Join Chris on his journey exploring the essence & application of traditional karate
"Chris is one of the most forward thinking martial artists in the world today."
- Paul Enfield Sensei
- Paul Enfield Sensei
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.