Wednesday 8 August 2007

How to become a Swiss Army Knife!

Karada No Buki

‘The Weapons of the Body’

Karate is a martial art of self-defense which, if practiced properly, transforms the entire body into a weapon. Obviously, this can only eventuate, if karateka consciously focus on this target, and train each part of the body earnestly. "Traditional karate" as defined by my teacher, Asai Tetsuhiko, included the daily, and systematic training, of all of the 'karada no buki'. So much so that, without being dramatic, his hands were literally like rocks. I've never seen, nor 'felt', someone with more 'conditioned' knuckles. Asai Sensei used to joke by saying things like, "Andre, I just remembered, that my callouses have fingers attached to them". A question Sensei often posed to his students was, ''Why are karateka so limited in their training of various bodily weapons?'' His self answer would be ''Too much sports karate! Limited technique and thinking! Don’t confine yourself to the tournament dojo.'' There is no doubt that karada no buki was a high-priority for Asai Sensei, and for anyone seriously practicing karate as a bujutsu (martial art).


Practice all of the karada no buki, experimenting on different targets such as the makiwara, heavy bag, impact shields, focus mitts, washing hanging from your clothes-line etc. Be careful not to injure yourself, so take your time to 'safely discover' how each weapon is best trained and applied. In many cases, the objects you practice hitting will initially need more padding, however, over time you will be able to change to harder surfaces (if required), and hit with greater levels of of speed and/or power.

Also practice the ‘controlled’ hitting of various targets for accuracy (both stationary and moving opponents). Depending on the weapon and the target hit, you can apply different levels of force (please note I am only addressing percussive blows in this article). This includes (i) depth of target penetration (surface or deep); (ii) Impact style, that is either a driving, whipping, cutting, jabbing, or jolting action; And (iii) Ma’ai/distancing.

Training tips related to the various karada no buki

(1) Train all the major weapons of the body (see the list below): In particular, condition and sharpen them all, as required. Each tool the karateka uses, must be reliable. Good tools ‘do the job well’, and don’t break if used correctly, and ‘carefully maintained’. Don’t let those tools get ‘blunt and rusty’ in the back shed. In my view, they are karate's biggest advantage! Just as a "hint", a sample training regime may be as follows: Monday and Wednesday, focus on the fists and arms; Tuesday and Thursday, focus on open hands; And on Friday's and Saturday's, focus on feet, legs and the other weapons of the body. Make all of your tools autonomous, so you can instinctively respond with any of them. "Bang", nakadaka ippon ken to the temple, or hiraken to the the bridge of the nose. Trained daily in this way, your karate will become 100% more effective than the majority of 'styles' practiced in the world today. Why, because the sportification of karate only gives lip service, to the more dangerous weapons of the body. Of course, without relentless training, no techniques can be trusted as being reliable. This is especially the case, when facing the extreme psychological pressure of an unexpected street attack.

(2) Discover what hyoteki (target) each weapon is for: That is, as mentioned above, what target, or targets, each weapon is optimal for hitting. A special focus here includes the various kyusho or ‘pressure points’ (I'll cover these in a future article). Via training, get verified answers, to such questions as, ''Is it effective for me to use Washide against someones temple?'' etc... Essentially establish what targets are optimal for YOU, in a real fight. Obviously this also takes into account your size, strength, opponent or opponents, the environment, and how you are attacked. Regardless, you must know 'where to hit' and 'what to hit with'.

(3) The best techniques (trajectory, body mechanics, and positioning) to ‘successfully’ impact with the weapon: Success to me means reaching the target, and hitting with the appropriate force, to momentarily stun, or completely take out the opponent, in one shot. Again, as mentioned above, sometimes ‘driving through’ the opponent is best, yet other times a ‘jolting blow’, or another type of percussion, is far more effective. Body positioning, and movement, of you and your opponent, the environment, and so forth, all contributes to your split second decision. All technical variations must therefore be autonmous, and deeply grooved into the subconscious mind. There is no time to think, just react.


The 'main' karada no buki in Shotokan karate are as follows:

(a) Fist formations: Seiken; Uraken; Kentsui/tetsui; Tate-ken; Ippon-ken/hitosashiyubi ippon-ken; Nakadaka ippon-ken; Hiraken; Ganken.

(b) Open hand formations: Shuto; Teisho/shotei; Haito; Haishu; Ippon-nukite; Nihon-nukite, Shihon-nukite; Keito; Seiyuto; Kakuto; Koko; Kumade; Washide.

(c) Foot formations: Josokutei; Sokuto; Kakato; Sokutei; Haisoku; Tsumasaki/nuki-ashi.

(d) Other weapons of the body: Atama; Kata-ken; Empi/hiji; Sune; Hizagashira; Haiwan; Gaiwan; Naiwan; Shuwan.

I would like to wrap up by encouraging people, who are serious about karate for goshin-jutsu/self-defense, to follow Asai Sensei's example. I truly hope that instructors around the world, who read this article, will start incorporating more 'karada no buki', and 'effective hyoteki' into their regular dojo practice. From here, karate students can develop their own personal training regime, which is effective for self-protection, as opposed to being largely confined to the rules of 'karate kumite'. It is each instructors 'responsibility' to equip their students, with the knowledge, to develop effective self-defense skills. Otherwise, they should make it clear that 'self-defense is not a priority in their club' from the onset of training. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, if students are happy, merely doing karate for fitness, recreation and sport.

It is of my opinion that karate, and in particular, JKA Shotokan's "biggest advantage" over all the other martial arts, is its diverse range of effective tools, for varying situations. At all costs we should avoid being pompus, by clinging to what is now 'claimed' as "tradtional Shotokan" (thus limiting our fighting arsenal), and remember that karate is foremostly a martial art. Try to turn yourself into a Swiss Army Knife so you can respond to any situation with the right tools!

Kindest regards and happy training to everyone!

Below are some pictures of Asai Sensei demonstrating various applications against me, with seiryuto (ox-jaw hand), and kakuto (bent wrist). How often does the typical Shotokan dojo work on these, and other weapons of the body?

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

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