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Age ura zuki: the rising inverted punch

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Introduction

The preceding discussion about the uraken or backfist has made me think about the related issue of where backfists occur in karate kata and what techniques are often substituted.

In fact only one technique is regularly interchanged with the uraken - the age ura zuki or rising inverted punch. How this technique functions and where it is "exchanged" for the uraken in kata, are very interesting questions.


What is an age ura zuki?

In Japanese an inverted punch is called "ura zuki". This is commonly performed as a low, short-range, horizontal punch, which stops just after your elbow clears your ribcage.

As I discuss in my article "Why corkscrew your punch", the ura zuki is contained in every standard karate punch. In fact the karate punch goes through 3 distinct stages:

1. First, the chambered punch clears the ribs (ura zuki).
2. Second, the punch extends into a mid-range vertical fist punch (tate ken zuki).
3. Third, the punch corkscrews over into …

Uraken: karate's greatest folly?

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The backfist in karate and the southern Chinese martial systems

I recall many years ago discussing karate and its Chinese cousins with Martin Watts of Yongchun baihe (white crane) fame. Martin surprised me when he mentioned "karate and its infernal backfists". When I queried what he meant, he pointed out that white crane and related Chinese systems did not have any backfist techniques.

Presumably this is because the southern Chinese martial artists don't feel the backfist is particularly useful.

Indeed the backfist is relatively rare in the southern Chinese martial arts - a fact that had escaped my attention until that point. Yet it appears quite frequently in karate. In goju ryu alone it occurs in the kata gekisai dai ichi and ni, saifa, seiyunchin and seipai. It is used in most versions of naifanchi/naifuanchin/tekki - the "cornerstone" kata of the shorin tradition. Outside kata, the uraken is regarded as a staple kihon (basic technique).

The relative lac…

A fistful of details

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Introduction

Making a fist is one of the most central and important, yet insufficiently understood, basics of the martial arts.

So how should you make a fist?

The first thing you should do is have a tight grip. I think that much is self-evident.

I often watch boxers and other combat sports fighters "air boxing" without gloves and notice that their hands are lightly clenched, if not open. These fighters are used to having their hands strapped and then placed into protective gloves.

If you're going to fight ungloved don't, I repeat don't, think you can get away with this. It might feel fluid and relaxed. It might even feel "natural" (the strapping forces your hands open to some extent, so might find a fully clenched fist "odd"). But it is also very dangerous to you, as I'll discuss in a minute.

There is more to making a fist than simply clenching it. To begin with, you need to learn how to cultivate a clenched fist that doesn't overly …

Clenched fists and stiff arms

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Too often I've heard the lament that clenching your fists causes undue stiffness in the arms. This stiffness is seen as detrimental to martial techniques. After all, most of us know that if you tense a particular muscle it is hard to move it - a situation often likened to "driving a car with the brakes on".

The perceived "stiffness" resulting from clenched fists has resulted in a number of "fixes":

In my own beloved internal arts, there are many who suggest training with absolutely no tension at all in the fist.

Then there are those who suggest (quite rightly) that this is impractical, so they propose a lesser tension in the fist - enough to "hold, but not squash, a fly" being a common example.

Last, there are those who suggest (quite rightly) that this too is impractical (since you will smash your fingers with light tension almost as easily as you will when your hand is not tensed at all). So they suggest that you should tense, but only …