Saturday, June 10, 2017

Balance, Transitions and Kokken

Some friends and I are practicing knife defenses, sweeps and joint manipulations of SSBD in the video above. It's a bit rough, admittedly, maybe even ugly, and that's the point. When you consider the never ending perfection that karateka seek when they practice kata, what is done in the "air," that is without an adversary except for the one in your mind, the practical takes a back seat to esthetics, and that can be detrimental to your health and safety.

The following is a list of karate technique you will see in the video: juji uke (knife pass and trap); chudan soto uke (arm bar); kake ashi dachi (foot sweep); zenkutsu dachi (foot sweep). In addition you will see a knife held in an ice pick grip used for capturing and controlling. If unarmed, kokken may be used to hook and control the opponent's offending limb.  An expert might appreciate these things, but a beginner needs a partner (and a knowledgeable instructor).

As Uzi, Massimo and I practice the technique, note how we try to disrupt the adversary's balance before sweeping. Arm bars, stabbing, pushing and position are used to displace the opponent to the point that the sweep becomes effortless. Notice too how arm bars soften up the adversary for weapon disarms and chicken wings.

A word on transitions, kake ashi dachi (cross legged stance) and zenkutsu dachi (front leaning stance) I hope you appreciate, by now, are not intermediate steps to a final objective.  If you have any practical fighting experience you understand that there is no tactical reason to ever cross legs (in the case of kake ashi dachi) when transiting sideways unless you wish to give your opponent an advantage. The stance represents a sweep. When Uzi executes a zenkutsu dachi, notice how he uses his torso as a fulcrum in an arm-bar to unbalance me for the sweep. The notion that stances are transitory phases of a body in motion should be put to rest. When combined with the images of what the adversary is experiencing contemporaneously, the dachi (stances) represent takedowns or some other technique of dominance or control. Kake ashi dachi- it only looks like you are crossing your legs, but remember that the other guy is falling. Zenkutsu dachi- it only looks like you've over committed to your lunge, but remember that the other guy has been unbalanced an is about to fall.

Finally, the video closes with a loop of Uzi repeating a key point for head control and the neck crank. Details, details.  I hope you found this interesting and helpful in your quest for a better karate.

My thanks to Maul Mornie, and SSBD brothers Uzi and Massimo.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Better Juji Uke with Pencak Silat

A seasoned karateka like you might dismiss the juji uke (or cross block) as one of those traditional karate artifacts you can't figure out: why go through the trouble of crossing your arms to block an attack when dodging or stepping away will do? You might even question committing both arms to a defense against what very likely would be a feint before the actual strike.  If you are among the minority of seasoned skeptics, take heart, this video clip is for you.

The ju in juji-uke refers to the number 10, which is rendered as 十 in Japanese. You can see where this is going. The crossed arms in the "block" are represented rather conveniently by 十.  Much confusion arises over how the block is applied. Tradition would have you cross the arms simultaneously as is done in kihon and kata. That tradition, I argue, would have you struck square in the face. A worthy opponent would fake and get you to commit everything, like the Maginot Line, to a defense that is easily circumvented.

Consider what the video clip above offers, a clever defense against a jab-cross combination, that utilizes position, control, and leverage to defeat the attacker. You are not merely waiting for the blows to rain down on you as you cover: you are setting up your opponent to walk into an ambush.  If you are wondering where the crossed arms come in, the defender does cross arms, though not simultaneously. In the basic application, it's the attacker's arms that get crossed. That's art. That's a better juji -uke.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What Your Sensei May Have Not Taught You About Deep Stances (Simbur)

Maybe you've practiced karate for 30 years and teach your own classes, maybe you are an intermediate student already comfortable with low stances like kiba dachi from where you throw countless chudan tsuki. If you are only doing deep and low stances because they challenge your quadriceps, or because they "look" like proper karate, this will challenge your notion of karate. If you are content with your karate situation, click to another blog or watch one of those cute "crazy things that cats do" videos because what follows may disturb your equipoise.

Your balance and low and deep stances mean next to nothing unless your feet are deep into your opponent's personal space. Hold the foot fetish imagery for a second and consider the "why." Surely there must have been a reason for emphasizing deep stances and footwork, even if the old karate masters could not explain why?

In the attached video, chief SSBD instructor Maul Mornie demonstrates a thigh sweep, which might trigger an "a-ha!" moment. In order to perform this technique correctly you must step through your opponent side-on. As you do, your thigh, close to the inguinal crease, clips your opponent's leg and throws him off balance. Like anything, it takes practice.

Maul performs this throw (Simbur) effortlessly, which comes from walking through countless opponents. You cannot develop this skill with thousands of repetitions against your reflection in a mirror. As you watch the video, you might notice that the technique looks a bit like kiba dachi, and at other times, like zenkutsu dachi or kokotsu dachi. That's okay. Naming something is an act of taking possession, but if you do not understand what you are taking hold of, the name hardly matters. Forget the names for a moment and just do.

When you train with Maul, as I do, naturally you become more adept in the art of SSBD, as a side bonus for karateka, it makes your karate better.

Putar Kepala: A better osae uke/mawashi uke

Putar Kepala means to swivel or turn the head. In Silat, it refers a family of takedowns by turning your opponent's head. Representations of this technique can be found in karate (osae uke and mawashi uke). Now there are several versions of osae uke and mawashi uke floating around out there, so be forewarned. The two we are concerned with accomplish the same thing: to apply torsion to the spine of your opponent in order to breakdown his structure. The principle of the technique, like many others, is to bend and twist. In karate you will recognize the technique as up and down pressing blocks (osae uke), or the mawashi uke (with artfully curved pinky and ring fingers and ostentatious ibuki).

"Wait a minute, these are two totally different technique," you are thinking. Think again. With this application of Putar Kepala your opponent's head is down (torso bent at the waist) and one of his arms is up in the air. The curved little fingers of mawashi uke are a clue that you are grasping your opponent in some fashion. In fact, you are grasping him behind the neck and by the elbow. Using the principle of the force couple (equal and opposing forces on a parallel path) you cause your opponent to twist and thereby lose his balance. Osae uke is representative of the force couple principle. Mawashi uke is a descriptive representation of what is going on (rotation).

Take a look at Lorenzo Bagnai putting Putar Kepala in action. Notice the use of forearm strikes to the neck, elbow strikes to the face, and knee kicks to the body to get the opponent into position. By advancing, retreating, or moving to one side or the other, he is able to direct his opponent in a variety of directions.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Uchi Uke/ Gedan Barai and Mnemonics: How can you remember what you haven't learned

You've heard before that kata is the lesson plan, not the lesson (that was from me), and that the movements are incomplete; they point to principles that your instructor must elucidate. Of course, having learned the lesson, the movements in kata become mnemonics for the student, aids to make the lesson stick. What happens when your instructor never learned the lesson? In this instance you get the kind of karate instruction that says after 10,000 repetitions you will know (or not). Today's post is on uchi uke gedan barai.

Perhaps you've been told that this compound "block" found in kata and featured in ido geiko represent simultaneous backfists to groin and face. Do we really need a memory aid for this application?

Here's the lesson. Pay attention at 1:58 as Maul Mornie (SSBD) applies an arm-bar. It flies by so don't miss it. This application of uchi uke gedan barai uses the principle of leverage to flip the opponent behind you. An important part of the lesson is understanding how to get close enough to your opponent to damage him. Adversaries do not normally offer up their limbs for destruction. Notice that the scenario involves a face to face confrontation.

And now for the mnemonic. At around 20 seconds into this video, karateka will charge each other. Notice the karateka running with his hands held in the uchi uke gedan barai pose. Whenever you see karateka running at each other with their arms held low and high, remember Maul Mornie's arm-bar throw. Also, refer back to my article on force couples and artful poses with hidden meaning.

For more information on SSBD:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Understanding Kata: Couples and Collisions

For some, Karate is principally about striking.  Mechanically, we would be talking about collisions. It is kicking and punching, and also managing the kicks and punches. Kata, the dance so misunderstood, would then be a catalogue of such technique. The footwork and body mechanics, from this perspective, is oriented towards facilitating collisions between fist and nose, foot and ribs. This, however, is a limited perspective. Karate is not only about collisions, but also about couples: force couples (a system of equal and opposite forces on parallel paths).

"GTFO," you say. Hang on. The force couple is the foundation of many martial arts. You will recognize it in the Yin-Yang symbol- the circle with swirls of black and white. When you combine equal and opposite forces on parallel paths you get rotation. You will also see force couples in kata if you know what you are looking for. Here are some clues: simultaneous pulling and pushing actions; pivoting and turning (obviously); certain actions and poses to which no application can be attributed other than "chambering."

In this excellent demonstration by Maul Mornie (SSBD), we see a force couple in action at the 1:16 mark. There are several names in karate for this move, gedan bari and manji uke, come to mind. Traditionally, gedan bari, although a compound move, is thought of as a downward sweeping block, and little consideration given to what the other arm is doing besides simply chambering. Similarly there is a kata move most interpret as a violent removal of the male genitalia- again hardly a thought to what the other arm is doing. What Maul Mornie demonstrates by the simultaneous pulling and pushing is a force couple which rotates his opponent around the horizontal axis.

Force couples abound. Not only can they be applied to torsos as in the previous example, but also to limbs. Here, Lorenzo Bagnai (Isam Firenze) demonstrates an arm-bar. Lorenzo once said to me, "Se non c'è coppia di forze non c'è nessuna tecnica." (no force couple, no technique) To which I replied,"Huh?. . .you mean like gunting in FMA (scissors)?" "Esatto!"

Speaking of scissors ("hasami" in Japanese) there is the infamous crab claw takedown (kani "basami") of Judo. This just to illustrate how pervasive the principle of the force couple is. Look for it in your kata and you will have a better karate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Save the Dancing for Later : Tekpi/Sai Applications

I've said it before, but it bears repeating, if you don't know the martial applications of your kata (jurus) you are just dancing.  This is doubly true for traditional weapons kata (jurus), but I guess instead of dancing let's call it rhythmic gymnastics or baton twirling.  Don't be that guy manipulating the weapon without a clue to its use.  People in the know, know that the only thing threatening about you is the war face you put on.  Instead, learn about weapons like the tekpi from someone like Maul Mornie (SSBD).  Be an authentic martial artist.

After watching the above video, watch it again.  During the second viewing, pay attention to Maul's body position and structure.  Notice his foot placement (the receiver almost tripped).  Pay attention to the fight tactics (uppercut to set-up the collar bone break).  Watch it a third time, I did and I was there, because it's so cool.  And remember what I said before, even though you may never carry a tekpi for protection, the training will pay off and you will have a better karate.