If you are practising karate for civilian self-protection then it's important that an initial framework is put firmly in place before embarking on any sort of extensive exploration. This framework should be simplistic and versatile for the contextual analysis and application of fundamental techniques, included within a holistic personal safety game-plan and exercised through an overlapping training methodology that aims to minimise the impact of inherent flaws, whilst developing the essential attributes to help maximise objective function. My upcoming book in the Seed of Shuri Karate series will focus on this process with respect to Naihanchi Kata and aims to provide content so that anyone who practices this form may have a practical core basis to work from.
Pulling the non-striking hand back to the hip is a common motion found in karate and although there are numerous practical applications for such an action and indeed, different reference points for hikite, I think it's important to consider why the hip position may be principally emphasised in most fundamental techniques (kihon-waza) found in classical kata. Following on from my recent posts on this subject, I'd like to discuss two key reasons, based on the assumption that the 'hiki-te hand' has something in it when being employed (i.e. the opponent's arm, head, clothing etc.) and not performed simply for the sake of conformity.
The third level of analysis that we apply to Naihanchi Kata (Bunkai Sandan) in our dojo concerns what we term 'breaking the mould' and takes the fundamental combative lessons given by the form a stage further. It allows us to explore specific aspects, once the core application framework has been understood.
Vol. 2 of my book series soon to be published primarily focuses on Bunkai Nidan (functional combative application). Towards the end though it also provides a section on Bunkai Sandan and a specific example of this development process using the aspect of limb control, which is in itself a very useful component for self-defence. We have six two-person drills that come from Bunkai Sandan, which may be practised in isolation, or together in flow and then expanded to branch to other kata applications etc.
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!