On the Karate Underground forum, and elsewhere I expect, one of the recurring discussions concerns the respective value of kihon (basics), kata and bunkai (forms and applications) and kumite (fighting/sparring). It seems to me that the main source of controversy centres on the difference in the basic techniques and stances and how these are applied in kumite. Usually, they look completely different, in points sparring competitions (kumite) the robotic basic movements (kihon) are lost as these cumbersome movements are too slow and awkward to enable point scoring.
The merits or otherwise of kihon training practices such as three/five sparring and the like have been debated ad nauseum on forums and are not the point of this post. Rather I will discuss the kind of thing we do at our club to encourage movement skills which are likely to be useful in sparring or fighting. I decided against 3 step and san dan gi (a similar Goju practice) after observing a kids class at a friends dojo. I noticed the contrast between the natural flowing actions of the kids before class and the awkward stiff movements during kihon practise. It occurred to me how daft it was to alter the natural free movement style to an inferior version. This is a complaint Steve Morris levels at karate and other systems, watching the kids at this particular class really brought this message home and I decided on the spot that my kids and adults classes, for that matter, would avoid this sort of training.
Besides, it’s painfully boring, and kids especially get lost to it. So for my classes we do no ‘moving basics’ as such. I adopt and adapt some of the Morris principles and practices from Primal and use these to get kids, and adults moving properly. That’s the goal, free movement with the weight forward which enables striking. One of these drills involves keeping on the cusp of the striking distance with your partner as he/she moves around, the idea is to maintain the distance while ‘following the leader’. Often people are rather flat-footed during this drill and fail to keep their weight forward on the front of the foot. This means changes in tempo and feints etc are difficult to achieve.
One way I get round this is to ‘play’ pretend basketball. I watched the movement skills of basketball players and liked what I saw, so I thought it would be a way to get people used to moving their feet effectively. Often people look at me like I’m insane when I say we’re going to play basketball with imaginary balls and hoops, but once we get it going people can get into it. Oddly, I often end up with three or more basketballs, perfectly under my control, no matter what tricks I’m performing with the imaginary balls. And despite my many simultaneous tricks, no-one is able to take them off me, that’s the advantage of being in charge 🙂
It’s a bit silly but is useful to get the flatfooted moving more appropriately. Then we might get them to chase the pads around or something. Later comes the bashing game, this is good fun; the kids love it, although some find it quite scary. One thing’s for sure it gets the feet moving. There are at least two bashers, its better if there are three or four, and one bashee. Bashers hit the bashee with focus mitts, thai pads and kicksheilds etc., while the bashee avoids, dodges, lines up and splits the bashers. I encourage the bashee to face the bashers as much as possible. There’s a minute on the clock for the bashee to survive. It’s an excellent way for kids, and adults, to become familiar with moving effectively and is a great introduction to multiples. The most I have tried it with is 5:1, it was chaos, absolute, total chaos, but they all survived, enjoyed it and I’m sure are better prepared for the chaos of a fight than if we’d stuck to 3 step sparring. While the kids in my classes have no idea what a jodan age uke response to a jodan oi suki attack is, they know how to cope with a 5:1 attack, well at least they have a half decent idea. Furthermore, they are learning to move in a way that allows them to move and hit while improving fitness and having fun. Great stuff!