Monday, May 24, 2010

Age ura zuki: the rising inverted punch


Introduction

The preceding discussion about the uraken or backfist has made me think about the related issue of where backfists occur in karate kata and what techniques are often substituted.

In fact only one technique is regularly interchanged with the uraken - the age ura zuki or rising inverted punch. How this technique functions and where it is "exchanged" for the uraken in kata, are very interesting questions.


What is an age ura zuki?

In Japanese an inverted punch is called "ura zuki". This is commonly performed as a low, short-range, horizontal punch, which stops just after your elbow clears your ribcage.

As I discuss in my article "Why corkscrew your punch", the ura zuki is contained in every standard karate punch. In fact the karate punch goes through 3 distinct stages:

1. First, the chambered punch clears the ribs (ura zuki).
2. Second, the punch extends into a mid-range vertical fist punch (tate ken zuki).
3. Third, the punch corkscrews over into the fully extended, palm down punch (choku zuki).

The ura zuki can also be turned into an uppercut (eg. in the kata seiyunchin) however the punch remains strictly for close-range use.

The age ura zuki is unusual in that the ura zuki is extended, palm up, into the mid-range.

At first glance this might seem somewhat daft as it contradicts the natural tendency to turn over as you extend your arm - the principle underpinning the corkscrew punch. However there is a good reason for not turning over the hand and this relates to your target and the possible approaches to that target.

Punching the throat and chin at mid-range

When you are at mid-range and you want to execute a punch to the throat or chin, you basically have 2 options:

(a) you can execute a vertical fist punch; or
(b) you can execute a rising inverted strike (age ura zuki).

The problem with the vertical fist punch is two-fold. First, whenever you angle a vertical fist punch upwards you run the risk of contacting your target with your smaller, weaker knuckles (as dicussed in my article Punching: alignment and conditioning). As I mention in that article, some arts such as wing chun turn this to their advantage, however I think it is still a risky proposition.

The second problem with the vertical fist is that it presents a wider surface area. This means that it is not always possible to access a narrow region such as the throat.

The age ura zuki solves both these problems. First, it ensures that your 2 big knuckles will strike first, regardless of your exact target. Second, it is narrow enough to target the throat head-on. And if your opponent tucks his chin in, you achieve what is possibly an even more destructive outcome as I will explain:

Disrupting structural integrity

As I discuss in the video below, targeting the chin with an age ura zuki produces some rather unexpected and, for your opponent, possibly catastrophic results.


I discuss the age ura zuki

While most people think of targeting the chin from below (with an uppercut) or from the side (with a cross punch), a direct frontal attack is not really contemplated. Possibly this is because we are all aware that the chin is a hard target, and struck straight from the front leaves your opponent's head with "nowhere to go".

However when you strike the chin with a straight (as opposed to scooping) punch, but at a slight upward angle (as per the age ura zuki) 2 things happen:

First, your opponent's chin is pushed backwards, as expected. What happens next is however more interesting.

When you push the chin out of alignment with its vertical axis, you break the structural integrity of the body. As I demonstrate in the video, once the head is off the vertical axis, your opponent's ability to resist a force is severely compromised. And this is the "secret" of the age ura zuki: your initial blow will force the head out of alignment - then cause the neck to whiplash backwards with virtually no protection from muscular resistance. Simultaneously, your knuckles target the soft and sensitive under-side of your opponent's chin.

Accordingly, the age ura zuki, if it lands correctly, manages to exploit your opponent's lines of least resistance. It not only attacks the underside of the neck, but it does so at a far more forceful and damaging angle than the uppercut (which runs out of steam soon after it passes the chin mark). Simultaneously (and more importantly) the force of your blow effects a whiplash of your opponent's neck, with potentially significant damage to the brainstem.

Relationship to uraken

Both the ura zuki and uraken present an inverted fist shape, however their similarity does not end there. Certainly if you use your uraken the way I have discussed in my article "Uraken: karate's greatest folly?" you will be striking with the same knuckles - the 2 big ones.

Accordingly I am not surprised that the uraken and age ura zuki are often interchanged in kata.

The first, and most obvious, example of such an interchange occurs in the kata naihanchi/naifunchin/tekki. There is a sequence of hand movements in that kata (the same sequence that sometimes features the haiwan nagashi uke) where some schools effect an uraken, while others (including my lineage and that of shorin master Kazumasa Yokoyama - pictured, left) effect an age ura zuki. Which is correct? Arguably they both are. It is possible that the kata designers always intended that the techniques be interchanged, depending on what you wanted to practise at a particular time.

When used with seiyruto uke

In goju ryu kata both uraken and age ura zuki occur with a set-up deflection known as the seiyruto uke ("ox jaw" deflection)


I discuss the seiyruto uke or "ox jaw" deflection

The seiyruto uke is like a palm heel block, however the actual deflection is effected using the corner of your palm heel in a circular motion, outwards and downwards.

This movement appears in 2 kata, seiyunchin and kururunfa. In the latter it is used as a set-up to an age ura zuki (at least my lineage). In the former it is used as a set-up to an uraken (again, in my lineage). Some schools reverse this, while others use the same technique (eg. an age ura zuki) in both kata.

Once again, I suspect that there is no "right or wrong": whether you choose to do an uraken or age ura zuki depends on what you choose to practise.

However it is in the context of the seiyruto uke that the essential difference between the uraken and age ura zuki comes to light:

The age ura zuki is a linear attack, angled upward.

The uraken uch is a circular downward attack. The knuckles might come to rest on the same spot, but the approach is very different.


Conclusion

While it might seem counter-intuitive, the age ura zuki is a deceptively powerful mid-range technique. In order to work, your attacking arm must be low enough to effect an upward angled thrust into the throat or chin.

If your arm is not low enough for an age ura zuki, you can instead effect an uraken with a downwards, circling action.

In other words, your hand position will determine whether the age ura zuki or the uraken is appropriate in the particular circumstances.

Either can be used in kata. In my case, I have been taught to use the uraken in saifa and seiyunchin, and the age ura zuki in naifunchin and kururunfa. What is your preference?

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, May 21, 2010

Uraken: karate's greatest folly?


The backfist in karate and the southern Chinese martial systems

I recall many years ago discussing karate and its Chinese cousins with Martin Watts of Yongchun baihe (white crane) fame. Martin surprised me when he mentioned "karate and its infernal backfists". When I queried what he meant, he pointed out that white crane and related Chinese systems did not have any backfist techniques.

Presumably this is because the southern Chinese martial artists don't feel the backfist is particularly useful.

Indeed the backfist is relatively rare in the southern Chinese martial arts - a fact that had escaped my attention until that point. Yet it appears quite frequently in karate. In goju ryu alone it occurs in the kata gekisai dai ichi and ni, saifa, seiyunchin and seipai. It is used in most versions of naifanchi/naifuanchin/tekki - the "cornerstone" kata of the shorin tradition. Outside kata, the uraken is regarded as a staple kihon (basic technique).

The relative lack of "power" in the uraken

The uraken is not without its critics even in karate. Many will point out its relative lack of power and the fact that other, more powerful, techniques can often be substituted. Consider one of my correspondents, Edward, who said recently:

"I've heard a proposition that uraken as presented in katas is actually a disguised tetsui. The rationale is that uraken aimes at targets that are difficult to reach in real combat and even if you manage to make it right the effect would be very questionable. Besides that, classic uraken proposes a bone-to-bone collision which is risky in terms of inflicting injuries to oneself. With that in mind, tetsui seems to be much more logical option. Basically, karate was designed for a rough combat which requires a rough techniqes. An example of it is MMA competition where nobody uses uraken but they do effectivelly use tetsui in ground-and-pound situations."

Edward isn't the first to notice that uraken isn't favoured by combats sports practitioners. I recall reading an interview with Benny "The Jet" Urquidez - undefeated kickboxing champion - where he apparently tried a backfist on an opponent in the street. From memory, he said his backfist succeeded in doing little more than raising a welt on his opponent's forehead - and enraging him - prompting Benny to resort to other, more effective strikes.

Despite these perceived shortcomings, most karateka doggedly hold on to their urakens and will not replace them with hammer fists and other substitutes. Is this persistence a function of mere tradition, or is there some other, practical, reason for preserving this technique?

In order to answer this question I think we need to first examine how the uraken is intended to work:

The old "ball and chain"

Something Edward said resonated with me and is worth repeating here. This is how he described the uraken:

"[T]he hand resembles a whip or a chain with a ball at the end of it."

Where some will try to analogize many karate techniques along this line, I think the uraken is one of the only true "whip-like" techniques in karate (the hiraken or "leopard paw" of seipai and the front snap kick being other examples).

I have previously mentioned that, in order to work, techniques require something I call "staged activation". This is the process where the movement is initiated with the larger joints and then progressively moves through the smaller joints to the extremities. This is particularly true of "whipping" techniques like the uraken, in which case the shoulder moves first, then the elbow, then the wrist.



With any whipping action the last movement is arguably the most significant: without it the entire action is negated. An uncoiling whip comes to very little if the last yard or so doesn't uncoil. So it is with the uraken. The wrist action is pivotal.

In my article "Clenched fists and stiff arms" I discuss how keeping a clenched fist need not stiffen your wrist. I also discuss how many karateka today seem to be unaware of this and adopt myriad ways of avoiding what is really a basic and necessary kinaesthetic principle. In much the same way as they don't clench their fists for punches, they don't do their urakens properly.

To work efficiently, urakens must be performed with a tight fist, but a loose wrist.

An inability to have a loose wrist with a tight fist results in a "stiff arm uraken" which is practically useless. In those circumstances it is no small wonder that many have come to regard the uraken as a worthless fighting technique. It is my guess that many of those who say this probably lack the basic kinaesthetic skill required to effect a correct uraken. And even when they can effect a whip, it is truncated due to a restricted movement in the wrist.

But the failure to use "staged activation" is just one reason that there is less force transferred by a "truncated" uraken. The other reason is that you have less room in which to accelerate your strike. Put simply, a correct, whip-like uraken has more travel, hence more room to accelerate, hence it imparts more force.

The striking surface of the uraken

The flip side to a greater movement in the wrist in an uraken is that it presents a different striking surface to that which you might expect. In this regard the term "backfist" is a misnomer: you don't use the back of the fist at all. You can use the back of the fist - but the primary striking surface should be the knuckles used in punching - the 2 big knuckles.



The uraken - note the wrist movement at the very end, bringing the 2 big knuckles into play

This will probably surprise many readers as it is contrary to "conventional knowledge". But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the back of your hand is not a particularly strong or resilient striking surface. The knuckles can take a lot of pressure from the front, but from behind they are comparatively vulnerable. Furthermore the back of your hand features tendons and other connective tissue that is quite intricate and delicate.



I discuss the striking surface of the uraken

As with the "tight fist = stiff forearm" debate, many people I've trained with have noted the deficiencies of striking with the back of the knuckles and go to extraordinary lengths to develop alternative theories of what constitutes the "real uraken". Invariably these involve striking with the forearm or hammer fist - anything but the back of the knuckles.

Others substitute a rising inverted punch for the uraken - something I'll touch on in another article.

But it is my view that the answer is a lot simpler: a proper wrist flick will not only let you utlise a fuller ranger of motion - it will also bring into play your big knuckles, almost as if you were punching.

But the uraken still isn't powerful!

Even when you do the uraken as I've described, it is fair to say that it is not a "power" technique: that is to say, it does not transfer as much momentum (and accordingly does not apply as much force) as other blows, such as the hammer fist.


A more general discussion about the uraken

However, it is unwise to disregard techniques simply on the basis of "power" as this is only one basis upon which "usefulness" can be determined. The uraken might not be "powerful" but it comes into its own as a shock technique. It springs out of nowhere, generating an impressive amount of force with relatively little movement.

So why don't they use it in combat sports?

Very simply, uraken relies on a cutting action that requires a hard striking surface - the knuckles. Even the thinnest/lightest combat sports gloves neuter this cutting action. So I'm not at all surprised that it does not appear in combat sports. I also doubt many of the modern MMA players are versed in the subtleties of the "whip-like", "tight fist, loose wrist" kinaesthetics required to make it work. As with many other traditional techniques it has been severely diluted over time through misunderstanding and copy error.

Furthermore, you have to bear in mind that what is potentially useful in a civilian defence scenario might not be useful in combat sports. For example, while you might want to effect a "shock" blow to your opponent in the street so as to facilitate an escape, it is pointless to do so in the ring. Rather you want to utilise "power" blows to effect a knock-out.

Finally, it is important to note that even in karate kata, the uraken is never used as a finishing technique. It tends to be used as a set-up to "greater things".

Conclusion

The uraken is not a "poor man's hammer fist". It is not a forearm strike
in disguise. And it is not a misunderstood inverted punch. It is a whip-like weapon that utlises your front knuckles (and less frequently, the back of the knuckles) in a cutting action to shock your opponent - either to set-up another technique or to facilitate an escape.

So the uraken might not be a "power" technique, but it is still a useful addition to a civilian defence armoury. However, you have to do it "right" to make it work.

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A fistful of details


Introduction

Making a fist is one of the most central and important, yet insufficiently understood, basics of the martial arts.

So how should you make a fist?

The first thing you should do is have a tight grip. I think that much is self-evident.

I often watch boxers and other combat sports fighters "air boxing" without gloves and notice that their hands are lightly clenched, if not open. These fighters are used to having their hands strapped and then placed into protective gloves.

If you're going to fight ungloved don't, I repeat don't, think you can get away with this. It might feel fluid and relaxed. It might even feel "natural" (the strapping forces your hands open to some extent, so might find a fully clenched fist "odd"). But it is also very dangerous to you, as I'll discuss in a minute.

There is more to making a fist than simply clenching it. To begin with, you need to learn how to cultivate a clenched fist that doesn't overly stiffen your arm (see my article "Clenched fists and stiff arms"). Furthermore, before you go off sparring (or otherwise fighting) bare-knuckle, make sure you've covered the following bases:

1. Have your thumb on the outside

"Holding your thumb" might seem quite daft, but I see it often amongst people who are untrained. And it courts disaster. If you hit anything you'll end up spraining your thumb very badly. Bear in mind that the thumb is the digit that:

(a) is most important for day to day hand use; and
(b) takes the longest to heal after injury.

2. Your thumb should be 1½ fingers across

The video below explains what I mean by this. After you've clenched your fist, turn it over and count the number of fingers crossed by your thumb.


I explain how to make a fist

I've found that the optimum fist is formed approximately when your thumb extends half way over your middle finger. If your thumb extends any further you will have a "collapsed fist": in other words, you won't have a flat enough striking surface. The adjacent image provides an illustration of such an "over-extended fist".

On the other hand, if your thumb doesn't extend far enough across your palm, it will stick out of the side. I've noticed that this is a common habit among senior black belts who are starting to become more "relaxed" in their movement. It is dangerous since your thumb can hook your opponent's clothing or impact on his or her fist/kick/body, causing a nasty sprain (see point number 1 above).

3. Don't over-clench or under-clench your last two fingers

The 2 smallest fingers seem to be prone to either being over-clenched or under-clenched. Under-clenching might not seem that problematic if you're striking with the 2 big knuckles, but you can't always be sure you'll hit your target with the correct surface. I've heard many a crack and howl as a student accidentally connected with the 2 little knuckles while they were loose...

Over-clenching might also seem benign. After all, won't this provide greater protection of the smallest knuckles? No it won't. The problem with over-clenching your little knuckles is that it distorts your fist so that you no longer have a flat striking surface, as illustrated in the adjacent images. In order to achieve a stable, strong fist and a flat surface on your 2 biggest knuckles, you need to ensure that the clench is even across all your fingers.

4. Align your punch to strike with the first two knuckles

As I discuss in my article "Punching: alignment and conditioning" I prefer striking with the 2 big knuckles and I think the overwhelming majority of martial arts styles gravitate to the same conclusion. This is for obvious reasons: the 2 big knuckles are bigger, stronger and, most importantly, they line up correctly with your forearm.

My brother Nenad always uses this simple guide to determining whether you've lined up your knuckles correctly:

Point your index finger at your target. Now draw your finger in. You should have a correctly aligned fist. Why? Repeat the experiment, but this time point your index finger and your middle finger. You'll find that there is no difference in your fist alignment whether you point your first 2 fingers or your index finger only.

The "phoenix fist"

I have been asked why arts such as xingyiquan utlise a "phoenix fist" - ie. a fist where the middle index knuckle protrudes out as the primary attacking surface. Such a striking area is quite weak and prone to injury. My answer to this is 2-fold:

First, the phoenix fist is a weapon directed at soft targets.

Second (and more importantly) creating a single knuckle shape automatically aligns your fist and your forearm – whether with the vertical fist or the corkscrew. In this regard it is not at all different from the "pointing demonstration" I refer to above. So I think xingyiquan features the single knuckle fist as a beginner teaching method more than anything. In the Chen Pan Ling system we interchange the vertical fist with the single knuckle vertical fist all the time.

The "Funakoshi fist"

Over the last 25 years of teaching I have encountered the occasional student who, despite his or her best efforts, cannot create a flat surface of his or her 2 prime knuckles.

One of these students adopted the fist used by the karate master, and founder of the shotokan style, Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi's fist1 was made by leaving the index knuckle straight (ie. it is not clenched into the palm) as illustrated in the adjacent image.

In the particular student's case, the result was a flat striking surface on his fist - something he had never been able to achieve with the "standard fist" despite 5 years of effort.

Why bother making a fist?

The first and most obvious reason to make a fist is to punch. But does one need to punch in a martial art? Why not use the heel of the palm, or perhaps just the palm? As a correspondent (Edward) noted recently:
    "I believe the point is missed here. The real question is why fist when you have palm heel (teisho)? You can hit as strong as with fist if not even stronger, it's way much safer in terms of injuries, and it's less noticable in terms of a surprise attack. It's even known that inventors of modern karate katas introduced fist strikes in order to conceal palm heal or other more dangerous techniques. So again, why should we even think of using the fist at all?"
As I explained to Edward, while I am a practitioner of a variety of martial arts, some of which use palm and palm heel strikes exclusively (eg. bagua) I have not, in my 30 years of experience, found a substitute for the punch. There is something about the hardness of the fist and the reduced striking surface (and corresponding increase in pressure on the target) that cannot be replicated with palm/palm heel strikes. I've also found it very hard to perform certain blows (eg. uppercut) using any form of palm strike.

Edward replied to this by pointing out how injurious (to the puncher) fist strikes can be. And he is right. As I discussed in my article "Punching: alignment and conditioning" I've had friends who have broken fingers very badly while defending themselves with fists.

To offset the risk of injury, karate uses some conditioning and emphasises correct alignment (as discussed in that article). In my experience this goes a long way towards making punching effective in civilian defence.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that punching should follow the "hard on soft" and "soft on hard" principle: ie. your knuckles should be used for soft targets (eg. the belly), while softer striking surfaces such as the palm heel should be used for hard targets (the chin).

Saving your fingers and palms

Quite apart from punching, fists are a very good defence against finger and hand injuries. I've had my fair share of bent and snapped fingers. I have a bone jutting out of the back of my right hand - courtesy of colliding my open hand with an incoming kick. Fists go a long way towards avoiding these sorts of injuries - trust me on this. A well-formed fist can withstand more punishment (especially at certain angles) than a loose one.

In internal arts such as taiji (tai chi) a premium is placed on moving in a relaxed manner – and everything is geared towards maximising this (eg. the using the relaxed, but firm, "tai chi hand"). This is quite valid, however for the purposes of combat this concept is suited only to the more advanced student - precisely because it is risky. When I spar with a more seasoned or more unpredictable opponent I default unconsciously to clenching my fists or stiffening my hands for fear of spraining or breaking a finger. But when I am more confident I relax and use more advanced techniques. To me, clenching your hands is more conservative - and more basic.

A similar issue arises with techniques such as the "Chinese tile hand" where fingers are kept slightly apart during breaking. Again, it is probably okay to keep your fingers apart when you are hitting a stationary object – but when faced with unpredictable events (eg. an antagonistic, fast-moving opponent) I’m not sure I could recommend it!

Conclusion

The fist is one of the main staples of fighting. It is the symbol of karate and is intimately tied to most of the Chinese fighting traditions (eg. taijiquan means "grand ultimate fist"). It is used in most unarmed "striking" combat sports, ranging from Muay Thai to Western boxing (including during the "bare knuckle era").

And in my opinion making a fist has an equally important role to play in civilian defence - and that is to protect your fingers and hands generally.

Footnote:

1. See this article by Victor Smith.

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, May 10, 2010

Clenched fists and stiff arms


Too often I've heard the lament that clenching your fists causes undue stiffness in the arms. This stiffness is seen as detrimental to martial techniques. After all, most of us know that if you tense a particular muscle it is hard to move it - a situation often likened to "driving a car with the brakes on".

The perceived "stiffness" resulting from clenched fists has resulted in a number of "fixes":

In my own beloved internal arts, there are many who suggest training with absolutely no tension at all in the fist.

Then there are those who suggest (quite rightly) that this is impractical, so they propose a lesser tension in the fist - enough to "hold, but not squash, a fly" being a common example.

Last, there are those who suggest (quite rightly) that this too is impractical (since you will smash your fingers with light tension almost as easily as you will when your hand is not tensed at all). So they suggest that you should tense, but only a fraction of a second before impact.

Of course the latter seems like a good idea - until you jam your (loose) fingers against a full power kick (as I have done many times). Indeed, I am often reminded of the sage words of Graham Ravey (chief instructor of the TOGKA and former deshi of Higaonna Morio sensei) that your main reason for making a fist is to stop your fingers being broken - not necessarily for use in punching. In fact, I recall Ravey sensei advising us the one of the most important things in bareknuckle combat was to make sure your fingers were tight - either with your fingers straight and the thumb tightly against the side of a your hand (ie. in a firm "sword hand") or in a fist.

Certainly for beginners I would strongly advise in favour of this tactic. I recall the captain of our rugby team many years ago remonstrating with someone on the beach and pointing a finger at the fellow - who promptly seized the digit and snapped it, causing our captain to miss the rest of the season.

But where does this leave the whole wretched business of having a "stiff arm"? Could it be that it isn't quite the dilemma that it has been cooked up to be? I certainly think so. Consider the following video:


A video where I demonstrate a tight fist yet - seemingly paradoxically - a loose wrist

In the above video I demonstrate an uraken - a backfist strike - with a tightened fist. One of my colleagues on the Traditional Fighting Arts Forums maintains that I'm not actually tensing the whole time; that there is an element of "give" in the tension. And indeed there probably is some variation in tension, but I can guarantee that this is minimal.

Others have also pointed out that I probably don't have my fist tensed maximally and this is probably true too. I say that my knuckles are "white" but this is a bit of an overstatement. I say "a bit" because I'm still tensing the fist quite hard; there is definitely no "fly holding" going on here. I'm quite happy to hit something hard with it - at any point in the movement - safe in the knowledge that my fingers won't be shattered.

So what is the trick? Quite simply, there is no "trick". The problem lies with the assumption that a fist can't be sufficiently clenched without causing undue (ie. performance-impeding) stiffness. This is manifestly untrue.

Aikidoka are fond of performing a demonstration they call "the unbendable arm". In this demonstration a person is asked to bend an aikidoka's arm while the aikidoka tenses. The person inevitably bends the arm. Then they try it again, except this time the aikidoka uses what appears to be no tension at all - and the arm becomes "unbendable". Is it "ki" flowing through the arm that stops the bending? No. It might seem that the aikidoka is not tensing, but in fact he/she is tensing. However he/she is tensing only those muscles that are needed to resist the bend. By contrast, when the aikidoka tenses all the muscles in the arm, the resistance becomes impossible because (a) unnecessary muscles are being tensed, causing fatigue while not contributing to the resistance; and (b) some muscles actively involved in bending are being engaged.


The aikido "unbendable arm" - see at around 2:11

A similar process is at work with clenching the fist; if you tense all the muscles in your forearm, you end up with a stiff, board-like arm. However if you tense only those muscles that are necessary for the fist to be protected (or to be used as a weapon) then the wrist needn't be overly "stiff" from functional perspective.1

In other words, the core assumption that "a (sufficiently) tight fist causes (unworkable) arm tension" is fundamentally flawed.

The principle of correct fist tension is one that I teach my beginners from day one. It is a basic. It might take a while before it is mastered, but a passable ability is quickly acquired. I certainly had this ability to a greater extent as a green belt. I had it more or less "right" as a brown belt when I started assisting in teaching.

It astounds me how many martial artists today seem to have skipped this vital (and basic) piece of knowledge, ultimately leading them to rather preposterous (and dangerous) theories to justify fighting with floppy hands. It is true that more advanced students can fight with a more relaxed guard; but it is also worth remembering that it doesn't take much to bend one or more fingers (or toes) the wrong way. [Heaven knows I've done it often enough in my 30 years of training - usually because I was being lazy or overconfident.] And that could well spell the end of your chances in civilian defence. Broken and twisted fingers are hard to fight with.

While I strongly subscribe to the idea that one should move as fluidly as possible, I also acknowledge that some tension will be necessary in various parts of your body and at various times. Indeed, tension is a necessary by-product of movement: it is impossible to move without some element of antagonistic reaction in your muscles. And when it comes down to it, tensing your fists needn't impede your functionality. This issue (along with the myriad "fixes") are, in my view, nothing but a red herring, brought about by dilution in basic, traditional knowledge.

Footnote:

1. Another example of "correct selective tension" is to be found in the Filipino arts of arnis, escrima and kali. I recall noted guro Ciriaco "Cacoy" Canete (founder of Doce Pares) insisting that we twirl the baton with no relaxation of the grip. Up to that point I had assumed that for a full twirl you had to ease your grip at least a little. But Cacoy (then a sprightly 72 year old) proved otherwise, twirling his baton at an unbelievable speed and with a seemingly tight, full-fist grip. "If you don't," he explained, "you will lose your stick on impact". I've never forgotten that lesson, even when succeeding guros have permitted (and even encouraged) me to loosen my grip "for a full twirl".

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic