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Harold Wisner
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Defense to the Defense

Defense to the Defense by Harold Wisner

 Like many of us, I love Kata. I love practicing kata, I love studying kata, and I love teaching kata. Especially since teaching leads to the highest level of learning when the purpose is more than mere rote memorization of information. Over the last the decade or so, most likely thanks to modern technology, the focus on studying kata rather than memorizing kata has really taken hold. For far too many years, training for the purpose of rank or for competition has overshadowed the origin purpose of self-preservation and transcending the knowledge to do so. As a youth training in the early eighties, I was conditioned to believe that the more kata we knew, the more knowledge we knew, to never go to the ground, period, and with time, dedication, and practice, all the “secret techniques” will reveal themselves.  With time and research I learned, more is not always better, needing to know how to handle one’s self from the ground is essential, and the idea of “secret techniques” was really a fallacy. Unfortunately, my early instructors didn’t fully understand the vast application of kata for themselves.  They were only teaching what was taught to them, I cannot blame for that. We do as we know how to do, when we know better, we do better.

Now, at this point, there are some common truths that we can agree on and don’t need to be addressed in detail.

1. Kata is not a complete fight rather a complete fighting system.

2. Kata, without addressing application from multiple directions and ranges limits its depth of knowledge.

3. And, unless joint locking, throwing, and choking techniques are understood independently from kata, it is very unlikely that a practitioner will ever see them within kata.

The latter probably being the most common shortcoming of kata training throughout the Twentieth Century. I am sure there are many more that can be listed, but that is not our purpose. I myself did not start fully understanding kata until I stepped outside of the limitations of what I was told was “Traditional Okinawan Karate.” The more I studied other arts, i.e. Jujutsu, Aikido, Kenpo, and others, the more I began to feel what I have always been doing in kata but never knew it. The understanding of motion became more important than studying techniques by their labels. The range that kata was to be applied also took on a whole new meaning. While we studied spearing and gouging techniques as long range strike, in reality, contact with the target was often made before the thrusting of the technique occurred, such as to the eyes, or was done to slip between body parts such as under an arm or behind a head. It also became apparent that most techniques had many more points of contact than what I was originally taught and no movement was a wasted or preparatory movement. The list goes on. The moral of the story, unless all these concepts are taught in conjunction with the memorization of kata, the study of kata will never reach its potential. Simply put, there is a art and science to reading kata.  I know I am not the first to address these, but we all come to similar conclusions through different paths. The goal of our karate community is, after all, to make all this common knowledge and to help the evolution of the art.

There is, however, one aspect that I have yet to see addressed, granted I have not read everything out there so maybe it has.  That concept is of kata teaching the defense to the defense. If we can agree that kata teaches locks, throws and takedowns, and submissions, and that kata is a complete fighting system, would it not be rational to believe that kata also directly or indirect teaches the defenses to those exact same techniques that kata teaches us to apply. This, in part, is the same rationale that brought me to believe grappling was/is an essential aspect of karate and kata training. If kata teaches to throw to the ground, would it not also teach what to do if thrown?

When it comes to concepts and principles, many can be utilized either from standing or grappling positions. But what about specific applications? The purpose of this is not teach specific reactions to application in kata, but to introduce the idea of viewing kata from the perspective of the uke. Next time you cover a lock, throw, takedown, or submission within your kata, pause for a second and see if the defense to the defense can also be extracted whether from the same kata or another kata. Bunkai cannot be done from a fundamentalist approach to the study of kata, it is a process and sometimes we have to step “outside” of the kata to see its depths. in this case literally. I would have never seen a fraction of what karate has to offer if I would have stayed within the confines of what I was originally taught as karate. Bunkai is an investigation, a reverse-engineering of a schematic whose exact original intention will never be known. With the use of guidelines on how to read kata, there really are no limitations on what knowledge can be extracted with an open mind as long as the results are practical, versatile and quick, easy, and effective to execute. No matter what the situation, somewhere, in some kata, the solution can be found.

Paul_D
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Harold Wisner wrote:
There is, however, one aspect that I have yet to see addressed, granted I have not read everything out there so maybe it has.That concept is of kata teaching the defense to the defense. If we can agree that kata teaches locks, throws and takedowns, and submissions, and that kata is a complete fighting system, would it not be rational to believe that kata also directly or indirect teaches the defenses to those exact same techniques that kata teaches us to apply.

It would be rational to believe that if kata were designed to be used by karate-ka against karate-ka (or indeed against other trained martial artists).  However, kata is not intended to be used against skilled martial artist, it is deigned to be used against untrained criminals/thugs.

“The techniques of the kata were never developed to be used against a professional fighter in an arena or on a battlefield. They were, however, most effective against someone who had no idea of the strategy being used to counter their aggressive behaviour.”

Whilst career criminals are very good at what they do, they are not generally speaking highly trained/skilled martial artists who would seek to apply joint locks, throws, takedowns or submissions against us.  Therefore is no reason to expect to see counters to counters or defences to defences.

Iain Abernethy
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Thanks for posting! As per our offline conversation, I am thinking along similar lines to Dod. The kata does include “defences to defences” but always within the context of non-consensual criminal violence, as opposed to consensual martial fighting.  

I see lots of “teaching the defense to the defense” in bunkai. I know I regularly teach counters from kata that are counters to other methods also found in kata.

I think that kata / old style karate does include what to do if thrown / knocked to the floor (it’s in the Bubishi, Mabuni’s books, kata such as Unsu, etc). However, it’s the simplistic stuff most relevant and prevalent in self-defence. What we may not see are the detailed counter throws that judoka would use when they fight each other. Nor do we see the advanced ground work that MMA / BBJ practitioners would use when they fight each other on the floor following a takedown. I think we do see the stuff most relevant to a civilian situation though. As Marc MacYoung says, “If you focus on what happens most of the time, you’ll be able to deal with most of what happens”.

Modern karateka can practise fighting counters (we do in our dojo) but I’d not expect to see them in kata due to the self-defence focus of kata.

I’ve done a few podcasts recently on this topic: https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/thinking-criminal-podcast

 Some great lines in the article!

 “unless joint locking, throwing, and choking techniques are understood independently from kata, it is very unlikely that a practitioner will ever see them within kata.”

 I think that true for karateka who don’t do bunkai. If we teach the joint locking, throwing, and choking techniques as part of the kata then there is no problem (including partner work and live practise). But if karateka know the kata and no applications, you are totally right that they can’t see what’s there … and then we get the weird “double block” stuff because they don’t recognise the throw. A very good point.

 This is also a great observation:

 “It also became apparent that most techniques had many more points of contact than what I was originally taught and no movement was a wasted or preparatory movement.

 Love how you expressed that! Very true.

All the best,

Iain

Marc
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That's an interesting question. The way I see it, if a kata was designed to show techniques and matching counters, then it would make most sense to either design it as "A/counter2A, B/counter2B, C/counter2C, ..." or as "A, B, C, ..., counter2A, counter2B, counter2C, ...".

Can you guys give us an example of a kata that is designed to teach us techniques together with the matching counter techniques? I mean not the occasional moment of "aha, this works as a counter to something I did elsewere", but a kata that is structured purposefully to show principles of controlling/striking an opponent, and matching principles of how to evade those principles. I'd love to see this, as this would open a whole new door for my bunkai work.

What I do see very often is a similar idea: The kata showing options of what to do if a technique fails. A good example is Iain's explanation of the Shuto-Uke/Shuto-Uke/Gyaku-Zuki/Shuto-Uke sequence in kata Enpi/Wanshu:

The point here being that the kata shows you follow-up options to predictable reactions. If your technique works then it is predictable that the attacker will fall to the floor unconcious. But if it fails, because it has an inherent weakness, it will fail in a predictable way, and the kata can prepare us to deal with that situation.

“There cannot be multiple attacks against true Okinawan karate, because if an attack is countered properly, there can be no further attack.” (Motobu Choki as quoted by Higaki Gennosuke)

All the best

Marc

Iain Abernethy
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Marc wrote:
Can you guys give us an example of a kata that is designed to teach us techniques together with the matching counter techniques?

There’s quite a few examples of this. For example, the opening move of Jion (the salutation) and the counter straight after (throat grab and counter to the throat grab):

They are not always end to end though. If you think of kata as a “lesson plan” (kata order reflects the learning order) it makes sense to work on the main method for a while before moving on to practise the counter too. If a technique is applied badly it is too easy to counter. You also won’t understand the what makes it work well enough to counter (if you understand what makes a technique work, then you understand what you need to avoid / take away to make the counter work). So work on the core method (and related issues) until you’ve got it down and then you will better understand how the counter works. I think we see this in the Pinan / Heian series in numerous ways. One example:

We also see “counters to counters” following the original method too, such as this example in Seipai:

So there are core methods and counters next to each other; there are core methods and counters in the same kata (series) in a logical program of learning; there are counters to counters next to each other … and there are LOADS of examples of:

Marc wrote:
But if it fails … it will fail in a predictable way, and the kata can prepare us to deal with that situation.

I call these the “what ifs”. Again, this will reflect the “lesson plan” of the kata and they form a kind of “flow chart”.

All the best,

Iain

Marc
Marc's picture

Hi Iain, thanks for your answer.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

For example, the opening move of Jion (the salutation) and the counter straight after (throat grab and counter to the throat grab):

I remember it well from your seminar in Brühl last October. And it is a nice example. Do you see more of those attack-and-matching-counter sequences in Jion?

Iain Abernethy wrote:

They are not always end to end though. If you think of kata as a “lesson plan” (kata order reflects the learning order) it makes sense to work on the main method for a while before moving on to practise the counter too.

I do see a lesson plan in most katas. That would resemble my suggestion of a pattern like "A, B, C, ..., Counter2A, Counter2B, Counter2C".

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I think we see this in the Pinan / Heian series in numerous ways. One example:

I see how you interprete the Shuto-Ukes at the end of the kata as a counter method to the Gedan-Barai as an arm bar. It makes sense. Do you also have an interpretation of Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan that uses the (triple) Oi-Zukis as counters to the (triple) Age-Ukes? Because that would mean that the second half of the kata would show us counters to the first half. Again, the same pattern of "A, B, C, ..., Counter2A, Counter2B, Counter2C".

Iain Abernethy wrote:

We also see “counters to counters” following the original method too, such as this example in Seipai:

In this example the first technique shown is the arm bar. This is from the kata. The second technique shown is the counter that pushes to elbow forward to avoid the arm bar. This is not explicitly in the kata but additional information given by Mabuni in writing. Now the third technique shown is the counter to the counter. It is from the kata again.

So to understand the kata we need the additional information, because the actual (first) counter is only implied in the kata sequence.

This is what I ment by saying:

Marc wrote:

But if it fails … it will fail in a predictable way, and the kata can prepare us to deal with that situation.

Here the predictable way of failing is that our opponent might push our elbow forward, exploiting an inherent weakness in the arm bar we try to apply. The kata prepares us for that option by proposing a follow-up technique.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I call these the “what ifs”. Again, this will reflect the “lesson plan” of the kata and they form a kind of “flow chart”.

Yes, "what ifs" is a good name for this kind of sequences. It is much easier to grasp than "options for predictable failing". It is exactly what happens when teaching a technique to creative students (beginners are great at this): "But Sensei, what if he grabs me like this?" "But Sensei, could I not just parry that punch and hit him back?" I encourage these questions and usually the answer is in the kata.

Take care,

Marc