The Chi-Ishi (strength or power stone) is most notably used in Goju Ryu (hard/soft style), as part of their hojo undo (supplementary training methods). However, the use of this tool may also be found in other Naha/Shuri/Tomari lineages of koryu karate, along with various other pieces of equipment, as an adjunct to kata and their application practices. Indeed, the term hojo undo is generically used to describe the holistic attribute training methods undertaken to enhance the ability for the body, minds and spirit to combatively express the choreography of karate kata. As such, even with a plethora of traditional and more contemporary tools available today, the unique design and qualities of the chi-ishi can be used to play a key role in building the karate body and it is for this reason that I continue to make use of it in my own training.
No more advanced than a stick with a weight attached to one end, the asymmetrical nature of the chi-ishi is what provides its most challenging asset. Even to manipulate the weight to an adequate level of control takes a high degree of body awareness, proprioception and core integration. But it is often the subtleties of such exercises, the things going on underneath the surface, which provide the most benefit. Simply swinging the tool around for the sake of being able to claim that you ‘practice hojo undo’ simply doesn’t do the chi-ishi any justice and even though there are other pieces of training equipment around that can provide similar attributes, the classic saying that ‘a poor craftsman will always blame his tools’ is true for everything you place in your hand. So how we understand the performance of hojo undo and in particular, how the exercises we repetitively undertake connect with our karate practice is of chief importance – not necessarily how many reps we can push out!
Over the past few weeks I've been posting short but regular 60-sec video blasts to my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts...
The idea behind this new project is to quickly share some of the stuff we get up to at the dojo, introduce a selection of the core concepts behind our approach to karate and hopefully, provide mobile friendly bite-size inspiration...all within the space of only one minute!
Here's some video footage taken yesterday evening during one of our closed dojo sessions. It features a brief recap of the content we covered in class so that members could see how all the topics we explored connected together.
We began by looking at a fundamental movement pattern and then exaggerated its associated mechanics using a short stick. This is a popular tool in our dojo and is used to help draw out particular aspects of technique so that they may be more easily developed. We began by focusing solely on the limb and sequencing from the shoulder, to elbow and then to wrist. After this, we then added the hip and finally, the legs to achieve integration from the ground to the hand.
These mechanics were then taken to the focus mitts, where we could emphasise the development of percussive shock and minimise the external motion, whilst still maintaining the kimochi (feeling) of the technique. We looked at changing angles with this and incorporating the 'retraction' of the limb as either a second strike, or to facilitate an index to set up the next strike.
Attaching to the opponent's centre line or head/neck are two prime areas for indexing.
I'm currently working on the draft of the upcoming second volume of my Seed of Shuri Karate book series and I thought that followers of my work may enjoy this little segment taken from the chapter on percussive impact delivery. The finished publication will no doubt read different to this as I always extensively edit, but nevertheless, I hope you'll find this sneak peek on the principle of 'indexing' a nice complement to your cup of coffee...
Indexing (also known as a 'set up', 'controlling', gauge' or 'leveraging arm') is an important concept taught in modern day self-defence systems and is also a key tactic expressed throughout the application of classical movements found in karate kata. You only need to spend a few moments searching YouTube for footage of real street attacks, self-defence encounters or bar brawls and you will see that the use of indexing is rife. This is simply due to the fact that it is both natural and highly advantageous. It is also a strategy used extensively in weapon attacks (especially puncture weapons such as knives or screwdrivers), where repetitive thrusting or clubbing 'sewing machine' styles are employed to devastating effect.
I often recommend that my students make use of a full length mirror as part of their training, in order to make visual acknowledgement of their form. A mirror is a useful tool because what you see in the reflection is also what an opponent will see when facing you. In addition, it allows those with poor body awareness to 'see' individual transitions taking place. However, we must also develop to a point by which we begin to let go of the visual cues and come to 'internalise' the subtle feelings associated with movement. Aesthetics then becomes a secondary consideration over what is required for function.
Old-style karate is less concerned with what a techniques looks like and more concerned with how well it functions. There is more freedom to move in a natural and fluid way, as opposed to always maintaining the same height and exclusively employing rigid rotations of the waist and excessive muscular contraction in order to express power.
The study of body dynamics in traditional karate can go as deep as you'd like it to and exploring the subtleties found in the art can be a very addictive process. Indeed, exploring how you may best use positional advantage, move between stances efficiently, make use of natural strengths, exploit natural weaknesses and interact with an opponent to achieve the best results can prove a very seductive pursuit. So much so that we sometimes forget to keep at the forefront of our minds the fundamental requirement for simplicity in self-defence, with the real risk of 'pure function' creeping further and further away from our dojo training. As they say, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!
Percussive impact makes up Karate's primary strategy for dealing with an imminent physical threat to one's safety. If avoidance, escape or dissuasion are not valid options to pursue or have already been exhausted, then the order of the day would be to employ swift, aggressive and overwhelming ballistic strikes. either pre-emptive (ideally) or reactive, with the aim of switching off either the ability or the inclination for the opponent to continue posing a significant risk, thus facilitating the opportunity to make a safe escape.
Sorry it's been a while since I blogged here - rest assured, I haven't been sat twiddling my thumbs!
Over the past few months we've been juggling a pretty big house extension plus two new additions to our family - a beautiful baby girl called Isabelle Rose and a pet dog called Cookie! Added to the work I've been doing to help progress our dojo up here in sunny Cumbria, it's been a little hectic to say the least!
However, things have started to settle down a little and so I should now be able to squeeze a little time here and there to get back blogging for my website.
Thanks to those who have kept in touch regarding the second instalment of my Naihanchi book series and my sincere apologies for letting the original planned release date slip. The good news is that I'm back in the saddle (so to speak) and just this week I managed to finish drafting another chapter. It is my aim to give this project priority over the next few months and once it's finally published I'm sure (or indeed I hope) you'll all consider it worth the wait! Nevertheless, your continued support is always very much appreciated :-)
OK - so now let's get down to the reason I sat down to blog today...
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.
Generically speaking, I would suggest that traditional karate is based on the effective management of the transition between two body states - relaxation (softness) and contraction (hardness). Like In (Yin) and Yo (Yang), practitioners should aim for these two complementary opposites to be harmoniously integrated together, as what often may look very hard on the outside, is usually found to be supported by softness and suppleness on the inside.
Kata serve as an opportunity to develop the two essential qualities above and to build a greater sense of awareness for the transitional periods of space and time found between them. For it is these transitions that hold real potential.
It's been a while since I posted a video to my blog, so here's a 15 minute tutorial covering my Naihanchi Kata limb control drills!
Naihanchi (or Tekki) Kata is the core form for all Shuri-based karate styles, providing the essential framework for their functional combative strategies. My dojo syllabus has a number of limb control drills that come from the lessons given within the movements of Naihanchi Kata and the video below is a sample tutorial for one of these.
Part of the second volume of my book series on Naihanchi Kata will feature the combative analysis of the form as a progressive and sequential learning tool for building a fundamental strategy for self-defence. Here's a brief snippet from the current draft, which will give you a flavour of some of the subjects covered...
"Being able to demonstrate three or more combative applications for each movement of Naihanchi Kata may seem on the surface to be an impressive feat and a worthwhile endeavour. However, I have always felt that unless these discrete applications can be incorporated into a fully integrated strategy that helps to express the interconnected lessons and principles given by the form, then in terms of bunkai, you are merely scratching away consistently at the most superficial layer. I would like to suggest that there is not only a pragmatic reason for the movements themselves, but also a pragmatic reason for the particular sequence prescribed by the kata and it is this sequence, not so much the isolated movements, that holds the real potential, reveals the bigger picture and thus, is worthy of much deeper exploration."
The third video this week features more recent footage from the dojo on the subject of entangled arm locks from Naihanchi Kata and progressing on to how they may be abandoned if things aren't going to plan.
Although joint attacks should be considered only as a support strategy for self-defence (the primary strategy being of course percussive impact), in my opinion, they should nevertheless still be studied as part of a holistic combative methodology.
Here's another new video - wow...that's two in one day!
This one shows some footage in the dojo from a few weeks ago when we were exploring some fundamental push hand patterns and limb control sequences inspired by Naihanchi Kata. Skill development using close-range tactile reference is important for traditional karate practitioners, since the movements of kata were originally designed to cope with these distances for effective self-defence. Therefore, pretty much any kata sequence may be applied from connections obtained from such drills.
Hi Everyone - here's a new video just uploaded to my YouTube channel!
The video features some footage taken in the dojo earlier this week, when we were exploring a sequence from Pinan (Heian) Godan Kata, as inspired by a couple of my students. This particular application features a couple of elbow joint attacks and a take down before a choke using the stance and the characteristic lower cross block as an attack to the opponents fingers.
Last weekend, I was invited to teach a seminar down south in Reading UK. We covered lots of subjects over the course of the day, but here's a few minutes of video footage from the event, where I'm providing some advice on close-range power generation and specifically, the use of 'whipping' energy in Tetsui-Uchi that's often seen to be a trademark of Shuri-based karate systems.
In the video, I discuss and demonstrate the requirement to sequence the joints so that energy may perpetuate from the floor, up through the body and out of the striking limb. I also emphasise the need to utilise gravity by being in control over your state of balance. All of these principles can be found in most (if not all) traditional karate techniques.
Now that I've finally fixed the audio problem on my computer here in the office, I've been busy reviewing the video footage taken at my applied karate seminar in Malta in December last year. My intention is to share with you all a selection of short tutorials from the weekend to offer a flavour for some of the topics covered.
The first day of my seminar in Malta focused almost entirely on the four 'uke' (age/soto/uchi/gedan) movements and their subsequent appearance in a number of kata across the styles. The video below shows one of the drills I covered to help participants understand the numerous ways in which the technique of Gedan Barai (lower sweep) may be applied combatively.
Being relatively active on my website, blog and social media means that I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to network with fellow martial artists from all over the globe. I always enjoy corresponding with like-minded karate practitioners and of course, I am always grateful for their kind support.
One such karate practitioner is Garry Lever From the Shinsokai (Goju Ryu). We first made contact a couple of years ago and although we haven't yet met in the flesh (something we're working to resolve very soon), we've always maintained regular emails and messages. Garry was instrumental in helping me plan the itinerary for our Okinawa sightseeing trip when we were in Naha last year and shared with me in confidence some amazing locations of historical significance that I would have never have even known about otherwise!
A few weeks ago I received a unexpected package through the post from Garry. I opened it up to find a complementary pre-release copy of his new book, 'The Essence of Goju Ryu Vol II', which as with the first volume of the series, he has co-authored with his teacher Richard Barrett Sensei.
Avid readers of my blog will recognise the name Brett Barrell from an earlier post back in January on traditional conditioning and iron palm training. He specialises in this field and has developed quite a level of skill.
Well, he's just uploaded a new YouTube video to personally thank a number of his keen supporters and friends etc who love martial arts (see below). I'm humbled to have found out that he added my name to this list and mentions me at around 10m26s.
He makes the comment that "for whatever reason, Chris decided to include me in his blog". Well, Brett the reason is simple my friend. I think you're a genuine martial artist who is self-motivated to continually expand without resting on your laurels, I really enjoy your videos and I think that your contributions provide a fine inspiration for others to follow.
Thanks for the kind mention Brett and keep up the good work!
Well I seem to be going video crazy lately!
Here's another video I put together on Hojo Undo. Last week I set up the camera and filmed some of my usual morning conditioning routine. I edited the clips together, added an 'old film' filter and cut in some traditional Japanese music to give it a more authentic feel. I had lots of fun making this and I hope you enjoy it.
Even though this kind of training is considered by many to be 'old-school' and 'out-dated', it is still in my view just as relevant now as it was when it was first developed. Of course, the aim of the training is not to 'body build' or 'weight train', but instead to develop and enhance the specific functional attributes associated with the effective application of traditional karate kata. Therefore, it helps put into place what is an essential piece of the karate jigsaw puzzle!
Well...I did promise all my mailing list members, Facebook fans and Twitter followers a gift for all your kind support and feedback - so here you go :-)
Below is a new video on my YouTube channel that was filmed earlier this week that takes an exclusive look inside my closed dojo during a focussed tutorial on body dynamics in traditional karate for effective close-range striking.
Subjects covered were: transference of bodyweight, dropping the knee, sequential delay, creating internal distance and relaxation for the heavy application of force. All of these principles can be found within the kata and are ingrained in pretty much every style of traditional karate.
Over the past few weeks, I've had quite a few emails and questions regarding my own approach to physical training and how this connects to my traditional karate practice. So I thought that I would record a short video clip to share a particular kettlebell combination exercise that I like, especially for those times when I haven't got much time to train - hope you enjoy :-)
This workout combines the double hip clean, snatch, squat and press into one exercise and the idea is to alternate between arms for the allotted period without setting the weight down. Although this may seem a bit boring, it is actually quite challenging and enjoyable to focus on the quality of performance, attempting to make each rep identical to the last.
I've spent some time this week re-editing my original 'Bunkai of the Month' video series into 17 separate video tutorials for my website and YouTube channel.
The original videos were very popular when they were first released a couple of years ago so I wanted to make sure that everyone has access to these now and into the future.
Last week I uploaded an article to the site that I'd wrote about makiwara training, which was originally published in Combat Magazine in early 2012...
To supplement this piece, I also added a video to my new YouTube channel that showed a some clips of my personal hand conditioning routine...
I'm happy to announce the launch of my new YouTube channel that will feature a growing list of video clips around the topics of traditional karate, kata bunkai, conditioning, kettlebell lifting, functional fitness and general fun!
A link to my channel is listed below, so simply click and subscribe:
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.