The Bigger Picture

Someone asked me what was the difference between the Karate kata bunkai we were practicing and the ‘Ju Jutsu’ techniques we covered in class. The answer is very simple…. NONE AT ALL!!! And I shall try to explain why…

… In my previous post I tried to impart that Karate-Do, along with Judo, many schools of Ju Jutsu/Kempo (certainly the version I studied) and numerous other Japanese MA systems are Gendai Budo Ryuha (Modern Martial Way Schools). Have existed in their current forms for a relatvely short time, but most have a long lineage and connection to the Koryu Bujutsu Ryuha (Ancient/Old Martial Art Systems). This is certainly the case for many unarmed styles, most becoming much simplified primarily for safety reasons or specialised for purpose of competition.

Interestingly, most share a common historic legacy. Nearly all concede that their art originated in China! Certainly the history of Karate (and the Ju Jutsu system I studied) tells of Bodidharma (Darma), an Indian Buddhist Priest, who, travelling form India to the Shaolin Temple in China to train the novice monks in meditation and exercise. This would, over many centuries, develop into Shaolin Chuan-fa (Temple boxing method) and eventually emerge on Okinawa as Kempo. There has been some debate as to whether Darma introduced just breathing exercises (becoming Sanchin) or actual fighting skills. I personally believe he did both, and I will attempt to qualify this statement and then come to the point of this article.

More than a thousand years before The Buddha was born, the Greeks developed and documented 3 distinct unarmed combat systems that most modern unarmed MA are based on.
These arts were:

WRESTLING – A combat system allowing throwing, grappling, lock, hold and chokes but no striking (sounds a lot like judo).
PUGILISM – A combat system allowing any striking or blows from both hands and feet but excluding any wrestling techniques (sounds like sport Karate) and finally….
PANKRASE – A no holds barred anything goes all out fighting system (sounds like Vale-Tudo/UFC cage fighting to me).

At that time, the centre of Greek civilisation was based in what is now modern Turkey. These fighting skills spread across the Greko Empire and would of undoubtedly travelled into the Indian sub-continent where they would of blended with indigenous fighting systems that would have also existed at the time. Furthermore, images painted on the walls of the Shaolin Temple depict exponents practising MA, some with dark completions. This further underpins my belief that the fighting arts were ‘imported to’ and not ‘created by’ the Chinese.

Having developed PANKRASE, the Greeks must of realised the value of specialisation, developing WRESTLING and PUGILISM, both complex unarmed fighting systems. So here is my point. After long study of martial arts we ALL become specialists. This may not always be a conscious decision, however we are all very different and will inevitably exploit our strengths. Shihan Lipinski is recognised world-wide for his exceptional impact technology. Shihan Coleman is one of the best kickers I’ve ever seen, having versatility, accuracy and power. I have a natural aptitude for grappling and throwing. So it would be obtuse trying to emulate either of them by refusing to exploit my own advantages.

Ju Jutsu evolved from the same basic fighting art as Karate (Chuan-fa/Kempo of Chinese origin) but was developed to enable an unarmed Samurai to restrain an armed attacker, so the emphasis was on throwing, locking and restraining. All these elements are, if less exploited, within our Karate. Likewise there is striking in Kodakan Judo Kata but this is not part of the general system. These differences might be deemed ‘specialisation’ of universal principles of unarmed combat.

We are all constantly practice the 3 fundamental building blocks of Karate in an orderly and uniformed way.

KIHON – Basic movement and mobility.
KATA – Formal exercises.
KUMITE – Free-fighting practice (within the confines of safety).

But for me the most overlooked fundamental is BUNKAI. The word Bunkai is often miss-translated as the ‘application’ of Karate Kata. An application is an OYHO.

BUNKAI – To comprehend or understand

In modern Ju Jutsu, instead of practising Kata and then learning their content, exponents cut straight to the chase and practice the kata content without performing the Kata. A good example of this approach is best illustrated by Brazilian Ju Jutsu, a hybrid of Kodokan Judo with exceptional ground-fighting techniques. But the outcome of any practice should obtain a similar conclusion.

We have established that BU JUTSU represent the function and BUDO the form of Martial arts. For me, bunkai is the most valuable element of Karate as it connects the form with the function.  I believe form and function are both of equal value and importance within the study of true Karate.

Kata SUPAREMPAI (key Kata of Goju Ryu) is a translation of the Chinese number 108. Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, founder of Koryu Uchinadi explains this number is related to the 108  ‘habitual acts of physical violence’ noted in ancient training manual the ‘Bubishi’. This suggest that the study of karate isn’t really about how hard we can hit or how high we can kick or even how many throws, locks or chokes we can perform. Karate’s true essence is in how well it can teach up to cope with a potential ‘108’ different attacks in order to affectively defend ourselves.

Twenty years ago the Martial arts world was turned upside-down when the UFC cage-fighting championships came into existence. This event matched exponents from every avenue of unarmed MA together in ‘NO HOLD BARRED’ contests. The first 3 championships were dominated and won by Royce Gracie, an exponent of Brazilian Ju Jutsu. What this showed the Martial Arts Community was that all the ability in the world is useless against an opponent who attacks you in a fashion you are unfamiliar with.

BUNKAI, when studied and practised correctly should enable us to understand, and therefore to cope with any kind of attack to minimise personal injury.

This for me is true self defence – true Karate.

Article written by Ben Craft, 5th Dan.

Favorite Function over Form

The following essay was written by Ben Craft Shihan and sent to myself a few days ago and I felt the urge to share it with the martial art and karate community. It’s a very interesting and well written article about the evolution of Function and Form in martial arts, in general, and karate-jutsu, from Okinawa to Japan and the West, in particular.


Hi Sensei Fernando

I’m delighted to have been asked to be a technical advisor to SKA. I hope to bring some of my functional combat knowledge to the Academy. I have therefore taken the liberty of submitting this essay which gives a brief outline on the development of modern karate and its relationship with it’s more pragmatic mother art Ryu Kyu Kempo.

The Karate we practice is generally termed ‘Traditional Karate’. The word traditional can be defined as the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation. However, Karate (or more accurately Karate-Do) in it’s present form has only existed for around a century. Indeed, the term Karate was only officially adopted in 1936. The military style line-up, with all students performing the same technique by command of the sensei, only came into practice in the late 1930s. By this time Karate had become established in a number of Japanese Universities with many students attending the classes. The easiest way to teach a large groups was to line everyone up and have them perform in unison, and this method has now become the norm. So why is Karate-Do termed ‘Traditional’ one might ask. In the early 1970s Full Contact Karate came into existence. This was seen as the progressive face of Karate and lead to a distinction between those practising this contemporary version of ‘Contact Karate’ and those following what was then termed ‘Traditional Karate’.

In order to better understand this we must look at the evolution of Gendai Budo (Modern Martial art way) and it’s predecessor Koryu Bu Jutsu (Old Style Martial Art Method). In 1882 Dr. Jigoro Kano established a new martial art. A hybrid fusion of several Koryu (old style) Ju Jutsu systems. He named this new art Kodokan Judo. Kano devised a physical education program with a sport competition element and introduced the Yudansha (blackbelt) ranking system. Many of the more dangerous techniques of Ju Jutsu were eliminated to create a safe contest format. Judo quickly became popular especially among children. Around the time Judo was gaining much popularity on the mainland of Japan, many noted Okinawa martial art exponents had also began to realise that a simplified version of their indigenous fighting art (known by several names including Kempo, Todi and Uchinadi) could also be taught to a wider public. So like Judo, many of the more dangerous techniques of Kempo were removed and much of the technical content simplified. This Kempo hybrid would evolve into modern Karate-Do.

Shotokan Karate founder Gichin Funakoshi became the first Karate master to establish a school on the mainland of Japan. Funakoshi adopted the ranking system developed by Kano, and likewise a contest format that would not only be safe, but would not conflict with Judo, hence no grappling or throwing. His son Yoshintaka ‘Giko’ Funakoshi is responsible for the dynamic look of modern karate. So we have established that Judo and Karate-Do are Gendai Budo Ryuha (Modern Martial Art schools) developed in recent history from Koryu Bu Jutsu Ryuha (Old Style Martial Systems).

This brings me to the issue of function over form. Traditionally Bu Jutsu (Military methods) were practiced primarily for function. Sadly, many ancient fighting skills fell into disuse with the invention of firearms. However, many practitioners of these formidable fighting arts chose to continue to practice there ‘Warfare’ skills as a means of self development. The emphasis moving away from function and into perfection of form. This practice became Budo (Military Way/Path). The notion of form over function is a vital part of modern Japanese martial arts practice and exists with karate-Do. Karate, like many martial arts, is changing and evolving. Until quite recently no grabbing or throwing was allowed in Karate contest. This was reflected in the lack of attention placed on the practice of these skill in the Dojo. The Budo objective of form over function allowed these vital combat components to be happily omitted. Likewise many kata bunkai are stylised and superficial with no real combat value. In order to become ‘fully rounded’ in unarmed combat, grappling and throwing needed to be studied elsewhere. Fortunately in the last decade there has been a resurgence of interest in the real function of Karate in its original form. This is something I have happily embraced and wish to encourage within SKA.

If we wish to truly practice Karate in a ‘traditional fashion’ we must not overlook its original functional self defence element.


Ben Craft


Friday Training Journal

Another fantastic class last night with a reduced, but committed group of karateka.

We started with a good 20-25min Goju-Ryu warm up. It is my opinion that warming up is becoming less popular in a number of dojos and, I believe, this is because in money-focused dojos (1h classes, or less) one can’t include a proper and sensible warm-up, which is almost a workout, because that leaves hardly any time for kihon, kata or kumite, let alone bunkai.

Warming up properly not only prevents injuries, but makes you understand you body, develops your strength and flexibility with an awareness of your own bio-mechanical limitations.

Once we were hot and sweaty, we  were ready to start

Zenkutsu ido kihon sequence (basic forms whilst on motion):

  • From neko-ashi move front foot to zenkutsu dachi and perform chudan yoko uke and jodan gyaku tsuki combination and step forward to neko-ashi. Going backwards step back with back foot into zenkutsu dachi and perform the same combination and back again to neko-ashi.
  • From neko-shi mae geri with rear foot and then continue forward into zenkutsu dachi and perform jun tsuki (oi tsuki) chudan-then slide back foot up to neko-ashi. Going backwards first mae geri with front foot stepping backwards to zenkutsu dachi and then slide front foot back to neko-ashi.
  • From neko-ashi move front foot to zenkutsu dachi then front arm hiji-ate and gyaku-tsuki chudan and step forward to neko-ashi. Moving backwards step back with back foot into zenkutsu dachi and perform the combination then back to neko-ashi.
  • From neko-ashi mae geri with rear foot and step forward to zenkutsu dachi then front arm hiji-ate ura uchi harai uke and gyaku-tsuki then sliding up to neko-ashi. Moving backwards mae geri with front foot and step back into zenkutsu-dachi hiji-ate with front arm then ura uchi harai uke gyaku-tsuki and slide front leg back to neko-ashi.

The class followed with a number of close range techniques, working in pairs:

  • Tsuki (punches), where Ben Craft Shihan taught us all “time on target” punching technology.
  • Basic tai sabaki (body evasion) whilst performing a simple block Again, Ben Craft Shihan deepen in the value of the move from a self-defense point of view by controlling the opponents elbow
  • Dropping opponents guard down and whilst taking them off balance, use body momentum and follow with a mawashi geri to the leg, kidneys or head.
  • Yako tuskis, keeping elbow in. Working in pairs, punching at the same time, the elbow must remain in if you don’t want to punch your partner’s fist or elbow.
  • Haito uchis targeting shoulders, but explaining this was a neck target techniques. Working, again, on relaxation and to delivery hard strikes.
I was impressed with Westley who understood and, more important, felt how by relaxing shoulders, arms and fist, keeping the elbow in and concentrating the fist at the time of the impact his punch was exponentially stronge by, on his own words, “doing no effort at all”. I was in the receiving end of the punch and was well delivered.

We spend the last 25 min working kata. On one hand, Brad Candy was covering Geikisai Ichi, Ni and Saifa with Shihan Ben overlooking him and I taught geikisai ichi from scratch to three white belts.

Classed finsihed with sanchin kata, performed by Shihan Ben, Brad Candy and myself. Absolutely love this extremely difficult kata. Magic!

Once again, thank you Ben Craft Shihan for his contribution throughout the class: a wealth of knowledge applying functional combat technology to what we do.

Friday night training

Fantastic class last night with a few new faces and quite a special guest.

Miranda (with a TaeKwon-Do background) and Alison (new to martial arts) joined us for a trial session and Ben Craft (and old wolf karateka) joined Brad, Westley, Donny and Myself tonight.

Fantastic feeling in a sweaty and technical class explaining why we do what we do in Goju-Ryu karate and doing it. Quite a bit of work on basic kihon ocassionaly using pads to add some cardio to the techniques. And a bit of sparring.

Ben Craft has been out of action for a while BUT let me say something: he still got it! His sparring is fantastic with proper Goju moves and I am humbled by his attendence and following the class and giving it all. As well as helping with other students.

Brad is wearing a red belt because he hasn’t been graded. His sparring has a much darker colour and so feels my right chick. Well done Brad, karate technology is sinking in very nicely.

We need more kata workout and we will ask Shihan Paul Coleman to come down very soon.

We are bulding a dojo around a group of committed people who want to learn from each other outside any sort of politics. Very refreshing!!

A cheeky beer after training was a must.

Love karate!!

JKF Goju-Kai Seminar Reflections

This past weekend I went to the JKF Goju-Kai London Seminar and had the honour to be taught by a wide range of superb karate-ka masters: Shigenori Sato (8th Dan Hanshi), Tatsuo Takegawa (7th Dan Kyoshi), Seiichi Fujiwara (8th Dan Hanshi) assisted by Leo Lipinski (7th Dan Kyoshi), Paul Coleman (7th Dan Kyoshi) and Rastilav Mraz (7th Dan Kyioshi). I also had the pleasure to see some familiar faces and friends and train with great karate-kas, which was very refreshing.

Throughout the seminar and, especially, after my JKF Goju-Kai Nidan (2nd Dan) grading, which I failed, I reached some important conclusions and learnt some valuable lessons.

For instance, in my grading, I lost concentration in the one kata that is all about concentration, Sanchin – Three Battles (mind, body, spirit) – and it’s only fair I repeat the grading just for that reason only, regardless of my other katas and kumite. How many times did we cover it? Well, I failed to deliver when I should have shined and that only means I must train harder.

While doing sanchin my mind was so focused it almost felt like an out-of-body experience. I’m sure that the adrenaline, nerves and having that amazing panel assessing you did contribute to the whole experience. Unfortunately, after my second turn I lost my concentration for half a second and doubted after taking the step forward: “was this my second punch or my third one? How long have I been here?” I lost it when I shouldn’t have and missed my third punch. I realised and carried on as if nothing happened, but doesn’t change the fact that it was wrong.

On top of that, I reverted to my old Shito-Ryu habits while performing seyunchin, which is a typical Naha-Te kata, and that is probably worse because I didn’t realised I did it. I found out after feedback was given to me. Karate is not easy (try teaching it!!) and Goju-Ryu karate is, perhaps, even harder which makes it so much more interesting and challengeable.

On a positive note, I was given very good feedback for my kumite, an aspect of karate, in general, and Goju Karate in particular that I like the most and feel most comfortable with.

The reality is that one can be lucky to pass, but it is impossible to be unlucky to fail. It’s not good enough to deliver only when you are training and you are under no pressure. In fact, the grading shouldn’t add any pressure on you. Train as if you were grading and then you only need to grade as if you were training.

I’ve always had a bit of a sceptic opinion towards kata and the it’s value. Why do we train moves so far out from it’s real application? Where is the value in moving your big toe 1cm in or out or your fist 1cm up or down? I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts, but after this seminar I’ve also reached another important conclusion about kata. I think there are three stages when studying kata, perhaps a little oversimplistic,  but my process is:

1) knowing the kata
2) understanding the kata
3) feeling the kata

When you only know the kata, you know what move follows which other move, but it’s not quite printed in your mind, you just know a choreography. Your neuron and synapses have not absorb it, thus you are certain to make mistakes and forget details. That’s the reasons one must practice the same kata over and over again. The process makes you gain in-depth knowledge (stage 2) until you start feeling the kata (stage 3) and kata becomes kind of meditation in motion. A wonderful feeling when it happens. Kata is what it is and is not meant to be for self-defence per se, but adds sharpness to your moves and a focus mind.

Yes, I am disappointed! Very much so because I really wanted to pass (who wouldn’t?) and I had work hard (though not hard enough) for it. But I don’t want a certificate or a Nidan belt, if I don’t earn it and deserve it. What’s the point then? Karate is about belts as long as they reflect your true level, and your true level is reflection of your (correct) training, therefore karate is about training. On the other hand, I like the fact that gradings are not easy and not given away. This will make it so much more significant and meaningful when I pass it.

I’ve learnt a lot this weekend: I’ve polished moves, gained greater understanding of kata, reinforced concepts I knew and, more important, reinforced my inspiration to carry on training harder than ever. Watching the Japanese masters performing, their health and their spirit was a reminder of why I love Karate so much.

But the one thing that captured my attention the most is when Takegawa Sensei explained/shared/reminded us all that we should practice karate in all aspects of our lives and not just with a gi in the dojo. Now, that is deep! What does he mean? How do you do it? I’m sure each one of us have different ways to accomplish this. I have mine and, like kata, I am working on it.

It was a fantastic seminar and I just can’t wait for the next one. In the meanwhile, we know how it goes: train, train and then train a bit more…


Karate Class Blog

Good karate session!! Teaching tonight highlighted the fact that, although karate seeks for natural body mechanics applied to self-defence, the moves aren’t obvious. Initially it needs to be broken down to more manageable moves. Coordination, balance, speed and acuracy is key. My students worked the brain as much as their bodies. It’s great feeling to see when they get the sequence and rationale right.

Karate really seeks for simplicity and softness in the technique, yet it is a long, complex path to reach that simplicity. I’m still working on it myself, and often corrected.

Karate must be felt as much as it must be understood, if not more.

‘Softness’ and is badly misunderstood. Soft does’t mean weak and hard doesn’t mean strong. Water is soft and the rigid tree is hard. Who breaks who on a furious contest?

Very happy with today’s class with both kids and adults.

Goju Karate-Jutsu Classes for Adults in Chertsey, Surrey.


“What someone hears, they forget; what someone sees, they remember; what someone does, they learn”

Surrey Karate Academy offer adult Goju Ryu Karate-Jutsu classes with a focus on practical and effective techniques. With small classes we are able to tailor tuition to the individuals needs. We operate an ‘open door’ policy and anyone is welcome to come and train with us regardless of experience or background, whether on a regular or ad-hoc basis.

Please contact Fernando Mahamud, Mark Woollard or Brad Candy for further details to arrange a session.

Surrey Karate Academy is a member of to the Karate Jutsu Gakkai (KJG), associated to the European Goju Karate Federation (EGKF) and the British Martial Art and Boxing Association (BMABA). Our KJG chief instructor is Shihan Ben Craft (6th Dan).

SKA instructors train and study in a variety of associations and often attends seminars with Kyoshi Paul Enfield and sensei Michelle Vanderlinden-Enfield.

We also study Koryu Uchinadi (KU) with Hanshi McCarthy’s, at any given opportunity, and with a number of superb shidoin KU instructors in the South of England.

KA and KJG are recognised KU dojo of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society (IRKRS) by Hanshi PAtrick McCarthy and Goju Karate Centre Global (GKC Global).

Train and study Goju Karate-Jutsu  with us at Riverbourne on Mondays and Thursdays, between 8:15pm and 9:50pm

Call now 07844409642 or email for further information.

CrossFit Training at Riverbourne

After a number of months following a German Volume Training. I’ve changed the routine today. Following – and pushed by – Emma’s (Personal Trainer at Riveverbourne Club) high intense workout routine.  I was a broken man by the end of the session (enough said):

  1. 15 min high speed/intensity at the cross trainer machine to warm up.
  2. 35 quads as fast as you can, but keeping the technique and posture right at all times, followed by…
  3. 25 press-ups also as fast as you can, without jeopardising technique and bring the body the way down, followed by…
  4. 15 pull-ups (assisted with elastic bands, I must add)

Repeat 2, 3 and 4 seven times without any rest, other than the ones you naturally need before fainting. The idea is to reduce the time you need to work this routine out and aim for no rest or just 10 sec rest between super sets (2 – 4).

I have to say that this simple routine has completely broken me and the sense of physical tiredness went to the very core of my body. It makes you work to muscle fatigue plus adds as strong cardio component to it. It puts simple weight training to shame.

Hated it, but loved it!


Training at Oxford Karate Academy

Fantastic class tonight at OKA!

Shihan Paul Coleman returned from japan with revitalised karat and covered:

1. Basic kihon
2. Speed and timing of yako tsuki, mae suki, mae geri combination
3. Hip workout in yoko uke, gedan barai, haito uchi
4. Wrist grabbing workout with application including mawashi geri in the ribs
5. Geikisai ichi, geikisai ni, saifa, seyunchin and sanchin.

All with superb attention to detail to each one of the black belts. Loads to study and train now. I need to work on 5 key concepts and keep making progress.