There appears to be substantial inconsistencies when it comes to the delivery of Karate instruction.

But I am hesitant to suggest whether or not this is a good or a bad thing.

The issues I have with inconsistency centre around the idea that before you have learnt the building blocks that make up Karate, it can be confusing when various instructors are telling them that they are “wrong to do it that way”. When learning the building blocks and syllabus, there must be a consistency in order for the students to learn the fundamentals effectively. It is no good trying to teach them “your way” of doing it, because ultimately this is likely to be built upon years of experience and for lack of a better term “shortcuts” that your body naturally takes.

Having said all that the issue that I have with outright consistency, is that it defeats the true purpose of martial arts and it infringes upon one’s ability to think laterally and for themselves in terms of developing effective Karate. What I mean by this is if we put blinkers on the students and only ever allow them to practice something in one particular way then they will be unsuccessful when they need to adapt a technique for a new purpose or challenge.

Although these statements seem very contradictory, let me illustrate for you where I believe the distinction lies.

There are always going to be obvious differences between styles for instance when I compare my style GodoRyu with the Shotokan that I now practice, we understand Uchi Uke and Soto Uke to be the other way around.

What I am talking about instead, are the nuances in how the techniques are delivered. We all come from different backgrounds in Karate, a lot of us have trained in various places with various instructors which is why such differences exist.

At the end of Bassai-Dai for example, we see two sweeping “Soto Ukes” (“Uchi Ukes for Shotokan”). Within GodoRyu which as my regular readers may be aware is based predominantly in Wado, it is alien to create big movements for the sake of big movements. This is a wasted effort, and only signals your strategy to your opponent. Within Shotokan however I am told that this movement starts with your arm vertically, generating a large sweep down and outwards (apparently catching and sweeping a Mae Geri).

Similarly all of the blocks within Shotokan are expected to be “set up”, for instance Age Uke (Jodan Uke to my fellow GodoRyu friends) is initiated with the opposing hand up in the air, almost in a grab like position (I assume the basis for this is to generate power from the hip as you pull it back but I am not too sure).

This doesn’t necessarily create a problem for practitioners with experience, in terms of actually performing the technique and understanding what it is, however I am finding it incredibly hard to fight against the muscle memory that has developed over the last 14 years, which is preventing me from “setting up” these blocks.

If however, a Kyu grade student at the lower end of the metaphorical ladder, was to be taught in a certain way by one instructor and then a different way by a second instructor, this could be counter productive. In my opinion all this would do for the student would be to create hesitancy when performing the technique as it becomes a cognitive and conscious exercise as to who’s instruction they should follow; as opposed to the body itself knowing and performing the technique for you. Also when I was a beginner 15 years ago, we would be given punishment exercises for getting it “wrong”, so if you are constantly being punished for doing what another instructor has told you to do, it could cause significant levels of disillusion.

So how do we prevent our students from becoming hesitant in the delivery of techniques whilst also giving them enough rope to think laterally and develop what works for them?

I think personally it boils down to the case by case basis – we need to understand why the student is executing the technique differently – is it simply because another instructor has shown them another way; is it because they find the body mechanics particularly difficult and so they have found a method that works better for them whilst maintaining the core principle and effectiveness of the technique, or are they just getting it wrong?

If it is the latter than the obvious discourse would be to work with them and help them to understand how they can develop the technique correctly.

Should it be due to a difference in instruction (within the same association) then a higher level discussion should take place, to ensure Kyu grades are all being instructed in the same way across an association – this is to generate confidence and not hinder the students with unnecessary hesitancy.

Finally, if a student has taken it upon themselves to figure out a way that they can deliver the technique more comfortably, this should be celebrated – not complacently, but rigorously tested to ensure that in all eventualities it is fit for purpose and will not leave the student vulnerable to an opponent.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as I have always found that this is a real source of contention, so please feel free to get in touch!