The Martial Arts Paradox: By Russell Stutely

I received the following posting from Russell Stutely as I’m signed up to his newsletter.  I thought it made such a good point that I decided to share it with you.  It emphasises the point that I keep trying to make about learning your kata bunkai and understanding what the moves are really for.  I hope you enjoy it.

“The paradox of making the MA simple yet incorporating a lifetimes of study. How can it be achieved? Has it been done before? What will happen to our system?

Of course this has happened before. It has happened with every single MA out there. Every single one has been simplified from where it was, made easier than it once was.

The knowledge of the art has become much more superficial. Lifetimes study to truly understand Kata has lost its real meaning. It does not mean, keep training till you can perform the Kata correctly all the way through and score 10 out of 10 from every judge. It means it takes a lifetimes study to truly understand why every move is made and what it is really for.

Now, maybe in the old days with slow communications it took a lifetime, but not now. We can be anywhere in the World in a day, back then it took a day to travel 30 miles.

This simplification that has happened in for example Shotokan, has resulted in a system with 3 or 4 punches, 7 or 8 kicks, a few  blocks, a few stances and a load of Kata.

Which, for the majority, is just some combinations of the above in a set order. Is that really a lifetimes study? To put this into perspective, about 15 years ago I was watching a tape with all 26 Shotokan Kata on.

My sister, a Dance Teacher, saw it and said that it looked real easy to learn. I told her she knew nothing about the MA and not to be so silly, as these Kata are known by only the very top people who have taken years to learn them.

She replied, with “I could learn them in a week”. The bet was on. I lost, convincingly.

She performed them superbly well. No in depth knowledge, but the performance of the moves was beyond reproach!

Does this sound like a watering down to you? The performance of the moves is there, but with no depth of knowledge.

A perfect singer, who is singing in a foreign language. Hitting all the right notes, but not understanding a word!

More later

Kind Regards

Russell

www.RussellStutely.com

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

Kata Bunkai For Nijushiho/Niseishi Part 2

Nijushiho is one of my favorite katas.  I passed my 2nd Dan with it more years ago than I care to remember.  I posted about it’s opening sequence in September.   This time we look at one of the sequences towards the end.

The version of the kata that I describe is the Shotokan version which of course may be performed differently in other styles.  In the Shotokan version, this is an unusual sequence as we step into horse stance and perform an upper rising elbow strike at approximately a 45 degree angle, shuffle sideways and perform a punch (in direction of shuffle) at the same time as our reaction hand comes back to our ear (instead of the hip), then we shuffle back and perform a lower block.

The elbow strike is obvious enough, but why the shuffle/punch.  If we wanted to deliver a finishing punch, why not rotate the hips and put more power into it?  This punch is unique in Karate.  We have similar punches in the Tekki (Naihanchi) katas where perform and hook punch and later a double punch, both parallel to our horse stance.  But these punches in Tekki still have some hip movement (often referred to a hip “vibration”).  There is no hip vibration in this punch in Nijushiho.  The only thing that powers it is the speed of the arm and the shuffle, which although still fairly powerful, it is still weaker than most other Karate punches.

Why do we chamber our reaction hand by our ear instead of our hip?

The chambering by the ear could be for the down block to follow, but even that leads to more questions.  If you’ve just elbowed somebody to the head then punched them, they should not be in a fit state to attack you back, so you shouldn’t need to block.  And if you are blocking them, why does the kata then turn you in a different direction rather than finishing off the guy who has just attacked you?

Most of you will realise that blocks can also be strikes, so maybe this is a strike.  However, it is done as you shuffle away from your target.  Usually you move your body weight in the direction of the strike, not away from it.  So this lower block (arguably) is not likely to be either a block or strike in the conventional sense.

This would leave me to conclude that the unusual chambering position (by the ear instead of hip) may be doing something in conjunction with the unusual punch.  Have a look at our video to see what we think.

PS:  I did have another application lined up, but my SD card was full.  I’ll put that bunkai on another time.
PPS:  If your style performs this kata but does this sequence differently, then please tell us about it.

Nijushiho

 

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 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

Why Did Karate Develop It’s Linear Technique?

Although this blog is primarily about the application of martial technique, sometimes understanding the history of how certain techniques developed give a better idea of how those techniques can be applied in today’s world (where competition rules have clouded the issues).

Believed to be born in 1796, Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura was a martial arts fanatic and some would say genius.  He was known to be very clever, good at psychology and ruthless.  At the age of 14, he announced that he would become the greatest fighter on Okinawa; by the age of 25 he was widely accepted as having achieved this goal.

Matsumura is a key figure in Karate history for 2 main reasons.  Firstly, two of his students were Azato and Ituso, who were teachers to Funikoshi, now widely regarded as the father of modern Karate.

Secondly, he appears be central in the development of linear technique.  Before Matsumura there is little evidence of linear technique, with most Okinawan Karate following the lead of Chinese Kung Fu and emphasising circular technique.  The Okinawan style of Naha Te and its main derivative, Goju Ryu were not influenced by Matsurmura, and still today their kata’s employ predominantly circular technique (just look them up on Youtube). Matsurmura was central to the Okinawan style of Shuri Te and most derivatives of this style clearly emphasis linear technique.

Due to his martial prowess, Matsumura quickly rose up in the ranks to become Chief Of Security to the King of Okinawa, a post which he held for 50 years.  The Okinawan king was basically a “puppet government” under Japanese rule.  The Japanese banned the use of weapons on Okinawa, a ban which extended even to the bodyguards to the king.  These were the only bodyguards to a head of state in history who were not allowed to carry weapons, and Matsumura was their boss.  It is known that anybody working for the king in any capacity would have had to be a martial artist as well.  It was a job requirement, even for clerks.  In the vulnerable position that the king was in, everybody would be expected to jump in if a situation arose.

But who was the main threat to the king?  The answer stunned me when I first found out after decades of training without knowing this.  The main threat was Westerners.  Whaling boats would want to trade with Okinawa when supplies got low, but due to rulings by the Japanese overlords they would not be allowed to.  This would sometimes lead to a ship-load of angry Western seamen, armed with whatever they had with them, going up to the Shuri Castle (centre of government) to “sort out” this little king.  Seemed a safe bet on an Island where nobody carried weapons.

However, the most serious incident happened in 1853.  It is widely known that Japanese isolationism was forcibly ended by an American fleet led by Commodore Perry.  What is not so well known is that Perry stopped at Okinawa before going to Japan.  Perry’s behaviour would seem very arrogant by our standards, but Perry understood the Japanese mindset at that time.  He realised that they respected force much more than diplomacy.  As such, he deliberately set about “bullying” the unarmed Okinawan’s, so that when he arrived at Japan he would arrive with a reputation as a hard-man.

The Okinawans had no way to know this, they would have just seen it as an invasion.  Especially when Perry led a parade up to the Shuri Castle consisting of 2 companies of armed US marines, 50 naval officers and 2 brass bands. Oh, and some big cannons from the ships!  This was Matsumura’s nightmare scenario.  Had Perry decided to take over and ordered the king’s detention, how could Matsumura and his unarmed men possibly protect their king against such overwhelming odds?

We can never know with exact certainty how Matsumura planned for such an invasion should it happen.  However, in the book Shotokan’s Secret, by Bruce Clayton, Ph.D., it lays down what skills Clayton believed would be needed in such a situation, why you would need them and what you wouldn’t need.

For a start, you wouldn’t be interested in holds and restraints.  No good pinning somebody down when you are outnumbered, his comrades will simply kick and beat you.

Matsumura would have known that the rifles took about 30 seconds to load and fire the first round, so should a fight break out you have 30 seconds to incapacitate as many opponents as possible and get your king out the back door before bullets start flying.  With circular technique relying on centrifugal force, you are almost waiting for people to come to you.  After you’ve dropped a few people, the rest would likely hang back until the riflemen start firing.  However, with linear technique, taking larger forward steps in any given direction, you can take the fight to them causing confusion, panic and disorientation.  You might even reach the riflemen before they have chance to load and fire.

Also, when surrounded by opponents, being stationary is not a good thing.  By attacking forward (in any direction) you will probably take your opponent by surprise (a mob does not expect to be attacked by it’s intended victim) and you put distance between yourself and anybody behind you.

With rifles being loaded, you also need to incapacitate opponents very quickly; no time to choke them out, just one punch . . . next please . . . punch . . . . next.

I want to make clear that I am not saying that linear techniques are better than circular.  I’m just saying that these are the requirements and circumstances that probably led to the creation of linear techniques.

Fast forward to today.  If fighting one on one, circular systems do generally give you more options.  They include strikes, grapples and pressure point strikes coming in from all odd angles.  These applications do appear in linear styles too, but with much less emphasis on them.  However, if you get attacked by a gang, being able to surprise them, knock some some out very quickly to balance the odds and spread them out so you can pick them off one by one obviously has some advantages too.  It should be remembered that linear techniques were designed to fight untrained multiple opponents, not other Asian martial artist who might be able to cope with such techniques.

If we are set upon by a gang of thugs, these people are basically cowards; not the hardy seaman or trained soldiers that Matsumura faced.  Whilst a basic stepping punch may not work well in a competition against somebody else who is trained; suddenly stepping forward to attack the leader of a gang who is expecting you to cower away is more likely to work.  Especially if you use your lead hand to distract as you move forward.  After a few steps forward (and hopefully a few assailants down), you need to be sure that nobody is about to jump on your back, so spinning round fast (as we do in our katas/hyungs/patterns) is a good idea, even if there is nobody close enough to actually strike at least you keep the initiative.

Incidentally, the elite British Special Forces regiment, the SAS (and probably others), are taught that if ambushed whilst driving along, they put the foot down.  Most people when ambushed run for cover, which allows the enemy to consolidate and concentrate their fire on your position.  This is similar to a group of thugs closing in and all hitting you at the same time.  However, when ambushed the SAS are trained to accellerate, becoming a moving target, not allow their enemy to concentrate their fire and get out as quick as possible.  That is not so different to linear Karate, stepping forward into a surrounding crowd, not allowing thugs to consolidate and not complying with their expectations.  Similar tactics from the top warriors of today and the past.

In Bruce Clayton’s book, Shotokan’s Secret, he makes it clear that the battle plan that he believes Matsumura drew up is just his own theory.  However, by comparing the requirements with the techniques best suited to that particular scenario, you come up with a style almost perfectly matching Shotokan.  Even today you can see in modern Karate and TKD that there is an emphasis in being mobile, forward movement and the emphasis on “one strike one kill”.

All the derivatives of Shuri Te, (including Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do) have these features in common and more closely resemble each other than they do any of the Chinese Kung Fu styles or the Naha Te derived styles.  Again, I’m not saying that any are better than the other, just different in emphasis.

Shotokan’s Sectret is a must read for anybody interested in history of martial arts and although it has “Shotokan” in the title, the history and technique applies to any Shuri Te derived style.

Fighting Dirty With Karate/TKD/TSD’s Most Commonly Used Technique

The most commonly practiced technique in Karate, TKD, TSD and many styles of Kung Fu is Hikite, which is Japanese for pulling the hand back (usually to the hip), and is usually performed in conjunction with a punch, strike or “block”.

Applications for Hikite are usually depicted as grabbing the opponents wrist and pulling them on, whilst the other hand/arm attacks the opponent, either by striking or applying some kind of joint lock/break. You can see this application in some of the video’s below.

However, for this posting I would like to look at other self defence applications for Hikite when the fight get close in and dirty. I would like to approach this from the point of view of being attacked by an untrained thug, rather than a trained fighter (of any discipline).  A trained fighter might well be able to cope with some of these tactics, but an untrained thug probably would not.  And lets face it, we are more likely to be attacked by a thug, then by a disciplined and trained fighter.

Whenever a fist is made (in basics or kata/forms/patterns), it is quite safe to assume that it is either to strike or to grab. As Hikite is pulling back to the hip, then it is safe to assume that the fist in Hikite is grabbing.

First of all though let’s look at Hikite more closely as it varies from style to style.  It normally starts with the arm extended, palm facing down. Some styles start with an open hand whilst others start with a fist. If the hand is open, then the first thing it does is to closes into a fist, which more or less gives all variations the same start point; a grab. From here, some styles rotate the fist to palm facing up as it starts to pull back to the hip. Other styles however, begin to pull back and rotate the fist to the palm up position near the end of the travel (as fist reaches the hip).

The applications covered in this article will work with either variation.  However, in these specific applications, the twist is used to increase the pain threshold.   I would therefore suggest that these specific applications will probably work better if the twist is performed at the beginning of the pullback, rather than at the end of the pullback.

The first application I would like to look at is pulling somebody’s hair.  Although often considered “girly fighting”, it can be a good way to control an opponent (pain compliance) and brake their structure/balance.  With a training partner try grabbing their hair and just holding, it will not be too uncomfortable for them.  If you then pull, it hurts them.  If you stop pulling, it stops hurting. This is why in a “girly fight”, they grab the hair and keep pulling backwards, forwards and sideways, to keep the pain going.

Now grab your partner’s hair and apply the Hikite. First just grab and twist. The act of twisting, drives the small knuckles of your fist into your training partners head and at the same time, maintains the pulling tension to the hair without you having to pull and push their head all over the place. Whereas with normal hair pulling, your training partner/opponent can move with the pull/push to lessen the effect, they cannot do anything to lessen the effect of your grab and twist. The pain is constant for as long as you keep the twist on.

Now pull back to the hip as usual and their structure and balance will be compromised as they are distracted with pain. It will also work if you pull first before twisting, but without the pain of the twist at the beginning, the opponent will be able to resist the pull a little bit more at this stage.

Once you have them prone, in pain with their head by your hip, if you judge the situation as being not too bad, then you may try to talk some sense into your prone opponent. If the situation is serious, then you can beat some sense into your opponent without them being able to resist very much.

This would have been particularly useful when these techniques were first introduced as many men wore their hair in a top-knot, which is quite easy to grab. However, today many men wear their hair short and many are, well . . . follicly challenged. In this scenario, grab the ear instead. There is a reason why many of us can remember parents and/or teachers grabbing us by the ears as kids; it because the ears are sensitive and it hurts. It just requires a bit more accuracy then grabbing hair.

Another application is grabbing the throat. This has to be reserved for all but the most serious of confrontations. Grabbing the throat and squeezing is always dangerous, but grabbing around the windpipe and twisting applies more pressure and can seriously damage the windpipe which can lead to death (and a long jail sentence).  A much safer way, but still very effective, is to use a flesh (or skin) grab.  This is common in many styles of Kung Fu, but has not been transmitted very much into Karate.  For this application, let’s go back to when we first started to learn martial arts and we are taught how to make a correct fist. First, close up the outer set of knuckles (in the fingers), then close the last set of knuckles (where the fingers join the hand).

Try with a partner, clasping their neck, fingers one side and thumb the other side. Now close the first set of knuckles (in the fingers), but as you do so make sure that you secure some skin of the neck. Be careful with your training partner as this can be very painful and usually leaves marks. Now continue to close up the rest of the fist, twist and pull (carefully). This is more painful than the hair pull, but you end up in almost the same prone position where you can talk or beat sense into your opponent.

If you are in a clinch and you are both trying to control each other, grabbing hair, ears or throats will be awkward, as obviously both of you will be trying to guard your heads from attack.   However, whilst so close to each other, your opponent may not notice if you lower one hand to the side of their body, preferably just below their ribs, then grab lower torso flesh by closing up your first set of knuckles as before. You don’t need to grab large amounts of flesh, just some skin on the side will do. Then of course, grab, twist and pull. This should be enough to make them loosen their grip, off-balance them and give you the opportunity to land a clean blow.

Just be aware however that if the opponent is drunk or high on drugs, they may not feel the full effect. That said, as long as you can pull them off-balance, you can follow through.

Take another scenario where some thug has taken you to the floor and is sitting astride you trying to hit you. Grabbing the flesh around their waist, twisting and pulling will to say the least get their attention and probably stop them trying to hit you as they try to release your hands. From here, pull with one hand whilst pushing with the other to remove them sideways. This should be enough to move the average Joe thug; though again, be aware that if they are very drunk or high, they may not feel it so much.

Another defence if you are caught in this position is believe it or not gedan barai (lower sweeping block). The hand that you would normally “block” with is always pulled back to the opposite ear before sweeping downwards. Use this position to cover your head from your opponents blows. Your Hikite hand, slides down the centreline of your body until you find your opponents testicles. From here, your hand should already be in the palm up position (usually only here after twisting). Grab and pull at the same time as you sweep downward to push your by now very distraught opponent off you. You could actually twist your wrist in the opposite direction, just to add some insult to injury. If you opponent is too drunk to feel this, then he should be too drunk to walk, never mind fight.

Basics and kata/patterns don’t just teach techniques, they teach principles and the principle here is grab, twist and pull (or pull and twist depending on style). The flesh grabbing can be applied to most parts of the body, not just the examples above. Anywhere that you can grab flesh/skin, be it torso, limbs, head, wherever, this Hikite principle can be applied.

It should also be noted that our biceps are our main pulling muscles and our triceps are our main pushing muscles. To get the best pull, we want out biceps to be able to effectively contract. They contract better when we twist our palms upwards as Hikite teaches us to do. Hikite therefore teaches us to use our body in its strongest alignments.

This actually leads to one more application, such as pulling clothes.   Although it does not directly cause pain, it can give a momentary jerk to the opponent (another jerk) which can unbalance them just long enough for you to hit them.

These techniques may not be fight finishers, but they can give you an advantage to distract (through pain) and break the opponents structure and balance.  It is a human instinct to try to correct the balance first.  If somebody has to re-gain balance at the same time that an opponent is trying to hit them, they will instinctively try to regain balance BEFORE they try to fend off the blow. This gives you a small window of opportunity to finish them off.  A small window should be enough for a well trained martial artist of any style.

Note:  This article is in Issue No 7 of Iain Abernethy’s Jissen Magazine.