Karate Kihon: What Do We Mean By Basics?

Karate Kihon: What Do We Mean By Basics?

Allow me to solicit your consideration on the subject posed in the title of this essay…. “Can you tell me what the phrase ‘Basics’ means to you?” Please pause for a minute to evaluate what it means to you before continuing reading. Having thought about it for a time, you’re likely to have a response in mind that is based on your own education and experience.

If you could simply keep those ideas in mind while you’re reading this essay, that would be great. –

The following sections will discuss some of the most widely held beliefs about the fundamentals of Karate training. In general, it is probably safe to assume that the different stances, basic lunges and reverse punches, back-fists, knife-hands, and other similar techniques would be at the top of the list for the vast majority of people going through basic martial arts instruction. After all, there is a great lot to learn from these movements, and expertise in these areas is critical for future progress. Is there anything more to the fundamentals of Karate?

The phrase “Kihon,” which is the Japanese equivalent for “basics,” is well-known among karate practitioners. It is common for us to associate this term with hours of repetitious practise up and down the dojo, a great deal of work and perspiration, and most likely a tremendous deal of noise! Kihon is unquestionably a hard worker. Punches, blocks, and kicks are all used. More punches, blocks, and kicks are thrown into the mix in combination techniques. There’s no denying that it’s all really vital.

But surely we have exhausted what is meant by basics in Karate training by now? Well, what about partner work which teaches focus, control, and distance among other things. Learning to face another person who is intent on hitting you. This is good basic training is it not?

I’m fairly sure that by now something of the above will cover your own thoughts about basics, which I asked you to keep in mind a little earlier. Let me ask another couple of questions. Firstly, how important is it to get these basics right? I don’t think there will be any disagreements when I say that these factors are fundamental to learning a striking art such as this.

Secondly, when and for how long should these basics be taught? Once again, I hope I offer a consensus view that they should be taught often, and for as long as Karate is practiced. In other words, basics must form the basis of all training. Failure to do this will result in a complacent attitude and poor technique.

I expect that for most people reading this, I have briefly outlined a definition of what “basic” means in terms of Karate training. But hold on a moment. Surely there’s something we’ve forgotten? What about the basics of fighting? Surely if we are to learn a fighting art, then we should be learning something about the real fight situation as soon as possible? But where does this figure in what we have talked about so far?

I know from my own experiences throughout the years, that in most Karate clubs, free sparring is the ultimate accolade. The training variously leads to a culmination of activities designed to lead the student to believe that free sparring is practice for real fighting. But is this true? I can only answer that by saying that I firmly believe that free sparring has its benefits, mainly in the areas of overcoming fear and learning to “get stuck in”. Beyond that, I feel there is little use in the real world.

What I would like to do now is to try and fill in a few blanks. To begin with, let me pose more questions to try and highlight them. Firstly, in a real fight, how does your Karate training teach you with finding yourself on the ground? Secondly, how does your Karate training deal with an attack with various weapons? Thirdly, how does your Karate training deal with the everyday types of attacks that will come from an untrained assailant? There are other questions, but that will do for now.

In a real fight, the likelihood is that it becomes a brawl within the first few seconds. The basic Karate training we have discussed so far has no real way to deal with a large half-drunk bloke charging you with all his might with a glass in one hand and a swinging right fist leading the attack. He intends to hit you and fall on you at the same time. You might be lucky and get in a shot with something, but the chances are that in a crowded bar, a good mawashageri (round kick) is a hard technique to deliver.

Of course, I only pose one scenario, and there are so many, but I think you’ll agree it is a very likely one, which I’m sure most of us have seen in our times at the bar (I know I have). Now I am not saying that it is not possible for the practitioner who uses the basics of Karate we have discussed, to be able to handle this situation. The 3rd or 4th dan exponent of Shotokan Karate would I am very sure, be able to end our hypothetical situation very quickly. But this poses more questions. What if he used enormous force to end the conflict, as would be consistent with his training? How could he justify such massive force? Certainly, the law would turn the tables on anyone who used terminal force in self-defense against an unarmed attacker. The law requires the use of “reasonable force” in self-defense, and this is evaluated on each individual event, not on the simple basis of “he attacked me so I defended myself”.

Basic Training

Our basic training shows no room for subtlety in dealing with such an attack. The answer lies in other “basics”, such as understanding real-life attacks and how to defend against them. How to gain the advantage, then how to best use that advantage followed by how to finish the situation (for the best).

Perhaps basics should include focused body movement tactics for misdirection, attack, avoidance, and defense. What about joint manipulation techniques, falling safely, throwing, and grappling techniques. Combining these activities with the basics at the beginning of this article should give the karateka a great deal more range of experience and possibilities in self-defense.

“But” I hear you cry, “This is not Karate, it’s Aikido or Jujutsu!”, and you would be half right. But it is also Karate. Everything I have described can be found within the Karate you now practice, whether you realize it or not. The fact that you have never realized it or have never been taught it is immaterial. A depth analysis of the Kata you practice, but probably dislike, will reveal all the basics you will ever need to effectively handle any self-defense situation in a manner fitting the situation.

This article does not intend to explain the whys and wherefores of my statement about Kata. You only need to look at the articles and books by certain eminent and contemporary martial artists today, to learn about that. The real purpose of this article is to highlight that all basics need equal attention if the student is to gain an adequate understanding of self-defense. It is unacceptable to me to reach Shodan with the belief that I have practiced all the tools of the trade, when in fact I’ve actually never seen two-thirds of them!

At the start of this article, I asked you to look at what basics meant for you. As we draw to a close, let me pose another question. Before I ask it, have a think about all the possibilities for real fight situations that you have seen or can imagine. Now, let me ask you, do you have enough skills to be confident that you could end any one-on-one conflict in such a way that you could not be prosecuted?

When you answer the question, just remember that ego and pride may try to persuade you that you can, but in all honesty, I would estimate that very few karatekas have what it takes.

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