Saturday, 9 May 2015

The core unsoku of Karate-Do

Sochin kata: very difficult unsoku requiring extremely flexible loins.
Please note, for the simplicity of this article, the context is a `left leg forward’ fighting stance (hidari jiyu-dachi), which will outline the core unsoku (leg movements) of Karate-Do. Of course, it is essential to practice `both sides’; moreover, when either opponent changes stances, it goes without saying, the situation can change immensely. Indeed, this problem further diversifies when there is more than one opponent, a weapon (or weapons), etcetera. With these points in mind, all of the kata consistently teach us “…to have both sides and `a variation’—by ‘the commonplace utilization of three steps’”. As discussed much recently on here, “one can have the best techniques in the world, but without being able to use them—in freestyle/non-prearranged circumstances (with effective distancing and timing, coupled with sufficient impact power): they are motions of uselessness”. In all cases, this point is the technical priority of Budo Karate; that is, effective application in the real world. Osu, André Bertel.

The core unsoku of Karate-Do:
1.      MOVING DIRECTLY FORWARD (ON THE VERTICAL LINE): Thrust forward from the rear leg or bring up (or ‘step through’)—the distance is dependent on the footwork, or combinations of footwork, applied. For example, tobi konde with kizami-zuki, fumidashi/aiyumibashi with jun-zuki, okuri-bashi or tsugi-ashi with gyaku-zuki etc... Essentially, this footwork is the base of SEN NO SEN.

The final movement of Bassai-sho kata.
2.      MOVING DIRECTLY REARWARD (ON THE VERTICAL LINE): This is exactly the opposite of `Moving Directly Forward’; however, it is worth mentioning one variation. A common tactic to counterattack is to keep the lead foot in place, to ‘keep the distance’ and simply move the rear foot. From this position one can immediately counterattack.

3.      MOVING DIRECTLY TO THE LEFT SIDE (ON THE HORIZONTAL LINE): The front (left) foot moves leftward and the rear (right) foot follows. This is used to deal with techniques coming from your opponents left side (coming from your right side). I.e. – hidari mawashi-geri or a left hook. Also, linear attacks such as migi chudan ushiro geri. 

4.      MOVING DIRECTLY TO THE RIGHT SIDE (ON THE HORIZONTAL LINE):  The rear (right) foot moves rightward and the front (left) follows. This footwork is used to deal with techniques coming from you opponents right side (coming from your left side). I.e. migi ushiromawashi-geri, a right haymaker punch/swing etc…

  • Please note: for `3’ and `4’, the optimal situation is to also `go in’ and employ a deai-waza; however, these methods are important when utilising a defence to avoid absorbing impact on your arm or guard. For example, allowing the mawashi-geri to lose momentum and destabilize, and then covering with haiwan uke. In sum, these methods provide the most simplistic illustration of using GO NO SEN.

5.      MOVING FORWARD LEFTWARD (OFF THE LINE): Usually this is to apply a ‘deai-waza’. Advance with left leg, for example diagonally—or more tightly for higher level exponents, then use the left foot as a pivot to re-establish a solid position (again, this is determined ‘case-by-case’). A basic example is when your opponent launches a hidari jodan zuki attack and you simultaneously attack with your own hidari jodan kizami-zuki utilising this footwork.

6.      MOVING FORWARD RIGHTWARD (OFF THE LINE): In a same side stance (with one’s opponent) this is less common, but is still used. This body shift is done by stepping through, off the angle with the rear (right) leg—again, the tighter the better, —then pivoting on the right leg into a stable/optimal position. An example is to use this footwork against a right jodan gyaku-zuki attack, haito-uchi, or right hook. Simultaneously cover with nagashi-uke and punch with your left hand. This technique is referred to as ‘nagashi-zuki’ as it is mix of both oi-zuki (jun-zuki) and kizami-zuki.

7.      MOVING REARWARD LEFTWARD (OFF THE LINE): While one can push with the lead (left) foot to move leftward to the rear—when in a left jiyu-dachi—the more common, and effective method, is the step rearward with the lead leg. Like all other forms of footwork, the length of step and angle will be determined ‘case by case’; however, the correct technique is to move just enough to render your opponent(s) attack useless and, ideally, execute your own technique, i.e. – migi mae ashi-barai or perhaps migi kizami mawashi-geri: to their head, torso or a gedan target. This movement is particularly useful against a renzokuwaza (flurry of attacks/combination).
An example of kizami mawashi-geri
8.      MOVING REARWARD RIGHTWARD (OFF THE LINE): The common method used for this body shift is to thrust with the lead (left) foot and move the right leg on an angle to the right rear side; subsequently, the left foot follows. Again, this method is useful against an aggressive charge of one’s opponent. Avoid by breaking the line, and compress; then, apply your own attack. I.e. – tai sabaki kara (tai no shinshuku) gyaku-zuki. It is once again noting here that the maai will determine the counter i.e. – close range might determine an enpi-uchi/hiji-ate is utilised; alternatively, a long distance may call for a chudan mae-geri. In any case, what a matters is an immediate response with an `ippon-waza’.

Beyond the EIGHT GENERAL DIRECTIONS OF MOVEMENT... Beyond the eight `generic directions’ of movement/footwork there are the following: (A) Ducking and dropping to the ground/floor on the various angles i.e. – the two mawashi-geri from the ground in Unsu kata; (B) Jumping up directly or in various directions i.e. – tobi yoko-geri (kesa-geri); (C) Spinning/Rotation and reverse rotation (i.e. – movement 9 of Heian Sandan); and (D), a combination of them all—using all available movement and space—in automatic response to the opponent(s) attack.
An example of kaiten uraken in a kumite match.
In sum, UNSOKU/ashi-hakobi (leg movements/footwork) and HOKOTENKAN (changes in direction)—in relation to distancing and time (timing)—along with effective impact power, literally defines “technical excellence” in karate-do. Insofar as body movements go, these must be usable in the unpredictable; that is, a non-prearranged context. You will probably notice my emphasis on `freestyle’ lately in my articles. The reason being is that the non-prearranged context establishes the `martial’ in the art. Without this understanding and technical capacity, karate is nothing more than `art for art’s sake’. Karate is first and fore-most a martial art of self-defence and, indeed, this is why it came into existence. Karate is not a dance or performance art, both of which have no meaning beyond the realms of the karate dojo. Best wishes and good training, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2015).

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