Is doing basics always good for you?

“Doing basics is always good” I have heard this so many times! It is often used by instructors all over the world as an excuse, to cover their lack of advanced knowledge. From a Karate perspective I would consider basics to be the standard Kihon – single techniques that are executed in a repetitive fashion.
I can understand those who wish to perfect a single technique through years of dedication to the art of movement.
For most practitioners, how long does it take to learn the basics? Are you ready when you graded as a black belt to do advanced stuff? Probably you will hear “now you have to master the basics”. It is bit of a phenomenon in martial arts, as you have never been told in school “OK you have learnt the alphabet, now go and master it!” You initially learn the alphabet so that you can progress on to reading and writing words, which then leads to sentences and so on.
I have never heard of someone who is already literate going back to learn their ABCs… As a comparison, in martial arts you learn the basics, then you do combinations and kata, but then you are told go back to basics. I guess I have been very fortunate to have teachers that have encouraged me to do more advanced training and have always supported me in looking for someone who can teach me more.
Regressing back to basics is a common practice in martial arts. Having visited seminars with high grade masters with 6th, 7th, 8th dans it has always seemed odd to me that we do basic techniques such as tsuki, mae geri etc. for hours.
I personally disagree with this approach, yes from time to time we need to refresh our memory by going through basics but basics from a certain grade upwards cannot replace quality advance training. In my club, students from about fifth Kyu are introduced to more advanced concepts of Bunkai (applications) and Kumite (fighting). Having become dan grades, our students should attend regular advanced classes that do not repeat basics – basics can be done at home or when teaching other students. I believe that after attaining black belt we should switch our focus from technique in favour of adopting a way of thinking. What do I mean by this? We have all been told that this technique is for this or that. For example let’s take Soto Uke, which is taught as a block for an incoming strike. Yes you can use it like this, but there are multiple techniques that you can use for blocking a strike.
Perhaps more useful applications of Soto Uke is as a take down, high throw, joint lock etc. What we aim to achieve with students by getting them to adopt a way of thinking is to stop them worrying about specific techniques for specific attacks and shift the emphasis to responding fluently and automatically to a threat.
When we start discovering all the advanced applications for basics the reason why we are taught them in the first place becomes clear, with the result being that we change the way we execute the basic technique to suit its application to each threat that we are faced with. Every student will begin to tailor their basics differently as we are all built differently and think in different ways – we often have our own favourite ways of doing things.
So to conclude, we need to have a solid foundation in our basics in order to progress, but if we do not make this natural jump from basic technique repetition to understanding their advance application then we are missing out on a big part of the depth of our art.
I hope that you found this article helpful. I think the practice of basics is a contentious issue as lots of people have their own thoughts on how to effectively incorporate them into training. I look forward to further debates on the issue!
If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.

8 replies »

  1. Thanks for the great post. What does shin ai do mean exactly? And how is it different from karate? The ‘do’ part is obviously the same as in other MA. ‘Ai’ I can take from aikido and translate as ‘harmony’. Not sure about the ‘shin’ part.

    • Hi there
      term shin ai do can be translated in few different ways, for me It means Way of true harmony. But same characters can be read as Makato ai michi and can be translated to sincere teachings. For me our karate focuses more on way of thinking, then on technique as such. It is similar to Enshin and Ashihara karate in form but with more inside to traditional kata. More about our karate you can find on or on Facebook shinaidomartialarts
      thank you for taking time and interest in our blog 🙂 hope i manage to answer your question. And thank you for asking, I will make article about our system.
      regard Les

      • OK, thank you very much Les. I am practicing taekwon-do and aikido, but am interested in other MA too, at least for the sake of broadening my horizons. Especially that there are many similarities between karate and taekwon-do, as well as important differences.

        Will be looking forward to your article.

        Have a good day.

        Alex (Sasha)

  2. I like your ideas here but I think about them from a slightly different perspective. Some people have the impression that basic techniques are only learning tools, stepping stones to more advanced and “realistic” techniques. I think that is a mistake. My instruction has lead me to see practical value in every technique – what advances is one’s understanding of what they technique is doing. We no longer use the term basics for just this reason – we call these techniques “foundation.” This is because, done right (and with more advanced concepts behind them), there is nothing basic about these techniques.

    • Hi Adam
      Sure I agree with your point of view. But I was more referring to doing just basics on every session in club.Where teacher cannot give any more knowledge and basics are used excuse. Btw. I have friends in Poland who study Art of life protection “Ryu Te” love the depth of knowledge. I regret that I missed opportunity to meet Taika when he was in Poland.
      Best regards Les

      • I agree. There are certainly plenty of clubs where the teachers lack advanced knowledge. Thank you for your nice words about Taika. He was a unique person and I am very glad I got to train with him. As for the group in Poland, one of them may be visiting my school next week and I will ask him if he knows you. I don’t know his name right now but look forward to meeting him.

  3. I know well only three Ryu te students from Poland, who would recognize me by name.We alk started in same dojo, but our ways took different paths.We are good friends and like to exchange ideas and experiences on seminars and other occasions. Hope that your meeting with the Pole will be fruitful.

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