Bunkai, Karate, Oyo, Kata Applications

Are You Practicing Bullsh!t Bunkai?

Thanks to UFC and YouTube, martial arts in the last 20 years have become a melting pot.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Where once individuals would stick within the confines of a single style or club, now you see masses of martial artists cross-training like never before. Karate practitioners are no exception.

Where bunkai once consisted of simple punch, kick, block combinations, karate-ka have integrated throws, joint locks and clinching into their application practices. All of which is an example of Bruce Lee’s philosophy that “the best style is no style” and are, in fact, more faithful to the original practices developed by the “Masters” who created the kata in the first place.

By integrating these elements, many karate-ka have created creative, practical and meaningful applications and 2-person drills for the kata that karate is so well known for.

At the same time, there are many people creating their own bunkai that just completely miss the mark.

Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

Although the intent is commendable, there are a lot of karate-ka out there designing convoluted and completely impractical kata applications.

While the movement patterns include individual techniques that may work, like rear naked chokes and hip throws, the way they enter or connect the movements are awkward and could very well lead to injury or worse if applied that way in a real-life self-defense situation, or even just with a little resistance in class.

I write this as a type of public service announcement that not all that glitters is gold. 

Just because an individual has thrown a “fancier” technique than a punch or block into their kata application DOES NOT mean that it is automatically practical in a real-life situation.

Just because a technique meets the solo-template does not mean that it will be effective in the context of a self-defense situation.

Please don’t teach bad self-defense just so the movements match the kata!

If you are gung-ho to be a part of the bunkai bandwagon, remember that creativity loves constraint.

To think outside the box, there must first be a box to begin with. Unrestrained creativity doesn’t result in art; at best, it creates an incoherent splattering of colour. Picasso, Van Gogh and Da Vinci were innovators, but they always worked within the confines of the concepts that they were applying. If you are not applying the concept that defines your art, then you are not practicing the art.

The constraints within our bunkai practices are obviously the kata itself and the laws that govern the physics of the human body.

Physics determines the effectiveness of a technique.

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At the end of the day, someone can be as creative as they like, but if they have a poor understanding of leverage and force, the techniques they present just won’t work.

But, let’s say you don’t have a complete understanding of body mechanics (we can’t all be physics majors), how can you know what’s bullshit and what’s a practical application?

Here are some signs that a person is pushing bullshit bunkai:

#1 – They always perform the application with someone smaller or an overly compliant partner.

Like sex and dance, your partner should be an active participant. If during the demonstration, the uke looks a lot smaller and weaker, or simply looks like an uninvolved meat sack, then there’s a good likelihood the instructor failed to grasp the idiosyncrasies of violence.

If they opt to use a smaller, weaker or far less experience person for demonstrating, it’s likely they rely on strength or compliance to make it work, not technique. At the same time, when someone is overly compliant in a 2-person application practice, it also fails to show the contextual premise which the applications should be based on.

Also, if the application only works against someone who is barely responding to the stimuli, then it’s a good indication that the technique or flow drill has not been pressure tested. If it hasn’t passed pressure testing, then it’s unlikely to prove itself useful.

#2 – If it looks awkward, it is awkward.

Often bunkai enthusiasts will work within the confines of a 2-person flow drill. Please remember it’s called a flow drill for a reason.

If there isn’t continuity of movement, then it’s not a flow drill. Transitions on either side should be seamless, ultimately building ease of adaptability when confronted with resistance from the opponent.

Keep in mind, if it doesn’t flow within the context of your own creation, why would you expect it to flow within the context that your would-be attacker creates?

If it’s awkward, stiff or choppy at any point, then it’s not a meaningful application practice.

#3 – They put themselves in bad or illogical positioning.

Art of War is a staple of any business, law or martial art school library. An understanding of strategy is paramount when dealing with confrontation in all its forms.

If a person demonstrating an application puts themselves in a good position, like taking the back, but then returns to the front of the opponent under their own power, then they fail to demonstrate an understanding of strategy.

There is a reason why taking the back results in extra points in competitive grappling. It’s a superior position. As the Art of War points out, “you can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked”. 

#4 – The application starts with an unrealistic or an unlikely attack.

For example, if the kata application starts with a lunge punch, multiple attackers who take their turns while attacking, or an awkwardly placed grab, then they are creating an application for a fantasy, not reality.

If you watch videos of real-life situations, no one ever attacks with a lunge punch. And, when faced with multiple attackers, generally the assailants don’t take turns, but move in a uncontrolled, mob-like fashion.

Applications should be based on common attacks, like those outlined by Hanshi Patrick McCarthy in the theory of Habitual Acts of Physical Violence (HAPV). HAPV Theory catalogues 36 potential attacks, which encompasses all possible variations of violence. When developing bunkai, the techniques taught should teach ways of dealing with these HAPV in a realistic manner. Practice should begin with passive resistance and gradually build up to aggressive resistance. By doing so, you slowly create a pressure tested scenario.

Image courtesy of Hanshi Patrick McCarthy.

As martial artists, we should be students of reality. Anyone can get lucky and be successful applying a poorly executed technique, but we don’t train day-in and day-out with luck in mind. It is our duty to stick within the confines of the reality of violence, not only to ensure that we are executing the principles that dictate the nature of the art we practice, but for the safety and well-being of those who practice with us. Anything less and we’re only fooling ourselves and doing a disservice to our art and our students.

Addendum:

“Bunkai” refers to the process of analysis, whereas the extracted techniques are referred to as “oyo”. In the article, I chose to use the term bunkai to refer to both oyo and bunkai because the term bunkai is commonly (and incorrectly) used to refer to both and most karate-ka are more familiar with this use of the term.

Kata, Karate

Is This The Return of Kata?

Up until this point, Karate seems to have been having dwindling participation in recent years.

In my club, particularly amongst our kids’ classes, the numbers have steadily been going down.

It seemed that Karate was becoming a bit passé in comparison to the trending martial arts, like BJJ and Muay Thai. I suppose if a child is going to choose a martial art, they’re more likely going to want to choose a martial art that their parents enjoy on television like what they see in the UFC.

But now, we’re all in self-isolation. Martial arts that are dependent on partners (which SHOULD be all of them) are having trouble selling their art because it is so reliant on proximity with another human being.

If you’re not fortunate enough to be locked in with someone who also has a love for hitting and strangling other people for fun, what is one to do?

Kata.

Since COVID-19 has forced us all into isolation, famous martial arts practitioners, like John Danaher, have been promoting their solo drills—something karate students have been practicing since its conception.

Of the martial arts schools I’ve seen with the highest success since self-isolation policies were implemented, karate schools have reigned supreme with minimal loss in students.

Why?

Because solo templates are and have always been a pivotal part of Karate’s practice, a focus on solo practice has lent itself to an ease of adaptability in current times. Let’s look a little bit further at why.

#1 – Little Adjustment for Karate Students

Unlike other martial arts, solo practice has been a heavy focus in karate. Yes, other martial arts will use solo practice in a warm-up, but very rarely do they make it a focus for an entire class. In karate classes, you will train hours and hours of getting your body in just the right alignment, so that it will be as you train it with a partner. Because karate practitioners are already accustomed to practicing solo in the dojo and at home, there is minimal adjustment for them.

#2 – Trained To Use Imagination

Some Karate schools teach kata first, then the applications. Other karate schools teach the opposite. Whichever way they choose, because Karate has always used solo templates, they’ve always been encouraged to imagine an opponent, and different scenarios when practicing their kata. This is an ideal tool when in self-isolation.

#3 – Strong Sense of Tradition & Discipline            

Most martial arts also have a strong sense of traditions, but Japanese martial arts seem to place a stronger emphasis than others. A greater sense of tradition may lend itself to a strong sense of discipline, which is an important quality; without it, many may not be motivated enough to take the time to train at home. A sense of tradition may also promote a stronger feeling of loyalty amongst its karate students. If the Sensei says there is a virtual class, most students will follow through, simply out of a sense of commitment to their instructor and their club.

#4 – Meditation In Motion

Recently, I’ve seen an increased interest in meditation. Self-isolation may be a trigger for mental illness for some individuals, a common remedy is meditation. Kata can certainly be identified as “meditation in motion”, the focus derived from its practice and the focus on breathing, may promote the same rewards as meditating in a seated position. Kata as a holistic practice also allows for improved cardio, strength and flexibility. Because kata allows for the so many rewards, it’s easy for the karate practitioner to feel inclined to practice kata on a regular basis.

#5 – Pathways In The Brain See No Difference

The connections in your brain see little difference whether you practice a movement pattern with a partner versus during solo. Whether you practice the movement patterns on your own or with a partner, you’re still reinforcing similar neural pathways. Because, as previously mentioned, Karate Sensei teach to imagine opponents and scenarios from the beginning, it lends them the greater ability to reinforce these neural pathways in isolation, which ultimately will improve their performance with a partner.

Conclusion

More now than ever, solo practice or kata is one way martial artists can continue to build on their technique while in isolation.  But while kata offers many great rewards and should be practiced regularly, I think karate practitioners should stop to ask themselves a few questions.

  • Do you think when you did have a group of people in a room together that you used your time as wisely as you could have?
  • Could you have spent more time on practical two-person drills when you still had the opportunity?

Kata is a pivotal part of karate as a practice, and as discussed, an important tool in karate training, however, a tool that is over used, also becomes useless. For some schools, kata is over-practiced, used as a substitute for realistic, pressure tested scenarios. Although kata has it’s place, when you do have people to train with, that is the time when we should be practicing techniques and scenarios with one another.

But now, isn’t just the time for solo practice, but for self-reflection.

At this moment, it’s the world’s version of “Go to your room and think about what you’ve done!”

No matter the art you practice, also ask yourself:

  • Could I have been a more compassionate teacher?
  • Could I have been a more understanding student?
  • How could I have helped those around me, when I still could have?

The world has given us an opportunity to reflect. And, when you do, are you satisfied with what you see?

Martial Arts & Swimming Alone

As a child, I was afraid of swimming in open water by myself; the vastness frightened me.

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I was afraid that the weed that tickled my feet would be the thing that pulled me under.

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I was afraid that if I turned away from the endless horizon that the shore that once harbored me would be gone.

I was afraid with no one there beside me I would slowly sink into the abyss, no one to hear my cries for help, no one to help me re-emerge.

Martial Arts And Swimming Alone Reach

For many, the martial arts generate this same fear.

You could spend a lifetime exploring its depths and never fully understand it all. There is SO much to learn; the knowledge is vast. It’s easy to feel insignificant, treading water, struggling to keep your head above water against its swells.

There are many who have changed styles of martial arts because of one reason or another. Perhaps the politics and drama was too much, you outgrew your teacher’s skill, or you just didn’t see its value anymore. In these moments, you must turn away from the shore, the place from which you came—often with uncertainty—and swim towards a new horizon.

In each of our dojos, we have to fight through the metaphorical weeds: an impatient student, an overbearing mother, a self-absorbed instructor. At first, these things can seem like a threat, but the energy lost trying to avoid these weeds can be better spent by simply swimming forwards.

When you enter these open waters you can jump feet first, or you can dive right in.

But, when you do, remember . . .

No matter the distance between you and the shore, it will always be there to harbor you.

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No matter the depth of the abyss, there will always be a hand to reach to.

And, no matter the weed that tickles your feet, it will never break the surface.

But once you face this vast ocean on your own and swim further away from your shore, you’ll realize that all those who walk the path also swim the same ocean and reach for the same horizon.

But know now, the rewards that lie on the horizon just beyond your reach and your fear…

Will. Be. Glorious.

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Thanks for reading!

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Martial Art Talks: Renshi Paul Lopresti

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, I speak with Shotokan 5th dan and Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu 5th dan, Renshi Paul Lopresti. Renshi Paul has over 40 years of experience, first starting in Karate with his father at 7 years old!

Renshi Paul Lopresti

Today he shares his experiences training MMA fighters and what he will be teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku. Feel free to watch our interview or read below.

JT: What is it about KU and Sensei McCarthy’s method that made you want to stick with it?

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PL: The fact that it was eclectic. It had everything that I didn’t have in my training as a Shotokan stylist. We were good at kicking, punching, kata and kumite, but I hadn’t done a joint manipulation, strangle, any ground work or throwing; those parts of my game were missing.

And, I guess in the late 90’s, UFC had started to become very popular and I knew that the parts of my game that were missing were either going to get me hurt or get me killed if I had to use it in real life.

Overall, I felt that KU was a complete system and I needed to go in a direction that was going to give me those missing elements.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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PL: As you may or may not know, adult learners are generally classified three ways: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I find that I have a direct hands-on approach and I use all three of those methodologies when I teach in a regular class or seminars.

JT: What is the process you go through when teaching or assessing your students?

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PL: I roll with every one of my students every week. I get physical with them because I want to feel their progress, so I know where their weaknesses are. I’ll identify those whether it be in class or the next class where I’ll do something like guard passing or something I know a bunch of students are struggling with.

I also have a two-hour open forum. The first hour we basically work on technique, usually directly from or something that relates to our curriculum. The second hour is an open roll for about 45 minutes or so. Then at the end of class, I take open questions from anyone on our curriculum material or on anything they encountered while rolling that they had trouble or difficulty with. Then lastly we finish up with some conditioning. That’s a typical class, step-by-step, how I run it.

And, just like anything else, there’s no magical pixie dust that I can sprinkle on somebody, it’s just hours on the mat.

JT: Your club participates in cage fighting, how is the preparation different from BJJ or Karate tournaments?

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PL: If you look at wrestling, wrestlers are put under intense cardiovascular and strength training, dietary restrictions and then they’re wrestling. Cage fighting encompasses the same thing.

Generally, we’ll have a eight to ten week camp before a cage fight. I don’t like the cut a lot of weight for amateurs only because dehydration sets in, it’s not good for their body long term, and they lose a lot of muscle mass. I don’t really like weight cuts. I determine their weight before we start a camp, generally within five pounds up or down. Then, we’ll start a camp with a lot of cardio and strength training. I have a minimum requirement for cardiovascular stamina and speed; if my fighters can’t perform to that level, I do not let them fight for me. Their strength training has to be done outside of the dojo. They have to put in their cardio and their weight training. I’m not standing over them with their weights and cardio. However, I will work on their striking, grappling and transitional game, whether its throws, takedowns or whatever.

Generally, we work for their strengths. If they’re good at striking we work mostly their striking. If they’re good at grappling were going to work their grappling and takedowns and try to close the distance.

At the end of our eight weeks, depending on when the fight is, we have the weight, the strength, the cardio, the grappling and the striking; it all comes together.

We’ve been very successful in the amateur scene and we’ll have a few pros soon and keep going.

JT: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

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PL: My experience. I’ve had a long career and had the opportunity to train with some of Shoto Kan’s greatest instructors in the US and beyond.

Obviously now, I’m with an international group of like-minded people and obviously Sensei McCarthy is world renowned as an author, competitor, instructor, as an instructor’s instructor, and as a practitioner!

JT: How do you acquire new knowledge?

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PL: I classify myself as a visual learner. If I can see and I can question, then I can learn. I don’t have to do it because the visual pathway for me is conceptual. If I can see what’s going on, if I can see the pathway, then once I see, I understand.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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PL: I’ve been asked to run over a set of drills I’ve shown a few times in Canada. We’re going to look at those as an addition to our core curriculum. We’re looking at the ne-waza material.

I also plan to marry the lessons of the other instructors and my own. I intend to modify or amplify what has already been taught for students who need to work more on a certain principle or process.

JT: How does it feel to go from a attendee to an instructor at the Gasshuku?

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PL: First of all, this is a great honour! This is a big deal. I’ve only taught in front of Sensei McCarthy twice. So, for me to be asked to teach along side him is a HUGE honour. It’s very intimidating; he’s a world-renowned martial artist. To share the stage with someone like that, it really is a phenomenal experience for me, and very enriching.

JT: What would you say is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

PL: You’re going to get good training. You’re going to get good information. You’re going to get good learning.

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The real “umph,” the real thing you’re going to take back is the extracurricular: the conversations that you have, the people that you meet, train and share with. THAT is what’s going to make the Gasshuku. THAT is the piece you’re going to remember.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

PL: You NEED to be at this event. You really do! If you do one thing this year, come out to this event, even you are going to have Sensei at your dojo, come out and get the group experience, get the senior instructors’ experience along with Sensei McCarthy’s.

My God! How do you get that much experience into one place for five days! You have GOT to get there!

JT: Wow! That sends the message loud in clear! Thanks so much for your time Sensei Paul!

 You heard the man! Get your ass to the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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Martial Art Talks: Sensei Darrin Johnson

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, we speak with Koryu Uchinadi Shidoin, Sensei Darrin Johnson. Sensei Darrin has 35 years of martial arts experience, a 6th dan in KU, is an avid researcher, and has pursued other martial arts such as, Muay Thai, Aikido, Kobudo and holds rank in various styles of karate.

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In our chat he shares his controversial opinions about martial arts today and how he integrates KU and Muay Thai into his weekly practice. Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

 

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

Sensei Darrin and Sensei McCarthy

DJ: When I was growing up in Spokane. Sensei McCarthy would come to tournaments and I would see him in the divisions and he would always win! And, as I was growing up through the martial arts my instructors would always have a Patrick McCarthy story, so I knew him before I even knew him!

JT: What about KU made you want to stick with it?

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DJ: Well, for me, it was the answer! I had spent my entire martial arts career looking for a style, a technique or a kata that would give me the answer. I couldn’t tell you how much I spent on videos of kata that I thought would give me that.

Then, I get with Sensei McCarthy and started looking at these things called tegumi and two person drills; they were so realistic. For me, KU had everything I needed and there was no reason for me to look any further.

That being said, there are things that aren’t really in KU right now that I like in Silat, Kali or Bagua, but I can bring it in because KU isn’t a style, it’s a methodology. I can bring anything I want into that methodology that works for me. I like impact, so I bring in Muay Thai, which is already similar to what we have with our Heishu Waza. For me, there’s just nowhere else to go. If I want to grapple, I grapple. I don’t need to go out and become a BJJ Master. I can just work that within my Koryu Uchinadi practice.

JT: Based on your experience as a martial arts business owner, what is the most important thing you have learned? 

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DJ: Don’t go into business. If you want to run a daycare, then yes, own a business. For me, I enjoyed myself much more when I was a club or a community centre or practicing at home. The market right now is just little kids. That’s why I started teaching Muay Thai, because that’s what people wanted. People would come in and ask “You don’t wear gis, do you?” and I’d say “No.” Then, they’d say “Good! Because, we wouldn’t want to come here if you did.” They don’t want the gi. They don’t want the belt. They don’t want the ranking system. They just want to train, like cross fit or tennis, just train.

If you want to do it as a business, you’ve got to have your ducks in a row, and you’ve got to make sure the kid market is there. If you don’t want to teach kids, you’ve got to have something else that’s going to bring in adults on a regular basis.

JT: You mentioned that you don’t use the gi, could you elaborate on that?

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DJ: I wouldn’t wear a kilt or a suit of armor to workout in; it’s irrelevant. That type of uniform and training methodology was meant for the 1890’s and early 1900’s Japanese because that’s what they wore. People today wear hoodies and t-shirts. If you go down to Florida, they wear flip flops and tank tops. Your training methodology should match the culture you’re in.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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DJ: My teaching style is stern, but fun. I’m not going to spend a lot of time fixing everything, every second. I’ll mention it and move on. I’ll come back, fix it again, and move on. I might skip it for a few weeks and then come back to it.  If you just focus on correcting the entire time, than the student won’t get the overall lesson plan.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DJ: There’s no step-by-step process; it’s a feeling. Every student is different. There’s no cookie cutter method for me. Sensei McCarthy uses the term mitari geiko “to watch and learn,” but sometimes I’ll have them do a technique and if I see a pause, I’ll just pull it out and work it until it doesn’t pause anymore, so it becomes functional spontaneity.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part for you as an instructor? 

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DJ: It’s time, meaning that I wish I had more time to teach. I wish the student’s had more time to learn. People don’t practice at home like I used to, but most people don’t have that type of time or dedication to it. There’s always so much to teach. I wish I could do more grappling, more throws, more chokes and strangulations; I just don’t have the time.

JT: What is the most rewarding aspect for you as an instructor?

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DJ: It’s not money. It usually costs me more than I make on it, that’s for sure! It’s rewarding when you have somebody come in that’s timid, shy and not very athletic, then six months to two year later, they start to look good and they feel the difference and that’s the most important thing.

Having someone train with me, it inspires me. They want so much knowledge and I have so much stuff to give. It’s fun to give that knowledge and watch people accept it and enjoy it, it makes you feel worth something.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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DJ: I am an impact guys. I love to smash! I make jokes about being “hulk smash” or “smash mouth”. We’re going to work on impact drills. If somebody grabs me by the throat, I’m not going to try a joint lock, because that’s hard, they don’t stand still for you. Smacking them in the face is quick and easy, that’s what I’m going to teach.

JT: How do you plan on going about teaching it?

 

 

 

DJ: Usually, you start with the HAPV or a mutual confrontation situation where you square off. In this case, I like to use focus mitts, Muay Thai pads and boxing gloves, because it allows the person to really extend their power through and get the idea of what it’s like to hit something. As well, the person holding the pads gets to feel what it’s like to get hit, without getting hit. It’s safe, yet they’re learning what it feels like to get smashed with fists, kicks and knees.

JT: What do you think is the best part about the Gasshuku experience?

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DJ: The gathering is always nice and to get like-minded people together, to see old friends again and meet new friends.

JT: If you have one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

 

 

DJ: Whether you’re a beginner or if you’ve been around for seventeen years, the idea is you don’t know it all, never think you know it all.

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Darrin Johnson for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!

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Karate and The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is when you make a decision based on the desire NOT to see your past investment go to waste, rather than on the best outcome.

Nowhere else do I see this phenomenon as much as in karate.

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I have listened to many karate students and teachers explain to me that they are disenchanted with their current karate practice:

“The application practices are unrealistic.”

“The body movements are mechanical.”

“The teaching style is too militarized.”

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Yet when I ask, “Why don’t you quit or switch styles?”, there is always an excuse. Sometimes, they quote loyalty to their instructor or peers.

OR

It’s just the way they’ve always done it.

Denial-san at it’s best!

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The real reasoning is they cannot bear the thought that they’ve invested their entire life for a method that is now or always has been worthless.

It’s a security blanket that is worn, tattered and useless!

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I’ve also seen long-time students make no meaningful commitment to training, but show up for the last 15 minutes of class once a month, do a kata and leave, while claiming they are still passionate about martial arts. It is obvious their interest has faded and they’d be happier somewhere else.

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Why do they continue to come to a class when they aren’t getting anything from the class mentally, physically or even socially?

They hold on by their fingernails because they fear that if they completely stop, that all those years of real commitment and work will have been a waste.

As Julia Galif explains, “whatever you have already spent is called the sunk cost. It’s gone no matter what you do going forward.”

The irony is that the desire to not see your past investment go to waste makes you waste even more time clinging to something that you no longer enjoy.

My advice is to not waste any more time pretending martial arts is something you actually want to do. Put yourself in a place you want to be, even if that means leaving the Dojo behind.

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For instructors who are disenchanted, find a methodology that truly fits the outcomes you want to achieve. It may mean biting the bullet and starting over again from the beginning, but once you realize you are on the wrong path, the only option is to correct the course you are on.

For the students who have lost interest, your time hasn’t necessarily been wasted. The benefits of pursuing the fighting arts are far and wide and the lessons you’ve learned will always be with you. Remember, it’s better to have loved and left than to have never loved at all.

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Martial Art Talks: Renshi Danny Spletter

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer. 

The first person to hit the MAT is Koryu Uchinadi Renshi, Sensei Danny Spletter. In addition to being a 4th dan in KU, Sensei Spletter also holds a 3rd dan in Shoto Kan. 

Renshi Danny Spletter

In our talk he shares what he feels are the most rewarding and sometimes frustrating aspects of being an instructor and gives us a taste of what he will be teaching at the 2017 North American Gasshuku! Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

Hanshi And Renshi Spletter

DS: I was a part of the Australian Karate Federation in Brisbane; they would bring him over every year for a seminar. He would explain, in depth, katas we were doing and until then I had no idea that they had applications—or had asked and never received an answer.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

Renshi Spletter Teaching

DS: I fall back on the JKA style of teaching, which is more Kihon oriented, in the KU sense. I still very much like that formality. I roll out with that more traditional style karate. I like things to be fairly disciplined and orderly.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DS: That’s hard. It depends on the student. The way my curriculum is set up is we have the solo first and then the two person. I think that gets some muscle memory about where the body should be moving. But, sometimes it’s very difficult for people to imagine that other person there, so there’s some fusion.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part of teaching? In KU and/or just generally.

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DS: I’ve thought about this the last few years: KU really requires a good partner and it’s very difficult when you have mismatched students. It occurs to me that’s probably what happened with the evolution of Karate from Okinawa to Japan. You originally have these small classes with individual attention, possibly two to three people, then moving to larger classes, it would be a very difficult task to make that transition and teach two person drills to a mass amount of students. I find it works better for us to have smaller groups, more individual attention and to limit the ratio of students to instructors. It certainly works out and I find the students progress much faster when they have a evenly matched partner.

JT: What’s your greatest strength as an instructor?

Sensei Darrin Johnson, Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Renshi Danny Spletter

DS: I try to be pretty organized. I’m a chef by profession and the culinary term is mise en place, which means “to put everything in its place.” That’s why I’ve set the curriculum up to be very orderly. That works for me in my personal life. The students that we have seem to be very comfortable with that. They know where they’re headed and there are no mysteries.

JT: What is your greatest strength as a student?

Renshi Spletter Kaishu Waza

DS: The stand up from JKA. The stand up impacting is where I probably feel the most comfortable.

JT: What’s the most frustrating part for you as a learner? 

Tsuki Naka Ken

DS: As KU has progressed, it’s gathered a lot of drills. With the limited amount of time I have, its sometimes difficult to practice those drills and I really have trouble keeping up with them. We have a group of black belts now that are learning those drills and we’ll be able to work them together. Like the old adage says “karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”

JT: What will you be teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

DS: I’ve volunteered to do the Kihon section at the start. We call it the Kihon Kickoff, with “old school” Volume 9 (Basic KU Curriculum) and REALLY work those drills. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a sweat up to start the Gasshuku!

JT: What do you think is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

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DS: The thing I love about the Gasshuku is the networking and the people. Sensei McCarthy always says it attracts like-minded people, but I guess its not just like-minded in the martial arts, it’s a group of people I genuinely enjoy spending time with. I’ve been all over the world and it really seems to attract a similar group. They’re all pretty good people to get along with. I always have fun.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

DS: Follow your passion. Do what you want to do because life is short!

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Danny Spletter for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!KU_IRKRS

Guest Post: “The Instructor-Student Gap: Why Your Students Still Suck” by Josh Stewart

Any good instructor’s process is always under scrutiny. The instructor looks at the students and wonders, “Why aren’t they doing what I asked?” or “Is that really what I showed them?”

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Self-doubt is a valuable tool in martial arts both as a student and as an instructor. As a student, when the instructor makes a correction or provides feedback, there should always be the assumption that you are the one doing it wrong. If that’s the baseline assumption, then if it’s not true, you have reminded yourself of something you are doing correctly, and if true, then you have found an area to fix.

As an instructor, this can be somewhat more difficult. The reality is that there will always be a gap between what you teach and what somebody else learns. It could be physiological differences, miscommunication, or varying learning styles that cause this discrepancy to exist.

Physiological Differences:

Age and injury account for a number of physical limitations that may prevent students from doing exactly what the instructor does, but there are also a number of other biological factors that affect how an individual performs a particular technique.

Flexibility, or lack thereof, has a vast effect on how the body moves. Stances and kicks are obvious areas where flexibility provides a greater range and may limit a student from copying exactly how an instructor executes a movement. Grappling is another area where strategy or technique selection can be largely determined by flexibility. For example, Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet system is designed with the assumption of a certain range of motion, and someone without that capacity may struggle to emulate those exact sequences.

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However, I have also noticed that double-jointed students often have difficulty limiting their flexibility by contracting muscular groups effectively at the right times. Even a simple straight punch, executed by someone with a lot of flexibility, sometimes gives the appearance and feeling of being floppy when joints hyperextend without suitable muscular contraction to support the energy transfer.

Stature is another contributing factor. Bigger, more muscular people may rely on their size and strength advantage when working with a smaller partner, leading to neglect of correct footwork, positioning, or body mechanics because they can “get away with” doing the technique incorrectly—until they encounter a training partner their own size. Conversely, smaller students may have to supplement their techniques with extra kicks, knees, or groin slaps to help bring larger partners down to their own level. Otherwise, they may struggle to achieve the intended outcome because they simply can’t reach the targets designed in the training exercise.

Miscommunication:

As the word suggests, this occurs when one or both parties involved are not on the same page in regards to what is being asked. Any martial arts instructor who teaches kids knows that lack of listening or focus has a vast impact on this process, but it is certainly not limited to children.

Adults, especially advanced ones, tend to experience miscommunication because they believe that they already know the message being delivered. Again, the correct default for a student should be to assume they know nothing and are doing it all wrong, but naturally after several years of training, the ego may want us to assume otherwise.

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Of course, it takes two to tango. Instructors sometimes give vague or contradictory pieces of information about how a technique or strategy should be applied. Another source of miscommunication that can be blamed solely on the instructor is talking over the students’ heads. At times there may be too much technical jargon that learners will not be familiar with, in which case the verbal instruction may not transfer any useful information to the group. Instructors always need to remember who their audience is to ensure that the right level of detail is being provided at the right time in the learning process.

To limit miscommunication, creating an environment where it is safe to ask questions is vital. If a student asks for clarification and gets an abrupt, rude response, that will be the end of the process. Unfortunately an instructor’s ego is also involved in this process, often leading to the conclusion: “Well, I explained it clearly . . . What’s wrong with these students for not getting it right?” Just like the student, the instructor’s baseline assumption should be the opposite. If the students aren’t getting it, the onus should first be on the instructor to try again to deliver the lesson clearly and effectively.

Learning Styles:

Of course, there has been a lot of research into kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning. The established reality is that, while we may rely more heavily on one rather than the other, each is a spectrum, and depending on what we are learning, we use each to varying degrees. In martial arts, we virtually always rely on them all: we listen and watch as the instructor presents the material, then we practice it physically.

Learning style also affects how an instructor delivers lessons in terms of how much context to give. Some learners are “big picture” oriented—they won’t understand the piece of a puzzle unless they know what the entire scope of the puzzle is. However, others are happy just to take one piece and practice it, and worry about the next step in the process when they get there. While one learner might be confused by being asked to deliver a technique without knowing what came before and what will come after it, another will be bored by the teacher’s long, unnecessary rant about the history and functionality of a certain sequence that they haven’t had the chance to practice yet.

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Body language is a key to understanding a student’s learning style. An auditory learner stands closely to the instructor and leans in to hang on every word; a visual learner re-positions to get the best angle to see what’s happening; a kinesthetic learner mimics the instructor as the movement is being demonstrated. Global learners may walk back to their partner shaking their heads or linger longer than others, hoping for more explanation. Analytic learners may look restless when the big picture is explained and will be the first one back to their partners.

In any group of students, there will typically be a standard distribution of students who will learn faster than average with less practice, those who will achieve proportionally to the amount of effort they expend, and those who are ultimately destined for failure despite their best efforts. The instructor’s role dictates catering to those in the second category. If students are struggling to perform the technique as being explained and demonstrated, the instructor should first look at the potential of his or her own failure before moving to the conclusion (although sometimes correct) that the student is the one responsible for missing the mark.

Author Bio Josh Stewart

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5 Phrases That Need To Be Used MORE In The Dojo

5 words that need to be used more in the Dojo-4

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Dojo Disillusionment

The martial arts world attracts strong egos, big politics and more drama than a high school play.

Maybe, someone received a rank that you felt they didn’t deserve or someone of high esteem lacks what martial arts writer Dave Lowry calls “moral stamina.” Perhaps, there’s constant gossip and you hear more about the people training than about the skills you should be mastering.

Because of this, at some point, you may feel disillusioned and disheartened. You might even have the urge to quit and think “I don’t need this drama in my life. If this is what the martial arts attract, why am I still doing this?”

That is the question, isn’t it? Why am I doing this?

Japanese martial arts have been likened to a path. As many of us know, the term “do” is attached at the end of martial arts, like Judo and Kendo, that means “the way.” This suggests that the martial arts is a journey that goes beyond the cultivation of physical skill, and hones both mind and spirit.

There are many things that attract us to the martial arts when we first begin our journey. Some pursue the martial arts for self-defense, physical fitness, to avoid boredom and even just for a sense of community.

But, there’s something beyond physical reasons that makes us return to the dojo time and time again. It’s an intangible, not qualified by how hard you kick or the belt you wear.

Koryu Uchinadi Black Belt

Something more. . .

Something deeply personal. . .

Something else. . .

It’s the calm that radiates through the dojo when you’re the first and only person in there practicing.

It’s the final breath of your kata, when you know it’s the best you’ve ever done it, but bow with the knowledge it will never, ever be perfect.

It’s the effortlessness in which someone slams to the floor when you get a throw JUST right.

It is the moments that lie between aggression and tranquility. A harmonious combination of our most animal nature with our greatest serenity that paradoxically brings us into a frame of being that transcends words and our human imperfections.

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An internal stillness propelled by breath and what I call a “return to centre.”

It’s sometimes easy for our compass to become skewed in the mist of frivolous nonsense that seeps into our practice brought on by human inadequacies.

So, when you lose your way along the path, focus on the most basic of human functions, breathe and return to centre.

It’s in that moment you realize there was no trick of the light. . .

No magical unveiling. . .

And, there was no illusion to begin with.

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