If you are practising karate for civilian self-protection then it's important that an initial framework is put firmly in place before embarking on any sort of extensive exploration. This framework should be simplistic and versatile for the contextual analysis and application of fundamental techniques, included within a holistic personal safety game-plan and exercised through an overlapping training methodology that aims to minimise the impact of inherent flaws, whilst developing the essential attributes to help maximise objective function. My upcoming book in the Seed of Shuri Karate series will focus on this process with respect to Naihanchi Kata and aims to provide content so that anyone who practices this form may have a practical core basis to work from.
An analogy that I like to use with respect to developing the core elements of karate is called the 'Multi-Tool Principle'. An idea that first came from one of my students during a discussion we had in the dojo about aligning to fundamental movement pathways and in particular, ensuring that the classical solo form mnemonics are studied for function in a dynamic (not fixed) sense. Although it is very common to see applications being derived from the distinctive snap shot shapes within various kata (whether aesthetically pleasing or not), comparatively less focus is placed on what is far more valuable – the transitional movement between those shapes.
It is karate's movement pathways that provide life to the choreography and as such, where our measure of objective function should be placed. Even a collection of one thousand applications are of little use unless they are expressed with good alignment and mechanics. This makes study of kata much more meaningful than simply a series of static templates combined together.
As an example, a multi-tool can be purchased from hardware stores and is a great option for tradespeople or DIY enthusiasts. Through the use of what is essentially a single electrical spinning motor attached to a handle, a variety of tasks may be accomplished by simply changing the accessory on the end. They can screw, drill, sand, route, cut, clean, engrave and more. However, it relies on the motor being both powerful and durable, otherwise none of the accessories in the tool box would work effectively.
Just like a multi-tool, we must also be mindful in our karate practice not to invest our time collecting a multitude of techniques (accessories) before we prioritise applying our essential tool box with effective movement (a strong motor and drive shaft). Therefore, function should always be at the forefront of our minds when training for practicality so that success may be maximised whether or not we use a particular technique to strike, lock, throw, seize, clinch, pull or choke etc.
For me, core skill in karate comes from developing a sufficient degree of versatility through a solid understanding the art's core movement pathways and then building a strong foundation (in both physical attributes and mental attitude) to power this ability from. As such, a comprehensive study of kihon is always much better than a superficial study of many kata and this is what I like to teach my students from day one. It's no coincidence that traditional karate training methods follow this process, as it undoubtedly provides the best opportunity for success within the context of self-protection...
...be a multi-tool!
Thanks for reading,
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.