I am currently on leave from the United States Air Force Academy and made sure to stop in at my old karate school while back in Indiana. For those who don’t read my blog regularly or haven’t seen my About Me article, I used to train at United Martial Arts Academy in Elkhart, Indiana. I started there in 1998 and have been friends with the head instructor Richard Hooven for more than half my life.
Before class started I was talking with some of the other black belts (Darlene and Robert are pictured above) about my new outlook on the application of kata and how you can use the exact same movements we have always practiced, just closer to your opponent, and suddenly they work much better. Much of this thinking is the result of following Iain Abernethy and his amazing work.
We started with work on the Naihanchi series. I went through and examined the application that our school had been taught while training under Tadashi Yamashita and compared it against how I currently practice. The buy in was instant and seemingly unanimous. In the past we had used many of the kata techniques as strikes or blocks against the arms of an opponent. While teaching I showed how they can be more effective when applied against the neck.
One movement that is pretty common among styles is the sequence in Naihanchi/Tekki Shodan that is a block, stomp, block, stomp, set, strike. We had used those blocks as forearm blocks against a punch. Now I was explaining how that “guard” hand could be used to trap an attackers arm and then use the “block” as a strike against the neck of the attacker.
Changing Your Mentality
The big thing I was trying to engrain in everyone’s head while teaching back home was that I could teach endless amounts of techniques, but what I wanted to teach was how to examine kata and start applying what we already know. In Pinan Yondan, we were once taught the opening move is a “tile throw”. You were literally grabbing a piece of tile and throwing it at someone. No one thought that made any sense, but never questioned our instructors. I had everyone start throwing out ideas for what it could be and then I explained it made more sense to be a movement to grab the back of an opponent for a knee strike or an arm bar. If karate (combatives) are going to be taken seriously again in the world, we need to start looking at the application and tossing out our older techniques that aren’t realistic in an actual fight.
The last thing we did was the Okinawan Hand Wrestling that I have talked about in the past. It is a fancy way of describing a grappling drill I do every class with my students. You pick a 3×3 of mat tiles (6’ x 6’) and wrestle until someone has “lost” or been pushed out of the ring. Losing consists of getting pinned or tapping out. There are no finite rules like Greco-Roman wrestling, this is just to get comfortable grappling. If you lose, go again. As you get better at it, start adding light body shots. We commonly add a rule that you can’t stand up. This makes it safer and more challenging.