Saturday, 22 February 2014

Creating Naihanchi

I would like to propose for those interested a thought experiment using the kata Naihanchi, any kata will do but Naihanchi is a great form to use as it is simple with some unique peculiarities. Starting with the generally accepted assumption that it is for fighting (or self protection) try to imagine how the kata was created? what aspects of fighting would go into formulating the stance, posture, fist, techniques and footwork? what is the value in practise of this kata for its assumed function 'the fight'?

To put it simply, starting here;

How do we arrive here?

The fight clip is one example of many hundreds available on youtube as is the Naihanchi clip both chosen for convenience. The purpose of the experiment is to see if Naihanchi is a logical form to arrive at from a fighting function and to attempt to gain insight into the process that went into its creation. The experiment is also if necessary to raise doubt around the assumption that fighting gave birth to this and other kata. Creating applications for movements in the form that look like bits of a street fight does not stand as evidence that street fighting was the original function. If the suggested source material for a kata does not show a logical progression to the form then alternatives need to be explored. 

Here are some alternative criteria to consider other than 'fighting' when looking into a katas original purpose,

Possible context - Civil arrest i.e control and restraining techniques, disarming techniques and arresting methods, Military skills i.e weaponry use and close quarter skills, Combative sports i.e wrestling, boxing.

Environment - different types of terrain would require different types of footwork and skills to maintain balance, posture and for effective delivery.

The number of techniques and order of techniques, taking into account right or left hand/side bias. Importance of sequence.

Postures, stances, types of steps and footwork, hand positions/shapes.

As well as observing what is in the form it should be questioned what is also absent from the form. For example if Naihanchi was created out of fighting experiences why is so much not included and what was the process that went into deciding to leave out so much? A few examples;

1. Why the head is not protected?
2. Why the upright posture which is maintained throughout the form, where is the bobbing and weaving and dynamic structure for a close quarter exchange and standing clinch?
3. Why the parallel stance?
4. Why the crossed step is the only step and why stepping is only performed sideways?

As shown above there are many criteria to be considered and questions answered if the explanation of a kata is to be accepted. Function dictates form, and the progression of function to form should be demonstrable. If Naihanchi (or any other kata) is taught and believed to be self protection/fighting then it should be possible to demonstrate the process that went into developing the kata and the reason for creating it as well as explaining everything from the context, sequence and structure to stances, techniques and more!

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

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Why The Never-Ending Bunkai?

Imagine for a moment that you are an Egyptologist who specialises in translating obscure Egyption papyri. You are given a text to translate as accurately as possible and to attempt to discover what is hidden within the script. If there were glyphs and passages that you could not translate would it be reasonable to simply make it up? would it be tolerated by peers and colleagues to present a translation and say "I could not translate these sections so I made up a few different passages, please choose your favourite one!". Next imagine you were given a papyrus and told it was a medical text, after beginning to translate it you quickly discover that it is not a medical text at all. You relay your findings to your colleagues who insist that it is a medical text and that you should ignore your discovery and carry on working on the 'medical' text. Would this be acceptable? Why in Karate kata research and study is it acceptable to create endless applications for the antique kata (forms inherited from China) when they clearly had an original function and purpose? Why is the attempt to re-discover the original functions dismissed so easily as impossible and never-ending creative interpretation embraced? If ancient languages thousands of years old can be unlocked why can't a physical language encoded in forms also be explained.

Kata contain very specific shapes and movements so it is reasonable to assume they have a very specific purpose. Looking at the pictures above it is hard to imagine that the creator(s) of each of these forms had it in mind that practitioners spend their time making up as many applications as possible for their kata. What is the advantage of creating many applications for a kata like Seisan or Kusanku as opposed to simply making up a kata that suits the individual needs and technical repertoire of the practitioner? Often the applications only loosely resemble the movements of the form which means there are two separate things being practised, a solo exercise and an applied technique. If function does not match the form then what is the point of the form?

As each movement in the antique kata originally had a specific applied function the sequence is the relationship between all the techniques. By looking at which techniques are cataloged in a form it is possible to determine the overall function and context for use. Creative interpretation often ignores the relevance of the sequence, producing application after application with no significant relationship between movements and techniques.

It is the responsibility of the creative interpreters to explain and prove the value of creating endless applications for the kata, as opposed to seeking out the original functions which the forms were born out of. The question remains, why not simply create new kata based on personal experience and skills to achieve a desired end? Would a new self protection or street-fighting kata resemble any of the antique forms? if not could this be a clue that not all kata serve the same assumed self-defence function and that an assumption free re-examination is needed?

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

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Kodoryu Pushing Hands

The Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Renmei has a large kata based syllabus that strikes a fine balance between the old and new. The antique kata (forms) are carefully researched, studied and preserved as well as providing the basis for several modern practices developed within the group. One of these practises central to Kodoryu Karate is pushing hands.

Pushing hands is a dynamic game where one person attempts to disrupt a partners concentration, posture and balance while maintaining their own. Using contact reflexes via the hands,wrists and forearms force is exchanged by pushing, pulling and twisting a partners limbs in a reciprocal fashion. Common to many empty hand Chinese Martial arts and some styles of Karate pushing hands differs in Kodoryu in that no claim is made for pushing hands training having any relevance or practical use for fighting or self defence. Free from the ideas of overcoming a person to win a fight and combative effectiveness the game takes on a new life which can be enjoyed by all and pursued from a variety of different perspectives. Examples of varying approaches are pushing hands as a physical art that aims for the spontaneous application of techniques and skills studied in various kata, or as a holistic exercise which works within the natural range of the body/joints and develops strength, posture and bodily awareness, finally as a moving meditation for developing mindfulness, intent and exploring different meditative states.

Each practitioner starts by learning the same basic forms/templates and techniques and gradually over time develops their own individual practise, this makes pushing hands a unique experience with every person practised with. One of the challenges that makes pushing hands such an enjoyable practise is finding rapport and learning to adapt to each individuals physical, technical and psychological characteristics. Constant effort is required to avoid falling into mindless routines and cycling the same patterns over and over again, this encourages students to become more creative with their technical repertoire and results in an ever evolving practise.

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