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Disclaimer: This is my take on the subject, based on my training history and experience, and is not a complete representation of the totality of karate. There are more than enough exceptions at the style, organization and school levels that this is not so much an authorative text but rather an opinion piece, so take it for what it's worth. It can be taken as a companion piece to my earlier article on punching mechanics (Which I will probably eventually update once more). I will use spoiler tags to divide it into bite-sized pieces after the main section, but I do strongly urge you to read it all eventually in order to form a complete picture of what I am trying to get across . Also note that terminology can vary, so I am using what is familiar to me, which may not apply universally.
I want to talk for a bit about kihon techniques (the formal basic exercices of karate styles). The stereotypical image of kihon is linework, repeatedly stepping up and down a hall performing techniques in the air, with theoccasional session of prearranged step sparring. But what are kihon exercises, actually? They are exercises designed to train body mechanics isolated from applied movements, and abstracted into a convenient package that lets you develop how your body moves, by itself, without the alterations caused by physical interaction with an opponent (Or minimizing them in the case of step sparring). Thus, partner drills and application work must also be employed so as not to lose that aspect of training; kihon is refined in class, but trained on one's own when no partner is available (I would go further and state that past the stage of being a complete beginner, or after one has a basic level of comfort with a given technique, spending significant class time on solo kihon repetition when one has actual people with whom to train is a less than optimal use of one's time). In partner training, resistance and impact are a must, as there must be a two-way feedback between how one moves one's body, and how one uses said movement to affect an opponent's body.
Kihon can be deceptive in appearance, as there are nuances in effective movement that may not be readily apparent, but which are born of the aforementioned feedback from partner training. One must look not only at where the limbs are before, during and after the execution of a technique, but more importantly at what they are doing to get there, and how the motion is supported and assisted by one's posture (that is, where they are going, and how they're getting there). The ideal aim (always balanced out by the prevalence of gross motor patterns in stressful situations) is to get as many body parts as possible contributing to exert force in the desired directions, which are themselves determined entirely by function, itself in turn determined by desired results in partner training. If the execution of kihon training does not correspond to what happens in partner training, there is no carryover or refinement of body mechanics, and it becomes useless and meaningless repetition.
Kihon is not however application work, and it must not be confused for it. Kihon is mostly fixed, because it is abstract, and has little context to account for in terms of variation, other than what one would purposefully introduce in order to specifically train a variation of the movement. In application work, one has an aim that is entirely relative to one's opponent, whether that be offensive, defensive, or both, and therefore one's actions, even on fixed sequences, will be conditioned by the actions and positions of the opponent, relative to one's own, irrespective of whether one initiates an action or reacts to an opponent's.
On the hand at the hip:
Onto some of the details of kihon, a ubiquitous element of karate kihon is the pulling hand, or hikite, commonly referred to as the chamber. This refers to the pulling of the off-hand to the hip or ribs, and to the start of techniques off of that position. This fulfills several functions during kihon training, firstly serving as a standard position in which to keep the hands when not in use, but also having practical uses (combative and otherwise), such as compensating for the amount of time spent with the arms in front of the body by stretching the front of the shoulders, as well as serving as pulling training for grabs and backwards elbow striking, and enabling the arms to quickly move to where they need to be to train a particular movement (always remember that kihon is abstract training, not application, and one cannot do an upwards movement if the hands are already up, for example). Always remember that in kihon you are training isolated body-mechanics, not applied movements.
Specifically regarding the kihon called uke-waza (generally referred to as blocks, literally "recieving techniques"): Nominally defensive actions, they are still kihon techniques, which means they are actually abstract motions based on defensive actions; the body mechanics are equally transferable to motions other than parrying and deflecting, including both striking and manipulation, as well as kamaete (guard positions/active fences).
On closed hand blocking:
In karate, it is common to see a prevalence of closed fist defensive techniques involving the forearms, with open handed movements gradually introduced, and in certain cases starting to supercede the prior movements (many being nearly the same motion, but parrying with the open hand rather than the forearm). It is my belief that this is primarily a safety measure aimed at rank beginners in order to help prevent broken hands and fingers until enough coordination has been gained that the open hand can be used with minimal risk. Employing the distal forearm gives enough leeway that slight timing or distancing mistakes can still be caught nearer the elbow, or with the fist, without the fingers being significantly exposed to impact. Additionally, the use of shorter levers and deflections closer to the body may possibly permit better refinement of the involved body mechanics by removing complexity while slightly increasing difficulty, and help teach how to deal with aggression at closer ranges, by defending with body parts more proximal than the hands where the latter are tied up, or too far away to be of effective use.
On the preparatory motion:
Uke-waza are often done in two stages, with a preparatory movement preceding the actual technique, in terms of which this preparatory movement is often irrelevant, serving mainly the purpose of getting the main limb to a position from where the technique may be executed; to block inwards, the arm must be on the outside, to block high, it must be low, and so on. In terms of application, however, this preparatory movement is often a natural, efficient defensive reaction off a natural position, where the uke-waza itself may in some cases be more useful in a more proactive role, or as a natural followup designed to control, guard, attack or simply back up or build upon the preparatory movement, therefore both motions must be equally taken into account and trained (which partly removes the need to train the more natural reactions separately, as well). In application work, what is done will again depend on one's and one's opponent's relative positioning and actions, and should ideally consist of what is quickest and most efficient given each situation. In addition, the kihon merely trains some of the body mechanics involved in the work of the limbs, hips and trunk when trying to avoid getting hit, among other things, and never removes the need for other defensive actions such head and body movement, but rather is made all the more effective when they are intelligently combined, both by partially reducing the viable target area and by augmenting the motion of the arms.
On body mechanics:
The basic physical principle involved in uke-waza is that of force redirection and reduction. One makes contact via a limb (what in chinese martial arts would be called a "bridge"), and, using as many body parts as possible in synergy (ideally trained to a point where it all coalesces into an automatized gross motor pattern), applies force* to the contact point so that there is a solid (but ideally never static) virtual structure between that point and the ground under one's feet. Depending on the relative vectors and intensity of each other's movement**, the result will be either a deflection or a hard block, but the principles involved are the same.
*This force results from a coordinated mix of pushing, pulling and rotation with limbs, hips and torso, as well as height shifts of one's center of gravity. This is similar to the CMA concept of "float, sink, spit, swallow", in very generalized terms the former two referring to vertical COG shifts (both of one's body and of the opponent's), and the latter two to horizontal force issuing.
**Obviously, while a well ingrained motor pattern is vital, so is enough physical strength that the opponent's movement can in fact be countered effectively. Technique employs the strength you already have as well as external factors such as gravity and force from the opponent's body, and can only be refined to a hypothetically perfect level of coordination, and no further, which even if plausible (usually not) would still be entirely dependent on context, relative reaction times and capacity to adapt on the spot as far as function is concerned. Strength, on the other hand, is generally quantifiable and immensely trainable, but of no use if it is not applied in the correct directions via motor coordination with proper timing and distance (that is, via technique). Therefore, both aspects are ideally to be developed to their utmost for optimal combative effectiveness with any sort of technique.
Onto some of the specific uke-waza employed in karate:
-Blocking with the palm:
Includes three kihon techniques, differing almost only in their direction: Teisho-uke (palm heel uke-waza), which presses medially, forwards and slightly upwards, being more commonly a harder block; osae-uke (pressing uke-waza), which presses medially, forwards and downwards, usually more softly; and nagashi-uke (flowing uke-waza), which presses medially, backwards and slightly upwards, being the softest. Being among the most natural of defensive motions, and requiring little training by virtue of both being natural and being used to prepare most other blocking kihon, palm blocking is seldom intensively drilled by itself.
-Uchi-uke (inwards forearm block, lit. "inside uke"), sometimes called soto-uke ("outside uke", as in out-to-in):
Medial deflection with the supinating forearm. Done correctly, at the moment of contact the shoulder travels forwards and downwards, the elbow extends and travels medially and downwards, the forearm supinates, and the wrist moves forwards and downwards, with the torso and hips rotating in the direcrion of the technique. this reduces the target area one presents, and applies pressure to deflect an offending limb.
The body mechanics can be slightly modified to create hammerfists, falling backfists, or urazuki (palm-up punches, lit. inverted thrust), or to apply pressure for limb manipulation (and dragging if combined with hikite), as well as being cognate with the mechanics for a downwards forearm smash (otoshi-uke/falling uke).
The preparatory movement involves reaching forwards with the off-hand (cognate with different palm movements), while throwing the main limb to the outside to enable complete execution of the main movement.
-Yoko-uke (side/lateral uke, sometimes called uchi-uke):
This is a peculiar uke waza that is abstracted to a point where the kihon technique itself is not particularly practical (whereas most others can mostly be used in nearly identical ways to how they are trained), yet it can serve as a biomechanical base (a "seed" movement, to borrow/misappropriate/shamelessly steal a term from Dan Djurdjevic) for outwards deflection along different angles and heights.
The shoulder, elbow and wrist move almost exactly as in uchi/soto-uke, but laterally rather than medially (a common mistake is to use only lateral motion and rotation but neglect the forwards and downwards pressure that actually provodes most of the force to the movement, whereas the former only mainly contributes direction to it). Other than for deflections, it can also be applied as urazuki or kamaete by emphasizing the forwards movement and employing a thrusting spiral motion. The preparatory motion is cognate with basic palm blocking, with the main arm crossing underneath the off-hand in front of the body.
Certain styles use a more circular yoko-uke that loops back at the end, symbolizing a trapping motion with the wrist and back of the hand. This is built upon by the open handed tekubi kake-uke (wrist hooking uke), an open handed circular deflection and trap with the back of the hand (as seen in the kata kururunfa).
-Jodan age-uke (lit. high level rising uke, often less redundantly simply called age-uke):
Upwards, outwards and forwards high level block with two basic defensive uses: A soft deflection usable against aggressions without sideways movment, such as a push, punch, or downwards smash (with a scissoring hip turn away from the arm, as in yoko-uke), and a hard block usable to intercept looping strikes such as hooks or haymakers (usually with the opposite hip turn to the aforementioned). The principles involved are identical in both except for the usual direction of hip rotation (which slightly changes the shoulder movement).
The technique is executed by raising the arm to the outside and rotating it internally while extending the elbow and pronating the forearm. Some practitioners will perform it without active elbow extension, merely raising the arm with the elbow at 90 degrees. This is wrong, as it removes an active joint from the kinetic chain and prevents one from forming an effective structure. The preparatory movement can be interpreted as either a palm block or an uchi/soto-uke depending on exact execution.
Age-uke can also be employed as a hammerfist, or for limb control, or as a hook punch if the arm is moved medially instead.
-Gedan-barai (low-level sweep):
An outwards forearm block done low, mostly analogous and mechanically very similar to age-uke, but generally more of a hard block and with a greater sideways motion. Typically trained against kicks, it is also variably applicable against hooks and uppercuts, and can be used as a control structure in the same way as age uke, or as a strike or limb manipulation (small tweaks can make it applicable to certain elbow and shoulder locks). The preparatory movement is an inwards and slightly downwards deflection, typically a palm block, but also doable with the forearm.
-Shuto-uke (knife hand uke):
Very similar to age-uke, but employing the side of the palm and typically done lower, around shoulder height, this is an outwards block with a palm block as a preparatory movement. The main movement can easily itself be a knife hand strike instead, and the uses are mostly the same as those of age-uke. Additionally, combining the main and preparatory movements results in basic trapping motions.
-Kake-uke (hooking uke) or kakete (hooking hand):
These refer to grabbing motions, generally involving a crushing grip and/or a pull to help trap by friction. Kakete refers mainly to grabbing, by itself, whereas kake-uke involves a deflection starting similarly to a circular yoko-uke and finishing similarly to a shuto-uke with a grab and pull. Usually prepared with a palm block, and can be used as part of handfighting in close range grappling situations.
-Juji-uke (10-shape* uke) or kosa-uke (crossed uke):
A defensive motion done with the forearms crossed (as if doing a double age-uke or gedan-barai). Nominally an x-block, it can regardless be employed as a single handed defensive movement, with the other hand as a backup, ready to spring back and cover the opposite side to the block (as per the kata heian/pinan yondan), used to attack, or positioned for grabbing (as in the kata heian/pinan godan, and kururunfa).
*The number 10 in japanese numerals is akin to a plus sign, hence the name.
Sukui-uke (scooping uke):
simple inwards scooping with the hand, usable for general low-line arm or leg catching and dragging.
Soto-barai (outside sweep, cognate with soto-uke):
A low-line medial sweep of the arm, effectively the opposite motion of gedan-barai. as a defensive motion, mostly intended for use as a reaction when one's arms are down, but also applicable as a low swinging punch, or in close quarters combat, with some variation, as a control movement applying pressure with the shoulder or upper arm to move, pin or lock.
-Kakuto (Unsure of the translation, generally called a crane-beak block):
One of the strangest and most controversial of uke-waza, consisting essentially of a strong hit with the back of the bent wrist. Effectively useless as a literal parry, particularly in comparison with other movements, such as age-uke and shuto-uke, it can nevertheless be useful in close quarters situations when one's arms are on the inside, as an outwards "bump" triggered by tactile sensitivity, which creates space and leaves the wrist in a position where shuto, teisho or seiryuto (lit. ox jaw hand, downward attacking with the side of the palm heel) attacks can be delivered quickly.
-Empi-uke (monkey elbow uke) or hiji-uke (elbow uke):
Catch-all term for blocking with the elbows, generally interpreted as a possible application for generic elbow techniques rather than using them to strike. Little more than projecting the elbow forwards, upwards or medially to deflect or stop an offending limb.
Originally Posted by John R. Gambit
Isn't your intestine poking out of your stomach when you eat? What are you doing suplexing the up-and-comers?!
also, just found an excellent video, about 12min long, of soke inoue yoshimi talking about and demonstrating many of the same things i address here. his execution is also very similar to how i describe the movements, as he leads a sister branch to the one i train in of shito-ryu karate (but he performs them to a superb standard whereas mine are somewhat sloppy ):
i'm planning on making a few videos myself on this for the technique thread (actually i lie, i wanted to make videos for he technique thread and the idea evolved into this). won't be as crisp as inoue sensei's, but at least i get to fuel my ego a bit .
Originally Posted by John R. Gambit
Isn't your intestine poking out of your stomach when you eat? What are you doing suplexing the up-and-comers?!