Role of Karate in TMA Training

Let me preface this by saying that this post is purely my own opinion, and in no way am it to be a fact, historical, or otherwise an authoritative opinion.

The role of kata in karate training, should be no more than 20% of in class training time. With a 20% focus, that should allow enough time for a student to obtain a good grasp of their newest kata’s pattern. Kata, is a solo training exercise, if a practitioner is unable to train with a partner, that would be when a karateka would focus heavily on kata training. 20 minutes of partner drills/sparring is at least as useful as an hour of kata practice. Kata has a place in karate training, but it should not be the primary training method at the forefront of the school/dojo if the goal is self defense or combat sport.

Two person kata bunkai, and kiso kumite should take higher priority over kata, once the student has learned the pattern of their newest kata. Gloves and headgear will allow for heavy contact in those training methods along with supplemental free sparring, learning timing, reading body language, and learning what it feels like to get hit, all necessary for the self defense and combat sport minded karateka.

Hookiyu Dai Ichi Kata

This week I worked on Hookiyu Dai Ichi, and decided to re-imagine a basic kata. It’s the first kata taught in the Sho Rei Shobu Kan curriculum, and if your martial arts career has been anything like mine you have regularly heard “You’re never too good or too advanced to ignore the early katas”, or something along those lines. The biggest catch to that, is that I was never taught or told to reinterpret those early or basic kata when I revisited them.

What happens to Hookiyu Dai Ichi if you treat the chest punches as a grab and a pull to break balance? Hikite as always is grabbing a belt or waistband and pulling in, the ‘punching’ hand grabbing a shirt or bicep, and pushing away from you.

The opening sequence becomes much more advanced, than what I was originally taught of a simple head block, chest punch, and down block combo. Now it’s turning, blocking, grabbing breaking the opponent’s balance and a gaedan barai for the take down.

You don’t need to repeat kata over and over endlessly to practice basic techniques, that’s part of the reason that kihon training exists, but re-imagining your basic kata, breathes new life into your training. Funakoshi Sensei Said, “As times change, so must your martial arts”. To me that’s an ‘old master’ saying that kata should be re-imagined from time to time to make sure your training is still relevant.

Saifa Kata

This week I chose Saifa kata as my focus. I had initially decided to simply work my way up the list of Sho Rei Shobu Kan kata, but something about Saifa popped into my head, and I began the weekly focus, by reanalyzing the opening movements of the kata.

I was always taught, those movements were for escaping a bear hug. That interpretation never sat well with me, because to me it didn’t make much sense. I find those movements make much more sense in the context of a take down/throw. Using zenkustu dachi, you move in close while lowering your weight as you do so. The forward foot should be the foot nearest your opponent, same side hand does hikite, grabbing your opponent or their clothes. The left hand then comes around behind them hugging and trapping them to you. Bringing your rear foot forward into a fudo dachi, raise yourself, and thus lift your opponent breaking their balance, and you rotate 90 degrees away from them while still holding them, you could then let them go and fall on their own, or you could drop into shiko dachi to straddle them and deliver a strike after the throw.

Considering hikite is the pulling hand, this bunkai makes much more sense to me, with the focus of one hand coming to the hikite hand, the shifts and changes in weight, and level, and hopefully it makes sense to you.

Getting Out of the Rut

It should be fairly obvious that I have been in a bit of a rut for blog posts as this is the first one I’ve made in a while, but what’s not as obvious to you all, is that my training has fallen into a rut, between my full time job, and personal life I’ve been busy and lazy.

To break out of both ruts, I will be focusing on one kata a week, anything from simply performing the kata a few times a day at various speeds/rhythms/cadences, to pulling new and interesting bunkai from the kata, at the end of the week, if I have no other topics to post about, I will discuss what the kata workouts I did were, and what the bunkai I found within the kata were.

I look forward to getting back into training and writing, it will feel good to get some of those creative juices flowing again.

VCC Garden Update

The Veteran’s Combat Center is not only trying to help veterans by providing organic fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The VCC’s first year garden has been fully planted and is looking good so far.
We have:
Potatoes
Tomatoes
Onion
Garlic
Spearmint
Lettuce
3 Varieties of Pepper
Broccoli
Watermelon
We’ll be updating status of the garden and offering some of the harvest as it becomes available.

What Works and How Do We Know?

A few weeks ago, someone made a very good point, that if a style, or a technique works as advertised or claimed then there should be no shortage of evidence to support it online. I don’t mean theoretical evidence citing some sort of pseudo science, I mean actual video of the technique or style working.

In the modern era, by which I’m generally referring to the time when video capable smartphones and online video hosting services like Youtube became fairly common place. If you can’t find a technique working as advertised in video evidence, then it probably doesn’t. I recently had a spirited debate with a fellow karateka, who adamantly insisted that kicks to the knee are devastating techniques that ‘maim’ people.

I will admit that I was initially wrong when I said that there’s no evidence that kick to the knee has ever even ended a fight let alone maimed anyone. I found two clips of MMA fights where a kick to the knee was the last technique used before the referee stopped the fight resulting in a TKO, but my ‘sparring partner’ could provide no documented cases of a knee kick maiming or seriously injuring the kicked knee in a fight. The best he managed was some anecdotes about people he knew that got hurt from them, and a video of what appears to be a negligent instructor demolishing his static partner/student’s knee while he attempted a demonstration. For years I was of the same belief as this other guy, I thought knee kicks were fight ending kicks, so I practiced them, and even used them in sparring at various levels. I thought the lack of devastating effect was just me needing more practice and more work. The best effect I got out of it was during a sparring session with a friend who trained ‘ninjustu’. The knee kick was my first attack, it caused him to drop onto that knee allowing me follow up with a few punches as I moved in to choke him out, but the knee kick did not end the fight on it’s own, nor did it cause any serious damage. Theoretically knee kicks and some other techniques should be devastating, but the requirements for them to be devastating are so rare against a moving target who is actively defending themselves you might as well wait for the planets to align, and world peace be achieved on the same day.

Bottom line, don’t just take someone’s word for it that a technique works or is useful, do some research, find out if there are any documented cases of that technique having the stated effect in a fight, and make sure the source is reliable if the documentation isn’t a video. If you can’t find a video of something as general as a certain martial arts technique working in 2019, there’s a pretty good chance that the technique just doesn’t work. Don’t be afraid to do some research.

Open Eyes, Open Mind

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen some of the short comings of my own training over the last eighteen years or so. I don’t mean that to say that i regret the training, or that I wished I had trained another style, or anything like that.
I never fooled myself into thinking I was learning ‘the best style’, or even that my instructor was THE best. Traditional styles, like any style, are only as good as the practitioner. However , I was never shown the level of grappling found in karate. Kiso kumite, and some kata bunkai showed throws and take downs, but there were movements and techniques in kata that never really made sense to me when viewed through the lens of striking. When viewed through the lens of grappling however, these movements and techniques make much more sense.

I’d like to give a big shout out to the guys over at Karate Culture, for helping me to see and understand how much grappling was put into karate by the original Okinawans who created the kata and kiso kumites we practice today.
Without opening my eyes to what else was out there, and without opening my mind , I’d have not been able to increase my understanding of karate as a fighting style.

In Memory Of

Today I discovered a former shipmate took his own life. I admit we were never close, and rarely talked on the ship in our free time, but having started this mission it kind of makes it a bit more difficult to hear about another loss to the veteran community.

Today we remember Joe Keeton.

If any other veterans are see this and are struggling, feel free to reach out to the VCC at veteranscombatcenter@gmail.com

We’ll do our best to get you the information you need, and in touch with people who can help you out.

Fair winds and following seas Keeton

Concepts of Fighting

It seems in the modern martial arts world there is a pair of popular terms being commonly used. Consensual violence, and non-consensual violence. In simpler terms, sport fights and self defense fights. I’ve also noticed there seems to be a belief in the traditional martial arts community that there are more, or extra concepts of fighting in regards to consensual violence, that just aren’t and can’t be covered in regards to non-consensual violence. I will not argue that the existence of rules and a referee make a difference, but I believe that difference is more on the surface than most realize.

I’ve seen people criticize those MMA and various full contact fighting sports of not effectively preparing someone for the ‘realities of a street fight where there are no rules’ and often allude to or directly reference biting, scratching, eye gouging etc. All techniques that none of those same people actively train, they may simulate biting someone, poking an eye, or hitting in the groin, but they’re not actually ever done in training by those same people.
In an interview with Joe Rogan, Bas Rutten brings up a very good point. He says something along the lines of ‘As a trained fighter for full contact, I won’t be able to bite someone if I get into a desperate situation?’ If you’re training to fight other trained fighters in full contact competition, what better way is there to prepare for a fight in a bar or a parking lot, at work or school? If you can land solid punches to the face in the ring against a trained fighter you can do the same in school or in a parking lot. If you can avoid getting hit in the face by a trained fighter in the ring, you are more than likely able to avoid someone trying to poke your eyes out on the street.

The basic concepts of fighting remain the same regardless of if a referee and rules are present or not. One argument I’ve heard is that you don’t get the opportunity square up before non-consensual violence begins like you do in a ring. While some times thats true, a simple search of street fights on YouTube will show you that’s not always true. Even if you’re sucker punched and blind sided having regularly been in a situation where you’ve been hit before can help you weather the initial storm, and provide you to have the capability of thinking and reacting appropriately. I’m not saying to be effective in self defense everyone needs to go out have half a dozen amateur MMA fights in their local league, but if your school/dojo isn’t putting you and your peers through regular or semi-regular heavy contact training you won’t really know how you’ll react to getting hit, you won’t know how strong your fight or flight urges are and which way you naturally lean.

I think the idea that there are some special techniques that inherently change the concepts of fighting for self defense when compared to full contact sport is a very flawed idea. If you want to focus more on realistic self defense, go out into a parking lot, or a park and train in your regular clothes. Training in jeans on concrete with gravel is very different than in a gi on a mat, or a smooth wood or tile floor that is regularly swept for safety. Do your kata where theres some sand and rocks present, do two man drill or a kiso kumite in the soft dirt. Watch videos of real world violence, and try to simulate or recreate the initial conditions like was the attack from ambush? was there build up to the attack like an argument you can recreate in your own words and the aggressor attacks when he or she is ready to? Was the defender already in tight quarters like a locker room that prevent large movements? did the act of violence occur some where the defend did or could have used objects as barriers between themselves and their attacker such as a car or a desk?

Scenario training, training in the real world, and in the sort of clothes you regularly wear will do magnitudes more for your self defense capabilities than mock bites and simulated groin strikes, or some other techniques that are ‘too dangerous to practice’ live or ‘too dangerous for sport’. The concepts of fighting will remain the same in the ring or octagon as they will in an unregulated environment assuming a lone attacker, who is unarmed.

Karate, how to move forward?

Karate is called a ‘traditional martial art’. Part of what makes karate unique among other striking arts, are the traditions it has. As karateka we need to be mindful of those traditions, but we can’t let the past define how we train indefinitely. Before anyone gets too excited, I am not calling for the end of kata or kiso kumite practice, we must keep those methods, but we shouldn’t focus exclusively on methods of training that are a hundred years old or older.

As a Goju practitioner I believe Miyagi sensei, and Toguchi sensei would fully support including advancements in modern athletic science into karate training, and would include it in their own training if they were alive today. Our knowledge has greatly expanded in the realm of sports, exercise, and fighting, as such our training should advance along with it.

Our founders were not afraid to pick and choose what they liked from other martial arts, and use it for themselves. That is after all how karate developed over the years into what we now know. Okinawan Te, was a very hard linear striking style, but as time passed and Okinawans trained Kung Fu in China, several brought kata from Kung Fu back with them along with various exercises and drills, and added that into their local style of Te. So why shouldn’t we continue that tradition? It seems that many modern dojos, and karateka are fine letting the style stagnate, only making advancements in their art to create a new kata for competition. We need to continue to grow, and adapt karate. What works on an untrained opponent who is attacking you? What works best on a trained opponent who is attacking you? Are they identical sets of techniques or do they differ? If they differ, how do we train both sets? Create new kata? I’ll admit I feel presumptuous even suggesting that I could possibly create a kata worth passing on to others, that they would then pass on to even more people. I feel this way despite Shihan Roseberry’s Gaku Sei No Kata being one of my favorite katas and the newest in any Goju Ryu organization or school that I am aware of. Maybe instead of creating new kata we create drills that can be worked with a partner, or we borrow drills from other styles, since as I have said, our forefathers of karate did just that themselves.

Our karate forefathers knew a lot, and gave us a lot of good stuff to work on, but that was learned from the ever evolving human experience. In much of the karate world it seems that the human experience continues to evolve and change, but has ceased to be a driving factor in the development of the art as a method of self defense. If someone could justify this stagnation in a logical, well thought out manner I would love to hear their thoughts on it. Until then I plan to use my own experience, and the experience of others to guide my continued progress in karate, and martial arts as a whole.

SELF DEFENSE AND SPORT PT3

I have started a security job at a healthcare facility. Previously I had thought of such facilities as being fairly quiet places. Obviously when someone comes in with a life threatening injury or disease, things can get loud and chaotic, but that’s not what I mean. I wasn’t informed of the regularity that security there had to go hands on with patients or visitors during my interview, but in my first week on the job I had to respond to five calls for assistance to restrain patients for various reasons. In one case the situation was deescalated by the time I got there. My job is to ensure my own safety, the safety of the staff members, the patients, and property.

This brings me into part 3 of this mini-series. For self defense, a punch, a kick, an arm break or even choking someone out, may not be appropriate, so you’ll need standing grappling. Much of the same curriculum that is covered by martial arts like Aikido, or Daitoryu. Luckily karate has such techniques, so we can add those into our self defense training, but can an entertaining rule set for competition (both for spectators and competitors) include and even encourage standing grappling through the use of wrist locks, arm locks, and other control techniques? The first question is fairly easy to answer. Yes a rule set can allow, but it becomes more difficult to craft a rule set that will encourage it equally to grappling on the ground or stand up striking.

As the VCC grows and gains students, and as those students progress I will be tweaking and changing our rule set for our full contact sparring to see what will best encourage fighters to do more than just clinch in regards to standing grappling, and the training program will be adjusted accordingly.

SELF DEFENSE AND SPORT PT2

For part two of trying to find a ruleset for sport that will allow a training program that requires minimum alteration in focus from sport to self defense. Last time I talked about how take downs, throws, and ground fighting is necessary for both karate sport fighting, and self defense training. Today we’ll discuss the stand up training. Today all sport/competitive sparring for karate a has very limited number of allowable strikes for an art that has a seemingly endless number of strikes available.

First I’ll start by saying for the sport rule set what I have always referred to as the ‘gentleman rules’ will be the basis of what is not allowed. What I mean by that is the things we grew up thinking were unfair in a fight in elementary, or what would be called a cheap shot by those judging a self defense situation from the safety of the sidelines. Eye pokes/gouges, groin shots, fish hooks, etc. will all be disallowed for the competitive ruleset. One of the biggest divergences from other striking rule sets I would make would be to allow open handed strikes, that includes palm strikes, as well as shuto-uchi strikes. Elbow strikes and knees are prominent in karate kata, but are often banned in karate fighting competitions, I disagree. For Goju Ryu they are very important and must be allowed.

A strike that I would also allow that I have not seen in other prominent striking arts or their competition would be the kokan-uke as an offensive technique or even the jodan-uke as an offensive technique. I believe that these are very effective uses of the techniques both for self defense, and for sport, and their inclusion I think will help give the competitive side a distinct and individual style from other full contact fighting competition styles like Muay Thai, or Kickboxing.

This is controversial in the MMA world now, particularly the UFC, but for a karate based ruleset I believe the kansetsu-geri is a requirement. For those who are not familiar with the Japanese terminology, a kansestu-geri is a kick to a joint, almost always targeting the knee (as kicking the elbow would be a very situational strategy for example) typically in the form of a low side thrust kick just above the joint, just below it, or from behind if you can manage to get behind your opponent during the stand up fight.

Standing grappling is a major part of karate as well, and it’s importance to self defense can be seen in the PPCT and MACH training that is often required by security personnel, police officers, and military personnel, and that will be part 3.

SELF DEFENSE AND SPORT PT1

Can you blend self defense and sport seamlessly in karate training? There are some techniques that will never be acceptable in a competition format that hopes to go mainstream that are useful for self defense, and there are some things that are dangerous in real life when there are so many unknowns about the situation that work wonders in a controlled sporting situation.
So the question is, can sport and effective self defense be trained at the same time? Are the two like oil and water and will never mix in training? Essentially can one training program effectively train a student for competition, and real world self defense?

I think the first thing that has to be noted is that a competition ruleset that is vastly different from the current sport karate point fighting start and stop format would be necessary for this to work. The stop and go format used currently can provide valuable training and insight for concepts like timing and distance, but is very incompatible with training for the real world.

Karate includes take downs and some ground fighting in it’s traditional forms as trained and taught in Okinawa in the old days, but if you can’t guarantee your opponent has no friends with him or is unarmed, then going to the ground is dangerous, so a karate competition should have take downs and ground fighting included, but should limit it, because knowing how to put someone on the ground effectively can open up an opportunity to disengage and end the conflict that way in a real world scenario, but also knowing how to defend against take down attempts is important to ensure that some Joe isn’t capable of simply tackling you, or in case you meet someone who does have some ground fight training you can have a chance of remaining on your feet.

Ground fighting should be included once one or both participants are on the ground, because things happen. Gravel causes slips, legs can get tangled, or in the most unfortunate of cases, someone with training as a ground fighter capitalizes on an opportunity and successfully gets you down, you need to have the repertoire to be able to effectively defend yourself until you can get back on your feet.

So now we’ve established that karate does include take downs and ground fighting in it’s traditional training, we need to decide how much ground fighting to allow, or if it should be limited at all in the first place. There is currently one ruleset for karate combat sports that allows up to 5 seconds of ground fighting. To me that is too little to really cause a karate-ka to work on actual ground fighting, so a 5 second limit is a no go. I personally would do 15 seconds of ground fighting before standing up opponents, unless one fighter clearly has a joint manipulation or choking technique engaged, and is simply trying to lock it in for the win. If the 15 second time is reached and they have the technique and spend 2 seconds trying to lock it in but lose it, then the referee immediately stands both contestants up.

Part 2 will discuss what limitations should be allowed for the stand up fight.

Kata, what is it?

Kata is a core feature of karate, and other traditional martial arts. Through out the years within my dojo and organization I regularly heard that kata is a textbook. The kata teaches us the techniques we need to solve the problem. The only problem is, that a textbook lays out how things specifically should be done. In an English or grammar class, the book tells you how sentences are formed, it tells you how to use your punctuation, and those rules it teaches you are always used. Same with a math textbook, it teaches you rules that will always give you the correct answer if followed.

Kata doesn’t lay out the specifics how exactly how to solve an equation, or in this case win a fight, the way math and PEMDAS (parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction) does. PEMDAS lays out the specific steps and a specific order to the problem in. With fighting you can’t apply kata the same rigid way, and if you get into a fight where doing a kata strike for strike and block for block, stance for stance is the way to win…well that’s just lucky.

For me I see kata more like a dictionary. If you hand someone a dictionary they might learn english words, but they won’t be able to speak proper english. Same with kata, if all you do is practice kata you’ll have the techniques learned, but the techniques will be nearly useless without the grammar or PEMDAS of fighting so to speak. While I acknowledge there be a perfect analogy between a reference or educational book and kata I do think a dictionary is a closer match than a textbook.

In English, one word may have several meanings. In kata one movement can be several techniques. Just like you have preset assignments to help you learn your grammar and how to properly form your sentences you have kiso kumite and kata bunkai as presets to help you understand the meaning and application of the movements in kata. A conversation is like a fight, each one will be different and will never be the same. You react to the other person using a base vocabulary. Learning more kata will increase your vocabulary just like reading the dictionary will. By learning the techniques (words) from doing kata(reading the dictionary), practicing kiso kumite and bunkai you learn the proper usage of those techniques, and engage in sparring (friendly conversation) you begin to build up how to put those techniques together on the fly to be effective, so you’ll be ready for the debate or argument (fight) you may eventually find yourself in.

Not a perfect analogy, but I do not believe a perfect analogy for kata can be found. I do think it is a slightly more accurate analogy than a textbook however. I understood the point when the textbook analogy was used while I was training, as did others, but maybe this will make more sense to people who don’t understand why karate still trains kata in the modern age, and why it’s important.

THE ANSWER IS ON THE FLOOR

The answer is on the floor. It’s a phrase I’ve heard Shihan John Roseberry repeat many times over the years. To him, it was a simple idea: In combat sports and martial arts, if you have a question about a technique or whether a combination works, or even be attempted at all, one could sit, and talk or debate the answer for hours, days, weeks, months or years. You could talk about it forever and never know for sure.

The answer is on the floor, get out on the training floor and figure it out, (through work?) work it out. You’ll learn what works for you in general, and what is effective for you without a doubt.
What I never expected from this simple phrase is how it would apply to other parts of my life outside the dojo. Some of the problems facing the veteran community have their answers on the floor. As studies have shown ( Research & References) exercise can and does help individuals dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and as well as dealing with self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.

Appropriate counseling and therapy should always be sought, but some of the answers for how to deal with these issues can be found by stepping out onto the training floor. The act of exercise releases feel good chemicals into the brain, and the shared hardship of training, experiencing blood sweat and tears along side others creates bonds and naturally creates a platform where a support network can form. An active and solid support network in life regularly results in successful individuals, and this is particularly true for veterans especially.

If you have questions, the answer is on the floor. Shihan Roseberry knew what he was talking about, get out and go train your body and mind, you’ll find your answers there.

KARATE AS A SPECTRUM

Karate Spectrum


Few things in life are black and white, one thing or the other thing. Most exist in gray zones or on a spectrum, from political views, to legal standing of various activities, etc. and traditional martial arts are no different.

As of now, I am working with a simple number line based spectrum. In the center is 0 and each side goes to 10 meaning Left 10 (L10) and Right 10 (R10). The 10s are the extremes, for example L10 would be modern sports karate that only focus on kata competition, and never  do any sparring, while R10 would be trying to emulate the training that our forefathers underwent 150 or more years ago, with no advancement in training method since then.

Neither is inherently bad as long as students and instructors are all up front and honest about what it is they’re doing, and what they want from their martial arts experience. Personally I think the ideal training would be around L2-R2 meaning retaining traditional methods, goals, and focus, but also mixing it with modern methods and competition that have improved upon the older methods.

I’d rank the Karate Combat league as about L2. They’re full contact, and very modern technique training while still trying to maintain some semblance of what came before, however, karate was originally designed for self defense, and any system that puts competition as the primary focus will always be on the left of the spectrum, while systems that eschew competition, will always be on the right of the spectrum.

You can’t claim to be teaching effective self defense if students and teachers have never experienced heavy resistance to their techniques, and you only work with compliant attackers. Similarly even competitive full contact sparring has rules which will severely limit a martial artist’s catalog of techniques if competition is the only focus of the training. While some techniques may be unnecessarily dangerous and damaging outside of real life self defense scenarios actually occurring to intentionally use with moderate to full contact, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to work them into training so they can be used if needed during a real life attack.

This idea of a karate spectrum is a concept I will try to refine, and maybe add a vertical axis to help the spectrum be more specific as a rating system.