crane Kung Fu and a little Iaido. Of course it was necessary to reflect on each day's training with a drink or two, either back at the hotel or in the excellent atmosphere of Henry VIII's hunting lodge at Bisham Abbey. The pictures tell their own stories, check them out at and Alan Platt's blog.

£200 raised for charity - posted 07/08/07
On 8th July this year we hosted a seminar with Sensei Terry Wingrove. The seminar was a great success and, as a result, we were make a donation of £200 to charity. The money was donated to the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals Leeds Hospital. Click here to see a few pics of the seminar participants enjoying Terry sensei's unique brand of pain.

Back Online - posted 06/08/07
Finally I'm back online after moving house. Unfortunately though, its only with a dial up connection at the moment. Its been a frustrating few weeks trying to sort this out. First I was hampered by incompetence on the part of Virgin Media, so much so that I eventually had no choice but to cancel my account with them. Secondly I've been lied to by Sky, initially being quoted one price for a broadband connection, which then more than tripled! So now I'm looking for a new supplier who can combine competence with at least a modicum of integrity - not too much to ask for one would have thought. In the meantime, I can now get back to updating the site, although it may be a few weeks before I can upload any new images.

Moving House - posted 24/06/07
My blog's a bit quiet at the moment I'm afraid. I'm currently in the middle of moving house. Hopefully I'll get back to it in the next week or so, when life isn't quite so hectic.

Website Update - Downloads Page - posted 27/05/07
As promised, I've created a new Downloads page, with video clips of all 5 Pinan kata. They are also available as streaming versions at YouTube. Keep an eye on the Downloads page for further clips showing the different training drills used in our dojo.

Website Update - Kyusho Page - posted 24/05/07
New page added to website - a summary on the art of striking vital points: Kyusho-Jutsu. Click here to read.

Pinan Nidan Video - posted 18/05/07
I've uploaded a video of Pinan Nidan to youtube, showing the way we practice it in our dojo. When time permits I'll also upload the other Pinan kata and also put them all on a download page on this website. For now, here's Pinan Nidan.

Pinan Nidan

Wado Ryu Kihon Kumite - posted 15/05/07
I came across the 10 Kihon Kumite's of Wado Ryu on youtube recently. They're being demonstrated by Tatsuo Suzuki and I think are the best I've seen anyone do them. I wouldn't use most of these techniques quite as they're shown, as they're rather long range techniques, so a bit different from the way I practice Karate. But they do demonstrate some useful principles such as entering, avoidance, simultaneous attack and defence, and leading the opponent (encouraging him to over-commit). I particularly like those (No. 1 being a good example) where the same hip movement is used to power the evasion, block and the simultaneous counter. Anyway, here's Number 1, the other 9 can be found in the related links on the right.

Wado Ryu Kihon Kumite

New Article - The 2 Metre Square Kata - posted 06/05/07
This article has been reproduced here with the kind permission by the author, Mike Sanderson. It first appeared in Traditional Karate magazine in 2006 and presents a different take on the practice of kata. Click here to read.

Dojo visit - Mike Sanderson - posted 02/05/07
This week we had the pleasure of a visit from Mike Sanderson of Hull Budo Kai. Mike runs the Hull Kenkyu Kai Karate club (a member club of the Hull Budo Kai group), which I'd warmly recommend to anyone interested in learning practical Karate skills at that end of the M62. To start the session Mike took us through some kihon (basics) the way his club does them. The emphasis was very much on practicality rather than form for form's sake, with some really nice simple - but straight to the point - combinations. At Mike's request, I then took the class through the classical Matsumura kata Passai Dai, the forerunner of the modern Bassai Dai. As well as looking at the differences in technique between the classical and modern versions, we also looked at some of the stylistic differences (such as different ways of stepping and of generating power). These nuances make the kata look less demonstrative and overtly powerful to most modern observers, but - in my opinion at least - give rise to some highly effective and powerful applications. Speaking of applications, we finished off by exploring and experimenting with a few ideas for bunkai for the classical version. Of course, we could have spent much, much longer on this and still come nowhere near fully exploring the kata's potential. There may even have been time for curry after training too!

Speaking of Passai, here's a video clip I found on YouTube that shows pretty much the same versions as the ones we practice. I've no idea who it is in the video, but he shows versions of Passai Sho and Passai Dai that are very close indeed to ours.

Passai Sho & Dai video clip

Website update - Beginners Page - posted 20/04/07
New page added to the website, describing some of the techniques and exercises that new students learn during their first few months of training. This first stage of training is geared towards teaching the new student a small number of simple self-defence techniques and principles, to maximise their chances of successfully defending themselves (should the need arise) - in the early stages of their training. Check out the Beginner's page for further details.

Masaaki Hatsumi video - posted 15/04/07
I found this clip of Masaaki Hatsumi, the grandaddy of Ninjitsu on youtube. I know there are those who question the authenticity of what he does. Personally, I simply couldn't comment, I just don't know enough about Ninjitsu. But he does show some nice techniques in this clip. Wherever it came from, some of it is pretty good stuff. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

Masaaki Hatsumi video clip

New Article - Attacking the Brachioradialis - posted 31/03/07
This is a paper I first wrote for my students a few years ago, in 2002. Here is a version I've expanded upon and updated for the web. In order to effectively attack any vital point, you need to become intimately familiar with it, as if it were an old friend. You need to understand how to get at it with the limb in different positions, how it will move away when you stimulate it, and how to follow it to keep the pressure on. Hopefully this article will help to start a few people on that journey of discovery.

Terry Wingrove seminar - Newcastle - posted 27/03/07
Actually this was in Prudhoe, west of Newcastle, so another long drive on a Sunday morning. This one was being hosted by the Seiken Ryu Shukokai Karate group. One of our members, Martin, came along for this one so I'm glad to say it was another painful day with Terry - so well worth it! Despite the distance travelled it was interesting to see someone there I'd trained with before, although it took us both a few minutes to work out where we knew each other from. Most martial artists don't seem to be willing to travel very far to train, so inevitably I keep bumping into the same ones that are prepared to stretch their legs a bit. Also managed to pop in and visit my mam and dad on the way back, so lashings of ginger beer and biscuits all round. The next session with Terry in the north is at Lancaster on Sunday 29th April and then a big gap until Sunday 8th July here in Leeds.

Tai Chi in Leeds - posted 24/03/07
Added a new link to our Links page - the Yiheyuan School of Chinese Internal Martial Arts. If you're in Leeds and looking for Tai Chi or other internal arts (Ba Gua, Hsing-I) then these are the people to see. I've trained with them briefly myself in the past and, although I'm certainly no expert when it comes to Tai Chi, I can see they approach the subject with a much more pragmatic bent than most. Nice bunch of students too. If 'waving your hands like clouds' is your thing then I'd highly recommend checking them out.

Website update - TCM Articles - posted 17/03/07
I've added several articles written by myself and Zoltan Dienes a few years ago. We conducted several research projects into the use of traditional chinese medical theories in martial arts. Click here to see what we found.

Dojo visit - 'Moosey' - posted 17/03/07
This week we were visited by Moosey from Martial Arts Planet. As usual when we're visited by karateka I like to run through some bunkai for a kata that they're familiar with. This time we looked at Pinan Shodan (aka Heian Nidan), specifically the opening sequence of moves (Haiwan-uke, ude soete - if you like a bit of Japanese terminology). This sequence was used to deal with various blows to the head. Although we ran out of time we also managed to touch briefly on various grabs to the arms and body, seeing how the sequence could be used to deal with the classic combination of 'grab and strike to the head'. We even used it to deal with grabs to the arms from behind. As usual, it was nice to have a visitor from another style of karate. Our door is always open to karateka (or other martial artists) who are passing through Leeds and would like to pay us a visit.

Kaze Arashi Ryu Seminar - March 2007 - posted 11/03/07
Today I attended another Kaze Arashi Ryu Aiki Ju Jitsu seminar near Burnley. I wasn't able to attend both days, so I'm not quite as zonked as I might usually be - lets just say that I'll still probably be able to hold a deep horse stance tomorrow (should I in fact wish to of course). Henri Vilaire sensei had flown in from the states to teach for the weekend. He spent the morning covering a number of generic combat principles, and the afternoon working on refinements of a number of joint-locks. My joint-locks needed a lot of refining! The day finished with a presentation for Kirby Watson, as he formally steps down as chief instructor of the UK Kaze Arashi Ryu. I'm glad to see that Kirby will still be involved in the organisation, as I've found him extremely friendly, helpful and welcoming to someone who, at the end of the day, isn't even a member of Kaze Arashi Ryu. He was presented with a dulcimer, which is a celtic harp to you and me, and I don't envy him getting to grips with an instrument with quite that many strings.

Website update - Articles - posted 08/03/07
I've added a new 'Articles' section to the website - been meaning to do this for some time but just haven't got round to it. First off is an article I wrote a while ago about the difference between do (way) and jutsu (method) arts. More to follow soon.

Training with Terry Wingrove & Alan Ruddock - Hull - posted 04/03/07
Travelled over to Hull today with Paul, one of our dojo members, for a full day's training in Karate-jutsu, Yawara and Aikido with these 2 excellent sensei. As ever, training with Terry sensei made me feel like a white belt again - any skills I have or knowledge of anatomy are just a pale shadow of Terry's. The way he effortlessly causes enough pain to have big strong dan grades begging for mercy simply has to be seen. Paul, being a former Aikidoka, was particularly pleased to get a chance to train with someone who trained at Ueshiba's school in the 1960's. Alan sensei is one Aikido teacher who definitely has both feet on the ground, with a very pragmatic approach to his art.

And how much did this excellent training session cost? Not a penny! Yep, that's right, it was free - even including the splendid lunch thrown in by the organiser, Jack. And despite that, there were still only about 20 people or so training. It never fails to amaze me how so many martial artists fail to take up good training opportunities. Either its too far to travel, or too expensive, or "we don't train outside our style", or whatever. When its free, well more fool them, that's all I can say. All the more personal tuition for me, so I'm not complaining!

Dojo visit - Matt & 'WombatOneSix' - posted 14/01/07
Last night (13/01/07) we had the pleasure of a visit by Matt & Tom (aka WombatOneSix), both members of the Australian Karate-do Forum. Matt's here in the UK visiting family and friends - you can imagine that I was flattered that they should both come up all the way from Birmingham just for a normal night's training. So I was keen to make sure that they got as much as possible out of the limited training time. Generally when we have visits from other karate practitioners I like to focus on kata bunkai (applications of the karate kata) to give a clear indication of the differences in traditional karate-do training and the more practical 'jutsu' approach that we take. We had a couple of other new guys with previous training that night too, so it was doubly appropriate that we should look at bunkai. I chose to look at some bunkai from Pinan Sandan, the third in the Pinan/Heian series, for no other reason than that's the kata one of our members is working on for his next grade. As well as looking at some examples of bunkai, it was a good opportunity to look at the principles of combat that underpin the applications - I'd much rather teach a man to fish for himself than to keep feeding him fish for the rest of his life. Matt and Tom evidently enjoyed themselves, here's what they had to say about it afterward on the forum:

We finished off, of course, with a few drinks in the pub afterwards. Just a shame it had to be such a brief visit. It was a real pleasure to meet Matt and Tom, two sound blokes who clearly share my own passion for practical Karate.

Introduction - posted 01/01/07
One of our members said to me "Why haven't we got a blog on the website?". Good question, I thought. So, if only to show that an old dog can learn new tricks, here it is. I'd like to use this space to keep members and visitors updated on dojo events, seminars, website updates, anything really that I think may be interest. I'm also hoping to write some new articles (and maybe the odd rant or two), which I'll mention on here too, but don't hold your collective breaths - I might type like the wind but I'm also the prince of procastination. Mike Flanagan, 01/01/07.