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conflict management and practical karate
Updated: 4 hours 51 min ago

Get a grip!

Tue, 2014-07-08 16:42

How do you use your feet?

A few weeks back I was reading an excellent blog post on ‘Old School Karate’ by Garry Parker of Columbus Dojo. He’d made a personal list of the things he did that he considered as facets of ‘old school’ karate. Obviously such a list is very personal: you can ask one hundred excellent and experienced karateka to list ten things and I imagine that while you’ll get a number of answers that crop up again and again, you won’t get one hundred identical answers, and it might be arrogant to say that any one of those answers was ‘wrong’.

One thing that was mentioned in his article (which you can read here) was the importance of learning to use the feet in karate. How we use the feet has immense importance for not only the feet themselves, but also affects how efficiently and effectively we use the ankles, calves, thighs, hips, pelvis… you get the idea. If the feet aren’t being used correctly then your ability to move, hold position, apply or receive power effectively is compromised, and so is your karate.

I train in two karate systems, one of which trains barefoot and one that wears footwear. As such I am very aware of the differences and similarities between the two approaches. Whether you train barefoot or in footwear it is important to recognise that they do create different dynamics. As an example here are two video captures of me stepping at speed barefoot and in trainers. In both the stepping foot hovers just above the ground as I step, but (without my being consciously aware of it) in trainers my heel automatically touches the ground first (just as it does in normal walking), a different movement to the flatter ‘ball first’ barefoot landing, even though in both my toes are slightly raised and then grip on landing.

While the actions of the supporting foot may be almost identical in both, often the stepping or kicking foot has a different ‘feel’ or position in footwear. Personally I think it’s important to be aware of the dynamics of each if you are possibly thinking that you might need to use your karate in footwear.

The positioning and ‘working’ of the feet is obvious when you are barefoot (if you know what to look for or if it is being highlighted by the teacher). What is less obvious is that the same things you do when barefoot are equally important to use the feet effectively when you are in footwear. How the foot is moved and grips within the shoe, just as when barefoot, has a knock on effect on the rest of your biomechanics. In fact I would argue that although hidden, correct use of the foot is even more important when shod than barefoot because of the sole between the foot and the ground. Even in heavy trainers I am always aware of the type of surface I am on (I can feel it through the shoe), and my feet are always relaxing and tensing in different ways to allow purchase or mobility.

As to which is old school? Using the feet properly is old school. Whether you do so barefoot or shod depends on location, preference, and practicality.

There’s a lot of detail in the feet. Whether you are barefoot or wearing footwear to train, those details should not be neglected. If you want to get a grip on your training, get a grip on your feet.

 


One step at a time: keeping the kettle boiling

Tue, 2014-06-10 11:12

Recently I found myself passing a few days under observation in the specialist surgery ward of one of the local hospitals due to an obstruction in my airway. While I was there one of the young nurses who had moved to the UK from Portugal came to talk to me about karate as she had seen my occupation on my notes and wanted to ask about training in Oxford. The problems the young lady faced were finding a club with a similar atmosphere and training regime to the Shotokan she had practiced in Portugal, and finding a way to train that could accommodate her varying shift patterns as a nurse.

I think both of these represent common issues for many martial artists, and in many respects her first ‘problem’ is probably more prevalent in the martial arts than in any other form of physical exercise.

The young nurse had trained to a 6 Kyu level in Shotokan in Portugal and was looking to continue in England. This should in theory not be a problem, after all Shotokan is one of the most popular and widespread karate systems in the world. The difficulty lay in finding the ‘right’ type of Shotokan.

I have trained with Shotokan karateka from eleven different associations in the UK that I know of, probably more besides at a few ‘big’ seminars back in the 1990s, and I’ve also been fortunate to train with American and European Shotokan karateka during my travels. Like any modern karateka of this age I’ve also been privileged to be able to see many more members of the same system (or indeed any system) share their training through video media on the internet. While there are many things that unite these karateka, it would also be fair to say that they are all different, in a myriad of subtle ways. A karate style so big and so widespread cannot be like a single set model of a car, absolutely standardized throughout the world (or even a single country). To continue the analogy, different ‘same style karate’ organisations have different interior trims, different in-car media platforms, different paint jobs, different brake and wheel types, different engine sizes running unleaded or diesel, and different fuel management settings programmed into the computer. There’s probably one that even has a Neil Diamond cassette tape in the glove compartment (you know who you are). Beneath all this they are still the same car, they are still ‘Shotokan’, but even then within different clubs in those associations the way you learn to drive that car (and how you are allowed to drive that car in class) will vary according to the instructor, as will whether different models are recognized as ‘the same’ and allowed to continue, or forced to change to their ‘default factory settings’.

It is a hard truth that every club (even within the same system) is going to be different. It is the sum not only of the style, but of the pedagogy of the instructor (team), the venue, and crucially the membership. The age and health diversity of the members, the mix of ages and sexes in class (or not), the aims of the students in training: all of these put yet another spin on the class. You cannot step into the same river twice: you have to accept that in training with someone else things will be different, but that different is not necessarily better or worse (for you) and the onus is on you to make the most of it. In moving from one area of the world to another it is rare that you will see something that looks ‘the same’ straight away, even in the same style of martial art: the important thing is to observe, choose something to try, and accept the potential offered by the change. As I have written in short blog posts about contact in training, six things you should do in your training and speed in training, variety and different training methods can all bring benefits.

Attending a new class can be daunting, whatever your grade, because those pesky belts can carry expectations. That can especially be true if work and family patterns mean that despite your enthusiasm and best intentions, actual attendance is irregular. The less you attend a class, or the larger the gap between lessons, the harder it can become to return. Self containing walls of comfort, fatigue and apathy are surprisingly easy to build.

Irregular training is the death knell of martial arts participation and progress, but it is not the same as infrequently attending class. As Gichin Funakoshi observed in his 20 precepts,

“Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”

  • Not being able to get to class does not mean you cannot train.
  • Not having the time to build a sweat doing karate (or any other martial art) does not mean you cannot train.
  • Training is cumulative: regular short practices will maintain (and can improve) your technique (and flexibility, and concentration, and strength, and resolve to continue to attend class) if not your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.
  • Short intensive bursts of non karate exercise for aerobic and anaerobic benefit can complement slow methodical karate training with results that are on a par with (or superior to) long ‘treadmill’ aerobic karate (or other martial arts) classes in a club.

Since I first began training in karate I have taken a rather literal leaf from Gichin Funakoshi’s precepts. I almost always do karate while I’m boiling the kettle, or if not boiling the kettle then while I’m keeping an eye on something that’s cooking.

This is an easy free time to train. I’ve trained in kitchens big enough to do entire forms, but actually all I really need is the space to stand in a stance and rotate my hips. Good quality training does not have to be complicated or require lots of space, or even lots of continuous time: repetition is the key. On the spot (whether for a minute or five or twenty between other little jobs) I can work on almost anything. Even if I can’t make someone else’s class, or set aside a full hour for training on my own at home, I can still manage anywhere from five to sixty minutes in a day in short stints if I really want, and it does all add up. This keeps the kettle boiling and the water hot. It is not a substitute for paired training or attending classes, but a complimentary way of maintaining and refining elements of your skillset so that when you do work with other people you get more from the experience.

Keeping training does not have to be hard if you take it one step at a time.


Kicking in self defence

Mon, 2014-05-19 14:46

To kick or not to kick, that is the question.

This debate comes up regularly on martial arts forums and such discussions tend to produce variations on a number of regular characters:

  1. The person who is convinced that whatever he or she does in class will work.
  2. The person who sees kicking as a low percentage strategy but advocates low kicks if kicks are used at all.
  3. The person who has used kicks ‘in real fights’ and therefore believes that they are a high percentage effective strategy, especially high kicks.
  4. The person who has used kicks in competitive fighting and therefore believes they can do so in self defence.
  5. The person who has no opinion but just wants information.
  6. The troll.

So who’s right?

When it comes to applying martial arts techniques in self defence, context and training methods determine the results. We get good at what we train for.

If you don’t train kicks regularly then the likelihood of being able to use them in a self defence situation decreases considerably. Whether you can use kicks bears no relation to what someone else has reputedly done in self defence or in the ring, it depends not only on how much you train them, but how you train them. If the opportunity to kick comes in the form of relative positioning and pressure that you are used to then you are likely to be able to employ that skillset. Everything comes down to how you train and to a large extent how many of the six things you should do in physical training for self defence are present in your approach.

Last year I put together a video showing all the kicks and attempted kicks used by participants from a range of different martial disciplines in my scenario training. The clips came from hundreds of simulations, but featured very few kicks indeed. This was in part due to the enclosed environment, but primarily because most people had no experience in trying to kick at that range under those conditions. Although we don’t kick in many of our regular drills, my students kicked the most because the environment and range was familiar. This video contains profanity from the start.

So can you kick in self defence?

Only you can decide that.


Biting the bullet

Tue, 2014-05-13 15:24

At some point in time almost everyone who exercises will sustain an injury that limits their ability to train in the martial arts. It may occur during training or randomly in daily life. Even those who are lucky enough to avoid breaks, sprains, strains, or hernias may catch a cold or flu, or have to miss training for a period of time due to a medical condition. Those who successfully avoid any of these hurdles may find that family or work commitments may also interfere with training. It is rare to find anyone who has trained for a sustained amount of time who hasn’t had something external happen that could have stopped them from training.

I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the time I’ve been training in the martial arts; I even started karate with a broken wrist in a fibreglass cast. I’ve also had two transplants since I began and a number of other operations, in addition to having permanent catheters that went into my abdominal cavity and also into my bloodstream for several months. I’ve also worked in jobs that consisted of shifts spread through both the evenings as well as the day and over thirteen days a fortnight. As a result I can empathise with people who have had to miss training for a few weeks.

It’s easy for a few weeks to become a longer period of time, or even never. The longer you stay away from training the harder that first step of going back can seem. It’s easy to find excuses not to go: that little muscle twinge, feeling tired, housekeeping that needs doing, that good program on the TV, or the simple appreciation of how comfortable the couch is. Training is always a little bit harder when you return after a period of absence, particularly if you have had to recover from a physical injury or operation. In some respects it is like being a beginner again, only your brain knows what you want to do and the body doesn’t comply, or the body complies but isn’t flexible or strong enough to do so without giving you considerable aches and pains the next day. Pain which your prior level of conditioning may have led you to forget.

Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, accept that it isn’t going to be easy, and make the effort. The longer you stay away the harder it will be. In the past I have trained with clubs as quickly as possible after major surgery because I knew that the longer I left it, the less likely it would be that I would return. I have also trained with tubes going into my body taped to the outside.

Good instructors are not monsters. They would rather see you training slowly at the side, and getting advice to assist your physical recuperation, than have you leave. If you aren’t ready or well enough to train, visiting and watching will help remind you of what made you stay before, and encourage you in your recovery.

Returning to training needn’t be torture, and the time you have spent away from training needn’t be detrimental. Stepping back a bit, watching others more, and working slowly can even be better for your skill development than the classes you missed.

To help you ease back into training, don’t expect everything to be perfect straight away. Your objectives should be SMART, that is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time limited. Don’t be disheartened if you have to be flexible with them, the important thing is to keep working, it simply means that you over-estimated how achievable something was in the timeframe you set.

Getting back up after being knocked down isn’t easy. Going back to train isn’t easy. But if you are able to bite the bullet and try, you may find you can do more than you thought possible.


Solo training, paired drilling and live sparring

Tue, 2014-05-06 15:49

There are lots of different ways to train in the martial arts. Different systems and indeed different teachers will weight their training along diverging lines according to their training aims, the student to coach ratio and the type of students they have. No matter how long we train, whichever way we turn, the roots of our progress lie in our attention to basic principles and the level of our understanding as to why we train in the manner we do. After writing a blog post on the subject of speed in training (here) I was asked about my thoughts on the relative merits of solo training, paired drilling and live sparring. All of these are useful forms of training, but in the majority of martial arts a focus on one alone will not develop as skilled or able a practitioner as the appropriate use of all three. The knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of each method should be understood.

 

Solo Training

Solo training can take many different forms. In this instance I am referring to training away from class or training partners rather than drilling techniques ‘solo’ in class. With this in mind the training can involve making contact on a striking surface, with all the benefits I described here, or nothing more than yourself and an empty space in which you can move. There are considerable benefits to training impact techniques solo against a bag, in particular the ability to go at your own pace and focus on elements in isolation, and not having one person neglecting their skillset by holding a pad (though being the pad holder can develop other useful skills – of which more later). Solo training is extremely valuable, and I would be the first to say that of all my training hours at least 70% have been solo, but it should never be seen as a replacement for any form of paired training, rather a complement to it. A practitioner needs to already have a good skill level to gain anywhere near the same amount of benefit from solo training as from paired training.

Advantages

Correct biomechanics – ‘perfect practice’

Facilitates injury recovery

Allows more time for high quality visualisation during techniques or drills

Means of maintaining or refining skill without a training partner

Can improve power generation and striking technique without ‘wasting’ a training partner’s time

Can improve applied strength and balance

Disadvantages

No external pressure

Very little feedback / resistance (in non impact work)

Limited value for techniques that rely on tactile feel (such as grappling) unless practitioner is extremely advanced and can utilize their memory to enhance rehearsal

Does not work reaction time

Limited value for training appropriate timing

Danger of rehearsing and ingraining poor technique, particularly in new students

 

Paired Drilling

Paired drilling is the form of training that makes up the majority of the classes that I teach. It can take the form of trainees attacking each other with pre-set techniques and defending with previously learned drills (with varying degrees of flexibility on either side according to speed and experience) or practicing power generation against partner-held moving or static pads, or even against an armoured partner, the benefit of which I have discussed previously here. The training can be done at a variety of different speeds depending on the desired outcome and format of the class. Depending on the system being trained, paired training can bring disadvantages as well as advantages. As an example, in self defence orientated systems students may often spend time drilling a less desirable technique such as a telegraphed haymaker for their partner rather than a less telegraphed pre-emptive straight palm strike or jab to the head, though a skilled coach can find ways to mitigate this. While a person is holding and moving pads for their partner to hit they are obviously not working their physical skills, which can be seen as a disadvantage, so it should be stressed that in doing so they are working their strength and stamina, often practicing maintaining their guard, developing a combative mind-set by standing fast against their partner’s attacks, and learning more about how both to use a technique and defend against it by observing their partner’s telegraphs and overall biomechanics.

Advantages

Immediate feedback – pad work / pre-arranged combative drills

Controlled predictability allowing for technique learning, introspection, observation, coaching and refinement

Develops distancing and timing appropriate for the activity being trained

Excellent for developing reaction speed

Can improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness

Can improve confidence

So long as students are not complacent can allow fast training with a high degree of safety

Disadvantages

Often benefits one person’s physical technique more than another, especially in self defence training and pad work

Can be inappropriate for a student with injuries or medical problems

 

Live Sparring

In theory live sparring may be what the majority of martial artists aspire to. If you are training for the competitive arena, or for self defence, the ability to execute techniques with precision at full speed under the pressure created by unpredictability is surely one of the most important aims of any trainee. There are many advantages of training this way, both psychological and physical.

Training unpredictably brings with it the danger of being hit – and the natural fear in many people of pain or injury. This in turn puts an element of pressure in the performance that cannot be matched in other forms of training (unless students are engaged in drilling where they have to be hit). Successful selection and performance of techniques under the conditions of live sparring builds real confidence appropriate to the arena being trained.

In physical terms, only unpredictable training can assess the accuracy of a student’s ability to read body movements and spot the telegraphs of techniques in time for threat avoidance, and put their reaction time and speed of movement to a real test – whether in attack or defence.

The disadvantages of live sparring are linked to its role within the training regime. When a person moves fast and are under pressure, or even if the live sparring is done slowly and they are simply having to improvise in reaction to an unexpected event, they tend to make mistakes: non optimal postures, over-extension, greater telegraphing, not enough torso or hip rotation to give a technique as much power as it could have. How well a person performs in live sparring is dependant upon a number of factors, but two very simple ones are:

  • how familiar they are with working under those conditions,
  • how skilled is their existing technique.

Regular live sparring will address the first factor, but spending too much time in live training is likely to be detrimental to the second, since the more you rehearse a technique sub optimally – the more likely you are to perform that way consistently: practice does not make perfect: only perfect practice makes perfect.

Advantages

Only real test of practicable ability

Develops anaerobic fitness

Excellent for developing reaction speed

Develops distancing and timing appropriate for the activity being trained

Places students under psychological stress.

Disadvantages

Over use will reinforce poor technique

Generally does not allow for refinement as fine motor skills will be inaccessible if placed under real pressure

Can only be sustained for short periods of time.

 

Conclusion

 Just like judging a system by how many students it has, how many techniques it has or how fast they are training, something impressive and useful as live sparring can be a false indicator of the quality of training. A predominant focus on unpredictable training does not necessarily develop skilled students, and while a lot of paired drilling or solo training may be less visually impressive, it can not only be technically and physically demanding, but also be a reliable way to develop a high level of skill.   Too much of any type of training has the potential to be detrimental. Ideally training should be balanced, with different emphases on different methods according to the health and level of the student, but both students and coaches should know what they are aiming to achieve with each training method when they do employ it.

 

 


Building Scenario Training: Part Two – Creating the Aggressor

Tue, 2014-04-29 22:35

Introduction

In sparring a good training partner can be a revelation: someone who has the skill to push you to do better but also illustrate your weaknesses without destroying your confidence. The role of an aggressor in scenario training is very similar, but the attributes they require are often more mental than physical and they can even be technically far less skilled in fighting while providing extremely high quality training. Without good role-players scenario training can easily become no different from competitive sparring. Role-playing aggressors should have a number of different attributes and be carefully selected to ensure the safety and realism of the training.

 

An understanding of HAOV

Habitual Acts of Violence (HAOV) is an umbrella term that covers not only the most common physical methods used in the many different types of violent attacks, but also the body language, posturing, verbal assaults and other forms of aggression that may precede a violent event or characterise its de-escalation or aftermath. A good role-playing aggressor must be able to replicate the body language, talk and physical attacks found in the type of scenario being created in order to give the other trainees a good simulation.

 

Body language and posturing

The body language of an aggressor throughout a scenario determines both its realism and its outcome. If a role player cannot convey anger, aggression, frustration, arrogance or violent intent accurately through their body language then not only is the recipient trainee not going to get an accurate simulation that may put them under a degree of decision making pressure, but they are also not going to be able to learn when to make de-escalation or pre-emptive judgement calls in a safe training environment. In self protection training it is important to acknowledge that a large proportion of violent events occur unnecessarily because of poor interpretation of an aggressor’s body language and inadequate de-escalation skills. As such in a significant proportion of the alcohol related scenarios that I run the aggressor is briefed to back down if they are met with appropriate body language and verbal responses that enable them to save face (as not all aggressors really want to fight). If a role-playing aggressor cannot act out their own mental de-escalation when presented with an exit by the trainee, but maintain fixed in overly hostile body language or even continue to escalate in aggression, then a trainee may not even attempt to employ de-escalation skills or inappropriately strike pre-emptively to escape.

 

Verbal

The verbal element of recreating an aggressive or violent event for the purpose of training is extremely important. As I’ve discussed here in the past, there is a great difference between witnessing verbal abuse on television or in films, seeing someone else being verbally abused in person, using swearwords in a friendly exchange, and being on receiving end of a sustained aggressive verbal onslaught from someone in close proximity. This can place constraints on where and when scenario training can be run, especially if you don’t have your own venue. It is important for those giving the abuse to be able to pick appropriate language and have the capacity to deliver it.

 

Physical attacks

This is an area of scenario training that is particularly prone to failure when trainees are taking on the role of aggressor for the first time. There are three crucial aspects that must be addressed: the temperament of the person taking on the role, the techniques that are used, and the tactics that are employed.

  • Temperament - Even amongst the trainees who choose to engage in scenario training involving contact, there are many who do not have the temperament to take on the role of the aggressor, especially if it is their first time engaging in a contact form of training. Through no fault of their own many people do not naturally have the ability to shove or hit first. Furthermore in making an attack in a scenario an aggressor is also well aware that they can expect a physical response from the defending party or parties, and that in playing their role they cannot use their full range of skills to defend themselves. Some people will naturally have the right attitude to take on this difficult and vulnerable role, and in others it can be developed through experience in training, but selecting the right people is crucial for successful training.
  • Techniques - Getting the ‘attack’ right means that the role-playing aggressor must not only understand HAOV but also be able to employ them in an appropriate way in a scenario. There is a slight irony that while the role playing aggressor (who is more likely to be under less pressure having generally orchestrated and instigated the attack) has to limit themselves predominantly to HAOV, the non role playing defenders in a scenario often resort to HAOV under pressure (especially if they are not used to accessing their skill set in the training environment presented – see my post here) and swing windmilling punches, collapse failed punches into headlocks, grab and push without intent, or simply barge forward against an attacker. Furthermore the role player not only has to know how to realistically use the repertoire, but also in many cases how to hit fast without power, particularly when initiating an attack with a punch to the head from the defender’s blind side.

  • Tactics - Even before scenarios with more than one attacker or defender or bystander are introduced as training elements, there is a significant difference in the fight dynamic between in the first instance an aggressor attacking an unsuspecting defender or a defender engaged in conversation while trying to prevent a fight (in both cases with a clear intent to harm or knock out the other person and not expecting resistance), and in the second instance an aggressor attacking a fully prepared and ready to fight defender, knowing that is the case, and being cautious and probing to guard against skilled defence or counter-attack. The former only resembles the latter if the attack fails and the defence to it also fails, and then only if the original attacker has both the intent to continue the fight and the sobriety or emotional wherewithal to proceed with caution. This is why although using many of the same techniques, a self defence scenario (or real violence for that matter) looks different to a competitive fight. It is also why some things that we do not currently see in competitive fighting (but are traditional martial arts techniques) can work well in scenario training, while some of the competitive fighter’s repertoire (particularly the long range elements) may be inappropriate or ineffective. What can often happen is that the role player has not adopted the correct mind-set and as a result probes the defences of the other trainee (rather than simply going for them) resulting in a pattern of behaviour that more closely resembles sparring.

 

An understanding of different motives

 Violent events occur for different reasons and while this is obvious it is a game-changing factor that can be overlooked in ‘creating’ an aggressor for scenario training. Some people behave aggressively because they are genuinely angry and have had any normal inhibition against violence reduced by the influence of recent events (for example relationship or work problems), perceived anonymity, and/or substances (such as alcohol). Those same factors can also affect behaviour where the recipient of any abuse is known to the aggressor, with memories of perceived or real slights or abuse displacing anonymity as an inhibition releasing factor. Often such people do not really want to fight but to save face, especially if people known to them are present. Some people may behave in aggressive manner or utilise weapons as a means to an end, with no real intent to commit bodily harm (though when weapons are employed even an unwilling person may, in the panic of meeting unexpected resistance, cause a life changing or fatal injury). Others in the same situation may be only too happy to commit bodily harm. There are people who behave aggressively and intend to hurt people because it gives them pleasure and perhaps ensures status within their peer group. There are others who may commit extremely violent acts due to mental health problems, or who use violence as a means of (or to) sexual gratification. The important point is to recognise that different scenarios require different behaviour patterns on the part of the role-playing aggressor. People tasked with an aggressor’s role need to know why their character is doing what they are doing as it should affect not only the course of the simulated violent event but also whether or not a violence is the outcome of the scenario.

 

The ability to assess and vary contact

There are many different educational outcomes that can come from scenario training in addition to great fun (though for many it’s the same fun as the rollercoaster that you dread throughout your entire time in the queue, are filled with blind panic throughout the ride, and afterwards say “That was great, let’s do it again.”). One thing that is not an aim of scenario training is injury, whether short term or long term. Accidents can happen in training and as I outlined here there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risk, which can be higher than in normal training due to the number of people involved. A good aggressor has to be able to tailor their attack to the recipient: different ages and different amounts or types of training mean that the same level of contact is not always appropriate to create the same learning outcome, and the amount of force put into a protected part of the body (such as an armoured torso) is different to that which can be safely used on the head, particularly if the recipient can’t see it coming. Depending on the type and length of training run the ‘victim’ may have to run multiple scenarios and even role play an aggressor themselves, something that can’t be done if they get shaken or knocked out by an overly hard head shot.

 

Training and Picking Aggressors

There is a difference between being a good aggressor in scenario training and being a good martial artist. It takes a long time to be a good martial artist but often people require very little training to be excellent role players. Many very skilled martial artists, while having the control and ability to be able to judge how much force to use and to create safe realistic training, do not have the ability to act or to adopt the physical and verbal attributes of an aggressive person. That does not completely rule them out as ‘bad guys’ in a scenario: they don’t have to know they are bad guys, they can be told to simply be themselves and back up their ‘mate’ in a scenario, or to limit themselves to HAOV but back up their friend – the friend being the crucial role-playing aggressor.

Role players need to understand what the training is trying to achieve. They do not need to be psychiatrists. Demonstrations combined with video clips of real violence, plus an explanation of the types of attacker that might be used, is often sufficient for most people. Obviously the more experienced people are at this form of training (or handling real aggression) the better prepared they will be to create a good simulation.

One method of selecting aggressors is to have trainees alternate delivering verbal abuse to each other while continuously rotating pairs to see who has the acting talent. This is useful for identifying those who can deliver verbal abuse, those who can’t, and those who are intimidated or become aggressive – an important safety concern as to ‘who gets what with whom’ in training. Following this is the important element of contact acclimatisation, again with rotating partners, having trainees alternating hitting each other along a force continuum. This identifies who has the temperament to hit, but also educates each person in the training group as to the abilities and limitations of each participant, thus reducing the risk of excessive force being used. From these exercises a core group of potential attackers can be identified for the initial phases of training.

 

 

 


Straight or Bent

Mon, 2014-04-21 11:17

A Pinan / Heian Sandan application from Volume 2 of the Pinan Flow System.

I’m talking legs. In fact I’m looking at what you’re doing with your rear leg in sparring, pad work, or indeed any paired drills.

Every martial arts system, whether it be predominantly grappling or striking based, or whether it hails from China, the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, India, Malaysia, New Zealand or Europe, has a number of different foot and leg positions. These are often taught to beginners as ‘stances’ and in many systems we are conditioned at an early stage into thinking in particular ways about how to employ them.

I’m going to come out of a little karate closet, I believe that biomechanically (and therefore tactically) in almost every situation bent is better than straight.

Among the most important elements required to dominate a standing situation are the ability to move and effectively employ power or weight against another person. A bent rear leg achieves this quicker and with more power than a straight leg. The obvious ‘counter-argument’ to this is that a bent leg generally achieves the above by straightening, but there is a huge difference between straightening and becoming straight, and between thrusting and straightening.

Once the rear leg has thrust and initiated a process of power transference there is a moment of choice. The leg can continue to straighten: this effectively jams against any active return resistance (such as momentum of the target towards you) and checks forward momentum by placing the heel on the ground, but provides no further ability to drive forwards without give since a fully straightened leg has to bend in order to thrust again. Alternatively the leg can remain bent once sufficient thrust has been generated to drive forward or rotate the hips; if the foot stays where it is that gives less counter stability in the case of active resistance in the opposite direction, but a comparatively greater degree of hip rotation and arm extension which should transfer greater power. Another option is to carry the foot forward (not necessarily stepping through) post thrust with the momentum of the hip, then all the advantages of the bent leg are retained combined with the stability that easy heel placement with minimum give in a short deep stance can bring. The little elephant in the room being that when we push against a resisting object or a heavy object (think about pushing a car), in order to move we naturally take our heels off the ground anyway, so whether bent or straight the heel on the ground isn’t part of optimum forward power transference.

In many Traditional Martial Arts we see straight rear leg postures. Don’t think of these as wrong, instead try to view them in context. A straight leg can be an exaggerated example of thrust, codified into ‘good form’ for aesthetic purposes. It can also, due to the linked foot and heel placement, be a result of postures designed for employment in traditional inflexible flat or platform footwear.

The depth of a stance will affect the ‘need’ to bend or straighten the leg (or lift the heel) to gain power transference in strikes, but at close quarters against an actively resisting person the higher the stance (and therefore the straighter the leg) the more vulnerable you are to being taken off balance. That naturally leads to the question as to whether the spine should be upright or angled, ramrod straight or hunched.

 


Volume One of the Pinan Flow System released!

Sat, 2014-04-12 13:03

Another book on the Heian / Pinan kata?

I wrote my first book on the Heian / Pinan kata in 2004. Between that and the publication of the book in 2007 lay transplant failure, dialysis, and the gift of a second transplant – all factors that slowed me down but increased my appreciation of how good karate can be for the weaker person.

So why have I written another book, and not just one book, a whole series on the Heian / Pinan kata?

Over the last ten years the research and training methods that I’ve adopted have changed my karate practice considerably.

Through the investment I made in developing scenario training I’ve had the privilege of learning from watching large numbers martial artists face HAOV outside the comfort of the normal training environment. The process has been helped by the diversity of participants: from fit young aspiring martial artists to normal hard training middle aged men and women, and even young teenage boys and girls, all of whom have enabled us to create a variety of realistic and emotionally distracting challenges.

In those simulations I’ve observed how people have accessed or failed to use their training in more realistic conditions. Confined spaces, close ranges, doorways, furniture, verbal and visual and physical distractions from other people, trying to deescalate a situation, trying to shield or rescue a child or perceived weaker individual, having limited peripheral vision or not being aware of a situation until after it has begun: these have all put participants’ ability to access their physical training and knowledge to the test, whether their training base was Shotokan, Goju, Wado, DART, Ju Jitsu, Krav Maga, MT, TKD, Boxing, Kickboxing, BJJ, MMA, or some obscure CMA, and whether they were 6th Dan, 5th Dan, 3rd Dan, Coaches or kyu grade students, or experienced LEOs, security or military personnel. The successful tactics, when the participants were able to access their skill sets, were relatively diverse, but what brought them all together was the similarity of their responses when things didn’t go to plan, and both how and when things didn’t go to plan.

What is consistently visible in the footage of these events is that successful navigation and extraction of participants from the close quarter fighting comes not through accessing their well drilled kumite combinations, but through movements and stances that more closely resemble the strategies that are shown in karate kata, even amongst those participants who have no martial arts experience. In fact if I were to edit out the aggressors from the videos so that it appeared as if the trainees were fighting thin air, then the resulting movements would look more akin to a kata than anything else seen in the martial arts.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with a broader audience than I can possibly reach through travelling round the world teaching seminars, and the logical next step was to try and condense my findings into more books. In doing so I wanted write something that appealed not only to the experienced black belt looking for greater depth and practicality from their practice, but was also suitable for the complete beginner in karate trying to make sense of the funny movements he was learning in class, and that an instructor could safely teach to beginners.

 For me the Pinan / Heian kata represent a comprehensive catalogue of the interlinking strategies and approaches I’ve seen work under pressure. The majority of these are found in other forms, but the Pinan are the perfect vehicle for spreading the word on how effective basic karate can be because as a set they are simple, taught to beginners in many systems, and practised by karateka at all levels of their training. The practical defences against HAOV and the strategies from common less desirable positions that I’ve set out in these books are not complicated, in fact they are deceptively simple and easy. Almost everything that is combat effective is simple and brought down to the bare essentials of movement.

I hope you have as much fun reading the books and trying the drills as I’ve had writing and training for them. I’m really excited to be able to release the first in the series covering Pinan / Heian Shodan and Nidan in both paperback and ebook. I intend to have all four volumes in the series published this year and I’m up for travelling to teach in person at any club that’s interested.

You can buy the new book here, or on amazon and any of the other major book retailers. If you have a local store that you like to use they’ll be able to get a copy for you too.

John Titchen


Volume One of the Pinan Flow System released!

Sat, 2014-04-12 13:03

Another book on the Heian / Pinan kata?

I wrote my first book on the Heian / Pinan kata in 2004. Between that and the publication of the book in 2007 lay transplant failure, dialysis, and the gift of a second transplant – all factors that slowed me down but increased my appreciation of how good karate can be for the weaker person.

So why have I written another book, and not just one book, a whole series on the Heian / Pinan kata?

Over the last ten years the research and training methods that I’ve adopted have changed my karate practice considerably.

Through the investment I made in developing scenario training I’ve had the privilege of learning from watching large numbers martial artists face HAOV outside the comfort of the normal training environment. The process has been helped by the diversity of participants: from fit young aspiring martial artists to normal hard training middle aged men and women, and even young teenage boys and girls, all of whom have enabled us to create a variety of realistic and emotionally distracting challenges.

In those simulations I’ve observed how people have accessed or failed to use their training in more realistic conditions. Confined spaces, close ranges, doorways, furniture, verbal and visual and physical distractions from other people, trying to deescalate a situation, trying to shield or rescue a child or perceived weaker individual, having limited peripheral vision or not being aware of a situation until after it has begun: these have all put participants’ ability to access their physical training and knowledge to the test, whether their training base was Shotokan, Goju, Wado, DART, Ju Jitsu, Krav Maga, MT, TKD, Boxing, Kickboxing, BJJ, MMA, or some obscure CMA, and whether they were 6th Dan, 5th Dan, 3rd Dan, Coaches or kyu grade students, or experienced LEOs, security or military personnel. The successful tactics, when the participants were able to access their skill sets, were relatively diverse, but what brought them all together was the similarity of their responses when things didn’t go to plan, and both how and when things didn’t go to plan.

What is consistently visible in the footage of these events is that successful navigation and extraction of participants from the close quarter fighting comes not through accessing their well drilled kumite combinations, but through movements and stances that more closely resemble the strategies that are shown in karate kata, even amongst those participants who have no martial arts experience. In fact if I were to edit out the aggressors from the videos so that it appeared as if the trainees were fighting thin air, then the resulting movements would look more akin to a kata than anything else seen in the martial arts.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with a broader audience than I can possibly reach through travelling round the world teaching seminars, and the logical next step was to try and condense my findings into more books. In doing so I wanted write something that appealed not only to the experienced black belt looking for greater depth and practicality from their practice, but was also suitable for the complete beginner in karate trying to make sense of the funny movements he was learning in class, and that an instructor could safely teach to beginners.

 For me the Pinan / Heian kata represent a comprehensive catalogue of the interlinking strategies and approaches I’ve seen work under pressure. The majority of these are found in other forms, but the Pinan are the perfect vehicle for spreading the word on how effective basic karate can be because as a set they are simple, taught to beginners in many systems, and practised by karateka at all levels of their training. The practical defences against HAOV and the strategies from common less desirable positions that I’ve set out in these books are not complicated, in fact they are deceptively simple and easy. Almost everything that is combat effective is simple and brought down to the bare essentials of movement.

I hope you have as much fun reading the books and trying the drills as I’ve had writing and training for them. I’m really excited to be able to release the first in the series covering Pinan / Heian Shodan and Nidan in both paperback and ebook. I intend to have all four volumes in the series published this year and I’m up for travelling to teach in person at any club that’s interested.

You can buy the new book here, or on amazon and any of the other major book retailers. If you have a local store that you like to use they’ll be able to get a copy for you too.

John Titchen