Home   Menu 

Rainhill Kase Ha Shotokan Karate Academy

Write Down Your Thoughts So Others Can Follow Your Path

Scroll down the page or follow the links below that chronicle the musings of a Karate Nomad.

Feed your mind

Testing Times

Good shoes

Why am I doing this?


Triple effort

Hidden meanings

Safety nets

A cup of tea


Don't be the frog

Do the work

How do seeds sprout?

Keep to the left


Too much monkey business

So, when do we learn to break bricks?

It's the way that you do it

No silent movies here

Basically simple


Do not be deceived

Plain vanilla

First lessons

Be the duck


No crumple zones

After you

No free gifts

Fill the gap

Attack and defence

Movement and timing


So, what is kata?

Improve your kata

Improve your bunkai

All change

Zen poetry


"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."


Back to top

Testing Times

Testing knowledge and understanding has always been a well defined method to evaluate the results of a student's training. However, how we test or 'grade' students today is very different from the methods employed prior to 1900 by teachers of Ko-ryu 'old style' karate.

Today, as teachers, we normally judge 'the results of training' whereas I believe teachers of 'old style' karate judged the students 'capacity for training' and to do so employed tests that today we would consider somewhat unusual, risky or bizarre.

For example, in the 16th century, lto Ittosai Kagehisa, the founder of the Itto School of Swordsmanship had to decide the succession of his school between his two senior students. He knew that the two were so evenly matched in their skills that the technical differences between them were slight, inconsequential, so he devised a test to determine which of them would succeed him. In doing so he put them to the ultimate test; a duel to the death.

Another master who wanted to decide which of his three senior students would best succeed him devised a test whereby each student was given a water bucket and a water barrel and told that the first to fill their barrel with water from a nearby well within a given time, would win. However, they found that the buckets had no bottoms. So, how can anyone carry water in a bucket with no bottom? Two students left in disappointment, however the third student continued and began to lower the bucket into the well and carry it over to the barrel. Although a bottomless bucket cannot carry much water, a few drops remained on the side and went into the barrel. After great effort, a few drops at a time, the barrel was filled with water. He was chosen as the successor.

A student without the proper attitude for training is like the bottomless bucket. They retain nothing, however, a student with a proper attitude toward training, even if they are nourished with just a few drops at a time, retains the tiniest drop of knowledge and eventually attains mastery.

Teachers of 'old style' karate were obligated to continue teaching the way they were taught and would sometimes risk everything on finding one special student; a worthy successor willing to dedicate themselves to the brutal training regimes; to whom they would pass the culmination of their experience and the evidence of their skills; who would eventually carry their teachings to the next generation of students. It is because of this that teachers of 'old style' karate continued to test the character of their students so critically.

Each student achieves a mastery and understanding of karate which is always slightly different to that of their teacher. Eventually, the student may go their own way, but at the same time, it is important to maintain the traditions which helped cultivate the proper environment for learning in which the student grows and matures.

"You can easily judge the character of a person by how they treat those who can do nothing for them."

Back to top

Never underestimate the power of a shoe

The price of a pair of shoes can vary enormously, however, to the uninitiated, shoes all look the same.

A pair of 'Jimmy Choo Diamond Crystal Sneakers' will set you back at least £2700, however, you can get a similar looking pair for just £60. Outwardly there is very little difference to justify the additional cost.

To someone unfamiliar with Karate techniques and proper training, there is the same lack of differentiation.

It’s said that the difference between good shoes and the cheap 'look-a-likes' is not how they look 'straight out of the box', but how they look and wear as they age.

In Karate training, we might start off strong and practice hard, but after ten or twenty years of training, what do we have?

In Karate, there is quality training and there is the cheaper version. Do we opt for the shortcut and think, “this is just as good!” or do we practice until we can perform the technique consistently?

When unable to master a technique, we might impatiently think, “I need this to work now!” and instead of practice and perseverance, perhaps add some small variation to the technique as a shortcut just to make it work. But after a few years what happens? The technique stops working, or we might develop an injury from not training properly. Like a cheap pair of shoes, eventually everything just wears out and falls apart.

Like opting for a cheap pair of shoes, it’s easy to want a quick fix, but this is why regular and consistent training is so important. Regular and consistent training enables us to imbue the correctness of the movement into our bodies and as the technique develops outside of us, it also grows within us. No one wants to train for years only to discover that their Karate stops working.

Although all shoes might look alike, to a knowledgeable enthusiast, an expensive handcrafted pair of shoes is far more desirable than the cost-cutting mass produced imitation. How do they know? Well, they can literally 'see' the difference in the quality of the product which is born out of the maker’s skill, knowledge, experience and production standards.

Similarly, in karate, the skilled karateka can both recognise and appreciate the skill of another karateka.

In our own training, it’s important to hone our eyes and senses to recognise quality.

As teachers, we ask ourselves how does this affect our students’ training and how will this affect them years from now? Even as we advance in our training, it is still easy to lose the correct path, so training correctly becomes even more important.

One of the most difficult aspects of training is doing away with our ego. The ego wants things fast and cheap but good shoes like good training will last a lifetime.

When you think of your training, ask yourself if you want it to be good for 'this seasons fashion', or, like a good pair of shoes, something which you will want to keep, cherish and build upon for a long, long time.

"There is no way to compromise karate training. It is either right or wrong. It is black and white."

Back to top

Why am I doing this?

To many people, Karate is a great form of self-defence. I've been practicing Karate for almost all of my life. Could I defend myself using Karate?  Yes. Would I? Of course. However, the only reason that I can say this is because I've been practicing Karate for over 40 years.

One thing that must be made clear is that Karate should not be solely learned so that you can defend yourself. Many new students feel that studying Karate will help them defend themselves against attackers. Sadly, Karate is not a very effective means of defence unless you are very skilled.

So how long does it taker to become skilled? Well, it could be months, it could be years, it could a lifetime; it all depends on the student, the teacher and the style of Karate.

To defend yourself using Karate, your movements must become instinctive and your Karate must become second nature in order to be used effectively.

If this is the case, then why do so many people still learn Karate? Well, the fact is, most people believe that learning Karate gives them the ability to use it effectively. However, I would estimate 95% of all Karate students would be unable to defend themselves against a real attacker if they were to use their Karate.

What does this mean? It means that for the unskilled student, Karate as a whole is not very effective. However, if you learn Karate the right way, and you practice Karate for long enough, Karate becomes extremely effective.

Unfortunately, most students don't study for long enough to see their time and effort rewarded and whilst the time that is required to become skilled differs with every student, every teacher, and every style, I can safely say it takes at least five years for the required level of skill to be developed.

Eventually, students will attain the required level of skill to enable them to defend themselves, however, when they reach this point, they should also know that using Karate to defend yourself can be dangerous too.

If someone is trying to rob you, is it acceptable for you to kill them? If someone is insulting you, is it acceptable for you to hit them? The answer to both questions is obviously "no" and this is what every student should learn during their Karate training.

Karate should not, under any circumstances be learned solely for self-defence.

Karate helps students develop better hand-eye coordination.

Karate teaches self-discipline.

Above all, Karate should make students and teachers better people.

Karate teaches respect. Whether it's for your teacher, your parents, your peers, or for yourself, respect is the most important thing anyone can learn from Karate.

"Running water never grows stale. So you just have to 'keep on flowing."

Back to top


As our conscious mind can only entertain one thought at a time, we can only focus on making one aspect of our technique better at a time.

One of my pet gripes is watching students waste time during class or free practice. Karate is a martial art with a considerable amount of technical detail, so it frustrates me when I see students just showing off or lazing about when they are at the dojo. To me, this is the time when students would do well to try and focus on improving their skills.

Perhaps students don’t know what to focus on when they are presented with free practice. Students are provided with more than enough corrections which can absorb their attention during free practice. Certainly, these are the things I would focus on first.

Whenever I am practicing by myself or taking class I decide upon something I want to improve and focus completely on that one thing the whole time. The Japanese have a term for this, “ichigyo-zammai,” which basically means full concentration on a single act.

So instead of having some overall objective, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment. When you are fully in the moment with the activity, it is enlightened activity. If we are not fully in the moment with the activity, our true nature cannot fully express itself, however, when we are truly just doing whatever we’re doing, we start to express our true selves.

Unfortunately, its easier said than done. We are rarely fully in the moment with any single activity, as we are always in a rush to do the next thing when we are still doing the first thing, e.g. checking our phones while doing other things throughout the day, thinking about other things when someone is talking to us, being irritated by someone when they interrupt whatever we’re doing or taking whatever we’re doing for granted, because it’s dull or routine.

So, it turns out, we are very rarely fully in the moment with any single activity. How can we try this enlightened activity of full concentration on one act? Here are some reminders I set for myself (and they may work as reminders for you too).

As we give each activity our full attention, we start to take up on each opportunity to fully engage with life and appreciate each person, each object and everything around us as something worthy of respect.

"When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat. When we just do that one activity, we express our true nature."

Back to top

Triple effort

The mantra, “San-bai no do-ryoku”, roughly translates as “triple effort” and whilst it is an old martial arts adage, it was made famous by legendary Judoist Masahiko Kimura (who was also a student of Master Funakoshi).

San-bai no do-ryoku became Masahiko Kimura’s maxim after winning the "All Japan Judo Championships" in 1937; he went on to win it on two further occasions.

Kimura is legendary for his training regime, which in reality meant training for more than 9 hours a day; everyday, (even in retirement).

Success in training and in life comes exclusively on the back of hard work.

There is no substitute.

Be willing to put in the work.

"It doesn’t matter what other people are doing ...... do the work. It doesn’t matter what people are saying ...... do the work. It doesn’t matter who thinks you can or you can’t ...... do the work."

Back to top

Hidden meanings

The Oxford English Dictionary defines strength as, "A quality or state of being physically strong." However, we can measure strength not only by size, or by how physically powerful we are, but also by the size of our spirit.

Many people begin Karate training to become strong. Others begin training to get fit. Some choose martial arts so they can defend themselves. However, many students practicing Karate fail to understand in any real sense, “What is strength? What does it mean to be strong?”

Most people have a superficial view on strength; whoever is bigger, whoever can lift the most weight, do this better, do that better, is the one who wins, so it seems natural to take the idea of strength in Karate for granted.

To many students, strength and Karate go hand in hand. After all, the nature of Karate is elitist. The reality of Karate is that there can only be one winner. Because of this reality, strength in Karate seems a no brainer to many beginners: I need to be stronger than you to defeat you.

In practice, some students think that strength means using lots of power in the technique. To other students, being strong might mean resisting their partner’s technique or performing a technique as hard as possible. Some students feel that if they’re not using lots of power their technique is weak.

It’s easy to mistake fighting for strength. The feeling of expending energy against resistance deludes students with a “sensation” of strength. To many people strength amounts to a feeling: if I use a lot of force against my opponent, it means I am strong. This is a little like thinking we are strong because we use lots of power to pick up our cup of tea in the morning. Fighting our opponent are just delusions, sensations of strength that fool us into thinking “I am strong” simply because we used lots of power.

In Karate, it’s understood that there is a limit to strength in the way Western culture knows strength. In Karate we do not clash using strength or power but instead try to “blend” with our opponent’s power. The blending and yielding seems counter intuitive to a Karate technique. It’s this non-fighting aspect that seems very, very difficult for many people to grasp.

Using lots of power is certainly a way to make the technique work. It might fool us into thinking our technique is strong, yet good Karate technique is executed in way that is effortless, and the timing and the position placed so expertly that the technique appears rehearsed.

So the question is, what is strength? Using excess power? Or is it using the most efficient amount of power for the same result?

Kodokan Judo has the maxim, "Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort". Does all the strength and hard work we expend affect our opponent? Is using all that strength simply a way to fool ourselves into believing we are strong?

We can measure strength not only by size, or by how physically powerful we are, but also by the size of our spirit. Many stories tell about duels where the winner was decided solely on spirit alone without need to engage an opponent physically.

A karatekas worth is not measured simply by physical strength and size, but also measured in mental, spiritual, and moral strength. How many strong, fit, athletic students have I seen stop training because of lack of fortitude yet who thought themselves “strong”! Yet despite all the gifts and advantages they possessed, they still abandoned their training never realising their potential because they failed to trust the training.

The term "Kung Fu" does not translate to “fighting arts”, but rather, “any skill achieved through hard work”. To become strong, our strength, as physically weak and untalented we may believe ourselves to be, is already inside of us. It simply needs to be found, cultivated, and honed through physical, mental, and spiritual training that can only be provided by a good teacher.

We hear stories, parables, proverbs, and lessons handed down by masters, yet during our practice we’re painfully aware of how these words differ from reality in the dojo. When we bow we not only pay respect to the dojo but also pay respect to our promise to practice regularly and improve ourselves. We do so with a spirit of finding our own strength and cultivating it through everyday training.

Mastery is in everyone and it is the purity of spirit one needs to transcend the idea of weak and strong. This can only be realised through proper, daily practice.

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."

Back to top

Safety nets

Whenever students hear “the basics” they think, “here we go again, simple techniques that I know all about, that are practiced almost every day to the point of boredom”.

The point is, beginners don’t see the benefit of constantly practicing the same simple techniques and view it as a meaningless exercises performed over and over and over again.

It’s natural for students to want to advance in their training. Many karateka, once they begin to gain more experience and skill, tend to frown upon basic techniques and prefer to study techniques "more appropriate for their level". Techniques where they can express themselves more. Techniques where they can show their own personality. Techniques that seem more advanced and more impressive to onlookers. In other words, they want to show their expertise and do this by expanding their repertoire and collecting a lot of different techniques.

Many of these, more appropriate for their level" techniques can be impressive to watch and are ideal for demonstrating to the easily impressed, how skilful they look and how knowledgeable they are. However, many times these karateka end up whereby having learned lots of varied and flamboyant techniques, they are unable to do any of them particularly well.

Sometimes when I am teaching I will introduce an “advanced” concept to what is a deceptively basic technique and more often than not the students will have some difficulty with its execution. I would say that in almost all cases, the main reason behind any difficulty is that students forget their basics.

Forgoing the basics will cause many techniques to stop working properly and whilst some karateka may be able to compensate with brute force to "make" the technique to work, ultimately, what we are doing is only a pale imitation of Karate.

The wise karateka, whether they be student or teacher, will realise that the basics are meant to be built upon, like a strong foundation, instead of being thrown away and replaced by something flashier that ultimately proves detrimental to any progress in training.

Without a firm understanding of both the physical basics and mental basics, learning advanced techniques will be useless, almost impossible.

The wise karateka knows that mastery in the lowliest of basics will provide a solid platform from which to advance, and to an expert’s eye, when performing techniques, solid basics, or a lack thereof,  will become obvious.

In the end, so called advanced techniques are simply basic techniques executed at a very high level. The basic technique is done is such a way where “the basics” don’t appear to be basic at all. Yet, as advanced as a technique may appear, our kamae, ma-ai, zanshin, unsoku and tai sabaki are all building blocks of that technique. If our basics are solid, then learning new techniques, even in different styles, becomes easy.

In our own training, when there are problems with the technique, we can fall back on the basics and determine where the technique went wrong.

The basics serve as our safety net.

The basics are our confidence builder.

The basics catch us when we start to deviate from the correct path.

A wise student will learn this.

A good teacher will teach this.

As we now all know this, we have no excuse preventing us from reaching mastery.

"To get good at Karate one must be good at the basics."

Back to top

A cup of tea

The koan, “a cup of tea”, illustrated the pitfalls of seeking knowledge when full of your own opinions and speculations.

The one thing a teacher searches for in a student is “attitude”. With the right attitude, anything becomes possible as having the right attitude means being willing and open to learn. However, many students come with their own opinions or preconceptions and that is quite possibly the greatest hurdle not only to teaching them, but also to their learning.

When the teacher or anyone else teaches class, all the student need to do is to receive the teaching. Don’t resist it. Don’t judge it. Be willing and open to accept it. Copy it. Everything else will fall into place.

If we are willing, then we can learn.

If we are open, then we can be taught.

Empty your cup!.

"With the right attitude, we can learn anything."

Back to top


Progress in Karate beyond the basics, does not simply mean to be stronger in technique or develop one’s authority, but to find one’s own self.

Training in Karate is based on choice. The choices are mainly about our perspective and in general we have two perspectives to choose from:

So to summarise, 'Karate-Jutsu' could be thought of as the application of karate in real situations, and 'Karate-Do' as the practice of karate in order to develop the character of its participants.

When we train for self-protection, we train from a physical place where growth is external and based on what we can do to others. This is the level where:

When we train for self-perfection, we strive toward a higher consciousness where our goal is no longer to be the victor over the uke but to be the victor over ourselves. This is the level where:

In Karate, we do not separate self-protection and self-perfection as they are very closely related although they seem quite different. In the beginning of training, Karate is always martial art first. After we have perfected the physical outward techniques, we begin to journey inward and perfect the self.

Self-perfection begins with the act of selflessness. Every great religion, teacher, or teaching encourages us to become selfless or think beyond “I” and focus more on “We”. Selflessness is something that lives within all of us, even if it is buried deep inside.

In Karate, uke brings that selflessness out and teaches us how to express it. If we can act selflessly in the dojo then it isn’t a stretch to act selflessly in our daily lives.

In the dojo as we practice Karate and volunteer ourselves as uke for others, we teach ourselves how to live our lives at a higher level of consciousness.

Within Karate, the victory over ourselves begins with uke. To be victorious over others is one thing, but to allow others to perfect themselves with our sacrifice is quite another. The act of uke serves as the vehicle of true selflessness and thus the real path of self-perfection.

When teaching, regardless of the complexity of a technique or the ability of the student, the movement greatly improves when also taught from the perspective of the uke.

"Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato into a fruit salad. Knowing how to put a tomato into a fruit salad and making it delicious is mastery."

Back to top

Don't be the frog

The idiom "the frog at the bottom of the well", is from "Zhuang Zi", a famous Taoism Book. It means to have a narrow view of the world, to have only superficial knowledge of something, or to be short-sighted.

All physical activities have at least two levels of operation. The most basic level relies on strength, speed, and simple coordination. The next level uses these things, but also uses movement, timing, distance, and intuition. The next, determines the purpose of the technique: sport, art or martial art.

If this higher level is sport, then all the physical activities become athletic and the purpose becomes to win games. If the higher level is art, the physical activities are called dance. If the higher purpose is to defeat an enemy the activity becomes martial arts. An example of this is the relationship between tactics and strategy:

Because of the primal nature of martial arts, martial techniques tend to be as simple as possible (strength and speed), however, martial techniques that utilise elements at a more complex level, such as Karate, whilst they are more difficult to perform, they are also more difficult to neutralise or counter.

The criterion for good Karate is not when opponents feel that they have been overpowered or out manoeuvred, it is when they have no idea how they were defeated.

In other words, Karate is like the sky; do not limit yourself to the small section of sky that the frog sees, climb to the top of the well where the entire sky is visible.

"Being open and willing enables me to see the bigger picture."

Back to top

Do the work

Sooner or later (and usually prior to a grading), students always seem to ask the same question; is there a book or video that will help them improve their Karate. My answer is always the same; just practice.

Practice is the secret to anything in life and for Karate, the only way to get techniques to become "second nature" is to practice, by repeating them over and over, as many times as it takes.

Most students frustrations in class or about their progress in Karate amounts to no more than a lack of hours of practice. Today, so much information is available from so many sources that many students spend more time watching videos or reading about Karate than actually practicing. After all, sitting at a computer is much easier than being in the dojo practicing and trying to perfect the same old boring basics during every class.

A Google search for “karate” gets over 154,000,000 results in 0.53 seconds. With a just few deft keystrokes, the secrets of karate are presented before the student and mastery of karate techniques are merely a few key strokes away! However, consider, among the millions of search results, how many are relevant. What source is reliable and what isn’t? What information is genuine. What is simply made up? How many years experience do these so-called “experts” have under their black belts? The Internet has no quality control enforced onto any search engine regarding any subject, yet there it is: an abundance of information available on karate.

Whilst there is a place for watching YouTube Karate videos or reading about Karate, actually practicing Karate is more beneficial as it provides the action, movement, interaction with a partner, sweat, and feeling that helps development.

When talking about meaningful practice, there are two things to consider, firstly, the actual time spent practicing as opposed to doing something else and secondly, the quality of practice, namely, is it what I need to do and I am doing correctly.


We all want to do well. I do not know anyone who prefers to do things incorrectly, however, I know students can consciously or unconsciously avoid practice:

So if you look objectively at the time actually spent practicing Karate, in the end its not as much as you think. Over time, all those small periods of missed practice opportunities all add up. So, train regularly and with purpose, work hard, and focus on practicing rather than not practicing, or practicing with bad habits.


During a class, techniques are presented to everyone, however, because classes are composed of students at different levels of ability, eventually students will find that they have specific areas in their Karate that they need to develop; that will only be achieved by practicing.

There are times when the teacher will teach an attack or a technique not regularly practiced as a part of normal training and while we want to do our best during the class, it does not mean we have to emphasise or remember these techniques in the same way as we do the essentials; the basic techniques.

If we need to improve the essentials, we should spend time practicing the basics rather than the more advanced techniques and by doing so, we will slowly get better.

So, strive to make your worst technique your best technique. Practice.

"If I go as hard as I can in practice, make sure it's a lot harder than a fight, then the fight's going to be easy."

Back to top

How do seeds sprout?

Experienced karateka can tell a student’s level of ability simply by watching them perform the basic, simple, repetitious exercises that we all take for granted but which are the fundamentals and form the essential foundation for everything we do.

The highest compliment a student can receive is “kihon ga dekiteru” which means “the basics are there”.

The simplest things done in the most expert manner, in the most natural way are what we aspire to. That is how important the basics are.

As part of their training, Buddhist priests memorise many sutras. Sutras can be very profound; so much so that their meanings are not easily understood. Yet, even though the priest chanting might not fully understand the sutra’s meaning, the sutra is still chanted. It takes several years of diligent practice for priests to understand the full context and meaning of the sutras.

Karate training is the same; there are techniques we practice that are contextually confusing yet we practice and as spectacular as some advanced techniques might appear, it is actually the basic techniques that are the most beneficial. This is why we practice them over and over, in every class, to the point where we get tired of practicing the same technique.

It is easy to understand how students get bored and think, “this again”, as we practice a basic technique again and again and it is easy to understand how students yearn for the something different and think, “when were we going to get to the good stuff?”

In my own experience, practicing as a student and as a teacher, I understand how important the basic techniques are to a student’s development. The basics are important and this is the reason for repetitively practicing them over and over even though we are not aware of why we need to continue to practice them.

Many of these seemingly simple techniques feature an essential point and contain some sort of important lesson or a skill that is necessary to continue to develop ones mastery of karate.

As simple as a technique may seem, when an expert demonstrates that seemingly benign, basic technique, it is performed to such a level that it becomes an advanced technique.

To achieve this level there are no short cuts. The only way to reach this level of ability is through years of practice and performing the basics thousands of times.

With the correct mind-set and attitude, we can begin to understand karate, not only with our intellect like memorising words in a poem, but understanding karate with our bodies and from our experiences.

Reciting a complex sutra and memorising profound words does not automatically confer profound wisdom; similarly, mimicking an advanced karate technique whilst giving the illusion of expertise does not automatically confer an advanced level of ability and understanding.

The secrets of karate that we are seeking are contained within the basics. It is only through practicing the basics correctly, diligently and repeatedly do these techniques reveal their true meanings.

Like a sutra preserving the teaching of The Buddha, the basics are like a template handed down from generation to generation insuring that karate will continue as long as there are those willing to follow.

So like the priests reciting the sutras, we must practice the basic techniques until we realise them.

"It is important to follow the form of training, more than making up your own techniques; practice the basic techniques each day; no one has mastered them yet."

Back to top

Keep to the left

In Japan during the Edo period (1603 - 1868), life was cheap and samurai would fight each other for just about anything. Accordingly, certain etiquette developed in an attempt to prevent unnecessary violence.

The practice of riding horses on the left side of the road is an example which survives to this day, and was developed to prevent people from “accidentally” touching another’s sword.

Samurai wore their swords on their left side, and touching another person’s sword, even accidentally, meant they were honour bound to dual. Accordingly, if they approached each other from the left, their swords would not face each other and therefore not touch.

Today we have lost most if not all of the warrior etiquette and people barely say please or thank you and if they do, it is where etiquette begins and ends.

In the dojo, a reprimand to a student often barely registers an acknowledgement and you are likely to receive a feeble excuse cloaked in sarcasm rather than apology. I would never have considered attempting something like that and would never have tried to talk my way out of it.

In times past, if students did not show the proper respect or etiquette, teachers would not teach them based upon the thought that if someone cannot give a simple “thank you” or “sorry”, then they probably can’t be taught.

The hardest thing I have found is to strike a balance between freedom of choice and discipline. If a teacher seem too strict students will leave. If a teacher appears too friendly, students are unlikely to respect them.

So, what is the right balance? Perhaps each student serves as a rehearsal for the very last student a teacher teaches, hence the saying, “If a teacher can find one good student in their lifetime, they can consider himself blessed.”

Etiquette exists to protect us as it serves to prevent misunderstandings or miscommunications. If students can observe the etiquette they can stay out of trouble and demonstrated that they really want to learn.

Everything we do is training and because of this, our conduct is very important and it does not just begin or end at the door of the dojo.

So, remember the phrase, “Karate begins with respect and ends with respect”, and do not forget it.

"A master is someone who has 'kokkifukurei' (こっきふくれい), the ability to demonstrate their skills in decorum and etiquette but more importantly their ability to exercise self-restraint at all times."

Back to top

Be patient even if it takes years to correct one mistake

I have a student who never seemed to quite catch on. I remember repeating myself to them over and over again, in every class. Sometimes, I wondered if they would ever catch on. It was very frustrating.

One day, they began to change as if my message finally began to sink in and seemingly overnight, technically, they became one of the best students in the class.

We can help some students to improve immediately with our advice and teachings. However, some students need to help themselves before they can understand whatever is being taught. In other words, some students will not catch on at all until the time is right for them.

It is important to see each student’s ability and as a teacher, learn to understand their timing. Identifying a student’s timing is difficult and so the only thing a teacher can do is persevere and teach them without changing the training method or the technique, simply out of convenience.

Sometimes instructors will dilute techniques to make it easier, fearing students will leave if training is too hard. Similarly, some instructors will do anything to be “friends” with students even if it means sacrificing their own beliefs and training methods. This is not the right path and will only cause problems in the long term. Ultimately, it a student leaves, for whatever reason, that is their Karma.

Everyone benefits when we work to achieve the higher standards of the art, however, nobody benefits by lowering standards to satisfy our whims or make adaptations for our own convenience.

As teachers, we must teach students as correctly as possible whether they like it or not, remain flexible and pliant in all things and never bend to outside pressures or influences.

"Do not learn Karate like paper. Paper lights easily but burns out equally quickly. Learn Karate like a big log. It is harder to light, but it burns for a long time."

Back to top

Too much monkey business

In 16th century Zen Buddhist paintings, a popular subject was the long armed monkey reaching down from a tall tree trying to grasp for an image of the moon in the pond. Referred to as ‘suigetsu’ (moon and the water) in Buddhism, the teaching is about something which lacks substance.

The monkey mistakes the reflection of the moon for a peach and is going through so much trouble to grab it without realising it is just a reflection.

In Zen Buddhism, the concept of 'suigetsu' asks us if we know the difference between the moon in the sky and its reflection below in the water.

Like the monkey, we can become confused by the image of the moon or a peach and which is real.

Often we are too smitten and taken in by our own ideas, and it seems that, like the monkey reaching for the reflection of the moon, we are too busy admiring the beauty of our own reflection in the pond, that we have lost our real focus and direction.

More and more, the traditions of karate are ignored as karateka continually try to reinvent the art to suit their own tastes, discarding what does not suit. However, we forget that we are only coming from a place of our own inexperience and lack of years.

Many traditions have been practiced for centuries so, who are we to say what is appropriate or not. Our role is to study not judge, so how can we discard what we don’t clearly understand? This is ‘suigetsu’.

As we discard tradition, we also discard some of the spirit and wisdom. Whilst this may be inevitable as times change, it may also be the whims of our ignorance.

"If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it."

Back to top

So, when do we learn to break bricks?

It is a fact of life that most people would rather be entertained than taught. Today, it seems as if only a few students come to the dojo with an open mind and are willing to be taught what is necessary instead of what they want. The problem is that only a student with an open mind and a willingness to learn can truly master something.

It seems as if students today want their expectations met as soon as possible and with the minimal amount of effort. If that does not happen they move on to something else, or look for someone to make it easier or faster. Unfortunately, inserting consumerism into learning is prevalent in karate, with many dojo's eager, willing and able to give students what they think they want; for a price.

Students should be patient and not think that they are wasting their time because they are not doing something more entertaining or more complex. Unlike anything else, learning or mastering karate and training in the dojo is a process of an individual’s development.

For the teacher, teaching is a delicate balance of doing what is right and doing what is wanted (which in itself is something difficult for students to understand). No matter what the goals or objectives the student may have when they start training, the reality of the experience of training will not be in line with them.

This is because the student is unable to conceive of something of which they have no real understanding. Students come to the dojo looking for 'something' they have visualised. They have an objective for their karate training and often the 'plan' they have is very well organised and usually comes with a timetable: 1st lesson spin kicks, 2nd lesson break bricks, 3rd lesson "Wuxi Finger Hold" (Kung Fu Panda), 4th lesson "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique" (Kill Bill: Volume 2).

However, this is not how learning karate works. In a traditional Japanese style of learning, the student changes to embrace the art and not the other way around. No matter what they are trying to learn, the art will change the student and the art will come to influence every facet of their lives.

Accordingly, it is the teacher’s role to teach with the understanding that the student does not know and there is a delicate balance to give the student what they want whilst enticing them to do what they need to do.

A good teacher must be aware of the frustrations of the student and that frustration is part of learning, but at the same time, staying firm to the principles of the art regardless whether the student stays or leaves. No matter what, the students who will stay will stay and the students who want 'something more' will leave motivated by looking for 'something more.'

A good dojo is based upon etiquette and protocol that is repeated over and over again. This repetition of the same basic techniques, protocols and etiquette is because the teachers of old knew that every student has the possibility of becoming a good student someday and that some students who come with their own agendas, need to keep hearing and doing the same thing over and over again until it becomes a natural part of their perception and awareness.

The path of karate is not paved with doing what we want, but in doing what is necessary.

The path of karate can be fraught with frustrations and the real training is being patient and working hard despite what we 'think' we should be doing.

The path of karate is sometimes not clearly illuminated, and we must walk the path slowly and carefully so as not to get lost in the darkness.

If a student wants to attain mastery, they must trust that their teacher will guide them on the right path even if they are not able to see the end clearly.

"As teachers, we must teach students as correctly as possible whether they like it or not."

Back to top

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it!

The proverb "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" implies that it is hard to achieve something important without incurring some unpleasant consequences. So what does this means in terms of karate?

Because of its perceived nature, many people would associate karate training with incurring injury. To many seasoned karateka, this is associated with injuries they attained in their youth, perhaps through immaturity and ignorance, that are now coming home to roost as reminders of their years of dedication. In other words, how they trained when young and through the following years is the cause of "legacy" injuries and ailments they carry today.

Personally, having followed the path of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) in my youth, and subsequently as a member of the KUGB England National Squad, I have no "legacy" injuries or ailments. So why is that? Well, its not luck.

My belief is that from the very start of my training, I was fortunate to have the very best instructors and the single most important factor in preventing injury (and carrying injuries in the future), is the education and experience level of the instructor.

It is essential that an instructor should have a strong organisational “apprenticeship” and recognised instructor qualification that include:

These skills take years to develop, but having a qualified, experienced instructor cannot be overstated. However, while many injuries can be avoided by having a qualified and experienced instructor there are several steps that the karateka can take to lower their own injury risk.

Shotokan karate is one of the safer martial arts and by acknowledging the risk factors and by following several basic steps, the karateka may lower their own injury risk. Key areas included sufficient warm up, strengthening the muscles and joints, stretching, and constantly polishing and correcting their technique.

"Right isn’t always correct because sometimes we don’t have the logic for what is being taught to us and only after years of training realise how it factors in."

Back to top

No silent movies here

Why is a grading like a silent movie? Well, it is because whilst there is action, there is little or no dialogue other than the assessor telling the candidate what they are to do next.

So, what happens at a grading? Well a grading begins with registration and then a demonstration of skills, in front of association instructors, in three areas: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. And that's all there is to it. Afterwards the successful candidate is presented with a certificate of achievement and awarded the right to wear the next belt.

So, how and when do we assess the candidates knowledge during the grading? Without knowledge, skill cannot be focused. Without skill, strength cannot be brought to bear and without strength, knowledge may not be applied. In other words, without questioning a candidate we cannot assess or fully determine their knowledge and understanding of what they have been taught and therefore whether what we see before us is an accurate portrayal of their progress.

This is why when I assess a candidate at a grading, in addition to a physical demonstration, they will also undertake an oral examination of their knowledge and understanding of technique, terminology and concepts appropriate to their level.

A grading is not a silent movie. A grading has a full soundtrack. Question! Discover!

"Without knowledge, skill cannot be focused. Without skill, strength cannot be brought to bear and without strength, knowledge may not be applied."

Back to top

Basically simple

Its just an observation, but why is it necessary to make everything so complex? It increasingly seems that as karateka progress through the rank structure, it is deemed necessary to invent 'new' complex combinations and strategies. To me, the quotation, "The best techniques in Budo are plain and simple", sums up the essence of karate. Simple is faster. Simple is less likely to go wrong.

The following is an extract from 'Conversations with the Master: Masatoshi Nakayama' by Randall G. Hassell, 1983.

Hassell: Finally, Sensei, if you were permitted time to say only one thing to the people who are training in JKA karate today, both students and instructors, what would you say to them?

Nakayama: I would tell them to meditate on the words of Anton Geesink, the Dutchman who defeated the Japanese and won the World Judo Championship.

Geesink faced and defeated every major Japanese judo competitor, and he shook the very foundations of martial arts in Japan. It was just unthinkable that a young European could so skilfully and cleanly destroy the Japanese masters in their own art. But that is exactly what he did.

I remember that the leaders of judo and even some other martial arts in Japan were in a tremendous uproar, and they made elaborate and detailed plans to study Geesink's 'secrets' of competition. Ultimately, they arranged for a Japanese journalist to interview Geesink in depth to try to discover the training methods this man had used to defeat the Japanese. Geesink's answer was perhaps the most important statement I have heard in all my years in karate-do, and I will never forget it. He said:

"The Japanese have devoted themselves to the study of judo for competition. They have gone lengths to develop winning contestants and fine champions. I, on the other hand, have never trained for competition in my life. All I have ever done is trained in judo as a way of life, exactly as Dr. Kano taught. While the Japanese were devising competitive strategies, I was in the dojo, practicing basics and kata. I defeated the Japanese because I know judo better than the Japanese. The "secret" is to train every day in the basics. This will make you unbeatable."

The Japanese phrase, atari-mae, loosely translates as common sense, reasonable, natural. Everything in karate can be called atari-mae or atari-mae no karate, which means, common sense, reasonable, natural karate. It is to this that I aspire in my own karate; something simple and very natural.

Most karateka do not really need 'new and complex', they simply need to take their technique to the next level, then the next, then the next . . . . . . . . . there is no end, there is always a higher level.

So, do not become fascinated by or become enamoured with complicated techniques. Keep to the basics. Keep it simple!

"Simplicity applies to not only training but to life as well."

Back to top


We have talked about learning to generate power, however, of equal, if not greater importance, is developing control. Control means developing the ability to accurately control "where we hit" and "how hard we hit".

The concept of control is absolutely vital to safe and effective practice. Students are often reluctant to complain when they are hit a bit too hard. It is especially important for instructors and assistants to be aware of how hard and where they strike students and to exercise great care. The students will learn by their example.

"A good karateka has power; a great karateka has control."

So, what exactly is control? Well a basic definition of control in the context of karate training is: "you do not hurt your training partner."

It is especially important to develop control in the context of karate training and be especially careful not to injure your training partner. The uke (the person who "receives" a technique), is defenceless and must rely on the control of the nage (the person executing the technique).

So, how do we teach this. Well there are two elements, namely, the execution of techniques:

  1. accurately to the intended target and with proper form:
    • your technique must express the intended concept as being taught,
    • you must be able to:
      • strike to the correct anatomical part of the opponents body; or
      • execute locks and throws while using proper fundamentals.
  2. while preserving the safety of your partner by voluntary self-restraint of the amount of force used:
    • in order to preserve the safety of your partner you must be able to strike, lock, or throw with appropriate distance and power.

In other words:

Sharp techniques that are fast and well placed do not automatically qualify as “well controlled”.

Once the karateka progresses beyond the basics they must learn how to execute techniques that, whilst they are completely capable of doing damage, by choice of the karateka, they are controlled (withheld).

The term, “by choice of the karateka,” is a key concept. Over the years, methods of training have developed so as to avoid placing extremely effective techniques in the wrong hands. When a karateka learns to be more effective, it is only their character and mental control that stays their hand and guides them.

To understand control fully, the methods of the body cannot be separated from that of the mind and heart. Mental control allows the karateka to maintain perspective even in times of high stress, choosing the right level of force for the occasion.

From a self defence perspective, we have to be able to use the level of power that is appropriate for the situation, e.g. defending against a determined violent attacker is different than defending against a petulant youth, and the power we would use would differ accordingly.

Emotional control prevents anger, resentment and fear from overtaking better judgment. The practice of traditional karate will build upon all of these things over time.

"Tape a sheet of paper to a wall with a single piece of tape at the top. Now at full power, punch the paper to make it fly off the wall. You have to be very careful. Those without control will find this a painful lesson."

Back to top

Do not be deceived

We often assume that the way we see things is the way they really are, or the way they should be and our attitudes and behaviours grow out of these assumptions.

There is a cautionary folk law saying, "Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing," which warns against being deceived by an opponent or attacker and underestimating their ability. Accordingly, it is important to properly assess your opponent or attacker without prejudice or assumption.

In the dojo or in competition, do not believe your skills will make you superior to an opponent. Outside of the dojo, it is vital that, as a karateka, you do not believe your skills will make you superior to an attacker. On the contrary, it is important to think the opposite; to take every attacker seriously and to consider all options.


"He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them."

Back to top

Plain vanilla

I do not wear an organisation badge, script or symbol on my Gi.

So, why is that my choice?

Briefly, I do not want to be mentally attached to anything that identifies or limits my conception of the karate that I practice. That may sound somewhat metaphysical, however, it is true, at least for me.

When you identify what you do with a particular badge, script, symbol, or any material object as opposed to an abstract quality, state, or action, you are categorising the karate you practice, i.e. putting what you do in a box.

But what if there is not a box for your karate? What if your karate fits several boxes but you can only pick one? You will have to pick another box. But you might not fit the evaluation criteria of that box. In other words, it is hard to think outside of the box if you put yourself in the box.

Not fitting into traditional categories makes you stand out, for better or for worse.

It can make you highly valued.

It can make you appear to be a pain in the neck.

It can make you someone to simply be ignored.

On occasion, it can make you the object of jealousy, resentment and bitterness.

However, it is difficult to move freely if your mind is fixed and in karate there are many, many ways of developing a fixed mind.

So, my Gi is plain vanilla flavour.

It is just a little thing, however, little things mean a lot.

Free your mind. Live outside the box.

"Karate is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it."

Back to top

First lessons

I am teaching Ellie, my seven-year-old granddaughter, Karate. One of her first lessons (and one that is repeated often), is that you must always be "aware" of what is going on around you, so that the can identify and therefore avoid, a potentially dangerous situation.

Even if you cannot completely avoid a potentially dangerous situation, if you can be aware of it in advance, you will be in a better position to deal with it.

So, the first thing is to be "aware". The second thing is to be "aware". The third thing is to be "aware". The fourth thing is "to be prepared" for whatever the situation may be. All are equally important.

Being “aware” is not merely confined to karate. I want Ellie to be “aware” of everything that goes on around her, e.g. when she plays with her friends, when she goes to school, when she crosses the road. The goal is that always being “aware” is something she does naturally.

Being “prepared” for whatever the situation may be, is also not merely confined to karate. We can practice for certain situations and ensure we impart the necessary knowledge and skills, e.g. when crossing the road, in understanding the concept of stranger danger, etc. However, we can also impart the necessary knowledge and skills to be prepared for the unexpected, as part of overall preparedness.

To be “aware” and to be “prepared” are not only the foundations for self-defence but the foundations for life and are some of the things I am teaching my granddaughter.

"Karate teaches us to look for the best possible course of action, whatever the individual circumstances."

Back to top

Be the duck

When performing kihon, kumite or kata, never outwardly display your emotions. To your opponent or to anyone watching you perform your karate, you should look impassive, immovable, unstoppable; the emotions you are feeling should remain on the inside and most importantly, the emotions should be controlled rather than suppressed.

"A duck swimming in a pond seems to be moving without effort, but under the surface of the water, it's kicking its feet very hard."

Whilst emotions are an essential part of being human, the feelings are beyond a flight or fight responses to survive. Emotions range from high and low extremes to little nudges in our minds. Remember your emotions the last time you were waiting at the dentist, waiting for exam results, or a response from an interview? Did you feel nervous, panicky, insecure, worried, afraid or tense? How did you feel about yourself when you were emotional? Did it affect your self-confidence? Did it make you feel vulnerable?

We go through many situations in life where getting emotional does not change anything but our self-confidence and self-respect. Your actions in different situations affect your beliefs about yourself to an extent that you might believe you became a different person. You may lose your self-confidence if you believe that you were weak in some situations. Hence, it is important to learn how to control your emotions where emotions harm your well-being or may make you vulnerable. This takes lots of energy and mental development. If you are interested in controlling your emotions, here are a few tips:

"When two emotions clash, the strongest emotion wins."

Back to top


Mushin, translated as “no-mind” or “empty mind”:

In Japan, there is an expression that goes: “mizu no kokoro” or “mind like water”. Mushin is like that, it is like the moon reflected on still water without any ripples and on its surface a perfect replica of the moon is reflected, like in a mirror. However, when there are other factors like wind that creates ripples, the image of the moon becomes distorted too. In other words, Mushin is the state when what you observe and what you are become one. The watcher and the watched become the same. When you have thoughts in your mind and your heart, everything is distorted. So you can understand everything and sense everything the way it really is, you have to be completely empty.

Mushin cannot be grasped with the intellect; it must be experienced. In Karate, the state of Mushin is crucial during a martial situation. The karateka must “become one” with the attacker for the technique to be effective, efficient, and harmonious.

When an opponent attacks, the karateka should have a mental state that reacts to the situation instantaneously and not through a pre-determined course of action. One should not say, “I’ll do this waza”. Instead, the karateka must respond spontaneously where techniques occur without thought, masterfully manipulating the energy of the attacker, and eventually neutralizing the threat. This state can only occur through constant training. Through training of the body and the mind, you will eventually no longer be concerned with thoughts like “I should do a ashi barai” or “I should be in kokutsu dachi”, etc.

To achieve this state of Mushin, the mind must be free from any conscious thought; free from anger, hesitation, doubt, fear and pride:

“When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

Mushin is vital to the martial artist. It is a concept that liberates the mind from the restrictions of the present situation.

The following is an excerpt from the zen fable "Neko no Myojutsu" or “The Mysterious Technique of the Cat”, the old cat explains:

“As soon as there is the slightest conscious thought, however, contrivance and wilfulness appear, and that separates you from the natural Way. You see yourself and others as separate entities, as opponents. If you ask me what technique I employ, the answer is mushin. Mushin is to act in accordance with nature, nothing else.”

"There is no need to use any technique. It is enough to be ‘mushin’, and respond spontaneously."

Back to top

No crumple zones

In traditional Karate, power is of utmost importance, however, many people have difficulty in generating power in their techniques. The result is that the body of the attacker merely "crumples" against the target and is ineffective. What we want are "no crumple zones", i.e.

"Relaxation is the key that unlocks speed and power."

There are numerous factors both physical and psychological that contribute to developing powerful strikes. The following should be considered as a brief introduction to some of the factors required to develop strong, strikes.

  1. Breathe:
    • this provides for the circulation of energy and the fluidity of movement.
  2. Balance:
    • you cannot deliver powerful strikes when you are off balance.
  3. Stance:
    • directly related to balance is having a strong and solid stance,
    • power comes from delivering strikes from a strong base,
    • if your stance is weak, your punches and strikes are weak.
  4. Utilise your body:
    • legs, hips, shoulders, and arms (for punches) must work together to produce the maximum amount of force,
    • the correct timing and sequence of the motions comprising techniques are critical,
    • concentrate on doing each technique as forcefully as possible with the correct sequence of body parts,
    • it helps to pause slightly between each technique because this allows time to concentrate on generating the greatest amount of power,
    • in spite of what some karateka believe, hip and waist rotation contribute to power.
  5. Speed combined with mass:
    • irrespective of how much you practice, you cannot defy the laws of physics; Newton’s second law states that the amount of force generated is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by the acceleration of the mass (Force = Mass x Acceleration or f = m x a),
    • the power of the strike is mainly dependent upon how fast you can accelerate your mass - the faster you accelerate your mass into the target, the more powerful your strike will be,
    • a punch also requires multiple accelerations of different masses working together simultaneously; this is technique,
    • understand "mass" - more mass equals more potential striking power therefore you want to increase the amount of mass you transfer into the target, i.e. put every percent of your body’s mass into your strike by combining correct technique with a good understanding of your own body,
      • a beginner may only be able to use the mass of their hand when punching a target,
      • after training hard, they may be able to use the mass of their arm when punching a target,
      • after training for many years, they may be able to use their whole body mass when punching and thereby generate incredible power,
    • understand “acceleration” - this is the acceleration of body mass into and through the target,
      • acceleration does not equal speed, acceleration is how fast you increase the speed, i.e. increase the speed of your mass in as few seconds as possible and reach that speed as fast as possible,
      • in order to accelerate your mass from a state of relaxation to tension (impact) as quickly as possible you need to enter each strike with total focus and unwavering commitment which requires:
  6. Relax before the strike:
    • one of the biggest barriers to increasing speed is excessive and unnecessary tension in the muscles,
    • tension often increases when one try's to do a motion faster because the “trying” gets in the way of the “doing”,
    • less effort is better than more effort when it comes to increasing speed:
      • relaxation equals speed,
      • the best punchers in karate and boxing, all have the ability to relax their muscles a split second before delivering the strike,
      • think relax just before delivering strikes will help develop not just faster, but more powerful strikes.
  7. Practice striking:
    • the Makiwara - at one time a regular part of karate training, Makiwara practice was done on regular basis as part of a class, however, because many of today's training halls are community facilities, Makiwara practice will not always be possible. Master Funakoshi would practice striking the Makiwara thousands of times a day and had his students do the same thing,
    • heavy punch bags, body shields and focus pads - boxers are known to have powerful punches because they practice hitting a heavy bag and other equipment that has significant resistance:
      • hitting the Makiwara board is not the same as striking a heavy bag and other equipment,
      • practicing punching thin air will never develop true power.
  8. Mental focus:
    • there is nothing mystical about delivering powerful strikes nor is there any 'secret ingredient” involved in developing speed and power,
    • it is the ability to coordinate your body, mind and spirit in one split second of time at the end of the strike.
  9. Proper fist alignment when punching:
    • debated by karateka for many years, since each person is different, practice various methods of punching and you will discover what is best for you.

  10. Maintain a winning mind-set:
    • this mindset is known as fudoshin, or immovable mind,
    • it is the most powerful weapon you have; the harder you can push yourself mentally, the harder you can punch physically,
    • the winning mind-set is not constantly thinking about winning,
    • delivering weak and ineffective strikes is having a losing mind-set,
    • in real life self-defence, when great bodily harm or death is involved, you must be as ruthless and as violent as required to defeat your assailant,
    • whilst familiar with Master Funakoshi’s rule that “there is no first strike in karate.” he also wrote, "....attack him concentrating one's whole strength in one blow to a vital point.....",
    • a well-trained experienced karateka can sometimes sense an attack the moment it occurs and can counter-strike before the attacker can land a blow.

"All power is from within."

Back to top

After you

Master Gichin Funakoshi lays out 20 rules by which students of karate are urged to abide in an effort to "become better human beings". Rule 2 reads, "Karate Ni Sente Nashi", which may be translated as, 'there is no first attack in karate' which is a reminder that fighting should be avoided whenever possible.

Sensei Kase said that it is important for the karateka to understand the idea mentally as well as technically. You must do everything possible so that the attacker understands that it is better for them not to attack, to feel it and accept this. This is the true meaning of the saying "Karate Ni Sente Ashi",  that the adversary does not begin attacking and so there is no fight”.

However, in his book 'Karate-do Kyohan' Master Gichin Funakoshi wrote, "When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him concentrating one's whole strength in one blow to a vital point and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter and help."

So, what do you do when fighting cannot be avoided? Well, you should practice for those times when everything else has failed and there is no other option but to attack first, e.g. verbal communication has failed, moving away has failed, or the attacker has a weapon or has demonstrated their intent to attack you and there is no other option.

At first it is essential to learn there is no first attack. When this is understood and practiced, only then can the karateka move on.

"Usually, a well thought answer makes an aggressor think twice."

Back to top

No free gifts

Master Gichin Funakoshi said, "I will not give a certificate of rank, it must be earned".  Accordingly, grades must never be given:

"Everything you accomplish depends on your own efforts."

Back to top

Fill the gap

When attacking, the opponent may be out of range thereby making it impossible to make contact with a single technique. In such cases, it may be necessary to 'fill the gap' with a feint to allow you to close on the opponent, e.g. when using kicks to attack, 'fill the gap' with hand techniques rather than just trying to deliver a kick from an extended distance. The hand techniques would be out of range to make contact but will allow you to reduce the distance to the opponent thereby allowing you to make contact with a subsequent attack.

"Success is minimising the gap between your performance and your potential."

Back to top

Attack and defence

  1. Sensei Cattle would not just practice attacks, but would practice ways to make an attack succeed, e.g. to move in such a way as to:
    • find a weakness in the opponent,
    • confuse an opponent (especially if the opponent is stronger, taller, has a weapon and there is a need to minimise the effective use of it even prior to any attempt to use it and a greater level of skill is required to deal with them),
    • remove or work around a guard; or
    • exploit an opponent's weakness.
  2. Always aim to deliver at least two techniques and never a single attack:
    • develop combination attacks, e.g. three or four rapid, diverse and unexpected consecutive hand and foot techniques,
    • the first techniques should not be used as distracting feints leaving you vulnerable in the initial stages of your attack; and
    • every technique in a combination should have maximum commitment.
  3. Basic karate blocks are powerful, and if applied as a strike to an untrained opponent, the deterrent of pain can be very effective.
  4. It is vital that the defender is given the opportunity to think for themselves, to learn from their own mistakes and to put into practice their own experience.
  5. Training must offer the defender a variety of defence options, e.g. move forward, to stay in position, to move left or right, otherwise an attacker may anticipate the defender's direction of movement and intentionally follow or pull short. If the defender is experienced enough to sense this, then they will not move until there is a direct attack. If you are the attacker, it is okay to follow if the defender moves too soon.
  6. Breathing exercises are important, however, it is necessary to understand not to associate this, i.e. taking a deep and deliberate (noisy),  intake of breath, when facing an opponent or when executing any technique, as in doing so you will indicate your intent to your opponent (and ultimately delay your response).
  7. After any encounter, the defender is encouraged to move.
  8. It is especially important for the attacker:
    • to attack and move; or
    • be prepared to become the defender; or
    • to change from attacker to defender mid attack.
  9. The attacker must always be prepared to block. As soon as an attacker realises that they have been blocked, i.e. there is contact, or the opponent moves, they must be prepared to change attack, block or move.
  10. How do you choose what technique to use when you are attacked?
    • Well, it basically comes down to the orientation of power administered by the attack.
    • If a person is striking you or grabbing you, their power will be oriented in a certain way.
    • Striking attacks are designed to deliver power at a precise angle and to a precise spot, e.g. if a person wants to strike you using an uppercut punch, the torso is turned inward and the fist is turning while the back foot pivots and the upper body reaches up.
    • In grabbing attacks, how a person grabs you is based on what they want to do to you, e.g. if they want to pull you, many times the palm will be oriented upwards to engage the biceps and back musculature.
    • It is necessary not only to know or understand how the opponent is attacking but also how they are utilising their power in order to properly address any attack. When you know these two things, you can defeat most opponents.
    • Recognising the attack and its power base needs to be done in a blink of an eye. Generally, most martial arts don’t talk about these things because it is bad for the student to get caught “thinking.” That is why almost all martial arts are kata based in which the student repeatedly practices a set of prescribed movements and becomes proficient at them without thinking. When it becomes “second nature” the practitioner unconsciously recognises and meets similar attacks in a certain way. Without knowing it their minds and bodies learn the proper way to address specific attacks and thus can act within a split second the right way without thinking. The kata is how we learn it first with our bodies then later we come to understand it with our minds.
    • If a picture is worth a thousand words, then kata is how we understand a thousand things with just one movement.

"Do not think of attack and defence as two separate things. An attack will be a defence, and a defence must be an attack."

Back to top

Movement and timing

The concept of movement and timing is something that many, including experienced karateka, do not fully understand. To many karateka, movement and timing essentially means changing stance or moving a long way when you need to, e.g. when defending an attack, to block, counter and then break away to kick; this practice takes too much time, increases the distance to your opponent and means creating a second encounter (which should be avoided).

"It is important to practice so your movement is the minimum necessary to complete its task."

Some karateka appear to be very fast. In reality, they are not fast, they just know how to move and when to move. Movement and timing give you the ability to "steal your opponents attack", to take advantage of the distance they have made by moving very, very late and moving just enough, perhaps only millimetres, so that you are not hit, but just enough so that they are in range for your attack.

"You win battles by knowing the enemy's timing, and using a timing that the enemy does not expect."

Shown below are some considerations to help you when applying the concept of movement and timing to your karate.

  1. Think for yourself.
  2. Timing and position is critical; the concept of movement is to place yourself in a stronger position than your opponent.
  3. Movement is reliant upon you moving just enough:
    • to obtain the best tactical position to attack/counter attack,
    • to find a weakness in the opponent,
    • to confuse an opponent (especially if the opponent is stronger, taller or skilful),
    • to remove or work around a guard,
    • to exploit an opponent's weakness,
    • to 'steal the attack of your opponent',
    • to strike the most effective target point,
    • whilst remaining in the safest position yourself:
      • ideally you want to end up behind your opponent as they attack,
      • placing yourself in the safest position may be achieved by your own movement, or by correct distance and timing, e.g.
        • opponent attacks jodan oi tsuki - you step forwards and move past opponent,
        • opponent attacks mae geri - you turn your opponent by blocking (outside of leg), very late at the end of the technique,
        • opponent attacks yoko geri - you use soto uki or similar, to block (outside of leg), at the end of the technique and turn opponent,
        • opponent attacks mawashi geri - you block with both hands to cover both jodan and chudan areas and spin opponent (catch end of kick),
        • opponent attacks and at the first sign of moment, you move straight in, e.g. attacking mae geri and ushiro geri.
  4. When defending, move fast and move late.  This means pushing the limits to how late you move. Training should rely upon distance, speed, timing and well executed technique and blocking may be used a cover for when you move too late!
  5. How you move is important. You never move backwards. You move either sideways or forwards.
  6. Force the opponent to move (usually by moving sideways).
  7. Remove all unnecessary movement when executing any technique. Unnecessary movement may be used by your opponent to identify your intention.  It can be very difficult to step oi tsuki and hit your opponent, however, by removing all unnecessary movement, it can be done.
  8. A deliberate but very, very slight unnecessary movement may be used as a 'false tell' so as to make your opponent believe you are about to deliver one technique but in fact deliver another, e.g. simply flexing the wrist so as to make your opponent believe you are about to attack oi tsuki (stepping punch), but in fact you attack kisami tsuki (jab punch).
  9. Sensei Kase would say about rooting, "100 meters under and heels on the floor," meaning that power comes from being properly rooted; when properly rooted, the force exerted by your stance should be so powerful that it extends 100 meters beneath you and both your heels should be firmly on the floor.
  10. When moving from a rooted position; Sensei Kase explained that the heels should be off the floor but only enough to slide a piece of paper underneath.  This would not be visible to anyone watching. Rooting would be resume to block, counter or attack.
  11. When your Kime is correct, i.e. after you have reached a high level of control, never leave the hand out, always retract to your side, e.g. after Tsuki, Uchi, Uke, etc.
  12. Evading/body evasion (tai-sabaki) is a combination of both movement and timing, e.g. using both timing and footwork by stepping/pivoting to attain an advantageous position whilst avoiding the opponent's attack:
    • use movement of the head and upper body to keep out of range or the line of attack whilst still being in a position to counter attack,
    • defence should be maintained with arms ready to cover or block,
    • use body evasion tactics with discretion and follow up immediately with a counter attack to be effective.
  13. Use your brain rather than brawn; effective movement and timing will accomplish more using less. In understanding this, there are two important concepts:
    • although you are using less force, you are applying it correctly (precisely), that is to say, applying it where it will be most effective; and
    • instead of overwhelming your opponent's ability to resist, you are undermining it.
  14. Good timing requires anticipation and zanshin (total awareness), otherwise you will become a victim to the opponent's strategies.
  15. Good timing can compensate for lack of speed and lack of strength thereby allowing a smaller lighter karateka to deal with a larger heavier one.
  16. Strategies should be used sparingly to avoid the opponent identifying a pattern, e.g. spoiling the opponent's distance by suddenly moving towards them or deliberately mistiming your step and punch so that they are not simultaneous (punch early or late).
  17. Timing, distance and the line of attack are the three main factors that one is trying to control in any confrontation. Of the three, timing is the most intangible and that makes it one of the hardest to learn.
    • Distance can be controlled by one’s foot work, by one’s strength or flexibility, by how one makes use of the line of attack and by timing.
    • The line of attack can also be controlled by one’s foot work, by how one uses their body, by controlling the distance or by having a command of timing.
    • Timing cannot be controlled by anything external and theoretically can only be controlled by how one uses their mind, their ki (energy) and/or their kokyu (breathing).
    • So, what is timing? Timing can be loosely defined as doing the right thing at the right time. But that definition itself is too simple and short sighted. Timing can be thought of as the physical manifestation of one’s ki and kokyu. It is said that, “To have a command of the faculties of ki and kokyu is to be one with the universe and thus able to wield it.”
    • Having a command of ki and kokyu enables one to use their minds/spirit to defeat the opponent. This domination is called kizeme.
    • Before one can control ki and kokyo and attain kizeme one has to follow the natural progression. First master the body and the physical movements. Then master the mind. Then finally master kokyu and ki.
    • One can see that to master timing is the just the beginning of the internal journey in the martial arts.
    • So, how does one learn timing? Timing is only something that can be learned with diligent and dedicated practice; lots and lots and lots of practice.
  18. You can get a very good idea of a person's level of skill by observing their movement when performing kata. The value of kata is not in specific movements or sequences but in giving the opportunity to move in a variety of ways and to refine skills. These factors include (not exhaustive), how the person:
    • generates and transfers power,
    • moves from one position to the next,
    • shift their weight,
    • project their sechusen, focus, and composure.

      Stationary basics are good for beginners, but a student progresses, they will do better by practicing kata and learning how to move.

"Take advantage of your enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions."

Back to top


  1. How close should we be to our opponent?
    • Well, the amount of space between you and your opponent (ma-ai) depends on your level of ability.
    • In Japanese traditional martial arts, the distance at which you can successfully strike your opponent and thus be struck by them is called issoku itto no ma-ai. Issoku itto no ma-ai means one step, one cut spacing.
    • Generally speaking, the safest distance between you and your opponent is supposed to be six feet. This distance is called toi ma-ai or far spacing. They cannot strike you and you cannot strike them.
    • Once you move in and are within striking distance the spacing is called chikai ma-ai or close spacing.
    • When one reaches a distance where they are able to strike, this distance is called uchi ma-ai or inside spacing.
    • Controlling the spacing and timing are the keys to victory in in Karate. If we can control the spacing then we will be able to control the timing and therefore if you are controlling the timing then you are already in command of the spacing.
    • Beginners tend to stand too close (unaware of the attack) or too far (too afraid of the attack) but as they become more experienced they will come to understand what the proper distances are for each attack and technique. An experienced karateka has learned how to control the spacing to their advantage and uses it to fend off attacks or create openings for attacks.
    • You can only control the spacing after you have gained mastery of the techniques. So students should take the time to learn the proper spacing for all the techniques. That is why the proper ma-ai depends on one’s ability.
  2. The distance between you and the opponent should never be static; you should be ever changing so your opponent never quite knows from where the attack will come from or when/how it would be delivered.
  3. Distance should vary often dependent upon the opponent's size and level of skill, e.g. if the opponent is 'a good kicker', it is better to stay close to the opponent and move them sideways thereby removing their ability and the opportunity to kick and allowing you to target their weaknesses.
  4. Avoid creating a second encounter, e.g. when defending an attack, to block, counter and then break away to kick takes too much time and increases the distance to your opponent.
  5. Correct distancing:
    • will force the opponent to commit in order to reach you; however
    • you should not be so far away as to deny yourself the opportunity for attack.

"Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Back to top

So, what is kata?

As it was not always possible to train with a partner, individual practise methods were developed in the form of “kata”. Kata are the formal exercises of karate which emulate defence against multiple imaginary opponents and are prescribed sets of movements that employ all kinds of techniques in predetermined sequences. Every movement within kata has both a function and meaning, and every kata is designed to teach particular techniques, movements, stances, and fighting strategies.

In performing kata it is vital to visualise your opponent; every kata must be performed as if engaged in a real fight; with spontaneity, total commitment in blocks and attacks, and the feeling that the next imaginary attack may come from any direction. In this way the kata becomes more than just a performance for others; the karateka learns to harness their fighting spirit.

All kata start with an initial block in accordance with Master Gichin Funakoshi's precept; "Karate Ni Sente Nashi", which may be translated as, 'there is no first attack in karate'.

It is important to remember that as you progress through the grading system it is important that you continue to regularly practice of all of the previous katas you have been taught.

Knowledge is cumulative and these skills must be learnt in a specific order based upon the complexity of each individual kata, the students previous knowledge and experience and their technical ability. If a student were to make a habit of trying to learn katas that are above their current level of development, they would not be aware of the all the movements and techniques, contained in the katas they have missed, consequently, the over all quality of the kata they were attempting to learn would suffer. In other words, learning is sequential with the student progressing from one stage to another in a single series of steps, taking all that they have learnt to date, and applying it to what comes next.

Apart from the common "Omote" (front facing), way of performing kata, kata can also be performed (and may be required to be performed in advanced gradings), "Ura" (opposite), "Go" (defensive) and "Go no Ura" (defensive opposite). Just try to do any kata in the opposite direction and you’ll realise how confusing and difficult it is, mainly because you are trying to coordinate the movements in a different order. Sensei Kase introduced these variations explaining that performing Kata Ura, Go, or Go no Ura is closer to actual application in real fighting circumstances.

"Go Mae" is another variation of kata where "uke" (blocking techniques) are performed moving backwards whilst "uchi" (striking techniques) are performed moving forwards. In many kata it is open to personal interpretation of bunkai as to uke and uchi.

Back to top

Improve your kata

Shown below are some basic points to help you improve your kata. It will be difficult for beginners to control all the points mentioned at the same time, therefore it is important when practicing kata to concentrate on controlling only one or two points correctly and then repeat the kata concentrating on one or two different points and so on in order to study them all. In this way, all the points will be learnt and remembered through experience.

  1. Always show respect and courtesy to your (visualised) opponent; kata are preceded and concluded with a bow.
  2. Every movement has a function and meaning, and every kata is designed to teach particular techniques, movements, stances, and fighting strategies. Know what they are. Know your bunkai.
  3. Visualise your opponent; every kata must be performed as if engaged in a real fight; with spontaneity, total commitment in blocks and attacks, and the feeling that the next imaginary attack may come from any direction. In this way, the kata becomes more than just a performance for others; the karateka learns to harness their fighting spirit.
  4. When performing kata:
    • bow before you perform:
      • it there is a tatami in the dojo, bow as you enter the tatami,
      • bow again at your starting position,
    • show your determination (and give yourself confidence), by announcing your kata in a clear, strong voice,
    • breathe correctly:
      • this provides for the circulation of energy and the fluidity of movement,
      • make sure you do not hold your breath while executing your kata,
    • take a few seconds to compose yourself:
      • concentrate:
        • clear your mind of everything but your kata,
        • visualise your opponent; and
        • focus on the task at hand,
      • make sure you are breathing slowly and deeply,
    • show the correct pattern of movement and stay within the lines of the kata,
    • before applying the tempo to your kata (each kata has a specific tempo or speed at which it is performed), make sure you have good technical control in order to avoid mistakes due to haste,
    • each movement and technique should be conducted at the correct speed with good contrast of fast and slow motion,
    • the 'quieter periods' between each combination are just as important as the speed of the techniques executed in succession; do not neglect them, especially when the technique includes a kiai,
    • harmonise and contrast the active (offensive) and passive (defensive), elements parts of the kata,
    • maintain good posture with the correct body geometry and positioning during movement and stance,
    • in order to master the slower techniques, it is important to link the execution of the technique to your breathing:
      • breathe in during the preparation of the technique,
      • breathe out at length during the execution of the technique,
      • the length of breathing out should correspond exactly to the length of the technique,
    • eye contact emphasises the visualisation of opponents as the kata is executed:
      • look where you are going; if fighting a real attacker, you would be looking directly at them; your kata should be no different,
      • look before you move; your eyes should precede all 45° or 90° turns,
      • look where you are aiming (the correct point of execution of techniques); the eyes are instrumental in this process to show the purpose of movements,
    • each technique, whether static or in motion, high or low, is performed by concentrating the energy in the lower part of the stomach; the 'hara',
    • perform all movements and turns by pivoting on the heels,
    • during each movement:
      • maintain a low position,
      • avoid raising your position between each movement, turn or change in stance, (except for specific techniques which require a high position),
    • at the end of each kata:
      • keep looking in the direction of the last movement for an instant before returning to yoi,
      • bow.
  5. You will not develop the power of your techniques through brute force or muscle tension; to develop the power of your techniques you must liberate your energy which requires:
  6. Always remember the principals of kata:
    • kishin no yoi:
      • correct spiritual preparation and mental concentration towards the (imaginary/visualised) opponent prior to the movements of the kata,
    • embusen:
      • show the correct pattern of movement and stay within the lines of the kata,
      • some kata are symmetrical with an ideal start/stop on the same spot (if you miss it your stances have been incorrect),
    • inyo:
      • the harmony and contrast of the active and passive elements (the offensive and defensive parts of the kata),
    • keitai no hojo:
      • the beauty of form and posture with the correct body geometry and positioning during movement and stance,
    • kiai:
      • correct use of spirit shouts at set points in the kata,
    • kokyu:
      • correct and controlled use of breathing during the execution of the kata,
    • tai no shinshuku:
      • body contraction and expansion during performance of kata,
      • correct moving from one kamae to another involves alternating bodily contractions and expansions,
    • chakugan:
      • correct aiming points,
      • correct point of execution of techniques,
      • the eyes are instrumental in this process to show the purpose of movement,
    • waza no kankyu:
      • correct speed of each movement and technique,
      • good contrast of fast and slow motion in kata,
    • chikara ni kyojaku:
      • correct use of power in movements and stance,
      • power in kata is the product of balance between strength and relaxation,
    • jushin no antei:
      • correct stability of centre of gravity in movement and stance,
    • zanshin:
      • correct mental awareness in execution of technique and at the completion of the kata.

"In kata it is the body that must remind the mind, not the other way around."

Back to top

Improve your bunkai

In Europe, the word "bunkai" is a blanket term for kata applications. This is an incorrect usage as the term bunkai means analysis of a subject by detailed dissection or disassembly of the whole. In practice, when we suggest possible applications of the techniques, we are actually discussing "oyo" or possible examples. The term bunkai would then suggest that:

This attitude is important when practicing kata bunkai: there is never just one possible application, just numerous applications, some of which are better than others, e.g. Sensei Kase would say your power comes from being properly rooted, so why stand on one leg to deliver a technique? Additionally, varying circumstances such as the opponent, the surroundings, and your own ability, etc., will factor in additional variables. However, provided the core technique is respected then it is open to interpretation and with this comes creativity.

However, whilst there are many effective techniques in kata, whole kata applications take may take minutes, whilst a real fight is over in seconds. Therefore, beware of placing too much reliance on bunkai for the application of techniques in terms of self-defence as there may be more effective options. As Master Gichin Funakoshi said, "Practicing a kata exactly is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another".

Shown below are some considerations to help you when applying bunkai analysis to kata, however, please remember that lists like this can also be a hindrance, so keep an open mind.

  1. No preconceptions:
    • maintain an open mind,
    • see all possibilities,
    • do not label; a block may be a block, it may be a lock, it may be a blow, it may be a throw,
    • free your movements, do not restrict them.
  2. Movement:
    • close movement:
      • where the engagement distance is very close, bunkai is unlimited; you can hit any part of the body, apply joint techniques, stamp, trip or throw.
    • range of movement:
      • the techniques of a kata are not literal and are not fixed (some will disagree with this and whilst I respect their interpretation, I personally find it to be too restrictive),
      • each movement in a kata represents a potential range of movement, not just a single movement,
      • a middle punch includes all heights (lower, middle, upper and all points in between),
      • a middle block includes all blocks in the same body dynamic family; all blocks that can be executed with the same body dynamics,
    • few movements:
      • bunkai can apply to a single movement or a combination of movements,
      • when the combination becomes too lengthy, the application tends to become rigid and dependent on an extremely cooperative partner,
      • it might look impressive to demonstrate a long combination but in a real situation, your response will likely be short and to the point,
      • combinations normally follow the sequence of the kata, however, combinations can be practiced out of sequence and even assembled between different kata,
    • double movements:
      • simultaneous double movements should be practiced together, separately, and off timed,
      • consider a double middle block (wari uke) as found toward the end in Heian Godan:
        • these blocks could be analysed together as two simultaneous blocks, separately (right or left), and off timed (first the right, then the left), and vice versa,
      • each block, representing a range of movements, could be practiced as upper, middle, or lower (and all points in between),
      • since a block can be a punch (or strike), these variations should also be practiced,
    • empty movements:
      • do not leave the attacker standing,
      • imagine the attacker punches; do not simply block and then turn to face the next attacker,
      • movements typically do damage,
      • consider the first movement of Heian Yondan:
        • if it is merely a block (double), what happens when you turn for the second movement - the first attacker is still there,
        • if the first movement is a combined block and strike, or if it is a grappling movement that flows into the second movement, then the bunkai makes more sense,
    • continuity of movement:
      • do not consider one movement in isolation,
      • consider the movement prior to and just after each technique and see if they flow together or stand apart,
      • techniques may be implied but not actually performed,
    • body dynamics:
      • karate requires movement; kata training can help develop movement,
      • with proper body dynamics, you can move quickly and generate and transfer maximum power, all with minimal effort,
    • make connections:
      • kata are useful tools, not sacred formula,
      • once you practice bunkai, you will see how the movements within a kata connect to each other, and how they connect to movements in other kata,
    • dead spaces:
      • bunkai makes you realise what you can do at any point in the kata,
      • any dead spaces, or places where you cannot easily move, will become obvious,
      • avoid being unable to move: having a dead body (shinitai),
      • you should be able to move (and transmit power) freely, in any direction, at all times.
  3. Symmetry:
    • many kata are asymmetric (they contain movements done on the right or left side only); bunkai should be practiced on both sides.
  4. Multiple attacks:
    • an attack is not fixed therefore your response is not fixed, e.g.:
      • the attacker punches with the right; apply your analysis,
      • the attacker punches with the left; apply your analysis,
      • the attacker grabs your collar; apply your analysis.
  5. Grappling:
    • your two hands should work together; when your hands are together (or close), look for the grappling element, especially when an open hand is near a closed hand,
    • many striking techniques work better when a joint lock or throw is applied first,
    • the throw or joint lock may be hidden (represented as a standard block) or even eliminated in the kata,
    • look for throws when a high block is followed by a low block and vice versa.
  6. Punches and blocks:
    • double blocks, arm bars and wrenches:
      • many techniques, especially those involving double blocks like morote uke, and all forms of shuto, can be interpreted as arm bars or wrenches (applying pressure to snap the attacker's arm, leg, or head),
    • the empty hand:
      • in many karate styles, the opposite hand is pulled back during a punch,
      • one interpretation is that the returning arm (or elbow) may be used to strike someone grabbing from behind, however, it is far more likely that the returning hand (hikite) will be pulling or twisting something, like the attacker's arm, hair or groin,
    • double punches:
      • when you punch with two hands simultaneously, the hand closer to your body is probably a grab (it seizes the attacker's punch),
      • grabs are often represented at punches,
    • more than one way to punch:
      • there are many ways to transmit power with the hands,
      • if your kata only uses seiken (punching with the knuckles), try using other forms, e.g. one knuckle, two knuckles, knuckle of the forefinger, knuckles of the fingers, fingertips, etc.,
      • the type of fist or other part of the hand used depends on what anatomical structure you are striking.
  7. Kicks:
    • there is more than one way to kick:
      • do not limit your kicks,
      • there are many more ways to kick than with the chusoku (ball of the foot),
      • old style kicks were often done with the tips of the toes (tsumasaki geri) in a stabbing manner,
      • kicks were also done with the large knuckle on the side of the base of the big toe, side of the foot, and heel,
      • a kick to the groin would utilize the instep,
      • the knee could also be used,
      • a side snap kick (yoko geri keage) is generally ineffective; better to use a side thrust kick (yoko geri kekomi),
    • kick when appropriate:
      • kata generally contain few kicks,
      • that doesn't mean that you should only kick when one is present in the technique,
      • kick whenever appropriate, particularly when you have seized the attacker,
      • remember that a kick represents a range of movement rather than a single technique,
    • low kicks:
      • old style karate only used low kicks - generally below the waist,
      • there is a saying that if you want to kick someone in the head, you should throw them to the ground first.
  8. Feet:
    • karate techniques are applied on multiple levels (jodan, chudan, gedan), simultaneously,
    • don't forget to step on the attacker's feet, twist legs, strike knees, etc.,
    • leg pins, stamps and sweeps are widely present in kata,
    • these techniques work best when you are very close to the attacker.
  9. Uraken:
    • use the back fist in connection with other movements,
    • a back fist can easily follow a punch, block or elbow strike.
  10. Sequences:
    • there are certain natural sequences such as punch, elbow strike, shoulder strike, uraken,
    • these four techniques can be "thrown" as a single movement,
    • with one movement, you strike multiple times.
  11. Block, strike, throw, get away:
    • there are phases to applications,
    • at the end, the attacker should probably be on the ground, preferably unconscious or writhing in pain and certainly unable to attack again,
    • you should be getting away or ready for the next attacker.
  12. Keep it simple:
    • do not become fascinated by or become enamoured with complicated bunkai,
    • simple is faster,
    • simple is less likely to go wrong,
    • the simplest techniques are strikes (teachers who strike often don't emphasize grappling).
  13. Everything looks good when rehearsed:
    • it's easy to defend against a prearranged attack (demonstrations always look perfect),
    • bunkai helps you to prepare for an unexpected or a changed attack,
    • it is one thing to learn vocabulary words: it is another to be able to freely converse.
  14. Drills:
    • bunkai can be easily adapted into drills or 2 man sets,
    • for each attack there is a set of responses.
  15. There is no secret ingredient:
    • bunkai runs from the simple to the complex,
    • sometimes a punch is just a punch,
    • sometimes the actual application may appear to be hidden,
    • teachers have a right and responsibility to teach what is appropriate to each student at their respective levels,
    • once you understand the technique, the meanings are plain to see,
    • there are no secrets, there is simply bunkai you know and bunkai you don't know yet.

"Bunkai is the imagination in motion."

Back to top

All change

When I say change, I am not referring to the change sitting in your pocket along with some lint. I am referring to change which put simply is:

The concept of change seems like it is unwanted and frowned upon, however, change is a natural process that happens all of the time, with or without consent and can be for the better or for the worst. Change can take place at any time, at any given point, to any person and to anything. Change is what pushes humans further into knowledge, wisdom and growth. And I am sure kata has changed.

Karate was formulated so that ordinary people could protect themselves in their everyday lives from assault by violent, untrained assailants (still a reason why people learn karate today). The creators of kata were likely to have been practical men, adapting kata to suit their needs as and when required. The traditional thought is that kata are sequences of fighting techniques or strategies karateka found to be effective and from which they may draw when necessary. This would require that the karateka knows the applications that work best, e.g. at close range against an opponent, and has practiced them sufficiently whereby they can be applied quickly and effectively. In other words, unlike today, kata would never be studied without its applications.

For many of the kata, the original applications have been long forgotten, possibly for centuries. In his writings, Master Shinpan Gusukuma, a student of Master Ankō Itosu (who also taught Master Gichin Funakoshi), commented that he did not know the application of all the movements as Master Itosu did not know all the original applications to pass on.

Today, the emphasis is placed upon kata being pleasing to the eye and the applications are rarely practiced and when they are they are ineffective, e.g. who stands 3 meters from their opponent and then attacks? Some karateka feel that the actual applications of kata have been lost and therefore the study of kata is best focused on the mechanics of movement rather than possible applications. Some use kata only for training kihon rather than application training.  Others consider kata to be derived from drills, e.g. a compilation of two man sets with the partner removed, with kata representing the culmination of what the student had learned, rather than being the primary vehicle for teaching techniques. It is for each karateka to form their own opinion.

What's in a name

Today we know the names of the kata and the names of each technique and stance present in the kata, however, once the movements of a kata are identified as specific techniques, the meanings become fixed, e.g.

As such, what is a dynamic process is reduced to a series of single movements and each of these movements can be:

However, once you name a technique, you limit its performance and potential applications.

We assume that techniques and movements have always had names, however, the teachers of old were less likely to talk about them or write down descriptions. Prior to 1900, Ko-ryū (old style) karate was taught in private, and at one time in secret. Teaching was usually confined to one, two or a handful of students who would be family or trusted close friends and who trained with that teacher for at least 10 years, often for life, in order to determine their character and their suitability to be taught. This was the tradition.

The teacher would demonstrate techniques and say, "like this," and the student would follow. The teacher was unlikely to elaborate verbally. Students, after learning the movements and sequence of kata, would also learn the meaning (strategy). The term "bunkai" might not have been used.

The study of applications was an essential part of the process of learning kata. An emphasis on "bunkai" as a subject only became necessary when the study of applications was simplified or eliminated following karate being taught in public in Okinawa and Japan. Teachers suddenly had to deal with large groups being taught in public and under public scrutiny.

Instead of training with a teacher for life, students trained for only a short period and as such teachers could only impart the most basic form of karate. Without personally knowing each student (or their family) for many years, a teacher might be unwilling to teach dangerous or 'dirty' techniques. Ultimately, private students and public students would be taught differently, e.g. private students would ultimately be taught everything, public students only some things.

Giving names to techniques and movements became necessary when books about karate started to be written in the 1920s. Each technique had to be named to accompany a drawing or photograph in the book. Often names were just descriptive or made up. If the teacher demonstrated a punch to the face, the author, might have used the term "face punch" or "head punch" or "rising punch." It is probable the teacher used no term at all except saying "like this."

How's the translation

But what if something has been lost during this process? Essentially, karate is “all-in” fighting where everything is allowed. This is why Karate is based on blows delivered with the hand, the foot, the head or the knee. Equally permissible are strangulations, throwing techniques and locks.

What if instead of punching, the teacher poked the attacker in the eyes, followed through with a punch to the windpipe, a strike to the solar plexus and a knee to the groin? Would this be written down? Whether it was or was not would be at the discretion of the author of the book may omit or sanitise a perceived violent of 'dirty' technique as being unsuitable for the intended readership.

Master Gichin Funakoshi wrote, “…in karate, hitting, thrusting, and kicking are not the only methods, throwing techniques and pressure against joints are included.” and later wrote "...all these techniques should be studied referring to basic kata.”

It is likely that early karate teachers had to overcome prejudice, mistrust and misinformation during this period, consequently, how the teacher taught would often depended on who was watching. Privately the teacher might show the full range of techniques to their students, e.g. striking techniques (atemi-waza), targeting vulnerable areas of the body (jintai kyusho), grappling (tegumi), joint locks (kansetsu-waza), chokes and strangles (shime-waza), throws and takedowns (nage-waza), and ground fighting (ne-waza). In public, they might only show a punch. The private students would understand what they did, and why they did it, however, others would come away with a different understanding.

Master Gichin Funakoshi thought that karate had changed considerably with its importation from Okinawa to Japan, “Hoping to see Karate included in the physical education taught in our public schools, I revised the kata to make them as simple as possible. Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too. The Karate that high school students practice today is not the same Karate that was practiced even as recently as ten years ago, and it is a long way indeed from the Karate I learned when I was a child in Okinawa.”

Indeed, many of the original techniques had been altered as "sport" karate became ascendant, e.g. originally Nijushiho included two fumikomi geri from kibadachi, however, in the mid-fifties the Japanese Karate Association changed the kicks to yoko geri kekomi for aesthetic purposes alone in competition kata. These kicks have since become the standard and as such karateka are attempting to find bunkai for a kick that was originally included to  'look good' and highlight the 'athleticism' of the competitor.

Consider, therefore, if we have inherited sanitised kata, what kind of bunkai will we practice? If you do not understand joint locks, strangles, throws and groundwork, how will you identify them in the kata? A punch to the face may not be as effective as a poke to the eyes, however, consider how permissible would this be in today's dojos? All change.

"Practice each of the techniques of karate repeatedly, the use of which is passed by word of mouth. Learn the explanations well ....." Master Ankō Itosu

Back to top


© Rainhill Kase Ha Shotokan Karate Academy.  All Rights Reserved.