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Aaron-in-AZ
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3K Karate & Combat Effectiveness

Hello,

I have enjoyed the threads here and youtube videos on this topic.  Thank you for this content!  I am particularly interested in the 3k analysis and find it to be insightful and accurate.  There is one aspect of 3k karate that is sometimes addressed but possibly not given the critique that it deserves.  It is the following.  In 3K karate I do not think its practitioners believe they are practicing 3k karate for merely health, discipline, self-improvement, character development, fitness, etc.  People practice something like yoga for those reasons.  But unlike yoga, 3k practitioners honestly believe that there is a transferrence of skill from 3k karate to combat effectiveness.  They honestly believe that the voluminous number of kata details, refinements, and so forth do in fact carry over to combat to a worthwhile degree. I think they will refuse to acknowledge that all of the tedious corrections of kata techniques over the years primarily serve the purpose of improving kata, and have little or nothing to do with actual combat effectiveness.

Jesse Enkamp's youtube video about "Why Karate Doesn't Work" provides an informative history lesson on the differences between different versions of karate over the years.  However, I think he spins the often heard question or complaint that "Karate Doesn't Work" into a misunderstanding over the different versions of karate.  The inquirer is not an idiot and in need of a basic history lesson.  The person asking this question is inquiring whether or not sport kumite skills would actually be effective in real combat.  The person asking this question is inquiring whether or not incessant focus on kata details would be effective in real combat.  I don't think there is a hidden meaning or mystery in the phrase "Karate doesn't work".  The playfulness over the semantics is entertaining but it dances around the core of the question and leaves it unanswered.  If you're going to seriously tackle it, answer whether or not excellence in kata transfers to combat skills, and so forth.

Ian's stated position in his youtube video on 3k karate is careful and perhaps too polite towards 3k practitioners so as to not offend.  He clearly says in conclusion that there's nothing wrong with 3k karate as long as it is done for health, enjoyment, culture, but then says that it's a different matter if one says that 3k is practical (which it is not).

The elephant in the room is that 3k practitioners do think their karate is practical.  They do think there is significant transferrence of skill to combat effectiveness.  Please, someone correct me if I am wrong but I do not see 3k folks willing to concede that their practice is merely for health, enjoyment, culture, fitness and related reasons.  Practicality in the form of transferrence of skill to combat is one of those reasons they will give.  It might not be worded in precisely that way from the average person when asked.  Usually you'll here a few descriptors of self-defense in their list of reasons.  I think it is at the point where a necessary component of 3k karate is the view that its practitioners believe it is practical, but it isn't.  It is impractical.  And it's adherents are wrong when they think it is practical.

I'm bringing this up not to be mean but because I think it should be called out.  It is dangerous to propagate a misleading confidence that one's hours and years of practice amount to practical combat skills when they do not.  I'm at a loss for a catchy acronym to replace 3k karate.  There ought to be something that does a better job of capturing the fact that it is impractical, or ineffective for combat.  I appreciate the full description of "3K's and never the 3 shall meet" but it's just too nice and leaves out too much.  As a consequence, karate which is done differently with a focus on bunkai and combat effectiveness does not get the credit that it deserves.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Aaron,

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
In 3K karate I do not think its practitioners believe they are practicing 3k karate for merely health, discipline, self-improvement, character development, fitness, etc.

Some do. I know plenty of people who are only interested in art, or sport, or health. They will flat out tell you combative skill is not the one of their training goals.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
3k practitioners honestly believe that there is a transferrence of skill from 3k karate to combat effectiveness.

You’re right that there are some (not all) who believe combative skill will be developed; despite not specifically training to develop those skills.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
Jesse Enkamp's youtube video about "Why Karate Doesn't Work" provides an informative history lesson on the differences between different versions of karate over the years.  However, I think he spins the often heard question or complaint that "Karate Doesn't Work" into a misunderstanding over the different versions of karate.  The inquirer is not an idiot and in need of a basic history lesson.

The failure to differentiate between contexts is widespread (not just in karate). The more that gets highlighted the better.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
The person asking this question is inquiring whether or not sport kumite skills would actually be effective in real combat.

And that’s a really bad question; which is the point Jesse was making. It’s also a message I’ve said innumerable time.

The methods of sports kumite are designed to win sport kumite … which they do … so it’s right to say they work.

Asking if sports kumite works in self-defence, and then criticising it because it does not, makes about as much sense to me as claiming a boat does not work because you tried to drive it on the highway. Things work at what they were designed to work for.

A few old articles on this topic:

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/practical-karate

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/defence-combat-sports

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/martial-map-free-audio-book

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/context-context-context-podcast

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
I don't think there is a hidden meaning or mystery in the phrase "Karate doesn't work".  The playfulness over the semantics is entertaining but it dances around the core of the question and leaves it unanswered.

I think it does answer the question. It challenges the flawed premise of the question (the assumption there is only one "works") and makes clear that what works is always context dependant.

Sport does not work for self-protection; but it does work for sport.  

Self-protection does not work for sport; but it does work for self-protection.  

Martial artists of all stripes are forever failing to differentiate between contexts. They also have the bad habit of assigning value to one given context alone which is then seen as the “gold standard” by which EVERYTHING should be judged i.e. The mythical “Street”, Self-Protection, MMA, etc. In truth, “Does it work?” is an incomplete question unless we also ask, “works for what?”

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
Ian's stated position in his youtube video on 3k karate is careful and perhaps too polite towards 3k practitioners so as to not offend.

That’s not how many 3K people saw it :-) I always speak honestly and try to communicate nuance when appropriate. I don’t hold back from speaking the truth as I see it. I said exactly what I believe.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
He clearly says in conclusion that there's nothing wrong with 3k karate as long as it is done for health, enjoyment, culture, but then says that it's a different matter if one says that 3k is practical (which it is not).

I did. I said that because I believe that to be accurate and true.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
The elephant in the room is that 3k practitioners do think their karate is practical.  They do think there is significant transferrence of skill to combat effectiveness.

The phrase “elephant in the room” relates to an “obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.” I therefore don’t think it applies because myself and others are very vocal about these issues.

The whole “3K video” is clear that the 3K approach is not practical combatively and that claims otherwise are flawed i.e. at 8:32, after explaining I see nothing wrong with 3K for other outcomes, I say:

“but the instant that you say, “OK, this is practical” … practicality has objective measures and unfortunately the 3K approach does not cut it”.

There’s no elephant it the room, because I said some 3K people think their training methodology is functional (that’s a claim many of them make) and I was clear that I don’t believe that to be true. It was plainly stated.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
I'm at a loss for a catchy acronym to replace 3k karate.  There ought to be something that does a better job of capturing the fact that it is impractical, or ineffective for combat.

You can say, “impractical karate” or “ineffective karate” … but I still think you’d need to define what outcome it was impractical or ineffective for.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
I appreciate the full description of "3K's and never the 3 shall meet" but it's just too nice and leaves out too much.

I think it a good term for what is currently the dominant training paradigm.   

I’m also don’t agree it’s “too nice”. While some people like to get tribal (i.e. “sport bad, realism good”) on this issue … I don’t think that’s accurate or healthy.

I do know people who are 100% sport focused. The train for sport and don’t make any claims around self-protection. I also know people who just like the art of it. Again, they train for that and don’t make any claims around self-protection. I see no reason to dismiss, downplay or degrade what are entirely legitimate pursuits. The only time I feel the need to step in, is when claims are made for which there is no justification.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
As a consequence, karate which is done differently with a focus on bunkai and combat effectiveness does not get the credit that it deserves.

I’m not sure what you are driving at here?

Those who frequent this forum have those training goals and favour and support a pragmatic approach. The sport and 3K folk don’t need to do as we do if it’s not their goal. Again, if there is a false claim being made, then it’s legitimate and important to challenge that claim. However, an acceptance that different people do karate for different reasons is healthy.

In my dojo we do loads of stuff that would be inadvisable in self-protection; and clearly identify it as such … BUT it works great for fighting, which is why we do it. I may not want to do everything (i.e. we don’t do traditional weapons, WKF points kumite, etc), but I don’t want to limit myself to one aspect of karate alone. I’d also not want to suggest others should either. We all just need to clearly identify our goals and the needs of those goals.  

Providing the way people are training is TRUELY addressing their goals then all is good. No one approach is inherently superior to all others because there is no common standard by which all the various aspects can be judged.

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

I suspect--although I could be wrong--that Aaron's feelings largely stem from the karate community here in AZ, and the USA, as a whole. Marketing is a big deal, here, and karate schools are no exception. If you were to review the advertisements for the vast majority of karate schools out here, you would be hard pressed to find any that DON'T purport to teach practical self defense. Even your most hardcore WKF competition school will claim to "teach your child how to defend herself," along with all the character- and confidence-building aspects of their training, and that carries over into their students' beliefs about their training. It's remarkably consistent, and when faced with that, it's easy to have the perception that it is both widespread and generally accepted, even if that isn't necessarily true.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Wastelander wrote:
Marketing is a big deal, here, and karate schools are no exception. If you were to review the advertisements for the vast majority of karate schools out here, you would be hard pressed to find any that DON'T purport to teach practical self defense.

That’s a great point! I also think it would be fair to say that the majority starting karate (or any other marital art for that matter) are doing so on the false belief that martial arts = self-protection. If the school is making use of that misunderstanding to recruit students, then there are some ethical questions there.

If the instructor knows what they are teaching is not going to deliver the described results, then they are acting unethically because they are deliberately misleading people for their own financial benefit. If they don’t know what they are teaching is not going to deliver the described results (“sensei said it would work and that’s all the proof I need”) then I would say they have failed to exercise due diligence and again would be on shaky ground ethically now that they are the one making the claim.  

Wastelander wrote:
It's remarkably consistent, and when faced with that, it's easy to have the perception that it is both widespread and generally accepted, even if that isn't necessarily true.

There are definitely many 3K karateka who do believe that kihon for kihion’s sake, kata for kata’s sake, and competitive kumite will somehow magically combine, via and unidentified and unexplained process, to produce combative skill that will deliver results when a person is under pressure. That’s obviously a problem. However, there are also 3K karateka who do enjoy art for arts sake. I see no problem there because their training is delivering the stated goal.

It’s a nuanced point, but I feel it would be wrong of me to judge another’s training via MY desired training outcomes, and not theirs. If a 3K karateka states that THEIR objective is self-protection skills, then I feel it OK to comment on the incongruity plainly on display. However, if a 3K karateka states that THEIR objective is art, fitness or sport, then I can’t maintain there is a problem because their training and goals are congruent. I also should not superimpose my training goals onto others and then judge what they do on that basis.

It’s for these reasons that I feel Jesse’s video was on point and not playing with sematic games. He made the connection between training goal and method; and was clear that sport would not work for self-protection (but it would work for sport). I also know I wasn’t trying to be polite when I said that 3K training for demonstrable 3K outcomes was OK. It’s when they are expecting results that aren’t delivered that we have an issue.

My point was that we can’t universally say “3K karate is bad” because there are some who train specifically for art, sport and health, and who have zero interest in combative function. For them 3K karate “works” in that it delivers the results they want. I’m not for one second saying this is the state of play for the majority of 3K karateka. I think it would be fair to say that most do expect combative function to be a by-product in some way. However, “most” is not “all” and hence universal statements can’t be applied. The minority position also needs to be factored in.

The instant we see one white crow, we can no longer claim “all crows are black”. It’s therefore not a matter of what is the majority view (and that’s not disputed), but of making the nuanced point that the minority position exists and therefore we can’t accurately apply universal statements to all karateka. The positions articulated by Jesse and me in our respective videos are therefore accurate. The problem of 3K karateka thinking their training is functional remains an issue (that I’ve publicly been writing about for 20 years now), but that message is not diluted or made less true by acknowledging that not all karateka have a self-protection focus.

I therefore agree that 3K karate does not effectively produce combative utility; and it’s a major problem that many think it does. However, where I diverge is that I acknowledge that some 3K karateka have different training goals.

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

I definitely agree--as long as the goal/intent of the training is clearly stated, and the training meets that goal/intent, I don't have a problem with it. It may not be for me, but as long as they aren't lying to their students and misrepresenting what they are doing, it doesn't bother me too much.

PASmith
PASmith's picture

some who train specifically for art, sport and health

One thing that I come back to on this is that it's possible to train for those things and still have a base level or core of functional self defence orientated stuff too I think. I'd argue Iain's approach offers those sorts of things (not so much the sporting outlet of course but other's mileage will vary on that) as well as being reality based.

I don't see why being functional for self protection and "art" or "health" are maybe seen as mutually exclusive goals?

Training for art or health doesn't have to be used as an excuse to then train in disfunctional nonsense IMHO.

For one the "art" in martial arts is in the "doing" not in the outward aesthetic. The well applied straight right or effortless ippon throw. That's the art and that art can be present in reality based self defence systems, if you're willing to do away with the notion that "art" should mean being pretty or flowery or some other aesthetic measure.

Training for health should see increases or benefits to cardio fitness, coordination, balance, proprioception, weight management, strength, flexibility, etc. Again...such things can be targetted with realistic training and drills or unrealistic training and drills. With realisitc options available I don't see why people would choose to do the unrealistic stuff.

Do the realistic stuff and you can get the art and health benefits (if done properly) AND some self defence skills should you need them. Win-win really.

Aaron-in-AZ
Aaron-in-AZ's picture

I sincerely appreciate the replies.

To keep it simple, I'd wager the percentage of people in the 3K Community who think that 3K is practical is very high.  It is a norm, with the people openly saying that it isn't practical being a small minority.  The norm I see was nicely expressed by Ian's point about Kata, Kumite, and Kihon "...somehow magically combine, via and unidentified and unexplained process, to produce combative skill that will deliver results when a person is under pressure".  That hits the nail on the head.  That's the norm I see.  Of course I will be open to this not being the norm globally but I would find it very, very surprising.   

Practical application is important to me and it's the main reason I was referred to Ian's material.  I would like to see more of this in karate in general.  I suspect that the main obstacle to people seeing the importance of an alternative, practical approach is the above criticism of 3K Karate.  People don't see it.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

PASmith wrote:
I don't see why being functional for self protection and "art" or "health" are maybe seen as mutually exclusive goals?

Absolutely. They are different goals, but not mutually exclusive ones. Health and, to a lesser agree, art are certainly part of my training goals. I do enjoy it when I perform my kata nicely :-)

PASmith wrote:
Training for art or health doesn't have to be used as an excuse to then train in disfunctional nonsense IMHO.

Definitely. However, there are some who don’t want the pressure testing that goes along with functional training. Those people can enjoy aspiring to achieve a given movement form or atheistic without concern for its functionality, or the wider training matrix needed to ensure that functionality. Those people would the 3K karate who are clear on their training goals i.e. kihon for kihon, kata for kata, etc; as opposed to the 3K karate who assume combative utility.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
To keep it simple, I'd wager the percentage of people in the 3K Community who think that 3K is practical is very high.

I’d agree it’s high … but it’s not as high as it was :-) We keep seeking to educate.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
The norm I see was nicely expressed by Ian's point about Kata, Kumite, and Kihon "...somehow magically combine, via and unidentified and unexplained process, to produce combative skill that will deliver results when a person is under pressure".  That hits the nail on the head.

I’m pleased you like that way of putting it. It’s certainly what I see too.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
Of course I will be open to this not being the norm globally but I would find it very, very surprising.

I know of quite a few people who take this approach. As you say, they are not the majority, but they are out there, which I why I felt the need to include that in my discussion on 3K karate.

Aaron-in-AZ wrote:
Practical application is important to me and it's the main reason I was referred to Ian's material.  I would like to see more of this in karate in general.  I suspect that the main obstacle to people seeing the importance of an alternative, practical approach is the above criticism of 3K Karate.  People don't see it.

That’s why I feel we need to provide the alternative. If utility is the aim, then we, as a collective, can show how that works and demonstrate that it is accessible to everyone. I’ve seen a HUGE shift in this direction over the last 10 years or so. I remain confident it will become the mainstream approach simply because most people do want something that has demonstrable utility.

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

All people who teach Applied Karate can do is make what they teach available to the general pubic and share it without expectation. It's true that many 3k practitioners are under some mistaken assumptions, but this is a natural human response to guarding something one holds dear. It's frustrating, but we cannot change how others react to things or see the world. Iain's politeness and congenial way of approaching this stuff gets him more engagement than a confrontational approach, in my opinion.

I have been following the world of more practical-minded Karate since the 90s, I've come to the conclusion that many Karateka (martial artists generally really) simply aren't interested in having their assumptions challenged. It's a very personal thing in some ways. It's not just Karateka either, lots of martial artists are this way. Even some MMA people. I remember having a conversation with an MMA practitioner (this guy had even had a couple of amateur fights) who swore up and down he could use chokes to "take out" multiple opponents. I could disabuse him of this notion with a mutliple oppoents drill that would take a few minutes and can even involve nothing but open-handed slaps if no equipment is available. I even described the drill to him..no go. He wasn't convinced it would prove anything and would not attempt it.

Is it bad that people have beliefs like this? Yes, probably. Factually though, most Karateka will never have to use their skills, and on some level they know it, so the illusion creates nothing but a mild cognitive dissonance in most cases. It's not great, but from my perspective the time of Iain and others with a public face in the Applied Karate world, (and to a lesser extent those of us who simply teach in it I suppose) is best spent exchanging ideas with interested people as much as possible so that the world of practioners dedicated to this sort of Karate continues to develop, thrive, and draw in the people who resonate with it.

I have found that the best way to approach someone who doesn't understand to be Iain's Martial Map, it is simple, logical, and ends with common sense conclusions. The problem I run into most with this sort of 3k Karate practitioner is simply that they don't understand "fighting" vs. "self defense". 3K Karate approach can actually work in fighting. It's not ideal even there, but I've "won" stupid young male fights with skills acquired in tournarment Karate, so I get why they might believe this. It's a thinking error.

To finish, I have to say, the Karate world is -so- much better than it was in 80s and 90s in this regard, it's all perspective. I think the world of Applied Karate is a very interesting one these days and it's exciting to me to see a lot of teachers I've followed adjust their process and what they teach over time. It's worth keeping in mind that this is not a prescriptive thing, there's not a permanent series of "commandments" for this kind of Karate, we adjust as we develop and learn new things, and this how it should be.