Showing posts from May, 2009

Details, details...

I have a mate named Harry who will dismiss a (sometimes obviously) valid point or argument with the retort: "Details, details...". Of course he always says it with a little smile. It's a long-standing joke we have.

The reason it has particular ironic resonance with us is that we are both, in our own ways, rather fond of details - particularly in debate. Some might even describe us as pedantic (although I think this description is as dismissive of the importance of "details" as Harry's joke).

Details are important, particularly in the martial arts. Consider the following example:

The late, great, Chinese martial arts teacher Chen Pan-Ling was given the task by the then Chinese government of collating knowledge of martial systems before their likely extinction in the face of the advance of the Japanese and later the Communists. Being one of the most respected scientists of his era (he was the leading hydraulics engineer in pre-war China) and having an imp…

Abandoning form: the paradox of the "shrinking" martial art

Here's something I was told when I first started training in martial arts:

You start with "no form" - ie. natural movement. However this movement is not necessarily productive and is almost certainly not efficient. You then learn "form"; this involves a basic, formal, structured type of movement being "imposed" upon you. Once you have absorbed or "internalised" this "form" you abandon it - and your movements become natural again.

"Abandoning form" and "shrinking your art" seem to go hand in hand.

By "shrinking your art" I'm referring to making your formal blocks/deflections etc. smaller, using finer and more efficient angles etc. until the basic "form" you were taught becomes almost unrecognisable. The "formality" of your technique (ie. the structure dictated by katas/forms etc.) disappears and in its place is just the smallest movement necessary to effect the principle or essenc…

The "oh sh*t!" moment: more about 2 person forms

Further to my article "Muidokan embu: 2 person forms for karate":

By design, any drill that is continous (ie. that "loops") must comprise entirely moves that permit continuation. This can be criticised as not allowing the practise of "finishing moves". Indeed this is a valid criticism. However it does not dissuade me from regarding continous 2 person "looping" drills as highly useful training. Rather, it merely suggests to me that they are only part of a well-rounded martial arts regimen. You shouldn't imagine that "looping" drills can replace kata and kata bunkai practise. Instead they add to them. How?

Our most basic embu based on Fukyugata ichi - demonstrated by me as a single person sequence, then by Sam and Clement as a 2 person sequence. In the latter both sides are doing the same sequence as demonstrated by me.

The answer to the above question lies in the closer consideration of "finishing moves": What happens …

"Forgotten" techniques #2: sokumen awase

Sokumen awase uke

An excellent technique that I feel has "slipped under the radar" is that which I call "sokumen awase uke" (side of the head "matching" block).1

A video showing the inside and outside sokumen awase uke

What is sokumen awase uke?2 There are 2 kinds: both utilise similar body mechanics, but result in a different deflection.

Inside sokumen awase uke

The first of these is the inside sokumen awase uke. It is performed by using your palm and forearm to catch an incoming punch, the guide it past your head as you move on the inside of your opponent. The "matching" occurs insofar as you go out to meet the attack, match its speed and redirect it past. The pictures to the right illustrate this technique.

This inside sokumen awase uke occurs, I believe, in the kata sanseiru. However in most schools this technique now appears as a "jodan uke" (ie. an age uke or rising block). Consider for example the photograph on the left of Chine…

Simultaneous techniques: Part 1

Here is another title that is a misnomer: excluding "hard" blocks that hurt your opponent's attacking limb, there is no such thing as a simultaneous block and strike. Why? The answer is very simple; any block or deflection that you perform will always occur before you land your strike.

Consider the following sequence of pictures of the haiwan nagashi uke together with a punch - usually regarded as one of the prime examples of a "simultaneous" block and counter. You will notice from the frames on the left that the block (a "steeple" block) intercepts and deflects the blow just before the punch lands.

The same is true of any other type of 2-handed block and deflection as is illustrated in the video below.

Many martial artists make a lot out of the fact that their art features such "simultaneous" movements, but as you will note, the only real difference is that they leave the blocking arm in place during the strike. In that way the blocking …

"Forgotten" techniques #1: haiwan nagashi and ashibo kake


The title of this post is, of course, a misnomer: there are many martial arts that preserve the deflections that I call "haiwan nagashi uke" and "ashibo kake uke". There are even more martial artists who use them unconsciously or unknowingly. However in traditional karate these are techniques that appear to be disappearing - at least in the kata. That they should do so is sad, because they are genuinely effective deflections; one might even say that they are essential elements of a civilian defence arsenal.

Haiwan nagashi uke

What is the haiwan nagashi uke? As I discussed in my previous post "Blending blocks", haiwan nagashi uke is a rising block where the body is turned so that the deflection is carried past the head. It is unique in basic techniques because it is invariably accompanied by a "simultaneous" movement with the other hand; either a strike or another (usually low) block.

The advantage of haiwan nagashi uke over the bas…

"Blending" blocks

My good friend Zach Zinn asked the following question on the Tradtional Fighting Arts Forum:

"Do you think maybe age-uke is just Goju's hiki-uke done higher than normally seen? I find myself performing it more like hiki-uke most of the time and it works fine, and since age-uke is notably absent from every koryu Goju kata, it makes me wonder what is being said by it's presence in the first kata usually taught."I think the age uke and hike uke are very different in their basic form, but they do approach each other when applied...

Age uke is a basic rendering of haiwan nagashi uke - the block one sees with the simultaneous upper block and punch as is found in long fist, taiji, bagua, xingyi etc.

The key difference between this block and the age uke is that the body turns (at least to some extent) to let the attacker's momentum be deflected sideways, not just directly up. This is the case even with pao quan from xingyi (where the "simultaneous" punch is perfo…

Reinventing the wheel: back to the rising block

I find it quite ironic that people are slowly returning to the rising block after decades of disparagement.

I can't remember where, but I recall reading that the Russian military forces have reverted to the traditional rising block which was discovered to be one of the most effective ways to fight against hacking attacks by the Mujahideen armed with long bladed knives.

Others have rediscovered age uke but talk in terms of "punching" - consider the video below:

A video showing street fighting defences (click on the picture to access the video). Note the use of the rising block.

Perhaps this is because the block is being used as it was intended: for civilian defence against ungloved opponents (not for sport). Most importantly, the gentleman in the video uses the block as an intercepting technique - meaning that it goes out to meet your opponent, not one that stays close to your head.

It is my view that this has been lost from traditional karate, where the block is commonl…