Thursday, 9 December 2021

打ち込み (Uchikomi)

This article will hopefully clarify 打ち込み (uchikomi) and, more specifically, “…uchikomi practice and its purpose in budo/bujutsu karate”.

Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei and Kawasoe Masao Sensei

Before I do that I want to give some generic background details. Firstly, allow me to detail the meaning of the term: 打ちmeans ‘strike’/‘hit’; whilst 込み translates as ‘in’. Allow me to expand on the second part 込み, as in Japanese it literally has a deeper connotation; for example, ‘driving a weapon into a target so that it becomes lodged’. Only with this understanding can we practice uchikomi meaningfully; that being said, even here in Japan this is often overlooked in favor of ‘uchikomi training being a predominantly sports karate Kumite practice’. Basically a ‘point scoring’ exercise. Of course scoring points in a match is good. But this statement depends on the quality of technique, which is very different in sports kumite from what we do: ‘we’ meaning all of us who follow budo and understand technique as effective bujutsu. I will return to this point later in this article.


Secondly, I want to point out that uchikomi can be found in all of the arts of traditional budo/bujutsu (sumo, judo, kendo, etcetera…). It is important, and mainstream practice, for primarily making one’s kogekiwaza (attacking techniques) highly functional/effective: reliable—irrespective of environment and stimuli.


Thirdly, and unequivocally related to the previous point, uchikomi grooves techniques/precise and ‘adaptable motions’ deeply into the subconscious, thus, resulting in greater physical skill: especially under pressure. Obviously, this is stating the obvious, but it is important to do so for actual training as opposed to mere rhetoric. Returning to what I just inferred earlier about sports verses bujutsu, these strengthened synaptic connections are utterly critical. Why? Well, quite simply how you train is what you’ll do. Uchikomi for sports karate focuses on landing and retracting as quick as possible. This means that a destructive blow is counter to the aim, as this is slower, and means the escape is also slower; thus, risking being scored on. Sports karate kumite, in its current form, is literally a highly advanced tag match. I am by no means saying this with ill intent, but that’s what it is, and the athleticism is very high, which in itself somewhat deserves recognition. I’d like to add here: that this is not the athletes fault, they are world class. It is the rules and the judges, as they shape their behavior in order to ‘win’. I really hope this can be changed via consultation. I believe this would also contribute to a more globally popular version of mainstream Kumite competition that would not only reflect budo karate, but would also be more impressive for the masses outside the karate world. However, due to all of the political red tape, I don’t think that would ever happen.

Yahara Mikio Sensei.

So, back to uchikomi. How should it be done? Well, firstly control must still be applied; however, to avert the aforementioned sports karate slump, the aim of each respective waza must be ‘to optimize the potential to finish the opponent’. Notice that I’m not implying this to be a black and white scenario, but rather ‘the constant physical aim’. Therefore, exact kihon must be used each time. In saying this, I don’t mean adhering to basic movement, but ‘applying each waza with the underpinning of the base kihon’ (again, striving towards achieving Ichigekki Hisatsu every time). The idea here is to never short-change oneself in training, which can never contribute towards each individual achieving their very best. This, of course transcends all karate ‘styles’ and thus is totally inclusive.


Put another way, the training of uchikomi—like jiyu kumite—must be as follows: “…without control, serious damage will be inflicted”. This especially means that the distancing must be correct for maximum damage; hence, the distancing is naturally closer than the present-day mainstream/sports kumite .


Uchikomi, trained in this way, forms neural connections which are useful in the real world. To reiterate, this is because every attack is exactly how you will use it outside the dojo or shiai-jo. It’s like going to the firing range.


The present sports karate version of this would be firing out of distance. The bullet leaves the pistol and makes a weak trajectory, then, after all, the bullet drops to the ground before effectively penetrating the target. Of course, this is generally speaking, in relation to ‘point scoring’. I need to add, everyone who has competed in sports karate knows that heavy contact also occurs intermittently. But, again, that being said, “the majority of techniques thrown have anything but the potential to cause real damage”.

Tanaka Masahiko Sensei precisely planting a kick to his opponents temple.

 In karate as bujutsu, the bullet leaves the pistol and makes the optimal trajectory, then impacts with optimal effect. Irrespective of strength and size, with accuracy and the right weapons of the body—this is more than sufficient for civilian self defense. Bujutsu, irrespective of art, is focused on effective skills to save one’s life.


So what is uchikomi training? Well, we have so many variations, so today I will focus on the most basic form. This form is done with one or more training partners. But today let’s focus on three or more participants. In English this is often referred to as ‘line training’.


One person is the defender whilst the others attack one at a time. Each attacker charges ‘in’ with their waza then loops around returning to the rear of the line. At a basic level the attacks might be set; for example, jodan gyaku-zuki. However, this often builds up to any hand technique, any leg technique, grappling, throwing or a combination of all of these


As I mentioned earlier, there are higher levels such as using ‘tenshin’ and so forth; nevertheless, these are secondary—better put, supplementary—to the aforementioned base form of uchikomi.


Uchikomi training, if one desires to achieve a high level in true karate, requires that effective bujutsu waza is launched over and over again. This is what I term as an instructor as ‘habitual effectiveness’. Many karate people call their karate budo or traditional, but are not seriously training their techniques to REALLY work. My karate is always focused on this point, kihon—kata—and kumite. While I’ve competed, karate is not a sport for me.


I want to end by saying that I'm not to trying to undermine competition, as competition is essential. The experience is extremely valuable and bolsters one's level in the both the short and long terms. Rather, my advocacy is to keep competition under the direction of bujutsu karate waza; that is, not compromising kimewaza and “…the constant striving in daily keiko towards achieving Ichigeki-Hissatsu”. Of course I could expand a lot more on this today, but I will leave it there. OSU!

Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei.

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

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