Monday 17 April 2023

Timing of 受け技 (ukewaza)

This brief article will address the timing of 受け技 (ukewaza) in relation to footwork and ‘the double action’ of the foundational ‘reception techniques’.


To begin we must first consider the pragmatic function of ukewaza from a vantage point that the karateka has sufficiently mastered the movement(s).


I’d like to do this by repeating a statement that I’ve stated countless times before: “I’ve never seen a ‘block’ used in a real fight”. Nor have I ever used one in my decade of security work in bars, clubs, and as a bodyguard, where I had numerous violent confrontations on a regular basis (I must add here, that as a bodyguard, I fortunately never had not even one physical incident).


So, as the term ‘uke’ means ‘reception’/to receive, I can say that I have utilized free versions of these waza on a regular basis; moreover, when done correctly—and their universal defensive principles are understood and applied—the Shotokan ukewaza are highly effective in the real world.


That being said, and as stated in my opening words, the ‘timing’ of all ukewaza is utterly imperative to make them useful outside of the dojo. And yes, they are VERY USEFUL.


To address this, I’ll begin with the other point I mentioned: the double action.


1.            The ‘Double Action’

It is obvious that the wind up/chambering of the foundational ukewaza makes no sense against a sudden single action, let alone a barrage of attacks. Simply put, the punch or strike is immediate and direct, and therefore intrinsically faster. Consequently, the completed ‘uke’ cannot out-speed such a single action—especially when it is completely unpredictable—which is always the case in a ‘jiyu context’ (jiyu kumite, goshin jutsu, police/security/military).


Common sense immediately shows that this is not the true meaning of these waza. Accordingly, we know that “…the ‘wind up’/‘chambering’ is the reactive response to the respective stimuli”. With that cleared up, “the second action, the completion of the waza, is thus achieving ‘kime’ as a secondary defense; a counterattack; or both simultaneously”. Indeed, the initial action is often an offensive action, such as after impacting with an 入口技 (Iriguchiwaza) one snatches the opponents wrist, and pulls them in with the 引き手 (hikite): to impact or lock/ break a joint. Irrespective, of any of these applications, we can see the critical importance of the first action of the kihon-ukewaza: especially in relation to the timing of an initial attack. That brings me to the overarching theme and criticality of ‘timing’ itself.



2.            Timing

Needless to say, one can have the faster and strongest techniques, and great external form, but without precise timing—especially under the pressure of a violent attack—one’s karate simply cannot be reliable.


Accordingly, and needless to say, the timing of the foundational techniques must be fully understood and trained properly. Certainly, the ukewaza are no exception to this, and arguably timing is their most important element.


Unfortunately, most Shotokan groups no longer practice the pre—WW2 timing of the foundational ukewaza. And, in fact, primarily train the timing of the second action as “…mostly a defense against basic karate waza, which never occur in self-defense”. While this is useful practice for basic form and 分解 (Bunkai — the analysis of movements and their respective trajectories when initially learning kihon/kata), it is not related to 応用 (Oyo —practical application) and 実戦組手 (Jissen Kumite — real fighting).


So, what is the ‘old school (pre ‘fist kendo’) timing, which makes the ukewaza effective (in the practical ways mentioned above). The answer is the same as 突き技 (tsukiwaza); that is, ‘do not slow the hands down to be in time with your body’. Instead, ‘the hands must be quicker’. Thereby, in the case of the Part One of this article, ‘The Double Action’, it is absolutely clear that one must ‘wind up’/‘chamber’ the ukewaza rapidly. In this way, kihon, kata and kumite are all consistent: harmonious with each other.


This means that the initial action, more than a specific waza, becomes a ‘flinch reaction’, which—rather being for specific attacks—responds appropriately to whatever the attack may be. This is the higher meaning of ‘reception’ in karate, which is rarely perfected now and seriously undermines the practicality of the art.


By no means does this completely alter teashi-onaji; rather, it is actually supports it. I always point out to my trainees that “gaining milliseconds is the aim of professional sprinters”. Of course, milliseconds are what win medals and break records. In Budo, they can determine success or failure.


In the case of ukewaza, perhaps life or death. And kogekiwaza, the difference between a grazing blow or a knockout.


A case study: consider movements 18 to 21 in Heian Shodan (the four shuto chudan-uke in kokutsu-dachi). Of course, this sequence is also found in Heian Nidan (Pinan Shodan), Kanku Dai and, although extended, Sochin as well. This oyo is obviously important, however, allow me to purely focus on the ‘performance timing’.


Mostly, people do this in a sluggish way. It may look quick, but it’s mostly robotic.


Correctly timed, the wind ups and completion of each uke must slightly outpace the steps and turns. This is the correct timing if one is interested in karate as an effective form of budo/bujutsu. All of what I’ve explained above verifies this point. Many top level instructors may dispute what I’m saying, however, this is not about the microcosm of today’s karate, it is about karate when it was highly  functional.



3.            Warning

Keep in mind what I’m explaining here is not a radicle change. It’s subtle. Just as I emphasized above: ‘milliseconds make very big differences in skill/performance/outcomes’. This elucidates a very-very important point in Shotokan Karate: “…the highest execution of kihon is ‘optimal technical moderation’ established for oneself”. Taken as a whole, if what I’ve explained in this article makes your timing strange, it means your technique is wrong. This timing is ‘nearly indiscernible’ to the naked eye; however, it’s affects are highly determinant in effectiveness and non-effectiveness.



© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2023).

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