Saturday, August 23, 2014

Left single whip: taijiquan's "hidden power"

There is a movement in Chen Pan Ling taijiquan called "left single whip".  It leads to a sequence known as "raise arm and step forwards".  These movements seem very weak and soft - yet they contain within them concepts of "softness overcoming hardness" that can make your mind spin.  As far as I'm concerned, they are as close as you get to something "mystical".

Yet it's not.

It's really just simple mechanics.  But who would have thought those mechanics would be quite so powerful!

Part 1 was filmed last week.  It shows a performance of the part of the form I'm talking about.  Part 2 was filmed this morning.

I do the applications slowly (mostly).  But in reality, they are, of course, done fast.

Both videos involve some aspect of "stand up grappling" - which will no doubt surprise some folks given my last two articles.
Except that it shouldn't.  
I make it clear that I am an ardent practitioner of stand up grappling - I just believe that you need to approach it carefully in order to minimise the chances of being trapped into a grappling game and taken to the ground.

This is especially evident in my most recent video which involves a throw application.

I like this throw because it demonstrates how good technique and structure create inherent strength: even if the partner is being an absolute pain and resisting it every step of the way in a slow demonstration, you still win.  A large part of the "structure" involves the maintenance of a "C" back shape which I have previously discussed.

When done with force/speed, the throw is much easier.  When preceded by a "softening blow", it's even easier.  This is about the only time you should be attempting some form of throw, lock or other stand up grapple in civilian defence: the lever should work even when fully resisted in slow motion.  Then you don't have worry about using brute force to cover up bad technique.  Besides - there's a good chance your technique will be off when you're under pressure: you need a margin for error.

Contrast the above with the "tricep lever" throw I discussed in my last post and you'll see what I mean about tempting fate with such a sub-optimal technique.

The "left single whip throw/projection" happens to be one of my favourite throws - because it actually works in unscripted sparring.  And I rarely get dragged down with my partner.

What I love about the techniques in both videos is that they work entirely on "softness" - which is what makes them seem "mystical" or "qi powered".  Of course, that softness is all about exploiting your opponent's lines of least resistance and maximising yours.

In particular I like to use the throw in the second video as a kind of test of whether you're able to use your whole body momentum in a synergistic way.  One millisecond out of time, one millimetre out of alignment and it doesn't work.  This is precisely the sort of "advanced" internal arts technique I spoke of years ago.  It's hard to get right, but when you do - boy, it's good stuff!

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, August 22, 2014

Avoiding the clinch: more on civilian defence grappling


In my most recent article I discussed a certain (currently popular) view that traditional "uke" aren't really all that useful in blocking/deflection/parrying.  Under this view it is proposed that "uke" function more as as "striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling" (to quote "jwt" - John Titchen).

John added recently:
"[M]oving and manipulating others to gain a position from which to strike, control or escape (predominantly extracting oneself from multiple punches, grabs, high tackles and clinches)... make up the majority of the 'action' in close range combative situations and it is those movements which both full and partial Uke sequences excel at. "
It is clear that for people like John, stand up grappling is really what "uke" are mostly about.  And John notices that:
"[T]he majority of the movements being drilled [should] navigate the most common problems posed by violent incidents."  
For John this would not include "blocking" (parrying/deflecting etc.) but rather stand up grappling.

My problem is that this philosophy doesn't square with what I know - about both civilian defence scenarios as well as the arts of grappling.

Staying out of the grappling range

In my experience as a former prosecutor there is a very, very strong desirability in civilian defence to stay out of the grappling range to avoid being taken down to the ground (or even trapped standing).   I can't recall being part of a prosecution that involved a murder, grievous bodily harm or assault which was one-on-one, unarmed - other than a pub fight where they wrestled to the ground and the guy on top had his nose bitten off. Whichever way it goes, in each case going to a clinch led to being trapped - and spelled nasty things. Going to the ground was the beginning of the end - even for good grapplers (like the guy who no longer has a nose).

And in my experience fighting a grappler (heck, even a gifted amateur, never mind someone with training or experience in wrestling), a stand up fighter who is careless will get taken down before he/she can say "boo".

I discuss this issue at length in my essay "How civilian defence grappling differs from sport grappling".

This doesn't mean that there is no "stand up grappling" in arts like karate.  Quite the reverse.  My article shows that in many situations arts like karate can and do utilise stand up grappling techniques.  But my article also illustrates how careful the civilian defence grappler has to be to avoid being taken down while engaging in such "stand up grappling".

The civilian defence grappler either uses techniques that either:
  • keep a kind of "buffer" between the defender and attacker; or 
  • are resorted to when the opponent has been sufficiently controlled or subdued (the opponent is off-balance or you're on his/her back, etc.).
Whichever way it goes, the civilian defence fighter is very, very wary of the clinch.  Because once you get to the clinch, most of the time you're destined for the ground.

And even if you happen to also be a half-decent grappler, in a civilian defence scenario you can't rely on your opponent to be:
  1. alone; or 
  2. unarmed (as you'll see from my recent post on the subway fight).
In an altercation my brother had a few years ago, both eventualities occurred: the burglar he wrestled had a knife.  And he also had an accomplice, armed with a lump of wood.  Staying on the ground quickly stopped being an option.

So here's my big problem with John's suggestions for "bunkai" (applications) of "uke" (blocks):

First, almost all of them not only envisage a clinch range - they demand it.

Consider the adjacent bunkai photos :

The attacker is already clinching (albeit in an amateurish way judging by his grip positions).  The defence involves using a forearm to push the attacker away (and assumes the weak positioning of the attacker's grip across the shoulder).

Obviously I've been in such a close range many, many times (though generally with a more meaningful clinch).  And I can assure you that even a beginner in BJJ, Greco-Roman wrestling or judo will have you on the ground within a second - with or without your "bunkai releases/escapes".


Because you're basically up there playing the grappler's game.  Except you're armed only with "karate grappling".  The other guy is armed with either real grappling or a whole lot of vehemence and anger.

This sort of scenario is not karate's - or any civilian defence art's - forte.

If you don't believe me, go down to your local BJJ/judo/wrestling/MMA club and ask someone to get into this position with you - and see if you can make this work.  I guarantee that even if you manage to push your opponent's neck, something very unpredictable will happen.  And a millisecond later you'll realise you're on the ground and, sooner or later, on the losing end of a grappling match.  Even if you're a good grappler, you're no longer doing "karate" - you're doing your BJJ etc.  And as we've discussed, being caught up in a one-on-one grapple is far from ideal in terms of what civilian defence is trying to deal with.

So in summation: to make any such "bunkai" work, you'd better be a darn good grappler to begin with.  And you'd better hope that you're in a "one-on-one", unarmed environment as well.

"Karate grappling" vs. specialist grappling

 Then there's always the issue: "How well does "karate grappling" stack up to "specialist grappling".

Well let's take look at a very common "karate grappling" technique: the old "arm bar":

Okay, I'll admit it - this one is a perennial favourite of mine.  I have used it for years and years.

But when I've tried it out against grapplers, I realised it comes with a host of very severe limitations - ones which aren't exposed until you fight a grapper.

For example I tried this fighting a guy in Hong Kong in 2009. He had me on my backside within a second, reversed the lock and almost broke my elbow (it was sore for the better part of a year).

How did he do it?  He just dived for my legs.  In Hong Kong he dived between my legs (as would happen to John in these pictures).  More recently I've had it happen by my BJJ students diving behind my legs (as per my picture below).

Basically arm bars are all well and fine - but as soon as someone knows how to dive, you can virtually forget them - unless you keep in mind some pretty subtle (but significant) rules.

Remember: your opponent is diving down - which happens to be the direction of your force on his arm.  You're basically pushing him in the direction he needs to go to escape the lock  - and the direction he wants to go throw you.  Trust me - it's the ultimate trap.  And almost no karateka seems remotely aware of this issue.  I see bunkai being peddled all over the internet without a care in the world for fundamental issues like this: issues that are "no brainers" to specialist grapplers - but are somehow "esoteric" to the average stand up fighter (especially in a traditional martial art).

Yes, there are ways to avoid a "dive" - and I cover some of them in my article "How civilian defence grappling differs from sport grappling".  Mostly the kata shows you how - it's built into its throwing/grappling techniques.

But guess where is it not "builit-in"?  It's not built into "uke".  Why?  My guess is, it's because they aren't designed primarily to initiate grappling.

They are for receiving attacks - not opening with them (as strikes, arm bars, levers and other manipulations).  Kata moves that are obviously intended to be applied as throws take careful measures to avoid the grappler's counters: they stay clear of the clinch and, when a throw/lock is being applied, ensure that the form of movement avoids you being taken down into a grapple afterwards.

Consider the above stills of seipai tuide and you'll see what I mean:  The small matter of whether you lever over or under his arm makes all the difference to whether the grappler can use his/her arm in a "dive"...

Now I'll mention (only in passing) that John's arm bar is problematic from for another, completely unrelated, reason.  What would that be?

I challenge anyone to adopt the starting position with a resistant partner and actually succeed in:
  1. putting him/her down into a lock and 
  2. keeping him/her there.
Why would these be a challenge?  The lock looks strong - doesn't it?  Don't we use it in the dojo all the time?

For starters,  in this "application" of an "uke" you are pushing on his tricep/shoulder.  This is too, too easily resisted.

For example, next time you're doing this, ask your student to "stand up" during the lock and try to resist it...

Or ask your student to resist - honestly - from the moment you start to push down on his shoulder/tricep with your forearm.  You'll be surprised what happens...

I'm willing to bet that you won't get your partner down much farther than what is depicted in the opening photo of the bunkai sequence.  You'd be better off pushing on the elbow (where you're at greater risk of his dive).  But pushing up here on the tricep/shoulder just isn't going to get you anywhere.

If you doubt me, take a look at the video below at 1:54 or thereabouts. (Bear in mind it was made for a different reason with a slightly different technique in mind - but the principle is identical, I assure you.  Anyway, try it out and you'll see.)

The moral of the story

Okay, so the moral of the story is, don't play grappling games when your aim is civilian defence and your primary skill is stand up fighting.

I'm fairly certain you'll fall foul of that famous cliche that "90% of fights go to the ground".  While I don't think this cliche is necessarily true for civilian defence (as opposed to "chest bumping" displays of male dominance), it is definitely true if you intend to base your tactics on grappling.  I wouldn't give you 10 seconds to remain standing once you start grappling "karate style".

And even if you don't "intend to wrestle" (because you're just doing "releases" etc.) be aware that basing your fight plan entirely in the grappling/clinch range means that you'll wind up wrestling anyway - whether you like it or not.  You can have a variety of "clinch releases" in your arsenal, but if this is all you think the many "uke" are about, I think you're missing something.

So if the plethora of uke aren't about "stand up grappling", what are they about?

Well I personally have no problem with "uke" being all about handling the first punch.  To me (especially as a former prosecutor) that's always been a no-brainer.

But uke are also about other attacks - not just strikes, but kicks and... attempted grabs - specifically for a clinch.

If traditional civilian defence arts are about something other than the first punch, they are about avoiding the clinch!  To me, this is the most pressing concern alongside not being punched/struck/kicked because this is what determines the outcome of the attack!

It's hardly surprising then, that almost all "uke" can be put to effect to prevent a either a punch or a grab - whether around your neck, head, body, leg, or even your arm/wrist (as lampooned as that might be).

The examples below of "uke" used to avoid the clinch are from taijiquan - but they could just as well be from karate.  Look hard and you'll see lots of similar karate "uke" that prevent the grappler from reaching in and establishing a clinch.

So civilian defence arts are, first and foremost "anti-grappling arts".  This is by necessity.

And to me, this is what makes John's thesis about "blocks" ("uke" as, first and foremost, instruments of stand up grappling) profoundly misconceived.  They aren't "grappling" so much as they are anti-grappling - they negate it, they don't "encourage it".

To the extent that civilian defence arts have "grappling techniques" (locks, throws etc.) these are short term, and engaged in from the melee range or in circumstances that are otherwise highly circumscribed.  Where the grappler tends to feel at ease within the grappling range, the civilian defence practitioner is always striving to stay out of it - or get out of it as fast as he or she can.  And this is for a good reason.  Again, I encourage you to read my article on civilian defence grappling vs. specialist grappling.

The civilian defence practitioner is trying to avoid being hurt.  This means not being punched and not being trapped.  "Uke" (blocks") serve both purposes well.  They "receive" an attack (whether it is a blow or grab) in a way that prevents the attack working.

This factor alone is more than enough reason to explain the high number of "uke" in traditional "stand up" civilian defence arts - be they Chinese (taijiquan, baguzhang, xingyiquan, Shaolin, etc.), Japanese (karate) or Korean (taekwondo).

Either that, or these arts are profoundly about grappling - using rather odd, less than optimal grappling moves (moves that no grappler in jujutsu, judo or wrestling would touch with a barge pole).

Take your pick.  The choice is stark.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic


I have used John Titchen's pictures in the above article (I simply found them on a Google search and didn't know of him until recently) and I must concur with his assessment that I have done so unfairly: I have not featured the context of John's applications fully and in any event I will confess that I have been way too harsh in my criticism - particularly about the standing arm bar.  In terms of the latter, I will also admit that this was one of my staple bunkai for decades - until a salutary lesson in Hong Kong in 2009 made me revisit the whole issue and come to different conclusions concerning the detail of standing arm bars.  I am afraid I have not presented those conclusions here very well at all.  I hope to remedy this in a future article in which I will explain my reasoning in a less critical, more constructive way that applies to us all and does not appear to single out one (very worthy and notable) karate practitioner!  Sorry John!  I hope you accept my apology.

"Deflecting attacks doesn't require any specialised training!"

Where angels fear to tread

I did something the other day that I normally don't do: I was enticed to go onto one of the big forums where, it seems, they were discussing one of my articles.

All I can say is, I realised after a few minutes why I don't frequent forums any more.

Despite my own promises I couldn't resist replying to one train of thought by a certain "rne02" who raised that old chestnut: "There are no blocks!".  I've dealt with that subject exhaustively and if you haven't read my article on the subject, then I encourage you to do so here.

But another writer, "jwt", did go on to say some related things that demand separate analysis.  Here are a few quotes:

I'm saying you're not really using the Uke. You are essentially just parrying with a tiny rotator cuff movement and body shift online and telling yourself that because you have done something that resembles the tail end of the Uke technique, you have done the Uke. Whether big or small, with the exception of Ude Uke (which at its tail end resembles a closed hand flinching/pushing parrying motion), Karate Uke techniques do not work as deflections against fast unpredictable attacks launched at a realistic range.

But against any form of fast unpredictable attack, if you think that you are doing Age Uke or Uchi Uke or Gedan Barai to deflect (as opposed to naturally slipping and parrying and swatting like any untrained person) then you are kidding yourself.

Then there's jwt's extract from his unpublished book.  I've highlighted the parts that I find most astonishing:

The idea that uke techniques are ‘blocks’ and that their predominance in kata reflects the defensive nature of karate should be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, deflecting and blocking attack is a largely instinctive action that does not require specialised movement. If you observe anyone shielding themselves against a committed attack outside of set prearranged sparring combinations, you will see them cover, parry, slap, duck or flinch (or any combination of those), and any time you see anything resembling a fixed uke technique it will be because the uke technique itself mimics natural movement. Secondly the best form of defence is offence, and that principle has been enshrined in martial writings across many cultures for centuries. A committed attack is not stopped by continuous deflection but by pattern disrupting behaviour that forces reaction and reorientation. Thirdly it is unlikely to be a coincidence that uke techniques function extremely well as striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling. Finally it is incongruous that the majority of the movements being drilled should be devoted to something that requires little training: their being designed to navigate the most common problems posed by violent incidents makes far more sense.

What?  Deflections and parries don't require specialised movement?  They require little training?  They aren't "designed to nagivate the most common problems posed by violent incidents"?

Respected instructor Han-Kurt Schaefer applies the same
deflection from bagua that I use in the opening photo -
but does it in free sparring.
I would have thought learning to deflect an attack (especially when there is an element of surprise) would be central to what civilian defence arts teach.

Jwt's other point about "the best form of defence is offence" is something I've done to death (see "Attack, attack, attack" and the "Boards don't hit back" series) so I won't go into that.

Instead, what I thought I would go into - for jwt's sake and others, is exactly how standard "uke" help you develop the subtle, complex and useful - indeed vital - skill of deflection/parrying:

What traditional uke teach you

In my experience, the standard uke forms teach angles and planes of interception and deflection (among other things). When applied as deflections/parries, they are much "smaller" versions of the "formal" basic movements.

I've been applying deflections against realistic attacks for more than 3 decades. I make them work reasonably well. I can't imagine having whatever level of skill I have now without learning traditional forms of uke (from karate and the Chinese arts). These have taught me how to "naturally slip and parry".

An age uke applied by me in sparring
Such skills aren't somehow "ingrained": they need to be learned and practised like any other skill. "Swatting like a beginner" is as far from the pinnacle of the art of deflection/parrying as is the ham-fisted, open chord strumming of a guitar by a beginner from the virtuoso playing of a musical instrument.

Yes, we have an ingrained "flinch reflex" which comprises a retraction of the body and an extension of the arms to ward off danger.

Another applied age uke - this time by Jeff
But the notion that this primitive reflex is optimal for a complex activity like self defence is, frankly, absurd.

We might start with the flinch reflex.  But we have to modify it so as to make the movement both effective and efficient.  This requires grooving your body to respond along optimal angles and planes.

So assuming that the angle and plane of a deflection/parry need to be taught, I can see precisely why it is prudent to "magnify" them for a student (especially a beginner) so they can be better examined, studied and understood.

In other words, I can see why we might want to use some larger, more formal movements (ie. "uke") to teach deflection.

The alternative is to persist with teaching the student some tiny circular/sliding movement (which is what applied uke actually become).

Jeff applies both a gedan barai and age uke in sparring
Accordingly we use age, chudan, hiki, gedan - all to teach different, essential, principles of deflection/parrying: the different angles, planes, rotations of forearm, torque etc.

We apply these principles in unscripted sparring from which the stills in the essay are taken.

I apply a gedan barai in sparring
Yes, the deflections/parries are highly abbreviated forms of the basic uke. But nothing makes the connection between these abbreviated forms and the full, larger traditional form an "illusion". Traditional uke aren't "literal techniques": they teach principles of deflection - principles that have little or nothing to do with a beginner's "swatting".

I note that the students who best understand the traditional deflections are the ones who routinely apply them effectively and efficiently (low impact, good deflection). The better they are, the less "swatting" you see.

Sure, fighting is messy and nothing like basic form. But what makes these adjacent images anything other than an applied "traditional uke"?

I wouldn't dispute that you can use uke for strikes/locks etc. But I don't understand why some feel they play no role in teaching students how to better "slip" and "parry" attacks - especially when the science of deflection is so complex (and when traditional uke contain so many compound movements that seem to correspond very neatly to the planes/angles you need to deflect/parry)?

"Swatting like any untrained person" is very far from the pinnacle of martial arts deflection. Rather, it is just inefficient, ineffective form.

In my experience, an understanding a basic chudan uke in a formal setting lets you move to unscripted "slipping" and "parrying" (not "swatting") by absorbing the principle of the basic and with a much smaller, less "formal" movement.

The graduated path to developing effective, efficient deflections

The training proceeds in a graduated way.

We start by performing chudan uke "in the air" in a basic stance.

Then we apply it against a formal, basic punch in the manner of the gif below.  We groove it in that context until the student is able to slip the punch effortlessly (and with as little "telegraphing" or "feedback" to his partner as possible).

Note that "hard blocks" are usually the result of nothing more than bad timing: there are very few instances where it isn't preferable to have a contact that is barely registered by your opponent as his or her punch is deflected.

The more feedback you give (in the form of an impact) the less efficient your deflection has been (some force is being used in the "hard" contact) and the more "on notice" your opponent is that something is happening.

This is a basic chudan uke - but the performance here
relies on a great deal of training: it requires skill.
Mostly, a good deflection is one where your opponent barely notices his or her arm has been contacted.  That way the attack is deflected - and the counter is landed - before your opponent even realises what has happened.

Too many people get caught up in "punishing" their opponent's attacking arm (something they default to as beginners) - then trying to justify this as some form of  traditional "objective" - a beast people now call "hard blocks".

But it is my view that, apart from mistakes and the odd exceptional use of a block to "punish" a limb for tactical purposes (where you don't want to hurt the person or something - who knows?), "hard blocks" don't exist as a traditional martial arts method.  They are just "soft deflections done wrong".

Okay, so you've grooved your soft deflection with a partner in basic standing or one step sparring.  You think it's coming along nicely.

Now it's time to start gradually adding realism.

First we might make the punches less formal - more "realistic" - say by using a jab or a haymaker.  This isn't "realism" but it does remove the artificiality of the "karate punch".  (Note, my video concerns the hiki uke - open hand version - but the same principle is in effect.)

And we do it for all our arts.  Here is one from taijiquan:

Here's one from baguazhang:

From there we move to slower, softer free sparring - where you get a chance to apply your techniques in a totally unscripted environment but where you won't feel like your head is going to be knocked off.  It's a kind of 3/4 speed "play" (see from 2:45 onwards).

From there we increase the pace and the intent to something a bit rougher.  As messy as the fighting gets, the principles of interception/parrying are in constant evidence (even if "literal uke" aren't).

Graduated training of this kind is how you get to build up to applying and using deflections/parries/blocks.

Given that this process is not followed by many schools, I'm not surprised that their "blocks" are little more than "swatting movements" - the kind a beginner would do.  They haven't developed the skill.  And I have trained many such martial artists; you know they haven't got the skill (despite years of training) because even against a slow moving partner who is being utterly predictable, they can't slip the punch efficiently or effectively - they keep clashing their arms.  The ability to "slip" eludes them...

What troubles me is not that some practitioners have yet to develop one of the most vital skills of traditional martial arts.  Instead it troubles me that, rather than acquire these skills (or at least accept that they haven't developed them yet), they attempt to rewrite their art's foundations so as to deny the very existence of deflection as a skill that needs to be developed through hard work: of gong fu.  Rather, any beginner's swatting is just as good.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What would you have done?

You come across two people fighting at a train station.  They are wrestling on the ground.  One guy is on top of the other.

Suddenly the guy who is on top pulls a knife...

[Warning - disturbing footage following.]

The video below was posted on Facebook with the following comment:
I just saved dude life,i have blood all over me,i almost got stabbed in the neck,i missed my stop,came back to save somebody life,oooooomy god im shaking

Clearly the bystander then stopped his own video recording of the incident and went to the aid of the victim.

It seems the victim survived.  This separate footage taken from the train was also posted on Facebook, accompanied by the following comment:
Fools fighting at ashby trainstation...#901 rice street...smh

Would you have intervened sooner?  If so, how?

I'll leave you to comment, but please keep your comments restrained - not to mention respectful towards the bystander who, whichever way you look at it, put himself at risk and rescued the victim.

Bear in mind that what we would all like to think we'd do is probably different to what we'd actually do.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Traditional techniques in MMA - Part 2

So how often do you see traditional techniques in MMA?  Rarely is probably a common answer but it would be a wrong one.

Noah Legel's recent recent essay on this topic on Ryan Parker's blog highlights just how many traditional karate techniques are actually used in the Octagon.  I really can't improve on Noah's work so I'll simply give you the link to his article.  After reading it, I'm sure you'll agree with me that traditional karate/gong fu techniques are everywhere in MMA - even if the practitioners are unaware that they are using "ancient knowledge".

But what if I told you that MMA would feature basic, formal karate of the kind you see in dojos throughout the world?  You know - the kind everyone lampoons: the stepping up and down the floor in forward stance using blocks and punches?

What if I told you that these techniques would not only work well enough - they'd win the day?  And what if I told you that they'd be executed against by a 40 year old doctor against a fit, young, formidable MMA opponent?  You'd laugh right?

But it's all true.  Check out the video below if you don't believe me.

I counted at least 3 gedan barai (downward sweeping blocks) (03:38, 03:50, 04:07), one other augmented downward block at 03:12, at least 4 classical gyaku zuki (reverse punch) (03:48, 03:55, 04:08, 04:11) and frequent mae geri (front snap kick) (see 03:25 and 04:09) - often with stepping, just as a karate student would do in the dojo.

But what I found most surprising of all was this fighter's frequent use of... wait for it... oi zuki (lunge punch).  I mean, no one uses them - right?  Yet here they are.

And then there's the fact that he does all this in a standard zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) with mostly basic stepping and just a little suri/yori ashi (shuffling feet) tenshin/taisabaki (body evasion/movement) (for the latter see 03:20 and 03:24).

He also uses the standard karate guard - with the hands held out rather than near the face.

And as you can see from the picture at the start of this article, he actually uses "hiki te" to pull his punches back to his hip (ie. he uses classical "chambers").

Of course the downward blocks are all against kicks - roundhouse kicks at that!  (Sometimes he even drops both hands - shock horror!  That can't possibly work!)

Then there's the fact that, true to his karate roots, the fighter manages to avoid clinches and being tied into the grappling range as much as possible.

Okay, it's true that this particular fight ends with a "ground and pound" - but it is won on the feet.  That's where the entire match is set up to be won.

So, to conclude, here is someone who is doing pretty standard dojo karate.  It's not even the more esoteric, "messy", "old-style" Okinawan variety I was taught, but rather the kind of clean, clinical basic "kumite" style of dojo sparring you see in mall dojos around the world.

Even Lyoto Machida never looked quite this "karate" (so many standard stepping karate combinations - front lunge punch, front kick, reverse punch...).

I just love the way the commentators keep talking about his "unorthodox style".   It might be unorthodox in MMA.  But every karateka on the planet would look at him and say:

"Oh yes, I know what's going on here.  He's one of us."

And they all said there wasn't such a thing as a "style" of fighting...

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, August 18, 2014

Naihanchi in shiko dachi

One of the mysteries of naihanchi dachi is its stance.  I've previously written about this at some length and voiced my own conclusion that it is a variant on "mabu" - the horse stance.

While many karateka would disagree with me, they are at least used to seeing naihanchi performed in a horse stance - ie. the "kiba dachi" (as seen in both Funakoshi's and Motobu's karate). 

What surprises many karateka is the discovery that some schools practise naihanchi in the "Naha te" version of horse stance: shiko dachi (known by some as "sumo stance") - where the toes point outwards rather than straight forward or slightly pigeon-toed.

Nor is this a modern innovation: photographs of old-time karateka show both kiba and shiko variations.

So what's going on here?

I think the answer lies in understanding that each variation represents a different tradition within the shorin ryu school of karate: kiba dachi for Shuri te, shiko dachi for Tomari te.

The training stance [of Tomari te] was Shiko-dachi. Students walked around the dojo with a companion on his thighs to strengthen the stance. The kata Naifanchi was executed in this base Shiko-dachi, and not in Kiba-dachi, as in Shorin-ryu.
I think this is still evident evident when you look at today's exponents of Tomari te.  Consider the adjacent photo, for example (taken from the video below).

So what accounts for this variation?  What, if any, are the advantages of each option?

Having your toes turn out creates a very stable position when facing a force from the front.  If it weren't so, sumo wrestlers wouldn't use it.  It is by far the most stable posture when facing a forwards push, particularly as it resists sideways twisting (where zenkutsu dachi does not).

Turning a foot out is also quite necessary for many of naihanchi's applications - particularly where the application is about projecting force in one direction as per this taijiquan application (which is often applied - correctly in my view - as the opening move of naihanchi shodan).  [I do note however that if you apply such a "toe out", it will usually put you in zenkutsu dachi, not shiko - so only one foot will be "toe-out".  But I digress.]

By contrast, Shuri te's "toe-in" (or, as I like to think of it, the "outside edge of the foot straight") posture is, in my opinion about a more intrinsic, general structure; it's about grounding against force from multiple directions.

It's also salient to note that the "straight feet" permit rapid sideways movement - ie. they promote mobility along a line (as per the kata performance).  Shiko dachi, on the other hand, is relatively immobile (in any direction) - at the expense of giving you a deeper, lower base (eg. for grappling).

So it depends what you want to emphasise. Many regard naihanchi a "heishugata" - a conditioning form.  Under that view, structure is regarded as more important than application.  Others look at the kata through the lens of specific applications.

And so, how you manifest the form will depend on your perspective.  It seems to me that in old Okinawa there were at least two main perspectives of naihanchi - and this is reflected in the base of the form: its stance.


It has been pointed out to me that that Yamashiro sensei does not, apparently, teach a "toes-out" version, so I stand corrected.

However it seems relatively clear to me that at least some points Yamashiro sensei has one or both feet "toes out" (see below) so I think I can be excused for missing any "inward clawing" that might be going on.  If there is, all I can say is that it is subtle: personally I would regard this stance as more of a shiko variant than a kiba variant.

In my opinion, a kiba dachi should be clearly identifiable as toes straight (some people have toes in, but I use "outside edge of foot straight" which gives a slight - almost imperceptible - inward bias).

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why traditional martial arts punch to the chest

Here is a topic I've been meaning to address for some time.

I hear a lot about how karate and other traditional martial arts "have lost the plot" with all "all their chest punches".

Most commonly I hear the refrain: "Who does that anyway?"

Disregarding the fact that body blows occur, it does seem a bit odd to see so many punches seemingly directed to the chest in forms, traditional two-person sparring etc.

So what's it all about?

I've heard every "theory" under the sun - "They aren't really punches!" (yeah right), "They're hidden/secret techniques!" (not that again) and "There are death points on the chest! (so why aren't people dying around the world?).

I believe the answer is rather more simple.  It's all about training at the at the correct range - and accordingly making your training more realistic and practical - and doing it with reasonable safety from injury.

But what do we end up seeing?

Almost all traditional martial artists (and I include myself - for I have been, and probably will continue to be, guilty of this) end up practising out of range.

This results in misinterpretations of things like "palm blocks" which almost totally erase what I believe is the knowledge of the ancients.

Lucky for us, all it takes is a bit of closer examination to get back to "making it real".  And this always makes it clear what works and what doesn't.

Chest punches aren't a literal technique.  They are just a necessary training tool for making it "more realistic" - without having to resort to punching your partner's face (with or without cumbersome protective gear).  Primarily, chest punches allow you to practise your "blocks" (ie. deflections/interceptions).  You can't do this out of range.  And you can't do this against face punches without either (a) increasing your range or (b) greatly slowing down your punches or both - that is, if you care about your training partner...

So the answer to the issue of chest punches isn't to look at them as an attacking technique - but as a base for testing defensive ones.

In other words, the bottom line with chest punches is this: you're not training punches: you're training deflections.

What about the "bad habit" you might get into of punching people in the chest rather the head?

First, I've always found that you punch where you choose to punch.  That main thing is that your punch should be capable of landing - not guaranteed to miss.  Otherwise, where you choose to land your punch is your prerogative.

Second, I think you'll only "default to punching the chest" if the only punching you do is chest punching.  I don't know anyone who does this.  The nearest one gets is karateka preparing for a kyokushin-type competition where head punches are excluded.  Yes, such practice can instil bad habits if it is done too much at the expense of general training.  But in the end, the bigger problem for the competition practitioner is not "too much chest punching" - it's forgetting to defend (particularly the head).  Fighters become blaze about taking punches to the chest; they forget that punches to head can't be absorbed with such alacrity.

Personally, I've personally never experienced any sort of "chest punching" habit - whether "competition-induced" or otherwise.  To begin with, we punch to lots of targets: head, solar plexus, kidneys, liver, throat... you name it.  Chest punches are really just confined to certain partner exercises and the odd basic kata (fukyugata).

In any event, the most common bad habit I see in arts like karate has nothing to do with chest punching.  Rather it is the fact that most people in traditional martial arts train well out of range.  And that is a far worse habit than the alleged habit some might suggest you'll develop from "punching to the chest" - (particularly if this is principally confined to basics, standing and one step sparring and the odd basic kata move).

In our school we use head punches all the time - in sparring and basic drills.  We just don't use them when trying to test deflections in a realistic environment.  You can't test deflections nearly as well with head punches because protective gear (gloves, headgear etc.) seriously impede your movement, your ability to see and your access to intercepting your opponent's forearm with your forearm - all the things you need to make deflections work.  And, protective gear or not, head punches are never really safe - especially in the longer term.

Basically martial arts practise should involve punches at all heights - particularly the head (where, as my friend Zach points out, the "light switch" is contained).  But to understand deflections (a cornerstone of defence in traditional arts) you need to train at the right range.  And chest punches are about the only thing I've ever discovered that will let you do that at full speed and power.

Yes, chest punches hurt.  But they don't hurt nearly as bad as head punches.  And I have experienced a broken sternum, so I have some idea.  Just today I injured a joint where the rib inserts into the sternum.  But aside from not doing bench for a few days, I'll live.  I'd rather not get my teeth smashed or my nose broken when actually testing deflections properly - and learning to actually apply them.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The truth about palm blocks

As readers may or may not know, I've been engaged in a number of large projects this year, both martial and non-martial.  I'll detail these another time.

For now, I'll restart my blogging here with "micro posts", featuring mostly videos and brief commentary.  In that spirit, here is the first of my entries on the subject of "palm blocks".

It is important to note that the palm can be used to "block" an attack at its source (eg. by jamming the shoulder or hip or other part of the "core") but I haven't gone into this in the above video which is simply taken from class.

For more on the topic of forearm vs palm blocks see: "Why block with the forearm rather than the palm".

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic