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In western boxing there is only one way of using your hands, a fist. Of course this is because they are required to wear a pair of boxing gloves. Due to this rule, their hands are made into a fist. On the other hand, in karate we have so many different ways. Not only can we use both a fist and an open hand, but also many different parts of our hands. I am not going to list all of those different parts and uses but most of the readers (most likely the karate practitioners) know most if not all of those parts and methods.
The subject here may be a surprise to the readers. You might wonder why are we going to discuss such a simple and self-evident subject, how to make a fist. Yes, it is very true that we, the karateka, make our fist every time we train in karate. Therefore, it is almost natural for us as far as how to make our fist. I am well aware of this and despite all of this, I have been feeling a strong necessity to bring this subject to your attention.
My comment may raise your eye brow but I suspect most of the practitioners do not know how to make a fist correctly. It is not their fault as I suspect that they never learned how from their sensei who may not know nor learned how to do it themselves. I can almost hear many readers saying, “What is he talking about? How can he say we do not know how to make a fist?” I know how you feel but wait. You probably believe the way to make a fist is quite simple. Take a look at the photo shown on the left. It shows the steps to make a fist. First, we roll in all the fingers except the thumb. By placing a thumb over the index and middle finger, now we have a beautiful fist. Right? Even though the more precise way to make a fist is different (this will be shared in the later part of this essay), the general concept is correct as shown above. Well, it is very straight forward so what would be a problem?
Before I get into my explanation, I wish to share something very interesting. Here are a couple of photos of a boxer whom we all know. Yes, this is Muhammad Ali who passed away last year (2016). Take a look at his fist (photo right). It looks just like the fist we make, even though he wore boxing gloves when he fought. This is nothing unusual but the next photo (below) is the interesting one. It is interesting not because it is a comical photo of Ali (right side) who wore a bathrobe with someone else’s name on it. That someone else happens to be the guy standing in front, Sugar Ray Leonard (left side). What is important is not their faces. Take a close look at Ali’s right fist under the chin of Leonard.
Did you notice it? Did you find that Ali’s index finger is being extended rather than rolled in? Can this be a freak photo where Ali was relaxing or being sloppy? No, I can definitively tell you that it could not have been. I do not know exactly how old Ali was when he started his boxing training but I am sure he had been training for twenty or close to thirty years by then. If so, he would make his fist, unconsciously, to the way he normally did whether in the training or in a photo session. So, I conclude this is the normal way of how Ali made his fists. Interesting, isn’t it? Well, at least this photo made a strong impression to me.
Before I discuss about this interesting fist that is made by Ali, let me share another photo here (right). Obviously it came from a book. Do you know which book this is and who is the author? Some of you may be surprised. This is from Karatedo Kyohan (published in 1935 from page 20). So, you know the author, yes, Gichin Funakoshi. Look at the index finger! I wonder if Ali had read this book and seen the photo. This may sound like a joke but there is a very interesting and important point hidden here. This is another reason why I am writing this essay.
By the way, the photo shown here is from the English translated version. Here is a PDF of the original Karatedo Kyohan in Japanese so you can access this link and check page 20 yourself in case you wish to verify this.
In that book, Funakoshi is showing the readers how to make a fist with three step by step photos (left). The first two steps look almost identical to the one shown in the first page. However, the last photo shows that the index finger needs to be extended. It is missing the third photo so I will add it here (below right). The steps from photo #2 to #3 maybe confusing so this additional photo will supplement it. It is easier to roll all four fingers (little finger to index finger) first rather than roll only three (little finger to middle finger) and keeping the index finger extended, even though you can do this once you get used to it.
Have you learned this way of making a fist? Most likely you have not. As a matter of fact, when I first learned karate in 1962, I took both Shotokan and Goju ryu. The teacher at the Goju ryu dojo in Osaka showed me this method more than 50 years ago. In fact, he showed me two options of extending only one finger (index) which is more popular and a less popular option of extending two fingers (index and middle fingers). I do not know if the Goju ryu practitioners are still making their fist this way and I would like to hear from them about this. I know that this method is, as far as I know, still honored in one of the Okinawan styles, Isshin ryu. I can say this because they picked up this fist as their style logo (photo left).
So, we must assume that this manner of fist making was brought to the mainland Japan from Okinawa by Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters. It, somehow, survived at least (in Goju ryu) until the early sixties. I am not sure how long it lasted in Shotokan and this may be an interesting research project I may do in the future.
Now that we have touched on the historical background of this fist style, let us get into the meat of the subject. Why did the Okinawan masters use this fist?
When I learned how to make this fist in that Goju ryu dojo, the instructor did not tell me to roll all four or even three fingers. He told me to start from the little finger and roll one by one (photo right) but keeping the index finger extended. He also told me to squeeze the little finger the tightest, then a little less on the next finger. With the index finger, I was told to even relax that finger. You cannot squeeze the index finger because the part of the finger between the second joint and the finger-tip is extended. Try it with your hand and you will see how it feels. Unfortunately, he did not explain why I had to make my fist this way. If he did, I just do not remember it. Regardless, I practiced Goju ryu for one year and during that time I made my fist this way.
At the same time, I was attending a Shotokan dojo in Kobe. When I started my karate training, I did not know that I was not supposed to do this (training at two dojo of two different styles). After one year, my training friend found out and he advised me to stop and so I had to choose one dojo. I liked both dojo but the Shotokan dojo was closer to my house so I stayed with Shotokan. At the Shotokan dojo when they saw my fist, they (my senpai) told me that it was an old way and they told me to roll all four fingers. I do not know exactly when this happened but I think it was in my first year. I remember clearly that I wondered why it was an old way. However, in Japan the students are not supposed to ask questions so I simply said “Oss” and followed. For those few months, until I quit Goju ryu, I used two different styles of fists.
When I started my makiwara training, I really had to squeeze index and middle fingers in tightly. If you do the makiwara training, you know this well. We are supposed to hit the board with the knuckles of those fingers (illustration below). For many years I never doubted this method and continued this training. At the age of 38 I retired from tournaments. I started to search for a karate life after competition. The answer was budo karate in which you train to master the techniques that work in the street. In other words, the real fighting techniques for life and death situations.
After searching for the budo karate I found my answer in Asai ryu karate that was founded by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. He taught me many ideas that were different from what I had learned in my earlier training in the 70’s. First, you need to keep the elbow pointing downward when you complete a choku zuki (straight punch). I wrote an essay on this subject and it will be included in my fourth book, Budo Karate Paradigm Shift (which is slated to be publish in April 2017). I described in detail why the arm and elbow have to be held in that position in that essay so I will not cover it here. If you are interested in this subject, please get a copy of my book.
Another important thing I learned was that you have to be totally relaxed. I am talking about the entire body being relaxed. Asai karate is known for the whip like techniques such as the whip arm strikes (photo below) and whip leg kicks. In order to generate this type of body movement, you must learn to relax all of your muscles and your body must turn into a flexible tube, so to speak. From this main tube, two flexible branches stick out from the top area. Of course, those are your arms. Then from the bottom, two flexible branches support the whole tube. At the same time, one of these two lower branches supports the body while the other is used as a whip like kick.
This is the reason why we use a lot of open hand techniques. The open hand is naturally more relaxed than the closed fist. We also use the fist techniques for punching and striking. I learned that you need to relax your fist if you want to punch faster. In other words, you do not want to squeeze your fist when you are delivering a punch. You will make a tight fist only for a split second (the shorter the better) when the fist impacts the target. The benefit of this way of punching is not only faster but also I can keep my shoulder down. When you punch your shoulder comes up if your punching side arm, including your fist, is too tense. When I was competing my sensei used to tell me that I needed to tense my armpit more so I could keep the shoulder down when I punched. No one told me to relax my fist. I remember that I used to clench my fists during the kumite matches that resulted in a raised shoulder when I punched. What is wrong with this raised shoulder is simply your upper body motion will be detected by the opponent and also your body motion will not be smooth as you will have an up and down motion.
So, what I learned is that we need to keep our fists in a relaxed condition instead of having them tightly clenched. These relaxed fists helped me to relax my shoulders, upper body, neck area, etc. In other words, I could keep my entire body relaxed much easier. This body relaxation is needed to have an effective delivery of the Asai ryu whip-like techniques.
There are, in general, three ways to relax your fist. One is to have the thumb and the index finger somewhat tight and keep the other fingers very relaxed (though they are rolled up). The second way is the opposite of the first. In other words, you keep the little and the ring fingers sort of tight and keep the other three fingers relaxed (again they should be rolled up in a relaxed manner). The third one is to have all the fingers relaxed and they are only half way rolled. Master Asai asked me which I thought was the best way. I answered that the first option was. I knew many of the kumite competitors would choose the third option since they use the kumite mitt or fist protector so they may be used to having all their fingers relaxed. However, I had a strong feeling that the third option was the answer.
Which way do you, the reader, think was the answer? Believe it or not, it was option two or the second way. In other words, he told me that it was best to keep the little and the ring fingers tight first. At that time, I was very surprised by this answer, even though I am now fully convinced that this is the correct way. So, I asked him why? He brought out Funakoshi’s book, Karatedo Kyohan and showed me that page. He also showed me another book by Master Funakoshi, “Goshin –rentan Karate-jutsu” (護身練鍛空手術). On the cover page there is an illustration of a fist which looks like nihon nakadakaken (photo left). Asai sensei said the page from Karatedo Kyohan and also Karate-jutsu made him think about how to make a fist when he was young. Then he discovered that this method was the best way when he started to practice kobudo, especially bo and nunchaku. He practiced many other weapons such as sai, whip chain and tonfa but he told me that he had realized that the best way to hold a bo or a nunchaku is the second way from the previous paragraph. As I have practiced nunchaku and sai, I immediately agreed with him on this. It is very true that you need to hold a stick with your little finger very tightly and not to hold it too tightly with your thumb and the index finger. If you happen to practice these weapons in an extensive way, I am sure you will see what I am talking about.
He also told me that that is the correct way to hold a katana sword in Iaido (first two photos below) and a shinai (bamboo sword, last photo below) in Kendo.
In addition, he said this way of holding an instrument can be seen in golf (photo below right), tennis (photo below left) or any other sports or arts that you need to hold a stick or handle.
He explained that if you want to generate precise movements with a stick, this way of holding is a must. The movement does not need to be large. In fact, a small but accurate movement of a stick requires a relaxed thumb. Why? If you examine the functions of each finger, the answer is self-evident. Just think how you would pick up a small item like a jelly bean with your fingers (photo below). Almost all of us will use our thumb and the index finger. How about when you turn a page of a book or a magazine? Yes, the thumb and the index finger. How about when you pinch someone? Try to do this with your little and ring finger. OK I guess I do not need to answer this and to bring up other examples. Now do you agree that we need to use our thumb and our index finger to do many of the small and precise activities.
You may say, “Fine, I agree that we need to use our thumb and our index finger to do small and precise work, but then why do you say those fingers have to be relaxed when you hold a bo, a katana, etc?” An excellent question and the answer is the key to the subject we are discussing here. When you pick up a jelly bean, try tensing your thumb and your index finger before you pick one up? Then relax those two fingers instead. Which is easier to pick up a jelly bean? It is obviously when they are relaxed. So, the mechanism is the same when you handle or hold a stick or a kobudo weapon.
We must pay close attention to the evolution of our thumb which is very unique among the animals including monkeys and chimpanzees. Suzanne Kemmer of Rice University, thinks that by enabling fine motor skills the thumb promoted the development of the brain.
So, we know that our thumb plays a critical role in fine motor skills. By tensing it too much you will prohibit or prevent the full performance of hand or arm dexterity. This is why you need to have it relaxed until the moment you really need to tense it. On the other hand, tensing the little finger will not have much negative impact to the fine motor skills.
This is the exact reason why Asai sensei and I recommend that you will roll up your little finger tight and keep the thumb and the index finger somewhat relaxed for your arm technique, of course, until it makes impact.
Interestingly, this is exactly the fist that was shown in Karatedo Kyohan.
Let us look closer at how this fist (extending the index finger) would work. First, I want to ask the readers to try this fist with their hands. How do you feel with this fist? I suspect that you cannot make that part of the fist as solid as when it was fully rolled up. In other words, when there is an impact to the surface of a fist, half rolled index finger will “give” or bend slightly inward. When the finger is fully rolled, then that part of the fist is more solid and it seems better for punching. If this is the case, we must think deeper to find why the ancient Okinawan masters, including Funakoshi, believed in this type of fist. I am afraid this is one of the secrets that has been lost not only in Shotokan but, maybe, in many of the traditional karate styles in Japan.
The major reason I brought this up earlier in this essay was to de-emphasize the thumb and index finger area in the arm technique so that one can achieve optimum performance from the hand/arm region. In other words, you can achieve accurate and maximum speed movement with your arm including the hand region when your thumb and index fingers are being semi-relaxed or minimally tensed.
I also suspect Muhammad Ali knew this secret. Even though we will never know if he had held his fist in this way inside the gloves, but I have a strong feeling he did. He knew that by relaxing that area (his thumb and the index finger), he could achieve an accurate punch which he was famous for. Despite Ali being in the heavy weight division, his fighting style was known for being light and relaxed, unlike Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He himself described his style as “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. In order for him to be able to float in a relaxed manner when a strong opponent like Joe Frazier was coming to knock him down, I say keeping his fist relaxed was a must. You also notice when you watch his fighting style that he kept his hands down as he moved around. Most of the boxers would always keep their guard up but Ali would judge the distance so well he could fight with his guard down. To do this his fists had to be totally relaxed but at the same time they were ready to come up and strike right away if he found an opportunity.
Here is a video of Ali’s match where his relaxed floating style is very obvious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIi9YPA_nMg
What is more important that we must pay attention to in his saying in that he had described his punch as a “sting” of a bee. Of course, it was a comparison to a butterfly. However, he could have used something else if he wanted to describe his punch as a heavy punch or devastating punch. That was what Foreman, for instance, was known for. Ali could have used a word such as a bite of a cobra or a strike of a rhinoceros but he chose a sting of a bee. It is very interesting and at the same time it is very revealing too. He knew his punch was light and quick. His punch was not like ikken hissatsu but that was ok with him. He did not need a heavy punch as he knew how to knock opponents down leveraging perfect timing and his own unique rhythm he developed. Thus, all he needed was a light but fast, almost invisible, punch. So, I conclude that he kept his fist loose around the thumb and index finger area inside the boxing gloves as he had “accidentally” shown in that memorable photo with Sugar Ray Leonard.
Now let’s get back to the nature of that fist that could possibly be its downside. This fist is good for the movements prior to the strong impact to the Seiken (fist). Then, how about when you hit a target? If you hit a makiwara with this fist (extended index finger), you will see that you cannot hit the target evenly on two knuckles. In other words, you will have to depend more on the middle finger knuckle. As most of you know that there are two bones in our forearm; radius and ulna. Radius is thicker and longer, in fact, it acts as the major support for the hand (see the xray photo left). You can also see that the middle finger naturally is in the center and can receive the most support from the radius.
The subject of which part of the fist should be used to hit a target has been discussed by the karate practitioners in the past. It looks like it is now agreed that Shotokan and other traditional karate styles believe in using index and middle finger knuckles (illustration b). On the other hand, in Shorinji kenpo the ring and little finger side is used (illustration c). They say it is the most natural as they mostly use tateken (vertical fist photo below) and not too much of Seiken (regular horizontal fist). I think the little finger is too delicate to make the full impact. Shorinji kenpo’s punch concept seems to be somewhat different from that of Shotokan. Instead of one punch one kill, they seem to use it as a preparation before a throwing technique. Maybe someone from that style can send me more information if my understanding is correct or not. Regardless, I am a little surprised that we do not have a concept of using the two knuckles of the middle and the ring fingers. Out of all three choices, I like the last method.
Asai sensei and I discussed this and we agreed that karate masters, before it came to mainland Japan, used mainly only one knuckle, middle finger when they punched. However, they must have rarely used the flat fist as we see most of the modern day karate practitioners using. Then what did they use? I believe they used either nakadaka ken (middle finger knuckle below left) or ippon ken (index finger knuckle below right).
By the way, my fist in my kamae is almost always nakadaka ken. As a matter of fact, there are other single knuckle fist styles such as oyayubi ippon ken (thumb knuckle photo below). The use of single knuckle makes much more sense from the perspective of the budo fighting. If you have some physics discipline you know that the impact energy is reverse correlated to the impact area. In other words, the delivered energy amount decreases as the impact area increases. So, if you hit a target with the entire surface of the fist, the impact energy is much less than any of the one knuckle fists. Definitely no one can disagree, ippon ken gives a more devastating impact to the opponent.
I can see this heritage in one Okinawan style, Uechi ryu. Ippon ken techniques are commonly used in Uechi ryu. Interestingly, they use oyayubi ippon ken from the open hand and it is found in their standard kamae (his left hand photo below). The way he holds his left hand, a shotokan practitioner would misunderstand that it would be an open hand for tsukami (grabbing). This hand, in fact, is used to strike with the first knuckle of the thumb. In the same photo, this karateka is forming his right fist in index finger ippon ken. I consider this is a very budo like kamae by looking at this. I can also see that his hand technique whether left hand or right hand can cause a very devastating effect upon the opponent.
I am not going to say that this is the proof that Master Funakoshi favored ippon ken. However, I believe he did. This must be one of the reasons why he specifically showed, in his famous book, how to make the fist with the index finger half extended. Then, why did it get sort of lost or did he stop teaching this fist? I am guessing it was for two reasons.
The first reason was kumite training was adopted in his class. As many of the readers know that his original class consisted of only kata training. His students asked to include kumite and some of the students who had experienced in Kendo came up with the kihon kumite ideas. Most of his students were from various universities in Tokyo. Even though Funakoshi did not allow them to do jiyu kumite (free sparring), he felt ippon ken or nakadaka ken would be too dangerous if he encouraged it even in kihon kumite. Thus, I suspect that he recommended the students to make their fists into a flat fist for safety reasons.
The flat fist became standard since sport or shiai karate has gained such popularity in the last fifty years or so. Obviously, in jiyu kumite ippon ken would be very dangerous and it will not achieve any benefit or advantage in sport fighting. When I was competing in the 70’s we did not wear any gloves or fist protectors at all. Even though we were not allowed to hit the opponents we frequently had some light “touches”. Nose bleeds and knocked out teeth were very common occurrences. I confess that I had never thought about forming my fist into ippon ken or nakadaka ken in my competition days.
Currently, all the traditional karate styles in Japan including Shotokan use the flat fist with all the fingers excluding thumb rolled in (right side of the Illustration). However, Master Funakoshi, Father of modern day karate, is documented (by his published books) that he had taught a different type of fist with the index finger extended (left side of the illustration). This type of fist is now almost forgotten among the traditional karate practitioners but it is still being practiced among some of the Okinawan styles.
The author hypothesizes that the popularity of sport karate made Funakoshi fist inappropriate to use and eventually it was forgotten by the practitioners. The author believes this fist form enables the thumb and the index finger to be relaxed which results in faster and more accurate arm movement. He hopes the budo karateka will re-evaluate this fist forming as well as ippon ken and include them, if they haven’t yet, in their daily training.
Here are a few nice photos of Sensei Teruyuki Okazaki (ISKF ex-chairman) showing kokutsu dachi jodan shuto kamae. They are from Heian yondan.
As you know the first two steps of Heian yondan are done slowly. On the other hand, the similar moves in Kanku dai are done very quickly.
The big question here is “Why are they done very slowly in Heian Yondan?” In fact, you will see many techniques in kata are purposely done slowly. They are done slowly for many different reasons. Have you ever thought about the reason why the first two moves of Heian Yondan are done slowly?
I consider this is a very unique and interesting case. The explanation I present here is my own idea so I could be wrong. However, I am pretty confident that I am not.
First you need to look at the source. This kata came from Shurite (Shorin ryu) Pinan. Earlier today (January 2017) I shared a video of Pinan Yondan performed by the Shorin ryu (Shidokan) practitioners in Okinawa. I shared it to show that those first two steps in the original kata are supposed to be performed in a quick motion.
For your information here is the link to Shidokan Pinan Yondan:
Here is how this kata is performed by Shito ryu.
As you can see they also perform the first two movements in a quick motion. Doesn’t this make you wonder? We need to think why Shotokan is the only ryuha (style) that does these two steps slowly.
You also notice that the stance by Shorin ryu and Shito ryu for those two steps is in neko ashi dachi. It is a historical fact that Master Funakoshi invented kokutsu dachi and he replaced neko ashi dachi in many kata including all of Heian kata. He also made other changes such as changing mae geri to yoko geri in Heian kata (nidan and yondan) but we will not go into that subject. I wrote about that in depth in one of my books, Shotokan Mysteries. If you are interested in this, please read Chapter One (New Techniques by Funakoshi) of this book. However, this change from neko ashi dachi to kokutsu dachi caused a great impact to some kata, namely Kanku dai.
As many of the readers know that Kanku dai (Kusanku) was Funakoshi’s favorite kata. When he taught this kata to his students, the brown belts and probably shodan practitioners, he noticed that it was difficult for them to do the fast moves of the 3rd and 4th steps, left and right jodan shuto uke in kokutsu dachi.
If the stance is neko ashi dachi, it is much easier to coordinate the stance with shuto movement including turning quickly. However, a longer stance of kokutsu dachi makes it much more challenging to get in the good stance and to execute the upper body motion (jodan shuto uke) simultaneously. Especially, if you wish to execute two sides with a 180 degrees turn in a hurry.
So, that was Funakoshi’s concern with his students. I believe he found a solution in Heian yondan. He made the first two moves slow so that the practitioners will learn how to coordinate the lower body motion (kokutsu dachi, photo below left) and the upper body motion (jodan shuto uke, photo below right, sensei Kase) in a simultaneous motion.
It is easy to say to do these moves in synchronicity but in fact what happens with many of the intermediate practitioners (6th kyu all the way up to shodan level), they will first make a kokutsu dachi and the upper body technique, jodan shuto uke, will follow. In other words, those two areas (lower body and upper body) motions are not coordinated or synchronized. Is this the way you do Heian yondan? If you do, then what is wrong with that? It is easy to explain. As the foundation, the stance is already formed, the upper body motion will be done separately thus it will lack the speed and power. This is the same principle as gyaku zuki executed in a still stance (no matter how much of hip rotation you may add) you cannot generate as much speed and power in its punch as the moving techniques of oizuki.
As Funakoshi sensei found that it was difficult for his students to execute these moves quickly, he intentionally slowed the speed of those two steps. In this way, the students could practice the coordination much easier. Unfortunately, as the incorrect moves (upper and lower bodies moving separately) have become so popular and common, it seems to have been accepted lately. Sadly, it also has become the “correct” way by many dojo and organizations. I hope that is not the case in your dojo. This may seem like a minor error or deviation but you will pay for it when you begin to practice Kanku dai.
The image below is a sequence shots of correct way of doing the very first step of Heian Yondan demonstrated by Yoshiharu Osaka. When he completes his kokutsu dachi that is exactly when he completes his arms’ movement.
For the second move, initially your hands drop down in a semi-circular way, before your feet and body begins to turn. In other words, you will remain in left kokutsu keeping your weight on your right leg when the arms make the first half of the semi-circular motion. Only when the hands pass the center of gravity line and begin to rise again, your weight will start to shift to your left leg. Remember that your weight will transfer gradually as the hands rise slowly to jodan shuto position. By doing it this way, the upper and lower body move simultaneously and are completed at the same moment.
Why not try this way and see how challenging it is to do it correctly. Once you master this with Heian yondan, I guarantee that you will be able to do the first two quick moves in Kanku dai much faster, and most importantly, you can do them with much better balance and a more stable kokutsu dachi.
Let’s look at the literal meaning of this word. In fact, this word can be broken into two separate kanji, 夫婦. This is a standard word for a married couple. OK now you understand meoto-de means a married couple hands. Does it make sense? Maybe some readers can figure this out. You will understand better if I explain the concept of fufu as we understand it in Japan.
In Japan, we consider a married couple as a team. They are equal but have different functions or roles. This statement may create some negative reaction in the USA where a husband and a wife are considered equal and the same in their functions. In Japan, a wife is expected to support her husband as he is considered to be the head of the family. Since this is not a sociology term paper, we will not discuss whether the Japanese concept I present here is correct or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate. I ask the readers not to pass the judgement of the cultural concept regarding married couples in Japan. Instead, the readers are asked to understand the meaning of it whether they agree or disagree, so they can understand the karate concept of meoto-de.
So it does not means the hands of a husband and wife. We all have two hands (or arms) and we consider the front hand or arm as the stronger or aggressive one or a husband hand. On the other hand (no pan intended), the rear hand or arm’s function is mainly to support the front one. In other words, two hands have to work as a team or we are to use them in a consorted way instead of using them separately. Now, this is the most important part. You may say, “Oh I know this, isn’t it the same as morote waza?” My answer is yes and no. Let me explain.
Moro means both and waza means technique, therefore, Morote waza means a technique in which you use both of your hands. However, it does not define the functions or roles of the front hand and the rear hand. Of course, if you happen to stand in kibadachi or heido dachi, etc. facing to the opponent, naturally there may be no front or rear. In that case, the technique can be called morote waza. Though it is possible, the opponent and you are, naturally, not continuously standing still during a fight. Therefore, most likely one side of your body will be closer to the opponent and that side hand is considered front hand if it is used. In short, morote waza is a technique of using both hands and meoto-de is a concept of a certain kind of morote waza where one (most likely the front) hand is used as an attack and the other (normally rear) hand is used for support or uke.
Sometimes, the roles of the hands can be switched but most of the time the front hand is used for attack or counter attack. The rear hand is used for a defensive move or uke. With this explanation, I expect many people would object to my statement. You would say, in kata we find many techniques are done with a single hand and mostly with the front hand. Some other would point out that in most of the kihon kumite we learn to use the front hand to block, uke and do the counter attack such as gyaku zuki with the rear hand. I am well aware of this. This is exactly why I have picked up this karate concept and am spending my time to explain it.
The following key points are being de-emphasized lately.
1) It is recommended to use both hands at the same time. In other words, morote waza should be preferred to the individual use of two hands. Why? I have written an essay about kumite tempo. I explained the individual use of the hands such as age uke first with your front hand then a gyaku zuki using the rear hand which is the slowest tempo (not speed, however) in kumite tempo. There are other techniques that are much faster and morote waza enables the faster tempo. It is definitely faster if you counter punch at the same time you block.
Believe it or not, there are many morote waza in our kata including all Heian kata. Unfortunately, the correct bunkai for those morote waza are not being taught in many dojo. Thus, many people do not know, for instance, shuto uke in Heian shodan is a morote waza and also a meoto-de waza. There are many other misunderstanding such as the first move of Heian nidan and yondan. Cross block or kosa uke in Heian sandan is visibly a morote waza. There are also a few morote waza in Heian godan and they should be used as meoto-de. A good example is the seventh move, chudan uchi uke with the rear hand held at the forearm of the front hand. I will explain further about these morote waza in the next section.
2) Another forgotten concept is that the front hand should be used for attack or counter attack. Most of the readers may say, “I do not agree that this concept is being forgotten. We use the front hand in many of our attacks such as oizuki.” You are absolutely correct, but I would like you to think about counter attacks. Then you may ask, “Ok, counter attacks with the front hand is different. First of all, how can you do a gyaku zuki with your front hand?” This is a good question but I am not suggesting to do gyaku zuki with your front hand. We can find a typical fufute in Heian nidan. It is right shuto nukite with left hand osae uke (photo above). This is an excellent example and everyone agrees that this shows the meoto-de concept. At the same time, there are many other morote waza that should be understood as meoto-de but they are not. This is why I am warning that this concept seems to be ignored or even forgotten.
I will pick up several other morote waza and I will explain the bunkai based on the meoto-de concept.
Let’s start with Heian shodan. There is a sequence of 4 shuto uke at the end of this kata (photo below). This technique is very popular in Shotokan kata and you can find it in Heian nidan, Heian yondan, Kanku dai, etc.
In most cases this technique is done in sequence of two or four which is a mirror image of left and right. In the sequence of two shuto uke, the first one and the second one have different functions (and this is the same with the third and the fourth one). The first one is a simple shuto uke to the opponent’s chudan zuki. In the second shuto technique, it is not a uke but rather a strike. In the first shuto uke, you blocked with your left hand. As you step in a diagonal direction, you will grab the opponent’s arm or gi with your left hand then you deliver a counter shuto uchi to the opponent’s neck with your right hand.
There are many bunkai and most of them are correct. The only incorrect bunkai is the one that does not work. The advanced bunkai technique can be found even in the first shuto uke too, but it is too difficult for not only the white belt but also for the color belt practitioners. Maybe the brown belt student can start practicing the following technique. I am sure you learned that you need to cross your arm before you execute a shuto uke. In other words, your striking or uke hand is placed in the rear. You were taught that you bring back the striking hand back because you need to have the long distance that hand travels so that you will have a strong uke or strike when it is executed. That point is ok but have you asked about the other hand? In other words, the front hand in the arm cross before the execution of shuto uke? If you did, your sensei, most likely told you it is a protection of your mid-section or just a simple kamae and has no meaning. This is ok for the white belt students. However, for the advanced students that sensei must have another explanation. The rear hand that is extended forward is a tsukami, grabbing, uke. Yes, it is difficult to catch the opponent’s striking arm. However, it is very possible for the advanced students, but at the same time, it is impossible for the white belt students. This is, again, ok as we need to have different bunkai for the same technique depending on the student’s ability.
Let me pick up another meoto-de technique. You know the first move of Heian nidan is a morote waza (photo right). But most of you were not taught that this is a fufute technique. In other words, the typical bunkai I see in most of the Shotokan dojo I visit is that the left or front hand is jodan uchi uke. Then what is the purpose of the rear or right hand? I suspect you were taught that the rear hand at the forehead is only a kamae or protection of your forehead. I am not going to say this is an incorrect bunkai. This idea is possible, of course, and maybe it is ok to teach this to the beginners. However, the advanced practitioners should know the meoto-de bunkai which I believe is the original bunkai that was taught in Okinawa.
So, how does this morote waza work as meoto-de? The front hand is, in fact, an attack such as jodan urazuki or jodan uraken uchi. You may say it cannot be because the front hand movements for urazuki or uraken are quite different from uchi uke. It is true that you will move your front arm in a semi-circular movement as you do jodan uchi uke. On the other hand, to do jodan urazuki you need to move your front arm almost vertically upward. For uraken, though the forearm will move in a semi-circle but also in more vertical way rather than horizontal. You are correct that the movements are all different but the fundamental arm movement of going upward is the same and once you become a kuro obi level, the adjustment of the arm movement is not too difficult.
In addition, did you know that the fist direction of the front hand had been changed by Master Funakoshi? The front fist’s little finger side is facing to the opponent in our kata. Take a look at how this technique is done in Wado ryu (the style that span from Shotokan before Funakoshi made the changes). You will find the fist direction of the front hand is different. In other words, the back hand side of the fist is facing the opponent (photo left). This direction of the fist proves that it can be used as a jodan urazuki to the opponent’s chin.
You may accept my explanation for the front hand but you will probably ask about the rear hand. Do you really believe it is only a kamae? Does it really make sense to hold up an arm in front of your forehead? If it is only a kamae then why not at the chest as we do in shuto uke? Of course, anything is possible but I really think this explanation of “just a kamae” is inappropriate or unrealistic.
I hope you agree that it makes sense that the rear arm movement has a meaningful waza rather than a kamae. If so, then what is that technique? The answer is easy. If you look at the form of the rear arm carefully, you will know the answer. What does it look like? Yes, that is the jodan age uke form. You guessed correctly that the rear arm is used for jodan age uke. The first technique is jodan age uke and with the rear arm, you simultaneously perform a jodan urazuki or uraken uchi with your front fist.
Then, we wonder why this bunkai (photo right) is not popular or not taught more commonly. That is a good question but the answer is also simple. This bunkai is much more difficult to do. Just try it and you will see it right away. First of all, you need to step forward with your left foot instead of backward with your right foot (interestingly, this is exactly what you do in this kata). You will discover by stepping forward, naturally, that the distance from the opponent will be much closer. Therefore, you can immediately understand that this bunkai is not fit for beginners. This is exactly the reason why another bunkai was taught by most of Shotokan instructors. That bunkai is much easier but unfortunately much less realistic and effective.
You will probably agree that this bunkai is easier but you may not with being less realistic and effective. Why do I say such a negative statement? Let me explain. There are typically two common ideas for the second move (crossing the arms, photo below). One is to catch the opponent’s second punch by crossing the arms. First of all, I want to ask if you have tried to do this in a normal speed. If yes, were you successful? I want to ask if this bunkai technique is really appropriate for the 7th kyu students. But regardless, that is not the reason. Let me continue. The second idea is to give a jodan ura zuki (not the first move but with this move, very interesting). Even though I do not believe the 7th kyu students have learned how to do ura zuki but let us assume they can do this. The reason for being un or less realistic is not this either. By the way, I must point out that the bunkai on the right side of the photo below is very challenging with the uke too. Since it is an illustration image not too many people will notice but you will see this if you try it with your partner. He did jodan uchi uke with his right wrist (so far so good). Then, he must do jodan soto uke to the attacker’s gyaku zuki with the same arm. Just as the first bunkai the attacker has to be awfully slow with his second attack. In addition, the defender has to bring the arm around to catch the second punch. But this is ok too. We can assume the attacker is extremely slow and these two bunkai would work. However, I am pointing out the situation when the practitioners are at the same or the similar level instead of assuming one side is very slow. I say the counter attack with the rear arm after the block does not work effectively.
The reason for my statement is simply not what kind of counter-attack you may do with your rear arm, the attacker’s second punch is faster if the level of skill of the attacker and the defender is the same or similar. The defender’s second attack can be faster only if the defender is significantly more advanced such as kuro obi than the attacker, a 7th kyu. If you do not believe my statement, I suggest you try this in your dojo.
Now, do you agree that countering with the front hand while blocking with the rear arm at the same time is more realistic? I know some of the diligent Shotokan practitioners will object to this. They will probably say, “Yes, I agree it is faster to hit the opponent at the first move, but this technique does not fit with the fundamental Shotokan philosophy of ‘Kata starts and ends with uke, a block’. What do you say to this?” I may cause some uproar but I have to say that you were misinformed. This is a sensitive subject and I am afraid it has been sort of hidden or avoided one, thus not too many people know this.
If I explain what is involved in this statement in full, I can write another long essay so I will share only a summary of historical background. As many of you know Japan lost the last world war that ended in 1945. The occupation army prohibited all martial arts across Japan for they would foster military mind among the Japanese people (even though it was a propaganda and by far incorrect). Regardless, karate was considered one of the dangerous arts and the karate practitioners were prohibited to practice or instruct karate. Interesting side story is that US soldiers who were stationed in Okinawa during that period begged the Okinawan masters to teach them karate and they received some instructions, supposedly secretly. Anyway, in the mainland Japan it was a serious situation for professional karate instructors whose livelihood depended on teaching karate. To make a long story short, the senior instructors including master Funakoshi had to approach the GHQ (occupation army headquarters) for permission to teach karate. At that time, they had to say that karate was not a barbaric fighting arts but it was a peaceful art of self-defense. They had to say that all kata started and ended with a block and not with an aggressive first strike. I am not sure how Master Funakoshi felt that he had to tell this to the GHQ officers but one thing we know is karate received permission to re-operate its activities (practice and teach) within a few years while kendo had to wait five years. In fact, karate was the first budo that received permission.
OK, let’s go back to fufute. Here is another morote waza whose applications are commonly misunderstood (photo right). This technique is used typically at chudan level as you find in Heian godan. As the title of this technique is uke so we all assume it is a chudan uchi uke as shown in the photo. This uke itself is not a problem. What we need to pay attention to again is the rear hand. The popular explanation is the rear hand is supporting the uke. In other words, the rear hand is making the block stronger. I am sure many practitioners have believed this explanation. But does it really? Just try it and see if it does. I am not going to waste your time here. I am afraid it is like the rear arm in the first move of Heian nidan. In other words, I may sound radical but it is just a fabrication. The rear arm move must have a more significant role. Then, what is the rear arm for? Once again it is same as Heian nidan. It is used for uke while the front arm is for attack. Fufute bunkai for this technique is you will do uraken uchi to the opponent’s solar plexus (chudan level) or to his chin (jodan level) with the front fist. Simultaneously you will do osae (pressing) uke to the opponent’s chudan zuki. The important thing is the timing. You need to get in or step forward to the opponent and deliver osae uke while the opponent’s arm is still bent. You will press down at inside of the opponent’s elbow for an effective osae uke. Once the opponent’s arm is fully extended, it is too late to execute osae uke. When you think of how the block is being executed (very close in distance) then you can easily see that the front fist is used for uraken uchi which is also effective for a close distance attack. If the attacker is coming with right arm oizuki as shown in the photo above, the defender will have to execute the meoto-de with the opposite arms. In other words, you will do osae uke (with your rear left arm) with your left arm and simultaneously you will attack with uraken uchi with your right fist.
I want to add a short explanation of the first move of Bassai dai. In that move, your rear hand is open instead of fist, however, the meaning is still the same. You will do osae uke with your left palm and simultaneously uraken uchi with the front or right fist (photo right). I could be wrong but I suspect this is not the bunkai most of you have learned. Which bunkai makes better sense between more aggressive one shown here and an idea the rear hand is used only to assist the front arm block?
I can come up with many other morote waza but I will leave the work to the readers so they can try and find the new bunkai based on the meoto-de concept in their own training. Good luck and enjoy.
Many different morote waza are found in our kata and we are familiar with the techniques. On the other hand, the concept of meoto-de has not been taught among most of the Shotokan practitioners. The basic idea of fufute is to use the front arm mainly for the attack and the counter attack purposes, while the rear arm is to support the front arm by doing uke or block. As we are not taught meoto-de, we commonly see many of the bunkai in which the front hand is used as uke and many of those bunkai did not make sense. Now we know why. By understanding the basic concept of meoto-de, we can learn the new way of bunkai.
One other benefit of remembering meoto-de is that it can be a solution to the disparity of the distance and techniques between kata and kumite. In kata we find that almost all the steps are done going forward. On the other hand, we learn to step back when we learn gohon kumite, sanbon kumite and even in kihon ippon kumite. The ancient masters left their techniques in kata and they are definitely telling us to step in when you fight. If you step in the distance to your opponent becomes very close which will require a close distance fighting method. This is where meoto-de concept becomes very useful. Let us not forget this important concept, meoto-de that was left by the ancient masters.
It is well known that Okinawan karate or Te was formally introduced to mainland Japan in 1922, almost one hundred years ago by Gichin Funakoshi (below far left).
Though other Okinawan masters such as Motobu (above center) and Uechi (above far right) came to Japan during the same period, their activities did not bear fruit, mainly because they did not promote their karate in Tokyo. Funakoshi, on the other hand, migrated to Tokyo and promoted his art to the university students because he could speak standard Japanese. Thus, he is remembered as the Father of modern day karate.
Since introducing Okinawa te in the early 20th century, he made many changes such as the names of kata from the original names that made little sense to the Japanese to ones that made sense to them. He also changed some of the techniques such as de-emphasizing neko ashi dachi and created kokutsu dachi. He exchanged some of the mae geri techniques to yoko geri keage in many kata. He created or designed the karate gi and belt that we are very familiar with now. There were many other changes but today I will introduce only one. If you are interested in other changes, I have already written a few essays on this subject that can be found in my books. One of the chapters is titled, “New Techniques by Funakoshi?” in Shotokan Mysteries.
OK enough of the introduction. Today I want to bring up one karate concept, a very important one as well, that is almost forgotten by karate practitioners. The concept is aite wo suemono ni suru (相手を据え物にする). Let me explain. The first word “aite wo” means your opponent. The second one is the key word, “suemono”. One of the most popular meaning of this word is used in Iaido. It is a roll of straw that is used for a cutting exercise with a sword to check its cutting ability (photo right). The original use of this word came from the time of the samurai. It meant a dead body or a living criminal sentenced to death, instead of a straw roll. The suemon was cut by the samurai to check the cutting ability of their swords when they executed the criminal (photo below). You can see, the body is tied down firmly so that it would not move when it is being cut. This is the key point to help you understand the concept. The last word of the concept, “ni suru” means to make or set. So, all together the sentence means, to make an opponent into a still target.
Now you understand the meaning of the Japanese sentence but I suspect the readers are not exactly sure what it means, unless you have learned about this in the past. In order to truly understand the meaning of this sentence, we need to look at a short history of karate in the past 60 years or so.
I assume most of the readers know that the original te was budo or martial art. That was what Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters brought to Japan nearly a century ago. I cannot say what the other Okinawan masters thought about introducing tournaments or shiai (試合) to karate. I can say, at least, Funakoshi was firmly against it until his death. It is true that there were many informal (not approved) shiai between the university karate clubs located in Tokyo. They did not call it shiai or tournament but koryukai (交流会), a “friendship meeting”. The formal tournament, All Japan Championship hosted by JKA had to wait till 1957, the year Funakoshi passed.
As shiai or sport karate has become so popular these days, we are so accustomed to that kumite style and you would mistakenly believe the “killing” techniques seen in the matches are the real and only effective techniques. If you were ever in a street fight in the past, you are well aware the real situation is far different from the shiai kumite matches. First of all, the distance is completely different in most of the cases. There is no “Hajime” or “Yame”. You may have multiple opponents and you may not know if they have the weapons. This is why zanshin, a special mindset of full awareness, is extremely important in martial arts. In addition, the Okinawan masters knew one secret technique that is in the sentence I am sharing with you now.
It is well known that Makiwara training is considered to be one of the very important items in the training menu. Interestingly, I know that some of the Western style boxers have criticized that punching a stationary target has little worth in boxing. They say that their opponent is always moving so it is better to practice punching with a moving target. They also do not need to toughen their fists as they wear gloves. I can understand why they would say that and it would make sense when you watch how kumite matches are conducted as the competitors are moving around almost all the time.
If this is the case, why did the ancient Okinawan masters talk about suemono (fixed or tied down body)? Did the Okinawan people fight without moving? Or were the Okinawan fighters unable to move fast? I do not think so and I am sure the readers will agree with me. Some of the readers may know that the nickname of Choki Motobu was Monkey because he could climb up fences and to rooftops easily. If that is the case, we can hardly believe he could only move slowly.
Once you understand the true meaning behind this sentence, only then you will be impressed with the fantastic knowledge of the Okinawan masters. So, let me explain in detail. They knew that it was not very easy to knock down an opponent (especially another karate-ka) with one punch even though the saying of Ikken Hissatsu (one blow one kill) was used then. It is difficult simply because the opponent would be constantly moving. The effect of kicking and punching will be reduced significantly if the target moves away or closer from the spot where the attacker had assumed the opponent to be. So, they developed techniques such as deai (出会い photo right) and irimi (入り身 photo below). Those are the techniques where the defender moves in when the attacker is stepping in. In this situation, despite a high level of skill is required, the counter attack can have a great impact upon the opponent as the target is coming in.
Another technique is a tsukami (掴み grabbing) and hikiyose (引き寄せ pulling in) technique. We know what hikite is and most of the time the practitioners think it is only a movement to pull back the hand as you deliver a technique with the other hand. However, in kata many of the hikite techniques are in fact a movement of grabbing and pulling in the opponen. A good example is Tekki or Naihanchi. When you do jodan ura zuki, you are expected to grab and pull in the opponent with the other hand (photo right).
It will be much more difficult to catch an opponent who is moving back or away from you. You may need to have a skill of reaching further than the opponent would expect and some people have developed a skill to cover a much further distance than the average practitioners. This technique is called Shukuchiho (縮地法), the literal meaning is to shorten the distance method. I will not explain this technique in this essay.
Those are excellent techniques against the moving target (opponent), but the Okinawan masters came up with another brilliant idea. That is the “suemono ni suru” or stopping the opponent technique. Suemono was the fixed target such as the straw roll or a dead body. This means a technique to make your opponent stop momentarily or get into a fixed status. We all agree that it is much easier to punch or kick if the opponent is fixed in one spot. In Iaido, of course the suemono is a rolled straw and it would not move. In samurai time, the dead or living body is tied down at the wrists and the ankles, so the body would not move. In karate, certainly the opponent is completely free to move.
What is very interesting and brilliant is that this suemono technique in karate not only makes the opponent stay in one spot but also makes his mental condition as unexpected. Have you ever experienced the following situation? You were walking down a staircase and you thought you completed all the steps, but there was one more step. What had happened to you? I bet you either tripped or at least had a big shock to your leg stepping down and you almost fell down. This comes from an unsuspecting mind. This happens in a dark house at night or if you are looking at something else while you are coming down the steps.
OK you understand in general that this technique or method can bring an effective result. But, the opponents are constantly moving so you want to know how this technique is done. There are a few methods to create this situation. In fact, tsukami waza that I had mentioned earlier can keep the opponent at a constant distance. However, the opponent can see what is happening so he can also use this opportunity (constant distance) to fight against you. Therefore, the most popular method in suemono technique is metsubushi (目潰し eye jamming or blinding) which is the direct method to make the opponent close their eyes. You will typically use the open hand and use your finger tips to either stab or swipe at the eyes.
Is this technique used in kata? Of course, you can find an obvious metsubushi (blinding) technique in some kata such as Chinte in which it is done with nihon nukite (two finger spear photo above). Some techniques may not be too obvious. A good example is Enpi. You will find a metsubushi technique following jodan age zuki (photo left). After this technique you will open your punching hand then jump in to give gedan zuki. That open hand is used to blind the eyes. Here is a photo of JKA’s Naka Tatsuya sensei where he is demonstrating the eye attack technique in Enpi (photo below). After the jodan age zuki (most likely to the opponent’s chin), you will open your hand and place your hand over the opponent face with your teisho placed at the chin. Just spread your hand then you will realize that the finger tips will naturally reach the eyes. By pushing the whole hand the opponent will be easily pushed back as you jump in to execute the gedan or chudan zuki. By the way, the right forearm goes to the other side of the head looking like right forearm jodan nagashi uke (上段流し受け). That interpretation is not incorrect but it can also be a tsukami (grabbing the opponent’s lapel or gi) and hikiyose waza, simultaneously you are striking opponent’s chudan or gedan with your left fist.
Another example of not so obvious metsubushi technique is the last two moves of Bassai Sho (photo left). The large hand movement, despite being done in a slow motion, can be an eye swipe action before doing tsukami and hikiyose technique (the other hand is also doing tsukami hikiyose technique). What happens in the actual bunkai is this. When the attacker is coming with chudan oi zuki, the defender will initially do ment arm (hikiyose), he will foot sweep at the same time. By these actions (done faster than what is shown in this kata) the attacker will fall. The defender will execute the finish attack (punch or kick) either during or after the attacker falls. This final action is deleted or hidden in this kata.
Why is it done slowly? I have touched on this before and have written an essay on this interesting subject. Let me re-state the reasons briefly here. One is for a challenging technique (i.e. the first two moves of Heian Yondan). Another is for the pressing or resisting action such as tsukami waza or kakiwake (掻き分け) waza. The third reason is a throw technique (found in Heian Godan). I suspect the last two steps of Bassai Sho may belong to the third reason, but at the same time I think there is another and better reason.
A certain move is done slowly to show there are some options that are not included in the kata. I am pretty certain about this as an uke is not the final move. In other words, there must be a counter attack after an uke. Especially an advanced kata like Bassai Sho, I cannot believe the kata creator would think of a kata where the defender (kata performer) would only foot sweep the attacker then move on to next waza combination. Without debating on this particular point, that overt upper hand movement (swinging the hand in a large horizontal and circular movement) in the last two steps can be either a neck throw or an eye swipe. By this action, the attacker will lose the momentum and will have to stop the action in the middle. This makes it much easier for the defender to foot sweep as he pulls in the opponent down-ward. This makes the attacker very vulnerable to the counter attack.
Metsubushi, blinding technique is only one way to achieve suemono in the opponent. Another popular one is to hit certain tsubo (vital points) such as Adam’s apple in the throat, solar plexus, groin, etc. initially to achieve this effect. The initial attack does not need to be too strong (of course, it could cause the instant knock out too) to achieve such an effect. The timing and the accuracy are more important than the power or the strength of the hit (strike or kick). Once (but right after) the effect of suemono is achieved, you need to deliver the kime waza (final decisive blow) to finish the fight. This timing is critically important as you can easily fail if you give too much time after the initial impact as the opponent is able to see what is happening. The situation is quite different from the mentsubushi case. You will have much more time between the initial attack and the kime wasa, as the opponent is blinded by the initial attack for a second or two or even longer depending on the degree of severity of the eye attack.
If you understand this concept and like it, you may want to evaluate different techniques that could cause a suemono effect. Unfortunately, it is not too easy to deliver this in a regular kumite training. This separates between the real fighting situation and the dojo training. How to train this kind of budo technique is another interesting subject which I hope to cover in one of the essays in the future.
The true ultimate aim in karate is to keep peace and avoid a fight. However, once you choose to fight, you want and need to knock down the opponent with one devastating technique, ikken hissatsu. The ultimate aim in sport karate is totally different. There it does not matter if your technique is one punch one kill kind. My statement here is not to degrade or totally reject sport karate. It has its place and I respect it as one of the exciting sports. At the same time, I practice the budo karate which is purely based on the budo concept of real life and death fight. From this perspective, I am afraid this valuable teaching method, that of making the opponent as a fixed target, is being forgotten or becoming a lost technique. I hope this essay will bring some attention to this subject and more people will find and appreciate the old teachings.
In ippon kumite which I consider one of the most important kumite training menu, there are many different tempos. You need to understand those tempos and be able to use them properly in order for you to improve your kumite.
- 2.0 tempo
The most popular one in the standard Shotokan karate is to block with one arm and counter with the other arm, the most typical technique being gyaku zuki. This combination is a 2.0 tempo kumite or a one two technique. Though it is most popular, unfortunately it is the least desirable one. It is ok to teach this to the beginners but the advanced students (brown belts and above) should stay away.
Why is it the least desirable tempo? It is obviously because it is the slowest one.
You may say, “Well, we practice this combination thousands of times and we can deliver one very quickly.” You may be correct, but what I am referring to is not the mechanical speed but rather a tempo. I hope you understand the difference between these two terms and the meanings. In other words, tempo 2.0 is structurally slower than tempo 1.5 or 1.0.
- 1.5 tempo
There are faster or more advanced tempos such as 1.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.0, etc. The senior karateka are recommended to master these as they advance their ippon kumite skills. Mastering these tempos will help in jiyu ippon and jiyu kumite eventually as those kumite exercises have much less time to counter and such skill is needed as the opponent is continuously moving in those advanced kumite situations.
The typical example of tempo 1.5 is to use the same arm for the block and counter techniques. Such a combination will be faster structurally (once again I am not referring to speed but rather tempo) than 2.0 tempo such as jodan age uke and chudan gyaku zuki.
This is a video from one of the seminars I gave in 2016 in which I am showing a 1.5 tempo technique. In this example, it is a combination of chudan soto uke and jodan urazuki using the same arm. The key is you do not make these two different techniques of uke and kaeshi waza into two motions. By doing this combination in two distinctive moves you will defeat the whole concept of 1.5 tempo as it ended up becoming 2.0 tempo. You need to make those two techniques (uke and counter) into a one smooth motion. In other words, you do not stop after uke. You will move your arm continuously after uke into jodan ura zuki.
During the demonstration in this video I mentioned that this technique can be found in Kanku dai (jodan urazuki, photo above left). Another example may be found in Tekki kata. This kata happens to be an extremely important kata in Shotokan but yet it is often ignored or undermined (the combination found in the kata is jodan uchi uke and jodan ura zuki, photo above right). Try this combination in your next kumite training. The challenging part is if you can make an effective counter with a short jodan ura zuki which can be done if you are able to use your hips behind the technique.
- 1.0 tempo
Now, let me explain what tempo 1.0 is. A tempo of 1.0 means when the opponent’s attack comes the defender blocks and simultaneously counters. In other words, these two techniques (block and counter) are executed at the same time and the execution completes at the same time with the opponent’s attack. I believe we have such techniques in all Heian kata. Can you identify them? Some are hidden and may be difficult to identify but they are there.
The combination of this tempo is called morote waza (both arm technique) and it is more difficult to execute than the single arm techniques. You can easily see that using two different arms doing two different things at the same time is much more challenging than using one arm at a time. Doing age uke and gyaku zuki (photo above right), chudan uchi uke and chudan gyaku zuki, and other combinations are challenging but those specific techniques are not found in Heian kata. In Asai ryu karate, we have some kihon kata such as Junro Nidan to train those techniques.
At the seminar in Goiania Brazil in May 2016, we trained these techniques. Here is one of the videos showing a 1.0 combination, age uke and chudan gyaku zuki.
If you are a brown belt and above, you should use this combination in ippon kumite. You will easily see that the opponent does not have a chance to deliver a second attack nor a chance to escape (in jiyu ippon kumite).
Up to now I have explained what the 2.0, 1.5 and 1.0 tempos are. I am sure the readers understand that 2.0 is twice longer than 1.0. A tempo of 1.5 meaning fifty percent faster than 2.0 in the kumite concept (despite mathematically only 25% less). Once again, I must emphasize that these numbers are used simply to describe the speed of the tempos. So, a tempo of 1.5 is biomechanical structurally faster than 2.0, even though an actual 1.5 combination could be slower if it is purposely executed very slowly. So, I want to make sure that the readers to understand clearly that a tempo speed I am referring to is different from the popular mechanical speed.
In fact, you can train the 2.0 combinations such as age uke and gyaku zuki so that you may be able to execute them, maybe, as fast as the 1.5 combinations (block and counter with the same arm or leg). Honestly, this (practicing only 2.0 tempo and repeatedly) is what I witness in many or most of the Shotokan dojo training. I am writing this essay to bring your attention to that there are other and maybe, better options. It is up to you but why not expand the repertoire of your kumite techniques?
- 0.5 tempo
Next, I will briefly explain what 0.5 tempo is. As you can see, it is faster than tempo 1.0 which means the counter is done at the same time when opponent’s attack was completed. Thus, in 0.5 your counter is delivered before the opponent completes his attack or done in the middle of the attack.
There are many situations that 0.5 tempo is used. I will mention only a few examples to give you an idea of tempo 0.5. As you are, I assume, an experienced karateka, I am sure you can think of many others.
One is to kick mae geri as the opponent lunges forward with oi zuki. The photo above left shows a classic kumite demo of Kanazawa (ex-kancho of SKIF) giving mae geri to (then young) Kasuya (now chief instructor of WSKF) as he lunges forward with oizuki. You can do another 0.5 tempo by oizuki instead of mae geri. This technique is called de-ai (出合い) or “running in” technique.
Another example would be ude osae uke (forearm pressing block). You will need to step forward to block the opponent’s elbow area then press further to give either enpi uchi or yoko tetsui uchi almost simultaneously (illustration above right). This technique is another de-ai.
Lastly, many may not know one of the realistic bunkai for the first move of Bassai dai (photo below left, Funakoshi from his book, “Karatedo Kyohan”). Many people were taught, mistakenly, it is chudan uchi uke. Of course, it can be done that way if you wish to do a less effective bunkai. The better bunkai is either chudan or more effectively jodan uraken uchi. The photo on the right is in neko ashi dachi whereas it is kosa dachi in Bassai. Kosa dachi, typically, means the technique executed will be followed by a throw which is the bunkai case of the first move of Bassai. With this first move, you take a large step or almost jump in. This means it is a de-ai technique.
Interestingly, in Shorin ryu kata, Matsumura Passai (少林流松村パッサイ)
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo9-d2dfkyU), they take two steps forward rather than a big jump found in Shotokan Bassai dai. I prefer the Shorin ryu approach as I consider it more realistic in a real fighting situation to quickly step in instead of to jump in. Regardless, both moves show that it is de-ai and it is a strong technique. It is typically called a sen no sen (先の先) technique but depending on the situation this can be a go no sen (後の先). As it will take too much space to explain about this here so I will have another posting in the future to explain about Sen no sen and Go no sen.
Finally, I will cover a tempo that is even faster than countering with a de-ai technique. I will attempt to explain what 0.0 tempo is. This concept, I expect, will be understood by many of the readers. However, it is extremely difficult to have the ability to execute this technique (of course, you need to train hard to attain this ability).
This “0.0 tempo” means you will execute the counter as soon as the opponent starts to attack. I must emphasize the timing is not after he started to move and this is why I underlined “as soon as” in the previous sentence. If your counter action is after, even slightly, that will be considered as 0.5 tempo. The timing here is rather critical and almost invisible. It is at the very moment when he initiates an aggressive move. The indication includes a flinch in the arm or shoulder, or shifting his center of gravity to kick, etc. So, this “counter” technique may look like you are hitting the opponent “before” he was going to attack you. In other words, the aggressive “move” by your opponent, most likely, will not be noticed or detected by a third person who is watching the match or the incident.
Even if you understand this timing, if you are a tournament kumite fighter, I suspect you will not care about this timing. Your concern is to gain a point against your opponent in a kumite match, thus the timing does not matter to you very much. Even if an opponent is not moving or initiating an attack, one can jump in and punch or kick an opponent.
So, this tempo is not critically important in tournament kumite. On the other hand, this becomes extremely important in a street fight. However, I must caution you that you must be very careful of when to use this tempo. Imagine what will happen if you hit your opponent who looks like he is just standing there, just like he is only a bystander. You will be sued by your opponent (even if he had the ill intention to hit you at that moment) for attacking him “first”. In this case, you will most likely lose in a court of law. I am sure the court proceedings will include circumstantial evidence such as the description of the scene, the preceding actions, verbal exchanges, etc. I am not a lawyer so I cannot say for sure but I think you will lose your case no matter how hard you try to explain it to the judge saying that you detected his initial move, say, a flinch.
So in a fist fight, you may have to use 0.5 tempo to “protect” yourself. But in other, more life threatening situations, knowing 0.0 tempo may save your life. How about if your opponent has a gun or a knife and he is intending to harm or kill you?
You will want to use this tempo in a situation where a guy is drawing a gun out or pulling a knife out of his pocket. In this case, even if the guy is not pointing a gun or a knife at you, you may want to immediately attack the opponent.
The very action of pulling out a gun or a knife I would consider as an action that threatens my life. Here is where a judgment factor comes into play. He may be doing this only to steal your wallet but not particularly wanting to harm you. In this case, it may be a wiser decision to give him your wallet rather than taking a chance of becoming a dead hero. On the other hand, if you know for sure that this guy is trying to kill you or harm you (you will need circumstantial evidence later), then you need to move as soon as a gun or a knife is pulled out. Your chance of survival decreases dramatically after the opponent aims the gun directly at you or having a knife only a few inches away from your body.
Or it can be a case when a guy is grabbing your clothes at the neck and cocking his arm over his head (photo right). In this case, he is clearly (visibly) threatening you. If he is only threatening then you have an option of not hitting the guy first. But if you saw or felt his intention was to punch you, then you can deliver the 0.0 technique at that moment. The distance is very close so if you wait until the opponent starts to throw a punch or a kick, that may be taking too much of a chance. Unless you are totally in control of the situation and you have full confidence in your ability to defend yourself under such a condition (not too many people do or can, however). If this case is considered as 0.0 tempo or not is a debatable point.
Some of the readers may say, “Wait! Isn’t it 0.5 tempo if you wait until the opponent grabs your lapel with his fist held up?” These readers are technically correct. Once an opponent engages in an aggressive action then your reaction will not be 0.0 tempo. This is why I say the statement by those readers is technically correct. At the same time, the reason why I did not consider that the right moment because of legal and ethical reasons.
From a legal point of view, without knowing the true intention of the opponent, if you punch this guy at this moment of just flinching his shoulder (before grabbing or raising his fist), you will lose in the court case. Since I am not a lawyer I am only guessing that this is going to be the case, at least in Japan and possibly in the US. I am interested in hearing from a reader who happens to have some legal background.
From an ethical perspective, can you justify yourself for punching this guy when he just flinched his shoulder while you are not 100% sure of his intention? Of course, you can only if you know that he intends to harm you or threatens you by seriously saying, “I will kill you”, then it may be a difference situation. In that case, you may take the chance to act as soon as he flinches his shoulder or arm. However, if the guy is this serious about harming you, he would not be standing still. In this case, deciding when is the right time to act or react is challenging and difficult.
In other words, it is difficult to determine precisely what physical action, in case of an opponent without a weapon, can be considered as an overt action to attack. Is it when the guy grabs your lapel or shoulder but not raising his fist? Or do you have to wait till he raises his fist? Or is it when he says, “I will kill you”? Isn’t it extremely difficult to define an aggressive action, even though you may “feel” his ill intention?
The summary of the 0.0 tempo.
This is the timing of “zero wait” between your action (attack or restraining technique) and the opponent’s initiation of his aggressive act. This tempo may not be considered as important in tournament kumite but in a real street fight or a life threatening situation, it can save your life.
- Minus 0.5 tempo
There is another tempo that is minus 0.5 (-0.5) but I will not go into this at this time. It involves detecting the ki and the nerve impulse of the opponents. I am afraid too many western readers would have an issue with this concept so I will not venture into this in this essay. However, sometime in the future, I will attempt to write an essay on this very interesting subject, particularly when I touch on Sen no sen and Sensen no sen (先先の先).
(Warning: the subject is controversial)
I am writing this essay because I found the following posting on Facebook that was written by Mr. Adrian Linton on July 28. I received his permission to quote it here.
Please stop asking me if I’m alright I just a karateka that can’t handle bullshit especially from karateka that can’t aply karate in the street I really love honest martial artists that are open minded I hate the ones who think the Japanese karateka are gods most of them wouldn’t win a fight in a children’s playground never mind the street I was looking at jks okamoto sensei the other day fantastic techniques and kata but her street abilities are none existant so why is that different from sports karate I refuse to say much respect now because I have my own personal views on karate oss Adrian (cut and pasted from his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009324319741&fref=ts)
This posting hit my eyes by chance the other day and I felt I needed to address some of the points he brought up. It is easy to see that he was upset and sounded frustrated. As I read it I realized immediately that his frustration was something that is probably shared by many other karateka.
He brought up several important issues and I found at least two of them were very valid. I decided to make my opinion public as I figured the readers would be interested in hearing an opinion of a Japanese instructor. Before I dive into my comment, I need to make myself clear that I do not support every statement he made. For instance, I feel a statement about JKS’ Sensei Okamoto (photo left) was not fair. As far as I know, her street abilities have never been verified or tested. Mr. Linton may know something I do not to make such a statement. Regardless, it would have been fairer if he had explained why he came to that conclusion.
Anyway, let me move on to the two points he made in his posting.
1) The Japanese karateka are not gods.
2) The karateka who can’t apply karate in the street are the same as sport karateka.
Here are my thoughts.
I fully agree with his opinion. Though I am very proud of being Japanese, I do not think a Japanese karate sensei should be treated as a god. I am sure my comment will upset some of the Japanese sensei and their followers. I have heard stories in which some Japanese sensei had made some unreasonable demands. I think this is wrong and it is not good for karate.
Maybe, by the term “gods” Mr. Linton may have meant “masters”. Even with this definition, I agree that just being a Japanese sensei should not automatically qualify one to be a master. That person may hold a high dan rank such as 8th or 9th dan and in addition, he may even be a National or World champion in the past. Even with those qualifications, I am afraid, it is still not fully sufficient for becoming a true master.
Then, you would ask “What qualifications does one need to be a master?” To deserve such a title, I believe there must be at least two additional requirements;
Requirement 1: That person must be able to show the mastery of his karate techniques today (not ten years ago or even last year). A nice speech or a mediocre demonstration at a tournament will not do. It must be real techniques that he can convincingly demonstrate that they would work in the streets (this will lead to the second point). To be able to do this, a Japanese (and non-Japanese) sensei must be training every day and in good physical and mental condition.
Requirement 2: The sensei must have the character that is well fitting to the title. A master, at least to me, means a master not only in karate but also in life. A true master must be able to show the humbleness, honesty, patience, diligence and other personal values in addition to courage and fighting spirit. He is not someone you fear but one you respect. Yes, it is a tall order. I do not know what you expect but that is what I expect from a true master. Do you not agree that there are too many unqualified or watered down “masters” and “grand masters” in karate now (both Japanese and non-Japanese)?
Her name is Mahiro Takano who was called a child karate master when she was only 7 years old (photo right). A seven year old child, no matter how good she or he may look, can never be a master. I have written another essay about the subject of “Karate Master”. If you are interested, you can find it in my book, Shotokan Mysteries (Chapter 11: Mystery of Karate Master).
The second point Mr. Linton brought up is street smartness. I also agree with his opinion. If you claim your karate to be budo or martial art, it must be applicable in a street situation. It is unfortunate, however, that many Shotokan practitioners (Japanese and non-Japanese) have never been tested in such a situation. Many falsely believe or dream that they could handle themselves. How can they prove that they really can do it? Regardless, the most important thing in budo or martial art karate is; your karate must work in a real hand to hand combat situation. In a street fight or a self-defense situation, looking pretty in your kata and/or winning a gold medal in a major tournament will not help you. Does this mean we should look to get into a street fight to test our skills? Certainly not. We must honor “Karate ni sente nashi (There is no first attack in karate), but we must have the mental attitude in our dojo training in a way that our karate techniques will work in a street fight or self -defense. Mr. Linton was saying if looking pretty is all that counts then what is the difference between that and sport karate? That question hits the main point of what budo or traditional karate is or must be. I will not elaborate the point here. I just want to state that budo karate and sport karate are totally different. Before one side accuses the other, we must know the differences between them. I think it is very important to do this. Do you really know what kind of karate you are actually practicing? If you spend much of your valuable time in karate training, I believe this is a necessary process that all of us should take.
As I warned you at the beginning of this essay, these points are very controversial. I do not expect everyone to agree with my opinions. I am happy to receive any constructive comments from the readers.
If you are a Shotokan practitioner, I suspect that you have never heard this saying. I suspect in some of the Okinawa styles with their lineage to the Chinese kenpo, may teach about this. In Shaolin Kenpo and Praying Mantis kung fu, they have a Chinese poetry that describe the critical points and its title is Hachi da hachi fuda (八打八不打). This literally means “eight strike and eight non-strike”. Hachi (八) means, most of you already know, eight. Da (打) means to strike. Fu (不) means not and here Fu-da (不打) means non-strike.
It seems simple but what does it really mean? Let me explain more than just the literal translation of this saying.
By “Hachi da” or eight strike they mean the eight kyusho (急所) points of a person where being hit they will lose their fighting spirit or you can limit or stop their fighting capability. By “Hachi fuda” or eight non-strike they mean the eight kyusho points where there is a possibility of death when they are hit strongly, thus the teaching is to avoid striking these points unless you really mean to kill a person. The locations of Hachida and Hachi fuda overlap somewhat but the others are slightly different. The positions of these points are now widely known and studied, but in the past it was a big secret. Even now, however, though you may know the locations, what benefit can you gain if you do not know how to strike and have the particular technique to strike?
In our karate training, many senior practitioners have heard of kyusho (急所) which is translated as vital point or pressure point. It is also called tenketsu (点穴) or pressure points. Though we may not have been taught specifically about kyusho and tenketsu, we almost instinctively know that some of the parts in our body can bring a lot of damage and can be dangerous. In many of the grappling martial arts such as aikido and aikijutsu, they teach kyusho as their techniques are closely connected to those points. In other words, they grab or press the specific points of the body instead of doing it randomly without paying attention to the exact locations.
Some of the readers may say, “I have never heard of Hachi fuda but my teacher taught me some of those kyusho points”. This is great and I am happy to hear this. At the same time, I wonder if their teacher had also taught them about the other points, tenketsu. Those are the points that give pain but do not cause permanent damage. I have written an article on how Master Asai demonstrated his techniques on me. You can find this story in one of my books, Shotokan Mysteries (Chapter 13).
Interestingly, those points are also used in the Asian therapeutic treatments such as acupuncture (針), mokusa (灸), and shiatsu (指圧). So, these points are not only for harming or killing, but they can also be used for healing the body. I wrote an essay about Ki in which I mentioned about these points. The title, “What is Ki?”, can be found in Chapter 7 of Shotokan Transcendence.
Now you may wonder if these points are located at the same or different locations of the body. You may also wonder if there are only eight or sixteen points in our body. You must read on to find out more about these mysterious parts of our body.
First, we need to check how kyusho and tenketsu are described or explained in a general dictionary. We usually go to Wikipedia for such information so let us look into this subject there. According to Wikipedia, “A pressure point derives from the meridian points in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in the field of martial arts, and refers to an area on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effect when manipulated in a specific manner.”
At the same time, exaggerated accounts of pressure-point fighting appeared in Chinese Wushu fictional novels and in the movies. It eventually became known by the name of Dim Mak, or “Death Touch”, in the popular western culture of the 1960s. It is undisputed that there are sensitive points on the human body where even comparatively weak pressure may induce significant pain or serious injury. At the same time, the association of kyusho with the notions of death is controversial and commercially exaggerated.
Regardless, it is referred to as a place where a life-threatening consequence can happen if it takes a hit. There are approximately 40 locations inside and outside of the body. It is interesting that those spots are fairly consistent with the acupuncture points. It should be noted, in the martial arts, by attacking some of those critical spots one can control or paralyze the opponent though it may not endanger one’s life.
Interestingly, the majority of these vital points or spots are the same as the massage and acupuncture points. However, not all of them coincide in the two arts. It is very important for a martial artist to know both maps of the two different arts; one is for Kappo (活法, life or health art) to cure the illness and the other is for Sappo (殺法, killing or martial art) to harm the enemy.
Now we have to study another Japanese term, tsubo （経穴）. It is an acupuncture term and is called “acupuncture point”, literally meaning a jar or a vase. This is, in short, a spot or a point on the human body, where an acupuncturist would stick his needles in. For any therapist who performs the treatment, such as massage and acupuncture, having the thorough knowledge of the tsubo (spots) is mandatory.
They say the number of these points, certified in the world, is 361 spots. The lines obtained by connecting these pressure points are called “meridians” or keiro (経路). There are believed to be fourteen meridians on our body and they run longitudinally. This is a very interesting subject but it is not directly connected to the death points, so we will not go any further into this subject at this time.
So, let us go a little deeper with the investigation of the “death” points, whether you believe there are such points or not. Speaking in relationship to karate, it is defined as the points where they will cause serious damage including death if an excessive blow is received. In other words, those are the spots where Ikken hissatsu (一拳必殺) becomes possible by applying a strike or a kick. It is interesting to know that in Jujitsu, they claim the number of Kyusho as 140. Out of those, the critical ones that could bring high risk to life is about 50.
Those critical points are categorized in four groups depending on the results from an impact. All the senior karate practitioners and the instructors are advised to know them.
① 痛急所 (Tsu kyusho), pain points = the points where one will experience intense pain.
One example is the point between the thumb and index finger. If it it is pinched it gives great pain and it can be used in submission techniques.
② 麻急所 (Ma kyusho), hemp points = the points where one can be temporarily paralyzed.
③ 当込急所 (Atekomi kyusho), strike in points = this word comes from Atemi (当身 strikes).
These points are aimed to kill or to knock the opponents unconscious. They are located in the chest and abdomen area.
④ 活急所 (Katsu kyusho), active points = these points are used in first aid (active method).
They are found in the back, chest, and the abdomen areas. These points are used completely for the opposite reasons of Atekomi points.
The size of one point is said to be about 8 millimeters in diameter. Thus, realistically speaking, it is quite difficult to know precisely where those spots are located. Consequently, it is also extremely difficult to attack any of those points accurately on an opponent. You will not only need to be very familiar with the locations of the spots but must acquire the specific techniques to deliver the proper attacks. What I recommend to the instructors and the senior practitioners is that we remember the approximate locations of these points.
At the end of this article we must touch upon one more subject. It looks like Funakoshi sensei had studied the kyusho because we find the kyusho chart in his book, Karate-do Kyohan (空手道教範) published in 1935. Nakayama, in his book, Dynamic Karate, also added two pages (302 and 303) If those two masters considered these so important as to show the illustrations of these “vulnerable points” in their books, then why do we seem to ignore them and fail to study them?
I believe there are, at least, two major reasons.
The first reason is the popularity of sport karate. In tournament kumite there are only two targets; jodan and chudan. Generally speaking, in a kumite match, as long as you throw a punch or a kick in the general area of jodan and chudan, you will get a point. Therefore, for those who are focused only on scoring points there is no need for them to learn the specific locations of kyusho as they will not increase their scoring points. This attitude, unfortunately, is spreading to the dojo kumite training. For instance, does your sensei approve if your attack or counter attack to the groin in your ippon kumite? I am sure your sensei will not allow that. How about if you counter attack to the opponents’ eyes with nihon nukite (二本貫手 two finger spear hand) during an ippon kumite training? Is this technique widely accepted in your dojo? A kick in the groin and stabbing in the eyes are very effective techniques but aren’t they (and possibly many others) sort of “banned” or disapproved?
The second reason is more complex and can be controversial. Shotokan is a long distance fighting method unlike Goju ryu and Uechi ryu. In other words, most of the techniques in Shotokan are designed to fight from a distance that is further than an arm reach. In Goju ryu and Uechi ryu they focus on the close distance fighting method including the “sticky hand” or push hand training called kakie (カキエ、掛け手). They also train to harden their body to withstand the impact of the punches and the kicks. They typically stand in sanchin stance (三戦) and the instructor would strike or kick the student’s leg, back, belly, etc. Whereas in Shotokan we do not have this type of training and we keep our training very non-contact all throughout the training. Some of the kyusho points such as groin and eyes do not need validation. However, some of the kyusho and tenketsu points can be very small as described before (as little as 8mm). Thus, to be able to use them effectively, we must know exactly the precise locations by frequent experimentation by hitting or pressing some of those spots. Recently, bunkai training has become more popular which is a good trend, in general. There are some tsukami uke (掴み受け grabbing blocks) and nage waza (投げ技 throwing techniques). This training will provide us a rare opportunity to work on the kyusho and tenketsu points. Unfortunately, however, I have not seen this to be a popular trend.
Now that you have a better understanding of the challenge with these critical points, isn’t it about time that you should begin to study them more closely and possibly incorporate this knowledge in your karate training?
Wiki page on pressure point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressure_point
Eight striking points
#1: Eyes and around the area near the eyes
#2: Middle of upper lip below the nose
#3: Ears or a little in front of the ears (near the jaw joints)
#4: Back of elbow
#5: Side of the trunk over the rib cage
#6: Tail bone
八 打 歌 訣: 嵩 山 少 林 拳 法
Eight death points of Shaolin Kung Fu
#2: Throat and neck
#3: Solar plexus
#4: side of the trunk over the rib cage
#5: perineum (the area between the anus and the scrotum or vulva）
#6: Towards the back of the trunk over the kidney
#7: Tail bone
A well-known samurai from the 17th century, Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵 photo right) wrote a famous book called Gorin no sho (五輪書) that consisted of five volumes. This book became very popular recently and I hear it was used as a textbook at several of the major US business schools (Harvard was one of them). It is very interesting to see that the professors in business administration thought that his book was beneficial to the university students who are studying business. The publisher, Bantam even published a translated book with an interesting cover with a subtitle of “The real art of Japanese management”.
I have read this book (in Japanese) many times and found some parts are difficult to understand. Regardless, I learned a lot about bujutsu (martial arts) concepts from it, even though I am not practicing kenjutsu (Japanese sword fencing).
Today I want to share one concept that is challenging to understand and even more difficult to practice, even for the kenjutsu experts. If you have read this book then I am sure you have seen this particular concept written in it. If you had some difficulty in understanding it, I do not blame you. I hope my explanation here will be of some help to you.
In Gorin no sho, there are five volumes or books. They are “The book of Earth 地の巻”, “The book of Water 水の巻”, “The book of Fire 火の巻”, “The book of Wind 風の巻” and lastly “The book of Empty or void 空の巻”. First of all I find it very interesting how he named the volumes with those names. He borrowed the idea of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Empty from the Buddhist teachings to convey in each volume of his deep understanding from kenjutsu (he called it heiho 兵法). Though I wish to write something about these symbols in the future, I will focus on the one concept today that I found to be one of the most interesting and important of the concepts. This is found in Chapter 3 in the volume of water (水之巻) that consists of 38 chapters total.
According to Musashi, there are two different methods of looking at an opponent or (opponents). Isn’t this puzzling? When we look at an opponent, most people agree that there is only one method for us. You open your eyes and look. You could look carefully or not as carefully but this is not what he was saying. Musashi said there were completely different methods of looking. He called one method, Kan (觀) and the other Ken (見). Many kenjutsuka (swordsmen) also consider the teaching here as being very challenging. So, we need to study and evaluate each word so that we can understand his teaching.
I will put the concept in Japanese first.
Beneath it, I will attempt to translate with some added explanation.
眼の付け様は、大きに広く付るなり。(Meno tsukeyo ha, ookini hiroku tsukeru nari)
The literal translation of this sentence is as follow; “The setting of the eyes must be large and wide.” This is sort of surprising to me. I was thinking it was better to narrow the eyes a little rather than to open them wide. But he is suggesting we should keep them wide open.
観見の二つあり、観の目つよく、見の目よわく、遠き所を近く見、近き所を遠く見ること、兵法の専なり。(Kan ken no futatsu ari, kan no me tsuyoku, ken no me yowaku, tooki tokoro wo chikaku mi, chikaki tokoro wo tooku miru koto, heiho no sen nari.)
The literal translation, “There are two methods; ‘Kan’ and ‘Ken’. The eye of ‘Kan’ needs to be strong and that of ‘Ken’ needs to be weak. You need to look at the far vision as near and the near vision as far. This is the requirement of bujutsu.”
This is the most important part of this teaching but at the same time, it can be very confusing. Musashi is explaining about two different ways when you look at an opponent. He used two kanji, 観 and 見 to differentiate the two ways of looking. Those two kanji, both, mean “look” or “see”. Each kanji has the Chinese way of pronunciation and the Japanese way. Though the Chinese pronunciation is different, the Japanese sound is the same, “Miru 観る, 見る). So, even for a Japanese person this differentiation between those two kanji is difficult. Typically 観 is used when you are looking at something that is far. For instance, we use this kanji when we go to a stadium to watch a game of baseball or football. Another situation is to go to a park to watch the cherry blossoms in the spring time or the trees on the mountain. On the other hand, 見 is typically used when you are looking at something near you and in a narrow view. For instance, when you say “I look at my hands”, we always use見 and never 観. However, if we are going to investigate or to inspect something, we use 観 even if that something is near (i.e. 観察 observation, 観光 sightseeing).
In English you have different words to view or see. If you say “I see a person” then it is different from “I look at a person”. There are more different verbs too. One is “watch”. You watch TV to see a program so “I see TV” means something completely different. Another one would be “view”. So, all those different words have slightly different meaning even though you are doing some function with your eyes.
So, Musashi is saying that the far vision needs to be strong or intense. We need to view the far sight as though near. On the other hand, the near vision must not be seen so intensely. As they are at a close distance, it is easy for us to be preoccupied and forget the sights of the far. Then, he says we need to view the scene of close distance as if it is far away.
I am pretty sure you can understand the literal meaning of what he wrote. It is another matter to truly understand what Musashi was trying to convey. Even if we did understand the true meaning of what he was saying, being able to do those things would be another matter. It is not like we have a zoom capability so we can see something far. He is saying we have those two capabilities (to see near and far) with our eyes but he is telling us that we need to execute those two functions simultaneously which makes it very challenging if not impossible.
(Teki no tachi wo shiri, isasakamo teki no tachi wo mizuto iukoto, heiho no daiji nari. Kufu arubeshi.)
“One must know the opponent’s sword in advance, thus one does not watch the opponent’s sword. This is a very important point for kenjutsu strategy. We must do our best to master this skill.”
It is true that if one can predict how the opponent will swing the sword, one does not need to watch the sword. However, how can that be possible? From what I can guess, you can do this by developing the “Kan no me” and “Ken no me”.
(Kono metsuke, chiisaki heiho nimo, dainaru heiho nimo onaji koto nari.)
“This viewing method is the same with the small fighting and large fighting situations.”
By small fighting he meant an individual samurai fighting against one or multiple opponents. On the other hand, by large fighting he was talking about a battle and a war strategy.
(Menotama ugokazu shite, ryowaki wo mirukoto kanyo nari.)
“It is critically important that you can see the side views without moving your eyes.”
Now he is talking about a specific technique which is interesting. We need to be able to see with a 180 degree vision without moving our eyes. I think it is possible but it will require some serious training if we wish to be able to do this during our fighting time.
(Kayo no koto, isogashiki toki, niwaka ni wakimae gatashi.)
“This ability (note: to have a 180 degree vision) is quite difficult to have when you are busy (note: fighting time).”
Not surprisingly, he is warning us that this technique is quite difficult when we are fighting for our life. Normally, in a fight for your life situation, your vision narrows and becomes sort of tunnel vision. Thus, Musashi felt the need of telling us about this. He pointed to us that developing this technique requires a lot of training and discipline.
(Kono kakitsuke wo oboe, joju kono metsuke ni narite, nanigoto nimo metsuke no kawarazaru tokoro, yokuyoku ginmi arubeki mono nari.)
“Memorize these statements in this document, develop this vision skill into your daily life, do not change the view method regardless of the situation. You must remind yourself about this deeply.”
I believe this statement above is quite obvious and understandable.
The key statement of this teaching was certainly in the second sentence and I am sure all the readers will agree. Even if we understand what Musashi was trying to tell us, it remains challenging because he did not tell us how to achieve those two methods. We sort of understand the difference between them but how do we apply both? I cannot explain how different they are and how to achieve them, but I think I can give you an analogy. If you were born in the 20th century, you remember those analog cameras. These days, most of us including the senior citizens, like me, depend on our cell phones. The cameras we use now are all digital. Do you remember how difficult it was to focus correctly using an analog camera? A camera on an iPhone is simple and no need to focus so all of us love it. However, I remember that one of my friends who happens to be a semi professional photographer told me once a few years ago that with the digital cameras we were now forgetting how to take the good photos. I told him I did not understand. I disagreed with him by saying that we no longer need to play around and focus. We can take many photos so we can delete the bad ones and keep only the good ones. With an analog camera (excluding the professional use high speed cameras), we can take only one at a time and we did not know how the photos would come out until we had them developed. He agreed on what I told him but he continued to explain where he was coming from. He said to take a professional quality photo, you need to pay attention to two different things in the camera finder. One is, of course, the object or the person who you are taking a photo of. The other is the background. At this time, I told him, “Exactly, this is why we had a lot of problems with the analog cameras. We had to check both the target and the background and we constantly messed up the focus.” He came back and told me this was one of the reasons why the photos taken by a professional photographer always resulted in better looking photos than those taken by the amateurs. Of course, there were other reasons such as the shutter speed, distance, f stops etc.
I remembered my friend’s statement when I read the second sentence of Musashi teaching. Maybe, a professional cameraman could look at the background using the eyes of Kan (観) simultaneously he would look at the target (object or person) with the eyes of Ken (見). All along he would be checking and feeling the light, shade, all the details of what is going on behind and around the target. The professional person can do all those functions simultaneously and click the shutter at the right time. He/she knows exactly when to click the shutter and most of the time, the photos are usually beautiful and exciting. On the other hand, if that was us, the amateur cameramen would not be able to do them right and miss the right moment and the photos will end up, most of the time, as mediocre and not so exciting. The action and the environment of taking a photo are totally different from fighting against an enemy who is trying to kill you. However, I think this analogy does explain the part of having two different kinds of viewing function. What do you think?
Then, how do we accomplish this in martial arts, our karate? I am not an expert in this so I cannot give an answer. However, two words come to mind. One is Zanshin (残心) and the other is Ki (気). As you know zanshin is typically used after you complete your kata. By this, you are supposed to keep your attention to the enemy who is supposedly knocked down by you. This understanding is partially correct and partially incorrect. It is so because we, the karateka, are to keep this attention not only to the fallen enemy but to any possible enemy who are around us and we are to do this all the time and not only after kata or fighting. With the true Zanshin feeling we are to pay attention to 360 degrees around us at all times. So, there is a similar expectation as in the Musashi teaching such as seeing the near and the far at the same time, and to be able to see with a 180 degrees vision. We, the karate practitioners, are expected to develop Ki. Most of us have some idea of what Ki is but it is also a difficult concept for many of us. I have written an article, “What is Ki?” which comes in Part 1 and Part 2. They are included in my third book, Shotokan Trascendence. If you have not read this book, it is available from Amazon Books US and UK.
In short, Ki is an energy form or an entity that is within ourselves. So, we look at or see the things near, or the target, with the physical eyes or Ken (見). For the far things and the things around us that are being covered in 360 degrees we see with the eyes of Kan (観) or our heart or our Ki. In other words, you try to FEEL or see with your heart (Ki) the movements, thoughts and intention of the enemy. This may be a part of Kan. Of course, Kan will expand beyond the enemy you are facing but I think this concept will apply nicely here.
What I wrote above is only my thinking and I am not sure what Musashi would say if he could read this. Despite that, I feel quite confident that the teaching we learn in karate is applicable to that of Musashi.
This is the first teaching I picked up from Gorin no sho. I plan to find other interesting teachings from this valuable book and attempt to apply my interpretation sometime in the future. It will be posted on my blog site so check this site periodically if you are interested in finding the sequence as well as other karate and martial arts related articles.
If you do not have a copy of “A Book of Five Rings”, why not get a copy from Amazon Books? This is a must have book in the library of every serious karateka. I guarantee it is a well worth investment.
Here is the URL:
(This is Part 2. Please read Part 1 first if you have not yet.)
OK so you may wonder why the development of Ki has to come with breathing and particularly deep breathing. First, let’s see if deep breathing is considered as beneficial in the western world. Believe it or not, if you google you will see many related articles and sites.
(Brush painting of “Ki” kanji written by Morihei Ueshiba)
One site is by the motivation and awareness site called One Powerful Word: http://www.onepowerfulword.com/ It lists 18 benefits of deep breathing:
1. Breathing Detoxifies and Releases Toxins
2. Breathing Releases Tension
3. Breathing Relaxes the Mind/Body and Brings Clarity
4. Breathing Relieves Emotional Problems
5. Breathing Relieves Pain.
6. Breathing Massages Your Organs
7. Breathing Increases Muscle
8. Breathing Strengthens the Immune System
9. Breathing Improves Posture
10. Breathing Improves Quality of the Blood
11. Breathing Increases Digestion and
12. Breathing Improves the Nervous System
13. Breathing Strengthen the Lungs.
14. Proper breathing makes the Heart Stronger.
15. Proper Breathing assists in Weight Control.
16. Breathing Boosts Energy levels and Improves Stamina
17. Breathing Improves Cellular Regeneration
18. Breathing Elevates Moods
Enough benefits? For the full article access here:
It is true that the editor of this site is not a medical person. Then let’s check what the medical experts say about deep breathing. I am posting only one of them here but you can check the internet and find many other similar sites. The site I am referring to is called “Women to women”; Changing women’s health – naturally by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP. In one page she wrote, “In a 2005 review and analysis of several studies, Richard Brown, MD and Patricia Gerbarg, MD reported that yogic deep-breathing techniques were extremely effective in handling depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. These techniques can serve as an excellent adjunct to conventional medical treatment — or in some cases as a suitable substitute — in treating myriad psychological disorders, as well as eating disorders and obesity.”
If you are interested you can read the entire article here:
So, the modern medical society also acknowledges the benefits of deep breathing. It is a shame that it is not popular among the average people including the athletes. It is more shame that not many karate instructors emphasize the importance of deep breathing and incorporate it in their syllabus.Anyway, the Asian people knew these benefits for centuries and incorporated deep breathing in different training methods. We believe that the Ki energy must be activated and circulated throughout our body to produce the positive results and this is why the deep breathing method was used to energize the circulation. It is like when you boil the water in a tea kettle. As you heat the kettle from the bottom the water circulates up then it rotates and comes down. You can have that image with your Ki in your body. Breathing does two things. One is to assist the Ki energy to circulate (internal). The other is to give the energy source (air) to the remote parts of your body (external). The latter is done by the blood circulation but deep breathing will help it by increasing the intake of oxygen and the discharge of carbon dioxide.
OK then you would wonder where the Ki energy would travel in our body. The Chinese experts developed a meridian chart called Keiraku (経絡) to show the exact paths and the system (see the illustration). There is much debate among the western medical personnel about the existence of such paths or routes because no physical organs are visible or detectable while the circulatory system and nervous system are. The Keiraku chart was developed by the physical experiences by the experts of acupuncture and the moxa over thousands of years.
The smooth flowing of your Ki is the key to your health and the life strength. The slow and deep breathing that is coordinated with the slow physical movement will aid and promote the circulation. I repeat that this is the reason why I have mentioned that Tai Chi chuan is one of the best methods out of all the martial arts systems (provided that you agree to include it into this category) to develop your Ki. Then you will naturally want to know about karate. Yes, it is about time to talk about our karate training but what do you think? Unfortunately, the training syllabus includes specific breathing exercise or special training for breathing only at a few Shotokan dojo. If so, then, you would think of the training that you do with your kata. Sadly again, none of the kata is taught with proper instruction pertaining to breathing and few instructors know how to harmonize breathing with the kata movements. The only visible breathing kata we have in Shotokan, namely Hangetsu, has lost its breathing method teaching for many years. Only Kanazawa sensei and I are the ones who do such teaching. n addition, this kata not only almost lost its breathing method but also the most important key point of Hangetsu dachi. I wrote about this in Shotokan Myths (Hangetsu chapter) so the readers may remember. I plan to put an instructional video of Hangetsu at Karate Coaching video site (www.karatecoaching.com) where I will explain how it should be done including a few different breathing methods.
You are familiar with Ki-ai (気合) which you do frequently in your training. It literally means to gather or collect Ki. Doesn’t this help develop Ki? How ironic it can be! The consistent or an excessive use of ki-ai, believe it or not, prevents Ki from flowing. It may be a shocking statement but it is true. A loud ki-ai means a loss of energy and it disrupts the flow of Ki as your body needs to tense. It is like a loud sound when a bomb explodes. Such sound does not aid the power but the energy is wasted as it is an escaped energy. So, if a sound comes out from a powerful technique then that is ok (like a loud sound from a dynamite explosion), but making loud ki-ai for its own sake, you are simply wasting your energy. Maybe it is ok for the children’s class so that they can learn the spirit or let their energy out as they are full of energy. I wrote this also in Shotokan Myths (Ki-ai chapter) that there was no ki-ai in ancient kata and during the training in Okinawa prior to 20th century. Even Funakoshi did not emphasize ki-ai anddoing one or two ki-ai in kata was optional (you may want to re-read Karatedo Kyohan). It all changed when kata became a tournament event where some strict rules are needed to judge. Is all ki-ai bad? No, as I said earlier, it is all right if it is done correctly. It can bring an extraordinary power to a technique and I do not mean by a magical power. It is difficult to explain with the words but a correct ki-ai will act as a connecting point that brings all the muscle energy together harmoniously from the different parts of the body. This is why the tension of the body or kime must be one hundredth or even thousandth of a second. This is the true kime and it can be seen in Hakkei (発剄) which is translated only as explosive power which is supposed to be a secret or an ultimate technique of kung fu training. This is the energy used in one inch or zero inch punch. You can see my demonstration of one inch punch in this Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl0vq9nOl3Q
Then, how about ibuki (息吹き) breathing used in Goju-ryu and other Okinawan styles (photo above)? I have only a limited experience with Goju-ryu training so I am not an expert in this style so I welcome inputs from Goju experts. My understanding is that there are two parts to the objectives of ibuki breathing. One is used in sanchin kata which aims to coordinate body movements with the breathing. The concept is similar to Tai Chi but there is a big difference that in Tai chi the idea is to relax the muscles but in Goju a practitioner learns how to tense his body. So the blocking and punching arms in Sanchin (三戦) kata move slowly but there seems to be too much tension throughout the body that would slow the circulation of the Ki in your body. The purpose of this kata and original Hangetsu was not to aid to the circulation but maybe only to strengthen the local Ki. The other training of ibuki breathing is done while a practitioner is standing still while doing heavy ibuki breathing (fast inhaling and slow and forced exhaling). The instructor will check the practitioner’s tension by punching and kicking him pretty hard. The idea I understand is that Goju practitioner will turn the body to withstand the hits and kicks of an opponent. Obviously this concept comes from a close distance fighting method and based on the situation of fist to fist only fight.
In Okinawa all weapons (swords, knives, etc.) were banned for hundreds of years so this concept could be considered. Shurite including Shorin-ryu and Shotokan was based on a long distance fighting method which means fighting against an opponent with a weapon. This is one of the reasons why Funakoshi did not adopt ibuki breathing training and de-emphasized in Hangetsu kata (半月形). The other reason was the way it is being practiced; upper body naked. Funakoshi knew that this does not go with the Japanese culture too well as only the manual labors would take their top off. He wanted to introduce karate to Japan as the martial arts of samurai or gentleman. One great benefit of ibuki breathing, however, is its training of diaphragm. During ibuki you have to pay much attention to your diaphragm and its actions. You will learn how to “push down” and “pull up” the diaphragm while you control and manage the breathing. However, this exercise is also being practiced in Yoga. I like their exercise better as it is done with much less tension. In addition, its training is incorporated with moving the internal organs (up and down or in a circular direction) along with the deep breathing. This exercise is excellent for circulating your Ki and it will help you with your health. I recommend this exercise strongly and I hope the readers will try it.
Back to kime. The extended kime or tension of the muscles is not good for the Ki flow and you can about this in Kime chapter of Shotokan Myths (Second Edition, cover photo right). To develop the Ki flow in your karate training you need to learn how to relax more while you are training. If you enjoy the tensions in your training then I recommend that you will have a separate session of breathing exercise. I explained how to do the long and deep breathing in my previous blog. There are other ways to develop Ki and I will include them in my longer version of the subject.
Now that you know how to exercise a long and deep breathing method, let me conclude this article with the highest level of benefits that can come from the strong Ki and the healthy Ki flow developed by deep breathing exercises.
You will be able to control your heart beat and blood pressure. You will have a stronger immune system. What do these mean? The result is that you will have a very healthy life. Funakoshi boasted when he was in his 70’s and early 80’s that he never got sick. He credited to his karate training which I endorse. He lived till 88 years old which was an amazing longevity in that era. He even went through the war time in Tokyo where the food was scarce and sanitation was extremely poor in 1940’s. I agree with Master Funakoshi and I will write a separate article on how karate training can produce the good health. The more I practice karate I realize how amazingly human being is createdand that our potential is almost unlimited. So, wouldn’t you be happy if you simply do not get sick even when you are in your 70’s and 80’s?You can achieve that health with deep breathing and karate training.
You will also be able to control your brain waves at your will and emotional states much better than the non-practiced people. Under the heavy stress or emergency situation don’t you want to have an ability to keep calm and collected? You can do this if you can keep your brain waves at relaxed mode? By having strong Ki you will not be depressed or influenced less by the bad or sad news or incidents. This will certainly enable you to have a happier life.
Your mental alertness will improve with better breathing and stronger Ki. What does this mean? You will be able to avoid the accidents while you walk, run, ride a bike, drive and whatever the activities you may have. Out of all the accidents you may encounter an automobile accident can be the most serious one which you want to avoid the most. I have already written an article specifically on this subject and it is also available in my third book, Shotokan Transcendence. The title of the article is Jidosha Dojo (Automobile Dojo), how to practice karate while you are driving your car. I thin the concept of this training is unique and new. I am sure you will enjoy reading it.
I hope I covered everything I wanted with Ki and its relationship to deep breathing. In Shotokan Transcendence, along with “What is Ki?” and “Jidosha dojo” I have a chapter on how you can increase your Ki by doing Ki exchange with the trees. Please do not be skeptical. The sources of Ki are available all around you and if you try you will find that it is easy to increase your Ki.
I hope you will get yourself a copy of my third book, Shotokan Transcendence (cover photo right).
It is available at Amazon Books:
After reading it, would you kindly put your book review for the future readers?
The kanji for tatsujin consists of two letters; 達 and 人. Let’s look at the meaning of each letter. Tatsu (達) means to reach or achieve. Jin (人) means a person. Together, in general this represents a Japanese concept of a fully self-actualized human being. It is a higher state of consciousness, that is uninhibited by the weaknesses in our personality that make us inherently human. It is a mind that is free from the desires of the ego, and able to see life through the “Eyes and Mind of God”.
Tatsujin, more frequently, refers to a person who has achieved an extremely high level of a certain skill. It is typically associated with the martial arts and other Japanese cultural activities with Do (道) such as sado (茶道 tea ceremony), kado (華道 flower arrangement) and shodo (書道 a form of calligraphy). It also includes some crafts (carpentry, gardening, scissor work, etc.), sports, crafts, work skills such as cooking and hobbies like fishing, and even in some games (explained towards the end of this article). If one is a real expert in any of these arts or crafts, we call him or her a tatsujin.
How can one reach a Tatsujin level in martial arts?
Of course, to reach a tatsujin level in any of the martial arts, the practitioners must love their art and practice long hours for many years. At the same time, we tend to look at the physical part alone because it is obvious and visible. We must not forget the other important requirement. Here is an extremely difficult requirement; a tatsujin must demonstrate heijoshin (平常心) or peaceful mind at all times. Heijoshin is a popular word in martial arts but is also a difficult term to understand, therefore, it is much more difficult to achieve it.
Let’s look at heijoshin closer. There are two parts in Kanji; “Heijo 平常” and “shin 心”. Heijo means ordinary, usual or normal. Shin, as you may already know, means “mind” or “heart”. The first kanji “heijo” can be broken into two kanji; “hei 平” and “jo常”. “hei” means “flat” and “jo ” means “always” or “constant”. So, together it means the state of one’s mind that is flat or peaceful at all times.
What does it mean? Shin or kokoro (mind) can be disturbed often. Often, you get surprised or you become afraid. Sometimes, you may panic and lose your concentration. Whenever your mind is disturbed like that, your mind is not peaceful, and not flat. Thus, heijoshin means “in any situation, one must keep the state of one’s mind as flat or as peaceful as possible so that one can think clearly and make the correct and appropriate decisions”.
As you can easily imagine, it is extremely difficult to keep the mind peaceful or flat all the time, thus if an expert can demonstrate that ability then he or she is a tatsujin.
In martial arts, I believe there is one more requirement. A tatsujin’s skill level must not deteriorate or decline as one gets older. In other words, he or she must be able to maintain and even improve his physical and mental skill level even when he/she gets into the age of the 70’s or 80’s. The good examples are Sagawa Yukiyoshi (佐川幸義 1902 – 1998 photo above) of Daito ryu Aiki jutsu and Uehara Seikichi (上原清吉 1904 – 2004 photo right) of Motobu ryu Okinawa karate. Sagawa lived to be 96 years old and Uehara got to be 100. It is known that both of them trained almost till their last day and their martial art skills were kept incredibly high. These masters did not show any decline of their skill level due to their age. I also consider Asai Tetsuhiko (浅井哲彦 photo below) to have been another karate tatsujin. Though he died when he was only 71 years old, his karate in his late sixties seemed to be better than when he was in his fifties. In other words his karate was advancing as he got older. He practiced two to three hours every morning to improve and his karate seemed to be at a perfect level. If he did not fall to cancer in 2006, Asai’s karate might have improved to an even higher level.
We have another term to describe a person of extraordinary expert skills, meijin (名人). Then what is meijin and what is the difference between meijin and tatsujin?
Meijin (名人), literally translated, means “Well known person”. Its original meaning is “master” or “expert” or “virtuoso” of any field. Meijin is also a title that can be found in martial arts such as kenjtsu, kyudo, judo and karate. This title is used in the other arts as well, including cooking, painting and interestingly, the Japanese games such as Go (碁 or Igo 囲碁), Shogi (将棋 Japanese chess) or Mahjong (麻雀). Some claim that tatsuji is above meijin and the other claim the opposite. One thing that is clear is that meijin typically describes an expert who is widely known or famous. Other than this difference, I do not consider it important to determine which title is higher. What is most important, as far as I am concerned, is that we train daily and make an earnest effort to reach to tatsujin level. Though I may never reach that level in my life time but at least I am making the honest effort by training daily. How about you?