Thursday, October 13, 2011

Abernethy Seminar Review

This last weekend Sensei Nick and I had the chance to go to a seminar in Missouri hosted by the Blue River Martial Arts Club. (Thanks to Eric and Sarah Parsons for putting this together, it was awesome!) They brought Iain Abernethy over from the UK for a weekend of Bunkai.

Friday night was a brief introduction to Funakoshi's 9 throws. Which was pretty nifty. There are a lot of people who say there are no throws in karate, but there were definitely some built into the system. Iain broke them up into 6 practical and 3 frivolous throws. After getting to practice all of them, I agree. But it was still cool to go over them. Iain taught us all 9 with the precept that even if something is not practical or would probably not work in a fight, you should still learn it anyway because it is historically interesting. As an instructor it is good to learn all of the techniques, even if they don't work for you (your body type, etc) because if you only pick the ones that work for you and discard everything else you are cheating your students out of a complete education.

Saturday was Bunkai for the Heian Kata. (Heian Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yodan, Godan). Some of the applications were surprising, but usually once Iain explains them and goes through how it works, it makes a lot of sense.

The more we went over the more it became evident that Iain REALLY knows his stuff. He has clearly spent a LOT of time in the martial arts. Not just practicing, but researching and studying the history of the forms, the founders of the systems, the language, and the applications. I tried to write down everything I could, and Sensei Nick and I have been going over some of the Bunkai and sharing the information with our students, but I would certainly jump at the chance to study with Iain again.

Some things we are currently sharing with our students that we picked up at the seminar are:
- Bunkai is something you do to an enemy, not with a partner.
- Do NOT help your partner back up, this is because you can get into the habit of it, as Miller often states what you do in training you will do in real life. There have been studies of military men doing drills where they disarm their partner, and then hand the gun right back to them. When they are in the field, they have disarmed their attacked and simply handed the gun right back to them out of habit. We never want to get into this habit.

Some of the notes that I took that morning before getting into practicing the Bunkai are as follows, they are a mix of wisdom from Iain and the karate founders/masters:

  • Karate is not intended to be used against a single adversary. It is a use of hands and feet to defend oneself should one need to against a ruffian or vagabond.
  • Kata is self defense, it is NOT a fighting system. There IS a difference. Kata takes place at fighting distance, which is not as most people think the same thing as sparring distance. Sparring distance is two people standing with their arms outstretched and their fingertips touching. Fighting distance is actually standing close enough that you can touch your opponent's shoulder. Iain refers to this affectionately as 'kissing distance'. 
  • It is better to be the hammer than the anvil. Which is also to say it is always better to hit or strike than not. 
  • Always strike for the head and neck for this is most effective.
  • Karate is self defense. It should not be used for fighting. 
  • There are three contexts Martial Arts can be used in. When practicing, you should always set the context and practice in that context.
    • Martial Arts - a formal setting, this is done because it is fun, we like it, it is fun, it feels good, etc. Martial Arts and a hobby. 
    • Fighting - a fight to a conclusion. This is a mutual decision to fight, whether a sparring setting or a monkey dance/bar fight.
    • Self Defense - practical. I DON'T want to fight, but since the situation is absolutely unavoidable,  the FIGHT is totally MINE. If someone jumps you, you can't hesitate, you have to take the fight to them. Their limbs, their jaw, etc, its MINE. 
  • Never have a dead hand, both hands should ALWAYS be doing something. 
  • Even monkeys fall out of trees: even the best of us mess things up sometimes. It is always better to hit them than not. 
  • Start with raw skill and refine as you get better. If you start out practicing and aiming for very very specific targets, your training will not come through in an adrenaline rush. Work on getting the basics down first and then refine.
  • Always take the path of least resistance
  • Cheating is ALWAYS allowed.
Sunday we went over advanced kata, including Tekki Shodan. I have not (or at least am not supposed to be learning Tekki Shodan just yet in the grand scheme of my training. Since Nick does not have an actual karate class going right now, only Aikijutsu I can learn the kata in any order I want. When I was talking with Nick before I moved to Oklahoma, he sent me videos of all the kata. He sent me the 5 Heian kata and Tekki Shodan. After watching all of them I told Nick I wanted to learn Tekki Shodan. "That one! That's my favorite!" I was completely tickled pink that we got to go over the Bunkai for Tekki Shodan. It was GREAT! I really liked the Bunkai and I feel like I picked it up pretty quickly, especially for not having officially learned the kata yet.

To sum it up, I took a lot away from the Seminar, far far far more than I actually wrote down here. But I think one of the things that I was most impressed by was how knowledgeable Iain was. I have been wanting to read the history behind a lot of this Martial Arts stuff and the people who have been monumental in making it what it is today. Iain knows A LOT of that kind of information and its infectious. If I wanted to know before, I REALLY want to know now. The desire to be as knowledgeable as Iain is, as well as to be as proficient in the Martial Arts is burning strongly. The best way that I can explain it: some people have idols and heroes they want to be like, sports players want to be like Brett Farve or Jerry MacGuire, or whoever. (I know NOTHING about sports). Architects and artists look up to Frank Loyd Write or Picasso or Monet, etc. Martial Artists want to be like Abernethy and Wilder and Miller. Including me. Nick is always quoting Basho "Choosing not to follow in the footsteps of the masters, but rather seeking what the sought". So its not like I want to be an exact Abernethy replica, but I certainly want to know the things he knows and be as good as he is, I just have to get there my own way. 

Abernethy is all around a great guy. He has a great sense of humor, a personable disposition and is helpful with instruction and pointers. Again, I cannot stress how knowledgeable he is. If you are ever in the UK or if he ever comes back to the states, I HIGHLY recommend attending one of his seminars or talking/studying with him if you get the chance. You can find information about him via his website. Check it out. His Bunkai is pretty damn awesome. 


  1. Someone told me a while ago, seminars are great -- you learn so much from them, so travel whenever you get a chance.

    From my experience, it's true. I'm happy for you.

    I'm curious, though: what do you mean by "cheating is always allowed"?

  2. SG: Wonderful post today, thanks ... I especially liked Iain Sensei's three context entries you provided.

    I am working on a topic, "Real-World Context," and that quote may inspire me ... thanks again!

  3. Anon - Cheating is always allowed because if you are in a real self defense situation, nothing is off limits. In drills at some of the seminars I went to, the instructor will tell you to fight/sparr/do such and such a drill. Most people stay and fight, few people actually attempt to get away, which is the point of self defense. When asked why none of the students run for the door, many of them respond with, "I didn't know that was allowed!" So by saying that anything is allowed and/or that cheating is always allowed, it helps students think outside the box and get them looking for options, exits and alternatives. Etc. Hopefully that explains it a little better.

    Charles - Sure thing! Glad my post made an impact. Looking forward to reading what you write.

  4. Great post! I've been to a couple of Iain's seminars in the UK and I agree that he's pretty awesome. He really brings kata alive and makes you realise that it is a living, breathing self-defence system that really works. I was really impressed with how quickly he can move when he demonstrates an application - I'd love to be able to do that. He's also not style specific and makes you realise that Funakoshi was right when he said that "there is only one karate"...