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conflict management and practical karate
Updated: 1 hour 53 min ago

Three things that will revolutionise your karate

Mon, 2015-11-30 15:57

1. Treat each demonstration by an instructor as if it is the first time you have ever seen it.

We look, but we fail to see, We listen, but we fail to hear. We observe, but we fail to understand. We’ve all done this and in many respects the longer we’ve been training the easier it is to fall into the trap of not paying attention to a demonstration or teaching point. It’s easy to look at something and say “Oh, I know this” and not give it your full attention, or not look closer to pay attention to the finer details which may be left unsaid.

One of the most difficult challenges I faced when writing my most recent series of application books, the Pinan Flow System, was choosing how to describe and illustrate the actions of the application drills. Next to each picture I had space to write about thirty words. Thirty words and a picture to sum up a little element of an application drill when I could quite easily spend at least a good twenty minutes talking through all the different nuances and underlying principles of that particular element of the drill.

In similar vein when a drill is taught it is usually layered, with different elements being emphasised for the different audiences, and a normal lesson time explanation cannot begin to cover the depth of understanding needed for good practice.

The simple step of assuming you don’t know anything about the demonstration that is taking place in front of you and trying to view it with fresh eyes to always seek extra details will make a huge difference to your karate.

2. Question everything.

I don’t mean sticking up your hand in the middle of the class all the time and asking your instructor for more information. Your instructor is teaching on a tight schedule, they are giving you as much information as they feel you need to know and have to balance the training needs of all the other students. If you need to ask your instructor a question, often it is best to wait until the end of the class; it’s not good manners to interrupt everyone else’s education and training.

If you are given a rationale for a drill or exercise, apply a solid BS filter to it. This will mean that you have to put in time to get the background knowledge to understand whether it is BS or not. The nature of your filter will depend not only upon your knowledge level (and the quality of your source information), but the purpose of your filter; are you looking for optimum training for strength, balance, flexibility, aerobic fitness, competition success (in kumite or kata) or self defence?

A lot of people peddle information that may have passed a BS filter back when they were first being taught, but time and research have since shown to be wrong. They may not be aware what they are teaching is inaccurate or flawed. Other people peddle false information because they’ve never done any real research on the topic and are relying on their imagination, their own very limited experience (which they may not realise is limited simply by being personal) or movies.

Do your own research. How does this work? Why does this work? When should this work? Where does it come from? How can I improve this? What do I need to change to improve?


3. Train at home, no matter how little time or space you have.

As an instructor it can be frustrating when you run several classes a week but students only make it to one. What we often fail to realise is how lucky we are to get that student at just that one class. Often on chatting to students I find that they may be out another one or two nights a week pursuing other physical hobbies (such as running, or tennis, or swimming), looking after the children at home on another night while their partner goes out to an activity, acting as a taxi service to children on other nights for their activities, and if they are lucky actually getting to spend one or two evenings a week at home with their partner. All this on top of working throughout the day earning money!

The reality of modern life is that it isn’t easy for many students to come to class more than once a week. The reality of karate is that you need to train regularly to see improvement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

You do not have to train in long sessions to have beneficial karate training.

Every good repetition of a movement counts. That means you can train for 30 seconds standing on one leg or rotating your hips while waiting for the kettle to boil, or a partner to come down the stairs before you go out rather than pacing in front of the TV. You can do a lot in a five minute session, and it is easy to find a five minute or ten minute moment in the day, and probably better for you than sitting down. Anyone can find time for personal training if they want to find time for personal training.

You do not have to break a sweat or change clothing to have beneficial karate training.

You can’t train because you don’t have time to change or shower? That shouldn’t be an issue. You don’t need to break a sweat for good training. Training comes in many forms, and as I’ve written here, often the best form of training is slow movement focusing on precision, good biomechanics and balance. You can sweat when you go to your karate class, or engage in any other form of exercise you practice.

You do not have to have lots of space to have beneficial karate training.

You can achieve a lot standing on the spot. There are lots of different upper body, hip movements and weight transference exercises you can do on the spot. It’s great to have a fair bit of space, but you can easily improve your karate just by standing on the spot.

You do not have to have a training partner to have beneficial karate training.

Paired and multiple person work is obviously a big part of karate, but you do not need company to improve your kihon or kata. If you have a kick bag, speed ball traditional strength tools or a makiwara at home you can work on those. Playing tug of war with reasonably sized dog is a great way to improve your hikite, and you may learn a lot about good biomechanics by observing how your ‘training partner’ utilises its whole body.

Try these three things for just one month and see how your karate improves!

Final Pinan Flow System book released!

Tue, 2015-11-17 08:14

Foreword by Iain Abernethy.

‘So here we are with the final volume of this series of books from John Titchen! You can now see John’s full interpretation of the Pinan series! How cool is that!

Gichin Funakoshi – who is frequently referred to as “The Father of Modern Karate” – wrote the following in Karate-Do Kyohan about these kata,

“Having mastered these five forms, one can be confident that he is able to defend himself competently in most situations”.

The Pinan / Heian series were therefore always intended to be a holistic self-protection system; and I think John’s books have shown a great way in which this traditional view can be realised!

While the past masters passed on the kata and a great deal of information about how they should be viewed and understood, they did not pass on a complete picture of the applications of the kata. We traditional pragmatists therefore have to do a little analysis (“bunkai” literally translating as “analysis”) in order to understand what the kata have to teach us. This invariably leads to differing “bunkai theories”.

When science sets out to assert a theory, that theory needs to be able to explain all the existing data and, crucially, it needs to be able to make accurate predictions. For example, the theory of gravity explains everything we see on an everyday scale, and it makes accurate predictions about how future events will occur. We can dismiss gravity as “just a theory” but if you step off a high building you are going to fall and accelerate at a rate of 9.81m/s until the resistance of the atmosphere has you reach terminal velocity; or you hit the floor (whichever happens first).

Now, does this mean we know for a fact and with 100% certainty how gravity works? The answer is no, we don’t. But the theories we have explain all the data and make solid predictions. We can put satellites around distant planets with these theories! I would say a similar process needs to be applied to kata i.e. any application needs to explain all the data and make predictions (i.e. work when tested).

Any bunkai theory needs to address the following three points:

  1. The bunkai must adequately address all parts of the kata (i.e. explain why the kata is as it is).
  2. The bunkai must be in accordance with the historical information we have.
  3. The bunkai must be functional in the context of civilian self-protection.

If a given set of bunkai can do that, then it is valid. In science there are sometimes competing theories, but all are valid if they can explain the data and they work.

John’s take on the Pinan / Heian kata is a very logical and well-structured bunkai theory. It is not a collection of “tricks” which happen to look like the motions of the kata, but a valid bunkai theory based on, and permeated by, sound underlying combative principles. It’s not the same as my theory, but I acknowledge its utility and the fact it meets all of my personal criteria for validity. It is very good stuff!

Now that the series is complete, you can take the information presented within and run with it “as is”, or use the information John has given you to help inform your own take on the kata series. We can then move past the “analysis stage” to use the kata in the way Funakoshi said they were originally intended: as a holistic self-protection system. This is what John has presented.

These books have made a great contribution to the collective knowledge base of the practical karate community. Well done to John for writing them! Well done you for reading them!’

Iain Abernethy

Available across the globe the fourth and final volume of the Pinan Flow System is now available as both a paperback and ebook! Use the UK links below or visit your ‘local’ amazon provider or order it at your local book store!

I can now share with you all my ‘starting points’ for training the whole Pinan / Heian set of kata. This is not an end, this is just the beginning!

De-escalation Tactics – Part Two

Fri, 2015-09-04 08:52

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology


This is such a huge topic that it seems trite to try and narrow it down to a simple set of guidelines that will help people. Some people don’t need (much) advice or training. They already have the ‘gift of the gab’ and can smoothly talk their way out of trouble under pressure or indeed talk another person out of trouble.

Unfortunately if you are not naturally talented then the best way to improve is practice. Real practice comes with risk and potential cost and in any case unless your job requires it your primary aim should be to avoid putting yourself in situations where de-escalation skills are required. Despite that, the underlying principles of good de-escalation are those of good communication, and those are skills that we can all work on all the time.

What you say will depend on the circumstances. I can’t tell you exactly what to say. What I can do is share a teaching mnemonic that I use to outline underlying approaches. This mnemonic is deliberately simple, with each headline word conveying an overall message and each heading letter summarising a number of different skill sets.


We want to read a situation accurately so that we can lead it to a successful or safe resolution by achieving a deal that both parties can accept.

RECOGNISE if a verbal strategy is viable or appropriate under the circumstances.

EXPECT a physical response at all times and maintain alertness and a safe posture.

ADAPT your tone, volume and phrasing to that of the other person and if possible use to build a connection for good communication.

DECIDE on and constantly re-evaluate what you think is the best course of action.


LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.


DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

LEAD to DEAL is not simply a catchy mnemonic. The fact that the meanings are the same but the order has changed is a reminder that communication is a constantly changing fluid process.

De-escalation Tactics – Part One

Tue, 2015-09-01 15:54

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology


All aggressive and violent behaviours have underlying causes, which could be summarized under the headings of chemical factors and psychological factors. These are interrelated but for the sake of brevity are listed separately. Understanding and influencing these (through communication) is the best way to resolve conflict.


Motivating factors

These may be far more varied than the examples listed below, but can generally be categorized as immediate or primary causes and underlying or secondary causes.

Immediate causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Physical presence or (over-long) eye contact interpreted as a challenge, overly alpha or beta male body language, a push or stumble into a person, the spilling of food or drink, a vehicle accident, peer pressure, denial of a perceived need.

Secondary causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Family or work stress, suppressed anger (generally linked to the former but inhibited by potential consequence), racism or social/political beliefs, past experiences, peer pressure, the role and acceptability of violence and aggression in both upbringing and normal social environment, fatigue, past success in achieving aims through aggressive or violent behaviours.

Inhibiting factors

These could be categorized as physical and social factors.

Physical factors:

The relative sizes of parties involved, perceived strength and ability of the other party, the ‘known quantity’ of the other party, body language, perceived alertness, company (of either party), immediate consequences, likelihood of injury.

Social factors:

Peer reaction – acceptance or alienation, legal and family or work repercussions, the social acceptability of aggression and violence within the individual’s social group.

Through positioning, body language, listening and using appropriate tone and speech the underlying aim should be to attempt to reduce the individual’s motivation to continue to use aggression and possibly attempt violence, while strengthening their inhibition against such approaches.



Alcohol or other substances weaken inhibition and can reduce awareness and comprehension. This will affect the ability of another person to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

Underlying medical conditions

Due to a pre-existing health condition the other person may not necessarily be on the same ‘operating system’ as everyone else and may not respond in the same way.


Aural and visual exclusion along with other side effects of adrenaline may hinder communication and attempts to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

It is unlikely that there is much that you can do once an incident has already begun that will mitigate underlying chemical factors. If spotted early enough then the effect of drugs such as alcohol can be reduced by slowing absorption into the blood stream by providing food and withdrawing further alcohol (if safe to do so), but these are factors that are largely outside your control.

It is important to be aware of the role of chemical factors as ‘tipping points’ in an individual’s behaviour patterns. Whether they are part of the primary or secondary cause of the problem they may lower the probability of a successful non-violent de-escalation.

Not seeing the wood for the trees

Mon, 2015-08-17 18:01

The techniques of karate kata have many possible interpretations. What each individual sees in the kata will vary according to their own experience and how skilled they are at identifying potential applications.

Not every application taught need be practical.

As a case in point in my Shotokan classes I teach a wrist grab defence using kata movements that isn’t the simplest or most effective method of escape, but is a very effective drill for teaching appropriate positioning, optimum biomechanics and principles of controlling and unbalancing. While doing so I always stress that it is drill about biomechanics and usually show the faster escape. In similar vein for my Heian / Pinan Sandan drills in both the older Heian Flow System and the more recent Pinan Flow System I included a spinning back elbow and back fist. While this has been successfully used in the UFC,  it is not the most practical of techniques, but its inclusion was to a large extent to illustrate that point by making it an opening for students to unpredictably encounter a number of different positions and attacks which would lead to spontaneously training other drills.

When an application is specifically designed for practical use I notice that some people often fail to see the wood for the trees.

It is easy to over-focus on mimicking the techniques or sequences of the form but forget the overall context. If you need to strike, control or escape from another person then they will also have an agenda.

This means that they are unlikely to be holding you limply, are likely to be prepared to hit you, or may continuously be trying to hit you or get to a position where they can hit you unless you take steps to prevent that. Always protect your head and as much of your body as you can.

Unanticipated aggressive and violent confrontations tend to cause a significant adrenaline release unless you are very familiar with them and a non consensual or unpredictable event will cause different reactions to a predictable or fully consensual one. In such situations even very well trained people have difficulty utilizing fine motor skills or targeting accurately and this should be reflected in applications (for example see my kicking in self defence video). The same hormonal cascade (along with other substances) may render pain compliant / dependent techniques ineffective.

The context of the drill should be realistic if the drill is supposed to be for self defence. Appropriate habitual acts of violence (HAOV) rather than style or rule format specific attacks, and not over-skilling or under-skilling attackers / training partners. In similar vein you need to be clear whether what you are doing is legal for the envisioned circumstances  if you are training it for practical purposes rather than historical curiosity.

Hitting or striking a resisting person isn’t as easy as working with a compliant training partner. As a general rule at close quarters (where most violent incidents occur and remain) you will need to strike to control and control to strike.

When people get hit, they move, even when you are holding them. Combinations should take this into account. This quickly becomes apparent when you are making contact or receiving contact in training.

The potential of practical karate kata application is incredibly vast, but when interpreting kata for such purposes the ‘trees’ of the individual skill sets should always be seen within the context of the wood that represents the nature of actual violent confrontations.