In several previous blog posts (Why I Train, Efficiency and Effectiveness, and Challenges and Opportunities, to name a few), we have addressed motivations and goals for training as well as trying to find the best way to approach teaching and training. We are both very goal-oriented people, so having a reason for everything that we teach is important to us. We have been experimenting for the past year or so with having one day of training each week set aside for training fitness and self-defense. It has been going really well, and now we’re at the point where those lessons and drills can be incorporated into every training. Traditional training consists of kihon, kata, and kumite. To that, we’re adding fitness (strength, flexibility, and endurance), kata bunkai, and self-defense. While there is a lot of overlap among all of these categories, it is important to understand why we are spending time on each of these in class. This post explains the main points that we think each of these addresses in training, which will come together to form a complete martial artist.
Kihon practice is designed to drill the fundamentals of karate, such as power generation, coordination, body timing, and balance. By its nature, kihon practice is internal to the individual and focuses on getting the feeling for technique within your own body. In addition to regular “in the air” training, kihon also includes impact and reaction training - both internal feelings related to external stimulus. Drilling the fundamentals is a core training principle of any complex physical activity. Practicing the fundamentals keeps your mind and body sharp and prepared to act in an efficient natural way without overthinking. Kihon also allows technical components to be broken down into details and refined individually when they might be overlooked in a more integrated training method.
The solo kata of karate are an important part of our martial tradition, and have repeatedly been labeled the “soul” of karate. In addition to a historical link to past generations, the kata also record a variety of self-defense tactics compiled into a concise package. The solo practice of kata is only half of the story, and a good kata performance depends on proper understanding of the meaning behind the movements. Once the bunkai of a kata are well understood, solo practice can be used to reinforce the internal feeling of those movements. Solo performance can also support kihon training through the practice of body timing, coordination, and flow through combinations of techniques.
Compared to the other two aspects of training, kumite (partner training) provides a practitioner with an external test of technique since your technique is being applied to a partner. Depending on the specific type of kumite, we may be working on testing form, distancing, timing, and targeting, which all require a partner for reference. This is a much more dynamic and interactive method of applying our technique. We need to adapt in a live situation to what our partner is doing, so now we are no longer just concerned with our own self, but need to consider our opponent as well. In freer forms of kumite, we can also work on types of strategy for contests with a skilled opponent – this can become very similar in feeling to a chess match.
Bunkai is the analysis of kata movements for fighting techniques, tactics, and strategies. The kata were designed for drilling self-defense, police, and bodyguard tactics in historical Okinawa. Today, we can use the kata as a source of modern self-defense tactics. Kata bunkai should help us break out of our comfort zone and explore the concepts developed by the early practitioner that developed the form. Kata study is akin to watching instructional videos to integrate new ideas into our fighting methods. The challenge of kata bunkai is that the meanings were not passed down with the movement, so the context of self-defense combat must be carefully maintained when studying kata applications. Through study of the kata in this way, we can begin to integrate kata principles into our fighting tactics for self-defense purposes. However, the lack of literal meanings associated with kata also promotes creativity in the process of discovering kata applications.
Self-Defense training is different from kumite training in two key ways. First, we are now training against an unskilled opponent who is non-compliant and is not facing us in mutually agreed upon combative drills. The distance, timing, targeting, and other skills needed in this context are different, and we focus more on defense against habitual acts of physical violence (HAPV). In addition, self-defense portions of training focus on understanding the context in which these skills would be used, considering legal and ethical aspects, understanding broader issues of violence and violence dynamics, looking at the importance of avoidance, escape, evasion, and de-escalation, and the aftermath of an assault.
Fitness (Strength, Flexibility, and Endurance) portions of class serve to enhance the other categories of training. We can perform better at a physical art when we are physically fit. This also helps to prevent injury, correct imbalances introduced by martial training, and help us to generally improve our lives through staying healthy.
By understanding the goals of training, as well as the purposes of each element of class, we hope to better focus our training and guide students’ progression as Shotokan practitioners and martial artists.
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan and Matthew Baran, Sandan