Subscribe to John Titchen's Blog feed John Titchen's Blog
conflict management and practical karate
Updated: 1 hour 48 min ago

Introduce Failure Cascade into your training

Tue, 2016-02-02 13:38

We gain confidence from our successes, but it is from our failures that we learn.

As students practice more and begin to increase the levels of speed and contact, they should come to understand that the failure of one drill is the opening for the employment of another.

In moving from static to dynamic training all that happens is an increase in speed and pressure, so naturally not everything works: failure is the reality with which martial artists (or self defence practitioners) must deal. When failure occurs, if it has happened before, it is predictable. If the trainee knows the strengths and weaknesses of their tactics, and so can recognise what failed and why, then that failure should be both predictable, familiar, and prepared for; they should not be fazed by the eventuality or slow to adapt. Knowledge dispels fear. If the failure has occurred before, if it is predictable, then it can either be prevented, or recognised and turned into a new opportunity by the application of another drill. It is when the drill or pressure level has never been taken to the point of failure, that the training becomes unpredictable and the trainee is most at risk of making a bad decision.

In training I often set up different combinations of what I call a failure cascade. In this instance both attacker and defender in training know that if the defender fails to successfully employ a full counter (and thus end the drill) then the attacker will switch to the most logical next attack, forcing the defender into a new drill. This could run a sequence of several positions, all with different potential ‘end points’. As an example a failed haymaker could switch into a collapsing headlock or clinch, but as trainees gain greater experience and pressure mounts the haymaker could drive into a tackle which if successful could end up in a ground fighting drill or any number of stand up drills depending on the speed and adaptability of the training pair. As the trainees have drills to deal with headlocks, different clinch-like positions, tackles and falling to the ground, putting these into a dynamic context allows for greater development.

To win with a single move is not the highest skill. Anyone can get lucky. You should train to be able to turn any failure, any position, into a new opportunity before your opponent recovers, train and experiment until nothing surprises you, and you automatically adapt and overcome. If you have not prepared for failure, if you do not have redundancies trained and ready, then you have prepared to fail.

This short article is based on a chapter in Volume Five of Pinan Flow System: karate kata application for beginner to black belt.


The Giants are Pygmies

Sun, 2016-01-24 22:05

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Isaac Newton, 1676.

Karateka across the world owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Okinawan and Japanese instructors who, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, laid the foundations for a little known minority martial art to become one of the most practised in the world today. This important role has naturally resulted in those that founded styles in that era, or who pioneered the teaching of karate outside of Japan, becoming highly revered. They are quite rightly seen as the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

We should be careful however not to be led astray. It is right to respect these karateka, we owe them a great debt of gratitude, but their words or approaches should not be blindly followed. In fact I believe that to do so is to squander their legacy. I will occasionally quote an ‘old master’, but I only do so if what they say has been borne out by my research or that of other people whose research methods and experience I can quantify and thus value.

Matsumura, Itosu, Funakoshi, Motobu, Kyan, Miyagi, Mabuni, Ohtsuka to name but a few… these names ring loudly in training halls across the world. Their thoughts on karate are still read and studied. But these men are not giants by today’s standards, in fact in the modern world they are pygmies compared to many of the teachers with whom you could study.

How can I say such a thing?

There are trainers teaching today who have

  1. Had far greater experience of genuinely life threatening violence or who (through research) have collated a wealth of data from people (whether civilian, law enforcement or military) who have had experience and thus been able to draw important and reliable conclusions on optimum approaches to physical and mental training.
  2. Have a far better understanding of human physiology and biomechanics (backed by decades of research that is available to all).
  3. Have had more hands-on experience with other martial artists and have studied under greater numbers of experienced and competent teachers.
  4. Have had access to, and instruction in, a greater number of non-karate styles (again from high quality instructors) to broaden their perspective and increase their depth of understanding in their own arts.

Whether you are looking for a trainer that specialises in Karate for self defence, Karate as a form of Physical fitness, Karate (kata) as a form of moving meditation or dance, or Karate as a competitive fighting sport, or combinations of those mediums, there are large numbers of trainers all round the world who quite simply out-class those ‘giants’ of the past. It would actually be a poor reflection on both karate and those early pioneers if that were not the case.

We should respect those that have gone before us. But do not put them on pedestals or treat everything they said or did as gospel truth. Many of them had less experience and knowledge than either you or the person you train with. Honour their memory by carrying karate forward as they did and pay them the courtesy of respecting the reality of their humanity and fallibility.

 

 

 

 


Training Habitual Acts of Violence

Tue, 2016-01-19 13:40

Grabbing, pulling and throwing a haymaker – a dynamic unbalanced moment that is hard to ‘pose’ for the camera.

Martial Arts training that has any validity from a self defence perspective  must address the HAOV (Habitual Acts of Violence) that we are likely to face in a conflict management situation.[i] It is important for us to address realistic attacks rather than focus on martial arts, media or film-induced perceptions of violence. Due to its context, real violence rarely plays out in a similar fashion to any existing competitive rule-set, and training against well delivered martial arts techniques does not ensure good identification and preparation for, or success against, natural behaviours and wilder uncontrolled attacks.

There are a number of different terms in use in the martial arts and professional confrontation management communities to describe aggressive and violent behaviour patterns. The memorable term ‘Monkey Dance’, coined by Rory Miller, is now commonly used to describe pre-fight behaviours (where humans have much in common with other primates).[ii] Some trainers use the term PIA (Primary Initiation Attack) to describe the initial means of physical assault. In the martial arts community an umbrella term of HAPV (Habitual Acts of Physical Violence), has been used by karateka Patrick McCarthy, but I prefer the more widely used HAOV since it highlights the inclusion of certain actions that many would not regard as physical violence such as pre-fight physical posturing and verbal threats (what I might call Primate Posturing and Rory Miller calls Monkey Dancing). These are the point where avoidance training, the acknowledgement of flinch responses and your own personal protection strategies should come into play – before any physical violence begins.

 

What are HAOV?

The majority of the data on violent crime that I have studied over the last sixteen years comes from the British Crime Survey, the Scottish Crime Survey, Home Office reports on various Violent Crime Initiatives, Hospital Emergency Department reports on violent crime injuries, the Crime Survey in England and Wales, news reports, CCTV footage and data provided by the FBI on their website. The often unconscious behaviour patterns of participants in the high-adrenaline scenario simulation training that I have run for people from a broad range of backgrounds has corroborated a significant amount of that data and footage.

The weighting and predominance of HAOV does vary across the world. Cultural taboos, national pastimes and sports played all seem to play a role. While this may affect the likelihood of some attacks (such as the frequency of weapon use or ‘the most common attack’), there are a number of very common (unarmed) attacks that can be replicated to form the backbone of training against HAOV:

Space invaded with aggressive language and a head butt on the way.

Personal space invasion, arm splaying, head leaning forwards, telegraphing arm withdrawal, pushes, swinging haymaker punches, unbalancing pushes or grabs followed immediately by swinging punches, pushing and pulling, wild wind-milling punches while charging forwards (often head down), head butts (with or without grabs), knees to the groin (often preceded by grabs), headlocks, hair-pulling, tackles to the waist or the shoulder or the legs, clothing and shoulder grabs, lashing kicks to the legs or groin, stamping or kicking people on the ground.

The above ‘list’ is a starting point for the most basic physical element of training. It is best combined with a study of patterns of violent crime to develop context appropriate decision making training.

 

Training Habitual Acts of Violence

HAOV can (and should) be placed into context, so in addition to drilling against individual techniques , much as we might practice slipping a jab or defending against any combination of martial arts moves, there are a range of different ways that training can be broadened.

Vernal and Visual Cues

Physical attacks preceded by visual and/or verbal context to train the observational skills, positioning and body language of students so they are better placed to defend or pre-empt as necessary. Not everyone is a natural at adding this ‘extra’ dynamic to the physical attack but it is possible to train some people to take on this role. You can find out more about building the attacker here.

Multiple Combinations

Unlike competitive events a fair proportion of real violence begins and ends with a single attack, but it would be foolish to limit training to this. Training should also prepare students for determined sustained attacks. As with ‘free sparring’ this is a natural progression on from static drills to multiple combinations of HAOV.

Failure Cascade

We gain confidence from our successes, but it is from our failures that we learn.

As students practice more and begin to increase the levels of speed and contact, they should come to understand that the failure of one drill is the opening for the employment of another. In moving from static to dynamic training all that happens is an increase in speed and pressure, so naturally not everything works: failure is the reality with which martial artists must deal. When failure occurs, if it has happened before, it is predictable. If the trainee knows the strengths and weaknesses of their tactics, and so can recognise what failed and why, then that failure should be both predictable, familiar, and prepared for; they should not be fazed by the eventuality. Knowledge dispels fear. If the failure has occurred before, if it is predictable, then it can either be prevented, or recognised and turned into a new opportunity by the application of another drill. It is when the drill or pressure level has never been taken to the point of failure, that the training becomes unpredictable.

In training I often set up different combinations of what I call a failure cascade. In this instance both attacker and defender in training know that if the defender fails to successfully employ a full counter (and thus end the drill) then the attacker will switch to the most logical next attack, forcing the defender into a new drill. This could run a sequence of several positions, all with different potential ‘end points’. As an example to begin with a failed haymaker could switch into a collapsing headlock or clinch, but as trainees gain greater experience and pressure mounts the haymaker could drive into a tackle which if successful could end up in a ground fighting drill or any number of stand up drills depending on the speed and adaptability of the training pair.

To win with a single move is not the highest skill. Anyone can get lucky. You should train to be able to turn any failure, any position, into a new opportunity before your opponent recovers, train and experiment until nothing surprises you, and you automatically adapt and overcome. If you have not prepared for failure, if you do not have redundancies trained and ready, then you have prepared to fail.

Scenario training

Where possible, scenario training is a great way to bring elements of training together. You can find out more about building scenario training here.

 

An imbalance in training – drilling bad technique?

A number of years ago a good training friend of mine raised the question that if we were drilling against HAOV then logically (at least) one training partner is spending half that time using HAOV rather than the ‘superior’ techniques of their martial art. So can training against HAOV develop bad technique?

  1. Utilizing HAOV provides a better biomechanical understanding of the positions and ranges involved and the strengths and weaknesses of the techniques and tactics. Executing the techniques provides a far better insight than solely defending against the techniques.
  2. Any drilling against HAOV should be part of a broader training programme which will normally include pad work. Whether holding or hitting the pads trainees are executing the techniques of their chosen art (and observing them) and this (added to their defences against HAOV) means that they will always proportionally be spending more time on their own repertoire than on executing HAOV.
  3. HAOV are not necessarily ‘bad’ techniques. In some instances the difference between them and the tactics of normal ‘proven’ martial arts are minor or non-existent. The fact that they are both natural and generally very successful (especially against people unused to them whether they have had ‘training’ or not) means that having a good grounding in them as part of your practise isn’t a bad thing.
  4. HAOV can have benefits beyond ‘combat effectiveness’. If you are training for self defence then the majority of your movements should be executed in a protective power-generating posture which is sometimes known as ‘hollow body’. The wilder ‘haymaker’ type punches and pushes open up the body and serve as a great counterbalance to the ‘closed’ protective postures.

 

So, if you haven’t done so already, perhaps it’s time to add HAOV into your training drills.

 

[i]I adopted the term HAOV for my first published article on the topic in 2005 due to the training I have done with martial artists Rick Clark and Bill Burgar (who have both used the term in their books). Before that I had focused on researching violent crime and not used an acronym. I continue to use HAOV as in my experience it is now the most common term for the subject matter in the international Anglophone martial arts community. The term HAV is a recognised abbreviation for a medical condition, a form of aircraft and a form of media among other things. HAPV is normally associated with Hamster Polyoma Virus. As a result HAOV is useful for disambiguation. I interpret ‘habitual’ as ‘common and expected’ rather than ‘historical’.

[ii] R. Miller, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, (YMAA Publication Centre, 2008).


De-escalation Tactics – Part Four

Sat, 2016-01-02 16:18

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology

PART FOUR – PERSONAL PSYCHOLOGY

This element of de-escalation tactics is perhaps the most important and most neglected area of personal discipline.

To successfully de-escalate a situation you usually

  1. want to achieve a peaceful resolution,
  2. need to have the self confidence to believe that avoiding an unnecessary violent or aggressive event is indicative of mental strength not weakness.

For many people the ego is the Achilles heel of successful conflict avoidance. It is not unusual to find individuals who have either set false standards of behaviour for themselves, inappropriate goals, or believe (often incorrectly) that others expect certain types of behaviour from them. Many have a needless value that they put on the (temporary) perception of themselves by others.

Conflict de-escalation is still a form of conflict. In simple terms to prevent force or greater aggression from being used the other party needs to feel that they have either won, or at the very least that they have not lost. In many instances this is about saving face (in front of their peers) and to do this you may need to be seen by them (and perhaps by some bystanders) as having given in. The paradigm shift that a lot of people need to get their heads round is that this does not mean that you have lost, rather you need to understand and appreciate that your victory is in achieving a different aim (lack of violence, criminal damage, injury or prosecution) and one that may not be immediately apparent to the other person.

Do not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose.

Gichin Funakoshi

If you have good trouble avoidance protocols then the likelihood or frequency of your being involved in a de-escalation event with potentially serious consequences while surrounded or observed by people that know you well should be low. In such instances, acquaintances whose judgement you value should not view you harshly for taking action that avoided any escalation in aggression or violence, even if that means ‘giving way’ or apologising for something that was not your fault.

If a similar instance occurs when you are surrounded by strangers who you are unlikely to ever see again, should you care what they think? If you are in a venue where even saving face for the other person carries a high risk of being attacked for being weak then you are in the wrong place. A location where a level of aggression that risks or inevitably results in physical conflict is the only acceptable response is not one any sensible person should frequent.

Whether strangers or acquaintances, people whose judgement you value should recognise the value of taking steps that avoid risking injury (and property damage) and further repercussions to both yourself or another person.

Pride in your combative skill-set can be a dangerous side effect of martial arts training, one that brings for some a subconscious fantasy promoted by films where the subject uses their skills to beat or humble another person. It doesn’t help that this is the mental picture and expectation that most non-martial artists have of their martial art practicing friends.

You do not need to let your pride go, you just need to change its focus.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

Sun Tzu

 

Afterword

This four part series has been described as a brief introduction to de-escalation. That is all it is, no more than a starting point. Each of the four umbrella headings that I’ve chosen are arbitrary, and represent summations and generalisations of a vast topic. Since I have generalised while writing this not everything that I have said will be right or applicable all the time.

I do encourage you all to do your own research and training on this topic, but caveat emptor. There are a number of writers and training providers out there who may make you mistakenly feel ignorant or inexperienced because they use ‘specialist’ terminology to refer to most elements of what they are teaching. In my experience this is marketing dross rather than a useful educational tool and it simply creates a false divide between those ‘in the club’ and those outside. In the majority of cases the specialist terminology employed has no basis in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, criminology, medicine or policing – it’s simply an in-house teaching tool.

 


The 2015 Review

Tue, 2015-12-22 17:23

So farewell 2015. It’s definitely been a Phoenix year for me, rising from the ashes of 2014, which I wrote about here.

January 2015 began with me just starting on solid food again following on from a lingual tonsillectomy just before Christmas. The surgeon did an excellent job removing the tissue from my tongue, the oncologists declared it cancer free, and other than one unplanned overnight stay in Oxford due to a post operative bleed in the new year, my recovery has been smooth.

It was fun while it lasted!

Recovering from a year of chronic tonsillitis has naturally meant I’ve been able to benefit from greater activity and overall this has been a good year for both teaching and personal training. I’ve been very lucky to have a great group of students to work with in both my Shotokan and DART karate classes and they’ve really inspired me to continue to refine both my own karate technique and my teaching methods.

Just enough to take the old car off the road…

February 2016 saw my recovery hit a slight setback when a driver used to being on the other side of the road drove straight into the passenger side of my car as I was on my way to training. Regrettably I suffered whiplash and related shoulder, neck and back problems as a result of the crash and these plagued me at intermittent intervals throughout the year up until October. The back injury put the brakes on some groundwork training that I wanted to do and I’ve deferred that until 2016 to make sure everything has healed fully. I have to say thanks to Linslade Physiotherapy and Dan White PT for their help and support in keeping me active and helping my recovery.

June saw my favourite seminar of the year, the Martial Arts Planet Annual Charity Meet at the High Wycombe Judo Centre. This year’s charity was CHECT, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust. I always enjoy this Meet with its mix of well-known and ‘hidden’ high quality instructors teaching across a broad range of martial arts. I limited my participation due to my back problems but taught a 90 minute seminar in support of the first three (previously published) volumes of the Pinan Flow System and enjoyed a great Judo class with Paralympic Silver medallist Ian Rose. I always come away from the MAP Meets bursting with ideas sparked by watching so many different martial artists from different styles all training together and 2015 was no exception. The 2016 MAP Meet on Saturday 21 May at Wycombe Judo Centre will be supporting Shelter and I’ll be writing to tell you all about it soon. In the meantime, mark the date in your diaries!

It was my great pleasure this year to finish publishing the Pinan Flow System series. I had published the first two volumes in 2014, but now all four books in the series are now available worldwide in both paperback and ebook formats, and have been received very positively by the martia arts community. I’ve had a great time teaching this karate kata application material to my own students and sharing little snippets of Heian / Pinan bunkai on my youtube channel, but I’ve been humbled by how many of you have embraced the books and given the training concepts a try. I’ve already got a number of kata application seminars in the pipeline for 2016 which I’ve highlighted on my facebook page, including one with the excellent Andi Kidd, author of From Shotokan to the Street.

The full set!

My summer treat this year was a trip to Frankfurt to enjoy a weekend of training with other karateka as part of Jesse Enkamp’s KNX 15, which I’ve already written about here. The event was marred slightly for me by a resurgence of my back injury and I completed each day’s training ‘well lubricated’ by 60mg of Codeine and 1000mg of Paracetamol four times a day. Somewhat embarrassingly Jesse asked me to demonstrate my version of the Shotokan form Nijushiho alongside his Ryuei Ryu Niseishi while in a haze of painkillers, and although I felt ‘all over the place’ as a result, the resulting video (which non attendees can purchase along with all the lessons from the weekend) doesn’t seem to have caused internet outrage yet. At the end of that seminar I did get to grade as a White belt with Master Ken and it will be up to people who train with me in future to discern if they can spot any Ameridote influences.

Master Ken pulling rank!

Yes, I now have a white belt. :)

One of the on-going projects of 2015 has been the renovation of my personal training dojo at home. This was a great space which suffered from a low ceiling that affected some of the training and filming I wanted to do, while the weakness of the beams made me unwilling to risk hanging a heavy bag for impact training.

The old low and buckling beams.

This weakness has now been rectified with new support and while I still have some electrical and insulation work along with tidying up to complete before I can use the dojo regularly for my own training, I expect the project to be complete by the end of January 2016.

The newly supported ceiling.

One of the many highlights of the year for me has been the scenario simulation training events that I’ve run for my own students and guests at the Wycombe Judo Centre. It’s always great to see the development of people on these days and very encouraging to see returnees applying the lessons of their previous experiences to better de-escalate situations or position themselves appropriately to escape or engage physically as required. I have had some amazing groups this year and we’ve all taken away good things from the training.

A great mixed bunch of my own students and guest trainees.

Another amazing bunch!

So this holiday I’m definitely going to raise a glass to 2015. I’ve met some fantastic people, made some great new friends, and recovered from a chronic illness. Looking forward I believe that I’m finishing 2015 stronger, faster, more flexible and more knowledgeable. 2016? Bring it on.


Three things that will revolutionise your karate

Mon, 2015-11-30 15:57

1. Treat each demonstration by an instructor as if it is the first time you have ever seen it.

We look, but we fail to see, We listen, but we fail to hear. We observe, but we fail to understand. We’ve all done this and in many respects the longer we’ve been training the easier it is to fall into the trap of not paying attention to a demonstration or teaching point. It’s easy to look at something and say “Oh, I know this” and not give it your full attention, or not look closer to pay attention to the finer details which may be left unsaid.

One of the most difficult challenges I faced when writing my most recent series of application books, the Pinan Flow System, was choosing how to describe and illustrate the actions of the application drills. Next to each picture I had space to write about thirty words. Thirty words and a picture to sum up a little element of an application drill when I could quite easily spend at least a good twenty minutes talking through all the different nuances and underlying principles of that particular element of the drill.

In similar vein when a drill is taught it is usually layered, with different elements being emphasised for the different audiences, and a normal lesson time explanation cannot begin to cover the depth of understanding needed for good practice.

The simple step of assuming you don’t know anything about the demonstration that is taking place in front of you and trying to view it with fresh eyes to always seek extra details will make a huge difference to your karate.

2. Question everything.

I don’t mean sticking up your hand in the middle of the class all the time and asking your instructor for more information. Your instructor is teaching on a tight schedule, they are giving you as much information as they feel you need to know and have to balance the training needs of all the other students. If you need to ask your instructor a question, often it is best to wait until the end of the class; it’s not good manners to interrupt everyone else’s education and training.

If you are given a rationale for a drill or exercise, apply a solid BS filter to it. This will mean that you have to put in time to get the background knowledge to understand whether it is BS or not. The nature of your filter will depend not only upon your knowledge level (and the quality of your source information), but the purpose of your filter; are you looking for optimum training for strength, balance, flexibility, aerobic fitness, competition success (in kumite or kata) or self defence?

A lot of people peddle information that may have passed a BS filter back when they were first being taught, but time and research have since shown to be wrong. They may not be aware what they are teaching is inaccurate or flawed. Other people peddle false information because they’ve never done any real research on the topic and are relying on their imagination, their own very limited experience (which they may not realise is limited simply by being personal) or movies.

Do your own research. How does this work? Why does this work? When should this work? Where does it come from? How can I improve this? What do I need to change to improve?

 

3. Train at home, no matter how little time or space you have.

As an instructor it can be frustrating when you run several classes a week but students only make it to one. What we often fail to realise is how lucky we are to get that student at just that one class. Often on chatting to students I find that they may be out another one or two nights a week pursuing other physical hobbies (such as running, or tennis, or swimming), looking after the children at home on another night while their partner goes out to an activity, acting as a taxi service to children on other nights for their activities, and if they are lucky actually getting to spend one or two evenings a week at home with their partner. All this on top of working throughout the day earning money!

The reality of modern life is that it isn’t easy for many students to come to class more than once a week. The reality of karate is that you need to train regularly to see improvement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

You do not have to train in long sessions to have beneficial karate training.

Every good repetition of a movement counts. That means you can train for 30 seconds standing on one leg or rotating your hips while waiting for the kettle to boil, or a partner to come down the stairs before you go out rather than pacing in front of the TV. You can do a lot in a five minute session, and it is easy to find a five minute or ten minute moment in the day, and probably better for you than sitting down. Anyone can find time for personal training if they want to find time for personal training.

You do not have to break a sweat or change clothing to have beneficial karate training.

You can’t train because you don’t have time to change or shower? That shouldn’t be an issue. You don’t need to break a sweat for good training. Training comes in many forms, and as I’ve written here, often the best form of training is slow movement focusing on precision, good biomechanics and balance. You can sweat when you go to your karate class, or engage in any other form of exercise you practice.

You do not have to have lots of space to have beneficial karate training.

You can achieve a lot standing on the spot. There are lots of different upper body, hip movements and weight transference exercises you can do on the spot. It’s great to have a fair bit of space, but you can easily improve your karate just by standing on the spot.

You do not have to have a training partner to have beneficial karate training.

Paired and multiple person work is obviously a big part of karate, but you do not need company to improve your kihon or kata. If you have a kick bag, speed ball traditional strength tools or a makiwara at home you can work on those. Playing tug of war with reasonably sized dog is a great way to improve your hikite, and you may learn a lot about good biomechanics by observing how your ‘training partner’ utilises its whole body.

Try these three things for just one month and see how your karate improves!


Final Pinan Flow System book released!

Tue, 2015-11-17 08:14

Foreword by Iain Abernethy.

‘So here we are with the final volume of this series of books from John Titchen! You can now see John’s full interpretation of the Pinan series! How cool is that!

Gichin Funakoshi – who is frequently referred to as “The Father of Modern Karate” – wrote the following in Karate-Do Kyohan about these kata,

“Having mastered these five forms, one can be confident that he is able to defend himself competently in most situations”.

The Pinan / Heian series were therefore always intended to be a holistic self-protection system; and I think John’s books have shown a great way in which this traditional view can be realised!

While the past masters passed on the kata and a great deal of information about how they should be viewed and understood, they did not pass on a complete picture of the applications of the kata. We traditional pragmatists therefore have to do a little analysis (“bunkai” literally translating as “analysis”) in order to understand what the kata have to teach us. This invariably leads to differing “bunkai theories”.

When science sets out to assert a theory, that theory needs to be able to explain all the existing data and, crucially, it needs to be able to make accurate predictions. For example, the theory of gravity explains everything we see on an everyday scale, and it makes accurate predictions about how future events will occur. We can dismiss gravity as “just a theory” but if you step off a high building you are going to fall and accelerate at a rate of 9.81m/s until the resistance of the atmosphere has you reach terminal velocity; or you hit the floor (whichever happens first).

Now, does this mean we know for a fact and with 100% certainty how gravity works? The answer is no, we don’t. But the theories we have explain all the data and make solid predictions. We can put satellites around distant planets with these theories! I would say a similar process needs to be applied to kata i.e. any application needs to explain all the data and make predictions (i.e. work when tested).

Any bunkai theory needs to address the following three points:

  1. The bunkai must adequately address all parts of the kata (i.e. explain why the kata is as it is).
  2. The bunkai must be in accordance with the historical information we have.
  3. The bunkai must be functional in the context of civilian self-protection.

If a given set of bunkai can do that, then it is valid. In science there are sometimes competing theories, but all are valid if they can explain the data and they work.

John’s take on the Pinan / Heian kata is a very logical and well-structured bunkai theory. It is not a collection of “tricks” which happen to look like the motions of the kata, but a valid bunkai theory based on, and permeated by, sound underlying combative principles. It’s not the same as my theory, but I acknowledge its utility and the fact it meets all of my personal criteria for validity. It is very good stuff!

Now that the series is complete, you can take the information presented within and run with it “as is”, or use the information John has given you to help inform your own take on the kata series. We can then move past the “analysis stage” to use the kata in the way Funakoshi said they were originally intended: as a holistic self-protection system. This is what John has presented.

These books have made a great contribution to the collective knowledge base of the practical karate community. Well done to John for writing them! Well done you for reading them!’

Iain Abernethy

Available across the globe the fourth and final volume of the Pinan Flow System is now available as both a paperback and ebook! Use the UK links below or visit your ‘local’ amazon provider or order it at your local book store!

I can now share with you all my ‘starting points’ for training the whole Pinan / Heian set of kata. This is not an end, this is just the beginning!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/151922947X http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0180YC2IU