It’s 6:00am the morning of the 3rd day of a three day seminar with Iain Abernethy from the UK. I woke up with my mind immediately shifting into gear going over what we did yesterday (Saturday) and Friday night. Therefore this review. To place this review in context, I have spent many many hours traveling to go see some of the top instructors in the martial arts teach in a variety of different arts that I’m interested in. There are many more that I haven’t seen and I know from being on the mat working with other instructors who run schools or teach part time that there are many instructors out there that can teach and could give seminars as well. I also know that my main area of interest has been in the Filipino martial arts (FMAs) so I’m not a “karate” sensei of high rank in a traditional organization nor am I writing from that view point when I say that hands down this was one of the best and one of the most enjoyable seminars I’ve attended yet in the martial arts as a whole.
Iain is a great communicator, an excellent technician, and as a whole had his material so well put together that like I said, I woke up thinking on how I could adapt his material to what I do to in order to make what or how I teach better for my students. Ultimately that is why I’m here to get ideas on how to improve my study of karate (and TKD) and to see if I can bring techniques, ideas, drills and concepts back to my school for my students. I have always felt there was a disconnect in the way karate was taught (I use karate as a general term for karate and ITF type or inspired TKD). This is a big reason I gravitated more to the FMAs because I liked how things were tied together; in fact it was through studying the anyos (forms) of Modern Arnis that got me interested in studying the applications of my TKD kata. Iain helped provide me the answers as to not only why there was a disconnect, what the disconnect was and how it got there, but also inspiration on how to solve the problem.
Iain started off by explaining his view on kata applications by explaining or I should say tying in historical references of writings by Okinawan masters of karate and then over time how things went as it karate moved to Japan. It wasn’t like a boring lecture rather it was like getting a history lesson from Dan Inosanto on the FMAs (and how they came to America and such). It helped frame the context of the subject at hand. This would continue throughout the weekend providing insight into techniques and into the katas and into the men who created or taught the katas in the early days of karate.
Then he started off yesterday explaining the techniques found in the katas and had us practicing them in a flow drill. This was unique in my experience because I had always learned the bunkai (application) of a move as a set apart move, ok if I was lucky maybe 2-3 moves but not Pinan Shodan as a whole flow drill with combative applications. Understand what I mean here, Pinan Shodan not as 15 different techniques or individual moves (I’m just using 15 as a random number here to illustrate the point, it is 6:00 am remember) but as a whole drill that flowed from one technique to the next. So you would start at the opening move and practice it, he would then add a second move and then you would practice both, a third move and you would go through all three techniques and so on till the end of the kata. All of the while he would explain what the techniques could mean how they fit into the kata, humorous stories which fit into the presentation etc. etc. OK now image going through Pinan Shodan – Yodan in this format.
At the end of the day after about 8 hours of being on the floor (we got maybe 1-1 and 1/2 hours in break time overall) we were getting pretty brain dead and yet the flow drills still stayed with us, or I should say parts of the flow drills stayed with us. Enough so that it wasn’t just a couple of moves here and a couple of moves there. At the same time we should remember why this move is this way or that etc. etc.
At the end of Friday night's session I was up till 2:00 a.m typing my notes from that 2 hour lesson, I managed to recall about 10 pages of drills and notes on the core principles of the katas (what they teach) and specific drills to back these up. This set the ground work for yesterday’s workout. (I took these from my hand written notes at the seminar.) So I know I have about a week work ahead of me to go over and type out yesterday and today’s lessons and many months/years of working to implement this kind of material into my curriculum.
So why call this review Back to the Future? Because I believe it is by going back and researching our katas and applying them in this manner that the future of the art lies. Whether it is applying pressure point techniques (like so many other teachers do), or the more combative type of techniques such as like Iain was showing; having an alternative to the “traditional” sparring mode type bunkai applications I believe is the future. As this type of teaching method takes hold I believe the art becomes more realistic and more interesting to the public at large. Hopefully we can then teach more and more adults instead of having karate and TKD becoming just a kid sport in the U.S.A. I’m not sure how many adults attended the seminar, I only saw 1 kid or teenager, but there were about 50 + black belts (and a few under black belt rank) working together. This shows me that there is interest among other instructors into this material who in turn hopefully will pass it on to their students and so on.
At the end of the day this was a great seminar and training experience and I highly recommend his (Iain’s) seminars (or any of his material really), to anyone interested in application principles in the study of kata for the Japanese or TKD arts.