Recently, I've started fly tying again. This was a hobby I had in my youth and it's been around a quarter of a century since I last put feather to hook. Getting back into this craft after such a long time is as interesting as it is rewarding, and what struck me most was how easy it was to access all the old skills I had learned and repeated so many times as a teenager. It got me thinking about karate (as everything does 😆) and the connections between these two traditional arts.
The photo above shows five very different looking flies that I tied one evening. Different colours, different materials and different shapes. Some are wet flies for fishing deep and some are dry flies for fishing on the surface. Some imitate the adult fly and some imitate the earlier nymph stage in the fly's lifecycle. Some are tied on heavier gauge hooks and some on much smaller lighter gauge hooks. All in my opinion are not only successful fish catchers, but are also works of art and personal expressions of the individual who tied them.
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...
Following the ongoing debate and controversy over the Internet surrounding the practical purpose of Hikite (pulling hand), I thought I would offer my own take, which doesn't suggest any specific application per se, but instead covers what is in my opinion, a far more essential understanding of this concept in action.
For me, in order for the physical expression of karate to become both holistically effective and integrated, we must look at the classical kata choreography according to its most essential elements. Regardless of any particular combative purpose (which due to lack of historical evidence is always going to be a product of reverse engineering based on informed opinion), the expression of universal principles that govern karate are entirely dependent on how we move as a human being. That is really our only constant.
If you practice or teach karate as a means of self-defence, then I think it's crucial that you make a conscious effort to explore common traditional practices for aspects that are counter-productive to this goal. I'm not saying that we should eliminate these altogether (as they may provide other values), but it's important I feel that we are proactively mindful of where they may contextually sit.
One of the issues with traditional karate practice in terms of training for self-defence is that of environment. In reality, the application of any self-defence effort will involve interaction with either a real or potential violent threat to the safety of you, a friend or loved one. And the environment by which this interaction takes place may be totally unpredictable and critical to the outcome. Furthermore, that environment is likely to be in direct contrast to that of the dojo.
Here's an excerpt from My Book on the application of Naihanchi Kata for self-defence that discusses environmental considerations...
The notion of stances in karate has always intrigued me.
The shape of these distinct postures are what most people tend to hold in their mind when they think about karate, with their very silhouette becoming a feature on logos, club badges, websites and advertisements all over the world. However from a practical standpoint, nothing could be more problematic than losing the ability to move freely and becoming consistently malleable to the situation at hand.
Thus, the stark difference between the inherent staccato rhythm of classical kata performance and the vital requirement of total fluidity for their combative application is for me thought-provoking. What is it about the synergy of these two contrasting qualities that when combined together, provides us (the karate-ka) with greater value than the sum of its parts?