LEAD BY EXAMPLE - LIVE THE EXAMPLE
"Karate ni sente nashi"
Does Kata Teach Fighting?
For years most styles of karate being practiced in the western world placed great lip service to the seriousness of their kata training. We were constantly reminded by the Okinawan and Japanese Sensei as to the importance of the karate kata. The importance of kata was continually reinforced by the old Sensei through their statements; "Everything is in the kata.", "Without kata there is no karate.", "Learning the kata will teach you everything you ever need to know about true karate.", "To truly understand and perfect your karate, you much first and foremost understand the kata.", "If you truly want to know how to fight, learn the kata." With all of this in mind, we practiced the kata over and over again hoping that it would someday, somehow make us the fighters that the old Sensei had promised us that it would.
Anyone who trained during this period of time (1960's, 70's & 80's) will tell you that the best kumite fighters were seldom if ever the best kata men. As a matter of fact, most kumite champions did not even practice the kata and if they did in fact practice the kata, it was usually for one of two reasons. One, they wanted to be able to place in tournaments in both kata and kumite and/or two, because they were required to do so by their teachers in order to advance in rank. Why do most if not all traditional systems of karate use the kata as the primary requirement for rank advancement in their style? Were the old Sensei lying to us? Were they telling us to spend the majority of our time training and perfecting something that they themselves knew would not make us better fighters? To answer this question, we must first understand several important facts about the old Sensei. First, the old Sensei considered their word their bond and therefore they were extremely serious when they made a statement. Second, they knew the information that they were passing on was true and genuine information and therefore they expected this information to be taken seriously. Third, they knew that the student would not find the answers without a long journey and this journey was always much more important than any massive number of techniques or kata that they could ever teach to a student. Forth, their comprehension of the word "fighter" was not the same as ours.
Renewed Interest In Kata!
The last decade has been a very interesting period of time for those few individuals who practice the art of Karate-do. This is largely due to a great deal of emphases being placed on the kata and specifically the understanding of the kata's movements or intentions, a study known as the bunkai of the kata. It seems many students of karate have begun to spend a great deal of time contemplating these applications. In my opinion this is a very positive approach and a movement in the right direction. Having trained in Chito-ryu karate, a traditional art, as well as having served my country as a member of the United States Army Special Forces community, I strongly believe that a martial art should be foremost and above all else, totally functional and extremely proficient in it's applications of the defensive skills taught throughout the system. In today's violent society we as instructors of a martial art (war system) have a serious obligation to every student we teach, an obligation to deliver to the student an application based art, an art that is realistic as opposed to simply ritualistic.
Today's Karate Students.
A good karate student can also been seen in the same light as a soldier training for war. After all, karate is a martial art, not simply an aerobic exercise or a dance performance. Imagine if you will, a soldier who is well trained in the modern day techniques of warfare. You would most likely envision a soldier who has received strong basic training as well as advanced training, both physical and mental. This soldier would learn all he needs to know about the make up of the weapons he will be required to use. He would learn the individual parts of each weapon, the weight of each weapon, how each weapon works, why each weapon has been adopted for use by his superiors as opposed to numerous other weapons that could have been chosen. He would learn how to care for and how to dismantle these weapons and he would be required to perform this task even in total darkness. He would be required to know the limitations of each weapon, limitations such as it's maximum effective range, rate of fire, type of ammunition used, what type of environment the weapon works best in, (will the weapon work when it is wet, etc.,.). After all, by learning the limitations of his own weapons, this will assist him in understanding the possible weaknesses and limitations of his opponent's weapons as well. The soldier would learn the proper stance to use when firing this weapon, how to stand, sit, kneel or lie down and possibly even fire his weapon while on the move in various type of terrain and all of this would be done against a spring loaded silhouette of a human being as opposed to a paper bulls-eye target in order to simulate as close to reality as possible. He would also learn first aid as well as the importance of good nutrition, flexibility (both mental and physical), strength training and speed. He would learn the first principle of defense is to remove the target, as well as understanding the importance of the principle action is faster than reaction. He would be instructed in the history of warfare and he would eventually come to realize that those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. He would also study the martial history of his foe in order to better understand the mindset of his opponent and in order to better understand the actual format of his own training. He would be told continuously that there are no second place trophies in this game of warfare and that second place in warfare most likely means certain death for him as well as the other members of his team. All of this training would be performed with deadly seriousness in an attempt to make the training as realistic as possible. All training would be constructed, designed, implemented and reinforced with one mission in mind, 100% Success.
Now take today's karate students, students who can be found in virtually every karate school. What would you see? Most likely you would see students who train in very unrealistic manners. You would see students who cannot perform simple basic techniques, students who do not know the history of their particular art, much less the history of other martial arts. You would see students who place a great deal of emphases on kumite matches, matches that are totally controlled by a referee that are point oriented in an environment which is uniquely suited to this type of training. You would also find students who are taught to perform the movements of the kata and even though these students can perform these movements with speed and strength, the movements are simply that, only a performance. Although these students appear to be good with their winning of tournaments and kumite matches, they could not and would not be able to apply these learned movements in a realistic combat setting. Why is this? To study the kata without the bunkai is like learning about a weapon without ever firing it or without ever taking it to the field in order to fully understand it capabilities. When the military or police search for an empty hand combat or self-defense instructor to teach their troops or officers, why do they not contact a tournament champion? Why do they not look for someone who has proved themselves in tournaments with others who in many cases possess far superior speed and power in their techniques than does most anyone on the street or in the field of battle. The answer is simple, these champions are only champions in a very limited and controlled environment with rules that have absolutely nothing to do with street or battle field survival. Most of these champions would not last very long in a real combat setting with someone who has had the street or battle field as their dojo. This would be a setting where rules do not exist. A setting where even the winner may very well die or be maimed for life. Military and police are only interested in realistic, application based training, training that will ensure the survivability of their people.
Teaching Police and Military.
Over the years I have taught many, many police officers as well as soldiers and after hearing them talk about their personal martial arts training, I have come to the conclusion that any time the training and the real applications of what the student is learning is different, one needs to take a long, hard look at their training methods. How many of you have trained thousands and thousands of times on stylized blocking techniques, head blocks as well as various other types of blocks up and down the dojo floor and then never used these same types of movements in kumite, much less in a real encounter. In kumite you will find yourself parrying, scooping, sweeping and swatting away an attack. In kumite your stances will seldom if ever match the methods you practicing while stepping up and down the deck. Not only will you, yourself seldom if ever use these stylized methods described above when you kumite, your instructor who spent so much time teaching them to you will not use them himself when he kumite's. Why is this? Could it be that the methods taught in the karate kata were not specifically designed for kumite, but instead for a real conflict, a conflict where even good sportsmanship could get one severely injured or killed.
In reference to the previous statement in the paragraph above, I am not implying that we should not practice with a sense of fair play or the use of control when we are training, but what I am saying is that this type of mind-set can in fact cause a person to hesitate in the face of a real attack and it is this hesitation that could get one severely injured or even killed. In kumite we are taught to wait until the referee says "GO". We have also been taught that many types of attacks are totally forbidden, attacks such as biting, spitting, bumping, joint locks, choking, eye gouging, groin attacks and hair grabs to name just a few. It is important to bear in mind that in most cases the very techniques that are banned in kumite are the most effective techniques we could use and the techniques that we would need the most in a real life encounter. Over the years I have heard it said hundreds of times by virtually every senior martial artist that I have trained with: "If you want to become good at executing a front kick, you must practice the front kick." Working on a punch will not make you a better kicker. Even with this in mind, most karate people think that they could apply these banned or illegal techniques in a hostile situation, when they never practice them in the comfort of their own dojo. In such cases these people are not training realistically. In other words, they are living in a dream world and when they are forced to apply what they have learned, they will in most cases do exactly that, they will apply what they have learned through their rule bound kumite matches and by the time they realize that it is not enough, it will be too late.
Karate is a martial art, you must practice with the utmost seriousness from the
very beginning." -Gichin Funakoshi
Training Objectives Have Changed!
"A good street fighter would take out the average karate student in a flash." I could not tell you the times I have heard this statement and what is most shocking of all is that this statement has come directly from police officers and military personnel who trained in Japan and/or Okinawa and are now karate Sensei themselves. I remember talking to Sensei Harold Long an American pioneer of Isshin-ryu Karate here in the United States, prior to his death several years ago. Sensei Long made similar comments to me during one of my visits to his dojo in Knoxville, Tennessee. He said "You know Jim we spend so much time working on tournament techniques that we sometimes forget about real Self-Defense." He went on to say, "In a real fight it is the forbidden techniques, techniques that we do not and cannot teach for tournament competition that will be the deciding factor between victory or defeat in a real life encounter." As Sensei Long would also state "In most cases the students are only interested in winning tournaments and to teach the true techniques of karate to those students will only confuse the student and hinder their winning." Sensei Long told me that; "In many cases we are a product of our own creation and the end result is not always what we originally intended it to be. Training in the US today is not the same as the training I did under Master Tatsuo Shimabuku in Okinawa, we only worked on those things that would work on the street with no thought of winning trophies."
"A man who goes over what he has already learned and gains some new understanding from it, is worthy to be a teacher." Confucius
Comments on Sport Karate:
Karate Master Gogen Yamaguchi "The Cat", 10th Dan, Hanshi. Nippon Goju-kai
"I developed this type of 'free sparring', but this now has developed into a sport and competitive practice and this is not the real meaning of 'Budo'. Kumite (fighting) for the real 'Budo-ka' (man of budo) is different. So I propose that there should be a complete distinction between what 'sport karate' is and what 'budo' is!" "Now with the sport competition, it is possible each time to say who wins and who loses...but in a real fight, until someone dies, it is very hard to say who wins! The serious 'budo-ka" must completely separate sport from real karate."-Gogen Yamaguchi
Aikido Master Gozo Shioda, 10th Dan, Hanshi. Yoshinkan Aikido
Aikido Master Gozo Shioda 10th Dan, Hanshi and Founder of Yoshinkan Aikido. Many Aikido students and Sensei alike consider Shioda Sensei to be the top student of the Founder of Aikido in reference to skill level . Shioda Sensei developed his system of Aikido to be above all else, completely functional. The undisputed evidence of the effectiveness of his system is the thousands of military personnel and police officers who have sought him out for instruction. His Yoshinkan system was considered by many of these military personnel and police officers to be far superior to many other systems of Aikido, Judo, Jujutsu as well as Karate. Throughout the years Shioda Sensei would also train several World Renowned Senior Karate men. These men would include Nakayama Sensei, Chief Instructor of the JKA, the largest karate organization in the world and Kanazawa Sensei ,the first Kumite Champion of the JKA and now with the splitting of the various JKA groups, head of the largest karate organization in the world. He has also given instruction to the former World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, Mike Tyson.
Below Shioda Sensei gives his opinion of tournament competition.
"Nothing is less important to the improvement of a martial artist's skill than having him enter a competition." -Gozo Shioda, Hanshi, 10th Dan Yoshinkan Aikido.
Master Gozo Shioda (1915-1994)
Karate Master Mas Oyama, 10th Dan/Founder Kyokushinkai
Karate is Budo and if Budo is removed from Karate it is nothing more than sport karate, show karate, or even fashion karate-the idea of training merely to be fashionable. -Mas Oyama
Mitsusuke Harada, Principle Instructor of Orthodox Shoto-kan Karate
It is no mystery that I
am not in favor of competition, but this is of course a point on which everyone
is entitled to choose for themselves. But as far as I am concerned, competition
in karate (and this contrary to other physical activities) goes against
technical improvement and research to become a mere show bearing no relationship
to the reality and truth we are looking for.
Sport Karate & Budo Comparisions
It is very difficult to train for tournament competition while at the same time training for real life encounters.
"A man who chases two rabbits at the same time, will catch neither." -Unknown
Below I have listed a comparison of today's kumite practice as opposed to real combat training. It is easy to see by observing this list that the type of training in most dojo is simply not realistic in preparing the student to face an aggressor on today's streets. The comparison listed below will no doubt upset some people who firmly believe that kumite training is totally realistic and the ultimate achievement and test of a karate student's ability. To those individuals I would like to say that I too fought in many tournaments over the years. I won, placed and lost in many, many tournaments as well as being the heavy weight kicking boxing champion of Kentucky from 1984-1990. I also had the opportunity to participate in numerous full contact matches many of them without armor of any kind. I do firmly believe that kumite training does in fact have limited benefits, benefits such as developing speed, tai-sabaki, ashi-sabaki, distancing and timing as well as developing good sportsmanship if taught properly. Furthermore, when it comes to the technical effectiveness of many champion's impacting techniques, their abilities are undeniable. Be this as it may, in a real confrontation, the attack may be totally unexpected and will most likely come when we are in our tightest clothes, feeling the worst, had a bad day, when the ground is uneven, wet or even covered in snow, in a crowded environment, from a grab as opposed to an impacting technique and so on and on. Kumite has great limitations when used to prepare the student for these types of encounters. Proper training in the applications of the kata's bunkai will develop the same speed, proper distancing, timing, and foot work as developed in today's kumite matches. It will also foster good sportsmanship through mutual understanding and necessity to strictly control the otherwise exceptionally dangerous techniques, techniques that are strictly (and rightfully so) banned from most of today's tournaments.
I would also like to state here that I am by no means stating that a student should not participate in a tournament (if they so desire), but I do firmly believe that no student should ever be forced to enter a tournament in order to advance in rank, nor do I believe that a student should ever be promoted due to their competition record. I think the participation in tournament competitions can be a good addition to the total education of a student's karate training as long as: (1) The student understands the limits of this type of training and realizes that had he competed tomorrow instead of today, the outcome may have been totally different. (2) The student does not develop the attitude (an inflated ego) that he is far better than he really is. (3) The student's teacher does not destroy a good student by assisting in the student's development of an inflated ego. Many good students have been ruined by a teacher who should have simply patted the student on the back and said "Very Good Job", but instead the teacher boosted on the student's accomplishments repeatedly in public and in front of the student, printed full page results of the student's accomplishments in their newspapers and further inflated his ego by having the student teach his sparring techniques to his peers.
An Important Lesson Learned
I will never forget the first time I participated in a karate tournament back in the early 1970's. My teacher, Sensei Van Horne, suggested that I might want to enter a tournament. He said it would be a good experience for me and that if everything went well, I would lose. I was shocked by his comment as well as his not laughing after making the comment. I soon realized that he was serious, but I also understood enough about my karate training to know that I should not ask him to explain his comment! None the less, I found his comment very strange and disturbing. For years prior to my karate training, I had been involved in sports and consequently I had never had or even heard of a coach (my only interpretation of a Sensei at that time) make such a comment to an athlete . I had always been told by all of my coaches that I will win. The coaches would make it a point to tell us, "Do not think of anything but winning. Do not let the notion of being defeated inter into your mind, or changes are you will loose."
That Saturday, I entered the tournament and just as my Sensei had suggested, I lost. A month or so later, my Sensei mentioned that I might want to enter another tournament the next Saturday and again he said "Hopefully, you will lose this one as well." Again, I didn't know what to think and wondered what was happening? Did my teacher, who seemed to devote a great deal of his individual time training me, really want me to lose? Was my own teacher against me? Again, I entered the tournament and lost. Within a month or so I was approached again about entering a tournament. This time my Sensei did not make the statement that if all went well, I would lose, but he did not have too. Losing was all that I thought about.
The outcome of this tournament was different, I won first place. My Sensei did not say a word to me about my winning at the tournament which I again found strange, but instead he mentioned to me that I should have done this and that. His comments were no different than when I had lost the last two tournaments. However, when we met at the dojo the next Tuesday evening, my Sensei came up to me when we were totally alone and said something I will never forget. He said "Very good job. Entering the first two tournaments you found out what it feels like to lose, now you are ready to know what it feels like to win." He went on to say, "In most cases, there is a thin line between the one who is announced the winner and the one who loses. Today you are a winner and yesterday you lost. Never forget what it feels like to lose a match and always shake the hand of the one who lost, for tomorrow, he may be the winner"
Years later I would ask my Sensei about his comments, that if all went well, I would lose. His response to me was, "I knew that if you won from the beginning, you would not train as hard as if you lost. Few true champions ever win from the very beginning, the greatest champions learn to be the best through the humility of loosing." I realized at that point that my Sensei was not simply training me to be a winner, he was more so training me to never lose! I have no doubt that my Sensei would have liked to have been able to say in front of the other Sensei at these tournaments, my student won today, but instead he put my best interest above his own personal prestige. I consider, this lesson to be one of the greatest I have ever received and I have never forgotten it.
Below I have separated the Kumite and Kata sections with color codes as some people's monitors may cause the two to mix.
Kumite (Sparring Matches) Kata Bunkai (Realistic training)
1. Mutual arranged combat 1. Unexpected attacks
2. Must face your opponent straight on 2. Attacks may come from any angle
3. Referee to control the match, beginning to end 3. Self-control on applications to avoid injury or death
4. A strict limitation on techniques allowed 4. Anything goes, absolutely no limitations.
5. Only impacting techniques allowed 5. Both Impacting and Seizing techniques are encouraged
6. Conducted with both opponents facing & ready 6. Attacks will come from the front, back or side.
7. Particular target areas strictly enforced 7. All target areas allowed and encouraged
8. Dangerous attacks (techniques) forbidden 8. Specifically, encourages dangerous techniques
9. At least some protective gear worn 9. No protective gear is worn
10. Joint strikes & kicks are strictly forbidden 10. Joint attacks are highly encouraged
11. Weight & age classes strictly enforced 11. Weight and age will seldom be in your favor
12. May strike only once when grabbing an opponent 12. Multiple strikes encouraged after grabbing.
13. Dangerous Pressure point attacks forbidden 13. Dangerous Pressure point attacks highly encouraged
14. Throws are forbidden 14. Throws are used and highly encouraged
15. Ground techniques seldom taught & are forbidden 15. Ground techniques are taught and applied
16. No biting, spitting, pinching, poking, etc, allowed 16. Simulation of biting, spitting, pinching, poking, encouraged.
17. Mind-set limited to only one opponent 17. Must maintain mind-set for multiple opponent attacks.
18. No need to learn break-falling techniques 18. Learning break-falling techniques extremely important.
19. Kicking below waist generally forbidden. 19. Seldom if ever kicking above the waist.
20. Multiple techniques limited by referee 20. Multiple techniques allowed & encouraged.
21. Great limitations on techniques allowed. 21. Virtually all techniques in a martial syllabus allowed.