Sunday, 26 October 2014

What If??

What if the original functions of the antique kata were discovered? how would this change the way Karate is practised? what if the functions of the forms were not what people assumed them to be namely self defence? what would be the place of kata and how would Karate practitioners choose to proceed and develop their art?

For the last 25 years Nathan Johnson and many members past and present of the Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Renmei (formally Zen Shorin Do) have been engaged in researching the original functions of the antique kata (forms inherited from China). The research has been clearly documented in publications that record the ongoing process and changes in direction according to the insights and assimilation of new evidence and experiences. The results are not the guesswork of an afternoon in the dojo, they are the product of years of painstaking research and practise with constant feedback and criticism from a group of senior Karateka. This has led to a research method and set of criteria (partly laid out in previous posts in this blog) which must all be fulfilled by those continuing the decoding of other kata.

The evidence amassed is overwhelming and way beyond the scope of a blog post or a youtube video. Karate kata are physical records and need to be experienced physically, they are the primary sources and always the beginning and end of the research. We would like to invite those with an interest in the original functions of kata such as Naihanchi, Sanchin, Seisan, Kusanku to come and experience it for themselves. To assess the evidence by active participation and immersion in the functions of the forms and to then decide. We look forward to hearing from you!

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ask More of Kata

Many creative interpreters of kata enjoy the luxury of never being 'wrong', anyone can make up an application to a kata movement and in the world of anything goes bunkai it will be accepted as another alternative and in some cases added to the collections of bunkai enthusiasts. Bunkai ideas are often driven by personal tastes, for example one teacher may be a grappling enthusiast or a pressure point junkie and their applications will often reflect this. By dismissing the possibility of discovering the original function, context and usage of an antique form creative interpreters are absolved from ever facing any real criticism and having to explain the rationale, sequence, technical repertoire etc of a kata. No one ever treads on anyone's toes and there is room for everyone to present their stuff, as is the case in many popular Karate forums. The fact remains that if creative interpretation and making up applications is the chosen way of approaching kata then there has to be some justification for taking that position and reasons given as to why the original function which gave birth to the movements and form are not explored.

Many practitioners will not even begin to attempt to seek out the original meaning of kata because they have been told that it is not possible or lost forever. Thankfully this sort of attitude did not effect those who unlocked the Rosetta stone or those currently decoding the Voynich manuscript. Instead of reducing all kata to reactive self defence or bits of a fight dressed up as 'flow drills' that have very little to do with the chaos of a violent encounter, I would like to invite those with a passion for kata to take another look and see if it is possible to unlock the original functions and see what is actually achievable with only the technical repertoire of a form like Chinto or Passai etc. Is there an underlying theme? a context for use? an intended environment for usage? what is the relationship between each technique and movement? is the sequence significant?

There is great diversity in the content of the antique forms which suggests many functions, contexts and ideas and once unlocked can only add to the rich history and heritage of Karate. Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why Three years one Kata?

Many of the kata inherited from China have their roots in military and civil arrest arts, it should come as no surprise then that the content of the forms and skills encoded are difficult to achieve and in some cases unobtainable to hobbyists and recreational practitioners. Specialised skills such as unarmed control and restraint techniques, the effective use of policing tools or different types of weaponry demand a level of practise and skill that is usually reserved for professional groups and institutions such as the police and military.

The specialised skills of a police officer or a Royal marine for example can take years to develop fully and are always initiated with one to two years intensive training to develop the necessary foundation. The antique Martial arts were no different in their requirements. A kata and its function may well have taken at least three years for a practitioner to become effective in its application and usage as the Karate and Gong-fu traditions record.

Unarmed civil arrest and the various techniques used to control, restrain and cuff are undoubtedly difficult to master and are generally out of reach of the hobbyist who might perhaps train for a couple of hours once or twice a week. This would also be the case in the use of weapons and any other skill, sport or art! Imagine a trainee civil arrest officer or bodyguard in Chinese antiquity who spends several years training three hours a day (just an example) performing thousands and thousands of repetitions of joint locking techniques, rope binding, weight training and of course on the job training with seniors getting that all important hands on experience. Skills and techniques on a glance that might seem impractical and not functional become brutally efficient methods once the appropriate training and demands for efficacy are met.

It is also important to note that not everyone would possess the right attributes to master these different skill sets in the same way not everyone can become a Royal marine, police officer or world class boxer. That does not at all exclude anyone from enjoying the varied Martial arts and many forms as recreational practices, dynamic forms of exercise and hobbies. The antique kata can and are enjoyed by millions and stand as wonderful cultural relics that give a fascinating glimpse into the Martial skills of the past.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Original Function or Creative Playground?

Okinawan karate has always been a melting pot for mixing various martial arts, katas and the creative drives of its pioneers, this was a necessity due to the often incomplete and erratic transmission of gong fu forms and styles that arrived with little or no applications. Forms without functions were re-engineered, added to and given a new life eventually evolving into the various styles of Karate. Creative interpreters today are continuing this process started in Okinawa. The search for the original meaning of kata requires a very different approach and a move away from almost everything in Karate apart from the forms themselves.

It is quite rare among Karate teachers, enthusiasts and groups to spend time attempting to unlock the original functions of kata, often dismissed as a pointless endeavour kata are left wide open for creative interpreters to pin any meaning they like to the techniques contained in the forms and to the personal tastes of the student in choosing which applications they like best.

Committing to researching a kata and attempting to discover its original function is a painstaking process where countless mistakes will be made, months even years of experimenting sometimes produce no solid results and if a discovery is made and the kata becomes decipherable the function may not be what was originally suspected or hoped for! This is diametrically opposed to the creative playground where anything goes in interpreting a form. It is undeniable that the creativity that goes into imagining the countless applications is inspiring and the appeal to bunkai collectors is obvious but if the original function of the techniques is not to play a role in the bunkai then isn't this a call for completely new kata to be created?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Proactive Not Reactive

One of the most important discoveries to come out of the research conducted by Nathan Johnson and the Kodoryu group is that the techniques catalogued in the antique forms inherited from China such as Naihanchi, Sanchin, Seisan and Kusanku are of a proactive nature with a very specific function for each form such as civil arrest, Sai techniques and disarming techniques. This has been a key insight into explaining the sequence of each kata and the relationship between techniques.

Proactive application of the techniques significantly alters the course of the bunkai and it becomes possible to deduce from the catalogue of techniques what the context for use and underlying function was. For example Naihanchi is an ingeniously devised form that instructs the practitioner in proactive locking techniques that restrain and subdue without brutalising or injuring the person being detained. The techniques are ordered in a way to create a progressive study of crossed arm (right arm to right or left arm to left) finger, wrist, elbow and shoulder manipulations that lead into two key holds which may have been used to then bind the wrists together with rope, or to bring the person onto their backs for further effective restraint. The absence of striking, hitting when a person is down, chokes etc suggests that Naihanchi's applied context was within civil arrest and could have been used by police, bodyguards or guards of the royal courts.

Here is an isolated section of the Naihanchi set,

Proactive civil arrest techniques seek to avoid a situation descending into a violent confrontation, for example in modern policing an officer making regular arrests does not wish to have to fight every person they arrest otherwise it would be almost impossible to do their job without sustaining massive injuries and facing bigger risks than they already do. Proactive techniques seek to overwhelm and take control of a person and situation while minimising as many of the possible responses from the person being arrested, Naihanchi fulfills all of these criteria.

With a clear purpose, context and removing the endless 'what ifs' that arise with reactive techniques and making them proactive it quickly becomes clear that these were the essential criteria in the formation of the antique kata.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Self Defence and Kata Don't Mix!

In modern Karate kata are taught primarily as a vehicle for self defence, endless 'scenarios' are pitched as possible interpretations of movements dealing with various attacks. The practise is carried along deeply entrenched in the belief that when the time comes it will work for real and when faced with genuine violent intent lots of dojo practise is the way to prepare for it. Reactive self defence applications are severely limited and fail to address so much that needs to be considered for genuine self protection. Here are several of those issues for consideration.

Self defence is not a duel. So many of the bunkai and kata applications created only work on the premise that there is one person attacking at a given moment and that there is enough time and distance to see an attack coming. Close the initial distance, add overwhelming stress, fear and adrenaline and there is an immediate breakdown of many the beautifully orchestrated responses. Add in the fact that people are very unpredictable, a person may not know they are in a potentially violent chaotic situation until it is already well underway leaving kata techniques behind while desperately trying to survive and escape. Being faced with two or more people at once is something almost never considered by bunkai enthusiasts or if it is often at best the attackers take turns to attack and receive a response.

Extreme levels of violence. There are endless applications for dealing with a hook punch, straight Karate punch and various static holds but rarely does the creative interpretation venture out into extreme levels of violence such as dealing with a person whose opening gambit is biting a nose or an ear, gouging an eye etc How different would the outcome be in the photo above of Choki Motobu if his attacker had grabbed him and bitten his ear off? these levels of violence may be less common but that does not exclude them from consideration as in order to prepare effectively for violent confrontation all areas most be covered.

Concealed weapons. A concealed blade can in a moment turn the tables on someone confident in an unarmed exchange. Many applications effectiveness depends on there not being a concealed weapon employed at some point, a very dangerous assumption.

Fighting injured. Kata applications usually depend on a person being fully able bodied and without injury. If for example an unprovoked assault led to a broken arm and the attack continued how many of the techniques would be applicable? there are many other factors to consider that could also render useless refined dojo aquired kata skills such as tiredness, intoxication, sickness, stress and so on.

In spite of there being literally thousands of applications created for the various kata to deal with potential attackers that come under the classification of self defence, as demonstrated above so much is left unanswered and this should raise doubt around the idea that kata is an effective medium for reactive self defence techniques. There are just too many variables to consider to create a practical self defence kata, could it be that self defence and kata just don't mix?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Kata - Function Dictates Form

Function dictates form is the perfect phrase for describing kata. The techniques, posture, stance and sequence all arose out of an original function and purpose. The kata is the product and not the starting point as so many bunkai enthusiasts teach today. Many Karateka use kata as pseudo savings accounts, collecting as many techniques for each movement from as many different sources as possible. Not only is this unnecessary as a practise it also severely limits the value of the solo exercise, the kata no longer represents a unifying function and the performance becomes a separate abstract movement where anyone can do anything and be as 'creative' as they choose.

The solo form should reflect experience in the intended function, this is what gives the kata its value as a practise. The more experience and time spent training in its true function the higher the quality of the solo movements. The intention of the practitioner should be to re-create the internalised interactive experience of the techniques in their forms, this is not possible when collecting random applications which bear no relationship from one to the other and trying to force form into function.

Form arises from the refinement of techniques and skills which represent the function, every nuance of a kata is significant. The lack of consideration to the details of a kata that often occurs with many of the random applications and the deviation from very specific movements calls into question the credibility of the bunkai.

Other than attempting to unlock the original functions of kata why bother with anything else? is it productive to use a kata like Naihanchi for example as a template for 100's of applications that have only a passing semblance to the form which is very specific and expect practitioners to ignore the fact that often the applied practise and solo exercise are really two different things sharing the same label?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Create a Kata!

There are many ideas taught about what is possible when interpreting a kata, such as multiple layers of application, hidden/secret techniques, forms applicable armed and simultaneously unarmed and many more. One exercise to explore if these ideas are actually possible and relevent to understanding forms is to create a kata and attempt to put these ideas into practise from the beginning of the process. If it is indeed possible to record for example many layers of techniques in a simplified repertoire then the process should not pose to much of a challenge to create a form that will reflect the intended techniques and hold value as a practise. The results may also help point towards the original functions of the antique kata (forms inherited from China) or eliminate ideas and theories that have proved impossible when creating a form. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

Self defence - Create a self defence kata, what would be the starting point? would the techniques be pro-active or reactive? how many techniques would be enough? where would it be applied e.g indoors or outdoors, how would this effect footwork and posture etc? is it against one person or more? would it include headbutting, biting, gouging?

Multiple layers - Create a kata with multiple layers of techniques, encode 2 or more techniques in each single movement. Does the movement honestly reflect the intended techniques? how many layers are possible? can a strike also be a lock and/or a throw etc? how is the solo movement to be executed in order to be a valuable exercise representing the multiple layers?

Armed/Unarmed - Create a kata that pulls double duty as unarmed techniques and armed. Use of weapons is very different from empty hand fighting so how are the differences resolved in the chosen movements and techniques? Can a comprehensive repertoire of both armed and unarmed be recorded in one set of movements? would there be any real value in doing this?

As shown above there are many criteria and questions to be answered in creating a form based on one or more of the many ideas used in creative interpretation of kata today. If these ideas turn out to be ineffective as a starting point and basis for creating a kata, is it likely that this is how the antique forms were originally conceived?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Blocking - A Persistent Myth

Blocking techniques are something that almost all Karate practitioners learn and practise at some point. In weight of the evidence proving blocking to be ineffective in real fighting it remains a persistent myth with many followers still convinced of its practicality. Dynamic pre-arranged sparring drills can lead to a false sense of efficacy and the leap of faith from ordered dojo practise to a chaotic violent encounter is a big one.

The plethora of real fight footage readily available on the internet as well as full contact sporting combatives such as boxing and MMA demonstrate time and time again that it is not possible to predict what the attack will be. Without knowledge of the attack the visual and physical reaction time required to deliver one of the blocking techniques practised in karate is just not possible. Further breakdown occurs when faced with a skilled opponent who does not attack with a single blow and instead delivers vicious combinations which relegates keeping up with the attacks to the movies.

Many movements in the antique kata are interpreted as blocks, it is doubtful that the impracticality of blocking was unknown to the kata creators therefore the modern interpretation needs to be called into question and along with it the reactive mindset that accompanies blocking. It is also unlikely that the antique forms contained any reactive blocking techniques not only because of the impracticality but also how would it be possible to catalogue them in a kata?

If an attack cannot be predicted what would be the starting point in creating a reactive form? How would the problems discussed above be overcome? Is there any value in recording reactive techniques (especially blocks!!!) in kata?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Kata Escapology - Another Curse of Bunkai

Wrist grabs, lapel grips, locks and holds make up a large portion of isolated 'attacks' used in modern reactive kata bunkai. The attacker usually (and generously!) performs the grip or hold and waits patiently for the defender to perform the application. As with oi-tsuki (discussed in the previous post) this type of practise ends up causing more problems than it solves.

Many of the elaborate applications used to respond to grabs and holds are actually dependent on the attacker being fairly lifeless. The photo above being an example, why doesn't the attacker grabbing Choki Motobu's wrist simply pull him to the ground or let go and hit him in the back of the head while Motobu is turned away? What is he waiting for?

A strong active grip to the wrist or lapel (or anywhere else) is not an end in itself and is done in order achieve things like greater impact when hitting, throwing techniques, securing locks and holds etc. So does it make sense to have kata applications to respond to these grips? training to focus responses on a wrist grab or lapel grip can end up having devastating consequences from what quickly follows next!

Escaping from locks and holds is a very difficult skill to acquire, it is hard won through countless hours of grappling requiring not only knowledge of the escape manoeuvres but also an intimate knowledge of the holds and locks themselves.  A prerequisite for a good lock or hold is breaking the opponents posture and balance, many of the escapes taught as bunkai for various kata begin with the defenders posture and balance intact and lack the most important part of the escape, recovering posture and balance!!! 

Given the vast number of possibilities and variations that occur in grappling and the experience needed to be effective in escaping grips, locks and holds it seems counter intuitive to try to isolate a few techniques here and there and catalogue them in a kata. What if you have the escape from an armbar but not from the choke that follows it? the list of 'what ifs' goes on and on ad nauseam and quickly reveals that it is beyond the scope of any kata. To effectively prepare to deal with a grappler and grappling techniques grapple!

The aim of this post is to call into question that the antique forms (kata inherited from China) originally contained reactive grappling techniques and that the common isolated attacks used in modern kata bunkai such as wrist grabs, lapel grips, locks and holds are a poor representation lacking in vitality and far removed from reality. 

If the intention was to record responses to grips and holds etc it should in some way give meaning to and reveal the structure and sequence of a kata, otherwise the form is just another seemingly random series of techniques strung together for no apparent reason. What would be the benefit of this as a practise? and what value would the solo exercise hold for the practitioner? can solo kata movements ever honestly represent reactive grappling?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Oi-Tsuki the Curse of Bunkai

Oi-tsuki (forward stepping punch) is one of the main kihon (basics) taught and practised in modern Karate, it has also become a staple movement used as a catalyst for explaining many kata techniques. Not only does the constant use of Oi-tsuki as a driving mechanism for bunkai create a narrow perspective on the function of kata it keeps the applications isolated as a primarily reactive affair in a working distance more akin to an armed exchange than an empty handed one.

The antique forms arrived from China via many different sources often without applications and without the original functions intact. The Okinawan pioneers drawing on professional and personal experience developed their own interpretation of the kata, one idea or assumption about the forms that took hold was that they were all for self defence. This had a huge impact on the early development of Karate and standardisation of basic techniques common to most styles.

Reactive punch/block-counter Karate became the standard practise with the attacker always losing the exchange. This basic theme is still common today but with generally more sophisticated techniques and ways of dispatching of an aggressor. In order for the blocking techniques to be successful the stepping punch became a neccesity as without knowledge of the attack and distance/time to react blocking in an organised manner becomes near impossible.

The opening distance required to deliver Oi-tsuki resembles more the standard distance used in kendo/jutsu (this may be no accident), again this is often crucial for many kata techniques to 'work' in a self defence scenario. Starting in close proximity without knowledge of what the attack will be creates a whole list of problems for applying kata techniques as reactive self defence and calls into question this assumption placed on the antique forms.

After delivery of Oi-tsuki it is also standard practise for the attacker to become frozen in time and wait for the counter or 'application' to be performed. Regardless of aggression, speed and power this type of practise is still far removed from the chaos of a real physical exchange and does not develop or guarantee a techniques effectiveness against a violent resisting opponent.

Oi-tsuki is just one of a cluster of standard attacks used for explaining kata techniques, by removing the assumption that all kata are reactive self defence techniques and the contrived attacks used to demonstrate and practise them it is possible to cast a new light on the movements and find a myriad of functions in the various forms. Using the techniques in a preemptive/pro-active manner and 'going first' opens up a new world of practical application and eliminates the problems that arise in attempting to react spontaneously with kata techniques learnt in a safe organised environment.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Kata - Don't Peel The Onion!

One of the most common ideas attached to modern kata interpretation is the idea that a kata has many layers of application and each movement many possible meanings. If this is the case it raises the question, how are solo forms to be correctly practised and performed?

If solo kata training is to have real value and benefit it should reflect the intention and physicality expressed in the applied function. This is not possible when a technique becomes an abstract movement that can be 'used' as many different things such as a strike, block, lock, throw etc. For example striking and locking are very different skills requiring the body to work in very different ways, if a practitioner has several striking applications and several locks for a single technique in a kata how can the solo movement genuinely express them all? Would it be a reasonable idea for a professional boxer to try to use their punching repertoire as a basis for a series of locking techniques and then try to express both simultaneously in their solo training? would there be any real benefit to this?

Another way of exploring the validity of the multi-purpose interpretation approach is to try to create a kata that contains many applications for each movement. How are strikes, locks, chokes, throws etc to be combined into movements that have honest expression in a solo kata? It is impractical and simply unnecessary to force fit different types of techniques into a few movements, the final product becomes a separate thing in itself with little value in practical training.

The antique forms each have an underlying function which is the relationship between the techniques and reason for synthesising them in a kata in the first place. Each technique has a single applied function, as the practitioner accumulates experience in the actual application, the intention and physical expression in the solo form develop an honesty that gives value to the practise of kata. The solo form should be a direct expression of the function and as close as a practitioner can get in execution to their actual experience.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Sanchin - Chinese Sai Drill

The video above is a clip taken from a demonstration in 2006 at the Seni show in Birmingham showing Sanchin kata as it is currently practised in modern Karate (Preserved in Uechi Ryu) and the restored antique form performed with a pair of sai.

The research within Kodoryu looks into the original function of the form as utilised in China before its migration and re-invention in Okinawa. The demonstration is not simply an empty hand kata performed with sai, it shows a sai drill that later became an empty hand kata.

The Sanchin drill is an ingenious exercise that develops a full range of skills required to manipulate the sai for use as a civil arrest tool. Every nuance of the form is significant and lays the foundation for developing further skills and techniques recorded in other kata such as Seisan and Sanseriu.

The sequence opens with locating the sai and drawing them, a key skill that cannot be overlooked. A comparison would be in the drawing of a pistol in modern policing, this must be well trained and second nature. From the draw the sai are unfolded into an open position and the correct grip is established, the 45 degree angle of the arm aligns the sai into the correct position which is essential for functional trapping, flipping and striking. Next the circular movement of the arm drawing back and the thrust demonstrates the arc the sai follow when flipped into the closed position and continuously followed into the basic thrust which uses the pommel to strike the limbs. The many repetitions train the practitioner to maintain a tight grip on the weapon while striking in a way that the sai does not deviate on impact and in the worst case come out of the hand.
Section two trains to flip the sai while the arms are extended and establish grips without drawing the arms in, as well as being an excellent continuous exercise that develops strength and speed in striking.
Section three trains establishing contact with the sai in a closed position, pinning the limbs of the opponent, flipping them at close quarter with limited space, trapping and again striking with the pommel.
Finally the closing of the kata brings the sai together to free a hand or to put them aside in order to restrain further or tie up a disarmed opponent.

This brief overview sketches the function of the drill in preparing the practitioner in the essential basic skills for using the sai, once the draw, grips, flips, key positions and basic strikes are mastered further techniques and skills can be developed in the advanced kata Seisan and Sanseriu.

In further blog posts I will explore how this Chinese sai drill became an empty handed kata as well as exploring the techniques encoded in related forms.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Creating Naihanchi

I would like to propose for those interested a thought experiment using the kata Naihanchi, any kata will do but Naihanchi is a great form to use as it is simple with some unique peculiarities. Starting with the generally accepted assumption that it is for fighting (or self protection) try to imagine how the kata was created? what aspects of fighting would go into formulating the stance, posture, fist, techniques and footwork? what is the value in practise of this kata for its assumed function 'the fight'?

To put it simply, starting here;

How do we arrive here?

The fight clip is one example of many hundreds available on youtube as is the Naihanchi clip both chosen for convenience. The purpose of the experiment is to see if Naihanchi is a logical form to arrive at from a fighting function and to attempt to gain insight into the process that went into its creation. The experiment is also if necessary to raise doubt around the assumption that fighting gave birth to this and other kata. Creating applications for movements in the form that look like bits of a street fight does not stand as evidence that street fighting was the original function. If the suggested source material for a kata does not show a logical progression to the form then alternatives need to be explored. 

Here are some alternative criteria to consider other than 'fighting' when looking into a katas original purpose,

Possible context - Civil arrest i.e control and restraining techniques, disarming techniques and arresting methods, Military skills i.e weaponry use and close quarter skills, Combative sports i.e wrestling, boxing.

Environment - different types of terrain would require different types of footwork and skills to maintain balance, posture and for effective delivery.

The number of techniques and order of techniques, taking into account right or left hand/side bias. Importance of sequence.

Postures, stances, types of steps and footwork, hand positions/shapes.

As well as observing what is in the form it should be questioned what is also absent from the form. For example if Naihanchi was created out of fighting experiences why is so much not included and what was the process that went into deciding to leave out so much? A few examples;

1. Why the head is not protected?
2. Why the upright posture which is maintained throughout the form, where is the bobbing and weaving and dynamic structure for a close quarter exchange and standing clinch?
3. Why the parallel stance?
4. Why the crossed step is the only step and why stepping is only performed sideways?

As shown above there are many criteria to be considered and questions answered if the explanation of a kata is to be accepted. Function dictates form, and the progression of function to form should be demonstrable. If Naihanchi (or any other kata) is taught and believed to be self protection/fighting then it should be possible to demonstrate the process that went into developing the kata and the reason for creating it as well as explaining everything from the context, sequence and structure to stances, techniques and more!

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Why The Never-Ending Bunkai?

Imagine for a moment that you are an Egyptologist who specialises in translating obscure Egyption papyri. You are given a text to translate as accurately as possible and to attempt to discover what is hidden within the script. If there were glyphs and passages that you could not translate would it be reasonable to simply make it up? would it be tolerated by peers and colleagues to present a translation and say "I could not translate these sections so I made up a few different passages, please choose your favourite one!". Next imagine you were given a papyrus and told it was a medical text, after beginning to translate it you quickly discover that it is not a medical text at all. You relay your findings to your colleagues who insist that it is a medical text and that you should ignore your discovery and carry on working on the 'medical' text. Would this be acceptable? Why in Karate kata research and study is it acceptable to create endless applications for the antique kata (forms inherited from China) when they clearly had an original function and purpose? Why is the attempt to re-discover the original functions dismissed so easily as impossible and never-ending creative interpretation embraced? If ancient languages thousands of years old can be unlocked why can't a physical language encoded in forms also be explained.

Kata contain very specific shapes and movements so it is reasonable to assume they have a very specific purpose. Looking at the pictures above it is hard to imagine that the creator(s) of each of these forms had it in mind that practitioners spend their time making up as many applications as possible for their kata. What is the advantage of creating many applications for a kata like Seisan or Kusanku as opposed to simply making up a kata that suits the individual needs and technical repertoire of the practitioner? Often the applications only loosely resemble the movements of the form which means there are two separate things being practised, a solo exercise and an applied technique. If function does not match the form then what is the point of the form?

As each movement in the antique kata originally had a specific applied function the sequence is the relationship between all the techniques. By looking at which techniques are cataloged in a form it is possible to determine the overall function and context for use. Creative interpretation often ignores the relevance of the sequence, producing application after application with no significant relationship between movements and techniques.

It is the responsibility of the creative interpreters to explain and prove the value of creating endless applications for the kata, as opposed to seeking out the original functions which the forms were born out of. The question remains, why not simply create new kata based on personal experience and skills to achieve a desired end? Would a new self protection or street-fighting kata resemble any of the antique forms? if not could this be a clue that not all kata serve the same assumed self-defence function and that an assumption free re-examination is needed?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Kodoryu Pushing Hands

The Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Renmei has a large kata based syllabus that strikes a fine balance between the old and new. The antique kata (forms) are carefully researched, studied and preserved as well as providing the basis for several modern practices developed within the group. One of these practises central to Kodoryu Karate is pushing hands.

Pushing hands is a dynamic game where one person attempts to disrupt a partners concentration, posture and balance while maintaining their own. Using contact reflexes via the hands,wrists and forearms force is exchanged by pushing, pulling and twisting a partners limbs in a reciprocal fashion. Common to many empty hand Chinese Martial arts and some styles of Karate pushing hands differs in Kodoryu in that no claim is made for pushing hands training having any relevance or practical use for fighting or self defence. Free from the ideas of overcoming a person to win a fight and combative effectiveness the game takes on a new life which can be enjoyed by all and pursued from a variety of different perspectives. Examples of varying approaches are pushing hands as a physical art that aims for the spontaneous application of techniques and skills studied in various kata, or as a holistic exercise which works within the natural range of the body/joints and develops strength, posture and bodily awareness, finally as a moving meditation for developing mindfulness, intent and exploring different meditative states.

Each practitioner starts by learning the same basic forms/templates and techniques and gradually over time develops their own individual practise, this makes pushing hands a unique experience with every person practised with. One of the challenges that makes pushing hands such an enjoyable practise is finding rapport and learning to adapt to each individuals physical, technical and psychological characteristics. Constant effort is required to avoid falling into mindless routines and cycling the same patterns over and over again, this encourages students to become more creative with their technical repertoire and results in an ever evolving practise.

Please contact us with any comments or questions and most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Naihanchi - Self Defence?

Naihanchi (Tekki) is one of the most commonly practised kata in Karate today, a cursory search online shows many hundreds of interpretations and applications for the techniques. The most common themes and assumed context for use is civil self defence and fighting, in spite of the obvious flaws and impracticalities for this type of application and function. In order to make the fight 'fit' it is common to see deviations and changes to the kata movements when applied. If the form does not resemble functional use, shouldn't the form be changed to align with the function? if not then two different things are being practised under the same name.

The curious fist formation used in Naihanchi calls into question the assumption that it is for striking of any kind. Punching or striking with this fist actually increases the chances of a dislocated fore-knuckle and offers no advantages or increase to the speed, power and delivery of a strike or punch. If the original intention of this fist shape was for hitting then perhaps it should be abandoned or an alternative understanding sought.

Naihanchi is limited to the parallel horse stance and in footwork to a cross step, hardly the basis to prepare someone for the dynamic movement required to deliver varied explosive punches and strikes in a random exchange. Again if this was the original function intended for the Naihanchi kata perhaps time would be better invested in learning to hit, move and fight like the best punchers and strikers in the world who prove time and time again the efficacy of their method, instead of a faith based practice that lacks any real evidence to prove its efficiency. Here is one of the all time greats;

So if the Naihanchi kata are not punching and striking or preparatory methods for a ballistic exchange, what would be an alternative? 25 years of dedicated research and collated evidence by Nathan Johnson and the Kodoryu group demonstrates that the intended function for the Naihanchi kata is joint locking. The three Naihanchi kata restored to a single form catalogue a series of locking techniques designed to control and restrain a person without causing long term injury or harm. This itself could imply origins within the context of civil arrest, as the method avoids striking the person being restrained when it would make restraining them far easier to do so. The locking function when examined closely breathes new life and meaning into the Naihanchi fist, stance, step and sequence of movements. Here is an example of a segment of Naihanchi shodan broken down to demonstrate;

One more example from Naihanchi sandan broken down for demonstration;

So with the alternative locking function in mind, the form and its components begin to take shape. The Naihanchi fist is demonstrating gripping using the strongest part of the hand, the stance provides a strong base and traction to hold onto a struggling detainee and the cross step is a way of stepping that maintains strength in the posture and grip so movement and positional change are possible. The sequence catalogues locking techniques and variations to keep a person from escaping and standing up. Most importantly the function does not require the form to be altered or deviated from when applied or practised with a partner. The solo form is exercised as the function dictates and is not a loose template for approximations resulting in a multiplicity of functions and practises under a single name.

Presenting the complete catalogue and compiled evidence is beyond the scope of a single blog post but more will be added over time, the aim here is to raise questions about the accepted ideas of the Naihanchi kata and to invite those interested to come, experience and critique the evidence for themselves.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Research Group

The Kodoryu group is dedicated to researching the original functions of the antique kata inherited from China as well as examining the history, culture and traditions that gave birth to the methods and ideas of encoding martial arts and practices in forms.

The research conducted by Nathan Johnson and assisted by Kodoryu (formally Zen Shorin Do, Chan Dao ) members past and present began over 25 years ago looking into the Naihanchi kata and Sanchin in its various forms. As the research has shifted course and moved with growing evidence and discoveries Johnson has published several works detailing his findings. The research continues and has expanded into examining other kata such as Seisan and Kusanku which we look forward to presenting in the near future.

It is often commented that the original functions of kata are lost and so there is no point in speculating what they might have been used for, with Karate kata enthusiasts being better off immersing themselves in creative interpretations of the movements which suit their own personal practice and preferences. The obvious question in response to this idea is why not just make up your own kata? which would allow for a fuller expression of personal experience and skill development specific to the developmental lines of the desired function and context. Instead of forcing experience, skills and ideas into movements and shapes originally synthesized for a different purpose. 

It may be true that we will never know exactly what the original meaning of all the techniques in each kata were but the same could be said of ancient languages, an example is Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is fierce debate about the meaning and ambiguity of many of the glyphs and how they should be read but the point is tireless research has given us a very good understanding of a large body of the glyphs which can only be built on and improved. The antique kata did have an original function and it was this function that was the basis for collecting together various skills and techniques in the forms. Once the underlying function is understood the process becomes a matter of working out each movement (technique) within the context and function.

The key to recognizing the underlying function requires a multi-faceted approach, asking a series of questions, many repetitions of the kata itself so the form is literally known inside and out, experimenting with the possibilities of the movements in isolation and in relation to the other movements with compliant and non-compliant training partners. As the information and understanding develops and experimentation continues it is possible to arrive at a breakthrough or series of breakthroughs revealing the function of the form. This process requires the same dedication as any other type of academic research and may take many years to yield results. The hypothesis will evolve as the body of information and evidence grows. It can be a painstaking process, mistakes will be made and it is possible to go off on tangents that lead in completely the wrong direction. I know this from my own experience of researching the kata Kusanku, the direction has changed many times over the years I have been attempting to decode this form which is intensely frustrating and at times daunting. Finally having a group of seniors and peers to critique and put to the test findings and ideas keeps research moving in a positive direction with fresh insight and advice always at hand.

The process itself is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile, providing a constant demand for learning and development. As well as giving a fascinating glimpse into the antique Martial arts of China and the Ryukyu kingdom. For anyone interested in our group and the research we would like to extend an open invitation to come and experience the evidence for yourselves!

Please contact us with any queries, questions or most importantly for training, email Tom Maxwell at