Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Dig a Little Deeper!

Following Senior Kodoryu instructor Matt Turner's excellent article on institutional discipline (https://martialsubjects.org/2016/04/08/institutional-discipline/) it is worth discussing briefly the passivity that develops in Karate students and how the lack of a critical approach particularly when it comes to kata study has lead to many assumptions and contradictions regarding the content of kata becoming the accepted norm.

Most of what is taught about kata is taken on face value, trust is placed in the instructor, lineage, grade and reputation etc. Combine this with a passive approach to learning which arises from the dojo discipline and the result is that many questions that should be asked never see the light of day.

Take one of the most common statements made about kata, that they are complete systems of self defense. How could this be true? How could a kata encompass the totality of self defense and violence and be rightly labeled complete? Most of the applications taught are based on the assumption that the confrontation is one on one and that no weapons are in play, this very dangerous assumption becomes embodied in the movements and techniques applied against the aggressor. How would the movement change and the technical repertoire differ if the possibility of being stabbed,cut or a third party jumping in and stamping on their head were considered? If kata is indeed as is commonly sold 'complete' then surely it should encompass surviving against more than one person or the possibility of a weapon(s) being used or presented amidst the chaos as well as a myriad of other important factors otherwise the statement would surely not be true??

Another popular assumption is that the original functions of kata are lost and we can never know what was intended for the antique forms when they were created. If this is true then how could it be known that a kata is complete system of self defense? and why should this assumption be accepted and repeated? "We don't know what the kata were originally for but they are complete systems of self defense", I'm sure the irony is not lost here.

Why do students not question and critically examine what is taught to them? why is evidence not demanded? part of the reason is the dojo culture of respect and discipline (or silent obedience) which is all to common in Karate. Should a Karate practitioner be happy to believe what they are told? or perhaps it is a time for a shift towards a more critical approach especially if the desired learning,skills and information might one day save their life.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Night at the Opera

The antique forms inherited from China and preserved in Okinawan Karate arrived from varying sources and have their roots in different functions and uses. Some encode military skills and the use of weapons while others were developed for policing, bodyguards and civil arrest/control. The popular assumption that these kata were all developed for empty handed self defense against a single unarmed opponent is a modern belief that just doesn't stand up against any real scrutiny and examination.

One source for Chinese forms and techniques generally overlooked and quickly dismissed as it would ruin the self defense beliefs of many is the culturally rich Chinese opera traditions. Stage combat and choreography is nothing new and as with all the arts in China it was cultivated to the highest standard. Within Operas and public performances of the arts complex choreography showcasing stories, myths and legends coupled with gymnastic excellence produced 'fight scenes' as convincing and as visually spectacular as what many enjoy today in the movies.

Techniques and postures which are physically demanding and at the same time immensely impractical within the context of a violent confrontation might historically belong on the stage. Movements inspired by practical martial skills presented in visually impressive postures and stances make for great choreography and may just be the 'Why' behind several antique forms.

Therefore it is important to not overlook this context and cultural tradition as one possible source for some of the kata inherited in Okinawa when researching the original functions.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


A slightly older clip showcasing Nathan Johnson's (and Kodoryu members past and present) research into the kata Naihanchi and the form's original grappling function which catalogs joint locking techniques to be applied in a civil arrest context hence no striking or brutalizing of the person being restrained.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Bad Bunkai Guide

1. The Stooge. Always have a willing subject happy to have a Jason Bourne routine performed on them. They must not resist, deviate from the script or show any emotional content. Essentially the stooge must be the complete opposite of a psychotic, unpredictable attacker intent on committing real violence. Another essential quality of the stooge is to only attack at the right time and wait patiently for their cue to attack or it may upset the bunkai flow which would mean having to start all over again.

2. Scripted attacks. Attacks should always be agreed upon beforehand removing one of the key problems in violent confrontation which is the difficulty in predicting when and what a person will do. A well scripted attack will lack any real intent, commitment and will be an isolated technique setting the stage for the reactive bunkai. One of the many benefits of agreeing beforehand what the attacks will be is that concealed weapons, rapidly escalating violence and other people getting involved in the scenario can be confidently ignored guaranteeing victory every time.

3. Conflicting body habits. Always have at least a dozen bunkai for responding to every attack. Having 20+ responses to a wrist grab, lapel grab or straight Karate punch wont really cause conflicting body habits it simply proves what a wonderful bunkai collection a person has and woe to anyone who dares to perform a single attack in a one on one duel. Being spoilt for choice in how to respond isn't confusing for the brain and body, having 20 kata mash-ups for taking on the fearsome oi-zuki (and other deadly attacks) can only make you more effective in the heat of violent confrontation.

4. A liberal approach to kata. Having a liberal approach to kata means being inclusive of all styles, versions of kata and having the freedom to create as many applications as humanly possible. This is essential so that no one's feelings can ever be hurt and more importantly everyone's opinion is equally valid!

5. Sweeping statements. Always be sure to make sweeping statements like 'kata are complete systems of self defence' or 'kata contain all the principles of fighting' without ever backing up such statements or offering any proof. Ending up in a critical debate could mean deviating from point 4 resulting in feelings being hurt and even worse someone might be wrong.

6. Credibility. Always maintain a veil of credibility by quoting famous Karate teachers (ideally Okinawan), so that it appears there is a strong link between the old and very very new. Even if many of the old masters didn't teach any kata applications don't worry, a bit of mythology can only enhance the bunkai experience.

Please contact us with any comments or questions by emailing Tom Maxwell at kodoryutmaxwell@gmail.com, thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Do The Maths!

Here is a little kata experiment to try, make a list of how many techniques and skills you consider essential to be effective in a real fight, be sure to factor in variables such as multiple opponents, concealed weapons especially blades, environmental factors, fighting on after sustaining injury and whatever else you can think of. What does your list include? punching? kicking? headbutting? elbows? knees? clinch? throwing? grappling? ground fighting? gouging? biting? what else?

Not many hooks, headbutts or leg kicks!
Now choose a kata (preferably an antique form inherited from China), start by counting how many techniques, hand movements, foot movements, steps, turns (count left and right) and start comparing the numbers against your fight essentials list. How well does the kata hold up?  How many hits? is the form covering all of those essential techniques or even a large percentage of them? is it satisfying the criteria and brutal inescapable demands of real violence?

If you have for example 50 or so fight essentials (my conservative estimate) and the content of the form is not scoring very highly what does this suggest about the form and the assumptions of a fighting function made about it?

The idea is often promoted (but in no way proven or demonstrated) that certain kata such as Kusanku or Chinto are complete systems of self defence or fighting,  This exercise is one of many that can be used to experiment with the content of the antique kata and used to reveal just what is possible and what is not putting to rest unfounded claims such as that Kusanku is a complete fighting system etc.

Not all kata were born equal and in order to penetrate the original intentions and functions of these forms as many different methods of experimentation needs to be applied to any and every assumption made about the antique kata, starting with the most common belief that they are all empty handed self defence and fighting.

Please contact us with any comments or questions by emailing Tom Maxwell at kodoryutmaxwell@gmail.com, thanks for reading!!!

A Note on Plagiarism

Greetings All,

Please feel free to use the information on this blog and to share, critique and question as much as you wish but do quote your source! a nod here and a tip of the hat there goes a long way as well as posting a link!!. It is sad to see several recent instances of blatant plagiarism by several people lacking basic integrity trying to pass off the work of others as their own.

To the other 99.9% thankyou for your own going support and feedback, lots more to come!

Please contact us with any comments or questions by emailing Tom Maxwell at kodoryutmaxwell@gmail.com, thanks for reading!!!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Pic'n'Mix Bunkai

Kata bunkai and applications are becoming increasingly complex, with kata enthusiasts creating their own flow drills, fight sequences and choreography for the various forms, whilst at the same time borrowing from arts such as Wing Chun, Judo and MMA to fill in the blanks and add material the kata obviously does not include. Sticking hands/Pushing hands type drills add a little spice and a different way of performing the application but the same fundamental problems when assuming kata were created to record and be applied as fighting or self defense are still there no matter how much it is dressed up in Chi-Sao, Gi grips or arm-bar finishes on the ground, none of which are in the kata. The complex choreography is more akin to the movies than real fighting with spurious applications just about passing for the kata techniques they are supposed to represent. Some of these problems include,

1. The compliant stooge who delivers his attack and then waits to be dealt with. Not much has changed here for decades, the attacks are more 'street' and the responses have certainly moved on from block counter Karate but the compliant attacker remains the same. Usually a single attack is given (very unconvincingly in many cases) providing the platform for the application to be showcased. The lack of realism here is obvious and this raises a serious question over the validity of the suggested applications performed from a single attack which is not in any way reflective of a violent assault from someone who will aggressively fight on, resist, or escalate the level of violence quickly.

Not much has Changed!

2. Multiple attackers. Almost all kata bunkai is taught as one on one. Surely a major consideration is dealing with more than one person but this is not reflected in most applications. If kata were synthesised to record self defense and fighting then undoubtedly this would have been an important factor.

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3. Concealed weapons and blades. Forget fighting someone with a knife, how about surviving an encounter with someone that has a knife and will use it. Many of the applications presented as knife disarms and defense against someone armed are so detached from reality they could potentially be disastrous for someone who has taken these moves on faith and tries to use them. There is also the very real problem that a concealed weapon may be produced during a fight or it may have not been noticed in the beginning this raises the question regarding many of the applications that initiate grappling or throws and continue to go to work on the person while they are on the ground. Again if the antique forms were put together to be a comprehensive representation of self defense concealed weapons and knives would surely have been a major factor in considering tactics and efficient strategy.

4. Changing the techniques. Often in application many techniques are heavily altered with major components omitted in order to fit the desired usage, if a movement was recorded in a particular way then surely that implies a specific function and intention for that movement and technique. If the movements are as non-specific in their applied function as many suggest then why catalogue techniques or have any katas at all!

Specific movement = specific function

5. Crossbreeding. Apart from the endless usage of various different martial arts to present little bits and pieces of forms there is a growing practice of presenting techniques from various forms together. So a bit of Naihanchi goes into a technique from Seisan which ends with something from Chinto. These forms all come from varied sources and there is no evidence that they should be applied together or mixed. If anything it shows how incomplete these forms are when assumed to be for fighting.

The crossing breeding of kata and mixing of various martial arts is not bringing anyone closer to understanding what was originally intended for these forms. Instead of borrowing from lots of different Martial arts to fill in the combative deficit left by the antique kata when applied in this way isn't it about time to re-assess the assumptions made about these forms and start from the beginning to see what is actually possible with each individual form and consider alternative functions and contexts for use.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at kodoryutmaxwell@gmail.com, thanks for reading!!!