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Finlay
Finlay's picture
Shu, ha, ri in the modern age.

OK a bit of a grand title. The actual question maybe far simpler. For those of you who have taken an interest in applied kata and may be teaching such application, how did your instructors take it? I ask because in the modern age more value is placed upon being able to perform kata in an exact manner and leaving it at that, rather than performing your own investigation and putting your own ideas into the kata (the application rather than the solo practice) Also I believe that many teachers still promote the mainstream applications, low block, high block, punch. Through teaching applied kata are you saying what your teacher passed on to you was 'wrong' or unrealistic. Of course we can't hold ourselves back and if we see a way which makes more sense to us we should pursue it. However, could this cause issue with some of your own instructors Have they been very open to you unlocking your kata Is an instructor who isn't open to such thing someone who should be disregarded Have you ever had to directly say that the application that your teacher taught is unrealistic, in their own dojo I am interested to hear others experience in this

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Good topic!

Finlay wrote:
For those of you who have taken an interest in applied kata and may be teaching such application, how did your instructors take it?

In my case, very well. It was always encouraged and my original teacher was pleased to see me take a keen interest and have something to say on the issue. I had / have nothing but very positive support. Later on, I deliberately sought out teachers who emphasised realism, so there was no problem there either.

Finlay wrote:
I ask because in the modern age more value is placed upon being able to perform kata in an exact manner and leaving it at that, rather than performing your own investigation and putting your own ideas into the kata (the application rather than the solo practice)

I had both, and I’m glad I did. I was encouraged to have the high-quality kata, but it did not stop there because an understanding of application was also encouraged. Technique with no application is pointless; you can’t even say if it is “good” or not because there is no objective measure. However, trying to develop applicable skills, and not developing high-quality technique as part of that, is also problematic.

It’s true that many do kata as 100% art and 0% martial though. Which is neither effective or traditional. It’s getting less common as the alterative become more mainstream though.

Finlay wrote:
Is an instructor who isn't open to such thing someone who should be disregarded

I think it would depend on training objectives. If an instructor provided valuable training opportunities for other aspects i.e. good solo kata, good workout, sparring, self-defence (away from kata), etc. then a person may wish to train for those elements and get the bunkai practise elsewhere. However, if the instructor was openly hostile to such practise then it would seem that the student’s and instructor’s goals are too divergent.

All the best,

Iain

Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Finlay wrote:

 For those of you who have taken an interest in applied kata and may be teaching such application, how did your instructors take it?

As my Sensei is teaching "practical Karate" since 1989 he was very happy that myself and others students seek practicality in the art.

Finlay wrote:

I ask because in the modern age more value is placed upon being able to perform kata in an exact manner and leaving it at that, rather than performing your own investigation and putting your own ideas into the kata

My teacher always was very adamant that we must find our way of Karate, this art cannot be based on teaching model of Monkey see monkey do and creation of carbon copies of instructor. We are all different and our Karate will be different.

Finlay wrote:

Also I believe that many teachers still promote the mainstream applications, low block, high block, punch. Through teaching applied kata are you saying what your teacher passed on to you was 'wrong' or unrealistic.

Sure there is plenty of them, is that wrong? I don't think so Karate has many faces, I think that every version will have people who enjoy it. It is not to me to judge them ( I used to get angry on some things in Karate, but now I don't ). Nowdays my approach is as this polish saing " Not my circus, not my monkeys" 

Finlay wrote:
Have you ever had to directly say that the application that your teacher taught is unrealistic, in their own dojo I am interested to hear others experience in this

Yes constantly, if I have any issues with what my teacher is showing me I question, he always is happy when I do that as most of the times he can proof me wrong and show that actually his stuff does work for him. Never once in over 20 years he got angry or dismissive, always one response "let's test it and we see"

Kind regards

Les

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

I will admit that I have had my previous instructor outright tell me that he doesn't believe that there are joint locks, chokes, and throws in kata, despite all the evidence to the contrary--even within the system he teaches. My current instructor has always encouraged us to play with different applications, cross-train with other people to get more ideas, and figure out what works best for us.

Paul_D
Paul_D's picture

Locally we have an instructor who thinks "Iain Abernethy is an idiot".   Once a year he usually comes to our dojo to take part in a multiple instructor seminar.  I excuse myself from his section of the seminar, it's best for all involved if I am out of the way :-)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Paul_D wrote:
Locally we have an instructor who thinks "Iain Abernethy is an idiot".

To be fair, there has been multiple times in my life when I’ve come to that conclusion myself :-)

Ad hominem arguments never have any value though. I’m not wrong because I’m me. I’m not right because I’m me. Like everyone, I’m simply right if I’m right, and wrong if I’m wrong.

People should always choose to debate the substance of the argument if they want to advance their own viewpoint. If my take on kata is wrong, he should explain why he disagrees. People then can compare the two positions on merit.

All the best,

Iain

PASmith
PASmith's picture

Quite honestly I've never found a club that ticked all the boxes. Always had to go to a couple of places to round out what I was after and, sometimes, play a little bit of politics to smooth that through (not often though. Most people I've trained with were cool). Until I win the lottery and move to where Iain runs a club of course!

Anyway...getting the training you are after can be tricky. I recently went to a Stuart Anslow TKD seminar where the instructor hosting him was kicked out of the association for hosting him (I think there may have been more to it than that) and I was asked if I wanted not to be photgraphed in case I got in "trouble" for being seen to be there. :)

I'm trying to bring some more realistic pattern applications into the club (I'm only an assitant instructor) but find it does need to be softly softly sometimes. I won't flat out say something is rubbish (unless asked directly) but will try to contextualize why a low bock (for example) might be seen as a blocking a kick but can also be employed as a limb control, neck crank, elbow, etc

My instructor (only been with him a couple of years so he's not really been responsible for my martial arts knowledge, such as it is) is happy to see and be shown a different prespective but I know going further up the food chain to area reps and committe members it would/could ruffle some feathers.

Drew Loto
Drew Loto's picture

I really appreciate this discussion.  My karate teachers and I go way back.  I began training under them when I was six and discovered Iain when I was 18 or 19.  My karate class was vaguely 3K in nature, but we had a large corpus of peripheral techniques borrowed from different sources.  My teachers were very clearly not trying to grow me or anyone else into a fighter.  They did it for the artistry and spiritual benefits. With that said, I wouldn't necessarily label them "conventional".  We once spent an hour practicing heian yondan while channeling various emotions...and trying to guess the emotions others were portraying with their kata.  Fun?  Definitely.  Pragmatic self-defense?  Not so sure.  I share this to say my teachers were not conservative in their approach to karate and, while, thanks in no small part to Iain's work, our attitudes diverged, their openness and creativity made a major impact on me.

I had a friend in the class who was curious about my ramblings.  We downloaded Iain's DVD on tekki and bassai dai and worked out way through it.  Every so often we even openly played with the material after class.  My teachers never spoke a word to stop us.  However, when I tried to encourage them to look at the applied karate materials I'd been absorbing...maybe to share it with the class, they cautioned against exposing others, especially kyu ranks because when you tell someone what an application is, the movement tends to get locked into that single application.  This frustrated me and I think I assumed that typical teenage 'tude of thinking i knew everything.  And I regret that.  While I think they were too polite and nice to say so, I believe I offended them a little.

Recently I've reflected on all the valuable lessons they gave me.  An openness to other points of view, the ability to overcome significant pain, a lifelong interest in fitness.  So, yes, their tutelage was worthwhile.  No doubt about it.

Paul_D
Paul_D's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

If my take on kata is wrong, he should explain why he disagrees.

I'd be happy to listen to that argument with an open mind, but it never progresses beyond the justificaiton for 3K karate being "it isn't broken so we don't try to fix it."  The problem with that of course is that the test of whether or not it needs fixing only takes palce in the dojo against karateka attacking with oi-tsuki.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Paul_D wrote:
The problem with that of course is that the test of whether or not it needs fixing only takes place in the dojo against karateka attacking with oi-tsuki.

That’s an awesome observation! 100% true! It’s the martial equivalent of “circular reasoning”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning

People take a method and create a test that is designed, not to empirically test the method, but prove the methods works. If the method fails, then people are not doing the test “right”. The test then “proves” the methods works … and everyone turns a blind eye to the fact the central premise is that the method can never be wrong, and everything is built to uphold that myth.

That’s what my “Reinventing Violence” podcast was all about:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/reinventing-violence-podcast

Martial artists of all stripes do this. They have an “infallible method”, and then reinvent the world to fit with the “infallible method”.

The trouble is reality does not care what people would like it to be. It is what it is. No violent criminal is going to attack with an oi-zuki from 10 feet away to support the delusions of the karateka.

Well said Paul!

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
If my take on kata is wrong, he should explain why he disagrees.

Paul_D wrote:
I'd be happy to listen to that argument with an open mind, but it never progresses beyond the justificaiton for 3K karate being "it isn't broken so we don't try to fix it."  The problem with that of course is that the test of whether or not it needs fixing only takes palce in the dojo against karateka attacking with oi-tsuki.

Given the karate circles that I tend to run in, I have heard some arguments against Iain's methods that are fair, from their perspective. Mostly, they have to do with structural and biomechanical differences, as well as some methodology differences, based on the way Okinawan styles do things. That isn't to say that Iain's methods are bad or don't work, of course--simply that they don't always fit with the way those practitioners approach practical kata application. Honestly, there have been plenty of times where I have seen applications from Iain and thought, "I see how that fits the kata, and that it would work, but it isn't how I would approach that sequence based on my training," and I'm sure he has seen things that we have shown and thought the same. I think it's interesting to explore those differences, rather than arguing about them. Of course, I have definitely run into the people who simply believe that the only "correct" applications to kata are the 3K-style demonstrations, and that is pretty hard to overcome.

JD
JD's picture

Hi all,

I guess it's all based upon the individual, in a world so complex with human body mechanics being as intricate as they are, coupled with the complication of the human opinion and thought process... there's always going to be disagreement and variations, most Sensei's and teachers generally are resistant towards someone else imposing their structure or way of doing things when it doesn't comply with their own view point, especially when introducing complex diverse realistic bunkai to a basic 3k intepretation of the kata, there's bound to be unhappy chappy's disagreeing.

My sensei never really broached the subject much, physically or verbally and as a result kata for me was always just a movement pattern with no real advantage other than learning coordinaton and dexterity. After leaving my club and moving elsewhere my perspective on kata changed, I started to search for more purpose behind the forms and to be completely honest I love some of the bunkai and where it leads a karate practitoner, but also find some aspects are non relevant or effective for me, so I take what I like and leave the rest and play with what I then have, but disagreeing seems to be a waste of time for me taking into consideration my limited knowledge on real bunkai, different for someone like Iain who has vast technical understanding and can argue many different points for a single application.

albeit not practical, I find the 3k demo's to be great in terms of athletism and showmanship, they look great! Especially the Italian and Japanese teams.

Finlay wrote:

''For those of you who have taken an interest in applied kata and may be teaching such application, how did your instructors take it? ''

I don't believe that if I, in regards my orginal sensei, brought forward Iain's or anyone's pragmatic take on bunkai that he'd be happy to learn or accept it for it's merits, he started in the 70's and is ''old skool'' telling him ABC is actually XYZ would be like asking someone to volunteer for a punch in the face with no reward - no thank you. Going full circle to what I put above, he's too set in his beliefs and because it doesn't comply with his way, he wouldn't entertain it... that's how I feel my instructor would've responded.

I instruct my own class and don't have to introduce anything new to anyone superior than me in my little world of karate, this been the case, if I do teach new applications and I don't agree.. I usually end up kicking my own arse!

Very interestingly, I invited a well know Japanese instructor down to my club (few years ago now), he trains and teaches the same style (Wado) as I and is versed in both the 3k and traditional karate, I wont name who this instructor was, we've had a few different one's attend to guest teach, however this particular instructor wanted to teach some kata bunkai during the session he was in control of. I was interested to see what his interpretation of the kata yodan (yondan) was and so I requested we start there and see where it took us, I was used as a demo man to assist and he asked me to punch junzuki (oi zuki) to his solo plexus... his choosing was the 3k application. So quite surprised was I to find an older Japanese instructor teaching this version of bunkai, maybe he couldn't be bothered to show the alternative? Due to the fact he was a guest and I didn't want to question his belief too much out of respect for his 'status', it had been a long day at that point and so I decided to not bother.

Finlay wrote:

''Is an instructor who isn't open to such thing someone who should be disregarded​''

Not in my opinion, many non applied practical bunkai instructors still have lots of useful experience and material to learn from in other aspects of karate.

Finlay wrote:

 ''Through teaching applied kata are you saying what your teacher passed on to you was 'wrong' or unrealistic.''

''Unrealistic'' 100% yes, ''wrong'' not at all, it's down to their interpretation or not willing to adapt what they already know, either way this isn't wrong, just their opinion and angle on things.

These are just my thoughts any way...

Whilst trying to write this my computer froze and I had to re-write this post again, I nearly dished out some applied bunkai to my bloody PC!!

All the best,

JD