Making movements "smaller"

In my previous article "Abandoning form: the paradox of the shrinking martial art" I discuss how movements become smaller as you progress - until ultimately the form you have learned is abandoned altogether.

Recently this approach has been suggested to me as the reason for the use of "koshi" - and by this I refer to a preloading/telegraphing hip action - in the kata naihanchi. I've previously noted my disagreement with this way of performing that kata in my article "Whole lotta shakin': hip use and naifunchin".

One example that might be offered in support of this kind of "koshi" in naihanchi/naifunchin is that of 70 year old Higa Sensei who shows a remarkably efficient and effective hip use in the following clip, only to be shown teaching his students the kind of "koshi" with which I disagree. Surely this is evidence of the effectiveness of this method? Isn't Higa just doing a "smaller" movement of the hips, something his students have yet to master?

70 something Higa Sensei showing remarkably powerful contextual hip use

I respectfully disagree that this is what is happening in the naihanchi practice. The students in Higa's video are preloading, where Higa is not. I don't think the Higa's free-form hip use is a "smaller version" of the more basic naihanchi. Rather, I think they are subtly, but significantly, different.

I think it is despite the telegraphing/preloading in their naihanchi practice that Higa's students might one day achieve his hip use. This is because they will have to unlearn pre-loading/telegraphing. It is not a question of "making the preload smaller" or "smaller telegraphing".

I've said before that I don't think martial arts kata/xing/forms are about "power generation". They are about putting movements in a dynamic setting. I think the idea that naihanchi kata, among others, is about "hip mobilisation" and learning "power generation" is a red herring and obfuscates a multitude of sins inherent in pre-loading/telegraphing - it does so by diverting attention to the mistaken holy grail of "power". Kata is not about maximising "power" - whether by via hip use or any other single-focus theory (eg. the ITF "sine wave theory"). It is about contextual technique - including contextual hip use. It is about moving from one sequence to another. It is about conditioning. It is about a lot of things, none of which justify inculcating (through endless repetitions) something that is patently dangerous; pre-loading not only takes time, it also telegraphs your intention. You should never, ever do this in kata. If you want to pre-load, do it in a static drill like makiwara where there is no illusion that you will use the technique in that form against an attacker. Such exercises are for isolation - and pre-loading is only justified in isolation exercises (not in a series of connected movements). In this regard consider the following video of some hip drills by Taira Sensei of the Jundokan:

Find more videos like this on International Gojuryu Development Society

Taira Sensei of the Jundokan showing some of his hip isolation drills

Morio Higaonna is a perfect example: he never doesn't do "koshi" in his basics or kata, although he takes an almighty pre-load against the makiwara (where he is isolating "power").

Note Morio Higaonna's makiwara strikes at about 6:21 of the above video and you'll see he uses plenty of hip action - preloading even - this is entirely appropriate against a stationary target, but not for dynamic contexts

I've had friends who do this koshi stuff complain that when they trained with Higaonna he told them off "for using the hip". No - he told them off for pre-loading. He doesn't pre-load in his kata - ever. But does anyone doubt that he has efficient koshi (and by this I mean contextually appropriate and highly efficient koshi)? Ironically I've trained with many of his adherents over the years who doggedly try to match his power by shaking and shuddering like a pneumatic drill. Higaonna doesn't do that. They ought to take careful note: he is powerful because he is efficient - not because his energy is being reabsorbed or because it is flying off in every direction but towards the target.

I think the whole concept of "koshi" (in the sense of pre-loading/telegraphing) is now widespread where it was originally practised in only one or 2 dojo (eg. Yuchoku Higa's or in the Yamane Ryu kobudo school). I think it has become popular and has infiltrated a large percentage of karate schools that didn't practise it previously, primarily because it is impressive to the viewer and the practitioner; it not only looks like you're "powerful" - you feel that way too.

But in much the same way that a bullet doesn't shake and shudder until it hits its target, most "air techniques" shouldn't feel or look powerful until they've landed. I say this imagining the perspective of a layperson who won't necessarily think good technique looks as "powerful" as the more obviously "powerful" bad technique. An experienced karateka, on the other hand, can see good kime even if the technique does not land on a target. The kime is discernible as the sudden stop (with a very fast deceleration) - maximising applied force over a minimal period (impulse).

Put another way, good kime is discernible by many variables, including sight and sound. But these are subtle queues. They aren't nearly as obvious as the hip shuddering of some naihanchi performances - where the "power" of air techniques is made discernible mostly because it has been reabsorbed into the practitioner and is thereby amplified.

I always think of the world's top Japanese swordsmen. Their katana with slice through the air with a deft, sudden, decisive movement and stop "dead". You'll hear the swish, see the control. The body is relaxed and there isn't a lot of obvious muscular tension in the shoulders etc. Only the barest essential muscles are tensed. A beginner can grunt, use extreme muscular strength etc. and look and feel like he or she is exerting far more force. The target will reveal the difference; usually a bent sword blade or a half-cut rather than a cut through. If the student is "feeling" his or her force, it just means that this force isn't being transferred into the target; it is being reabsorbed into the practitioner.

Learning this efficient movement is not a question of starting with preloading then learning "smaller movement". For many karateka I believe it is sadly a question of unlearning bad habits and replacing them with an understanding of the cues as to what is really "powerful" (in an applied sense) and what is not. As I say, I believe that it is despite this "red herring" that karateka learn to develop contextual hip movement. They end up abandoning pre-loading, not modifying it...

I agree wholeheartedly with the principle that movements become smaller as you become more senior. I just don't see the naihanchi practise with koshi as forming any part of that concept. As Higa does his punching stepping you'll notice that he loads contextually during movement. He never wobbles back to load, giving his opponent the twin advantages of extra time to react and advanced notice of his intention.

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic


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