Chris Meets Chris - Our Global Seminar Recap
It was real easy to collaborate and work together on our first Global Seminar with Chris Denwood chrisdenwood.com . We're both martial arts nerds. I reached out to him several months ago, was referred to him by a good friend John Titchen https://titchen.com/. John basically said "you should speak to Denwood, he's a good guy, good technical knowledge, open minded, and loves Naihanchi and self-defence". I said, "done!!". The rest was history.
Being "open-minded" in the martial arts world is a subjective thing.
To me, martial arts open-mindedness means the ability to appreciate all martial arts and allow people to be themselves while helping them out. Chris Denwood is this person.
He has cross-trained in many arts to appreciate the biomechanical commonalities. He was instantaneously an addition to our Karate Unity network of like minded martial artists. Our learning network consists of Martial Artists and Combat Sports players who want to cross-train, learn, and share their craft with each other.
This open exchange, in my opinion, is the only way to truly grow and expand your knowledge. If you dig deep enough, the Karate masters all cross-trained, and every style they developed were basically remixes. Nagamine Shoshin, for instance, cross-trained in Karate, Kendo, and Judo. He basically mentions in his book The Essence Of Okinawan Karate-Do", that if you want to instill flexibility, endurance, and mobility in stances, you can turn to Judo, Kendo, Wrestling, Boxing, and Aikido for examples of these attributes.
What's that I hear? A mix of traditional arts AND combat sports?....oh the madness.
That's not traditional some may say....
But, I say, as Nagamine alludes, it's traditional, because it's open-mindedness at its best.
Chris Denwood and I have had regular open-minded conversations, that basically lead to the planning and execution of our Global Naihanchi Seminar.
Everything is Naihanchi!
Chris Denwood would say so! Heck, he wrote several books on the matter! I own one of his Naihanchi books ( https://store.chrisdenwood.com/b/M2FZK ) and I couldn't put it down. It was loaded with practical golden nuggets of flexible and applicable biomechanical principles extracted from Naihanchi, and to be honest, you can apply them to virtually any combative expression.
That's one of the reasons why I sought him out. I can see the hype behind Naihanchi. There's enough "short" movements, fast twitch reflexes, dropping energies, and power movements to make the Kata "self-defence ready", no doubt.....BUT.....
You can say that about any Karate Kata really. In my opinion, everything in our Karate curriculum can be adapted for self defence. I have spent years cross-training with other martial artists and combat sport players to see the common biomechanical principles to make this conclusion. In time, when you put in enough mileage in the martial arts and/or combat sports, you begin to see overlaps in all practices.
This is the beauty of cross-training. It gives you options, perspectives, and it really exemplifies good learning pedagogy. Think of it, we go to elementary school and learn several subjects from several teachers, all having several teaching strategies.
What's the end result?
You become a well rounded student. Why should martial arts be any different? Here is an example of my take on Naihanchi applications, fusing in elements from Western Boxing, FMA, and Wing Chun, to name a few arts. I covered some of these ideas in our seminar as well.
SHU HA RI - Seminar Theme, Kata and Biomechanical Alphabet
We decided on focusing on the Japanese learning concept of Shu (Keep), Ha (Destroy), and Ri (depart). It was a personal and meaningful decision made by Denwood as these Kanji characters were written and gifted to him by the Okinawan Karate Master Arakaki Sensei.
Shu means to Keep form, to stick to form. Ha means to destroy the form, break away from it, and internalize the ideas through innovation. And Ri means to depart totally from the form, to digest all your learning, and use it in application.
During the seminar, we both, in my opinion elucidated this concept quite well in our demonstration segments. I started off by discussing how the SHU HA RI concept is very much like English language acquisition. Let's start with the letter "A".....
At the seminar, I explained that Kata and Kihon in Karate, are basically biomechanical alphabet. If you train the movements, and try to preserve them exactly the way the masters did it, along with force-feeding an application to look like the Kata/Kihon move, then you are basically reciting the alphabet without speaking, without making any words, or sentences.
The opening move in Naihanchi Shodan for instance, is a jam-packed biomechanical alphabetic set so to speak. It's like the letter A. All of the lines intersect at different angles to make up a rudimentary vowel of our language.
If you change the font, rotate it in space, stretch out the lines, make artistic designs, the letter A is still recognizable and intact. Take a look at the red-circled A, this is a special case, that I really hit home at the seminar, as it represents cross-training to a tee!
So check it out, the red-circled A (see above diagram), it consists of a totally different piece. It's a triangle, it's not a line. The remaining lines are even separated, spaced out, and "different" from your standard block letter "A". Yet, you can still recognize it as an "A" even with the triangle piece can you not?
The triangle represents adding in something outside of the Kata (i.e. Boxing, Wing Chun, or another technique). Something that you seamlessly add in from your cross-training that still aligns with the original concept.
At the seminar, I elucidated that when you develop applications, you need to find the biomechanical concept in the Kata/Kihon, then express them in different "fonts" or "designs".
You need to change the orientation, planes of motion, stretch out the movements etc., in order to express the concept in various ways. This expression of the Kata/Kihon so to speak is the Ha, the destruction of the original form. By writing in another font, you are now speaking a language!
These modifications need to happen to adapt to the ever changing chaos of violence. By sticking to the form, you will get hurt! You will just be in the “spelling“ phase and not expressing yourself in words or sentences!
Freedom Of Expression - "RI"
The Ri, is the fluid expression of this language, the application of the letters, the ability to write letters in many ways. This is total freedom. You are not confined to one standard way of writing the letter "A".
I basically illustrated this point as per the Youtube video below. The ideas illustrated here, were the same as in the seminar. I used the seminar to take a deeper dive into this concept.
In the end, you take your Kata movements, recognize the root concept (ie. find the letter "A"), then apply the root concept in various ways, by "drawing" it in various ways (eg. change the planes of motion, add in other arts that compliment it (ie., adding in the triangle - see the circled "A" above), separate and space out your limbs to suit an application (ie., spacing out the lines in the letter "A"), and rotate the original technique.
You make all these modifications to suit your purpose and context. How do you know your application is "right"?
Well, if it takes you out of the line of fire, puts you in a temporary tactical position of advantage while placing your opponent at a disadvantage, and finally allowing you to walk away safe, then I think it's "right", right?
I was excited to see Denwood come alive with his Kata. He demonstrated an explosively tight expression of his Kihon within the Naihanchi Kata. He clearly exemplified RI, or as he phrased it "the varying brush strokes" of the letter "A" by expressing the same Naihanchi Kihon in various ways.
He discussed how to change it up the opening move and use it to strike, trap, bump, eye poke, smash, stop, and interrupt motion in various ways. Check the video below for examples of this.
I think we both demonstrated clearly at our seminar, how you can express RI or the departing from the form, while still keeping the form biomechanically. The trick is to identify the biomechanical principle in the form, then apply it in various ways according to need and/or context.
Therefore, you need to make modifications to your Kata: change rotational planes, stretch out your limbs, contract, expand, vary your footwork, play with the rhythm and timing of the move etc.
Well, I am glad I met Chris Denwood Sensei. I think it was bound to happen. The mission behind Karate Unity is real simple. Reach out to others, share your craft, learn, create, and liberate your Martial Arts from the confines of stagnant Dogmatic practices.
Chris Denwood Living Karate, is living proof of this Karate Unity mission as demonstrated by his freedom of expression with his Karate. I am grateful that he allowed me to work with him, and I am grateful for all the international participants that joined us from 7 different countries.
The feedback was positive, and reassuring for both of us. To be honest, I am always weary to present my ideas to new audiences, but after this seminar, I got affirmations that I am on the right track. Thank you Chris Denwood Sensei, it was awesome to finally meet you virtually and I look forward to the future.
Karate, as with any Martial Art, needs to evolve. As mentioned in the seminar, the masters were continually studying, cross-training with other artists; heck Karate is really a remix of White Crane Kung fu, and many other South-East Asian Arts, but that's for another history lesson. Reach out to Sensei Andreas Quast on Facebook for deep dives into Karate history https://www.facebook.com/andi.q
If you want your Karate or any Martial Art to be functional for self defence, health, and fitness, I firmly believe you need to evolve your practice from simply regurgitating the movements "as-is" and avoid trying to "force feed" applications from the static positions in the Kata. Violence is chaotic, and your applications need to evolve with this chaos.
In the end, the Kata, as Denwood and myself pointed out in the seminar, should be seen as an "organic" set of changeable biomechanical principles that take on various forms, shapes, and applications depending on purpose and context.
From a Karate Unity perspective, cross-training allows us to see that in time, all the Martial Arts and Combat Sports have overlapping techniques that are used simply for different purposes and contexts.
What have you done to evolve your Martial Art?