I was having a conversation just a few weeks ago with an experienced, non karate practicing, martial artist. He insisted, unequivocally, that karate “does not work in reality”. What struck me, most regretfully, was that on the whole he wasn’t wrong. Enter most karate dojo, and you will undoubtedly see examples of karate that is bound entirely to the obsession with aesthetics. Such karate, I must agree “does not work”.
My objective has been to produce an interview that could clearly illustrative how karate can, and should work in reality; able to be taken from beginner level and developed to potentially put a resounding silence to the chaos of violent conflict. I wanted to look at the different elements that make up the charismatic features of Shotokan Karate, and possible provide an objective picture conveying how these elements fit together to “make it work in reality”.
There are however a few dojo, few and far between, where you will learn to “make it work”. One such group of dojo are in southern England run by Paul Herbert 5th Dan. A karate-ka who comes from a rich heritage, studying under Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda 9th Dan and Sensei Dave Hazard 7th Dan, giving him a rarely achieved standard and understanding.
An important feature of Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda’s karate was the concept of “Kiryoku” (Inner Strength).Paul Herbert’s karate personifies this concept. His karate is functional, brutal, uncompromising and lethal. – Shaun Banfield 2011
Exclusive Interview by THE SHOTOKAN WAY
(Shaun Banfield)Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I know you have been interviewed several times in the past, so hopefully I’ll try not to cover old ground.
(Paul Herbert)I should be thanking you for this opportunity. I’ve had the privilege of being interviewed by many sources over the years, but once again this comes as a surprise and is as always great pleasure.
(SB)To give the interview some context, could you please tell us how and when you first started karate and how you went to become a student of the legendary Keinosuke Enoeda?
(PH)I started training in 1984 and achieved my Shodan in 1989. It was just prior to achieving Black Belt that I was invited to train on the EKGB England squad under Sensei Ticky Donovan and the under 21’s coach Tim Stephens. In 1994 after treading water for a while, I took the route of so many great British Karate-Ka before me by joining the Karate Union of Great Britain. Consequently, I first trained with Enoeda Sensei at his famous Crystal Palace Course during the summer of the same year. This was an amazing experience and not before too long I was training three times a week at his Marshall Street dojo in London.
(SB)As a charismatic leader, there have been many descriptions of Enoeda Sensei and his karate. From a firsthand perspective, would you please give us insight into the legendary character?
(PH)His Karate was very powerful and exuberant, and he was obviously a master teacher but that is all well documented. Personally the first thing I discovered about Enoeda Sensei was his natural presence. Of course I'd grown into my teens revering this famous Sensei purely from reading about him and hearing stories from other karate-ka, yet even with such pre-conceived ideas, his actual presence still surpassed anything I had ever imagined. This was never more obvious than when we visited for example a restaurant, and the amount of non karate people who would approach to ask who he was. An actor?Diplomat?Business Tycoon?Samurai descendant? People were simply transfixed and never have I met anyone who naturally commanded as much respect or attention. Yet beneath the powerful and what could be an often volatile exterior also lay an amazing sense of fun, humour and warmth.
(SB)You are now closely linked with Dave Hazard 7th Dan, another protégé of Enoeda Sensei. What has, and is this doing to your karate and how would you sum up his influence?
(PH)It was Sensei who initially suggested I trained with Dave Hazard. Because in all my years at his dojo he never did this with any other instructor, I took this as an indication of what he thought was best required for my personal development. After Sensei passed away, I remained briefly with the KUGB before its infamous split with the JKA lead to me being involved with JKA England. However, the following 18 months just underlined to me that all the relevant information I was receiving and any personal improvement being made was coming from an outside source - Sensei Hazard. Consequently I decided to remove the shackles that had fastened with JKAE and joined his ASK association in late 2004. His influence has been immense and has given my Karate genuine continuity from the Enoeda era and not just a sugar pedestal from which to pay lip service to it (as I feel many do). He has given me the knowledge to allow my Karate greater intelligence, efficiency and effectiveness. I cannot thank him enough for his time, patience, friendship and continual inspiration. For me, both he and Enoeda Sensei epitomise everything Karate-Do is all about.
(SB)Could you give us some specific examples of how he helped give your karate greater “intelligence, efficiency and effectiveness” to help illustrate this?
(PH)With Enoeda Sensei you learnt by doing, and in all honesty technique really was secondary to 'Kiryoku' (spirit and will power). But when he did explain a technical detail it would always be a real gem that made many combined elements fall into place almost instantly addressing that balance. During my years at the Marshall Street dojo, Sensei left the daily teaching of basic technique to his assistant (Ohta) but this was only really as far as making shapes was concerned.Sensei Hazard however, has given me the knowledge to understand correct breathing and appreciate what's going on before, during and after each technique. This obsession with A and B looking technically perfect becomes redundant and if I am honest, plain BS from a Budo perspective if what happens during transition is misunderstood. Sensei Hazard has also given me the confidence to question and deconstruct so many techniques and concepts.
(SB)You teach seminars for different groups, is this idea of focussing on the end product a common problem and how do you help them to concentrate on the transition? Are there methods you use?
(PH)I’m the last person to say that my way is the right way or only way, but yes I do feel this ‘end product only’ mentality is a common problem. All I try to do is give my interpretation and offer a new ingredient to whatever mix the student already has. They can choose to either take on board the concept or discard it. The biggest fault I see is in the amount of Karate-ka who start moving without anything happening until the last third of the transition. This maybe a mere second in kihon performance but during physical application it leaves a big window of vulnerability. Many of Shotokan’s blocking techniques for example are most effective during their transition and not on their completion. An essential ingredient for ‘Uke-Waza’ is the importance of the elbows meeting or cutting through the centre line of the body. I have teaching methods for so many variables of this aspect that I really couldn’t give you an individual example and be satisfied that I had done myself or the concept justice.
(SB)You enjoyed a fruitful competitive career. Without covering old ground, how would you view Paul Herbert the competitor, and how did it feel being a representative of Enoeda Sensei?
(PH)In the context of British Shotokan, representing Sensei’s dojo was the equivalent of a footballer playing for a top club like Chelsea. You dream of doing it but soon realise the responsibility, expectation and pressure it holds (laughs). It really was a great honour and it has left me with some great memories. Looking back at me the competitor, I’d say I was a very consistent and won far more fights than I ever lost or drew, even at international level. I was fortunate enough to win numerous national and international championships with associations as prestigious as the KUGB and JKA. I’m proud to have successfully represented England at eighteen international championships, amongst them seven JKA Europeans and the 2004 World Championships in Japan.
(SB)As a coach yourself now, what are the most significant things you draw upon from this time in your life to help push your students to success?
(PH)I just consider myself lucky to have this experience to draw from full stop. I don’t see how can you teach or coach someone anything with integrity if you haven’t personally experienced it outside of your own comfort zone. My students draw confidence in itself from the fact I’m not just a theorist drawing from a coaching manual, they know I’ve done a bit. Sensei always said that once you get to a certain level of competition, everyone can punch and kick so the difference between winners and losers is always going to be mind set and attitude. Competitors need all the advantages they can get and having an experienced coach with you through your training and on the day counts for a lot.
(SB)As a coach, I know you place a great deal of emphasis on footwork and using angles for both defensive and offence. However, do you think we can balance traditional Karate with this more modern competition approach?
(PH)As much as we want Shobu Ippon championships to remain traditional and strong, we would be foolish not to develop and grasp the positive aspects that are contained in WKF competition.Karate has always been about evolution, but there is a danger that we become stagnant due to a hang up over the word ‘traditional’ in both the context of competition and in our general training. Shobu Ippon is really just a mind set and it is about maintaining a budo approach to what is essentially pseudo combat. The blasé attitude towards blocking and defence within WKF competition for example does not balance with Shobu Ippon or budo at all.
Shobu Ippon competition was generally about fighting on straight lines, clashing head-on and being rather flat footed. One of Shotokan’s biggest weaknesses is the fact that it became far too linear during the evolution process of making it easier to teach to large groups. Many of its techniques have been rendered ineffective. Consequently, I get my students working on breaking rhythm, breaking line and like you said, using angles to set up attacks and also to take them out of danger after they strike. Angles are especially important for a competitor if they are giving away height and reach advantage and also essential for successful kicking. With the exception of front kick and back kick, all our other kicks require a 45 degree angle to be effective and even then, our two straight kicks need the line to be subtly broken.
At a recent championship, the chief referee gave the instruction to not score any techniques if the competitor was bouncing. That’s madness. If the karate-ka executed the technique with kiai, kime, control and the correct attitude then I couldn’t care less if they moved like Zebedee from the magic roundabout (laughing). At the end of the day, regardless of how they move on the tatami, it is the attitude of the competitors and how they conduct themselves that will prevent traditional karate competition becoming just sport. Our 26 kata all contain rhythm, timing and the use of angles – why shouldn’t our kumite?
(SB)You talk about breaking the rhythm, and breaking the line, what drills do you use to develop some of these points?
(PH)This aspect is very difficult to explain without a physical demonstration but I will try and give a small insight. Common drills that I use involve learning to quickly match the opponent’s rhythm and then break it using a subtly switch in footwork to cut in. I also get my students trying to read the opponents breathing and look to hit on the inward breathe or on a similar vein, I try and get them attacking or hitting on the opponents upward bounce. Then there are strategies which involve drawing out the opponent’s technique or forcing a change in their breathing with a feint and following double beat attack. Breaking line and changing rhythm can also lead an opponent into a position where they attack when they don’t really want to. One of the best times to strike an opponent is a split second after the completion of their attack, and the concept is to strike as they are recovering and unable to reload. I hope some of this makes sense without me demonstrating it.
(SB)There’s certainly some good examples of you practising what you preach highlighted on the You Tube compilation ‘Paul Herbert Kumite Clips’.
(PH)I hope so. I competed for close to twenty years but the compilation is really just from the last few years of that period as I was never one to keep the footage given to me. On reflection, I wish I’d saved it but there’s still footage and some older photos from various KUGB Southern regions, Nationals, JKA European’s and from a couple of Shotokan Opens contained on there. I’m thankful that it contains the moment Enoeda Sensei’s dojo won the prestigious KUGB British title in 2003. On that day there was no personal glory, just the honouring of a legacy with the most fitting of tributes.
(SB)You mentioned earlier about the opponent having a height or size advantage, and how you fight someone who has these advantages. Can you please explain to me how you go about enabling your pupils to capitalize on their own personal strengths whilst being able to take advantage of the opponent’s strengths?
(PH)Well for what appears to be an advantage, you can always find a disadvantage. If one of my students points out strength in an opponent, I’ll immediately negate it with an overriding weakness. The job of a coach is not just about imparting strategies and teaching techniques, because that only goes so far. A huge part of coaching is about managing a competitors psyche. I like my pupils to be very single minded and only think about what they are going to do. Study other fighters to get an understanding of their style by all means, but not to the extent where they get overawed by them and start to worry about what the opponent ‘could’ do.
(SB)One technique you seem to have mastered is ashi-barai, having become acquainted with the floor myself because of them. What is key to effective sweeping and do you have drills, and exercises to help develop these?
(PH)My preferred time to use ashi barai is when the opponents attacks. As they move towards you with a step, slide or shuffle their front foot will be momentarily off the ground. It is at this time that their balance is most vulnerable and the more committed their movement, the more effective your ashai barai will become. The strategy is to sweep the foot at the last moment just before it settles back on the floor. You can teach and get across the theory behind ashi barai, but I ultimately think you need to develop a ‘feeling’ for it. It requires a lot of repetition and practice for it to become habitual and instinctive. I tend to drill this method by having the opponent attack with any technique they choose, and the defender simply applies the concept I’ve just explained. However, using ashi barai offensively contains the same elements but you obviously cannot reply on the opponent’s momentum as much. This is where the strategies of breaking line and drawing out the opponent, come back into play. There is also a requirement to use the floor far more to increase enursha. Generally I think Karate-Ka should have an equal ability or understanding of how to use not just Ashi Barai, but all their techniques both offensively or defensively.
(SB)You are a big man who dwarfs me in both height and stature. However you have been able to blend an ability to have the force of a muscular and tall man, yet the agility and dynamism of a much smaller man. How have you achieved this?
(PH) It’s not something I’ve worked hard on. I started training as a child and so I’ve just grown naturally into what I am. When I trained at CrystalPalace and when I first went to Japan, Enoeda Sensei said to watch Tabata Sensei and how he moved. I’ve also certainly learnt a great deal from Sensei Hazard about how the body works and about achieving maximum power with minimal effort that’s for sure. I’ve also studied big Europeans like Aidan Trimble and my friend Craig (Raye) to see how they are able to achieve such agility for large fellas (laughs). But I believe fundamentally they would say the same thing, when you’ve trained from a young age you just grow into and get used to working with what you’ve been given.
(SB)I remember a few years you telling me that in your kata practice you focus on the lighter and more dynamic kata. Why do you do this when other kata are perhaps more suited to your body type?
(PH)For the very reason that after so many years training, I want to work on my weaknesses and less to my strengths. Those are habitual now anyway. It would be far too easy for me to get up in the mornings and just practice a Sochin or Bassai Dai. I obviously study and practice all the Shotokan kata as I am required to teach them so often, however the challenge comes from the kata that take me away from my comfort zone.
(SB)Kata seems to be somewhat inextricably linked to kihon. So many groups however focus kata solely on its kihon and performance. What are your thoughts on this and what does kata mean to you?
(PH)I think what Kata gives us is an insight into what the ancient masters believed advanced Karate should truly be.There are very few kicks for example and those used are mainly Keage... the least spectacular but most effective of our kicking techniques. We have jumps to represent the energy required to throw an opponent which of course suggests close quarter combat, there is also repeated use of angles and an array of open hand techniques that are all deemed too dangerous for competition. The majority of blocking is also done going forward to gain entry and open an opponent.This doesn’t suggest a pretty demonstration tool to me and those groups that focus on the aesthetic performance over everything else are just “all surface and no substance”. In my own Kata training I will of course try and make the kihon aspect as correct as my body will allow me and understand the personality of each kata. My priority and enjoyment however comes from drilling sections of the kata under duress with training partners and making the form functional.
(SB)Gichin Funakoshi once said “Spirit First, Technique Second”. Based on what you have said, do you think this concept should be reflected in kata?
(PH)I think this concept is relevant and should be reflected in Karate-Do generally. Enoeda Sensei is also quoted as stating that ‘Kiryoku’ is more important than ‘Waza’ and should always be kept at full measure. My own belief is that all technique should be executed with tenacity and ferocity but also with an appreciation for longevity? It is the quality of technique after all that gives us a vehicle for a life’s practice. So there must be a healthy balance between spirit and technique, especially when teaching beginners.
It is my understanding that Enoeda Sensei’s main objective when he first came to the UK was to produce spirited Karate-Ka who could handle a physical challenge and there’s absolutely no doubt he achieve that. Even now the KUGB are second to none in that sense. However, when Sensei later settled in London and had more time to work with his students there was a closer ratio between good technique and good spirit. In all aspects of Karate-Do, technique will only ever take you so far. It is the spirit behind the technique that defines a Karate-ka.
(SB)And could you talk a little about the mindset for kata execution? Should we visualize, or be in a state of "MU"? What are your feelings about this, and what are the benefits do you think?
(PH)Although harder to achieve, the mindset for Kata should be exactly the same as it is for Kumite. I personally have to visualize whilst practicing Kata, and I always encourage my students to do the same. Without intention or understanding behind the techniques, they are simply empty shapes. Also, each Kata has its own personality and so this also needs to be understood to practice each one with relevance. In my opinion, the only time ‘no mind’ could be achieved would be at the fourth stage of development, i.e. after attaining the level of ‘Unconscious Competence’. I’ve spoken with Sensei Hazard in the past about this state of ‘mu’ and it’s obvious that we’ve both interpreted it as the process of clearing, but also preparing the mind before conflict - the calm before the storm.Even with technical unconscious competence, I feel there must still be a cognitive process of intention taking place. Enoeda Sensei’s kata was sometimes unrefined but there was no doubt he was living each kata when he executed them.
(SB)Could you please elaborate on these four stages of learning to give readers an insight?
(PH)Certainly. The learning matrix is not exclusive to martial arts by any means, it is just a simple explanation of how we learn in stages. But it is valuable to understand - Stage 1 is “unconscious incompetence”. The Karate-ka is doing things incorrectly without even realising or understanding what they should be doing. Stage 2 is “conscious incompetence”. The Karate-ka is doing things incorrectly but has developed an understanding of what they are trying to achieve or of their own deficiency in that area. Stage 3 is “conscious competence”. The Karate-ka can perform the required action when they concentrate and think about what they are doing. Stage 4 is “unconscious competence” as mentioned previously. The Karate-ka can perform the required action and this happens naturally becoming second nature. However, from an instructor or coaches point of view there is actually a Stage 5 which is known as the “conscious competence of unconscious incompetence”, which describes a person’s ability to recognise and develop stage 4 in others (laughing). Shall we stop there?
(SB)With your students, do you differentiate kata for competition and kata for the dojo? If so, what is this differentiation and why is it important to do so?
(PH)If I have students preparing for a championship I may expand a little on performance, but I have no desire to alter their kata and sacrifice its correct feel or functionality. I have been, and I have produced students who have also been national champions and this success has been achieved with strong a strong attitude and traditional kata. Whilst I respect the athleticism and ability of competitors like Valdesi and the late Michael Milon, that kind of WKF kata leaves me cold.
(SB)Closely linked to competition is the concept of the Embusen. An often debated issue, do you think it’s over-rated and emphasized?
(PH)Like it or not, Embusen is part of kata practice. Therefore the use of the Embusen templates as measuring tools is very important to check the correct length of stances, jumps, shifts and the angle of turns etc. Embusen is relevant to overall complete kata performance, but not its application.
(SB)Application of kata for so many groups is a somewhat tokenistic gesture, again only working everything against a “Perfect” Classical technique. What are the key factors that influence your application of kata as you apply the kata within a variety of contexts?
(PH)We can certainly use classical techniques to apply our kata against, but this just tends to be as a training method to give a basic understanding of the kata itself - i.e. Bunkai. Since our kata were created, the modern enemy has changed and consequently I feel the application and thought process behind each kata needs to evolve with the times. These are certainly not the days of noble duals, rather of deception and multiple attackers. So rather than being exuberant, classical and aesthetically very beautiful to look at, the training for effective kata application should become ragged, ugly and as a consequence littered with errors, like real conflict is. This is what influences my study of kata and this is where we need to move away from the basic ‘Bunkai’ study of kata application and think laterally with ‘Henka Oyo’. This is a more advanced concept of interpretive application where the techniques, distance and embusen are adjusted as required to make them effective. Techniques that are blocks by name for example, start being used as strikes, locks, chokes, strangles and disengages etc.
(SB)There is so much talk about whether kata practice actually helps make a better fighter. Do you see evidence of this?
(PH)Honestly? No I don’t. Some of the best fighters I have ever trained or sparred with have had no understanding of kata whatsoever. If kata made better fighters, Boxers and Mixed Martial Artists would utilize them in their training regimes. Kata practice however, makes us better Karate-Ka and gives us depth of study and a far greater longevity over these other martial artists. The only aspect of kata practice that I see as being relevant to fighting skill, is in allowing the practitioners to really kick off with short segments of application. As I said before, it’s not at all pretty and becomes ragged very quickly.
(SB)Your karate is heavily focussed on its real function: Self Defence. In your opinion is this a too often ignored aspect?
(PH)I think it was, but Karate can no longer afford to neglect this aspect or try and pull the wool over people’s eyes with tokenistic self defence concepts. Over the past decade, the public’s opinion has changed as to what constitutes an effective martial art. From the 1970’s to the 1990’s, Hollywood movies influenced people’s opinions hugely, but as the MMA culture has unfolded and grown in popularity, many myths of the martial arts have been broken and their illusions shattered. Karate taught and applied correctly can without doubt be devastatingly effective as a self defence. However the problem comes in its training methods with far too many Shotokan groups restricted by mindless kihon-centric repetition training.
(SB)Would you say your karate has been influenced at all by your previous work both on the doors and other violent situations?
(PH)Without a doubt those experiences have heavily influenced my own training. Not only did they validate many aspects of it but I believe that they also gave integrity to what I am able to teach others. First and foremost, Karate is a martial art that prepares us for conflict – not for sport. As I said before, how can you teach someone to punch, kick or even block if you haven’t experienced performing those actions outside the comfort zone of a dojo or refereed tatami?
(SB)I am not suggesting we discuss gratuitous violence, but could you please share some events and experiences from your work in such violent fields to help illustrate this link between your work and your karate?
(PH)Some things I can talk about, others I can’t so it’s probably best if I briefly outline the nature of some of my previous work, I'm sure TSW readers will then understand the environments and their conditions. As you've already mention I've been a doorman, just like many Karate-ka from my generation and before. I've worked undercover with the media in some very frightening situations and also as a private bodyguard. Whilst making the decision to teach Karate full time I was working as a bailiff and warrants officer in London's east end. As you can imagine, many of these experiences involved conflict and ‘problem solving’ on a daily if not hourly basis. Please understand, I teach Shotokan Karate as the full package, kihon, kata and kumite. I give my students the ingredients for everything that they will need for a lifetimes study - yet my own personal training has evolved and is now a system of controlled violence. As politically incorrect as it sounds, I train to inflict damage and be a nightmare for whoever or whatever is in front of me. I'm very proud of my traditional heritage but I don’t think an onlooker would conclude I was a Shotokan Karate-Ka from watching my own personal training. Do I condone violence? No of course I don’t. For me training this way is the same as a driver holding fully comprehensive car insurance. It is just something you pay into and hope you are never going to have to use, but should you need to? Well, you want to hold the best possible cover. For me, everything goes back to this word ‘integrity’. When I teach practical application it’s just that, I do so from the experiences mentioned and not from theory. Just as I do with the competition aspect of my career or from my general Karate experiences from training in some of the world’s most renowned dojo.
(SB)When teaching Self Defence, what are the main things you emphasise?
(PH)Avoidance followed by de-escalation. If the first tactic isn’t an option, then learning to recognise the precursors of attack during the second is essential as the concept of physical defence is very often defective. I discovered very early the importance of being pre-emptive in conflict. Action beats reaction every time and gains the advantage. Statistics show how very few people recover from the first strike, so it is essential to be the individual asking the question and not the one trying to come up with an answer. Your first shot must either knock the opponent out or disable them enough that it’s game over within the next few blows. Therefore I emphasise a decisive mindset, accuracy and using the body as a combined unit to be devastating. However, the techniques used are less important than the understanding of the set-up and intent behind them.
(SB)Your Self Defence teaching tends to consist of a great deal of close range techniques, such as elbows and open handed strikes rather than just normal punches. Why is this, and do you think such strikes are taught too little in many dojo?
(PH)Sorry I really should have said earlier, but the label ‘self defence’ always signals alarm bells ringing in my ears as it suggests reacting to a situation already perpetrated against you. The term I prefer is personal protection as I feel it reflects the more positive mindset of prevention being better than cure. Getting back to your current question, I work a lot at close range simply because my experience tells me that the customary conflict environment dictates this closer distance. As for the use of strikes, Shotokan’s senior kata are filled with numerous open hand techniques and strikes all deemed far too dangerous for competition. This tells us a lot about what is really effective in our system. I don’t believe that they are taught too little, but I do believe that they’re practised all too often just in kata and without the correct understanding of distance. Common faults are karate-ka punching from kicking range, striking from punching range and finally using elbows at striking range without even realising their mistakes.
(SB)You mentioned a moment ago that the modern enemy often consists of combat against multiple attackers. What, in your opinion, are the most significant factors to keep in mind when training to deal with such conflict? And how do you train for such situations?
(PH)(After a long pause) An aggressive attitude is absolutely essential. So too is the need to be pre-emptive and vociferous whilst sticking to techniques that are totally ingrained and less likely to go wrong under duress. Keep moving, keep attacking and do your best to try and keep your opponents on a single line. The pack mentality of a group causes fights and assaults to go far beyond the limits that a single attacker would, so sitting back and inviting on and trying to deal with attack after attack is not an option. You must be accurate and attack vulnerable areas like the jaw line, soft tissue and the joints and as much as I hate say this, the use of inanimate objects as weapons must be considered. From a psychological point of view, go hell for leather at the leader of the pack as a deterrent to the others. This is not a new concept, the samurai Miyamoto Musashi stated as far back as 1645 that when facing multiple opponents, you should attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides. Nothing has changed.
I would be lying if I said you could train 100% effectively for these situations as they just cannot be replicated in the dojo, and perhaps more importantly neither can the internal feelings of adrenalin and the fight or flight syndrome. The only way of getting close to this is by training with a close group of like minded people who are prepared to train outside of their comfort zone and set your boundaries from there. One of the best training tools I now use in my ‘Applied Karate’ workshops is a Redman suit. It allows me to dress head to toe in blunt force trauma body armour and permits whoever I’m training to apply their techniques full blooded. The nature of the training also allows me to replicate stressful situation far more closely and consequently address the matter of adrenal responses.
(SB)And in your opinion, is there a place for kicking in personal protection? If not, why do we spend so much time developing them?
(PH)Yes there’s a place for it, but only below the waist. Once again environment dictates the surface you’ll be kicking from, and I’ll bet you’ll not be bare footed on a tatami of sprung dojo floor. You’ll be in footwear, restrictive clothes and stood on a surface that is most likely uneven, unfamiliar, slippery and cluttered. Enoeda Sensei’s philosophy was that by kicking Jodan, you had to kick technically correct. Therefore we spent a lot of time developing our kicks at that level in order to maximise their effect and efficiency when they were performed lower. If you maintain all the elements required to kick jodan effectively and apply them to a low kick they become utterly destructive.
(SB)One of the most striking aspects of your karate is your own kicking ability. What are the most important things you emphasise in your teaching?
(PH)Complete technical understanding of each kicking technique in order to sustain health and longevity. In basic kihon form my emphasis is on the importance of the supporting leg, correct use of the arms and the diverse methods of breathing required. For example a springy breath on the outward execution of the kick compared to a harsher one on the recovery, i.e. on landing. Another critical aspect is the relationship between the knee and foot of the kicking leg. The knee should complete its trajectory exactly the same time as the foot does, but too many times these become disconnected and serve as separate entities. In applying ‘Geri waza’ to kumite, the emphasis must switch to understanding the correct line to set up the kick and from which angle each of our kicks is most appropriate. Then comes the hard part – timing. This only comes from understanding your own body and its limitations. It cannot really be taught individually and is really more about feeling. Again, these explanations require visual demonstrations so I hope that anyone reading this can understand some of what I’m trying to get across.
(SB)You spoke about the role of the base leg. Could we please use one kick as an example and possibly describe its role?
(PH)Well for roundhouse kick, on the knee lift you want the support leg to be loaded with the knee and foot facing directly forward towards the target. You must avoid ‘stilting’ as I call it,where you cease to load the muscles in the leg and raise up onto a straight leg as though you were balancing on a stilt. This is a very common error along with turning the support foot too soon, which seriously decreases dynamism when executing the kick itself. This is the body’s way of finding the easiest way to do something. From this point what is essential to remember is that the kick itself becomes consequence of what the base leg and foot are doing and not vice versa. The kick is executed as the support leg pivots 180 degrees, sending the kicking knee and foot to target. As I mentioned before, the knee and foot finish at the same time. Recovery and recoil are again a consequence of the base leg and the support foot pivoting on its ball. All techniques should incorporate ‘Kinetic linkage’ generating from the floor. No question.
(SB)It’s interesting you should answer in this way since many Japanese led organisations emphasise moving from the hip…everything coming from the hip, almost making the hip the starting action. What are your feelings about this?
(PH)There is no doubt that the hips play a tremendously important role in the execution of all Karate techniques. However, use of the hips is near impossible if the body isn’t grounded by one or both feet. Consequently they require torque from the rear leg and its relationship with the floor to be incorporated effectively. Karate is executed in a very similar fashion to a sprinter coming out of the blocks, the feet are forced downward into the floor and as a consequence power can be explosively drive upwards to and then through the hips. The biggest misconception is that the hips work like a revolving door, oppose to a fixed hinge. When this occurs, the same amount of power is distributed backwards as it is forwards.
(SB)Returning to kicking, I know through discussion you’ve so accurately highlighted the point that some karateka take relatively simple kicks such as keage and over cook and complicate them. What are your feelings about this and could you explain the simplicity of keage?
(PH)If I am honest, I despised Yoko Keage and failed to understand it for almost two decades. Yet speaking as a Martial Artist who has applied kicking techniques under duress, I honestly believe that keage is the most effective kick in the Shotokan system. It’s not a power kick as it is quick and fluent, however when applied correctly with accuracy to soft tissue it’s devastating. It’s important to remember that keage is a 45 degree angled kick, therefore the hips and shoulders need to be subtly aligned to execute it properly. I know that there are many people out there who, if they really analyzed their own keage, would discover that they are performing a hybrid of keage and mawashi-geri. Their action from knee to foot becomes circular, and rather than the kicks arc rising straight upward it goes around. This is a consequence of too much hip being engaged but also the attempt to make the kick aesthetically pleasing. If I ever see a nice looking keage then I ‘m pretty sure it’s being performed wrong. The WKF have replaced all keage with kekomi for this very reason and even modern JKA teach it differently to Master Nakayama. Keage is, and for function must remain Kekomi’s far less attractive sister (laughs).
(SB)A hotly debated topic, but do you ever pivot on the heels of your feet? Could you explain the reasons for your answer?
(PH)Yes I do, but only towards the end of a training session when I’m exhausted and my body starts finding the easiest way of doing things. All athletic and dynamic movement in life or sports is performed or achieved via the balls of the feet. Turning on the heels can create a very smooth action but there is not as much control over the body, the muscles are not engaged and consequently the body is just balancing on its skeletal structure - the ability to abort the movement is also far more difficult. There is no argument in my eyes.
(SB)When you teach both at your personal dojo and when you teach seminars for other organisations you encourage focus on a whole body action, timing everything together. Why is this?
(PH)Shotokan is about being explosive and using the whole body as a combined unit. Looking at the whole system, there are very few techniques in basics, kata or kumite they do not complete the same time as their accompanying stances.I emphasise the previously mentioned concept of kinetic linkage, which uses torque, rotation and its sequential acceleration to increase the power of each defined technique. When all these elements combine with the addition of kime and spirit, to me this is real Karate.
(SB)So what is false feedback?
(PH)False feedback is when your body registers your own technique by reverberation or a jolt. The feedback can feel good and give the impression that power is being generated, but in reality the body has just retained the energy and power rather than dispense it through the technique.
Whilst at your dojo a few weeks ago, preparing for this interview, we were talking about the importance of breathing. You hit me through two thick pads, and every time I was left feeling badly winded. You attributed this heavy impact to relaxation, and the breathing that allows this. Could you please tell us about your personal outlook on the role of the breath in karate?
It'll come as no surprise to learn that I share the same views on the subject as my instructors. They are both well documented as stating that correct breathing is essential to the Martial Arts. Breathing is essential for life itself and so it is no shock that breathing incorrectly when training makes Karate completely lifeless. With regards the impact training, the breathing on a punch or strike becomes more like that of a basic kick i.e. spongy. Combined with kinetic linkage this allows penetration into the target for an explosive internal shock but also promotes recoil which adds to the strikes efficiency.
(SB)So would I be correct in thinking that the way a karateka breathes in their karate changes as they develop in the art? Could you talk me through this development?
(PH)I believe that breathing should be exaggerated and far more obvious in lower grades. I encourage my beginners and intermediate students to amplify their breathing to prevent them holding their breath on techniques and tensing up as a consequence. As they progress, the breathing should become far more subtle and less vociferous. I also like to introduce impact work on the focus pads, bag and Redman quite early on. Predominantly as breathing to lock a technique in kihon form is very different to that required for making effective contact into a target. Believe me when I say that there are far too many senior karate-ka around who cannot hit for shit.. First thing they do? They hold their breath and try too hard. Years of hitting fresh air with aesthetic kime counts for nothing.
(SB)As I have said, a few weeks ago I visited your dojo, and what struck me most about your karate is its uniqueness in terms of style. Whilst it naturally contained aspects of those people that have hugely influenced you, it was still nonetheless your karate; entirely unique to you. Do you feel this is an important stage for your students and all karateka to eventually arrive at?
(PH)I think we all initially start out trying to be copies of our own instructors. I know that deep down I will never really stop trying to be like Enoeda Sensei or Sensei Hazard, even now when I perform a technique I try and see myself doing it their way. Although I use all the same ingredients as them, eventually it’s my own personality and physique which dictates as to what I arrive at. And this is the point where we should all move beyond imitation and hopefully begin creation.Although I must stress that this is constructive creation and evolution, and not just an excuse to do things incorrectly through lack of proper training and understanding. A good instructor will not try and clone his/her senior students, they will allow them to evolve their Karate so it becomes their own.
(SB)One thing I noted from every lesson I’ve watched you teach is the way you structure and develop a class. Would you please explain the key aspects you keep in mind when structuring a lesson?
(PH)It’s very difficult to generalize but I only ever go into classes with one or two concepts in mind, the development of that session then really depends on how well the students deal with the information given to them. I always tend to start a session by giving my students the correct fundamentals through line training. However, I think the greatest flaw with many karate clubs is that the majority of the training time does consist of this military style line training and consequently students become conditioned to only doing techniques one certain way. My feeling is that failing to prepare for functional application is only preparing you to fail when it really matters. With this is mind, I believe you need to be continually revising how you’re teaching and that the emphasis and ratio must shift from kihon-waza to functional application the more senior your students become. Once my students have a good understanding of a technique or combination I develop my classes around its relationship to Kata and basic ippon kumite, then its adaptation for close range combat and possibly competition.
(SB)And is the approach to teaching a seminar different to teaching at your dojos? Can you explain how and why?
(PH)Yes it’s very different. My clubs and students are the core of my teaching. Obviously I can continuously drill my students’ class in, class out and work around a defined syllabus with them.I have time on my side and can attempt to mentor them over a far greater period of time - years. Although they’re probably tell you I’m far more likely to lose my rag, shout and moan within my own clubs than on a seminar (laughing). When people attend courses they shouldn’t be expected to simply replicate a dojo session, so I use the time available to motivate people and get them really excited about their Karate. Obviously I’m happy to teach whatever concept the person running the course requires and hopefully during that limited time, I can present enough technical information that every student can take something back to their own dojo to work with later.
(SB)One word we have heard repeated, quite emphatically throughout the interview is Kiryoku. Whilst you’ve explained its meaning, could you please elaborate on your personal connection with this concept as a part of the Enoeda legacy?
(PH)Quite simply when it came to choosing a name for my group of Karate dojo this word seemed very appropriate, not only relevant to my heritage but also to my own beliefs. As I’ve said, it is the spirit of a martial artist that defines them - not their art or technique. Kiryoku is about character and not giving up, in or outside of the dojo. One of Enoeda Sensei’s most straightforward commands in the dojo was the phrase ‘just one more’, of course this never meant just one more and repetition after repetition followed (laughs). I believe that this attitude of not quitting and trying over and over again is the foundations on which our spirit is built.
(SB)Are there any points I have neglected to ask you about that you would like to mention?
(PH)No, I’d just like to say that I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions and nor should they, but I do hope that some of the content here creates thought and debate next time people are at their dojo. Thank you again Shaun for this opportunity, it’s always truly humbling to think that other martial artists may be interested in what I have to say.