At the Cummings Karate Dojo, our focus for our Seniors Program (ages 14+) is teaching traditional martial arts for the modern world, and developing the skills we learn into practical ways to defend yourself should the situation, unfortunately, arise. Please note we approach karate for kids quite differently, so to find out more please read about our Juniors Program.
Practical Karate
Sensei Choki Motobu, one of the main teachers of the founder of Matsubayashi-ryu (our style), said that 'Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defence'. It is this quote that we use to underpin our approach to practical karate training, supplemented by the fact that karate is for civilian-based self-defence against the average person/ruffian as defined by Sensei Anko Itosu's (the grandfather of modern karate) 1908 letter.

Kata is at the heart of karate, and the functionality of what we practise lies within the forms and their associated application practices that have been handed down over time from teacher to student. It is also worth ackowledging that karate's development can be attributed to a mixing of the South East Asia's fighting arts^ (including indigenous Okinawan martial arts called di/te and Quan Fa/Kenpo 拳法 [Chinese martial arts, which later blended with Okinawa-te to become To-te 唐手], Torite 取手/捕手 [seizing and controlling], Tegumi 手組 [Okinawa-style wrestling]), surrounded by the ritualisation of Japanese Budo 武道 and contemporary sports science.

To determine how we derive functionality from karate's kata, it is first important to understand how kata originally began as sets of paired drills practised by martial artists* that were contextualised by the common ways you may be attacked^. Kata is therefore the ritualised solo representation of these drills and partner-based application practices. Kata is not the only tool we utilise, though, to build a practical approach to karate, we also utilise tools such as pad and bagwork, two-person drills, self-defence scenario based training, and sparring.

In our Dojo we utilise the kata as what we call the 'templates for response' against commons attacks in civilian-based self-defence (often referred to as habitual acts of physical violence (HAPV), as catalouged by Sensei Patrick McCarthy). Kata as a form alone does not create a pathway to functionality, and it is important to understand that the the ways you may get attacked (the HAPV) set the context for the kata, and without them, the template is of no use: you need to know what [realistic attack] you're defending against to know how it's used.

These kata-based 'templates for response' provide the building blocks to be successful in a self-defence situation. They are the gateway and foundation to realistic fighting, and help provide a natural reaction/flinch response that use segments of the kata as a method of defence against common attacks.

The solo representation (kata) of the 'templates for response' are not enough, though, and are therefore enhanced and learnt through partner based exercises. In our Dojo, we focus on setting the context for how kata is used through the application practices and kumite series taught in Matsubayashi-ryu, and also by the incorporation of some of the systemised two-person drills from Sensei Patrick McCarthy, and other methods that Kancho Reece has learnt over his years of training.

The process of looking at kata and its associated applications in our Dojo is: kata 型 (form) > bunkai 分解 (pick apart) > bunseki 分析 (analyse) > oyo 応用 (apply) > henka 変化 (variation/expansion).

To extract the practical applications from karate, Sensei Toguchi Seikichi of Okinawan Goju-ryu (and a student of Sensei Chojun Miyagi, founder of Goju-ryu) outlined his rules in what he called 'Kaisai no genri', which we investigate in our classes, includes:

Shuyo san gensoko – three basic rules
  1. Don't be deceived by the shape (embusen) of the kata.
  2. Techniques executed while advancing are offensive. Those executed while retreating are defensive.
  3. There is only one opponent and he is in front of you.

Hosoku joko – advanced rules
  1. Every movement in kata is significant and is to be used in application.
  2. A closed pulling hand returning to chamber usually has some part of the opponent in it. 
  3. Utilise the shortest distance to your opponent.
  4. If you control an opponent’s head you control the opponent.
  5. There are no blocks.
  6. Angles in kata are very important.
  7. Touching your own body in kata indicates that you are touching part of your opponent.
  8. Don't attack hard parts of your opponent with hard parts of your body.
  9. There are no pauses in the application.

It should be noted that the main influences on our approach to practical karate stem from Kancho Reece's three primary instructors: Sensei John Carlyle, Soke Takayoshi Nagamine (dec), and Sensei Toshimitsu Arakaki of Matsubayashi-ryu. In addition, much of what we do in our Dojo and the pathway that we take towards our investigation of practical karate is influenced by the research of Sensei Patrick McCarthy of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society (IRKRS), of which the Cummings Karate Dojo is an Associate Member of.

Here are a few videos of practical karate being taught at our dojo by Kancho Reece (many of which can be viewed at www.Facebook.com/KarateCanberra

For further reading about the application of practical karate, we recommend you read:

*Seikichi Toguchi, Okinawan Goju-ryu 2: Advanced Techinques of Shorei-Kan Karate.
^Patrick McCarthy, International Ryukyu Karate Research Society www.koryu-uchinadi.com