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James Figg - The First Bare-Knuckle Boxing Champion

As modern day martial artists, we owe a great deal to those who formulated and developed our arts. I love to read their works, and stories about these great men and women. By studying the past greats we can gain inspiration and we can fully appreciate our arts as we can view them in their correct historical perspective.

There is a good chance that the art you practice originated in the orient. However, we should not forget about our own indigenous fighting systems and their masters, as they are every bit as effective as their oriental counterparts and they also make up a large part of our martial heritage. I would class myself as a “traditional karateka,” and yet as a regular part of my training I hit a punch bag, jump rope and spar using boxing gloves - as I’m sure many of those reading this article do also. The western art of boxing has had a huge influence on all the martial arts. Hence, in addition to studying oriental martial arts masters, I also like to read about the masters of the native art of boxing. One such master was James Figg.

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By Christopher Caile and Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.

There is an old Japanese samurai saying, “When the battle is over, tighten your chin strap.” This refers to constant awareness, preparedness for danger and readiness for action. The Japanese saying itself focuses on the end of a combat engagement when it is natural to relax awareness, thinking the danger is over, when in reality it often is not. “This concept carries over into the dojo which is not just a training hall but a place where a certain awareness of the possibility of serious combat must constantly be maintained,” said John Donohue in his article Kendo: The Way of the Sword. But, for the serious martial artist this heightened state of awareness becomes a natural part of the psyche, something that is automatically turned on while awake as well as during sleep.

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The Nature of Fighting

Before studying the information that the various katas contain, it is important to understand exactly what that information is for. Karate is a civil tradition and hence the fighting methods recorded within the katas are for use within a civilian environment. The applications of the karate katas are for use against the attacks of the violent and untrained, they are not for use against a skilled warrior on a battlefield, or in a sporting contest. The methodology applied in the katas is ideal for self-defence today (if correctly interpreted and expressed). There is very little difference between a civilian fight in feudal Okinawa and a civilian fight today. However, the way in which battles are conducted has radically altered. A samurai warrior armed with feudal weaponry would not last long against the missiles, tanks, etc. employed by their modern counterparts. The weapons of war may have evolved a long way, but the human body has not. Two unarmed civilians brawling in an Okinawan street would employ similar methods to two unarmed civilians fighting in a modern city. In order to understand and apply the methods contained within the katas, it is necessary to understand the nature of civilian combat.

How Fights Start

What we will be looking at in this section is what happens at the start of fights, not what caused the fight to begin in the first place. “Why” fights start is beyond the scope of this text, but I feel this aspect deserves a brief mention, as it is very important when discussing self-defence. I would encourage you to research why fights begin in great detail, as it is with this knowledge that fights can be effectively avoided (Geoff Thompson’s “The art of fighting without fighting” is well worth a look). Try to avoid placing yourself in locations or situations were violence is likely. Also, be sure not to make yourself an attractive target to any would be attackers. Keep all valuables out of sight, park your car in well lit areas, avoid isolated places, travel with the car doors locked, avoid suspicious looking people and situations, don’t consume too much alcohol, walk towards oncoming traffic, keep away from aggressive individuals or groups, do not stop to talk to strangers etc. Be aware of your surroundings and should an undesirable situation start to develop, you may be able to avoid it all together, and if you can’t, then at least the element of surprise is lost to your assailant.

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Iaido, the art of drawing the long sword

  • Styles

By Deborah Klens-Bigman, PhD.

Iaido Definition

Iaido is the contemporary Japanese art of drawing the long sword. Iaido contrasts with kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship), techniques done with swords already drawn, and kendo, the Japanese sport of fencing. Basic iaido kata combines drawing the sword with either a defensive block or cut, usually followed by another cut, then chiburi (moving the blade in such as way as to remove blood and tissue) and noto (returning the blade to the scabbard). While kenjutsu and sword-drawing techniques (batto-ho) were originally taught together, they are now usually, but not always, taught as separate art forms. Iaido, as the sword-drawing forms became known in the 1930s, is now used not only to teach sword techniques but as a form of mental and physical discipline, emphasizing correct technique and form, meditation and character development.

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Karate Uniforms

By Rob Redmond,

Every sport has a uniform. Despite the fact that neighborhood games spring up with everyone wearing street clothes, our society has a habit of putting athletes into uniforms. In some cases the uniforms are practical, as in the case of swimmers or bicycle racers. Other sports uniforms are impractical nods to tradition, such as the baseball uniform. Karate is no exception, and it seems to be one of those sports which have a tradition of wearing a very well-known yet somewhat impractical outfit during training.

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