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Do you still practice karate? Which out of Jiujitsu, judo and karate is your favourite martial art? What’s the best martial art out there? What’s next for you?

These are the questions I get the most often when people hear that I’ve earned black belts in three different martial arts (karate, judo and Jiujitsu) and I’ve noticed, over the years, that my answers have evolved. 

Every art I’ve trained to any length* has had an element of exchange, aka partner drills / kumite / randori / rolling / sparring. Granted, some arts focused on that more than others but even the year or so I trained in tai chi chuan, an art made famous by its solo practice, had something called “pushing hands” which necessitated having a partner / opponent.  

Outside the above mentioned (1) exchange of techniques with a partner, martial arts also have exercises that (2) strengthen the body and / or improve your control over it (callisthenics, lifting weights, stretching, coordination drills...etc), (3) solo forms of drilling the techniques (shadow boxing / wrestling, forms aka kata in Japanese arts) and (4) equipment practice (striking / wrestling bags, makiwara, elastic bands, dummies  ...etc) and, again, the extent to which these avenues of exercise are emphasised varied greatly from style to style but also from instructor to instructor. I know for instance that some styles of karate lay a huge emphasis on making the body strong using traditional implements (weighted jars, iron rings, isometric contractions...) while more modern styles emphasise explosive delivery of techniques fostered through the use of elastic rubber bands and plyometrics. Different courses for different horses. 

My two major challenges were always that: 

1. I like all forms of exercise 
2. There are only 24 hours a day and I’m only a part time martial artist. 

It was never of question of which form of martial art or which morality of exercise I liked. It had to choose simply because I had to choose. My time and energy are finite so I had to choose based on something other than enjoyment. I had to become purpose-driven. In fact, you could say I became purpose-obsessed!

Think about it. Even if I only limit myself to karate training, there are hundreds of techniques, innumerable combinations and a wide array of equipment to train them on (striking posts, dummies, different types of bags, small focus mits, large power pads...etc.) not to mention the various styles of testing their effectiveness (point style, semi contact, full contact without gloves, full contact with gloves, MMA...etc). If we add judo and Jiujitsu to that, then I’d need an additional 7 days per week just to scratch the surface! So instead, I decided to focus all my time and energy on training the commonalities between the arts. Instead of delving into the minutiae of what makes a karate punch a karate punch and all the different styles of the tai otoshi throw and how to adjust it against a left-sided attacker in competition, I focused on how both the throw and the reverse punch utilise exactly the same foot placement, spine alignment and explosive weight transfer through hip rotation and I practice that movement sequence. I wanted to become an expert on the overlapping regions between the arts I love and, to my delight, the overlap is greater than the differences. 

Look, for instance at this segment from a famous karate kata - Niseishi (aka Nijushiho)

this is clearly a face-level distraction followed by a mid-low level grapple / takedown.

This same can be seen in many other karate kata but it also is a cornerstone of how teh double leg takedown is taught within Gracie Jiujitsu, as demonstrated here by my teacher professor Eddie Kone:

My narrow focus does, however, mean I’ve had to be very selective with what I allow into my training matrix. If a technique, combination, piece of equipment of testing ground is too specialised then it gets cut out immediately. Intricate lapel work in Jiujitsu? Full contact kumite that doesn’t allow head punches (and therefore gives you false confidence in “the pocket”)? Throws that work best thanks to the opponent not being allowed to grab your legs in judo? All these and many like them do not feature in my training and probably never will. 

I totally respect the single-minded dedication I see in karate experts or judo experts or Jiujitsu experts. The ones who have learned how to perform the fastest kick or the most powerful throw or the slickest guard pass or sweep. My hat goes off to them. But I also know the monumental effort that went into reaching that stage and, for me, the reward doesn’t match that effort. I don’t want to have the best kick but be at a loss when it comes to performing a simple hip throw. Nor do I want to be a high level grappler of any style yet cannot throw a punch or understand the distancing required to be effective with strikes. I am a martial artist and, like any artist, I want to be comfortable with all the tools at my disposal. 

So, long story long, everything I train falls under everything I train. My footwork, engagement, gripping, striking, throwing disengagement and ground work are all the same for judo, jiujitsu and karate. I’m a martial artist* 

*we didn’t do any partner exercises when I trained iaido (the art of drawing the katana), but then again I only did that for 6 months when I was still at university so who knows?!

*I am not a mixed martial artist either because you can’t mix it if it’s all the same. 



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