The Role of Grappling in Self-Defence

By Iain Abernethy

roleofgrapplingIn recent years grappling has become very popular. Grappling is also increasingly being portrayed as a panacea for all ills. Although grappling has an important role to play when defending yourself, it is important to understand that grappling is not something you should actively seek out in live situations. It can take time to grapple an opponent into submission, whereas a well placed strike can end a fight in a split second. Most fights will begin at punching range and it is here that you should try to bring the fight quickly to an end. Before we go on to discuss how this may be achieved, I feel it is important to remind ourselves that avoiding the fight in the first place is by far the most desirable outcome.

Gichin Funakoshi (Karate-Do Kyohan) wrote, "The secret principle of martial arts is not vanquishing the attacker but resolving to avoid an encounter before its occurrence. To become the object of an attack is an indication that there was an opening in one's guard and the important thing is to be on guard at all times." This is sound advice, when adults fight the outcome can go well beyond black eyes and fat lips, there can be very serious medical and legal consequences. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose by getting needlessly involved in fights. Sun-Tzu in the classic text 'The Art of War' states, "Achieving victory in every battle is not absolute perfection, neutralising an adversary's forces without battle is absolute perfection." We must be constantly aware of our surroundings and should an undesirable situation develop we can attempt to avoid it all together. We should park our cars in well lit areas, avoid isolated places, keep valuables out of sight, travel with the car doors locked, avoid suspicious looking people and situations, walk towards oncoming traffic, keep away from aggressive individuals or groups, do not stop to talk to strangers etc. We should be constantly 'switched on'. In this way it may be possible to avoid an attack altogether, and if we can't then at least the element of surprise is lost to our assailant.

If there is no way to avoid the confrontation then the primary strategy should be to 'stun and run'. You should strike the assailant without warning and whilst they are disorientated you should take the opportunity to escape. In a real fight you must never allow your attacker to gain the initiative, there is simply far too much at stake. If you are facing multiple opponents then your initial strike is even more important. It is impossible to fight more than one person at a time; however, if your first strike should disable one of your assailants then your chances of survival will be improved. You should practice your favourite punching range strike be it a right hook, knife hand, palm heel etc. from a 'no guard' position so that when you are sure an attack is imminent you can unleash that strike, without warning to your opponent, and then make good your escape. It is very important to practice strikes from natural stance with no guard because it is from here that you will need to be able to generate power in real situations. Moving yourself into a 'stance' or raising your hands into a guard will warn the opponent that a strike is imminent and as a result greatly reduce the effect of the blow. It is also vitally important to strike on your assailant's preparation to attack and not wait until you have actually been struck to begin protecting yourself!

Continue reading

The Function of Stances

By Iain Abernethy

Throughout the various katas we can see many differing stances being assumed. It is common practise for karateka to spend many hours trying to perfect these stances, which is no easy feat! Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan) in his book Karate-Do: My Way of Life wrote, "The Horse-riding stance, for instance, looks extremely easy but the fact is that no one could possibly master it even if he practised every day for an entire year until his feet became as heavy as lead." So why do we set ourselves such an arduous task? And what purpose do the stances serve anyway?

Continue reading

The 10 Precepts of Anko Itosu

By Iain Abernethy

What we refer to as “traditional” in the martial arts often isn't traditional at all. Mention traditional karate today and people immediately think of white gis, coloured belts and marching up and down the hall in lines. All of which are modern practises and none of which would be recognisable to founders of the art.

itosu_ten_preceptsAll of the past masters were innovators and none of them went on to teach the art exactly as it was taught to them. The true tradition has been one of constant change and it was only ever the core concepts that were supposed to remain constant. So what were the core concepts upon which the traditional art of karate was based?

There are not many written records on the history of karate due in no small part to the secrecy that originally surrounded the art and the bombing of Okinawa during World War Two. One important document we do have access to is Anko Itosu's 10 precepts of karate.

Anko Itosu (1832–1915) was one of karate's true innovators; he was the creator of the Pinan (Heian) kata and was responsible for introducing karate onto the Okinawan school system. To make karate suitable for children, Itosu watered down the karate he taught to them. As part of this, he started teaching kata without their applications so that the children could gain the physical benefits of kata training without irresponsibly giving them knowledge of the violent and brutal methods the kata were created to record.

It is my view that Itosu intend to foster two types of karate: the original combative karate and the new children's version. However, as we now know, it was the children's version that really took off and the ramifications of that are still being felt today. Itosu's modifications enabled the art to spread – it is arguable that karate would never have spread to mainland Japan and from there to the west without his modifications – but they undoubtedly meant it was a “de-clawed” version of karate that was popularised.

Continue reading

Low-Kicking: Below the Belt?

By Iain Abernethy

In this article we will be looking at the effective use of kicks in live situations. One thing I should probably say at the very onset is that kicking is probably the least effective of all the combative methods. This is because your motion and stability are severely curtailed the instant you take a foot off the floor, and you rarely get the space to use kicks anyway. That is not to say that kicking does not have a role to play, because it does. However, I do want to point out that this role is nowhere near as large as much of modern practice would suggest.

Continue reading

No First Attack in Karate

By Iain Abernethy

nofirstattackIn recent years there has been much debate as to the legitimacy of pre-emptive striking. Some support the method stating that action is always faster than reaction, and emphasise the importance of seizing the initiative in high-risk situations. Others object to the method on ethical grounds. Gichin Funakoshi's famous quote, "Karate ni sente nashi" or "There is no first attack in karate" is normally used to justify this stance. As a traditional karateka, it is my belief that training should revolve around self-development and self-defence, and should effectively promote both. We do not wish to produce training grounds for thugs nor do we wish to fail to equip our students to deal with society's violent minority. The issue of pre-emptive striking is certainly controversial (as I found out after I included it in my book 'Karate's Grappling Methods'!) One thing that both camps agree on is that fighting is to be avoided whenever possible, it is what to do when fighting cannot be avoided that causes the debate. There can be very few martial artists who believe that the individual has no right to fight back, the question seems to be at what point is the use of force legitimate?

I believe that "Karate-do ni sente nashi" and the pre-emptive strike are in no way mutually exclusive and can exist side by side. To my mind once an assailant has decided to attack us, the attack has begun and we are well within our rights to use whatever methods are appropriate to ensure our safety. Obviously we can't read our opponent's mind so we must look for physical indications that an attack is imminent. Behaviour such as threatening body language, verbal threats, raised voice, excessive swearing etc. If an individual is behaving in an aggressive way whist attempting to invade our personal space then there is a strong possibility that their verbal aggression is about to escalate to the physical. This verbal assault is an attack in itself and waiting until the attack becomes physical is foolhardy in the extreme. (Read Geoff's excellent books "Three Second Fighter" & "The Fence").

Continue reading


A place for martial artists to share knowledge and ideas.

A CORE Physical Arts Ltd property