Showing posts from September, 2008

Naha te and its Chinese cousins

Further to my articles "Karate and the Chinese martial arts Parts 1 and 2"...

Many questions have been raised in on the internet about white crane sanchin and its relationship to goju-ryu and uechi-ryu. For those who haven't done so I invite you to visit the website of my friend Martin Watts, a long-time practitioner of Yong Chun white crane. His website ( has many videos with links to his master's site in China. The videos are very interesting and I think show that uechi-ryu is arguably the closest Okinawan form to Yong Chun baihe (white crane). In my many discussions with Martin on this topic I know he certainly thinks so. I don't think they are related in a linear sense, but they are certainly "cousin" arts. In goju, the nearest we come to white crane is our form "tensho" (there is at least one Yong Chun form with similar movements).

I can see why many would argue a close connection between naha te (both uechi ryu a…

Martial arts and practicality


Readers of my blog will be familiar with my view that "it is the man, not the art". However it has recently been said to me on an internet forum that this is nothing but a myth. Rather, it is contended, some arts are plainly better than others when it comes to applicability for civilian defence (something I shall label "practicality" for the purposes of this article). Principally this view has been expounded to me by "modern" combat sports practitioners who deride traditional martial arts (with their forms/kata) as "impractical". At the centre of their argument is the observation that traditional arts are typically not practised or tested in "live" or "resistant" conditions. Why? "Because they don't work", is the inevitable retort.

So are some fighting systems (in particular traditional ones) less "practical" than others (in particular the modern combat sports)? Is "the man not t…

Is mawashi uke goju's rising block?

Like most other karateka, practitioners of goju ryu faithfully practise the standard age uke (rising block) during basics training. They will apply it in ippon kumite (one-step sparring), "find" it in kata bunkai (application analysis) and desperately try to apply it in sparring.

But is it really a goju technique?

What karateka call "age uke" is really a basic shorin technique. The only kata in which it is found are the 2 gekisai forms, developed and introduced by Miyagi in the early 1940s as basic kata for school children. Prior to that one wonders whether it was even practised in goju dojos...

This question has lately led me on a journey to discover whether goju ryu has its "own" rising block. What did goju/naha te practitioners use for defences to head height attacks before age uke was incorporated into the syllabus? As summarised in the video below, I feel that the answer is to be found in goju's famous "mawashi uke" or roundhouse bloc…


“Grounding” (sometimes called “rooting”) is an essential skill in traditional martial arts and is often associated with the sanchin/sanzhan stance in many schools of karate and particularly external southern Chinese arts. It also features strongly in the internal arts of xingyi and its offshoot yi quan (see my articles “Sanchin in the Chinese martial arts”, “The naming of sanchin” and “Seisan - the universal kata” where I suggest a link between sanchin and xingyi’s “san ti” posture which utilises a stance sometimes called “zhan bu” (battle stance)).

In our school we practise a kind of “standing pushing” exercise in sanchin intended to develop and test grounding. Both partners stand in sanchin at bent elbow range – one hand on the hip, one hand on the shoulder. There are no “rules” other than “no leaning” and “no sudden or pulsating thrusts”. The drill is illustrated in the video below:

Sanchin pushing

So far I've been able to resist such “standing pushing” by far stronger/heavie…

Whole lotta shakin': an addendum

A colleague of mine on recently said the following in response to my article: “Whole lotta shakin’: pre-loading the hips”:

“When stepping, there is an inherent motion to the hips. If this is utilized to load a technique, then there is no telegraphing or slowdown.

I think examples where there is a block THEN hip load THEN strike will never work against a properly motivated attacker. However, why can't all three of those things be the same - ie, block and punch with the same hip motion at the same time?”

I think this is an excellent point. It occurred to me many martial arts movements are specifically designed this way. Consider the humble sanchin dachi (3 battles stance) as it occurs in goju ryu and other karate kata. That stance involves a pelvic tension which occurs as you step up into the stance just before you effect a technique (whether it is a block or a punch or both). That pelvic tension produces a 45 degree movement in the hips, creating forward and “upward” m…

Hitting harder: physics made easy


Most martial artists share the goal of “hitting harder”. This is usually expressed in colloquial terms as hitting with “more force” or “more power”. But even a basic knowledge of physics will tell you that “force” and “power” are not the same thing. Which is it that makes you hit “harder” – force, power or both? And is it more helpful to talk in terms of something else such as momentum?

Understanding force

Many people think of “force” in very nebulous terms (perhaps explaining such misappropriations as “The Force” in Star Wars). So what is “force” as understood in physics?

Force is something that enables you to cause an object with mass to accelerate.

In other words, it is Newton’s famous formula: f = m x a.

Using this formula people commonly argue that in order to hit “harder” they need to –

1. maximise their mass; and
2. maximise the acceleration of their attack.

For the most part this is true: if you have a big mass and accelerate that mass well, you will maximise your ch…

The origins of goju-ryu kata: Part 4 - seiunchin kata

Continued from Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this article.

In his book “Okinawa kempo” Choki Motobu mentions the kata seisan, seiunchin and naihanchi as kata that were in existence in Okinawa long before Kanryo Higaonna’s trip to China.

He writes1:

“Among those styles or katas which have been used in Ryu Kyu from ancient days are:
Sanchin, Jo-Ju-Shi-Ho, Seisan, Seiunchin, Ippakku-Re-Hachi, Naihanchi (Ichidan, Nidan, Sandan), Passai, Chinto, Chinte, (bamboo-yari spear style), Wanshu, Rohai and Kusanku.
And especially the three styles Nai-Hanchi, Passai (great and small), and Kusanku which are very widely known to many islanders.

As I have mentioned, Ryu Kyu Kempo-Karate originally came from China. Sanchin, Jo-Ju-Shi-Ho, Seisan and Seiunchin have been used there for many centuries.”

Is Miyagi’s seiyuchin the same as the original shorin form? We’ll never know for sure. Today’s seiyunchin appears to contain enough Naha te elements to suggest some modification by Miyagi. Certainly it has a rig…

The origins of goju-ryu kata: Part 3 - shisochin kata

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2 of this article.

Shisochin begins with 3 opening sanchin stances making it superficially similar to cluster H. However it departs from cluster H in almost every other sense: the kata is “symmetrical” and has a high proportion of “soft” techniques. Moreover the opening thrusts are performed as nukite — knife hand thrusts. While it is said that cluster H were originally practiced open hand, it is more likely that, like the uechi-ryu kata, the nukite where executed palm down to a point just below the attacker’s nipple, not with a vertical hand to the solar plexus as per shisochin.

All of this points to shisochin being from a very different source than the cluster H kata (and of the same family/source as saifa, seiyunchin, seipai and kururunfa). But what was that source?

As I stated in Part 2 of this article, shisochin might have existed in Okinawa before Kanryo Higaonna even left for China: there is written record of Seisho Aragaki performing a kata named …