April 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

January 12

Take Your First Basic Steps with the Tai Kyoku Exercises

As a way to dust off the mat rust after having taken a sabbatical for half a year, one of the best ways I thought to get back into martial arts practice was to review the Tai Kyoku exercises. The Tai Kyoku exercises, which are believed to be more than 350 years old, can be translated to mean “first basic steps” or “body side forms.”

If you have trained with us in the past, “Tai Kyoku” likely rings a bell. Up until now, our students have been practicing a modified, condensed version of the Tai Kyoku exercises: Tai Kyoku Kumi. “Kumi” can be translated to mean group; I have mostly heard that term in reference to a “combination.” In other words, Tai Kyoku Kumi would be a grouping or combination of the first basic steps.

However, in an effort to adhere to Shuri-ryu standards, I have decided to reintroduce the Tai Kyoku exercises for our students.

There are three Tai Kyoku exercises. The first (Tai Kyoku Ichi) follows the I or H pattern we have in Tai Kyoku Kumi and consists only of low blocks and low punches. Middle blocks and middle punches make up Tai Kyoku Ni, and Tai Kyoku San features only high blocks and high punches. There are no kicks found in any Tai Kyoku exercise.

I have several goals for incorporating the Tai Kyoku exercises into our curriculum. One I’ve already mentioned, and that is to follow Shuri-ryu standards. Another goal is to stay simple. We should be less worried about which levels we are targeting (low, middle or high) and instead concentrate on whether the moves for each individual exercises were effective. Finally, these exercises are the introduction to kata. It is important to perform these exercises correctly in order to move on to more advanced kata.

“The Tai Kyoku exercises were created by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) as basic introductory movements in preparation for the more advanced Pinan (Ping an) (Heian in Japanese and Chan an’s in Okinawan),” writes Master Robert Trias in “The Pinnacle of Karate.” “It is believed they were introduced by Chen Yuen Ping in 1644.”

In other words, Funakoshi standardized the Tai Kyokus.

(The Pinan/Heian katas are not included Shuri-ryu, but are found in many other styles of karate.)

Writing a short biography on Funakoshi is beyond the scope of this article, although it is worth noting that Funakoshi founded the Shotokan style of karate in the early 1900s. One of Funakoshi’s top students, Makato Gima, taught Master Trias (who is credited as bringing karate to America, and was an instructor to Mr. Hawkey, my primary instructor). As I complete more research, I would like to share more about Funakoshi with our students. Until then, I would encourage all students to pick up a copy of his Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate.

February 6

February 2012 Newsletter – Metamora Martial Arts Turns 10!

It’s official

Metamora Martial Arts is 10 years old this month! I’m happy to say I’ve been a part of the program for more than eight of those years. In that time, I’ve been with us as we welcomed a blue Power Ranger, performed kata in the Atlantic Ocean at Cocoa Beach, opened three satellite programs, presented seminars and demonstrations for hundreds of people in the Peoria area, and trained dozens and dozens of students.

Thank you to everyone who has bowed with us over the past 10 years. Here’s to 10 more!

For more milestones, check out February’s “This Month in History” post.

10th anniversary party

To celebrate our 10th anniversary party, we’re throwing a potluck dinner on Saturday, February 25, from 5-8 p.m. in the study hall room at MTHS. Current students, their parents, as well as MMA alumni are welcome to attend. Please bring a dish.

Wish us a happy anniversary!

In late January, I reached out to more than two dozen Metamora Martial Arts alumni. I’ll be posting their responses on our blog as I receive them.

If you would like to wish Metamora Martial Arts a happy birthday, please email me at adam[at]metamoramartialarts[dot]com for how you can get involved.

Upcoming competitions

We’re going to competing in a few tournaments this spring, and I’d love to take a big group with us to any of the following events. The Supreme Way Challenge, hosted by Kosho Kai Karate, is Saturday, March 10, in Pekin. On Saturday, March 17, Auvenshine’s School of Taekwondo hosts their 13th annual tournament in Springfield. Entry for one event is $40 for each tournament, plus another $5 for each additional event.

In May, I’d like to attend a tournament hosted by Morrow’s Academy of Martial Arts. I’m unsure of a date, but Morrow’s tournament is another reasonably priced event located in Moline. When I receive more information, I’ll post it on our website.

We’ve done well at both tournaments before. I’ve found that our students enjoy connecting with students of other arts.

Competitions are by no means a requirement for promotion, but exposure to other martial arts help provide a better understanding of the art we study.

Instructors meeting

Basic and advanced class will be canceled on Thursday, Feb. 16. The instructors are working on updating our curriculum and policies. We’ll be taking that day to meet and start setting some standards.

Metamora Martial Arts instructors have been notified via email of the time and location of this meeting. Please check your email. If you did not receive one, please contact Adam.

Quote of the month

There is no single point that marks the completion of karate training; there is always a higher level. For this reason practitioners should continue training throughout their life. –Gichin Funakoshi, “The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

Gichin FunakoshiFunakoshi is referred to as the “father of modern karate.” He is credited as having introduced Okinawan karate to Japan and he founded Shotokan karate.

I thought his words were fitting for our anniversary. Sure, we’ve been doing this 10 years, but we’re still working to achieve more goals. I’m confident in my abilities, but I recognize where I need work. We all might think Mr. Hawkey has all the answers – and he does have a lot – but I’ve seen him hesitate and really think through movements and applications before. My tai chi chuan instructor, who’s been in the martial arts 40+ years, will still tell you areas where he believes he needs improvement.

The point is, the martial arts is a lifetime pursuit. We’ve only just scratched the surface.

-Adam Bockler

March 28

Master Steve Aldus: Above all, I value respect

Last month, Mr. Aldus wrote a great piece about a student testing for black belt who received encouragement from his karateka. His inspirational story directly translates to a piece we introduce this month about respect.

“I value rei above all else,” Mr. Aldus said. “Rei is simply defined as respect. I appreciate Master Gichin Funakoshi’s concept of rei. As Master Funakoshi states in his treatise, The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate, “Karate-Do begins and ends with rei.”

Rei means much more than respect. It encompasses both an attitude of respect for others and a sense of self-esteem. When those who honor themselves transfer that feeling of honor and esteem-that is, respect to others, their action is nothing less than an expression of rei.”

Master Funakoshi also goes on to state,

It should be also noted that although a person’s deportment may be correct, without a sincere and reverent heart they do not possess true rei. True rei is the outward expression of a sincere heart.

“All martial arts begin and end with rei. Unless they are practiced with a feeling of reverence and respect, they are simply forms of violence.”

In addition to rei, Mr. Aldus also lists other aspects of the martial arts that are important to him: “friends I have met during my journey in the martial arts, the students with whom I had the privilege and honor in sharing knowledge passed down to me and the benefits to my health – physically, psychologically and spiritually.”

Having learned what a martial arts practitioner of more than 40 years values most about the martial arts, what about you? What do you value the most?