EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
In this issue we have an interview with another young instructor, Paul Herbert, based in Kent. For me it’s great to know that we have such a wealth of talent in Traditional Shotokan karate and Paul Herbert is a perfect example of this. He is not only technically excellent but he also has some interesting ideas regarding training in a healthy way. After having a hip replacement at the very young age of 33 Paul Herbert can offer some sound, informed advice on this important subject.
I feel we in Shotokan are in safe hands when I see these relatively young instructors. For example Scott Langley and Liam Murphy who both have an article in this issue, being other such karateka. Of course they have new, fresh ideas but the basic principles and philosophy stay the same. Our Art will not die out as long as we keep producing this type of instructor. In Japan they have the brilliant Tatsuya Naka, all experienced instructors who are making a positive difference and moving karate forward. I also have to say that technically they have moved on from instructors from 50 years ago when karate was much cruder and probably more (unnecessarily) brutal – but very effective.
In the west the study of biomechanics has certainly helped in terms of improving technique and reducing injuries, the latter point being vitally significant. Nobody wants long term injuries but many of us older guys are now realizing the folly of our younger, naive years in karate. Although in truth, old-school-training took no account of what would happen to your body in the future, in later life, more’s the pity!
The reason why I wrote the article about aspects of self-defence is because one’s mindset changes massively when you get older. Self-defence focuses on defence/protection of your health, and your fitness with much less interest in the thought of trading blows and grovelling around on the pavement with some idiot. If you are over 55/60 years old I doubt that you frequent places where someone is likely to pick a fight with you. The physical aspect of self-defence is 85% likely to be of far more interest to younger karateka. Of course all our training is geared towards being able to protect ourselves but, the focus changes with age. In the end, all we are left with is ‘kata’. The ‘art’ aspect of the martial art we practise takes precedence.
Strength work, apart from karate is vital, it’s so important to stay strong as we get older, even more important than flexibility, or so the medical experts say. Fortunately karate training is great for flexibility and movement, so we’ve got that covered. When you see these young people gym- training with weights to get stronger, bigger, it’s not just solely to look good, it’s also their system/method of self-defence (to become strong). Don’t ever underestimate the advantage of being strong! You can have all the karate skill in the world but a very strong, aggressive adversary is a hell of a handful. The average Rugby player or American footballer or any power-based athlete would be no pushover, regardless of one’s karate ability. This is a fact!
Good health, good training. Editor.
SHOTOKAN KARATE AND ASPECTS OF SELF-DEFENCE. By John Cheetham.
I keep watching all the self-defence karate demonstrations and bunkai analysis etc, on YouTube and I’m still scratching my head. They certainly mean well, that’s for sure. There is some very impressive material, well worth viewing. I won’t name names but you only have to take a look to pick out the really good stuff, be it kata bunkai or just self-defence techniques.
However, the same old problem, or rather the same old obstacle keeps cropping up for me....and that is....the actual attacks of the people doing the attacking in these defensive scenarios is so incredibly difficult in order to be totally realistic. It’s almost impossible!
We just cannot bite each other’s noses, or ears, head butt faces or poke fingers in eyes, knee people in the groin etc, etc, which is what really happens in a violent confrontation. I’ve seen loads of ultra violent fights in my time and the ferocity, let alone the adrenaline fuelled speed and all out animalistic aggression of the attacks – are completely on another level from how we can practise in a dojo.
Meaning, it’s virtually, in fact totally impossible to replicate these types of scenarios in a dojo or class/teaching environment, regardless of how much protective gear one may wear.
The nearest I’ve ever seen to ‘get down dirty’ reality training and heard relevant comments from, was from Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson some 25 five years ago, who both had hands-on experience in this field before karate people jumped on the bandwagon. They were not figuring out kata applications wearing a white karate-gi or making lots of money from martial arts back then, they were working the doors in very tough cities as part of earning a living. You should read Geoff’s early books to get the idea.
When I worked as a resident musician in one of the toughest clubs in Manchester in the late 1960’s, namely the ‘Paddock’ club, they only had two doormen, Scotch Ronnie and Big Stan. They had and used only two techniques which I witnessed on numerous occasions, Ronnie’s was the head-butt and Stan’s was a thumb in the eye followed by a huge right cross, sometimes they worked in unison! Then the poor sod on the end of this assault was physically thrown down the incredibly steep, narrow flight of stairs which was the only entrance to the club. There was no mercy, it was brutal!! Doormen in those days could virtually get away with murder! I’m sure the law has changed dramatically these days and doormen have to be a lot more controlled in violent situations. However, I certainly don’t envy them their job as nowadays they often have to wear stab-vests, or even bullet proof vests in some cases, which did not happen, in the 60’s and 70’s to my knowledge.
I often think that when we talk about self-defence, what is often overlooked is the type of attacker we will deal with. If it’s a road rage incident for example it’s usually someone who is simply stressed out by the incident and it should not come to blows. This is a totally different situation from being confronted by the hardened street fighter who will take anyone on regardless of the circumstances. But how many times will we come up against this type of thug? Unless you frequent shit places, (which then, is your own fault for putting yourself in that environment) you are hardly likely to have to defend yourself against such a violent person. When was the last time you (the reader) had a serious street fight? Exactly!! Probably years ago when you were much younger and more reckless and maybe had been drinking?
Another instance from working in nightclubs, I witnessed a fight where the guy head-butted three different people in a matter of two to three seconds. He was well known for this particular skill in this area of Manchester. I’ve seen noses and ears virtually bitten off by super-fast, mega-aggressive little men, where the far bigger adversary stood no chance and ended up in very serious trouble, a hospital case for certain, sometimes minus part of an ear or nose!
The point I am trying to make is that with the best will in the world the average student of Shotokan or any martial art for that matter, can only gain a certain amount of advantage in a real situation – by being fit, strong, spirited, technically adept and most importantly, wise; meaning, knowing when to either pre-empt the action or walk/run away – to live another day. Of course there is a big question regarding the law and a pre-emptive strike for self-defence. We all know that a pre-emptive action is without question the best option if faced with an actual threat, and most of us would worry about the consequences later.
There are some very violent people out there and as Terry O’Neill used to regularly say in his classes, “Karate develops nice people!” Exactly what Gichin Funakoshi intended when he added the ‘do’ to karate.
However, Terry O’Neill also used to add that being too nice can be a massive disadvantage against a person who is hell bent on doing you some serious physical damage!! You have to be able to turn on your nasty side in order to protect yourself.
It’s a fact that karate training in a traditional style dojo does change the character of most people, and for the better. How many times have you seen a new student join the class with a bit of an ‘attitude’ and after a year or so of regular dojo training you see a huge difference in their behaviour and general attitude. I’m sure many of the readers will have noticed this scenario in their own dojo, very often with young people and children.
I remember when I taught children’s classes, so many parents came up to me and said what a massive change they had seen in their son/daughter even after only a few months of karate training.
The vast majority of karate students or students of any martial art, are not natural fighters and very often not aggressively natured individuals. So, teaching them to defend themselves is not always easy.
From what I’ve seen over the years, the people who loved to do jiyu kumite on a regular basis, were the more naturally inclined to want to have a fight, even in a controlled (jiyu kumite) environment.
As it has been said many times before, there is a psychological difference between fighting and self-defence. And one of the differences is that the person who likes a fight (like the jiyu kumite people mentioned before), will probably have a far better chance in a real encounter because of their nature and psychological attitude to confrontation.
The karateka who is not too keen on kumite in the dojo, with the best will in the world, will most likely not have those same attributes and their skills could be rendered useless because they might freeze under the pressure of a truly violent attack. This does not apply to everyone of course but in general, it’s not far off the mark.
When you get to my age and can look back on your karate life, you see what has been important to you as an individual. There is a massive difference between Sport and Art. I, like everyone else competed when I was young and yes, I wanted to win. However, the competition only seemed like a small part of the whole training experience, even back then.
The training emphasis was on realistic, effective techniques and the philosophy of a classical martial art. Sport is flawed because everyone wants to win at all costs which includes ‘cheating’.
The karate-do philosophy is about developing yourself as a person. It’s only about you! You are not in competition with any other person other than yourself, or trying to compare yourself to another person, in the karate context.
Sport has its place and I love sport, especially football (soccer). I played in all the school teams like many other young boys at the time. I’ve been a Manchester United fan all my life (for my sins) because they (M.U) leave you in football- fan purgatory! But Sport karate to me dilutes the art of budo karate completely. Hopefully thousands of young and old karate-ka will continue in their pursuit of the ‘do’, the way of karate as a way of life. The bottom line is that our young karate-ka will miss out on the great benefits of studying karate-do as an art if they only think of it in terms of yet another Sport, where focusing on practising scoring techniques within the rules and Kata as a ‘show’ simply to please the judges is the normal approach to training.
By the same token all the people who are now practising so called ‘practical karate’, is that Budo? It’s focused on self-defence for sure but I don’t see the deep, profound budo philosophy of balance in all things. It appears to be in vogue, like a fad, like the vital points movement from several years ago. Do you remember that? There have always been fads in martial arts ever since Bruce Lee took us all on the journey in the early 1970s. People may criticise him (just an actor etc) but he set the ball rolling; without him many of us would never have begun this brilliant lifetime journey.
In the photo above/opposite you can see Peter Consterdine teaching pad-work wearing protective gloves. Don’t be critical of this because Peter mostly does impact training ‘not’ wearing protective gloves and has the strongest punch I’ve ever seen from a martial artist. It just happens that in this situation he was teaching mostly non- martial artists and they needed to wear hand-protection, unlike us (karate-ka) who should have developed tough hands from makiwara and or pads with bare knuckles.
The main reason I used the photo and talked about Peter Consterdine is that I feel that if all a person wants from martial arts is street self-defence, then they should seek out and train with people like this. They are experts in the field unlike the majority of karate instructors who have no real experience of actually street-fighting.
If you want karate as a ‘do’ form, a classical martial art form, a way of life, where self-defence is just a part of the whole process, but not the be-all and end-all, then traditional karate (for the want of a better term) is most definitely for you.
I must admit I don’t even think about what I would do in a potentially dangerous situation anymore, if it happened then hopefully all the years of training would kick in. The last fight I had was about 35 years ago and the training kicked in very quickly then, I hope I don’t have to find out if I could still do it. I bet this is the same for many people reading this now. This does not mean that I don’t still want to have strong, effective technique which surely is all part of the reason we train, but I have no interest in even thinking about having an actual fight again. I’ve experienced a couple of road rage incidents and talked the other person out of doing anything stupid before any punches were thrown. If that’s not self-defence, then what are we doing? Does it have to get physical?
Which brings me onto another point with regards to the self-defence aspect of how we train. I feel that most dojo do not spend enough time (if any) practicing open-hand techniques, e.g. shuto-uchi, haito uchi, teisho uchi etc. With so much focus on sport karate (punches to score points), open-hand techniques have been virtually abandoned in many dojo. What a great pity this is because here lies the opportunity to learn to get rid of all that tension when executing techniques.
Also, in terms of self-defence, it’s far easier for most people to throw an open-hand technique to a vital area (eyes, throat, neck etc) just using pure kinetic energy from the swing of your arm and body connection, than trying to find knock-out power in a punch when your legs have turned to jelly and your stomach has dropped to the floor!! Here’s a question; how often do you practise open-hand techniques as opposed to punching or kicking techniques in your dojo? A lot less I would imagine, maybe even just in kata?
The whole emphasis on punching in karate stems from the introduction of sport, (competition kumite) in the mid 1950s. I’m not saying punching didn’t exist before that, you only have to look at Okinawan karate and the emphasis on makiwara training etc, but it certainly took precedence when competition took off. Of course Okinawan karate also places great importance on open-hand techniques.
Getting back to this whole self-defence debate, I think if you are a young person going out at weekends in city/town centres where fights are most likely to occur, then the self-defence element of our karate training is probably of more interest and importance to you. This makes sense.
If you are a karate student over say, 50 years old, I doubt you will encounter the same problems. It may depend on where you live, what you do socially and where you go etc. It’s more likely to be a road rage incident, a neighbour dispute or if you are unlucky enough to become a target in a street mugging, then you ’might’ have to defend yourself. Otherwise your training is just that, karate ‘training’ simply because it’s part of your life, it’s what you love to do.
I think many karate students just love the thrill of training, the thrill of the movements with no burning ambition to become a fighting machine. They love the art of karate and the self-defence aspect is simply a bonus effect of what they do.
I’ve been studying Spanish for the past ten years, not because I have any burning desire to speak to Spanish people, just simply because I love ‘studying’ this particular language. There does not always have to be an ulterior motive for everything we do in life. If you enjoy and love doing something – just do it for that reason alone, what’s the problem with that?
There was one point I forgot to mention. We read all the time that defending against karate type attacks, (e.g. mae geri, gyaku zuki, oi zuki, uraken etc, etc, as used in various types of 3Ks kumite) is a waste of time with regards to actual self-defence? As opposed to trying to defend against street-type attacks; wild swinging punches, grabs, head butts etc. It’s a fair comment but there is one other aspect to consider.
We can look at it this way: 3Ks karateka can actually attack with their kumite options at maximum speed and intention. Meaning you have to be very fast, using good timing when either intercepting, reacting, evading, or blocking and countering etc. But when we watch the self-defence karate and kata bunkai, the attacks always seem to be delivered at half speed, with poor intention, totally compliant for the demonstrator to perform their magical defences!!
So, how would all that stuff work if someone was REALLY attacking them with real-time speed and intention? An average amateur footballer (soccer) would head butt you before you could blink! I do appreciate that practising close-range self-defence techniques is very difficult to do at flat-out speed because of the danger involved; we can’t damage each other – BUT isn’t that the whole point of why they are training in this way? There are two ways of looking at this little debate! There are very grey areas and that’s for sure!
Another point regarding self-defence; age plays a major role, because you think very differently as you get older. The art of karate-do is also for self-preservation and health. If that’s not defending/protecting the ‘self’ – what is? The 70s plus guys who still try to train as if they were 30 will have to lose reliance on muscle tension-brute force. It won’t last guys! As we get older we have to change, make karate softer. However, soft definitely does not equal weak, but you will only find this out later in life if you continue training – in the ‘way’.