It's been a little while since I added to my blog and now that I'm finally starting to get back on track after returning from my last trip to Okinawa, I'll be looking add some more posts over the coming months to help correct this.
As most who follow my work will know, I like think of traditional karate as being the integration of three main components, which in contrast, differs significantly from the more modern-day 3K (kihon, kata, kumite) approach. These components are Kata (physical form), Ohyo (functional application) and Hojo Undo (supplementary training). Acting like a like a jigsaw puzzle, all three pieces must be present before the ‘whole picture’ can be seen and each component must be able to connect to the others in accordance with the main context and objectives of the art.
I love to practice hojo undo with a variety of traditional and more contemporary tools. One of the most interesting tools in my collection is a self-built wooden man known as the Kakete-biki or Kakiya. Since I first posted a picture of this on-line, quite a few people have been in touch to ask my views on this piece of equipment and how I designed and constructed one to install in my garden dojo. So I figured that by answering some of these questions and discussing how my wooden man actually came to life, would make a useful addition to the blog.
During research for my Naihanchi book project, I was spending a great deal of time exploring the various limb control drills that can be extracted directly from the form. It got to the point where I desperately needed a way to practice and develop these drills without having to always rely on a partner. After checking out some wing chun style wooden dummies and nearly feinting at the prices, I began to look at some other more cost-effective options. A little research on the internet and a couple of old pictures later revealed that the Okinawan arts did indeed have a traditional implement that was specifically suited for the job.
It quickly became clear that the traditional Okinawan design was somewhat different to the more popular wing chun style dummy. Firstly, it only incorporated a single arm, but this arm was also mobile so that you could physically manipulate it in different directions and against a degree of resistance. This specific feature actually more resembles the Choi Li Fut style wooden man, a Chinese innovation that obviously spread to Okinawa along with the fighting traditions that influenced the development of karate. This suggests a very interesting historic connection that is perhaps worthy of some deeper investigation in a future post.
A typical Okinawan kakiya design is also illustrated in Genwa Nakasone's 1938 publication entitled 'Karate-do Taikan'. This suggests that early karate practitioner had made good use of this tool, but as with many other pieces of traditional hojo undo equipment, its use has become much more of a rarity in modern dojo. In the book Nakasone states that "when training with the kake-te, use the outside of the forearm to strike the lever, before twisting to grab before delivering a kick. The lever is can then be pulled downwards to facilitate an elbow strike with the other arm". He also mentions that "a bundle of thin bamboo can be wrapped around the base of the kake-te for striking purposes".
After a little more cyber-searching and a few interesting discussions via a couple of very informative Facebook groups that I'm a member of, I checked out a few useful links and followed some valuable advice on how I could set about making my own kakiya. My father kindly offered to help (who is far better at DIY than me) and over the space of only a couple of days, I was happily practising with my new dojo toy!
Most of the wood for my kakiya came from a local garden centre. We used a large decking board to make the body and attached this with some metal brackets to a sturdy base that was screwed firmly into the dojo floor. By far the hardest part of the project was to cut out the hole in the body to fit the arm. This was mainly due to the fact that we were limited on power tools. We drilled a hole in one corner and then used a hand saw to roughly cut out the shape required. We then used a wood plain and chisel to gradually open the hole out further and round off the edges to suit.
(You can click any of the images below for a more detailed close-up)
The original Okinawan design allows for the arm to move up and down against resistance. As an enhancement to this, we decided to open the hole out further to allow the arm some additional sideways motion. I feel that this is a great feature because it allows the ability to push or pull the arm slightly off centreline to open strike paths without having to artificially simulate this by excessively shifting your body. The only downside is that the arm becomes a little weaker due to the extra movement, but this isn't a problem as I have plenty of other tools in my dojo to condition my forearms. The finished design allows me to move the arm in an almost circular fashion, which is fantastic for developing more sophisticated limb control skills.
For the arm itself, I picked a decking post that looks very similar to a table leg. I held this up against my own arm in the garden store (this must have looked quite strange to the other shoppers) and to my amazement, the dimensions resembled the elbow, forearm, wrist and fist almost perfectly. Rather than using a straight piece of wood, this allows me to slide down the arm and catch a grip at the wrist, plus it also facilitates targeted strikes to the forearm and elbow joint. In my opinion, a much more realistic experience.
Instead of employing the original Okinawan method for resistance (i.e. hanging a bag of rocks at the rear of the arm), I opted for some modern-day bungee cords that you can buy from any hardware shop. This allowed me to position the kakiya much closer to the wall (saving valuable dojo space) and provides the opportunity to increase or decrease resistance in only a few seconds, depending on the objectives of my training. I attached a standard leather maikiwara pad at head level to offer a target to aim for, but again, I do not face the kakiya for power training or conditioning – I use my makiwara and ishi for this.
With such a large structure being held up by only a couple of metal brackets, I was conscious of the fact that over time, the fixings may start to work loose. To help absorb the shock of repetitive use, my father and I came up with the idea of attaching a rather inexpensive sprung loaded bicycle seat suspension unit between the rear of the body and the bottom of a metal speed ball bracket that I originally had installed to the dojo wall a few years ago. I don’t know whether you would call it a stroke of genius or just a bit of good old-fashioned luck, but it worked (and still works) like a dream!
After finishing off with some left-over decking stain I had lying around, my kakiya was ready for action! The whole project took less than two days and it has now become a very addictive part of my weekly training regime!
The kakiya is primarily used for developing close-range limb control skills and the methods of practice are really only limited by one’s own imagination. It offers me the chance to explore kata applications and strategies at the time during an altercation after the arms have clashed and barriers have been presented. The pragmatic interpretations of many kata sequences tend to initially assume such a situation has occurred.
To start off with, I would recommend that you gain some appreciation of how the four ‘uke’ (upper, lower, outside and inside) may be used for tactile-based limb control, rather than their modern-day application of long-range visual-based defences. This will provide the fundamental basis for moving the arms in various directions with reference to the centre-line and also reveals why these movements employ both hands simultaneously (meotode) as opposed to just one. For instance, you should consider the path of the arm moving back towards the hip (hikite) just as much and if not more-so, than the arm moving out to ‘make the block’.
If you combine the four basic 'uke' with others such as mawashi-uke and kake-uke, you'll begin to develop a real sense of flow around the kakiya. Be careful though as such a feeling of flow can be very addictive. The problem is that in reality, the presence of 'flow' means that an error has occurred in your strategy, otherwise there would be no need to flow!
The ideal for self-protection (failing any options to avoid or escape unscathed) should always be a single direct attack or response sufficient enough to end the altercation. Having said that, limb control is still a very valuable skill should things not go to plan (Murphy's Law is often rife in self-protection) and so long as you can fully appreciate the context, benefits and limitations of such flowing drills, then they make a fascinating and IMO an essential addition to your training.
I will be looking to write some more blog posts soon with more information about how I specifically use the Kakiya to express some of the core limb control concepts found within the traditional forms. Until then, here's some links to a few deep thinking martial artists, who like me, all share a passion for the more 'traditional' aspects of training and actively practise with equipment such as the kakiya.
Thanks for reading and good luck with your DIY :-)