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Showing posts from October, 2008

Straw men 2: kata and pretend fighting

I often encounter criticism of kata based on the analysis that it is "pretend fighting" and is accordingly as "useless" as pretending to lift weights or swimming on dry land. Superficially this seems like a very strong argument; until such time as you actually lift something or go swimming in water, you're wasting your time.

The problem with this kind of analysis is that it is an "argument by analogy". Analogy is often useful in illustrating a previously made argument because it gives your audience some sort of context for understanding complex points. However an argument should never comprise an analogy and little more.

In this case the criticism of kata is a straw man. Kata and "pretend weights"/"dry swimming" are not equivalent - even remotely.

Kata is principally a series of isolated techniques. Every physical discipline - including every fighting system - involves some element of technique isolation as part of training.

For exampl…

Faux boxing

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Introduction

Readers of my blog will be familiar with my frequent reference to my "pet hate" - something I call "faux boxing". What is this? It is a method of sparring often employed by traditional martial artists but which is virtually devoid of traditional martial techniques. In their stead, practitioners will substitute moves that resemble boxing, even though the particular practitioners have no training or other experience in that sport.

For example, instead of seeing a karateka use karate punches, kicks, evasions, blocks/deflections and stances (in a dynamic sense - not in static postures), one sees purported boxing punches, kickboxing style kicks, no blocks/deflections and, as I shall discuss, a facsimile of "flashy" boxing footwork. Ditto with taekwondo, kung-fu etc.

I recall going to an "all-styles" tournament in the late '80s with my primary karate instructor Bob Davies. After watching for a while he lamented that all the practi…

Straw men 1: martial arts and character

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The issue of "martial arts and character" seems to be a fairly hot topic on the web: certain sites can show you any number of examples of so-called top instructors who don't have any semblance of ethics, morals etc. It is described as one of the big "myths" of martial arts and there are no shortage of people wanted to fulfil the role of "myth buster" in this regard.

However is there even an argument?

Traditional martial arts might be associated with a particular ethos or philosophy - via Chan/Zen Buddhism and Daoism in particular (see "Buddhism, Daoism and the martial arts"). However this is not, has never been and cannot be the same as saying that the practice of these arts will somehow make the practitioner adhere to or reflect that ethos or philosophy.

Clearly some instructors feel that training with an instructor who adheres to a given ethos/philosophy can have an impact on a student.

There is also the feeling that prolonged, strenuous, chal…

Telegraphing vs. staged activation

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I think there is an important difference between sequential body movement (which is necessary) and "telegraphing" (which is undesirable).

The activation of a staged sequence of body parts is an essential component of a punch/strike/kick. Without it you would not be able to impart any real force. Consider the basic uraken (backfist): if you moved your wrist first, then your elbow, then your shoulder your strike would simply not work. Instead your strike must originate with movement in your shoulder, then your elbow, then your wrist.

The same applies to kicks, punches and any other strike. You move from your big joints through to your small joints. In your kick the hip moves first, then the knee. In a punch your hip moves, then your shoulders, then your arm. The video below illustrates this principle in the context of a reverse punch.


Nenad illustrates the "staged activation" inherent in a reverse punch

What this means is that every technique has an element of "…

Goju-ryu as an internal art?

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That goju-ryu karate has some of its roots in the Chinese martial arts is a certainty. Most people focus on white crane, ngo cho kun and similar "external" Fujian-based martial systems when it comes to examining its origins. However even earlier ancestors probably included xingyi or perhaps bagua/taiji like internal arts.

However those arts are still significantly different in their dynamics. It is possible to perform goju using these dynamics (even the kata) and if you do so you end up with an interesting beast.

Here is an example of Goju movements applied with xingyi footwork:


Goju techniques performed with xingyiquan footwork

The footwork in issue is a kind of suri ashi (ie. footwork that includes sliding where the stance changes or legs pass). The significance of this is that the front foot moves first, immediately putting the whole bodyweight into the movement. You'll note that unlike goju, in the internal arts your strike lands with the leading foot, not the rear …

Retracting punches vs. "leaving the hand in"

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Over the last 6 months I have been staggered by the number of correspondents who say that karate and other traditional martial arts are ineffective because their practitioners "leave the hand in". By this they mean the arm is not retracted in a punch.

Simply put, this issue is completely and utterly misconceived. It is so misconceived that I hardly know where to begin in terms of addressing it...

Let me start by making this fundamental observation:

Leaving the arm there or retracting it makes no difference in destructive terms.

It's the outward speed that counts (and your ability to deflect it in its outward phase)!

In my school we train traditional punches first (no retraction) so as to develop kime (focus). This is the concept I refer to in my article "Visible force vs. applied force". After the students have developed focus they move to snap punches.


Nenad demonstrating kime in reverse punch

In the last 22 years of teaching I've found that if you go straig…

Dealing with untrained fighters

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I had this question asked of me recently:

"Curious situation, I find that in sparring I am better able to deal with orthodox, skilled fighters rather than raging brawlers who throw flurries.

In a technical sense brawlers are easy to deal with but when it actually comes to going at it I'm thrown off by such a chaotic and aggressive style. I can handle them but it always throws me for a loop at first and it takes awhile to get my bearings and deal with that strategy. The punches thrown by "brawlers" tend to have less sting but they're supremely confusing. How do you deal with that?"


If this happens to you, then whoever you're sparring with in normal training is "playing the game"; probably bouncing/skipping, jabbing, etc. outside the melee.

This is why I have stressed the importance of methods like randori which train you for the melee.

This also necessitates learning deflection (because deflection is the key to "living" in the melee - not …