Practical Karate in Australia – Iain Abernethy Seminar


The flight down to Melbourne from Sydney is always early and never easy. This was well worth it. The trip was to attend the Iain Abernethy three day seminar in Melbourne. There is a growing movement towards practical karate in Australia. This was the opportunity to meet and train with one of its exponents.

The seminar was organized and hosted by Craig Stuart from Shindo Karate. It was a massive turn out on all three days. Karate practitioners came from all parts of Australia; Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, ACT and Australia. The atmosphere was casual but focused. Iain was easy going and approachable. His stories and humour kept everyone engaged. It was a lot of fun.

Day one was on kata bunkai and drills to develop these applications on becoming instinctive. A lot of concepts and kata principles were explained and practiced. The principle of proprioception was introduced early and practiced throughout the three days. This is the principle sensing the relative position of your limbs without having to look and able to use this to target your attacker. Other concepts introduced were the angles in karate, sticky hands and how to break down and work out the application of the kata moves. Drills were introduced to embed these principles and concepts and to learn good habits for self defence; always back away with hands up and look around for other attackers.

The first day was an eye opener. We were exposed to concepts and principles that were not taught in a Shotokan based style.  As a club, Chidokan has started the journey to explore the practical karate for a number of years. This is a divergence from its roots in classical Shotokan karate. The club has remained true to its kihon and kata but has moved to a more practical application of the kata.


Bunkai practice
Bunkai practice

Second day was in Bacchus Marsh, on the outskirts of Melbourne. We thought the first day was pretty good. The second day was awesome. The first half was exploring Funakoshi’s throws. With a judo background, Abernethy showed the grace and speedy footwork that is associated with a judoka. Funakoshi gave the throws exotic names but are quite brutal in its simplicity and execution. This session also shows the depth of knowledge and the amount of research and analysis that Abernethy undertakes. No longer is a karateka just a person who practices the martial art of karate but also a scholar, with depth and insight into its history and development.

The second half of Day two was going through a series of focus pad drills to develop the skills. We learnt basic combination and also how to use focus pads to develop accuracy and power whilst executing kata techniques. A key insight in this session was that each training drill has a flaw for safety. Each drill must complement other drills so that the safety flaw does not get embedded into our techniques. For Chidokan, the second day of the seminar was great in introducing new drills to help take the club members through to develop their karate and how to structure drills that build upon each other.

First half of the third day went through the bunkai for Kankudai, specifically a flow drill for the first half of Kankudai. Flow drills are used to be time efficient and effective to practice bunkai for a kata. We thoroughly got stuck into each other with this drill as we have been immersing ourselves in Kankudai for about 18 months. The second half of day three was an introduction to kata based sparring. With a focus on self defence , the kata based sparring drills introduced the karateka to being in and learning how to move and fight in a clinch. This is a new experience for most karateka as everyone would have learnt sports sparring and assumed that is how real self defence situation occurred. We then went through a great session on one step sparring ala’ Rory Miller. A segment before lunch was a group exercise to simulate 400 years of karate history in 20 minutes. It was a fun activity which showed how easy for kata to change over the years.

All in all, it was an awesome three days. We met lots of great people and created some new friendships. Most of all we learnt a great deal on a subject we love that would benefit the Chidokan club. Practical karate in Australia has developed significantly. There is a movement within the karate community towards a more practical application of kata. This does not mean that sports karate and classical karate is waning or has no place. Karate can be considered as a broad church that can include many different practices.

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