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!!!

1 comment:

  1. I see where you're coming from Mr. Maxwell, kata as it is most often taught now completely misses the point. The instructors teaching it simply can't look beyond the surface application (i.e. this is a "block") and only interpret it that way. I was originally trained in through that method and thought exactly as you do about kata.

    However after getting a much needed education from various sources, I think it's not that the kata are outdated and purely for dueling (as Iain Abernethy puts it "the old master had to deal with the same problems we do."). Human nature is human nature, predators have always existed and most likely always will.

    Some eye opening resources for me have been "The Way of Kata" by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder, anything by Iain Abernethy on the subject (Bunkai Jutsu is a great place to start), and Shotokan's Secret by Bruce Clayton is worth a read to get a historical perspective on things (although I don't think his applications are very applicable and some of his conclusions are interesting).