How To Put The “Whip” Into A Linear Punch

I usually focus on the practical application of techniques on this website, but today I’m actually going to focus on technique itself.  I think this one is important, as it can greatly enhance the power of your punches and other strikes.

The Karate masters of old often taught that we should use our body like a “whip”, but this is not always easy to do, especially if you practice a predominantly linear style.  In practically all sports, power is generated from the hips, transferred to the shoulders, then to the arms/hands.  However, people often struggle to do this in linear styles.  I believe that this is because we are often taught that everything finishes together, whereas in most other activities they are taught to move in sequence.  I believe that this is partly brought about by the fact that we focus (kime) into one spot, whereas in most other disciplines (including other sports) they move through their target.  When a golfer hits the ball, he does not stop there, he moves right through it (as does anybody using any kind of racket or bat to hit something).  When somebody throws a ball, they do not stop at the instance of release, they move through that point.

Yet with a linear punch, we stop dead at the point of focus, especially in basic form.  Even in freestyle, at the point of focus we strike and retract rather than moving through, and I think this is what causes the problem for so many.  Many people end up moving the shoulder and hips together, rather than in sequence like everybody else.  The only way we can move shoulder and hip together is by tightening the muscles of our torso and locking them together.

Yet we are always told that we should be as relaxed as possible and that movement comes from the hips . . . . . . . or as some would say, the Hara (Japanese) or Dan Tien (Chinese).

If we are locking the shoulders and hips together, we cannot be completely relaxed.  Also, movement cannot be said to come from the hips (Hara/ Dan Tien) as the whole torso moves as one.

If we truly generate the power from the hips and we are truly relaxed in out torso, then the hips should move first, creating a small rotational stretch in our body as the shoulders are left fractionally behind.  When stretched, the body naturally wants to return to its original shape, so the shoulders will start to rotate as well, just fractionally behind the hips.  However, as we are not actually focusing on our shoulders and the torso is relaxed, there will be a feeling of the shoulder and arm being “thrown” by the hip, rather than having to focus on moving them and extending the arm.

Chinese circular styles seem to achieve this whip like feeling more easily as a circular techniques goes through its target and does not stop at the point of impact (unlike a basic linear punch).  Some of the modern day masters talk of a putting in a waveform motion.  The Russian martial art, Systema (The System) also talks of a waveform.  This is often compared to the standard Karate/TKD punch and advocated as being much more powerful.  However, I believe that this is because most people are not really aware of how to put the waveform into their linear technique.  Using the method described above and demonstrated in the video below, it is relatively easy to get this waveform (whip) into a linear punch.

I must put in one disclaimer however, and that is that many advanced Karateka/TKD practitioners do this naturally as they learn to relax.  However, I don’t think that most of them are actually aware of the mechanics of it, certainly very few will explain it in this manner.

When I’ve shown this before, I’ve had people say that they loved it, but had never seen anything like it in their own club.  I believe that I may have “re-framed” things a bit, but everybody should be training this way.  By re-framing it I hope to make it clearer; I am not introducing something new here.  If this concept is new to you, please give your feedback below on what you think of it.  If you have been taught this concept, but this video makes it clearer please tell me.  If you think I’m a mad Karate heretic, then say so 🙂

[Waveform punch]

Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s New Book – “Shotokan Myths” (More Than Just Shotokan)

Shihan Kousaku Yokota, 8thDan Shotokan Karate is releasing a new book, Shotokan Myths, which should be available from mid December.

Firstly, I would like to say that so many other styles have spawned from Shotokan, that this book should be valuable to a far wider audience than just Shotokan Karateka.

So who is Shihan Kousaku Yokota?

Yokota is an 8th Dan with 46 years of Shotokan Karate experience. He specializes in Asai ryu karate which is based on JKA style Shotokan with some White Crane Kung Fu blended in.  He also practiced Okinawa kobudo (nunchaku, sai, tonfa, 3 sectional staff and 7 chain whip).

I have read some of Yokota’s articles in Shotokan Karate Magazine where he wrote about how a number of myths have developed over the years and become ingrained into Shotokan folk lore (and from there into numerous other styles of Karate and TaeKwonDo).  He exposes many of these myths in an intelligent and well informed manner, explaining historical, social and practical reasons why certain practices have been introduced and how they have come to be accepted as “traditional” Karate practices, when in fact many of them are relatively new to the Karate world.

So on a blog that focuses largely on practical applications (bunkai) to traditional martial arts, why would we be interested in myths and the historical/social reason surrounded their coming into being?

Well simply put, if we know what is “real” from what is not, then we can make more informed decisions.  We tend to look how to apply our katas/patterns/forms, but knowing the influences that effected them can change the application.  For example, in one article in SKM, Yokota examined the myth that all kata’s should start and finish in the same place.  This was never a requirement for the Okinawan masters.  However, when Funikoshi took it to Japan, Karate started being taught to much larger numbers of people.  There was not the same small close group of master and only a few special students.  Therefore the students had to be given a way to measure their own performance.  Having katas finish on the same point that they started gave a form of measure (for example, consistent stances length in both direction).  To achieve this, some of the katas had to be adapted.  Most Heian/Pinan kata’s today follow a capital “I” shape.  However, originally the shape of the kata was more like a double headed arrow.  For example, in Kihon kata (or Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan/Dan Gun), after doing the 3 stepping punches, instead of performing a 3/4 turn (270 degrees) it would have been a 5/8 turn (225 degrees).   This made it difficult to return to original starting position, hence changing it to the “I” shape that is so familiar today.  Many people interpret this movement as a throw.  But knowing why the change came about, gives us the clue that we do not have to spin round quite so far to execute that same throw, actually making it a bit easier to apply!

Other changes have been made to standardize katas to make them easier to judge in competition.  Knowing these things may alter how you perceive the application that put to this movement next time you examine your kata.  This is why knowing fact from myth is important to being able to practically apply your katas.  It is not just an academic exercise in learning history (though this can be very interesting in its own right).

Yokota is thorough in his research and explanation.  I therefore commend Shotokan Myths not only to Shotokan Karateka, but to all styles that have Shotokan in their lineage.

UPDATE:
You can now get this book from Amazon:-

In the UK

 

In the USA

Back To Basics With Al Peasland

Al Peasland (5th Dan with the British Combat Association, 3rd Dan Traditional Karate and internationally renowned teacher) wrote an interesting article on “Back To Basics”.  In this article he compares an experience he had learning to ski with how he teaches self protection.  He spent most of the time learning how to do “the plough” (position where the front of the skis point inwards, forming a triangular plough shape).

Al asked why they spend so much time in the plough position when it is not the way that they do “real skiing”.  The instructor explained that practicing the plough gives you control over the snow, when you have that, the rest of the fancy stuff can be mastered.  But without control over over the snow, the ability to ski fast, turn and (most importantly) to be able to stop; will be very difficult to learn.  When you see a good skier whizzing down a slop, skis parallel, twisting and turning around obstacles, you don’t see the plough.  Yet without learning the plough first, you would not see the speed and agility.

So (as Al explains) it is with martial arts and self protection.  Without learning the basic stances, basic techniques and sparring/drilling routines, you would not have a very a structure that you could use under pressure.

Although I am a further down the martial arts food chain than Al, I agree entirely.  People often talk of “muscle memory”.  However, muscles don’t have memory, only the brain does.  When you do a movement, any movement, or even a particular behaviour pattern, you fire a series of tiny electrical signals across the brain.  These are the parts of the brain that control that movement or behaviour.  When you repeat a movement over and over, those tiny electrical signals get stronger and the brain forms more links inside to carry the stronger signals.  This is called a “neural pathway” through the brain.  It is here, rather than the muscle that the memory of movement is stored.  The more we practice a movement over and over again, the stronger and bigger that neural pathway becomes, until eventually we no longer have to put in any conscious thought, we just fire the neural pathway and instinct takes over.

This is what we want when under pressure.  We want such strong, deeply rooted neural pathways, that we don’t need to think about how to punch/strike/kick etc.  We just want to be able to think this is it, action, and the rest just happens automatically.  The main difference between a master and a beginner is not necessarily their strength or physical prowess, it is the strength of these neural pathways, forged by years and years of repetition.

People often look for the quick fix (which is human nature).  Partly for that reason, pressure point fighting has become popular over recent years.  However, as I’ve said before, if you don’t know how to hit, if you can’t move with speed and accuracy, you will not be able to strike pressure point targets effectively.

Whatever your style of martial art, practice basics, basics then some more basics.  It is the only way to really be able to perform under pressure.  I promote the use of practical bunkai on this blog, but without good basics you will struggle to make them work.

I liken it to the foundations of a building.  The first thing the builders do is to dig a bloody great hole and fill it in with ugly cement and steel.  When the nice new shiny building is finished, you don’t see those foundations, you don’t see that hole and cement.  You only see the building on top.  But without that cement filled hole, the building would easily collapse.  So it is when you see a great fighter performing great athletic feats, breaking boards, fancy jumping kicks or annihilating an opponent.  You don’t see the years that the same fighter spent in a basic stance practicing a basic technique over and over again until he/she had a really deep foundation and incredibly strong neural pathways.

And let face it, if it was easy to learn in a few weeks, then all the muggers and predators would have done it to, so they would know what we know.  What sets us aside as martial artists is that we take the time to study and to evolve.  And in so doing we not only become better able to defend ourselves, but we become better human beings in the process.

The Humble “Yoi”

The kata’s (patterns/forms) within a traditional style often have different salutations and ready positions.  This would indicate that they have different meanings, beyond being just a salutation.  Think about it, if they were no more than just a salutation, why would they not be standardised.  Why would any style need more than one salutation which it would use on all of its kata’s/patterns/forms.

Logic would suggest that these salutations/ready positions are moves that could stop an opponent early in the proceedings, before a full blown fight breaks out.  If that does not work, then its into the kata to use techniques that will deal with a full blown fight.

The most common salutation or ready position in Karate is the “Yoi”.  The performance of the Yoi may vary from style to style, but generally the arms come up to head height (sometimes higher) then circle inwards and downwards, crossing over your center line, then back outwards, before settling just about hip height at  about a torso width apart.

Here’s our interpretation of how to use the humble Yoi against somebody who is acting aggressively, to turn the tables on them and put them in a position of disadvantage which you can exploit as you see fit.

Please tell us what you think.  Is your Yoi or salutation very much different?  Do you see the Yoi as being no more than a salutation with no practical function, or do you see it as a functional movement as we do?  Feel free to leave your opinion in the comment box below.

Yoi

7 Questions to Enhance Your Bunkai

This is an intersting article from www.ikigaiway.com which is very relevant to the aims of this blog as well.  I hope you enjoy it:-

“Without bunkai (applications), kata is little more than pre-arranged dancing. The hands can be flowing in exciting and vibrant ways but if we never discover the meaning of the motion then our time would be much better spent hitting a heavy bag or sparring.

Bunkai is the key to developing useful and effective techniques preserved for us by those individuals who developed and tested them in fierce, life protection situations. Over the course of time much of the true meaning of these movements has either been lost or purposefully disguised. If your desire is to unlock some of the skills of our predecessors, you’ll need to know the right questions in order to find the best answers.

The following are seven things to ask yourself that might illuminate your kata in a different (and hopefully productive) way. These are in no particular order and are not prescriptive. Use some when you can and invent others.

eizo shimabukuro bunkai

1. Can I change the angle in which I address my opponent?

Many times during bunkai we assume that an opponent is coming straight from the front or from the sides, and that we must stay directly in front of them and try to defend. What happens if you cut a 45 degree angle during your technique? What if turning from left to right allowed you to arc around the same opponent instead of addressing a new one?

2. What came just before and what is coming right after?

When we learn kata, it generally occurs in a set cadence. Step1 – block up. Step2 – block down. Step3 – punch kiai! That being the case, our mind generally sections itself off in those little boxes. It is our job to look at what is occurring right before our current technique and right after and how the body moves from one to the next. Stringing techniques together makes for a more devastating outcome to your opponent.

3. Am I utilizing all of the technique or just the end piece?

Techniques are often more dynamic than we give them credit for. Take for example the knife hand block. When we perform a knife hand block we generally step somewhere, prep the block, and then shoot the block out. The block itself is what we use to defend against an attack, but what about all the stuff that came before it? Can’t we use that too? Can’t the body shift be used to off-balance or attack our opponent, and can’t the prep be used to either defend or attack?

4. Can I condense the number of opponents I have to face to get through my applications?

If you find yourself going through a dozen bad guys for your bunkai you may be too segmented. In order to mentally escape from a tricky technique we often dismiss the current bad guy and invite a new one in from a different direction. Worse yet, if we are using two hands at once and don’t really know what’s going on we might invite two bad guys to attack us at once from different directions. Multiple opponent training is valuable, but kata is not suggesting that GuyA is likely to kick low while GuyB punches from behind. Those scenarios are too unlikely and miss the real intent of what’s happening. Condense the number of opponents as much as possible.

5. Are my opponents behaving naturally and with likely techniques, or am I forcing them into increasingly unlikely scenarios?

Patrick McCarthy Sensei developed the acronym HAPV, or habitual acts of physical violence. The point of HAPV is to keep focused on the techniques you are most likely to encounter. Furthermore, the longer you make the string of actions done by your uke the more unlikely an actual attacker will follow that pattern. Therefore, when performing bunkai, we want our opponents acting as naturally as possible. If the opponent has to punch, step back punch, step back punch, step back block up and receive your strike, you’ve asked your uke to behave in a way they never would in real life.

6. Have I affected my opponent in a way that makes more technique work?

Let’s say you manage to block your opponent (so far so good). You then put them in a wrist lock or arm bar in order to control them. That progression seems very effective, especially after years of training, and generally works in the dojo. However, if you’ve ever come across a live opponent who is experiencing adrenaline dump you’ll know that manipulating that arm is extremely difficult. Your attempts to bar or lock it will be met with iron resistance and counter punches to your face. Always be sure to negatively affect your opponent as soon as possible, then go into more technique.

7. What is the emotional content of my encounter?

What kind of scenario is your kata taking place in? Is it a school yard pushing match? Is it a life or death home invasion? The emotional environment you place yourself in is going to alter your bunkai dramatically. Your technique may need to restrain or it may need to kill.

Mental Gymnastics

With all of these questions/problems/complications we have to address the concept of simplicity. In a real life altercation, your simplest and most effective techniques will be the ones that help you. Thinking about responses in the heat of the moment will keep you one step behind your opponent.

Why then bother with all of this business about bunkai? Shouldn’t we simply practice a series of basic, effective techniques and avoid the mental gymnastics?

The short term answer is yes. For the first 5-6 years of your training you need to become “brilliant at the basics”, as Bill Hayes Sensei would say. Without a rock solid foundation and instinctual integration of your style’s stances, punches, and basic techniques nothing else can be built firmly. However, once you do achieve that level of proficiency, you acquire the privilege of exploring your art even deeper and improving the way you go about your business.

Simple techniques practiced a certain way seem like the best option until you learn how to improve them. That doesn’t necessarily mean complicate them. Instead the goal is to find ways to improve your angle, distance, timing, striking locations, and technique progression in order to enhance what’s already been built. This style of study leads to an understanding of tichiki, or “what the hand is doing”, which can be used extemporaneously with great percentage of success”.

By Matthew Apsokardu

Dis-Mounting An Attacker

Should you be unfortunate enough to be taken to the ground and end up with some gormless thug on top of you trying to bludgeon the living daylights out of you, we look at some ways of getting them off (so that you can bludgeon them – much more fun).

Keith’s favourite is flesh grabs which is used quite a lot in some styles of Kung Fu.  The nasty ones 🙂

We are not taking about grabbing large lumps of muscle or limbs, just a handful of surface skin, which can be surprisingly painful.  I know that some people will prefer pressure points.  My only concern with that is that you really have to know what you are doing.  If you are interested in pressure points, then you should look the work of somebody like Russell Stutely.

Pressure points are probably better if you really know what you are doing, but if you don’t then flesh grabs are much easier and much more accessible to the average martial artist and still hurt the opponent (though be aware that if they are high or drunk they won’t feel it quite so much).

From a Karate perspective, show how you can use the good old Gedan Barai (lower sweep/block) to dis-mount your attacker.

Bunkai

Bunkai For Kihon Kata (Il Jang, Chon Ji, Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu)

Here we take a look at the opening sequence of the most basic kata of all, Kihon Kata (TKD/TSD: Il Jang, Chon Ji, Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu).  Normally explained as turn to your left and block a front kick followed by stepping and punching; then turn to your rear to block another front kick followed by a step and punch.   However, this only works if the kicker aims the kick to stop short.   If they actually try to kick you, then the only way you can block their kick with a lower block is to step back (not forward), otherwise the distance is all wrong.

So here we look at some different bunkai (applications) for this sequence.

Note: What I did forget to say in the video is that having taken the opponent off-balance with the first move, you should have the back of their head facing you, which means that you can take advantage of the prime target at the base of the skull on the back of the head. This is one of the prime points for knocking the opponent unconscious.  Use this point with caution as it is potentially dangerous.

Bassai Dai (Passai): Grappling Kata?

As discussed in an earlier posting, the Okinawan master, Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura was a central figure in developing the now familiar linear technique, at a time when most martial artists on Okinawa were still using the circular techniques of Chinese origin.  As discussed in that posting, Matsumura was also the head bodyguard to the King of Okinawa and the bodyguards (like all Okinawans) were not allowed to carry weapons by Japanese decree.

This left a situation where the bodyguards could end up fighting a superior number of assailants, who might also be armed.  That previous posting discussed how the linear technique would have helped take the fight to the opponents and dispatch them as quickly as possible (necessary when facing larger numbers).

Taking a step further back in history, the earlier Okinawan masters had developed a system that included all modes of combat.  This would include striking, grappling and weapons.  Although Matsumura developed the linear technique and clearly emphasised the “one hit, one kill” philosophy which we are very familiar with today; Matsumura and his men would clearly have needed some grappling skills.  They would not be interested in taking a fight to the ground where others could kick them on the floor and they would not be interested in the time taken to gain a submission when others would be attacking them.  However, they would be particularly interested in knowing how to release any kind of grabs or holds and release them very fast before others came up to hit them.

Matsumura is believed to the be the author of Bassai Dai (also known as Passai or Patsai), which is still practiced in may styles of Karate and Tang Soo Do.  When you look at the opening sequence of Bassai Dai just after the forward thrusting back fist strike/block, you turn 180 degrees and perform 2 chest level blocks, turn 180 degrees again and perform 2 more chest level blocks, then turn 90 degrees to the right, scoop low and perform 2 more chest level blocks.  When you stop to think about it, this is a bazaar sequence.  Firstly, Matsumura was known to be a man who studied his enemies, and in this case his enemies would be angry Westerns wanting to trade (and being rejected by Japanese order).  Matsumura would know that these “barbarians” would not practice straight lunge punches, but would more likely swing at the head.  Secondly, why do so much blocking and not hit back?  You’ve just blocked 3 people and they are still standing, still wanting to hit you!  The defence is not geared to the likely attacks and still leaves you vulnerable at the end.

Was it that Bassai Dai was more for character development than for actual fighting.  Matsumura was practical, clever, ruthless and fanatical about martial arts.  It is very unlikely that he would author a kata that did not have very practical, effective and ruthless fighting movements from start to finish.

So what conclusion can we draw?  The obvious one is that this sequence of 6 chest level blocks are in fact, nothing to do with chest level blocks.  Bearing in mind that Matsumura’s men would expect to be outnumbered, should a fight break out they would expect to be grabbed from all directions.  So try practicing this sequence with a partner.  Have them grab you in various ways from behind, then turn and perform the double blocks.  You will find that most grabs will be knocked off and as you are moving into your opponent/partner, you will find that the second “block” can often be used as a close quarters strike.

My Sensei, Paul Mitchell always says that Bassai Dai is a grappling kata.  Not grappling as in the sporting sense, but to release attackers grabs and line them up for a finishing blow.  He also says that Karate is “a kind art” as it teaches you to strike first (which is the easiest way to dispatch somebody) and grapple later.  However, when learning to strike we place a great deal of emphasis on stance and posture which some people decry as unrealistic and static.  But that stance and posture gives you the balance and stability that you need when somebody has grabbed you and is trying to shake you about as you try to release them.  Furthermore, the mobility that we are supposed to lose by using these stances are more valuable for sporting contest than the reality of the street.

This may seem strange to some people if they are reading these type of ideas for the first time, but the more you analise it, the more you realise that it is the only logical conclusion.

Our own DVD on Bassai Dai and its bunkai is now available at our store.


Bunkai From Tekki/Naihanchi (Chul Gi) With Cross Reference To Wing Chun

Most Karate systems that evolved from the Okinawan style of Shuri Te tend to use big steps to capitalise on forward body momentum and inertia to transfer impact into the opponent.  As a broad generalisation, this tends to distinguish them from the styles derived from Naha Te and most styles of Kung Fu which prefer the use of circular (or centrifugal) force for generating power.

However, the Tekki kata’s (or Naihanchi in some styles and Chul Gi in Korean) which are still present in many Shuri Te derived styles contradict this forward momentum method in that they are not very mobile and are far more “static”.  Another characteristic of the Tekki kata’s is that they punch with the palm facing up as opposed to the usual “cork-screw” punch where the fist ends up facing downwards and the arm is not fully extended.

Tekki is obviously a close quarters fighting kata.  As such a number of its movements are quite close to Wing Chun Kung Fu which specialises in close quarters fighting.  On the surface, Wing Chun and Tekki look quite different, but as usual Keith and I look below the surface and find some similarities which can be used by practitioners of either system.

Tekki / Naihanchi Kata Bunkai

Bunkai From Shotokan Karate Kata: Jitte (TSD: Sip Soo)

I am very pleased to be able to include 2 short video clips of my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell 4th Dan.

Sensei Mitchell is a recognised authority on Bunkai within the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association and usually teaches bunkai on TSKA residential courses.  Having originally started my Karate training in Kent, then continued it when I moved up to Scotland and again when I moved to the South West of England; I can say I’ve been about a bit and seen a few different clubs.  I consider myself very lucky to have found Sensei Mitchell’s club as firstly I like the emphasis on good technique and secondly I like the practically of his teachings and bunkai.

Thirdly, I like his quirkly sense of humour, but that’s another story . . . . sorry Sensei 😉

The clips below were taken on a recent Kata course hosted by Sensei Mitchell focusing on kata Jitte. The course started of with structure and form, followed by Bunkai.  After a light lunch (thanks Chris) it was back to work and being Jitte, we did it with Bo’s.  Jitte is unique in that it can be performed empty handed or with Bo, with very little adjustment at all.

Sensei Mitchell hosts these courses every couple of months and they are open to Karateka of any style (including TaeKwonDo) from 4th Kyu/Kup and above.  These are taught in an open and friendly environment and if you would like to attend, then check out the “Calender Of Events” tab on his website every now and then.  If you enjoy Bunkai and practical Karate, then I would highly recommend these courses.