Real world application of the somewhat formalised movement pathways in karate kata for percussive impact require the ability to maximise function away from the clear and uninterrupted line of standard performance. Specifically, strikes need to be able to work under pressure, at varying ranges, with modifications on the fly and from uncomfortable positions. This can never be achieved through repetition in thin air or even against a makiwara, heavy bag or focus mitt for instance unless of course such levels of pressure, range, modification and restriction are thoroughly explored and incorporated.
For self-protection, Hick's Law suggests that it pays to have a single 'go-to' striking technique that's been comprehensively honed to provide a high level of confidence in its ability to serve you well should it ever need to be relied upon. However, repetitively generating a powerful palm strike for instance against a heavy bag does not equate to a technique that's been 'comprehensively honed'. Here are a few ideas to try during training to help check if your strikes are really as functional as you need them to be.
Now that's what I call a question...
What is correct form?
Ask ten people and I expect you'll receive ten different answers!
In fact, the reason why we have differences in the performance of kata across style is ultimately down to what is considered 'correct form', which is in essence a human construct.
After all, karate doesn't really care what style it's from!
So let's take this idea of 'correct form' and explore what it may actually mean...
When it comes to targeting for self-protection, you have to keep things very simple. The skill to impact a specific weak area on the opponent is of course a high-reward component of your striking strategy, but those locations, and indeed the probability of meeting your desired accuracy needs to be kept within the realms of reality. An exploration of vital points, TCM, small surface striking and similar fine motor control studies is no less a valuable part of a martial artists journey and enjoy these studies too, however, with Murphy's Law being ever prevalent in the application of karate for self-protection, we need to keep the notion of targeting as fail-safe as is possible.
Recently, I've started fly tying again. This was a hobby I had in my youth and it's been around a quarter of a century since I last put feather to hook. Getting back into this craft after such a long time is as interesting as it is rewarding, and what struck me most was how easy it was to access all the old skills I had learned and repeated so many times as a teenager. It got me thinking about karate (as everything does 😆) and the connections between these two traditional arts.
The photo above shows five very different looking flies that I tied one evening. Different colours, different materials and different shapes. Some are wet flies for fishing deep and some are dry flies for fishing on the surface. Some imitate the adult fly and some imitate the earlier nymph stage in the fly's lifecycle. Some are tied on heavier gauge hooks and some on much smaller lighter gauge hooks. All in my opinion are not only successful fish catchers, but are also works of art and personal expressions of the individual who tied them.
The method of karate I practice and teach heavily emphasises the study of kata below the surface. It continually takes on the challenge of what I call 'boiling off' the templates found in karate to help better understand the movements (i.e. essence) contained within them. The result typically reveals more similarities than differences and an art that's comparatively narrow and deep, as opposed to wide and shallow.
The techniques found in kata may involve (1) separation/splitting, (2) meeting/colliding or (3) joining/connecting the hands. Despite the many choreographed shapes and movements performed across the plethora of classical forms, this is really all the hands are (or can be) doing. And although each of these three core interactions possess individual importance, it is really the connecting of hands in kata that I'd like to focus upon in this blog post.
To begin, I'd like to recollect a story from a while back...