Kata Bunkai for Shorin Ryu Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)

This is something that has been discussed on my Facebook page before, but I wanted to go into more depth with it.  Most traditional martial arts have been dumbed down.  Karate applications (Kata bunkai) were dumbed down when the Okinawans decided to introduce it into their school system in the late nineteenth century.  This dumbed down version was taught to the Japanese and from there to the Koreans.

Kung Fu too has suffered.  The Chinese were at first very reluctant to teach martial arts to anybody who was not full blooded Chinese.  Later it was realised that it could be quite financially lucrative to do so!  However, in the main they still held back a lot from Westerners.  It is known that when the legendary Master Ip Man was teaching Wing Chun to Bruce Lee, he held back some of the more advanced secrets because Bruce Lee was not full blooded Chinese.  If Bruce Lee was not taught the full system, what makes any Westerners think that they have been?

So moving on to the point of this post, I want to look at the end sequence of Shorin Ryu’s Kata (form/pattern), Pinan Shodan, as evidence of how Kata has been changed by people who most likely did not understand the meaning of the moves.  In particular I draw your attention to the end sequence which finishes with a Downward Block (Gedan Baria) followed by an Upper Raising Block (Age Uke).

You will notice that the performer goes into a fairly a low stance for the Lower Block, but very deliberately rises up when he performs the Raising Block.  Now if he was in fact actually “blocking” a punch, then it would make sense to move his head away from the punch.

It makes no sense at all to “block” a punch by pushing it upwards, as you move your head upwards at the same time.  If you don’t completely clear the attacking punch, then you are moving your head right into the firing the line.  In fact you probably end up with your throat in the position where the original attacking punch was aimed, which is even more dangerous.

If this so called Rising “Block” was actually an upward strike using the forearm to smash up under the chin and into the neck (which many martial artists now accept it as being), then it makes much more sense for the whole body to rise up.  One of the principles of linear Karate (such as Shorin Ryu) is that the techniques are powered by the momentum of the body movement.  In this case, the body momentum is clearly moving upwards and would be a great way to power an upward strike.  If you look at the above video closely again, you’ll note that as the performer executes the Raising Block, he actually steps through in a relatively low stance and only rises up at the end of step as he actually executes the technique.

The other consideration (which has been discussed many times before in very many places) is why would a Kata finish with a “Block”?  It means that your attacker is still able to continue attacking you.  Viewing this technique as a “strike” makes more sense as you can incapacitate your attacker and the fight/assault is over.

Now fast forward Shorin Ryu as it develops into Shotokan Karate.  The Downward Block and Raising Block sequence are performed at the same level without the performer raising up as he performs the Rising Block.

So why did this change?

It changed because the Japanese did not know that this technique was actually supposed to be a “strike” and it is not in their culture to question the master.  If you view this technique as a “block”, then there is no advantage in rising up as you execute the technique (in fact it would be a distinct disadvantage as mentioned above).  So as with many other movements within Kata, there was a lot of standardisation.  The heights of the stances were standardised so that the stances all stayed the same height throughout.

Of course many styles have been derived from Shotokan, so this is very much the norm in the majority of the Karate world today.  This is why I always encourage martial artists of any style to look at their Kata/patterns/forms with a questioning mind.  Also, don’t get hooked into looking for why your style is superior to others; instead look at other styles (especially your styles predecessors) to find out what has been changed and why.

The Japanese changed a lot of the Okinawan Katas because they did not understand the true meanings.  The Koreans changed a lot of their patterns to make them “more Korean” (hide the Japanese influences).  I don’t know so much about history of Kung Fu forms, but I do know some associations that train a very large number of forms yet barely scratch the surface of the applications.

Always question and always think for yourself!

What Are The Differences Between Kung Fu & Karate?

One of the most popular and most frequently visited postings that I’ve ever done on this website has been an unbiased look at the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do.  So I thought I’d do the same between Karate and Kung Fu.

As with Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I believe that there is often a lot of misunderstanding between Karate and Kung Fu practitioners as they don’t really understand what  the other one is doing or why!  That said, there are many people who cross train between the 2 styles, in particular Karateka who train in Kung Fu to better understand the roots of the their own system.

This post is not aimed at arguing that either martial art is better than the other, as I have always maintained, there is no “best style” only a “best style for a given individual”.

But to  tackle a question like this is a massive subject as there are hundreds of styles of Karate and thousands of styles of Kung Fu; so I am going to have to lay down some parameters before I start.

Firstly from the Karate perspective; most modern styles trace back to the two Okinawan styles of Naha Te and Shuri Te.  There is arguably also Tomari Te, but that is really a branch of Shuri Te.  To confuse the issue further, many modern styles are also a hybrid of the two (like Shitoryu).

Naha Te (which later became Goju Ryu) was almost completely based on White Crane and Praying Mantis Kung Fu, whilst Shuri Te was quite extensively modified by the Okinawans.  So for the purpose of this posting, I’ll be looking at the Karate styles from the Shuri Te/Shotokan lineage.  Ironically, much of this will apply to Tae Kwon Do as well, despite significant development by the Koreans.

Kung Fu is even more difficult due to it’s huge variety.  So for the purpose of this posting, I’ll be looking at the traditional Shaolin styles of Kung Fu (rather than modern Wu Shu, Wing Chun or the Daoist based internal arts).

Usually one of the first things that people say when comparing Karate and Kung Fu is that Karate is more linear and that Kung Fu is more circular.  But what does that actually mean in application?

If you look at a Karate reverse punch, the hips are rotated, yet the arm goes out straight; so there is a combination of circular and linear movements within the same technique.  Many (if not most) Karate techniques are powered by a hip rotation, so does that make them partly circular.  Furthermore, although Kung Fu tends to have more techniques where the arms attack in a circular fashion, they also have a lot of techniques that come out straight forward, so are they linear?

Basically, what defines a linear or circular technique is not just whether the body rotates or not, or even if the attacking hand/foot moves in a straight or circular motion.  It is how the technique is powered.  A linear technique is powered by the forward inertia and momentum of the body, whilst circular technique is powered by the centrifugal force created by a rapid rotation which does not necessarily move the body forward.

You can see this more clearly in the 2 videos below.  In the first one you see a Karate reverse punch.  The hips rotate from being pulled back approximately 45 degrees to being rotated square to the front.  But overall the body weight moves forward in the direction of the punch.

In this Kung Fu example, you’ll see that the hips are rotated much further, so much so that the stance is facing at 90 degree’s to the direction of the punch and opponent.  When he performs the second punch, his hips rotate almost 180 degrees around to face the other direction (compared with Karate’s 45 degree hip rotation).  This obviously creates more centrifugal force.  The technique will vary from style to style, but it does demonstrate the general principle.  However, it does not create any forward momentum towards the opponent.

Again, I do not suggest that either method is superior to the other, they are just 2 modified ways of achieving the same result, which is putting down some b*****d who seriously deserves it.  It should also be made clear that Karate and Kung Fu both contain linear techniques and they both contain circular techniques.  It is just that Karate puts more emphasis on linear whilst Kung Fu puts more emphasis on circular.

Some people say that Karate is more aggressive.  Shuri Te was developed by the bodyguards to the Okinawan king.  They were the masters who evolved linear technique.  When you examine their requirements and the challenges that they faced, they needed a system of taking the fight quickly and ruthlessly to their enemies.  To do this you need to be able to move forward (linear).

With a circular system, to a certain extent you are letting the other guy bring the fight to you.  That may not have been an option for the Shuri bodyguards, but for us today who should only be interested in self defence, it is fine.  You can still take the initiative and give a pre-emptive strike if somebody comes too close (which an aggressor will do) but you don’t need to take the fight to him.

Circular technique is better for grappling, spinning very fast when you have hold of somebody is a good way to of-balance or throw them.  It also helps to apply locks to any trapped limbs very quickly.

Linear technique is less versatile in application, but was designed for very much with multiple assailants in mind where running away was not an option (as in bodyguards).  For this they needed to take the fight to the opponent, put him down very quickly, then move onto the next.  I believe that this is where the Japanese maxim of Ikken Hissatsu (one strike, one kill)  comes from.  Grappling techniques are too slow when you’re outnumbered, so that versatility was not required.

Furious 5 from Kung Fu Panda

Many of the Shaolin styles are based on animal movements such as Tiger, Snake, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Crane and many others (even mythical creatures such as the Dragon).  Although these styles imitate animal movements, they are still very effective in application.  Drawing from the movements of mammals, birds, reptiles and even insects has led to a great deal of innovation and inspiration, not only in fighting techniques, but in the principles adopted (for example, power from the Tiger, but flexibility from the Snake).

Karate however has been more influenced by the Zen philosophy which is (or was) very popular in Japan.  Part of Zen is to minimize everything, which has also been applied to the movements in martial arts.  Only the movements strictly required for a technique are included, all else is striped out giving it a much plainer appearance in many ways.  This also fits in with the linear concept of less emphasis on grappling and versatility, but focusing more on multiple opponents instead.

Of course this is a very broad subject as already mentioned and there is a lot of overlap between Karate and Kung Fu, so this posting can only be a guide rather than a definitive in every case and every application.  As such there will be plenty of exceptions, so any writing on this subject (by me or anybody else) should only be regarded as a generalised guide.

If you have found this useful, or if you have anything to add to the subject, then please leave your comments below.

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

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

Hangetsu/Seishan

Here we take a look at one of the movements from Hangetsu kata (formally known as Seishan).  Karate is usually looked at as being linear and Kung Fu as being predominantly circular.  However, the technique that we look at below is performed in a circular manor in the kata, but when we look at similar Kung Fu movements, they are performed in a linear manner.  As per usual, there is more in common than there is different.

Hangetsu / Seishan Karate Bunkai

Bunkai And Comparison Of Karate/TKD’s Age Uke (Rising Block) & Wing Chun’s Bong Sau (Wing Arm Block)

Here we take a look at 2 blocks which are very similar.  Wing Chun’s Bong Sau (Wing Arm Block) and the Age Uke (Rising Block) used in Karate, Teakwondo and Tang Soo Do.  The advantage of comparing techniques between different styles is that sometimes you get clues as to how they originated.  Wing Chun is based on Snake Kung Fu and Crane Kung Fu.  One of the main influences on Okinawan Karate was White Crane Kung Fu, so there would appear to be some common roots.

Furthermore, by looking at how another style uses its techniques can often give clues as to extra applications for which you can use your own techniques.  This is particularly advantageous to Karate, TaeKwonDo and Tang Soo Do practitioners as a lot of our original applications have been lost along the way.

I hope you enjoy this video.

Age Uke & Bong Sau Bunkai

More Choy Lee Fut Sao Choy Technique Talk

This is a follow up video to my previous one on Sao Choy, which addresses a few of the questions and comments it raised, particularly “Wouldn’t it be safer to do it on the outside of the arm?” and “You can also do Sao Choy after various other blocks or parries”.

The video shows a few more Choy Lee Fut techniques – Pao Choy, (which I believe translates as “cannon fist”) which is a upward strike similar to an uppercut and Poon Kui (which I believe translates as “coiling bridge”), which is a circular block that can be used as a great set up for a lot of Choy Lee Fut techniques since it should help destabilise the attacker.

By Graham Barlow of Bath-Tai Chi and Choy Lee Fut (www.bath-taichi.co.uk)

Choy Lee Fut’s Sao Choy

“Through the back” power in Choy Lee Fut.

In this video I use the technique called Sao Choy from the Choy Lee Fut system. Sao Choy (“Sweeping fist”), can be found in all styles of Choy Lee Fut, but seems to be particularly emphasised in the Buk Sing style I practice, along with Chap Choy.

When using the Sao Choy technique you’ll notice that the Choy Lee Fut practitioner usually performs a clearing or blocking action with the other hand first. Like most techniques in Choy Lee Fut, Sao Choy tends to be used in combination with other techniques in a fluid and circular manner, rather than in isolation. Since more attention is usually paid to the arm doing the Sao Choy when explaining the technique, I thought I’d concentrate on what the other hand is doing in my video, since there can be a lot of subtly to the technique employed, which is easy to miss. It’s also interesting to compare with similar posts on this blog that examine what the non-striking hand is doing in other arts, like Karate.

One of the features of Buk Sing CLF is a kind of “through the back” power, which connects the action of one arm to the action of the other, so that rather than operating separately, they work together to achieve their aims. A discussion of what the “other” hand is doing in the Sao Choy technique naturally leads on to a discussion of how this “through the back” power works in Choy Lee Fut in general.

It should also be noted that you are not limited to the particular clearing technique I’m demonstrating here prior to the Sao Choy – other popular options are Gwa Choy (a backfist) or Poon Kui, a circular block.

I hope you enjoy the video, and feel free to ask questions in the comments section.*

* Apologies for my slightly irreverent presentation style(!)

By Graham Barlow of Bath-Tai Chi and Choy Lee Fut (www.bath-taichi.co.uk)

Soto Uke (Outside Block) & Related Kung Fu Techniques

I have written in a previous posting about how I believe that Karate’s Soto Uke was probably based on an instinctive human reaction and developed by the masters of old.  In the following video sequence we demonstrate some applications for Soto Uke, whilst also looking at Chinese Kung Fu movements that are almost the same.

Note:  The block called Soto Uke in some styles is called Uchi Uke (inside block) in other styles.

Bearing in mind that much of Karate’s original bunkai has been lost, and that Karate is largely based on Kung Fu, it is good to look at similar Kung Fu movements and how Kung Fu practitioners apply them.  By looking into our roots we can learn more about our own style and read across from what the Okinawan masters probably learnt from the Chinese masters.  The Okinawan masters would have adapted the movements to suit their own physiques and needs, which is fine as the Chinese masters did exactly the same.  That is why there is such a vast array of Kung Fu styles.

When a beginner looks at different styles of Kung Fu, Karate, TKD etc., they see lots of differences.  However, the experienced practitioner sees many similarities.  This why we are able to learn from each other, to increase our knowledge and understanding of our own style, without necessarily having to study other styles in depth.

We hope you enjoy our video:

Bunkai: Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan (Won Hyo, Chum Kiu)

In the clip below, we look at some applications from the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan/Won Hyo.  We don’t say that this is necessarily the best or only interpretations for these moves, it just our take on it.  Although Heian Nidan and Pinan Shodan are in effect the same kata (just named differently in different styles) and Tae Kwon Do’s Won Hyo pattern is closely based on it; Chum Kiu is essentially quite different.  It is the second form from the Wing Chun Kung Fu system.

However, some of the moves in Chum Kiu quite closely resemble the opening sequence of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan, although is performed quite a  bit more tightly.

Is this surprising to find such similarities?

Not at all.  Tae Kwon Do is largely based on Karate and Karate is largely based on Kung Fu.  The nearest part of China to Okinawa (where Karate developed) is Fukien Provence and it is known that White Crane Kung Fu was particularly popular in that area.  Wing Chun Kung Fu is based mainly on the Snake and the Crane, so there is a common lineage.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy our short video: