One question, which is often asked, is “why we practice chudan tsukiwaza (middle level punching techniques) so much. Well, there are two reasons: one is for training and the other is for self-defence application. However, before I outline these I want to state something that many people teach and astonishingly seem to believe.
1. Here is a typical, and incorrect, understanding about why chudan tsukiwaza are practiced so much: “The advantage of punching chudan is that the torso is a larger target and is less mobile than the head. Furthermore, a chudan level technique has greater range than a jodan tsuki for all the obvious reasons. In sum, chudan punches score more ‘points’; hence, they are practiced more”. －This is 100% SPORTS KARATE.
Well, firstly, I’m not denying that chudan punches aren’t great for winning competitions. I won many matches, and was New Zealand National Champion many times, by often employing chudan tsukiwaza. Nevertheless, and needless to say, competition karate is just ‘a testing ground for ones karate’ and certainly ‘not the origin of technique nor the purpose of the art’.
2. So why so much chudan in our traditional training? I will briefly outline both purposes, as said above—one for training and one for application…
Firstly, for TRAINING: We practice/train chudan-waza for ‘centralization’; that is, everything starts from the center and, furthermore, it is from this point that variations/deviations can most easily be made. Another way to think of it is that “chudan is the marker point for the extremes of height variations (which constitute ‘jodan’ and ‘gedan’)”.
Mid-level tsukiwaza essentially allows us to optimally train both vertical and horizontal tai no shinshuku of the torso—combining the use of the seika-tanden and opening and folding of the seichusen, which underpins the use of the back muscles in relation to the chest muscles.
Secondly, for APPLICATION: Before I go into this point, I’ll need to address two points. Firstly, context. This is an area which many karateka overlook or disregard; however, it largely establishes the training approach and, directly pertaining to that, optimal effectiveness with one’s karate outside of the dojo.
A. Context—civilian unarmed self defence:
Without wasting any time, the context of karate is ‘civilian empty-handed self-defence’; that is, when understood correctly—at least in the case of Shotokan—“…karate is not for the battlefield, mutually agreed street fights/duals, nor for competitive fighting.”
The fact is that warfare and duals primarily involved weapons for thousands of years. Blades for stabbing, clubs for hitting, arrows for shooting and, in more recent centuries, weapons firing bullets, explosives, etcetera. In all cases, when the weapon(s) is/are gone, or the ammunition is out, unarmed martial arts are the last resort… In other words, and please excuse my language, it’s the “oh shit” moment for ‘warriors’. Unarmed combat is the literally the final option.
Karate is not an art for warriors or professional fighter’s—and it never has been—rather, it is a martial art ‘for the average person’ who needs reliable skills to repel an attack on the street. Clearly, this is different from people training to enter K1 kickboxing, cage fighting events, and the boxing ring. This is why, when karateka enter such events they need to cross train in competitive fighting arts such as boxing, judo, college wrestling, Muay Thai etcetera.
Ultimately, Funakoshi Sensei completely disagreed with tournament karate and, likewise, his motto was “Karatedo ni sente nashi” (there is no first attack in karatedo). Nonetheless, he also said that karate, by itself, is enough for 'complete self-defence'; accordingly, let’s now generically look at oyo (application): to understand 'why' this is the case.
B. How to apply karate?
So now I have explained the correct context of karate, Master Funakoshi’s words should make more sense; moreover, they unambiguously tell us two key points about the use/application of karate techniques. The first point is that karate is applied in response to an attack—which again highlights 'personal protection' as opposed to a dual context (or the battlefield). The second point, which he also stated, was that karate was too lethal for ‘matches between exponents’. Clearly, therefore he was strongly against karate tournaments and, more importantly than this, “…it elucidates that the karate, he was talking about, was nothing like the ‘kumite’ found in modern tournaments (both now in 2018, right back to the first All Japan Championships in 1957).
It is very worth mentioning here that “the first All Japan tournament was held in the year Funakoshi Sensei died 1957—after he was dead)”. Just an unlucky coincidence? Well, based on his published opinions, which I have conveyed above, that is highly unlikely.
|Funakoshi Sensei opposed competition as his karate was too dangerous, and he didn't want to water karate down.|
So, to reiterate, Funakoshi Sensei stressed that “…the application of karate is for 'self defence' and is 'extremely volatile'”. This is why ‘when we see kata, it doesn’t resemble competition kumite’. Sure, there are relationships but, indeed, very dim ones.
OK, so let’s return to the point of this article: chudan tsukiwaza… Surely, if karate was so dangerous in application it wouldn’t teach so many 'body shots'. Yes, body punches are, of course, highly effective, but (for obvious reasons, and generally speaking) it is natural to prioritize head attacks.
Well, as I learned many years ago from Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei: "Most of the chudan punches in the 'time capsules of our art'—the various kata (which, again, ‘coincidentally’ Master Funakoshi emphasised)—are, in fact 'jodan attacks' when applied". Over and over again, we can see that the techniques in the kata result in the opponent’s head being lowered, by the use of gravity, being folded forward at the waist, and so on.
What’s more, is “…that the head is positioned directly in the line of the ‘chudan trajectory’; moreover, in a position that disallows the neck to do one of its most important jobs: 'to move the head in relation to an impact/trauma', thus, reduce any potential damage to the brain”.
In sum, the opponent is highly exposed as they are off balance, potentially disorientated, and have become, at least momentarily, a ‘sitting duck’ for a king hit with a ‘chudan-waza’. The funny thing is that this ‘way’ can be applied effectively by small and/or physically weaker people and, most importantly, “…can be devastatingly applied by someone with minimal prowess”. In particular, this last point is essential as “fine motor skills have an extremely poor rate of success under the pressure of a violent assault”. From reading this, you will now see what Funakoshi Sensei meant by his words and how, karate, for the most part, has lost it’s direction.
Today I have used the example of chudan tsukiwaza to highlight a bigger picture. I sincerely hope that this article has enlightened you in some way, or provided a different thinking platform. Overall, and needless to say, merely thinking about such points is insufficient. The key is, as I have always stressed, daily and correct physical karate practise and training. In this way, karate can be returned to ‘the unparallelled martial art of civilian self-defence’ that it actually is. Osu, André
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).
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