Karate for self defence

This is an archive blog post from 2012:

In last night’s class I talked about the two primary functions of Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu being self defence through Karate and Karate through self defence.

I’d like to expand on this with some ideas about Karate and self defence.

Firstly, our goal of self defence. This does not mean wanting to be the best Karate fighter in the world, or wanting to be the best grappler in the world. It’s not about beating the guy who bothers to show up at the same tournament as you and agrees to fight by the rules – it’s about giving you a better chance of defending yourself than you had before.

Karate techniques must be practical

Karate techniques must be practical

In order to gain useful self defence we need to cover a few key areas:

1) Knowledge of violent situations, habitual attacks and how best to respond
2) Effective techniques and the underlying principles behind them
3) The ability to drill these techniques so they become instinctive.

These three areas should be key to any self defence based system, it doesn’t matter whether you do Karate, Jujutsu, Ninjutsu or Wing Chun – if you don’t understand violence, you don’t understand the principles behind the techniques and you can’t perform useful defences instinctively – very simply you don’t have an understanding of your artform.

So as we advance through the ranks, it’s not just a “box ticking” exercise, “ok now I know Heian Nidan I can get my orange belt” it is about progressing to a level of competance.

Through this, we understand Karate better.

In the early grades, we begin with “Shotokan basics”, learning the stances, punches, blocks, kicks and the first few katas, but as we advance through the grades we do not simply learn more of the same.

If all we do as we progress through the grades is learn more basic postures and more advanced forms to perform all we are doing is gaining one dimension. In other words it is like a swimming pool that is 100m long but only one inch deep.

How we add depth to our study is by practicing and understanding.

Strikes must be practiced on the bags/pads/makiwara and correct power generation must be examined

We must practice defending against all the most common habitual acts of physical violence.

We must practice in all fighting ranges, close quarters self defence, weapons, ground grappling, standup sparring and more.

In Toshu Jutsu, as in Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi etc, our database of techniques is within our kata.

So every single technique in every single kata comes under scrutiny:

a) Bunkai: examining the technique’s possible applications
b) Oyo: practicing the applications
c) Henka: practicing variations

If we take our first kata Heian Shodan:

  • First we learn to perform the kata correctly
  • Then we look at the true bunkai and discard the bad bunkai
  • Then we practice the Oyo
  • Then we learn to practice the kata with a Rokushaku Bo or Jo
  • Then we learn to practice the kata with Sai
  • Then we look for more henka (variations) which might be pressure points, groundwork, other weapons.
  • Then we practice the associated two-man drills

And let’s not forget the other qualities of the kata.

  • We can practice it slow as a warmup
  • We can practice it fast as high intensity training
  • We can practice it smooth and with full breathing as an external Qi Gong exercise.

By the time the student reaches Black Belt, they not only have a good general standard of Karate, Kobudo and Jujutsu (including 12 Karate kata plus six weapons and several two man drills), they also feel confident in a self defence scenario. They have spent years fighting stand-up, on the ground, defending against close quarter attacks and against weapons, they know their strikes are effective, they know their locks are effective and they know how to manipulate the opponent and break his balance.

Then as the old cliche goes, the real learning begins.

This means that now the Black Belt student is equipped with how to do it, now they can go and do it.

Now they can be given a Kata and told “go and find out the applications”.

Now they can be given a weapon and told “go and find out how to use it.”

Learning your martial arts up to black belt are like passing your driving test. Now you’ve passed the test, you have the vehicle, now you can go on your own journeys!

And what many black belts find is that the more they learn, the more they realise they still have to learn, and the more pleasure they get from practicing the simple stuff that they’ve known for years.


Comments received on this Blog Post:

Good evening Sensei,
I have just completed reading your blog ( 5th  March) and wish to congratulate you for putting into words, so much better than I could, the connection between the so called ‘’separate’’ Martial arts. I live and work (and train) in a country town 300 k/ms from a capital city in Victoria, Australia and due to this isolation factor we travel often, to train with other organisations and styles,as well as compete in all style competitions. I have trained in Judo ,Jujitsu and have 42 years of Shotokan training in my past and have always believed that the martial arts seem to separate at the bottom of a pyramid, but gradually come together after a life time of training.
My teacher for the last 20 years has been Hitoshi Kasuya Sensei as we are affiliated with W.S.K.F.
I find your article refreshing, in  not locking into a narrow view of one single focus which blocks out any others.
Good luck and sincere regards, Oss.

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