Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Principle Excuse

What is the principle excuse? it is the commonly taught idea that kata primarily teach principles and that the sequence and technical content are there simply to express these principles instead of a specific underlying function. An example of this would be saying that Naihanchi is about developing posture, rooting, generating power, mindfulness or any other number of self evident 'principles' that really do not need kata as a medium to be effectively practised. In fact a form like Naihanchi may be a hindrance in developing these qualities if the purpose of the practitioner is to become say a better fighter due to its very limited technical content and range of movements. 

So what makes more sense as an approach to studying kata?

1. Kata were synthesised to catalogue techniques with a specific function in mind and context for usage. Example - Naihanchi records grappling techniques to be used in the context of civil arrest.


2. Kata were created to record principles (that are usually self evident and do not require recording in a form!) within a group of unrelated techniques in no significant order. Example - Naihanchi is for developing posture, power generation, chi, rooting, mindfulness etc.

Function dictates form? or abstract principles dictate form?

Monday, 31 July 2017

Just a Thought!

It is worth checking from time to time the huge assumption that all of the antique kata were created by great masters of their day and that each form contains a great reservoir of combative experience. A wide range of forms have made their way to Okinawa from China from many different sources quite a few of which are unknown. Perhaps not all kata were born equal and produced by experienced experts, perhaps money making opportunities were seen from local amateurs of the day who had no practical experience but were great salesmen!(not unlike many so called masters today). This is also reflected today in the endless applications, flow drills and bunkai exercises that are clearly made up by the instructors and sold on.

Some forms are undoubtedly combative masterpieces, but are all kata?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Secret of Wing Chun - Part III (Last One I Promise!)

Wing Chun has millions of followers worldwide, with huge support from the film industry it has achieved a cult like status. Wing Chun techniques translate beautifully to the big screen and after seeing Donnie Yen dispatch opponent after opponent its hard to not let the imagination run wild and think what if?!!!
Well complex choreography is not reality when it comes to violence and no one needs to look far to see how badly Wing Chun fighters have performed in no holds barred and mixed martial arts contests. The video above is just one example of many available. The usual excuses almost always follow any criticisms of Wing Chun, such and such a fighter wasn't a real Wing Chun expert, he wasn't able to use the dangerous advanced techniques, my master would have...... and Wing Chun is just for the street where there are no rules.

Well hats off to anyone who steps up to fight in MMA to test themselves, their ability and their practice instead of citing lineage, rank, anecdotes about the good old days when training was really hardcore and so on!

Fighters aside what does this say about the technical content of Wing Chun and most importantly the forms that are the core of the system?

Is this an effective way of preparing someone for the chaos of real violence? (note: the example is for demonstrating the first form practiced in Wing Chun and is not a comment on or critique of Yip Chun).

If the forms were not intended for unarmed combat could the original function have been for something more pragmatic? it was! Armed combat!

Nathan Johnson (demonstrating in video) has spent the last decade unraveling the original function of the mysterious Wing Chun forms (Note: Nathan has practiced and taught Wing Chun and Karate for over 40 years). Over the course of the next year Nathan will be gradually publishing his findings and will be available for seminars for those wanting to explore in depth the roots and origins of Wing Chun.

For more information please email

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Great Karate Myth Documentary

The Great Karate Myth presents 30 years of research into the Chinese forms brought to Okinawa by some of the early pioneers of Karate. These forms (kata) became the source material which Karate was originally developed from into the empty hand art practised globally today. The research led by Nathan Johnson and documented in several publications (Zen Shaolin Karate, Barefoot Zen and The great Karate Myth) has passed through several distinct phases, altering its course as various discoveries were made and new information was aquired.  In this documentary we will show that the forms and techniques sourced in the creation of specifically Goju-Ryu and Uechi Ryu (Naha-te) were originally concieved to be practised and applied with weapons (In this case Sai). The film will break down the function of the forms, context and environment for use, how and why kata were developed and the purpose they serve in cultivating skillful use of the Sai. It will also be clearly demonstrated why kata and forms practise serve as a poor vehicle for empty hand fighting and self defense. Our aim is to make this film available for free online and two types of DVD available with extra material. the standard DVD will contain the documentary plus the bonus film "Kusanku - A Work in Progress, and the Expanded edition will contain the bonus film plus interviews and an instructional presenting the complete breakdown and application of the kata Sanseriu with the Sai.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Dig a Little Deeper!

Following Senior Kodoryu instructor Matt Turner's excellent article on 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.