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.
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.
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.
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.
The term 'Muchimi' is used in traditional karate and refers to the 'heavy and sticky' feeling sought during the application of certain techniques and is one of a number of a key feelings developed during the practice of kata.
The word ‘Muchimi’ is actually derived from the old Okinawan dialect for rice cakes, which is 'Muchi' (Mochi in Japanese). So in karate, ‘Muchimi’ literally means to have a 'rice cake-like body'. If you've ever tried a Japanese rice cake then you'll know exactly what feeling this describes!
The combative application of muchimi can be very effective and traditionally, there are actually two methods of expressing this principle:
Like all other qualities found in karate, there are times to use muchimi and times where other principles are applied to create contrasting feelings For instance, there are situations where you may want to be heavy and sticky, but then there are other circumstances when you may want to be light and swift. It is really the experience to know not only how, but WHEN to express these qualities that makes them practical and functional.
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.