Thursday, 17 April 2014

A few things about kata bunkai- and the application of forms in other martial arts

I always believe that if you really want to know the essence of any style- you should study its kata. Styles without kata- well... it's just that much less fun.

So far- I have been lucky enough to have an instructor who taught me the application of each movement in the kata I have learnt. I have also learnt later on that not all forms are a rehearsal of combat techniques. Often the kata in itself is an exercise to develop speed or power. In this post I will give a couple of hints on understanding kata better.

Here are some pointers:

1. A slow kata is meant to develop power and technique. This means that you pay should pay attention to aspects such as your stance and breathing, when your muscles have to be relaxed and when which muscles have to tense.

2. Fast katas are meant to develop speed and agility. This is no chance to take shortcuts through movements, though... Best approach is that each defensive movement is to be done as if defending against a real opponent and each attack as if attacking an opponent for real- with full force!

3. Kata movements do not always appear as they would in an actual combat situation. The reason for this is that the movement- if not the entire kata- is meant to teach a principle- not a technique. It is also cautious not to display all your knowledge to potential enemies.

4. Grabs and throws often exist in katas, but not every grab or preparation for the throw is shown in the kata.

5. Because of the technique of "imaging through" an opponent attacks, pulls and pushes in forms are often longer, further and deeper than they would be in real life. This is to encourage you to pull with more force or to hit as though to hit through the target.

6. And- sometimes movements in kata are actually smaller and less detailed than what they would be in real life.

That's it for now. Have fun training. :) 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


Depending on the type of competition or whether it is a real fight or competition it is very important to know what  distance is close enough to touch the opponent and what range is close enough for some real damage.

This fight probably comes to anyone's mind when we think about fighting a taller opponent.

The Legendary Musashi Miyamoto is said to have fought a samurai called Kojiro. Kojiro's advantage in combat lay in his sword, which was longer than what was the norm at the time. Musashi, however, remedied the situation by beating Kojiro to death with a wooden oar which he had modified to fight with.

I am not going to deal with projectile weapons and guns here. Everyone knows that the range of those is far longer than even a 7 foot staff can muster. What I will discuss, however, is what assumptions about range are wrong- and even dangerous- and which approaches deliver the best results. 

First of all-It is not always a good idea to stay out of your opponent's attacking range:
It is a good idea to stay out of his reach, but not always to stay too far away. Let me explain:
Suppose you are fighting an opponent who is taller than you. Sure- all his kicks and punches are missing you, but does he stop chasing you? I bet not. I also bet that he eventually catches up to you. How many blows have you landed, though? 

Now, let's picture this:
Instead of retreating you have slipped past that side kick. That kicking foot is behind you. The opponent's nearest hand is right in front of you while the other is on the other side of his body, safely away from you. And you have both fists primed and ready to strike... Looks a lot better, right?

I think we all have seen basic stick defences showing relying on you to get in close, past the weapon, in order to counter attack. Well- a lot of tall people don't need sticks to improve their reach, but their long limbs eave them vulnerable to those fighters who can get past those fists and feet and deal some damage.

On the other hand- It is a silly idea to try to get inside the attack and defense of a shorter opponent. Really now. You hardly need to move back even... Keep him (or her- ladies can be just as dangerous) too far to hit you, but close enough for you to hit. 

Lastly- competition karate (semi-contact competitions) trains participants to get only close enough for that fist or foot (I know of a case where a point was awarded for someone's big toe brushing against the opponent's nose!) to touch its target. Really good for that type of sport. Really bad idea if you have any UFC aspirations or if you actually have to defend yourself. The best way to find your range is to train against a punching bag. That distance at which you can land nice solid blows and maybe even get that choke or grab in is where you should be working. Train your reflexes to slip, duck and block those blows, but make sure you get there to land those blows. Attacking a real opponent may often feel like running through a jungle- often having to sweep one or more branches out of your way to get where you are going...

Have fun training and feel free to contact me with any questions, tips or stories at

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Many different ways to skin a tree- A perspective on different styles of martial art.

Judo is not the only grappling art, neither is Taekwondo the only art that uses kicking. 

It would also help to know that the developers of most of these arts we see today had something to work from.

Now kung fu fanatics would be quick to tell us that "all martial arts under the sun come from Shaolin", but that statement ignores the fact that the Thai and Indonesian people have been kicking and punching long before Shaolin even existed. So did a lot of people in Asia, actually...

Karateka would actually also have to admit that their styles are a lot younger than jujitsu and Chinese martial arts (in other words- kung fu).

This knowledge has been lying around in my mind gathering dust, but may be new and useful to some who are considering which martial art to take up. I'll give a list below of some of the most well known main styles and their most obvious attributes- along with the arts that had developed from them:

(Tradition: Bujutsu- meant for warfare and later on for peacekeeping.)

Main Styles:

Taiho jutsu a.k.a Jujutsu (Mainly Grappling, but also known to use striking)

Weaponry (I can list a lot of weapons here, but let's stick to the katana)

- Kenjutsu (swordsmanship- meant for actual combat. Uses a bokken- wooden training sword that hurts like hell and that can even kill!)
  - Developed from Kenjutsu. This is mainly for sport and exercise. Uses protective gear and shinai- a bamboo sword that is safer than the bokken, but you still don't want it to hit you...)                                 

Karate (mainly intended for self defence)
- Karate is a bit tricky because of its different styles. Most karate styles like Goju, Shorin and Shito Ryu can be traced back to its Te- roots in the Ryukyu Islands and even further back from there to China. Styles like Shotokan and Wado Ryu actually contain techniques from Japanese Jujutsu as well as Okinawa-te. Then we have Kyokushinkai, which was developed much later with incorporation of Taekwondo techniques. Despite the Japanese terminology, one can therefore not really say that karate comes from Japan or that it belongs to the Japanese.


Now once again- long before Shaolin the Chinese knew how to fight. I never cared to research those systems in detail though. What most people care about are these two.

(Based on Buddhist principles. By Buddhist- I mean mostly Cha'an or Zen Buddhism)

-18 Weapons (Mmmm... the name says it all)
- Shaolin Fist (This has many variations already. Employs kicking, punching, striking, grabbing and grappling.)
  - Drunken Fist
  - Wing Chun Quan
  - Hung Gar
  - many, many others...

(Based on Taoist principles. Fighting techniques, though, are generally accepted to be derived from Shaolin techniques)

- Taijiquan (Any introduction needed?)
- Hsingyiquan (Mainly Chinese boxing, but also has some grappling and kicking)
-Baguazhang (Lot of circular movements and open hand techniques)

(Traditions- Taekyon and Hwarangdo. Purposes ranged from military training to fostering patriotism)

- Tang Soo Do (mainly sport, but an effective combat art. Uses punching, kicking and combat applications also employ open hand techniques and grappling. Developed from Chinese and Japanese systems.)
-Taekwondo (see the Olympic Games. Developed from Chinese and Japanese systems. )
-Hapkido (Korean Aikido)
-Kumdo (Korean Kendo)

I could also mention Thailand, but do not know much about them beyond Muay Thai.

Whichever art you may choose, I hope that this information helps you along your way to find a style that suits your personality. Any further questions can be directed to me at

Saturday, 5 April 2014

What good is training alone?

Bruce Lee himself was more than willing to do away with katas, but definitely not sparring. He also referred to shadow boxing as "homework for sparring". I am certain that a lot of coaches and instructors will also tell you that you can't expect to be a competent fighter without sparring. I agree to a certain extent- as you will need to have some data on what to expect in a real fight.

One training tool I wish to introducein this post is the imagination. I did give a short reference to it in a post of a couple of years ago, but never spoke about how to use it in a way that works.

I have left our Shotokan dojo in 1998. From this time I have been practicing by myself. The first things I have discarded were the katas that were always the same pattern of techniques, but not quite the stuff that would get me out of trouble. From that point on I began imagining attacks of all kinds against me during practice. I'd feel the panic of being cornered, the quiet anticipation of a coming attack and the clash of limb against limb. My visualisations were real enough to actually train fast reflexes and quick movements.

The first time I have put this training to the test was in 2002. I found myself actually blocking attacks without thinking and  seizing openings without trying. Well- after all- I had lots of practice.

Today- being back at the dojo, and in the first jiu kumite session after more than a decade, I saw again that this training has paid off.

If you have no choice but to train alone, don't think it silly to have imaginary opponents. Bear in mind that physical conditioning is necessary too when practicing alone as being accustomed to physical pain is what sets any fighter apart from a non-fighter.

Readers are welcome to contact me at with any questions, tips or martial arts-related stories.