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.