Karate

How to Prepare to Defend Yourself Against Real Violence When You’ve Never Experienced It

Telling other people how to use self-defense skills to survive a dangerous or potentially lethal encounter when you’ve never experienced one can be pretentious.

No matter how much experience you may have in the karate dojo, it cannot compare to those occasions when you’re facing an adversary bent on doing some massive or terminal damage.

Having said this — and admitting that, thankfully, I’ve never had to fight for my life — I will offer the following observations on the role karate and other martial arts can play in self-defense.

A major difficulty faced by normal people in violent encounters is that, with few exceptions, the behavior of the attacker just doesn’t make sense. If you’re walking down a dark street and someone sticks a gun in your side and demands your cash, you may be surprised. However, you won’t be confused because you understand the motive of the robber. (In fact, that very knowledge will probably keep you from walking down that dark street in the first place.)

But what about the guy who’s standing at the corner beside you, the guy who suddenly whirls and plants a fist in your ear? It’s unfortunate that unpremeditated, senseless attacks like this are becoming more common. Extreme examples include shootings in schools and workplaces. “The guy just went crazy!” is the usual description after the carnage.

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Walking down the dark street, you’re prepared for the potential violence that might logically happen. Standing on the street corner when a nut cuts loose is something you’re not prepared for, however. Nor can you be. You don’t want to live in a state of combat readiness 24 hours a day. It’s not practical, and it isn’t healthy.

What you can do is train to eliminate your internal rules that say all aggressive acts must “make sense.”

The guy on the corner suddenly attacks. Chances are, you see it coming — at least you’re aware of the oncoming blow. What slows your physical reaction is your mental reaction: “What’s he doing this for? Why’s he swinging at me? He must’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

Thoughts like those immediately form, and they keep on forming even if you’re still standing after the strike has connected. They’re perfectly logical. They occur because you’re a reasonable, rational human being. After it’s all over, they’re appropriate thought processes. In the midst of a violent encounter, though, they’re useless. You must learn to short-circuit them.

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“Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out!” is an example of silly, macho strutting that no one could take seriously. But you should adopt the attitude that you must deal with the attack now and worry about its motivations later on. Insisting that an attack “make sense” before you respond can get you seriously injured or killed.

There’s nothing much here to argue with, you’re probably saying, but what’s the answer? How do you learn to bypass logic and reasoning and let your body take over? You do it the same way human beings have always successfully trained to deal with unexpected aggression — through kata.

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Of course, the proven method hasn’t always been called kata. The military calls it basic training. The police use similar names. But on some important levels, it’s all the same. The routine goes something like this:

Repeat basic movements over and over. Instill them on a level where they’re nearly instinctive and work without conscious thought. Practice them in different sequences. Practice them against opponents who attack in expected ways and then, increasingly, in unexpected ways. Learn them so thoroughly they’re spontaneous and dependable in any situation.

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One of the primary goals of kata training is to integrate physical movements independent of conscious volition. It’s not easy, nor is it quickly accomplished. Despite ignorant criticisms of it by those who’ve never seriously undertaken the process, it’s the most reliable method for learning how to deal with the …

Who Is the Best Karate Practitioner in the World?

The caller’s question was simple: “Who is the best karate practitioner in the world today?” The woman on the other end of the phone line said she was a writer working on a piece for a general-interest magazine about the best practitioners in several sports and physical activities.

“What makes you think it isn’t me?” I asked.

There was silence on the line, so I tried another tack. “Let me ask you this,” I said. “Who’s the best musician in the world today?”

“Well, that’s really impossible to answer,” she said. “There are so many kinds of music.” Exactly.

There’s a natural inclination to want to know who the best is. In some aspects of life, we can make fairly accurate assessments. The best miler in the world has a track record as proof. In other areas, however, a qualifier like “best” is impossible. Such arbitrary assignations often cloud the issue rather than clarify it.

The karate/kobudo master teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Fumio Demura Karate Weapons: Complete Video Course. Merging Demura’s classic DVDs with new new kata footage, the program streams lessons on the nunchaku, bo, kama, sai, tonfa and eku bo to your smartphone, tablet or computer. Details here!

In the karate world, we understand that dozens of schools and systems result from political or personal schisms. Differences over what should be stressed in training can also lead to further splintering of a discipline. There are forms of karate that vary so dramatically in their training, in their emphasis and in their applications that attempting to find a “best” among them would be futile. Where would you start with no more than the most rudimentary common ground?

Nonpractitioners often view the art in a monolithic light. If it features kicking and has black belts, it’s “karate.” The same can be said of ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging. For the majority of us, if we were presented with six different arrangements, they’d all look alike. Similarly, it takes a practiced eye to distinguish goju-ryu from shito-ryu. However slight the differences may be, we know they’re very real. We also know that trying to find the best leads to further misunderstanding about the true nature of karate.

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Once in a trivia game, I came across a similarly themed question: What is the highest degree of black belt awarded in karate? There really isn’t an answer. You can start your own karate organization and give yourself whatever degree you wish, but you’ll lack the credibility of established groups in Japan and elsewhere. So what?

A karate organization’s authenticity is entirely subject to the whims of the prospective student in this regard. Karate has been in the United States long enough and produced enough senior practitioners to no longer need a connection with Japan to establish bona fides. If someone less qualified tries to boost his reputation by declaring himself a 15th-degree black belt, there’s no big karate organization that can say he’s wrong or in violation of some law. And that brings me to my final point.

I recently saw a Western-produced documentary about a karate sensei in Japan. He was described by the narrator as a “master of masters,” and later on there was a note that he’d been recognized as such by the Japanese government.

The Japanese government cares little about the best karate teacher in Japan. Whenever its sanction is invoked in relation to karate, the reference is to what was once known as the Monbusho, or Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture. In 2001 the Monbusho was combined with the Department of Science and Technology to form the Monkasho. It oversees nearly all areas of education in Japan — choosing textbooks, setting curricula and so on.

In 1957 the Japan Karate Association applied to be an educational corporation under Japanese law and be recognized as such by the Monbusho. In a technical sense, then, the JKA can be thought of as being sanctioned by the ministry and that, by extension, means the Japanese government. However, it’s easy to make too much of this.

Imagine that your karate group is renting space at the Riverport City Community Center. Because the center is owned by the city, you technically could say you’re an “officially recognized” form of karate. The JKA was able to convince the Monbusho that its curriculum, training and goals were sufficiently coherent and meaningful to be regarded as an educational system. This is admirable to be sure. However, it says nothing about the dozens of …

Steve “Nasty” Anderson Remembers the Decade He Spent on Top of Sport Karate

Steve Anderson is an icon in the sport-karate universe. The native of Toledo, Ohio, spent time in various parts of the country before settling in Southern California in 1973, where he rose to the top of the circuit and acquired the nickname “Nasty.”

The Black Belt Hall of Famer now operates two schools in Ontario, Canada, and oversees the instruction of some 500 students. We caught up with him for the purposes of this interview. We’re confident you will find his recollections as enlightening and entertaining as we did.

You started training with your first instructors, “Chicken” Gabriel and Reynaldo Leal, when you were 15. What was it about karate that appealed to you?

Steve Anderson: It was the Bruce Lee thing. Karate carried a mysticism back in those days. All the Orientals were doing it, and I wanted to have their speed and power. I wanted to be able to touch somebody and then have that person die in a few years. (laughs)

Steve “Nasty” Anderson (left) and “Chicken” Gabriel

How did you get interested in competition?

Steve Anderson: Chicken’s school was the most dominant one in Southern California — and in all of California. It was right there with the Black Karate Federation. We were actually a bit better, I thought. Rey was one of the top brown belts in Southern California, and Chicken was one of the top black belts.

What enabled you to build your phenomenal tournament record?

Steve Anderson: Those guys were so competitive, and that helped me set my sights on winning. I thought, If they can do it, I’ve got a good opportunity to do it, too, because I was a better athlete than most of those guys. So I started going to tournaments every week — even when they didn’t go, I’d go by myself. And I’d win and win. It was an addiction.

What was your first significant win?

Steve Anderson: It was in 1980 at a tournament run by Steve Fisher. That was where I first beat Keith Vitali, the No. 1 fighter. Then I beat him again later that year in the U.S. Top 10 Nationals in Stockton, California. Then I beat him in Atlanta at the U.S. Open in October of the same year. So we had three fights that year, and I won them all. Karate Illustrated rated me the No. 1 fighter in the country — in my rookie year.

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Where did you go from there?

Steve Anderson: I felt had to win every single tournament. Other guys would go through a year and win two major tournaments, but I’d win 13. I was the Tiger Woods of the time. I’m not bragging; the record speaks for itself. I went 18 months without a loss, from 1984 to some point in ’85. In ’87 I won my first seven tournaments in a row, so I thought I was headed for another undefeated year, but I lost two or three later that year. Unlike today’s fighters, I was winning overall. I’d win my division, then have to fight four or five more fights to be the grand champion of the tournament. There was only one grand champion when I was around. There weren’t three, four or five of them like there are now.

What do you consider to be the highlight of that part of your career?

Steve Anderson: Winning the U.S. Open in 1980. That pushed me over the hump and made me realize I was someone special. It made the people in Southern California recognize me. As a brown belt, I won 92 tournaments in a row. After I became a black belt, it wasn’t so much that I might lose a match; it was how badly I was going to beat the opposition. I didn’t just want to win; I wanted to annihilate the opposition. I didn’t hurt anybody, of course. It was the embarrassment factor, the way I would talk to them before and during the fight. I would tell them flat out: “You’ve got no chance. You shouldn’t have even come to this tournament. You’re a joke.” I wouldn’t say that stuff now, and if I had it to do all over again, I probably would not have done it then. But when you brag, you’ve got to back it up or people will be real hard on you. So I had to go out and pull off those things. Plus, I was broke most of the time, and I had to make my rent money.

How does fighting

What Makes a Good Martial Arts Teacher and Why You Need to Find One

Is your teacher’s school located three hours from your home, limiting you to taking lessons two or three times a month? If so, you need to accept that you’ll learn more slowly and that there will be frustrating visits to his dojo when you don’t pick up any new material but instead get corrected on what you’ve already learned.

Is your teacher old? If so, you may find your movements becoming smaller and shorter in places where they should be big and long. I’ve seen dojo where 20-something guys move like they’re months away from a wheelchair. Subconsciously or deliberately, they copy the postures and motions of the older teacher, even if he or she tells them not to.

Is school or work preventing you from training as often as you’d like? If so, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you won’t progress as quickly as you’d like — even while your classmates climb through the ranks and leave you behind.

Why did I open with those three scenarios? To make a point: Training under a good martial arts teacher isn’t always perfect. Often there are obstacles to overcome, and some are rather challenging. No matter how tough things are, though, your life is far easier than it would be if you had a poor teacher.

Plainly put, you have virtually no chance of succeeding against the obstacles that surround training under a bad instructor.

Nearly all the problems in the martial arts today can be traced back to poor teaching. I don’t mean just those teachers who are inadequate because they pretend to have skills they don’t have or who teach because it satisfies some ego problem. I also mean teachers who are honest, well-intentioned and dedicated but still poor.

The karate/kobudo master teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Fumio Demura Karate Weapons: Complete Video Course. Merging Demura’s classic DVDs with new new kata footage, the program streams lessons on the nunchaku, bo, kama, sai, tonfa and eku bo to your smartphone, tablet or computer. Details here!

Let me posit two concepts that will help make my point. First, it’s extremely difficult to teach the budo. Second, there are very few people who are qualified to do it.

We take for granted that the budo are easy to teach and learn so long as one has the physical and mental stamina to stick with it. After all, there are thousands of dojo across the country and thousands of teachers there and in health clubs and community centers. The truth is, the martial arts are sophisticated. They’re hard to learn and harder still to teach. Most people don’t get that.

It’s tempting to think, “I learned the mechanics of the side kick last month, and I practiced it. Now I can teach it.” Wrong. Being able to produce a side kick, which entails understanding its mechanics as they relate to you, doesn’t mean you can reproduce it in others. Everyone has a different body and therefore encounters different problems. Understanding the side kick thoroughly enough to be able to deal with those differences requires years of training, as well as experience and insight.

In the same sense, learning a side kick while standing in a line in class is one thing. Learning the timing to employ it, the methods to set it up effectively and the coordination to use it in combination with other movements is another. The reality is that most of the karateka who learn these skills well have the talent needed to teach themselves. They learn not because of a teacher but in spite of him.

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Before he can teach the side kick, a teacher needs to do more than just learn how to do it. He must grasp the underlying principles of his art. He needs to see how those principles are embodied in the kick — in other words, relate the general to the particular. He must also understand the reverse — how the particular (the side kick, in this case) reflects the general principles of his art. He must know how the kick remains consistent with and reinforces those principles.

Only in that way can he teach the foundations of karate as a whole instead of just passing along disparate techniques. The inability to do this is the reason so many instructors purport to teach a combination of styles. They fail to understand that a fighting art must be based on coherent principles that organize the body and mind in a way that’s dependable and holistic.

Interpreting karate as a tool bag of basically unrelated techniques and then teaching them without any sense of connection is one of …

Karate Veteran Knows the Importance of Having a Strong Foundation

[Sponsored Post] There’s no doubt about it: Martial arts instructor David Younglove knows the importance of having a proper foundation.

A martial artist since 1983, Younglove earned his black belt at age 17 and began teaching karate. He became a Minnesota state champion and then joined the U.S. Marine Corp in the early 1990s. His duty assignment included training Thai Marines in hand-to-hand combat — a job for which only the most qualified martial artists would qualify.

“We taught on just carpet over cement in those days, and if you fell, it was just terrible,” Younglove said. “The first generation of mats … we put in martial arts schools was terrible. They were very hard. They were very grippy on the feet.”

Despite those less-than-ideal training surfaces, Younglove continued to pursue his passion for martial arts, and from 2012 to 2014, he was the top-ranked North Central Karate Association competitor in traditional forms (40-49 year olds).

In July 2014, the sixth-degree black belt finally found the perfect martial arts flooring at Greatmats.com: the company’s Martial Arts Karate Mat Premium 1-Inch. These 1-meter-by-1-meter interlocking foam tiles, designed to look like a wood floor, have a leather-like, waterproof surface that provides proper stability and cushion.

“I’ve tried many of the others in all our schools and [talked to] other owners,” Younglove said. “I also went to different martial arts schools and worked out on their floors. I looked at the Swains; I looked at the Zebra mats and all the different ones. And I got some samples.”

He compared all those to a free sample of the Greatmats Martial Arts Karate Mat Premium 1-Inch and wound up liking the Greatmats product so much that he purchased three tiles and snapped them together for a final test. “[I] just did a few moves on them and decided it had the most support but also the most cushion at the same time,” he said. “It works out great. These are by far the best that I’ve found.”

Younglove deemed the Greatmats product so superior that he purchased them not only for his USA Karate dojo in Rosemount, Minnesota, but also for his yoga studio in the same building.

“I have a dual studio,” he said. “We incorporate a full yoga program with our full martial arts program. At this facility, we have two classrooms. The kids can be taking a karate class, and the moms can be taking a yoga class simultaneously. We’re constantly on our knees and on our elbows, and a lot of our population is 40 and over. We have some 70-year-olds taking class. It is very gentle on the joints. It also really challenges your balance.”

Younglove noted that it required about six months of regular use to fully break in the flooring, which seemed a bit slippery at first. However, he said it was well worth the time investment because he’s confident that he now offers yet another tool to help his students build a solid foundation of self-esteem in a positive and safe learning environment.

To find the right mat for any martial arts school, visit Greatmats.

Photos Courtesy of Greatmats…

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