Karate: A Complete Fighting System? (The first article I ever wrote)
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at this keyboard - writing the third chapter of a new book - when my three year old son wandered into my office. Before we go any further, I have a confession to make; my 'office' is almost always an absolute mess! There is a system underlying the perceived chaos - a system that I alone understand - but you'd never know that upon viewing the piles of paper located on the desks, shelves, the floor etc. My son picked up a black cardboard tube, that was placed in one of the 'miscellaneous boxes', and asked me what was inside it.
I recalled that inside the tube there was a 'scroll' that I'd purchased some time ago that displayed the family crest and explained the origins of the family name. Believing that my son would be interested to see it - I was wrong; the black tube was far more interesting - I got it out for him. Inside the tube, I also saw a rolled up piece of white paper, which I instantly recognised as the first article I ever wrote!
The article was written in 1994 and has never been published (until now). Upon reading the article a decade later, the first thing that struck me was how the article was 'the seed' of my first book; Karate's Grappling Methods. It would be another six years until that book would be published; so what was I doing during that time? The book took around a year to write, and I spent the best part of a year pushing to get the book published, so for four years I did nothing to advance my writing (other than write articles I didn't send anywhere)! I put that article in the black tube, and that's where it stayed for a decade!
The ideas expressed in that first article eventually became my first book; a book which proved to be very popular (still my bestselling title). As I write this, I've had four books published, with more on the way, and I now make my living from writing and teaching martial arts. The first thought that struck me as I read over that article was, "Where would I be now if I'd tried to get the article published when I first wrote it?"
I'd always wanted to write and, as it turns out, people were interested in what I had to say. However, even though I'd got started and written some articles, I lacked faith in my ability to express my ideas. It took another four years before I actually decided to put my work out there. If I had followed up and progressed the ideas outlined in this first article when I'd first put 'pen to paper' (it was written on a old word-processor), my career as a writer would be four years further along the road than it is now!
The reason I decided to share this tale is that I feel that many of us are guilty of not moving forwards when we should. We all procrastinate, sometimes to the point where we never get started at all! Pick one thing you've always wanted to do. Have you done it yet? Are you making plans to do it? If not, why not?!
I love being a writer of martial arts books. Getting to where I am has been, and continues to be, very hard work. Ten years ago it must have looked like too much work! But it wasn't. All I needed to do was get going and then keep going. I'm sure it will be the same for you. Don't make the same mistake I did and 'hold back' for years. Whatever it is you want to do, get started and then just keep on going!
I've scanned the original article using 'Optical Character Recognition' software and you can find the whole article below. As you'll see, it's pretty short. However, those who are familiar with my books may be interested to read their 'original forerunner'. There were a few spelling and grammatical errors on the original printout, which I've corrected. Other than those minor changes, the article appears as originally written:
KARATE: A Complete Fighting System?
Anyone who has either been in, or seen a real fight will know that the vast majority of situations will involve some form of grappling. Modern Karate places a heavy emphasis on striking and would seem to be at a complete loss once a grip is made and the fight gets close in. If we wish to both teach and practise a truly effective fighting art, we must include some form of grappling practice in our regular training; this is where kata can provide some of the answers.
The kata are a collection of karate's most brutal and effective fighting techniques, including not only the commonly practised kicks and punches, but also neck cranks, throws, chokes, strangles, joint locks/dislocations, takedowns and many other grappling techniques now completely absent from the bulk of karate training.
Many of the older texts on karate give advice on grappling, Gichin Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan and the Bubishi to name but two, and yet today the skills of locking, throwing etc are left on the sidelines making the karate of today incomplete when it comes down to all-out combat situations.
What we need to do is take these "lost" techniques out of the kata and practise the applications in a realistic fashion. To do this it is vital to remember that the katas were put together to help a karateka defend his/her self against determined violent attackers not other karateka who will stand there, passive and allow unrealistic techniques to be applied upon them.
Practice of effective bunkai will not only teach the student a collection of very painful combat methods, including grappling, but will also bring an end to kata being thought of as pointless dances only to be done for gradings and competitions.
When we first learn striking techniques, we practice them with no opponent, then on a passive practice partner, and then finally on a partner who will do the best they can to stifle our movements. It is exactly the same with grappling techniques.
Once competence in the various techniques is achieved, it becomes necessary to practise in an all-out freestyle manner (as in normal sparring, leave out the more dangerous methods, e.g. neck-breaks). This can take a few different forms, vertical grappling, floor fighting, with strikes, without strikes etc. This must be closely supervised with the usual safety precautions; mats for throws, students to tap out and stop fighting immediately when a choke or lock is securely established, control strikes and/or use suitable pads etc
The first few times you engage in this type of training it can be terrifying (as are real fights) but as time goes on, and some skill is achieved, you will begin to find it an enjoyable and very worthwhile form of training; mentally, physically, technically and practically. (My own club get a great deal out of close-range sparring and feel let down if we fail to do it during the class).
The aim of practising kata bunkai and freestyle grappling is not to make the karateka an invincible grappler, but simply to provide enough skills to get by. To be a truly good grappler, you may wish to consider studying Judo, Wrestling etc.
Another important fact to remember is that although close-range skills are vitally important, grappling should never be actively sought out; it takes a fraction of a second to stop an opponent with a good punch but a lot longer to grapple them into submission. Most real situations will begin at punching range and it is here they should quickly be brought to an end, especially when facing multiple opponents. However, if the situation does degenerate into grappling range (as it often will) skill with close-range methods is vital.
The strikes used during normal dojo sparring will be rendered useless once the fight gets close; there simply isn't the space to perform techniques like gyakuzuki. It is at this range that hooks, uppercuts, elbows, knees, head-butts, etc come into play and, as with the grappling techniques, all of these can be found in kata.
The katas are literally full of effective close-range techniques and they should be given as much emphasis as the long-range techniques made popular through competition in order to keep karate as the effective and complete fighting art it was designed to be.
Iain Abernethy © Copyright 1994