Sunday, 26 October 2014

What If??

What if the original functions of the antique kata were discovered? how would this change the way Karate is practised? what if the functions of the forms were not what people assumed them to be namely self defence? what would be the place of kata and how would Karate practitioners choose to proceed and develop their art?

For the last 25 years Nathan Johnson and many members past and present of the Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Renmei (formally Zen Shorin Do) have been engaged in researching the original functions of the antique kata (forms inherited from China). The research has been clearly documented in publications that record the ongoing process and changes in direction according to the insights and assimilation of new evidence and experiences. The results are not the guesswork of an afternoon in the dojo, they are the product of years of painstaking research and practise with constant feedback and criticism from a group of senior Karateka. This has led to a research method and set of criteria (partly laid out in previous posts in this blog) which must all be fulfilled by those continuing the decoding of other kata.

The evidence amassed is overwhelming and way beyond the scope of a blog post or a youtube video. Karate kata are physical records and need to be experienced physically, they are the primary sources and always the beginning and end of the research. We would like to invite those with an interest in the original functions of kata such as Naihanchi, Sanchin, Seisan, Kusanku to come and experience it for themselves. To assess the evidence by active participation and immersion in the functions of the forms and to then decide. We look forward to hearing from you!

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

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ask More of Kata

Many creative interpreters of kata enjoy the luxury of never being 'wrong', anyone can make up an application to a kata movement and in the world of anything goes bunkai it will be accepted as another alternative and in some cases added to the collections of bunkai enthusiasts. Bunkai ideas are often driven by personal tastes, for example one teacher may be a grappling enthusiast or a pressure point junkie and their applications will often reflect this. By dismissing the possibility of discovering the original function, context and usage of an antique form creative interpreters are absolved from ever facing any real criticism and having to explain the rationale, sequence, technical repertoire etc of a kata. No one ever treads on anyone's toes and there is room for everyone to present their stuff, as is the case in many popular Karate forums. The fact remains that if creative interpretation and making up applications is the chosen way of approaching kata then there has to be some justification for taking that position and reasons given as to why the original function which gave birth to the movements and form are not explored.

Many practitioners will not even begin to attempt to seek out the original meaning of kata because they have been told that it is not possible or lost forever. Thankfully this sort of attitude did not effect those who unlocked the Rosetta stone or those currently decoding the Voynich manuscript. Instead of reducing all kata to reactive self defence or bits of a fight dressed up as 'flow drills' that have very little to do with the chaos of a violent encounter, I would like to invite those with a passion for kata to take another look and see if it is possible to unlock the original functions and see what is actually achievable with only the technical repertoire of a form like Chinto or Passai etc. Is there an underlying theme? a context for use? an intended environment for usage? what is the relationship between each technique and movement? is the sequence significant?

There is great diversity in the content of the antique forms which suggests many functions, contexts and ideas and once unlocked can only add to the rich history and heritage of Karate. Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why Three years one Kata?

Many of the kata inherited from China have their roots in military and civil arrest arts, it should come as no surprise then that the content of the forms and skills encoded are difficult to achieve and in some cases unobtainable to hobbyists and recreational practitioners. Specialised skills such as unarmed control and restraint techniques, the effective use of policing tools or different types of weaponry demand a level of practise and skill that is usually reserved for professional groups and institutions such as the police and military.

The specialised skills of a police officer or a Royal marine for example can take years to develop fully and are always initiated with one to two years intensive training to develop the necessary foundation. The antique Martial arts were no different in their requirements. A kata and its function may well have taken at least three years for a practitioner to become effective in its application and usage as the Karate and Gong-fu traditions record.

Unarmed civil arrest and the various techniques used to control, restrain and cuff are undoubtedly difficult to master and are generally out of reach of the hobbyist who might perhaps train for a couple of hours once or twice a week. This would also be the case in the use of weapons and any other skill, sport or art! Imagine a trainee civil arrest officer or bodyguard in Chinese antiquity who spends several years training three hours a day (just an example) performing thousands and thousands of repetitions of joint locking techniques, rope binding, weight training and of course on the job training with seniors getting that all important hands on experience. Skills and techniques on a glance that might seem impractical and not functional become brutally efficient methods once the appropriate training and demands for efficacy are met.

It is also important to note that not everyone would possess the right attributes to master these different skill sets in the same way not everyone can become a Royal marine, police officer or world class boxer. That does not at all exclude anyone from enjoying the varied Martial arts and many forms as recreational practices, dynamic forms of exercise and hobbies. The antique kata can and are enjoyed by millions and stand as wonderful cultural relics that give a fascinating glimpse into the Martial skills of the past.

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

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Original Function or Creative Playground?

Okinawan karate has always been a melting pot for mixing various martial arts, katas and the creative drives of its pioneers, this was a necessity due to the often incomplete and erratic transmission of gong fu forms and styles that arrived with little or no applications. Forms without functions were re-engineered, added to and given a new life eventually evolving into the various styles of Karate. Creative interpreters today are continuing this process started in Okinawa. The search for the original meaning of kata requires a very different approach and a move away from almost everything in Karate apart from the forms themselves.

It is quite rare among Karate teachers, enthusiasts and groups to spend time attempting to unlock the original functions of kata, often dismissed as a pointless endeavour kata are left wide open for creative interpreters to pin any meaning they like to the techniques contained in the forms and to the personal tastes of the student in choosing which applications they like best.

Committing to researching a kata and attempting to discover its original function is a painstaking process where countless mistakes will be made, months even years of experimenting sometimes produce no solid results and if a discovery is made and the kata becomes decipherable the function may not be what was originally suspected or hoped for! This is diametrically opposed to the creative playground where anything goes in interpreting a form. It is undeniable that the creativity that goes into imagining the countless applications is inspiring and the appeal to bunkai collectors is obvious but if the original function of the techniques is not to play a role in the bunkai then isn't this a call for completely new kata to be created?

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

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Proactive Not Reactive

One of the most important discoveries to come out of the research conducted by Nathan Johnson and the Kodoryu group is that the techniques catalogued in the antique forms inherited from China such as Naihanchi, Sanchin, Seisan and Kusanku are of a proactive nature with a very specific function for each form such as civil arrest, Sai techniques and disarming techniques. This has been a key insight into explaining the sequence of each kata and the relationship between techniques.

Proactive application of the techniques significantly alters the course of the bunkai and it becomes possible to deduce from the catalogue of techniques what the context for use and underlying function was. For example Naihanchi is an ingeniously devised form that instructs the practitioner in proactive locking techniques that restrain and subdue without brutalising or injuring the person being detained. The techniques are ordered in a way to create a progressive study of crossed arm (right arm to right or left arm to left) finger, wrist, elbow and shoulder manipulations that lead into two key holds which may have been used to then bind the wrists together with rope, or to bring the person onto their backs for further effective restraint. The absence of striking, hitting when a person is down, chokes etc suggests that Naihanchi's applied context was within civil arrest and could have been used by police, bodyguards or guards of the royal courts.

Here is an isolated section of the Naihanchi set,

Proactive civil arrest techniques seek to avoid a situation descending into a violent confrontation, for example in modern policing an officer making regular arrests does not wish to have to fight every person they arrest otherwise it would be almost impossible to do their job without sustaining massive injuries and facing bigger risks than they already do. Proactive techniques seek to overwhelm and take control of a person and situation while minimising as many of the possible responses from the person being arrested, Naihanchi fulfills all of these criteria.

With a clear purpose, context and removing the endless 'what ifs' that arise with reactive techniques and making them proactive it quickly becomes clear that these were the essential criteria in the formation of the antique kata.

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

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Self Defence and Kata Don't Mix!

In modern Karate kata are taught primarily as a vehicle for self defence, endless 'scenarios' are pitched as possible interpretations of movements dealing with various attacks. The practise is carried along deeply entrenched in the belief that when the time comes it will work for real and when faced with genuine violent intent lots of dojo practise is the way to prepare for it. Reactive self defence applications are severely limited and fail to address so much that needs to be considered for genuine self protection. Here are several of those issues for consideration.

Self defence is not a duel. So many of the bunkai and kata applications created only work on the premise that there is one person attacking at a given moment and that there is enough time and distance to see an attack coming. Close the initial distance, add overwhelming stress, fear and adrenaline and there is an immediate breakdown of many the beautifully orchestrated responses. Add in the fact that people are very unpredictable, a person may not know they are in a potentially violent chaotic situation until it is already well underway leaving kata techniques behind while desperately trying to survive and escape. Being faced with two or more people at once is something almost never considered by bunkai enthusiasts or if it is often at best the attackers take turns to attack and receive a response.

Extreme levels of violence. There are endless applications for dealing with a hook punch, straight Karate punch and various static holds but rarely does the creative interpretation venture out into extreme levels of violence such as dealing with a person whose opening gambit is biting a nose or an ear, gouging an eye etc How different would the outcome be in the photo above of Choki Motobu if his attacker had grabbed him and bitten his ear off? these levels of violence may be less common but that does not exclude them from consideration as in order to prepare effectively for violent confrontation all areas most be covered.

Concealed weapons. A concealed blade can in a moment turn the tables on someone confident in an unarmed exchange. Many applications effectiveness depends on there not being a concealed weapon employed at some point, a very dangerous assumption.

Fighting injured. Kata applications usually depend on a person being fully able bodied and without injury. If for example an unprovoked assault led to a broken arm and the attack continued how many of the techniques would be applicable? there are many other factors to consider that could also render useless refined dojo aquired kata skills such as tiredness, intoxication, sickness, stress and so on.

In spite of there being literally thousands of applications created for the various kata to deal with potential attackers that come under the classification of self defence, as demonstrated above so much is left unanswered and this should raise doubt around the idea that kata is an effective medium for reactive self defence techniques. There are just too many variables to consider to create a practical self defence kata, could it be that self defence and kata just don't mix?

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

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Kata - Function Dictates Form

Function dictates form is the perfect phrase for describing kata. The techniques, posture, stance and sequence all arose out of an original function and purpose. The kata is the product and not the starting point as so many bunkai enthusiasts teach today. Many Karateka use kata as pseudo savings accounts, collecting as many techniques for each movement from as many different sources as possible. Not only is this unnecessary as a practise it also severely limits the value of the solo exercise, the kata no longer represents a unifying function and the performance becomes a separate abstract movement where anyone can do anything and be as 'creative' as they choose.

The solo form should reflect experience in the intended function, this is what gives the kata its value as a practise. The more experience and time spent training in its true function the higher the quality of the solo movements. The intention of the practitioner should be to re-create the internalised interactive experience of the techniques in their forms, this is not possible when collecting random applications which bear no relationship from one to the other and trying to force form into function.

Form arises from the refinement of techniques and skills which represent the function, every nuance of a kata is significant. The lack of consideration to the details of a kata that often occurs with many of the random applications and the deviation from very specific movements calls into question the credibility of the bunkai.

Other than attempting to unlock the original functions of kata why bother with anything else? is it productive to use a kata like Naihanchi for example as a template for 100's of applications that have only a passing semblance to the form which is very specific and expect practitioners to ignore the fact that often the applied practise and solo exercise are really two different things sharing the same label?

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