Kata doesn’t work in a fight!

Written by bryan. Posted in Martial Arts, Self Defence

Karate Basingstoke, Martial Arts BasingstokePeace is earned, if your mind and emotions are weak, you are more likely to cause violence or respond negatively to it.  People that have to respond to violence on a regular basis such as police officers and security personnel are taught to remain calm and to deal with a situation ‘appropriately’ to re-establish and keep the ‘Queens Peace’ and a martial artist’s response should be the same.

The problem with people that constantly create ‘aggressive and violent situations’ in which to train is that they are still not ‘real’ – you know it’s your mate acting, and if anything engenders fear of the ‘real’ thing, and makes people neurotic by focusing solely on ‘reality based’ training.

The paradox is that to deal with confrontation and dangerous situations of any kind you need to be calm and keep your wits about you; developing wisdom and strategies for all kinds of situations.  You also need to have a vigorous, sustainable health and fitness regimen; this is different from an athlete’s fitness, as they have to produce that extraordinary fitness for specific events, whereas martial artists need all round health and fitness to apply to different kinds of situations.

Is kata a good training tool to produce that fit, versatile and well controlled martial artist?

Traditionally kata and forms have a trinity of development.  That trinity is:

  • Health
  • Skill
  • Application


Kata teaches:

  • Postural alignment
  • Breathing technique
  • Mental clarity
  • Tension reduction
  • Fluid motion
  • Internal connection
  • Core strength
  • Connected movement
  • Body awareness
  • Energy movement


The mind/body/breath connection is a powerful one with kata like Sanchin dedicated to it.  The connected core strength of the body, coupled with postural alignment and mental clarity gives that rude health and natural strength that we all admire in a good martial artist and gives the adaptability to deal with changing situations.  The natural skeletal alignment and smooth, powerful myofascial movements prevents stiffness and unnatural strain on the body reducing injury and problems later in life.  The health side of kata training gives a yogic kind of health but not in a static way, it’s in movement and within combative strategies.  In old age the martial artist also maintains an excellent training method to assist in the healthy enjoyment of life and extended longevity.


A martial artist has to learn the basic fundamentals of movement to encourage good health and then gradually chain those together into the fluid motion of martial technique.  The strategies of the art have to be employed within those techniques and these have to be mastered to a reasonable level before being put into natural combinations and practiced two-man drills.  When put into combination, the beginning and end of each technique changes to accommodate the former and subsequent move.  This requires an element of adaptability and the ability to ‘think on your feet’.

From the health training, a natural power will arise with the ability to utilise postural alignment, breath, mind, core strength, and internal connection and these should flow naturally through the strategies and technique within the connected movements.

In kata all this is taken into a more advanced form of training.  Different kata serve different purposes in training.  Some focus on the health aspects, some on power training, some are complete training systems and some are ‘filling in’ skills that may not be trained elsewhere in the system.

With an element of mastery over fundamental and basic technique, some combinations with different entry and exit to and from technique in fluid motion and basic application to the movements, it’s time to ‘up the ante’ in skill training.

Kata is specifically designed to enhance skill training, the combinations might not be what you would typically find ‘in a fight’ but they will train and enhance those combative skills in a way that takes the practitioner to a very advanced level that could not otherwise be achieved.

Notice how kata cover the entire range of body movements and how you move from high to low, from one direction in the most difficult way to another, how the powering of one technique is enhanced from the previous movement and then the motion can add power to the next (if you can move fluidly).  See how specific skills are categorized so the kata can act as a mnemonic reminder of the system.

When many kata were devised, most people were illiterate, there were few books, no DVD’s, no internet, not much travel, people communicated long distance by minstrels and storytellers, information was passed down through the generations in dances, songs and rhyming poetry so that it could be accurately remembered.

After 30 years of training I decided to try and invent a kata that summed up all my knowledge, when putting together all the strikes, blocks, locks, throws and dislocation techniques and strategies for entering, sticking, blending, redirecting, breaking down and destruction I discovered that the basic body skills and movements behind all of them came down to eight principle ideas, as long as these were rigorously practiced, they could be adapted into all the techniques.  This made me look at he existing kata with new eyes as I realized that I was ‘re-inventing the wheel’!

It is the skill training that is fundamental, the more advanced that training becomes – the more skilful and powerful the practitioner will be. 


By looking at kata through the equally important eyes of health and skill, the plethora of applications becomes apparent.  It’s like unraveling a knot, you examine the skills and see how they can be applied to striking, blocking, locking, throwing, dislocation, evasion and entering and you realize that what you have is a method of training a complete skill base that can be unraveled into a complete arsenal of techniques.

Even the ‘health’ kata is full of skills that are essential for three hundred and sixty degree self defence.  The ‘boxing’ applications of kata will not work properly without knowledge of the health and skill aspects as they permeate and empower every part of the application of technique.

The word bunkai means ‘to break down and explore’.  So when working on bunkai it is essential to understand the trinity of kata and examine each part to get to the ohyo (practical application).

The ohyo are the peacekeeping skills that enable an experienced practitioner to re-establish and keep the peace, even if the situation is life threatening.

Kata is an invaluable tool in training in Karate and will certainly help develop your skills to prevent you from having to ‘fight’ with anyone and will enable you to deal with violence and confrontation more skillfully.

Written by Steve Rowe www.shikon.com 2nd April 2009

Sensitivity In The Hands

Written by bryan. Posted in Martial Arts, Martial Arts skills

tai chi push hands“Sifu, in my mate’s class they learn to harden and desensitise their arms by bashing them together with the blocking movements, why don’t we do that?” Rod had lots of martial arts ‘mates’ who trained at different clubs and they would get together on a regular basis to ‘share’ their knowledge.

“What purpose do you think our arms, hands and fingers serve Rod, why do you think we have them?”  Sifu answered the question with a question in his usual ‘Chan Buddhist’ way…

“To hammer the crap out of our opponents?”  Rod was being mischievous, as he knew Sifu was looking for the opposite answer.

“Rod………..”  Sifu gave him ‘that’ look….

“Okay… To be able to touch and feel things not directly attached to our body..”  Rod conceded..

Sifu continued – “and would it be better to desensitise or increase their sensitivity to improve the skill in their use?”

Rod was still being a bit awkward, “depends on what you’re using them for…”

Sifu patiently allowed the conversation to take its course… “okay, why would you want to desensitise them?”

Rod became more animated given his chance to explain, “surely in combat it must be better to have hard arms that don’t feel pain?”

“Only if you’re unskilled,” replied Sifu, “the more sensitive you are in your arms, hands and fingers the more you will be able to stick, blend, follow and redirect your opponents force.”

“That’s true” replied Rod, but what if the other person hits your arms?”

“Pain is in the mind, not in the arms” said Sifu.

“That’s true….” responded Rod thoughtfully.

Sifu continued, “If you bash your arms together like that you will damage nerves and bones and deep bruising will block and damage the pathways that blood uses to renew itself from the centre of the bones, what you’re describing is the old ‘peasant’ training and not that used by the more intelligent members of society.

We’re looking to improve the capability of our body not reduce it.”

“Increasing sensitivity just seems to be the opposite of what so many people are doing” said Rod.

“And that’s why skill levels in the Martial Arts is being reduced, everyone wants a ‘quick fix’ and the sort of ‘emotional trauma’ training caused by winding themselves up that’s shown in the movies, causes long term damage and can’t be sustained,” replied Sifu.

He continued…..“Our mind needs to be refined; this is a painstaking process achieved through meditation, qigong and form.  When we are in harmony with our own mind, breath and body, we learn to ‘listen’ to that of others through touch with push hands drills and pairs work.

Mindful repetition is the cornerstone to success, under pressure we will react in the way we have trained ourselves to, providing we have trained with sufficient mental and physical focus.

Our arms are our ‘tentacles’ and our fingers are our ‘tentacles on tentacles’, because we’ve always had them attached to us we don’t tend to think of them in this way.  To get the idea, imagine that you were an alien being that was a nice neat circle shape and you rolled out of your space craft on Earth and met a human…

You’d be shocked by our ‘shaven monkey’ appearance with eyes that swivel in our head and when we smiled and showed our hidden teeth as a sign of friendship, we’d look quite scary!”

“I’d be horrified!” laughed Rod.

“And yet these would be ‘friendly gestures to us” continued Sifu… “and of course when we extended our ‘tentacles and tentacles on tentacles’ in greeting, for the alien it would be like a human meeting the creature from ‘Alien’ for the first time….”

“I’d probably roll back into my spaceship and leave at top speed..” joked Rod.

“My point is that they are our ‘feelers’ and therefore the softer and more sensitive we can make them, the more effectively they work.  Utilising the ‘touch reflex’ or ‘listening energy’ we are able to tap into the opponents parasympathetic nervous system and sense their balance, posture and intention, often before they can realise it themselves, but we are only able to do this if we can control our own and be ‘open’ to sensing them, this takes training.”

Rod was now staring at and wriggling his fingers…. “tentacles…… it’s kinda spooky really, we look at animals with tentacles and find them creepy, yet we’re probably the most creepy looking animals on this planet!”

Sifu laughed, “well you certainly are….. but as Martial Artists we have to learn to ‘think out of the box’, to be able to step outside of who and what we are and be able to see things as they really are, this gives us a rare perspective that others don’t have.  Our training and meditation should give us this ability and mean that we are not ‘duped’ by the manipulation of thoughts and emotions of others.

Rod was still compulsively wriggling his fingers….  “tentacles…….’

Sifu walked away smiling enigmatically.


Wednesday, 01 December 2010 10:56 Written by Steve Rowe who is the Chief Instructor of Shi Kon Martial Arts, which Shin Gi Tai are members of. Steve Rowe can be contacted at steve@shikon.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , his website is www.shikon.com



Are you a Chicken?

Written by bryan. Posted in Martial Arts

You practise Karate/Judo/Taekwondo etc, you can’t be afraid, you’re tough, are n’t you or I would n’t want to mess with you.  I’m sure many of us will have either heard these phrases or something very similar. But are they true?

As a Karate (I’ll say Karate for ease of typing, but this article applies to any Martial Art) person you must learn to be afraid.  I can hear you all saying, he’s mad, well maybe but think back to your very first grading, the first competition you went into or the first time you fought a Black Belt,  Go on tell me you won’t nervous and scared of the experience.  Bet not many of you could truthfully say you have n’t been afraid during your Karate experience. Wait until you get to black belt, that all changes, right? Wrong, at least not if you are a proper Black Belt.

Fear is something nearly every human being has to cope with. How we cope with it, defines us as a person and a martial artist.  Look at all the things we have to worry about today – Will there be a global recession, is my job safe, my pay is not rising in line with inflation, are my kids happy……………..the list goes on and on for most of, these important things make any Karate worries pale into insignificance. Learn to use your Karate to challenge the fears and beat them, both by using the relaxation and meditative aspects of it and also by the focus and determination, you should be using to move up the grade ladder.

If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. If you are not afraid when training in Karate, you are doing it wrong. Yes I did say it twice, its true and its an important point to reflect on. 

We all have comfort zones, most us live within these comfort zones. If you are happy doing this, that’s okay, but don’t expect to improve as a martial artist. Look at the instructors many of us have seen, as soon as they became an instructor, they developed the Sensei strut and stopped training in order to start teaching. They become comfortable with their new position in the dojo and being held up in esteem by their students. Firstly their skills levels are (generally) likely to decrease because they are not putting themselves in harms way enough. Consider also, that it’s a really brave Sensei, who tries something new or different with all their students watching, when they are scared that they will belittle themselves in the eyes of their students. Fancy reducing that godlike status to that of a mere mortal who and is n’t perfect and actually makes mistakes. A good instructor won’t be afraid of making these kinds of ‘mistakes’ and they will use these lessons as a good learning experience and to improve their own and their students Karate. A good instructor trains hard with the students to set them an example, he tries to do better than he did at the previous class. He falls over because he tries to kick  a little bit higher, he messes things up. He even admits to being fallible and says “I don’t know” when a student asks him something he does n’t know.  A good instructor seeks feedback from anyone who will give it to him and acts on it. a bad instructor is too scared to do these things.

What about Kumite time in class? Decide on who the best / hardest / fastest fighter in the club is and pick them out and make sure you fight them at every opportunity you can. If they are of a so much higher standard than you, that’s even better.  If you fight someone that you are better than, there is nothing to stretch your skills. Fight the best people you can and quickly your skills will improve, depending upon your partner’s skill levels, you can progress very quickly in a relatively short period of time. Are going to be out of your comfort zone, sure, will you be scared yes, will you get better at Karate, definitely, will you get hurt, maybe (you can’t make an omelette without cracking an Egg). Karate is meant to challenge you physically and mentally, if it is n’t challenging at nearly every lesson, then either the practitioner is n’t training properly or the instructor is n’t a good instructor.

Lets not even think about using Karate in self defence. If you are not used to being scared in a fight and being put under heavy pressure and then overcoming that fear/pressure, then you probably won’t be able to defend yourself well. Take comfort that anyone can learn to draw on their emotions to help them fight better, if they’ll go with it and pressure test themselves.

What about that class with a new instructor or in a different school. “I can’t go there I’m scared I’ll get hurt/humiliated/laughed at/they’ll all be better than me etc  NO NO NO. Fear is good, take yourself out of your comfort zone and you will improve. Why do people fear training elsewhere. Well you could be due to the reasons mentioned at the start of this paragraph, it might be because they are lazy or more likely that they have gotten into a rut through being in a predictable comfort zone. “I’m to far away, its too different, everyone will better than me, my Sensei won’t let me, I know all about that already”……all answers I’ve heard when I’ve invited people to train with me. Some of the time they might even be true, but most of the time, people are too scared to challenge themselves. You claim you want to get better as a Karate-ka, even one day attain the exalted status of being a black belt or for those that are black belt, a high grade black belt. If that’s really true, then change your mindset.

As an instructor are you pandering to your student’s self doubts and insecurities. Do your students get given things to do that they know how to do or are comfortable doing, do they do the things they need to do, instead of what they would like to do? Your responsibility as an instructor is to take your students to a new level, one that they did n’t think they could reach or that they even knew existed. Every student needs to be brought out of a different comfort zone, but you’re the big fish in the small pond and that’s what you are there to do. You need to teach them how to deal with fear, you need to (safely) pressure test them, you need to build them up, you need to make them into Martial Artists. Are you up for the challenge or are YOU to scared to be a good competent instructor? 

Let me be very clear. As a Karate-ka, if you are not taking yourself out of your comfort zone each and every week, then stop wasting your time and that of your instructor doing Karate. Go and do Morris Dancing or Knitting or something else where you can quite happily live in a little world of mediocrity and not have to worry about learning new skills and developing them or being taken out of your comfort zone.

 Fortune favours the brave

 The coward dies many deaths, the brave only one.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune Series by Frank Herbert

Funakoshi’s Principle 11 of 20 states – “Karate is like boiling water: if you do not keep the flame high, it turns tepid” or more bluntly use it or lose it!

Dead duck or a chicken – you decide!

Martial Arts Standards Agency British Judo British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body The World Union of Karate Federations Shi Kon Martial Arts British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body Safeguarding

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