Tuesday 14 September 2021

浪返し (Nami-Gaeshi): A much stronger, more effective, and healthier way.



Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei executing hidari ashi hidari nami-gaeshi (Tekki Shodan Kata).


Nami-gaeshi literally translates ‘wave return’ or probably better described in English as ‘returning wave’. The name is derived from the leg action that resembles an ocean wave rolling out then rolling back onto the shore. Of course, the leg action mirrors this, in then out, which is said to represent ‘a constant state of flux’. Beside training in kihon it is first practiced in 鉄騎初段 (Tekki Shodan); later, the fifth常行 (Joko); 騎馬拳 (Kibaken) and, indeed, other kata.


More important than ‘how this waza looks’ and poetic banter, I want to emphasize its functionality; that is, ‘nami-gaeshi for optimal application’. Based on this objective I will need to explain ‘how to do it’. Now, before I go on, I’d like to stress that what I’m going to describe today is ‘not the standard/general method’ of executing this waza. In fact, the majority of instructors will say this is incorrect (if they knew this method). However, it is literally undetectable, even by the most experienced instructors here in Japan.


The reason I adamantly recommend the method, I going to describe today, is threefold: (1) It works better when fighting (especially for ashi-barai (leg/foot sweeping) and/or nagewaza (throwing), also for leg checks and stamps; (2) It works better because it uses the joints, ligaments, tendon and muscles ‘naturally’, also it maximizes ‘gravity-based recovery’, which makes it more explosive; and (3) By being so natural, it does not harm the body.


Hopefully, I have your attention now, and hopefully you can also adopt this superior version of nami-gaeshi.


To begin with… Let’s consider ‘the standard nami gaeshi’ movement.  Basically, from kiba-dachi you swing each leg inwards and upwards with knee fixed. The leg swings up and becomes parallel with the fixed knee to ‘form an attractive straight line (from the knee, shin, and ankle)’. In Shotokan we also ensure that the leg is ‘in front’ as opposed to being under the stance.


So, what are the problems with this? Firstly, connecting points 1 and 2 above, (to varying degrees, but inevitably) it twists the knee; that is, it somewhat uses the knee like a ball and socket joint as opposed to being natural (needless to say, while the knee has this capacity). In any case, unless you are genetically very fortunate, this will be contorting your knee joint.


Accordingly, the more natural (safe) and powerful method is to use the knee in the way it’s designed: as a hinge joint. Also, to full engage the hips (I will expand on this at the end of this article – beyond the basic movement). In this way one can apply far more power and not contort the sensitive ligaments and tendons of your knees.


How to do this? As I have already said, at ‘regular speed’, this is pretty much indecipherable! So please bear with me on this…


At the start of your action simultaneous push the hip of nami-gaeshi leg forward and rotate the heel of the leg towards the front. When you swing the leg up in this manner, it does not twist but remains in-line (a perfect hinge joint) action. Just to recapitulate, this means that you can sweep and/or impact, or evade, more speedily. Furthermore, by intentionally off-balancing yourself, you can ‘rapidly’ return to kiba-dachi, by maximizing the basic rules of juryoku (gravity). There is another bonus here as well. The ‘hinge joint/natural pushing forward of the hip and rotation of the feel to the front’ also requires 'recovery’—to return to a proper kiba-dachi—which, also contributes to the counter action. Bonus: This is superior if the waza is applied as a fumikomi or leg check. Obviously, if using in reality the positioning is not so set; nevertheless, the practice from kiba-dachi makes it far easier to apply in a natural manner: especially when using the stance as a transitional point in the process of tai-sabaki. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is another element to the hip action. Once this method is sufficiently refined you can add to the aforementioned hip movement by also slightly scooping the nami-gaeshi legs hip. This further contributes to power and effectiveness, and also the counteraction. This perfectly aligns with points made on my ‘Kinetic Chain’ and ‘Impact Power’ articles. In this regard, “…one can think of the hip and knee functioning as a single unit” flowing in and out like the action of a whip: again, the all-important ‘wave action’. Another good example, for the pushing and twisting actions, is that of baseball pitcher throwing a spin ball. Suddenly, we can see Asai Sensei’s “…Muchiken (Whip-fist) expressed in leg/foot techniques”. This is very important to understand and perfect, especially as we age!


I want emphasize here that this ‘Asai style’ method of nami-gaeshi was proven firsthand to me as being ‘more easily applicable and highly effective’ not only when I used to compete, but also when I worked in security. Rather than being a technique with a highly specified/limited range of use (and somewhat questionable reliability, insofar as power is concerned) this method makes nami-gaeshi a highly robust and broadly applicable karate-waza.


Finally, I hope that this article contributes not only to ‘more efficient nami-gaeshi’ but also healthier knee joints, tendons and ligaments. I believed Karate should be—if one wishes—‘Lifetime Budo’. As such, “…outdated movements, which damage the body, must be improved/refined, so they are no longer detrimental for our health”. This has even greater value if ‘form is not compromised’; moreover, the respective techniques are made more effective. What I have presented here today, with nami-gaeshi, is an example of fulfilling these points. Best of health and training, Osu! André 

"Biomechanically sound movement and optimal explosiveness are one; therefore, we not only protecting our bodies, when we move naturally, but also maximize our efficiency in application."
(T. Asai)

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

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