If you practice or teach karate as a means of self-defence, then I think it's crucial that you make a conscious effort to explore common traditional practices for aspects that are counter-productive to this goal. I'm not saying that we should eliminate these altogether (as they may provide other values), but it's important I feel that we are proactively mindful of where they may contextually sit.
One of the issues with traditional karate practice in terms of training for self-defence is that of environment. In reality, the application of any self-defence effort will involve interaction with either a real or potential violent threat to the safety of you, a friend or loved one. And the environment by which this interaction takes place may be totally unpredictable and critical to the outcome. Furthermore, that environment is likely to be in direct contrast to that of the dojo.
Here's an excerpt from My Book on the application of Naihanchi Kata for self-defence that discusses environmental considerations...
Karate practice in the dojo is a far cry from the environment you’d be expected to operate within in order to manage a self-protection situation, so this stark contrast needs to be considered and prepared for. Normally, karate classes are conducted in open spaces that are pre-prepared, well lit, adequately ventilated and free from significant risk, all controlled via a group of like-minded people with similar agendas. However, when facing a real threat that requires the application of your karate, you’d be extremely lucky to encounter any of the same luxuries. In fact, if someone plans for you to become the victim of physical assault then the environment this occurs in will most likely be chosen by (and specifically benefit) the antagonist.
A useful exercise is to practice quickly assessing the environment around you with respect to the considerations above, especially when dialogue is taking place, and to make this process become as natural as possible. When engaging with a potential threat, it is easy to become excessively focused on the person in front and as a result, almost completely switch off from the environment and more importantly, changes within it. The addition of stress, surprise and subsequent adrenal response can of course compound this tunnel perception so to help combat this, we should try to to actively expand our awareness into the wider environment during our normal everyday interactions.
The environment you operate within is of critical importance and sometimes changing even small things can become either a help or a hindrance. Therefore it's important to always consider the practical application of karate kata with realistic environment in mind. Training on different grounds, both indoors and outdoors, wearing different clothing and footwear, in confined spaces and with varying climate conditions.
The other aspect of applying karate for self-defence specifically concerning environment, is the use of that environment to create combative advantages. Can you make use of any natural barriers? What about using parts of the environment as weapons of opportunity? Potential escape routes that you can capitalise upon?
It's often said that a good karate-ka can make anywhere their dojo! This has never been more important for developing functional skills for applying karate in self-defence. Our individual locality and terrain will determine what we need to consider and emphasise, but consider and emphasise we must in order to match our combative understanding of karate to the environment around us.
Stay safe and well,