Karate training for self defence



Van Dang Martial Arts (Hakutora Dojo)
Newton Street Manchester
Contact: kaicho@runbox.com



You cannot learn anything without learning some of the theories behind it. You wouldn’t learn to drive without knowing the Highway Code, you wouldn’t send a soldier into battle without telling him who his enemy was and you wouldn’t play a sport without knowing the rules. Of course in a street fight or another violent situation there are no rules (except the laws of the land) so instead we learn about human fighting habits, we analyse violence, we examine possibilities and most of all we try to keep training realistic. The science of violence is as much about “what not to do” as “what to do”. So here’s some things we don’t do:

Self defence: Simple, practical and brutal

Self defence: Simple, practical and brutal

1) We don’t treat “ippon kumite” as if it were self defence. Nobody will attack you by bowing, shouting “jodan” and launching an Oi Tzuki. Therefore we defend against regular attacks from natural body positions.
2) Attackers don’t punch and then stand with their arm in the air waiting for you to perform your technique so we train basic, brutal techniques that can easily be applied “in the heat of battle”
3) We can’t predict the exact situation you’ll find yourself in so we don’t do “live action role play” instead we drill simple, basic principles that can be applied to any environment.
4) We don’t do anachronisms there’s no “imagine a samurai is coming at you on horseback and there’s two ninjas behind you.” We keep it simple and keep it real.
5) We don’t give students unfair or unrealistic “pats on the back” we don’t give out blackbelts as if they were sweets, this would make people think they could defend themselves when they could not. Our students progress slowly and steadily. We only teach adults (current class range 18-59) and they must all prove themselves on the mat

And now some of the things we do:

1) We train for every fighting range – that means kicking and punching ranges, clinches and throws, groundwork, weapons and more.
2) We train against dozens of types of attacks – punches, kicks, hairgrabs, bearhugs, headlocks, headbutts and so on
3) Our students crosstrain in arts like MMA, Brazilian Jujutsu, Kyokushinkai, Judo and Muay Thai. Many Karate schools seem unrealistic next to arts like these. Our style is kept fresh and realistic by putting ourselves to the test.



There are different aspects to learning. Its ok to learn by “doing” for example sparring and grappling, but students’s individual techniques must also be learnt, corrected and examined in isolation. Just like in driving lessons, one does not just get in the car and drive, you also need to sometimes just work on your 3 point turns. The science of technique is just this. But we approach our techniques a little differently to some schools.

1) We don’t learn complicated sequences “parrot fashion” so we don’t say “if an opponent throws a right hook punch, you must block it with a left uchi ude uke, counter with a reverse punch and then throw with Osoto Gari.” What we do instead is give students ideas. So I will say, okay now we are looking at a hook punch here are a few things to look at when defending. I may then suggest themes like whether to move “inside” or “outside” a technique, I may show to how to practice instinctive “flinch” blocks and I may demonstrate how a certain type of foot position allows me better movement. It is then up to the student to drill defences against that technique. The techniques must be simple, instinctive and finite
2) We look at postural principles that can benefit any technique, for example how to relax, how to whip, how to rise and sink, how to break the opponent’s balance and how to get below their centre of gravity
3) We don’t teach thousands of techniques we teach endless variations of a few basic principles. For example in Judo there is at least 50 different throws, but actually these can be subdivided into hand throws, hip throws, foot sweeps and sacrifice throws. When you understand that “uke goshi”, “o goshi” and “koshi guruma” are all basically the same thing withe minor tweaks, the art becomes less mysterious. Personally I like Osoto Gari as a “take them backwards” throw, whereas I like “Tai Otoshi” as a “take them forwards” throw.  When you understand just how random real situations can be, the ability to “just do something that works” over rides the desire to perfect 300 techniques.
4) We steal techniques from any and all martial arts, and if a technique is no good we don’t cling to it. The syllabus has been written so that it is ever growing and “organic.” MMA people have a great attitude towards collecting any good techniques that work. We have that same attitude.

Dan and Jamie ground n pound

Dan and Jamie ground n pound


Foremost is the student’s ability to make a technique work for them. If I have a 60 year old student, I can train him like a 16 year old. Neither can a 10 stone student be trained like a 20 stone student. A student must take responsibility for their own ability to own the technique whatever modifications they need to make.

There are a few stages we must go through in assimilating techniques:

1) The instructor must teach the technique thoroughly, openly and honestly. There is no: “Here’s a 5th Dan technique that was handed down by Ninjas. I can’t show you the real applications because they are too dangerous, but I could kill a man with a single blast of Chi” Instead a technique is shown on a physical (as in “pertaining to physics”). Why does a lock work? Is it because of a fulcrum point? How can the technique be adapted?

2) The students must not just practice the technique they must drill it. A technique cannot become instinctive without repetition, repetition, repetition.

3) The student must test the technique against a “live” opponent. This means sparring (kumite) or grappling (Judo style). We must do all we can to replicate the conditions of a real fight while maintaining a safe training environment.

4) The Dojo has a culture of “asking questions”. Yes we do show traditional etiquette (we bow, we use Japanese terminology) but we are not so quasi-military that students are taught like robots. We chat and discuss, we question and analyse. We use many old school training methods but we are also open to modern training.

The author performing bunkai for Naihanchi

Bunkai for Naihanchi?


One thought on “Karate training for self defence

  1. Pingback: About our Karate | Bushinkai Academy

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