Showing posts from June, 2008

Evasion vs. blocking with evasion

I have often been confronted with the argument from modern or eclectic martial artists that karate or other traditional martial arts are deficient because they use what I call "blocks" [ie. parries or deflections] as their primary means of defence rather than purely evasion (as in boxing).

[In relation to the effectiveness of blocks, note my article "Why blocks DO work".]

As I said recently on the forum, it seems that the above article has at least shifted the debate from "blocks don't work" to the merits of pure evasion over blocking with evasion. The modern martial artists argue that they find pure evasion, more often than not, puts them "exactly where they want to be" in order to attack the opponent, at "exactly the right moment to be there". As one correspondent wrote: "As far as I'm concerned, that's about as good as it gets." I disagree. I think it can get a whole lot better. For some reas…

Why blocks DO work


Karate employs many techniques categorised as "uke" derived from the Japanese verb "ukeru" meaning literally "to receive". It is fashionable in some circles to deride traditional blocks as "unworkable" or "ineffective". The principal arguments in support of this proposition are that -

(1) there is little value in just "stopping" an attack - rather you should use other means to set up an effective counter; and

(2) in any event, the movements constituting traditional blocks are "too large" for practical use.

In many people's minds these criticisms are seen as unassailable. That blocks "don't work" is regarded as a fundamental truth, a basic assumption, unquestionable "fact".

Yet I am firmly of the view that the criticisms underlying this assumption are completely misconceived - it's just that no one has ever comprehensively dealt with them. I propose to do so now:

The 2 "ans…

Asymmetry in sanseiru


Readers of my blog will be familiar with my previous discussion concerning what have become known as cluster “H” and cluster “M” goju-ryu kata (see my article The origins of goju-ryu kata: Part 1).

Cluster “H” consists of Higaonna Kanryo sanchin, sanseiru, seisan and suparinpei.

Cluster “M” consists of the remainder.

Katas in both clusters follow a general design pattern as follows:

A — an opening sequence
B — the body of the kata, often capable of being broken up into smaller groupings, eg. B1, B2, B3 etc.
C — a closing sequence.

What differentiates the clusters in design terms is the portion I have labelled “B”:

In cluster “H” this portion is largely asymmetrical (ie. right side biased). In cluster “M” this portion — and more specifically each sub-portion (eg. B1, B2, B3 etc.) is symmetrical (i.e. techniques — including turns — are performed more or less equally on both right and left sides).

The particular asymmetry of sanseiru

In no kata is the asymmetry of cluster “H” so notic…

Visible force vs. applied force

A correspondent recently wrote to me asking about our martial art. He made the comment that “It seems great but a bit lacking in power.”

I told him that if by that he meant visible force — yes, he was right. However “visible force” and “applied force” are 2 different things. Some techniques don't look "powerful" because they have a lot less "push". [For a detailed explanation of "force", "power" and the role these play in "hitting hard" rather than "pushing" see my article "Hitting harder: physics made easy".]

The front kick is a case in point. If you do it against a heavy bag you'll be tempted to hit it with more push so as to "feel powerful". On the other hand, when you kick a kickshield you can give it a resounding "crack" that your partner feels right through the shield but which doesn't move him or her more than a foot or 2. As a rule, we don't let students kick or punch the he…

Reversing kata movements in application

There are one or 2 moves in goju kata where I “reverse” the direction of stepping/movement while performing bunkai (applications). I’ve often wondered whether —

(1) the kata were deliberately designed that way “as a code” (something I think is a bit overstated nowadays); or
(2) the kata were deliberately designed that way for an application I haven’t seen; or
(3) the kata were deliberately designed that way for training or symbolic purposes (eg. stepping forward on the last move in gekisai dai ichi — said to reflect the “boldness” of the kata), not for any particular bunkai; or
(4) the kata have been wrongly passed down in respect of a particular move.

Consider the following move from sanseru kata at about 7:38 in the following video of Higaonna Morio sensei.

In most kaiha it is performed as a leg catch with a step back — see the following video at about 0:48: (note however that I would personally prefer a leg catch on the other side, but the move is the same in principle).

Over the years I …

Kata as a conditioning tool

Many have written about the benefits and function of forms (Japanese – “kata”, Chinese – “xing”) as a means of grooving or drilling fighting combinations and, more relevantly, teaching principles of martial movement that can be carried through to combat in a more general sense. I have, in the past, also noted the importance of kata as a means of “packaging” martial knowledge – techniques, footwork, principles, etc. I can see that in the pre-written era kata would have been the primary means of preserving and transmitting such knowledge and, to some extent, this purpose is largely unchanged: kata can and should function effectively as an “encyclopaedia”.

However recently I participated in a forum discussion where the question was raised whether kata could be at all useful in modern sports combat, eg. MMA (Mixed Martial “Arts”). Inevitably strong opinions were expressed that it could not. The common view among those who train in MMA and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Competition) type discipline…

Muidokan embu: 2-person forms for karate


The concept of 2-person forms as an adjunct to training is not new: in China many schools develop such forms as an additional means of practising their techniques in a contextual environment and packaging their knowledge . In China these types of forms or drills are known as " dui da quan". This tradition is, by contrast, not well established in karate. In order to find 2-person forms in Japan you have to delve further afield into arts such as Doshin So’s Shoriji Kempo or to the Japanese weapons arts such as Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (both of which use 2-person forms as their primary practice method).

[Note that Shorinji Kempo call their more sophisticated 2-person forms “embu” (meaning “demonstration”) and, for want of a better word, I have appropriated this word to describe 2-person forms generally.]

Ippon kumite vs. embu practice

The deficiencies in the standard method of practising kata bunkai (or any other specific technique(s)) in karate has been noted …