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michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture
Less is More?

Just curious, but how many of you feel that having knowledge of less techniques is more effective self-defense wise. I've come to notice that as I age (50) that I''ve grown more interested in perfecting a handfull of techniques and kata, than numerous versions as I did during my 20's, and that my workouts no longer strech on for hours, but now are around 60-90 min yet they're more focused, more intense and much more demanding.

Has anyone else come to this point? How about it Gary?

Mike R

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

I think you come to form a sort of pyramid. 

The bottom layer is techniques you practise for general physical training, or for fun come to think of it.

The next level is stuff you use in sparring.

The top level - possibly just 3 to 5 techniques - are your bankers, the ones you rely on in a crisis.  Interestingly for me they've reverted back to the UC stuff I was taught as a kid.  Chin jabs, head controls, butts, elbows and knees, rather than the longer range stuff I used successfully in tournaments.

I wouldn't change a thing though and I don't think anything I train in or teach has been a waste of time.  It gave me a reasonable breadth of knowledge to choose my bankers from.

So far - touch wood - they've been reliable.

Gary

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

There’s probably a process at work with regards to this. Put simply:

1 - We learn a variety of techniques.

2 - Through the refinement of those techniques and testing in various environments we learn what works for us, what does not work for us, and what the underlying differences are between those two sets.

3 - Armed with techniques with a proven track record, and a solid knowledge of what works and why, we focus our efforts on what “is ours” … and that which is not useful to us is either abandoned or kept to one side to be taught to others who may find it useful.

I divide what I know into my “practical knowledge” and my “theoretical knowledge”. My practical knowledge is the methods with a proven track record. The theoretical knowledge is the stuff I understand, can teach, and physically perform to a good level, but has nevertheless not been proven in action. I teach both to my students as what falls into the theoretical pool for me, may well fall into the practical knowledge pool for them. However, my personal practise focuses more on what works for me. It’s still an ongoing process and I’ve not yet settled on the final state of both knowledge pools, but I am aware of a process taking place.

So in a general “martial arts” sense, I think that an eventual zeroing in on what works for the individual is part of the process.

As regards pure self-protection, how many methods do you need for a short and explosive altercation? As I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this forum before, I have a good friend who successfully navigated lots of violent situations with the following system: “I hit them with my right, if they are still standing I would head-butt them, it they were still standing I would run”. Two techniques and a very simple plan and he had a level of combative efficiency that the vast majority of martial artists come nowhere near.

I’d definitely say that less is more for self-protection, but it needs to be a highly refined and proven “less”.

All the best,

Iain

shoshinkanuk
shoshinkanuk's picture

In terms of formal sequences ie Kata, for me less is more - what I have found is that many of the simple movements (think Shuto, Gyakutsuki, Oitsuki, Jodan Uke, Gedan Uke, Uraken) have a very broad range of application.

Also we work mostly against common methods of assault and there arnt really many of those, double grab head butt, right swing, football kick, side headlock etc etc.

However I must say that being a teacher, connected to a Ryu my responsability is to 'know' and 'do' the complete system, however I don't think for one minute thats needed for a good level of self protection, but the tradition comes first for me these days.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I have a good friend who successfully navigated lots of violent situations with the following system: “I hit them with my right, if they are still standing I would head-butt them, it they were still standing I would run”. Two techniques and a very simple plan and he had a level of combative efficiency that the vast majority of martial artists come nowhere near.

Absolutely love that! 

I taught my oldest the 'SAS 5 second knockdown' by Lofty Wiseman with the same advice - if he's still there, leg it!

When he had a scuffle at school I asked him if it had worked.  "Well ...  I didn't have to do the last two and I didn't have to run"

Gary

PASmith
PASmith's picture

I have a feeling this is what martial arts was always meant to be like but it got lost along the way.

You weren't meant to master everything but instead choose what you liked and could make work. I'm sure much of the breadth is there to ensure there is a good selection to suit a wide range of people.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

The original SOE syllabus contained:

If you will take the trouble to perfect one method of attack, you will be far more formidable than if you only become fairly good at all the methods you will be shown.

IMO that should be written on every dojo wall, particularly those that claim to teach effective self-protection.

Gary

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

- Leonardo DaVinci

michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

So,

Simplicity + Violent Action = Success.

That's a train of thought uncommon to many dojos today. Its is however (IMO) a train of thought that has to be rooted in not only the mental outlook but the physical application too. For instance making the karate-ka do explosive excercise, cleans-dips-sled pulls-exploding bag drills- etc, that go hand in hand with the mindset of short, fast and done with the fight as opposed to physical exercises that take a long time to perform thereby reinforcing the belief that the encounter with last a long time.

Any comments?

Mike

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee.

I agree.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

michael rosenbaum wrote:
Simplicity + Violent Action = Success.

That's a train of thought uncommon to many dojos today.

It’s uncommon because people often don’t understanding what works in a real situation and hence superimpose their experience of dojo duelling upon a different form of conflict.

When martial artists fight their own kind in a consensual fight, the complex and indirect can work well as both participants are conditioned to engage in a given way. When one participant does something that falls outside the conditioned paradigm it can catch the other totally off guard.

Because the complex can occasionally work well in the duelling environment, those who only know that one environment often incorrectly assume that the same holds true for other environments.

The other reason people are sometimes reluctant to accept this is that when people say “keep it simple” they feel that is the same as “high skill levels are a waste of time”. Not so! It all depends on how you see skill developing.

Doing ever more complex techniques is not the only way to progress in skill. The best way to progress is to endlessly refine “the simple” so that it becomes as close to flawless as we can achieve and it has been drilled such it will be consistently effective in the chaotic high-stress world of live conflict. Not an easy thing to achieve.

It is in the flawless and effective application of “the simple” that we find the highest levels of skill.

Andrew Carr-Locke wrote:
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo DaVinci

Never heard that before. But yeah, what he said! :-)

michael rosenbaum wrote:
Its is however (IMO) a train of thought that has to be rooted in not only the mental outlook but the physical application too.

Absolutely! We need to train in the explosive and aggressive delivery of our techniques so we are mentally and physically conditioned to do just that. Introducing distress into the mix is also vital. Intense anaerobic pad drills are great for this. Intense sparring and escape drills are also good.

It’s never enough to give a concept lip service. It needs to run through the way we train too if it is to become part of the way we fight.

All the best,

Iain

Dave Dempster
Dave Dempster's picture

Hi Iain, i think your right if i follow the thread properly.? Any Ryu teaches many things but the individual student should look at their teaching as having a toolbox.? One or two techniques will be the ones they use best, however on occassion, you may have to delve deeper for that something that will get the job done, and be surprised that it actually works. A good example may be of your training partner.Who has a mean left hook, i am sure that this surprises a lot of people due to the fact that 90% of people are right handed.? and dont expect it, even more surprising when he lands just as good a right that was equally unexpected.?. I think the old poem of "Dig deep the Sensei Said" springs to mind.

Oss.

swdw
swdw's picture

Goes back to Miyagi's pre WWII method of teaching. One or two kata, small number of techniques learned to great depth and the ability to use reflexively. This has been lost sight of with styles like Shito-ryu with 38 kata.

The idea in their mind is: number of kata= knowledge of karate rather than usability= knowledge

I've actually been told this "Don't you get bored with only the goju kata?" This is from someone that learned more kata in 5 years than our entire system has. Michael is in the same boat as Isshin-ryu does not have a large kata syllabus either. When a person makes a statement like that, it tells me their learning has no depth or they wouldn't be getting bored.

It's one of the reasons I liked the line from Karate Kid- "you worry about quality what you know, not quantity".

Here's an example when you take time . A student of 2 years was working on Saifa. I walked up to him, repositioned his elbows, poked some muscles and said "Pull back with these". When he did and performed the double  hand strike, he got a look of wonder on his face, looked at me and said "that feels totally different, and you generate much more power".  True, and those kind of details and understanding take time to develop.

Is the idea "more is better" promoted by the student or by the instructor?  How many instructors start off from the beginning telling their students that a deep understanding is more useful than a broad understanding?

How many students leave a style and move on to something else because they think its not in what they're learning (and it may not be as the instructor may not know about something that is supposed to be in there).

Or to quote some students who had previous training in  RBSD, Krav, or other older arts when we got into an in depth discussion of what's truly in karate, "I had no idea that stuff was in karate". One of them had a black belt in another karate style. Sad.

Here's one more thing that goes along with the comments of a short plan of action and get the heck outta dodge. Forget the metaphysical, numerical explanations. Ever wonder why most kata have 3 moves in any one direction most of the time and only occasionally have more than that? I tell my people the idea is to teach them "over in three or less". If they are still functional at that point and you don't have a means of escape, then you try for another "over in three or less". This attitude and idea requires explosive violent action that Michael brought up. As Sensei always told me, when you visualize an oppnnent, you visualize them down at the end of each direction in your kata. Never picture someone still able to carry on a fight or you develop the mindset of  "fighting"- which is not self defense nor is it the purpose of karate.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

From my own experience I'll say this; some of the people I've met that know multiple applications for every move in every kata will admit in private that they've never had a real blood and guts fight. That's not to say they can't apply things or they won't work, but it's the exact opposite of the ones I know who've fought for their lives. They tend to think, "This can be used in a few different ways, which one works best?"

Life events have pushed me more towards the second group, but hey, each to their own! Gary

Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

In my albeit short span of experience, I'd say that I did start off training thinking 'more is more' in terms of techniques, however I have definitely whittled them down a lot.

That said, I think it's important to vary up the way you train your techniques as much as possible to test them in as many different environments as you can.

This is a difficult question to answer for me really, as a lot of the training I've done in more recent years has been heavily influenced by Russian Systema (mostly the Vassiliev and Ryabko variations) and so I've replaced a lot of techniques with concepts that apply to a lot of situations. That said, I think for beginners it is easier to learn a few techniques and really get comfortable with them, then later in training once they've really got them down introduce them to the broader concept behind the technique; for example opening up the mechanics of a basic figure-4 armlock to demonstrate the various ways of locking the wrist, elbow and shoulder (well, not technically 'locking' the shoulder but still...) in similar ways, allowing potentially infinite variation and diversity of technique, making the combatant much more formidable in a live situation, as instead of picking and choosing from a list of set moves, s/he is instinctvely playing with biomechanical concepts which are familiar to him/her.

As Andrew said earlier on in the thread, simplicity is what you want to go for in my humble opinion, yet diversity too. It makes you efficient and adaptable. :)

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

I feel like a bloke who's spent a lifetime collecting a garage full of tools, then moved to a smaller house and had to carefully select which ones were worth taking.

I've chucked out loads of stuff, some of it learnt (bought) years ago and never used.  I now keep the bare essentials sharpened and ready to go.  Works for me.  I still run a store though so others can make their own choices.

Gary

Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

Gary - I think that's the best analogy for it I've heard! Definitely agree.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
I feel like a bloke who's spent a lifetime collecting a garage full of tools, then moved to a smaller house and had to carefully select which ones were worth taking.

I've chucked out loads of stuff, some of it learnt (bought) years ago and never used.  I now keep the bare essentials sharpened and ready to go.  Works for me.  I still run a store though so others can make their own choices.

Hi Gary,

I agree with Josh. That’s awesome! Exactly what I try to do and I hope that is what my syllabus encourages. Love the way you expressed that! Mind if I borrow that analogy? :-)

All the best,

Iain

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

I'm happy if you do.  smiley

Gary

sanchin_carroll
sanchin_carroll's picture

Oss!

As a karateka in a sub-style of Shito Ryu, I have a slightly biased perspective on this, but perhaps unique.  There is generally little argument that the founder of Shito Ryu, Soke Kenwa Mabuni was a karate genius who allegedly knew over 90 kata.  Due to miscellaneous accounts of his skills along with the fact that he was a police officer, his ability to apply the knowledge that he amassed through kata is without question.  And, because of his knowledge he was often the go-to-guy for many other karateka, including other master's in his day.  Yet, in an essay written by Soke Mabuni, entitled Practice Kata Correctly, even he stated, "If practiced properly, two or three kata will suffice as 'your' kata; all of the others can just be studied as sources of additional knowledge." (Kenwa Mabuni)  As a student of Hayashi Ha Shito Ryu, I am the first to ask myself if there's any benefit to aquiring such a large number of kata, what that benefit might be, and was Soke Mabuni sending mixed messages between his actions and words.

My Sensei, Sensei Hanson, has always echoed the thoughts of Soke Mabuni and used a "toolbox" analogy.  Sensei Hanson teaches that more kata translates into more tools that one has in their toolbox.  And, like tools in a toolbox, some are used frequently and with a greater degree of latitude than others.  Some are rarely used, but nice to have when needed.  Some are used for unintended functions and work with varying degrees of success.  Yet, Sensei Hanson also highly encourages his students to choose a few "pet" kata, in which he recommends that we focus on with a unique level of nurturing, while never neglecting to learn new kata simultaneously.

Both Soke Mabuni and Sensei Hanson stressed the importance of UNDERSTANDING the kata.  In the same essay as mentioned above Soke Mabuni stated, "Correctly practicing kata – having sufficiently COMPREHENDED THEIR MEANING – is the MOST IMPORTANT thing for a karate trainee." (Kenwa Mabuni).  If kata are truly considered "volumes of encyclopedias" that contain the combat techniques of karate, then more cannot bad.  One must seek to unerstand the contents.

Over the years of studying a larger number of kata, I've discovered a couple of things.  First of all, I've noticed that many of the "tools" or techniqes are very common and repeated in a number of different kata.  The creators obviously placed great emphasis on these techniques for a reason.  Therefore, whether one practices a fewer number of kata or a greater number, all karateka should be practicing these common techniques with equal importance.  Second, as I learn more kata, I recognize opportunities to apply additional techniques in various combat situations.  Depending on my own strengths and weaknesses, I've either adopted these techniques as a part of my own preferred combat stategy or I've simply retained them in my mind as knowledge.

This brings me to my final and perhaps most important reason for acquiring a large number of kata.  It's been suggested that Soke Mabuni, with ancestry in the Okinawan Pechin class, felt a great honor and responsibility to learn the number of kata he did.  He believed it was his duty to preserve the kata through proper transmission.  In his aquisition, understanding, and transmission of so many kata, he honored his ancestry, his instructors, and left his legacy on karate.  Very few karateka will likely be able to acquire an understanding of the vast number of kata that Soke Mabuni did.  I know I will not.  Yet, In accordance with the principle of giri and with an element of caution towards shallow memorization, I am honored to aquire the greatest number of kata that I am permitted to understand.  I too seek to preserve the "tools" (aka. techniques) contained within kata and hope that someday I'll have the honor of providing those tools to another.  To me, transmitting the kata (or other style-specific transmission) that's been gifted to me, to a future generation, is the greatest tribute I can pay to my Sensei, as well as other karateka throughout my lineage.  I better stop...I'm starting to sound like a traitionalist :-)

Kevin73
Kevin73's picture

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir, but I think that the "less is more" approach was what the Pinan/Heian katas were meant for.

From what I have read elsewhere, Mabuni also was trying to "save" okinawan culture and collecting the katas of the naha/shuri traditions in his style.  I don't think students were meant to memorize and master all of them.  It was sort of a cultural archive.

That being said, looking at various katas, you will see many patterns repeated between katas.  Going with the theory that they are repositories of knowledge that were a complete fighting system.  It makes sense that their students/creators would have the same concepts and patterns in them.  Do you need to learn a whole kata to get something new?  Or can you just pick out that section of techniques to add to your base knowledge?

I also think that some katas are kind of a specialty kata that address a certain issue.  For example, the way Kyan taught Kusanku, it was meant for fighting at night and deals with you and your opponent not being able to clearly see each other.  Good knowledge to have, but not probably something in your main toolbox.

It reminds me of the 80/20 principle.  80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your techniques.  Going further 80% of our practice time should be spent on that 20% of techniques.  That means that we still have time to practice the other stuff and get better and closer to personal mastery of it, but we shouldn't lose sight of the big picture of what we are training for.