When considering the combative nature of kata and how it fits into the civilian self-defence model of old-style karate (whatever 'old-style' may be, we'll leave for another blog post!), we have to first start with some simplistic truths. Once these are understood and appreciated, it is not too difficult to see how the movements of kata fit well into that model.
The first aspect to consider is that from a practical standpoint, there are really only two states when applying 'self-protection' against a threat to our safety. We are either 'escaping' from the threat, or we are 'engaging' that threat in such a way so that we may facilitate escape at the earliest appropriate opportunity. This is in stark contrast to consensual violence, where physical confrontation is actively sought out and time spent in that confrontation is often purposefully drawn out.
In terms of engagement ranges, there are again, really only two to be concerned with. You're either engaging the threat 'unattached' or engaging them 'attached'. These can of course be both pre-emptive and reactive, but the key contrast is the physical attachment. Your enemy may attach to you, you may attach to your enemy or both. Although crossovers exist, these two states require different combative tactics and it is obvious that being unattached will naturally facilitate an escape much easier than if already attached.
So based on the above, the list of priorities for the context of civilian self-protection may look something like this:
Please check out this incredible playlist that features a series of short interviews with some of Okinawa's most respected karate masters...
These genuinely heart-warming interviews have been beautifully produced and serve to create a very valuable record of 16 teachers who not only have direct links to the pioneering masters of our past, but who have also contributed greatly to karate's continual evolution and inspired so many to find passion in this incredible art.
I'm currently re-reading the book, 'The Secrets of Okinawan Karate' by Kiyoshi Arakaki and whilst I must admit I'm not that particularly fond of the title, I feel that the content within certainly inspires readers to think outside the box. One particular part caught my eye this morning, causing me to pause, nod and smile...
"Everyone thinks shuto is a technique that uses the hand like a sword or knife. As the definition implies; therefore, the technique becomes deadlocked. The scope of the term itself is too limited to encompass the essence of traditional karate's shuto-uke. Historically, this move can push the opponent; strike to the opponent's upper or middle body; strike the opponent's attacking arm, or leg; hook; parry and guard. All these possibilities are intrinsic in one technique. Modern shuto-uke's usage is completely different from traditional shuro-uke, which employed each individual part of the arm, including the back of the hand, palm of the hand, and side of the hand, as well as the entire arm itself. It is the same story for sei-ken, which should imply strike, hit, stab or nukite."
There is much debate between bunkai researchers as to whether the techniques in kata were designed for one particular application in mind, or whether the movements are more generic to offer options against a variety of scenarios. With the lack of historical information available, we may never know for sure. However, regardless of the opinion you personally subscribe to, it nevertheless pays dividends to look at the movements of karate with an open mind, so that your study does not become as Arakaki Sensei so eloquently described, 'deadlocked'.
I was teaching a self-defence workshop the other day and the subject came up about the traditional concept of 'sen' (initiative) and how this can apply to modern day combatives.
Karate often suffers a bad name for being outdated and unrealistic. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth and when you look closer at the art's core principles, you will see material that is just as relevant now than it was years ago
It's not about 'what' you train, but about 'how' you train - Therefore, karate can only ever be as realistic as the mind of the person expressing it!
The Japanese style of Wado Ryu for instance emphasises the concept of 'sen' (initiative), as left by the founder, Hironori Ohtsuka, who was a highly distinguished master in both karate and ju-jutsu.
This week in my closed dojo, we spent some time looking at the main structural components of Naihanchi Kata, investigating why its analysis and application is somewhat different to that of the other forms and how its specific teachings can be integrated into the rest of the art.
I recently wrote some words detailing my understanding and opinions regarding these structural components, which will eventually become one of the main chapters in my upcoming book. So as a bit of a 'taster', I thought I would share a concise summary those words here for my blog readers that will also provide some supplementary information for my own students. Needless to say - the original chapter goes into far more depth!