Apr 14

Iain Abernethy’s 4 Principles of Kata

Kata boils down to four main principles, according to a world-renowned martial arts expert.

Mr. Adam Bockler with Mr. Iain Abernethy at his seminar in Chicago

Mr. Adam Bockler with Mr. Iain Abernethy at his seminar in Chicago

Iain Abernethy professes practical kata application all around the world. Though British, Iain says both his surname and the spelling of his first name are Scottish. He’s traveled to many countries to teach martial arts seminars, some of which include Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the U.S. and Canada.

When I asked him where he’d like to teach but hasn’t yet, he replied, “Iceland.”

Last week, I spent a weekend training with Mr. Abernethy at Enso Studio in Chicago’s financial district. I started following him around 2006 or 2007 after reading Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder’s The Way of Kata for the first time. I liked Iain’s quotes the authors included in their book, and made the effort to like his page on Facebook and eventually follow him on Twitter. After several years of occasionally messaging and tweeting back and forth, it was great to finally meet him.

Martial artists, mostly black belts, came from all over North America to learn more about applying new ways of thinking to their forms – Texas, New York, Florida and even Canada were locations I remember hearing.

Kata Principle #1: “Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used … as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.”

This is a direct quote from Anko Itosu, who plays a significant role in the development of Okinawan martial arts after bringing karate to the Okinawan school system, and his 10 precepts of karate. (A special thanks to Mr. Abernethy, by the way, for posting this translation for free on his site.)

In other words, karate is meant for self-defense against someone else who isn’t trained in karate. It isn’t meant for sparring, necessarily, but as a means of avoiding an attacker or defending yourself.

Kata Principle #2: Both hands are active.

During the Friday night portion of the seminar, Iain talked about the nine throws of Gichin Funakoshi. Some of them he talked about in context of a kata, but only mentioned them briefly. (Jesse Enkamp also has some great photos and descriptions.)

In short, Iain explained that many people think katas are only about what the “active” hand is doing, as if it’s singular, whether it’s a shuto, a block, a punch, etc.

Instead, he said, think about the hikite, the hand the comes back to the waist or the chest. In his analysis of kata, the hand that comes back to the waist will typically have the other person’s wrist. The hand that comes back to the chest will usually have an elbow locked.

Some throws worked better than others. The upside-down hammer, for example, resembled a move that would likely look good in professional wrestling with two people working together to make it look effective, but would not work well for someone who didn’t want to lose a fight.

Kata Principle #3: Stances represent the way you need to shift your weight.

This may best be explained by illustrating the principle.

For example, in order to maximize the effectiveness of a wrist lock, you might step back into a front stance while yanking down on the attacker’s wrists.

Kata Principle #4: Angles are where you should be in relation to your opponent.

Rarely did Mr. Abernethy show a technique in which he was standing directly in front of his attacker. Instead, he often shifted so that he was still able to move in on his opponent, while his opponent was put in a bad position.

An easy way to imagine this would be cutting to a 45-degree angle. Your focus is still on that person, while that person is still headed in their original direction. Another way to think of this would be to get your nose out of the way, as Mr. Hawkey likes to say.

Thanks and Shout-Outs

Thanks to Sensei Jay, Sensei Denise, and everybody from Enso Studio for hosting the event at their beautiful dojo.

Thanks to Bill for picking up Sal and I at the dojo so we could get dinner.

Thanks to Jay Herbst and his daughter Nicole for being great to chat with about martial arts and letting me know I need to learn more about how Shuri-ryu helped form Shito-ryu. If you’re in the Fort Myers, Fla., area, support the new dojo Jay has recently opened up as part of Kurokawa Martial Arts.

And finally, thanks to my partner whose name I did not catch the spelling of. If you read this, please comment so you can get your proper credit.

Iain Abernethy’s Upcoming Seminars in the United States

At dinner, Iain said he had bookings through September 2014. I wanted to post his two listed U.S. seminar dates here for anybody reading who is interested in attending.

May 31-June 2 – Madison, Alabama

September 13-15 – Lenexa, Kansas

Adam Bockler

Sensei Adam Bockler is a 2nd-degree black belt in karate and the owner of Metamora Martial Arts. He's been in the martial arts since 2003, and has received instruction in tai chi chuan, Hsing-i chuan, judo, tae kwon do and XMA. Sensei Bockler was inducted into the 2014 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Karate Black Belt of the Year. He is the communications manager for Float Mobile Learning.

  1. Pingback: Iain Abernethy: 6 Principles of Kata | Metamora Martial Arts

    […] list of principles appears to be an evolution of the four principles he professed earlier this year in Chicago. Perhaps since this was a repeat visit to Kansas City, he expanded on the ideas from his first few […]

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