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warrencalvert
warrencalvert's picture
Is kata bunkai still practical?

Hi all,

I hope this question raises an interesting discussion.

My thought here is that it is well established that karate and kata were originally designed for self defence situations against attacks by untrained thugs.  This would have been appropriate in Okinawa before karate became popular.

In modern times, however, surely we're more likely to be attacked by someone with experience in boxing, kick boxing or some other type of fighting skill.  The popularity of MMA and combat clubs of all kinds would, I suspect, mean there are more 'thugs' with these skills than without.

Does this mean our kata and bunkai is now largely redundant or does it need to be developed beyond what we have today?  Or should we abandon old style kata and develop new styles and techniques more suitable for today's environment.

Looking forward to peoples' views on this.

thanks, Warren.

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

warrencalvert wrote:

In modern times, however, surely we're more likely to be attacked by someone with experience in boxing, kick boxing or some other type of fighting skill.  The popularity of MMA and combat clubs of all kinds would, I suspect, mean there are more 'thugs' with these skills than without.

Interesting thought Warren. Are you suggesting that modern thugs and trouble makers are training to be better at what they do, or that training makes people more likely to commit violent crimes?

Thugs may well be untrained, but that doesn't mean that they're inexperienced. Those that resort to violence do so because they've found that it works best for them.

diadicic
diadicic's picture

I understand this question very well.  It's not that training makes people more violent, but you are more likely in todays world to come up against a thug who is trained. They many not be cage fighters but they maybe somewhat trained, and they have real world experience. This makes them twice as dangerous. I know people don't want to believe this or hear it but it's true.  Just ask any NYPD officer about the people they deal with.  I hear state troppers in the Southern part of the US now train in MMA and Weight Leafting because of the people they come up against.

Dom

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson's picture

diadicic wrote:

Just ask any NYPD officer about the people they deal with.  I hear state troppers in the Southern part of the US now train in MMA and Weight Leafting because of the people they come up against.

Dom

I can understand why they'd want to train to give themselves an edge, but I can't believe that they'd do it to catch up with the bad guys. They've got firearms (and non-lethal weapons too) of course. That's got to go a long way to make up for any lack of MMA skills, surely?

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

You're more likely to get glassed or nutted here (UK Midlands) than face a jumping side kick or arm bar.

wink

Gary

diadicic
diadicic's picture

I don't think their trying to catchup to professional Fighters, and yes they can use firearms.  If you live in NYS, you know that Police officers are starting to get a bad rap for using to much firepower. Granted most times it needed.  There are also alot of cases were you can use your firearm.   Close quarters, People around, already clinched up, etc.....  I just use the Police  as an example of  someone who incounters the new sometimes trained thug.

Dom

diadicic
diadicic's picture

Gary Chamberlain wrote:

You're more likely to get glassed or nutted here (UK Midlands) than face a jumping side kick or arm bar.

wink

Gary

I hear that happens everyday there after a football game.  smiley

If I ever get a change to come across the pond, I am definitely gona see a game.

Dom

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Quote:
In modern times, however, surely we're more likely to be attacked by someone with experience in boxing, kick boxing or some other type of fighting skill.  The popularity of MMA and combat clubs of all kinds would, I suspect, mean there are more 'thugs' with these skills than without.

Go look at some videos of prison attacks,I think  that is more likely the kind of thing we are going to face, not a guy who wants to stand in front of you and throw down to demo his superior skill.

I imagine that yes there are a few guys out there who have some training..but that misses the point, someone who really wants to put you down isn't interested in a contest of skill, period.  So if  you are worried about what we have to face with Karate, I would just look at how acts of violence actually happen, instead of relying on some second hand notion that more criminals do MMA these days or whatnot.

Quote:
someone who incounters the new sometimes trained thug.

I have to say i'm pretty unconvinced, if it were prior to the MMA boom, one could possibly assume that a few might be boxers or wrestlers, have played football etc. The whole point of good 'real world' martial arts training is that it isn't predicitive, it works against a range of physical acts.

That said, i'm very interested to hear from actual LEO's on the subject, as it's one that seems to pop up alot lately.

Personally I think you are more likely to face MMA skills ins a "fight"..meaning basically a consensual altercation between two people, but as far as actual perdatory violence..i'm not sure how a Muay Thai mugging would differ from a BJJ one;)

Also, there have been "thug martial arts" since the dawn of history, the may not have official dojos or be something you can find down the street, but assuming that someone who wants to genuinely hurt you is somehow less capable of doing so because they have never set foot in a gym or dojo, is IMO a big mistake.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

One thing we always need to keep in mind is that the skilled criminal is not interested in a fight or an exchange of skills, but using violence to get whatever they want. Any “good criminal” is not going to square off, put up a guard and start moving around looking for an opening. Their aims are better served with fast and explosive violence and simple brutality. It’s this chaotic and “primal” violence that we should focus on for the self-protection aspect of what we do.

The criminal who is training to make themselves a better criminal will have little interest in arm-bars, ankle locks, pulling guard, advanced combinations, etc. They will train what works best in the environment in which they operate.

We also need to train specifically for that environment if we are to be adequately prepared. It’s the simple, brutal and direct that works best and that’s what we should be training for.

The issue of “what happens if you meet a trained fighter” comes up here a lot (2nd time this week). I think people need to remember that it is the environment / context that determines what is an appropriate and what will work best.

The clip in this thread is of world level boxers kicking off for real … and as you can see it looks nothing like a boxing match: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/trained-fighters-boxers-kicking

These are not people who have done “some boxing”, but who are going it at elite level. While consensual fighting is mainly shaped by the rules of engagement, when people mean it “for real” it is human biology that primarily shapes what happens. Just because the enemy has boxed does not change the situation into a boxing match. Likewise if we meet someone with “fight training” that does not mean it becomes a “match fight”. That methodology is not what works best in the environment – any half decent criminal knows that and will not interested in a fight – and human biology dictates conflict is a primal affair as opposed to the skilled cognitive exchange associated with high level fights and fighters.

Whatever system someone does, it is simple and direct that works best in this environment; so that’s what we should be training for and against (also what we see in kata).

A couple of quick things to mention is that martial arts, although widely practised, are perhaps not as widely practised those of us immersed in the martial arts assume. The majority of people I spend time with have some connection to the martial arts, so it would be easy for me to think that martial artists are everywhere. The number of registered practitioners would not match that assumption though. It’s also worth remembering that of all the martial arts practitioners there are, only a comparatively small percentage are skilled and experienced enough to stand a chance of making it work under extreme pressure.

Add all this together and I think it’s a mistake to think that things need radically changed. If we were to make such a change, I think we would make things less suitable; not more suitable.

All the best,

Iain

PASmith
PASmith's picture

Personally I think an effective approach to "self defence" is to develop specific self defence skills (the direct, simple and brutal stuff Iain mentions) and ALSO a versatile and broad base of general "fighting skills" (stand up clinch and ground) to back things up when they go into different areas. I think that's a healthy (physically and mentally) way to train (not specifically training for the "deadly streets" all the time) and also ensures we have force options should we have to subdue "Uncle Bob" when he gets a bit tiddly at the wedding reception.

If I understand it correctly that seems to be how people like Iain and Gavin approach things to. Targetted training where needed but ultimately going towards producing versatile individuals that can defend themselves and also fight in the more general sense.

Obviously when fighting a more skilled opponent those general fighting skills will help you.

However...if I happen to be defending myself where I live and the guy goes for a double leg, passes my guard and attempts an Americana from mount it's highly likely I know where he trains and who he trains with. I'd probably ask him where he trains and discuss the latest UFC over a beer. :)

Enrico
Enrico's picture

PASmith wrote:

Personally I think an effective approach to "self defence" is to develop specific self defence skills (the direct, simple and brutal stuff Iain mentions) and ALSO a versatile and broad base of general "fighting skills" (stand up clinch and ground) to back things up when they go into different areas.

I totally agree. What qualifies us as "martial artists" is versatility, among other things.

Anyway, there are no "untrained" thugs: they simply train only what they need to be effective. Criminals who train in traditional martial arts are rare, at best. Traditional martial arts demand a lot in terms of dedication and excercise in order to be effective. Criminals simply lack those qualities. They tend to take shotcuts in every aspect of their life, including phisical confrontations.

It is true that some of them engage in combative sports, expecially those that put the accent on phisical fitness and aggressivity, but this is usually a mean to prove their value among their similars and to get respect from them (or to inflate their ego, but this is a common problem even in more civilized situations). When they get to business they revert back to old habits and primal brutality. Those who don't, soon learn the difference between sports and reality, and they learn it the hard way.

Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

I would have to question the belief that bunkai only works against someone who can't fight.

Then I'd have to question  the assumption that back in the day, the non-trained thugs couldn't fight/weren't dangerous.

And then I'd have to question the underlying assumption that these days you are going to meet more 'trained' thugs than not.

And finally, I'd have to ask what you think these 'new styles and techniques more suitable for today's environment' might be, because unless you are talking about firearms, I'm struggling to come up with any. 

danpt
danpt's picture

I used to do social work for a while in a sort of bad neighbourhood. Fights were quite common, and training in boxing was very popular in this neighbourhood at the time. Kickboxing & MMA too, but to a lesser degree, although this may have changed by now.

From what I saw and heard, the training did not change the nature of the fights much. Fights with trained people still started the same way - shoulder bump, "what you looking at", or "gimme your phone" being the most popular starters, in addition to sudden assaults from behind - and generally went the same way as with untrained people. The only difference was that the people with training could punch harder, the tactics did not change to any great degree. If people really wanted to mess you up they didn't use any fancy training, they brought friends or weapons.

So based on that my opinion is that for self protection changing traditional training to assume trained opponents is not really necessary, because the tactics in assaults stay the same. I do think it is important to not assume that all opponents are completely incompetent, but I believe it is far more likely to be attacked by someone who is competent based on experience with violence, rather than from training.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

I think one of the key issues here is the need to define the context / environment. If you meet a trained fighter in a judo match (for example) you would not act in the same way as you would if it were a self-defence situation (one would hope). Same with any other form of consensual fighting you can name (competitive karate, MMA bout, boxing match, etc). It’s not solely about the training a person has. The nature of the situation is the overriding issue.

In self-defence we are not looking to “win a fight”. In self-protection we are not looking for a consensual highly-skilled exchange to a win / lose conclusion. We are not consenting to violence / conflict (quite the opposite), we want to escape and avoid the fight as opposed to “win” it, and we are not looking for a skilled exchange but to brutally and simply impose our will until escape is possible. These issues naturally have a huge impact on the kind of overall methodology used to achieve your goal (because to goals are different).

The techniques of the kata therefore look to address the context of civilian self-protection (as per the quotes of Itosu and Motobu). In my view it is a mistake to see these definitions of kata methodology as stating “karate is for inexperienced and poor fighters”. That’s missing the point. What they are doing is defining the content for which the methodology of kata is designed to address. And it’s very important to do that with all methodologies as they can never be divorced from their purpose. It’s also important to acknowledge that there is no “will work in all contexts without modification” methodologies in existence.

I really like Danpt’s post above as I think he captures the key points very well:

danpt wrote:
So based on that my opinion is that for self protection changing traditional training to assume trained opponents is not really necessary, because the tactics in assaults stay the same. I do think it is important to not assume that all opponents are completely incompetent, but I believe it is far more likely to be attacked by someone who is competent based on experience with violence, rather than from training.

The context dictates what the goal is and what methodology is most likely to achieve that goal. It is simple, brutal and direct that works best in self-protection; so that’s what we should be training for and against (also what we see in kata) when addressing self-protection.

That “simple, brutal and direct” is not ideal for a consensual exchange. We need feints, provoking trained responses, indirect methods to catch the opponent off guard, back and forth footwork, etc, etc, None of which is ideal for self-protection and that’s why we don’t see it in kata. That is not a failing of kata; it is a demonstration of it’s clarity of focus.

As I said, the context dictates what the goal is and what methodology is most likely to achieve that goal. Fail to clearly define the context and you don’t have a clear vision of what the goal is and hence you don’t know what methods are appropriate (in my view that is the biggest problem in martial arts today).

With regards to kata, because so many karateka don’t understand the need to define context – and they are not aware of or don’t understand Motobu’s and Itosu’s clarifications – we have the situation where kata is often viewed from a karate vs. karate perspective and we can see the mess that gets us into with regards to bunkai. (i.e. awkward and extremely contrived “defences” against lunge punches from 8 feet away). We also have people criticise kata for lacking a guard, back and forth foot work, etc. This is simply because kata is not designed for the consensual exchange where such things are needed.

I’ve likened this to trying to knock nails in with a paint brush. It’s not that paint brushes are ineffective; it’s just that they are designed for something else. Use the paint brushes for painting and they work great. Same with kata: use it for what it was designed for and it will work just great.

All the best,

Iain