September 20

Iain Abernethy: 6 Principles of Kata

For the second time this year, I trained with one of the best applied karate proponents in the world.

Dave Hawkey, Iain Abernethy and Adam Bockler pose for a picture

Mr. Hawkey, Mr. Abernethy, Mr. Bockler

Mr. Iain Abernethy made one of his few U.S. visits to suburban Kansas City last weekend to teach applications/analysis – bunkai, if you will – for several karate katas, including the Pinan/Heian series, Naihanchi and Bassai. Our students may recognize Naihanchi and Bassai, but the Pinan/Heian katas are not included in Shuri-ryu.

This time was different for several reasons.

First of all, Mr. Hawkey made the journey with me. He and I have worked privately over the last year or so, often employing and referencing Mr. Abernethy’s books and ideas in attempting to decode our forms.

Secondly, I volunteered myself to be Mr. Abernethy’s uke. What does that mean, you ask?

It means for the duration of the seminar, I felt first-hand what his techniques felt like. When we split off to work with our partners, I felt like I was able to help mine better understand the technique because I was able to comment on my body positioning to let them know if they had the technique properly applied.

Finally, I was able to record around 8 hours of footage for my personal media library – in other words, you won’t see any videos on YouTube (for now, at least). Mr. Abernethy has asked for a copy of the footage, which he may upload at a later date.

Mr. Abernethy is not necessarily concerned with techniques. Instead, he teaches principles. If you’ve read his books, you’re likely familiar with these:

  1. Whenever you take a stance, that represents where the body weight should be.
  2. The non-striking hand is either telling you where he is or getting limbs out of the way.
  3. Your angle is wherever you’re in relation to your attacker.
  4. Kata was designed for civilian combat – actual self-defense – and not a consensual fight between people.
  5. Kata teaches things in order – as the form progresses, so do the movements ideas.
  6. The karate of old is holistic – in addition to striking, it also teaches throwing, choking, strangling and more.

This 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 times there (April was his first visit to Chicago).

Mr. Abernethy will return to the States in May 2014 to once again teach at Enso in Chicago. I would highly encourage any serious karateka to attend make plans for that weekend.

Thank you to Mr. Dan Kennedy for organizing the event, thank you to the partners that helped me try to work some of these principles and techniques, as well as the other martial artists I had the chance to connect with, and thank you to Mr. Abernethy for a jam-packed weekend of karate.

As a result of attending this seminar, my plan is to incorporate these principles into Metamora Martial Arts in order to teach even more effective martial arts and self-defense.

View more photos on Facebook via Lenexa Karate

April 12

Forms Training for Tournament Competition

Last night’s advanced class featured one of my favorite drills for competition training – drilling one form 16 times in four different ways.

It’s very tiring when done right, but I know it can lead to improved tournament preparation. I credit this drill – along with regular practice and instruction – for the numerous 1st-place trophies I’ve accrued at martial arts tournaments.

Mr. Bockler competes at the 2009 Metamora Martial Arts Open Tournament

Mr. Bockler competes at the 2009 Metamora Martial Arts Open Tournament

You’ve picked two forms – your primary form and your back-up form. You know you need to spice up the form for competition, so you’re not necessarily concerned about practical application. Knowing the difference between practical application and competition is crucial.

For competition, we emphasize the “art” of martial arts. We want the form to look good. We still want to know the application, and we still want to show intent of destroying opponents, but everyone should acknowledge that a competition form may not be the same as a practical form.

For example, competition forms may feature kicks to the head, slow, tense breathing techniques, elongated stances, and more graceful motions than we might use in a real fight.

In reality, for self-defense, we would keep the kicks low, perform our moves quickly, and keep a higher stance for protection and ease of movement.

Know that we know a little bit about the differences between the types of forms we can do, practice this drill with any of your karate forms, tae kwon do forms, kung fu forms and the list goes on.

I don’t have a name for the drill (yet), but let me explain it.

Four Times for Power

Facing a direction, perform your form four times for pure power. Don’t worry about how fast you go through; every move should break a board. That includes blocks, punches, kicks, and even the bow and the mudra.

These forms are all about destruction.

Four Times for Speed

Turn 90 degrees clockwise so you’re facing a different direction. Then, practice your form four times for speed. Make sure your attacks still have a focus and that you’re not just flailing your arms and legs out there.

You’ll probably notice your stances are a little higher up than usual. Your techniques will be sloppier, but we’ll take care of that in a minute.

Again, even the bow and the mudra should be done quickly.

Four Times for Grace

Turn 90 degrees clockwise again.

Now, practice your form for grace. This is where precision techniques and elongated stances come into play. Your muscles will probably be very sore after this if you aren’t using to working deep horse stances or deep front stances very often.

The movements should not be tense. In fact, you should be very relaxed. Focus on breathing and targeting.

Four Times Together

Turn 90 degrees clockwise one more time, and combine what you’ve learned.

To best demonstrate this, I’ll share with you how I’m preparing my form.

I open with a series of blocks. I do them with grace, and also with tension (advanced ranks will be working more with tension and breathing). On my last block, I do it very quickly, then explode with a series of powerful punches. Within 10 seconds, I have demonstrated all of the elements of a good karate tournament kata.

This is where you can mix it up. Maybe you would perform those blocks quickly, do a graceful final block, and then explode into your power.

As I explained to the students last night – think of your kata like the alphabet. There are certain ways for movements to fit together, just like there are certain ways for letters to fit together. Everybody has different handwriting. And most everybody will perform their form just a little bit different than everybody else.

Use this drill to make your kata unique to you.

Support Metamora Martial Arts as we compete at the North American Grand Nationals in Rockford on May 5!

March 22

Learning Wansu: Adding to Shuto

During this week’s advanced class, we added to the shuto. More specifically, we augmented it.

The augmented shuto, which looks very similar to shintai domei in the Pinnacle of Okinawan Karate, is found in numerous kata throughout Shuri-ryu. It can be used in a variety of ways.

For this article, though, we’ll restrict its use to the traditional block as described in Wansu kata.

Properly executed, the augmented shuto can be broken down into three steps.

1. Fingers touch at the hips

The tips of your middle fingers should be touching. All fingers are straight. Palms are facing straight down. Your hands should be at your belt level.

By bringing both of your arms over to your side, you start to coil the energy you’ll need to get the optimal benefit out of the shuto.

Advanced students should begin to think about the types of applications that can be performed using this motion.

2. Hands and forearms protect the head and body

From the belt level, the hands come up to protect the face as the arms come together to form a shield. Again, your body is still turned to the side, ready to perform a great shuto.

Again, advanced students should be thinking about how this move could be applied in self-defense.

3. Hands come to final position

The forward hand should be out in front. Keep the elbow pointed down and close the body while blocking with the blade of the hand.

The rear hand should be near your solar plexus.

Imagine holding a pane of glass in your hands.

Other Notes from Last Night’s Class

I decided to split last night’s classes into two 45-minute sessions. We were still hitting our 90 minutes, but decided that 30 minutes was just too short to teach the basic class, and 60 minutes was feeling long for the advanced class. We found that “just right” medium last night, I think.

In the basic class, students learned middle block, vertical punch and side kick, as well as what body parts they would target for each.

Next week, I plan to cover the three most basic principles in self-defense.

Want More Info?

Leave a comment and I’ll reply. That way everybody can learn!

March 11

Adair Rodriguez Places 3rd in Men’s Black Belt Kata at Supreme Way Challenge

Joshu Adair Rodriguez placed third in men’s black belt kata Saturday at the Supreme Way Challenge in Pekin. His Nan Dan Sho proved a stiff challenge for the tremendous competitors in our division. I performed Kanku Sho.

Supreme Way Challenge 2012 - Adair Rodriguez, 3rd place champion in men's black belt kata, and Adam Bockler I wanted to post a few takeaways from this tournament:

* I love what we do. I really do. I think are forms are cool, and I think how we do them is cool and works for us. But there are so many other cool martial arts out there. I saw some great forms competitors today who represented their school and their art very well. Several times I said to myself, “I have to learn that form!”

* In my studies of other arts, I try not to focus on the differences. However, I noticed students who were running the same forms we do that were running variants. I saw a Wansu that looked to be more performed at a 45-degree angle than a straight line. Adair saw a Go Pei Sho where a te uke usually on one side was on the other. Some people started their forms with or added a few “extras” along the way. But, again, the main idea is that they’re doing exactly just what we do with some modifications. It’s like handwriting – everybody does it, but each person has their own individual touch.

* I was struck by several martial artists who, several years ago, were still kyu ranks and were now black belts, taking responsibility for judging and really upping their competitive game. These martial artists competed in Metamora when we would host open tournaments, and it was great to see how they’ve advanced since our last one in 2010.

For those who asked yesterday that may be reading this: Yes, I’d like to eye an open tournament again. But first, we need to get our martial artists out to other tournaments to see how it’s done.

* Coaching your students from outside the ring is okay, depending on the rules of the particular tournament. Blatantly standing behind a referee and vocally disagreeing with the calls is unsportsmanlike, though at least a judge can choose not to acknowledge it. Getting in the face of the center referee and cussing him out, however, is not an appropriate way to handle those disagreements. There was an incident today between two instructors that I feel did not represent martial artists in the best light. Thankfully, this incident is in the minority.

* Kudos to Mr. and Mrs. Fink of Kosho Kai Karate in Pekin. They did a great job of making sure that things ran smoothly. And thanks to the Lincoln’s Challenge cadets who also volunteered their time to help out.

January 28

Learn to visualize

I can’t stress this enough. Learn to visualize.

For one, visualizing helps us see what we’re doing. When we’re performing a kata, we’re not just throwing our arms and legs wildly into the air. In our minds, our intent should be to picture attackers in our mind who intend to hurt us. It is our responsibility to make sure that does not happen. We shouldn’t just memorize a series of movements.

Secondly, visualizing helps us see where we are going. This is how we make it through the form. Think to yourself if you’ve ever been doing a form, had a brainfart, and forgot where you were in the movements. There’s a good chance you thought to yourself, “This isn’t the right place for me to be in. I know where I need to be for my next movement, and this isn’t going to help me get there.”

In some respects, we should be exhausted after performing a kata because, in our minds, we have just eliminated several attackers that wanted to cause us harm. We’ve fought a handful of attackers in a matter of 45 seconds.

I was inspired to write this post today after an article I read at YMAA. Yang’s Martial Arts Association has been around since the 1980s, and YMAA is a leading publisher in the martial arts industry. The article caught my eye because it focused on tai chi chuan, an art I’ve practiced now for a year and a half. But even though karate and tai chi chuan come from different traditions, the methods of visualization the two use are very similar:

“Even when you can do the form very well, it may still be dead. To make it come alive you must develop a sense of enemy. When practicing the solo sequence, you must imagine there is an enemy in front of you, and you must clearly feel his movements and his interaction with you. Your ability to visualize realistically will be greatly aided if you practice the techniques with a partner. There are times when you will not use visualizations, but every time you do the sequence your movement must be flavored with this knowledge of how you interact with an opponent. The more you practice with this imaginary enemy before you, the more realistic and useful your practice will be. If you practice with a very vivid sense of enemy, you will learn to apply your qi and jin (power) naturally, and your whole spirit will melt into the sequence. This is not unlike performing music. If one musician just plays the music and the other plays it with his whole heart and mind, the two performances are as different as night and day. In one case the music is dead, while in the other it is alive and touches us.” —Dr. Yang as quoted by David Silver, Yang Tai Chi for Beginners, Jan. 30, 2012