Here's a short video taken in the dojo a little while ago, where we spent some time looking developing the ability to strike effectively at multiple angles using the same hand, utilising some of the lessons on body dynamics taken from Naihanchi Kata.
For the sake of the drill, I chose four key trajectories to work with (up, hook, reverse hook and down) and we looked at how best to join them together with smooth transitions from the core, whilst still aiming to create 'shock' at the end of each blow as if they were single fully committed shots.
For traditional karate practitioners, striking hard and with full intent to switch of the threat to facilitate safe escape safety should make-up our primary strategy for physical self-defence. It is simply the most clinical way of ending a confrontation. Other skills gained through the holistic study of kata bunkai (such as limb control, clinch work, joint attacks, throwing, choking etc.) may then act as secondary support options, to be applied when things don't go to plan, and aiming to return us back to a position of dominance whereby we may continue on with our primary striking options. Therefore, neglecting the development of effective strikes during your dojo training is from a pragmatic perspective, a recipe for disaster.
I would recommend not only the learning/development of techniques in thin air (for correct form and launch phase), but also a significant investment of time against pads, bag or makiwara etc. (to develop shock and impact) and then with or against a partner (for accuracy, adaptability and realistic application under pressure). If any one of these jigsaw pieces are missing then the strategy will more likely fall apart when you need it most. Although there are benefits to be gained from each type of training, striking in thin air is a whole different ball game to striking a pad and striking a pad is a whole different ball game to striking another human being!
Combining strikes in different combination to accommodate various angles 'on the fly', plus the ability to instinctively apply the most suitable body dynamics for effectiveness are both very useful skills to develop. As such, they should make up an important component of dojo training. One of the most vital considerations in self-defence is that of adaptability, as in reality...things rarely go to plan!
The session filmed above began with an investigation into some of the dynamic concepts associated with Naihanchi Kata. Specifically, the notions of driving bodyweight explosively in the same direction as the intended strike and creating a perpetual wave of force from foot to fist. We then expressed these principles for use against the focus mitts. Quite often, the link between form and function does not (and in some cases, should not) bear a direct visual representation. However, when these valuable connections are made then your 'traditional' training becomes very worthwhile!
"The kata must remain ‘living’, not ‘dead’."
Building the bridge between classical form and practical functional is for me one of the most important aspects of traditional karate study and helps to reveal just how much potential the kata actually hold. Indeed, for kata to be at the very heart of karate, we must learn to explore and apply the lessons gained freely, in an adaptable way and advancing to step away from the restrictive binds of the form itself.
Thanks for your time and best wishes,
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.