When exploring the old-school karate concept of Meotode (husband and wife hands), the application of hikite (retracting hand) as seen in many fundamental kata techniques most commonly springs to mind. However, hikite is only one component of meotode, which is itself, a more holistic notion that considers both hands being used together in harmony towards a common goal. This integrated use of the hands, or indeed the whole body, is a vital principle of karate and especially so when used within the context of self-protection.
Developing mechanical habits that see arms and legs being divorced from one another is not only in-efficient, but also completely nonsensical with respect to how the human body is actually designed to operate as an integrated whole. Thus, I would suggest that as a core principle, every classical kata should have the idea of meotode woven within its transitional movements and we should never see body parts moving in complete isolation.
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!
In the case of civilian self-protection, our situational awareness and specifically, the way we interact with people is always far more important than the development of physical attributes. Of course, trouble can come your way regardless of how you act, but being a game of 'managing the probability of risk', any good personal safety game-plan would be best served on the basis of one being a decent human being within society.
"When your temper rises, lower your fists. When your fists rise, lower your temper."
Take a look at the following clip, where Tim Larkin reviews footage of two experienced MMA fighters taking a pretty severe beating outside a gas station. In the review, Larkin raises a number of valid points covering the specific context of their skill-base, plus the reality of weapons or multiple opponents. However, the real message that pops out to me is the fact that this whole situation could have been completely avoided had Maiquel Falcao refrained from such anti-social behaviour towards the two ladies. A perfect example of how people skills should always be prioritised over physical skills...
In recent years, there has been an increase in practically minded karate practitioners making use of two-person flow drills to help develop tactile-based skills for close-range altercations. Normally seen in arts such as Wing Chun, Silat and Filipino systems, some Okinawan karate systems also practice kakie (hooking hands) to help develop this area of expertise. These methodologies can run from being rather rudimentary more comprehensive, depending on the style, teacher and aims of the art.
In my dojo, we also practice a series of close-range limb control drills derived directly from Naihanchi Kata, which are used as a core template to express a more free-flowing application of kata bunkai principles. But as with all training methods, they have specific limitations that as mindful practitioners, we must be aware of. Indeed, one of the generic weaknesses in flow drills is the fact that they actually FLOW! I know, a little contradictory, so let me elaborate.
The first part of early morning training in my dojo is always to run through a full-body joint mobility routine. This is also something that I encourage my students to undertake before each training session. Many traditional karate styles incorporate such activities as standard in the dojo, Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu being two notable ones, and I think that the benefits of this practice go further than a physical preparation of the body for upcoming activity.
The first occasion where many people talk about their joints is usually when describing some sort of pain or restricted motion. Because of this, it is common for us to isolate and focus singular joints (such as knee or ankle) in our mind without appreciating the fact that all the bones, muscles and connective tissues surrounding a joint and indeed throughout the human body, act together as a fully integrated movement system.
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.
Here's my recent interview conducted by Shorin stylist Noah Legel from the US for his aptly-titled website, Karate Obsession. It includes some very interesting questions about my background, approach to training and thoughts on different aspects of karate. Noah has a real passion for old-style karate methods and this certainly carries over into his well written and thought-provoking blog.
Anyway - hope you enjoy the read and my thanks to Noah for having me grace his pages :-)
During the performance of kata, it can become quite easy to fall into the trap of producing specific shapes simply for the sake of aesthetics. With standardisation across styles, plus the pressure for kata to become visually eccentric and pleasing for competition or gradings, many students who follow a modern-day approach may be conditioned to aspire to form first and then wonder at a later date why the kata they follow do not directly transfer into the functionality they may require for practical application. But of course, kata was never originally developed to visually impress.
"A kata is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it is ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defence, which determines life and death." - Kenwa Mabuni
One of the main characteristics of traditional karate is the emphasis on simplistic and direct techniques that stay close to the body and are free from any excessive motion. This is of course desirable in self-defence and within these outwardly straight-forward movements there can be found numerous scientific principles and sophisticated body dynamics. Indeed, the functional strategies of traditional karate may be expressed through a comparatively small toolbox of body positions and motions, all of which are linked together via a common thread. However, one must always have in mind that it is this central thread that represents the true essence of the art, not necessary the plethora of individual techniques.
A key principle of motion that I'd like to write about here is that of 'circularity' and the difference between square and curved movement paths when executing tenshin, tsuki, uchi, uke and keri. One of the best ways to imagine this principle in action would be to think about how one would drive a car around a bend in the road ahead. If the bend happens to have a gentle curve then you'll easily be able to make small adjustments to the steering wheel with hardly any use of the brake. In contrast, if the bend happens to be sharp (such as a right angle or hair pin), then employing the brake would be more of a certainty and in some cases, the car may have to come to a complete halt before changing course in order to safely negotiate the manoeuvre.
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.