Friday, October 16, 2009

Karate as self defense

Keith Geyer sensei 7th dan JKA shotokan karateka

Karate as a form of self defence can be very effective but must be trained in the right way.

If you are doing karate as a way to keep fit and healthy that is fine but if you want to be able to defend yourself then you must train it with this in mind that is that you’re learning to defend yourself.

Fresh air training is a big part of karate; it strengthens the body and enables you to practice the basics with correct form, while this is a great exercise it’s not enough to give you the necessary skills in a self defense situation and more needs to be added to your training regime.

"In karate-do, the makiwara is used to strengthen not only the fist, but to practise use of the sword hand, elbows and feet. The explosive power behind the karate strikes and kicks can be attributed to training with the makiwara." - Gichin Funakoshi


You have to practice your basic technique with percussion as well as fresh air shots, since the fresh air techniques do change slightly when you are hitting things, during fresh air training we use an over exaggerated form of kime (focus) that is designed to allow us to deliver techniques as fast as we can without hyper extension of the joints.

When you hit objects the amount of kime and the technique itself are slightly different and even the stances change when you go from a static position to a dynamic one.

You no longer need to apply the brakes (kime/focus) so suddenly and the point at which you start to apply kime and finish it also differs from percussion to fresh air, the best way to understand it is to go out and try it, you will see the difference in your techniques once you start to practice percussion.

You should be regularly practicing percussion on things like

1. Heavy bag

2. Pads and kick shields

3. Makiwara

4. Floor to ceiling and speed ball

As you advance this should become a bigger part of your overall practice, and you should devise a schedule that trains not only your kicks and punches but also knees, elbows and even use karate blocks as strikes (forearm), knife hand strikes etc, in other words you must forge your weapons and sharpen them by doing many percussion repetitions.

"You may train for a long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning Karate is not very different from learning a dance. you will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do" - Gichin Funakoshi

KUMITE (Sparring)

The kumite methods found within shotokan karate are devised to bring a person with no training experience at all up to jiye kumite (free fighting level).

1. gohon kumite – five step sparring

2. sanbon kumite – three step sparring

3. Kihon ippon kumite – one step sparring

4. Jiye ippon kumite – semi free one step sparring

5. Jiye kumite – free sparring

The first four methods are all pre arranged but are great tools for harnessing, distance and timing and the ability for the attacker to throw full blown techniques at someone and for the defender the ability to receive these techniques.

As you advance you may want to change the format little, that is when you’re doing for example gohon kumite don’t get into a rhythm like beginners do, you may want to start feigning, and don’t attack in succession keep the other person guessing break up the rhythm, you may want to start experiment with other techniques also e.g. maegeri, the defender doesn’t have to step back let him use tai sabaki, then the attacker turns to face him and start again. This can be done with any of the first four stages.

After achieving a solid base in the first four stages then you should be engaging in jiye kumite and plenty of it, after all if you want to defend yourself you should be doing plenty of free sparring to get good at it.

Again you might want to mix things up and start to add legs kicks and even take downs into your sparring, contact should be there as well, now I’m not talking about full contact, you cannot train full contact all the time, but your kumite should have contact so you know what it’s like to be hit, this will help in a real confrontation and will not leave you shocked when you are hit for the first time, use the necessary personal protective equipment.

Explore all ranges of fighting, that is apart from normal kumite, spar with only the hands coming into play or just the legs, when you get in close clinch and try and take the other person to the ground, also use stand up grappling if the opportunity presents itself.

Try and use the techniques from kata in your sparring adjust them to suit the live environment that you are now working in, be imaginative and explore as much as you can, better to find out if it works in the dojo than on the street.


KARATE bassaï-daï kata bunkai défense par Didier Lupo

I would also include this element in your training, that is spend time using the techniques of kata against grappling and or striking, after all they are in the kata that can only mean one thing that they are a part of karate.

Work out ways in which kata techniques can be used against wrist locks lapel grabs, clinching etc etc.

I think the very least that is needed is all the above if you want to be able to defend yourself.