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...
I like coffee and have collected at home a few coffee machines, some much better than others. The one I really like involves manually pumping water within chamber up to high pressure (20 Bar), so that the coffee coming out of the other end is of gold standard...really nice!
Whilst making my morning coffee one day I realised a direct relationship to kata. After a number of those pumping actions, I found myself sub-consciously using two-hands instead of one. This made the job easier and meant that I could continue extracting the coffee more comfortably. Why? Because using two hands added more strength to the movement...
...common sense right!
But this got me thinking when I was in the gym/dojo later that day. How many two-handed chin ups could I do compared to using only one hand? I experimented and found that even if I didn't grab the bar with the second hand, but instead gripped my other wrist, pulling myself up to became easier so long as I could maintain grip on the bar.
Then I tried it with a push up and compared a one-handed version with the second hand out of action and behind my back, to a one-handed set-up, but with the second hand gripping my other wrist to provide some additional force and stabalisation to the movement. Again, much easier to achieve than the former...
Then my attention diverted towards kata...
I started to work through some kata and stopped in places where my hands/arms connected, such as juji-uke, morote-uke etc. I also looked at places where any body parts touched together, such as in nami-gaeshi, where the foot of one leg touches the inside knee of the other, or in many classical 'yoi' positions, which see one hand enveloped by another. At these places, I considered the movements before/after them and explored their functional possibilities.
Of course, there are a plethora of reason why in life you would make use of connecting two hands rather than simply using one. But for the context of kata, I'd like to offer the following suggestions to help readers understand why these classical templates may have been designed such to facilitate this natural utilisation of the body.
To add or focus strength, power and support to a movement...
As mentioned above, more strength can be added to a movement when both hands are used as opposed to only one. Think about how you would put your hands together and interlock your fingers to perform CPR, or use two hands on a screwdriver to gain the last couple of turns on a screw.
Imagine during some home improvements you're trying to paint a nice straight line on the living room wall. Or you may be trying to cut along a straight line using a sharp knife. In both cases, you may decide to slow down and support the action with both hands in order to improve stability, control and precision.
In kata and its combative application, there are a number of examples where both limbs may physically connect in order to maximise strength/power within a given movement, or support the intended action. This could be to strike, attack joints, choke or strangle, clinch or pull an opponent to the ground.
To create a more robust frame...
The triangle is a shape that's used throughout both nature and architecture, specifically for when rigidity is required. The reason being that it is the only two-dimensional polygon that if constructed with hinged corners, is absolutely fixed in shape and will stay this way up until the compressive and tensile limits of its members.
Fundamental karate techniques are also based on triangle shapes, from the floor all the way up to the head. This helps provide a strong frame and focus forces such that you may make more optimal use of your body. Since the shoulder joints (ball and socket) make your arms very mobile, some rigidity is inherently sacrificed at these points. However, as soon as you connect both limbs together, a triangle is formed. This allows you to create an incredibly strong frame that may be used for both protection and to exert percussive energy.
To hold or 'trap' something in place...
There are many examples in life where you would use one hand placed on another part of your body to hold something in place. I remember in my last first aid course being asked to apply a bandage to my training partner, who was pretending to be suffering from a hand laceration. During part of that process, I asked him to hold one end of the bandage against his wrist so that I could make sure that my subsequent wraps to his injured hand were applied well.
If an opponent makes contact with you then using one hand to check, locate, hold or momentarily trap that connection in place whilst you retaliate percussively with the other hand can be combatively effective. This principle may be employed against wrist seizes, clothing grips and other grappling positions - situations for when your primary unattached strategies have either failed or are not available. Again, the kata shows numerous examples of this.
To indicate penetration through a target...
Imagine holding a balloon and squeezing it hard with both hands. What would happen if the balloon suddenly popped? Of course, your hands would clap together...in other words, they'd connect!
In kata we see a number of techniques that look as though we are striking into a target we've artificially made with the other hand. A common example would be the typical elbow strike seen in forms such as Naihanchi, Pinan, Kushanku, Chinto etc. But if we imagine an opponent's 'balloon' (AKA head) in between then we can see why the hands may connect so sharply within the solo choreography.
To map out potential targets...
Since performing kata choreography is essentially a solo exercise and those solo exercises represent combative interaction with an opponent, then there could well be a possibility that physically connecting one part of the body with another may represent a method by which to attack.
One example of this is seen in the nami-gaeshi in Naihanchi Kata, where one foot touches the inner aspect of the opposite knee joint (a weak area). If we think about that as being a kick to that precise place on the opponent, then it fits very well within the combative framework of the kata...
Another example may be seen when performing morote uke. In variations of this technique across the styles we see one fist being placed against the inner elbow of the other arm (again another weak area - the ulnar nerve). Could it be that the kata is mapping out exactly where to strike the opponent and with what weapon? Given the natural combative range of kata, this target area is certainly one of the most accessible when the limbs clash and when you apply morote uke at close-range, one fist (either front or rear) is often at the perfect position to affect such a ulnar nerve blow!
To simulate the opponent's resistance...
Similar to the above, another possibility to consider with solo re-enactments of interactive combative engagements, is the notion that some parts of the choreography may use a limb to simulate a part of the opponents body within the conflict.
With COVID being a significant issue to engage in any form of partner training at the moment, I have been forced to come up with lots of interesting ways to practice in a solo fashion. I have used belts, sticks, dogi jackets, resistance bands and even pool noodles to help simulate my opponent within pseudo two-person drills. Plus our Solo-Strike method on focus mitts depends on accurately representing the opponent in numerous ways in order to create more realistic striking drills. If you think about it, kata is no different and suits COVID-Safe training perfectly!
With no equipment available, it is possible to use one arm as a simulated barrier for the other arm to negotiate and clear in order to strike back. It's also possible to use kake uke against your other hand to simulate a connection with the opponents neck. Try both of these and you may be surprised at how many well-known kata shapes/techniques you'll make!
Lastly, I think it's important to consider that at the very core of all the fundamental uke-waza found in karate and in fact, all the fundamental footwork patterns that make up kata tenshin/embusen are specific places where your hand and legs purposely cross and connect...juji uke and kosa dachi are two prime examples. This is no coincidence and such fundamental principles go far beyond any single application or re-constituted drill. The examples above consider only the superficial kata choreography or if you like, the specific strategic expressions. The root functional movement pathways they stem from is where the real study lies!
Please take a look in Naihanchi Vol.2 for more information on the conceptual application of such foundational connections within kata.
Thanks for reading and hope you found this blog post of some value,