Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには
Tekki used to be a fundamental kata for Shurite karate from which Shotokan evolved. Until Funakoshi changed its name it was called Naihanchi, Naifanchi or Naihanchin. It is interesting to discuss about the names of this kata but we will not do this in this article. What I want to say about this kata is very unfortunately no longer receiving proper attention and sufficient training in most of the Shotokan schools. At those dojo Tekki Shodan is considered only as a required kata to advance from 4 kyu to 3 kyu, or a kata before brown belt when you begin to learn the “real” kata. This trend is very unfortunate because it means a huge loss to Shotokan karate in general. My wish is that this article will provide the missing information and make the readers to realize the important essence that is built in this unique kata. I hope this realization will result in more appreciation and motivation to practice Tekki more frequently and with more respect. Before I continue, I wish to ask a quick question to the instructors
Funakoshi performing Tekki Shodan (from Karatedo Kyohan)
and senior practitioners. Why is the first step (left foot) moved in front of the right foot? Why not behind? Is there any significance in the move? Or is it an irreverent or worthless point? Please think about it and I will touch on this again later.
Tekki is unique because the only stance other than heisoku dachi and kosa dachi is kiba dachi. Of course, kiba dachi is a perfect stance to train your legs but there is one other key and hidden objective in this stance and I will cover it in key point #1. In addition to kiba dachi this kata’s body shifting is done only to the sideways which makes this kata unique and mysterious. I will cover this in key point #2. There is one more interesting point. There are three Tekki; Shodan, Nidan and Sandan. In all of them it starts to right side. You remember you start to left in all Heian kata. I will not go into this topic in this article. I will leave it as homework for those who are curious and interested. I will share my hypothesis somewhere else in the future.
Key point #1:
Kamae of Tekki Shodan is heisoku dachi. Interestingly the next kata you learn, Bassai Dai’s kamae is also heisoku dachi. In Tekki you learn to body shift sideways while in Bassai you learn to step forward. I see the wisdom and I am truly impressed with the deep understanding by the Okinawan master who developed the kata syllabus. The students learn to shift sideways first because that is easier to show how to shift the body weight between left and right feet. In other words, at kamae of heisoku dachi, your body weight is put evenly between left and right feet. With the first move, you cross your legs (kosa dachi). The same mechanism is taught in Tekki Nidan. The only difference is that you start from shizentai which is more natural stance than heisoku dachi. What happens at the first step is that your weight on your left leg becomes zero as you lift it to step over and the weight distribution on the right foot becomes 100%. Of course, at kosa dachi there will be a small weight distribution (maybe 10% or so) but at the next instance it will receive 100% as your right foot is lifted up high for fumikomi. Then you will end in kiba dachi (back to 50/50). This change of weight distribution from 50/50 to 0/100 (or 10/90) and to 100/0 and finally to 50/50 is the biggest learning lesson in Tekki. Every time you step aside and go to a next kiba dachi through kosa dachi, you learn how to body shift quickly and strongly. Once you learn how to move sideways then the Okinawa masters believed the students can start learning how to body shift forward. I agree with them totally. The value of this technique has been lost, as far as I can see in Shotokan, and it is not taught that way anymore. Thus, many students miss learning this key point. They mistakenly believe Tekki is a strange and unimportant kata you go through before you become a brown belt so you can tackle more important kata like Bassai. It is a big shame and I wish many people study this kata again and find the true value of this amazing kata.
Let’s go back to my first question. Why do we step the left foot in front of the right foot instead of behind. Take a close look at Funakoshi’s left foot in the two photos above (from Shodan and Nidan).
You can see it is planted firmly on his entire foot. This is critically important. If your left foot touches only the ball of the foot like kosa dachi then you will have to step down the heel before you can shift the entire body weight to the left foot which is an extra move. Is the lost time long? No, it is only a split of second but it is still significant if you are trying to achieve a quick weight shifting process which is one of the key objectives of the Tekki training. So, If you step your left foot behind the right foot, your feet will look just like the illustration on the left. If you force your left foot to be totally flat on the ground you will lose your balance or need to shift towards the rear. This is only natural as a leg is attached to the backside of your foot. You have much more space in front so that you can easily cross over and put the entire foot on the floor. Then, what’s wrong with stepping the left foot behind the right foot and as a result your body shifting happens towards your back? It is not “wrong” as this step can be used effectively if you are going to throw ushiro geri or yoko kekomi with your right foot. From a kiba dachi you will shift and you will point your rear or back to the opponent as you step your left foot behind the right foot. If I remember correctly Bruce Lee used this (stepping behind and kicking yoko geri) in one of the movies. Because of his dramatic action I also remember many kumite competitors took kiba dachi stance in 70’s.
Regardless, the use of this stepping is limited, therefore, the fundamental concept of kata is to move forward. This concept is also adopted in Tekki by stepping in front of the other leg.
Key point #2:
There are two good reasons why Tekki is based only on Kiba dachi and the body movement is sideways. The first one is obvious and very well known, kiba dachi is an excellent stance to train and strengthen your legs. The second one has been a mystery: why only moving sideways? I have heard a few ideas. One was that this kata was created to fight with the wall behind you. Another was to learn the fighting method in a narrow corridor. I will talk about bunkai later so I will not go into this now. Let me present my understanding from this unique kata. I have already mentioned about the uniqueness of the body shifting. Tekki was the very first kata before Heian was invented in late 19th century and with this kata Okinawan masters wanted the beginners to learn how to body shift sideways before they learned how to body shift forward. Why sideways first? It is because it is physically easier to shift that direction. I know many people do not see this point as they feel more comfortable moving forward but un-natural with side shifting. But I ask you to experiment the following. Stand up straight in heisoku dachi (the arms can be held at side or hands holding the belt as you are experimenting only the body shifting) and lean forward. You have several muscle groups in feet and calves to prevent the falling. After feeling this physical reaction, from the same heisoku dachi, try leaning sideways. You will find it is a lot harder to prevent falling sideways. Believe it or not, ninja of medieval Japan found this running method useful and trained running sideways. Regardless, by “falling” to the side a beginner in Okinawa learned a quick body shift method. Once he learned the sideway method by Tekki, he went on to Bassai Dai to learn another quick body shifting method by “falling” forward. This is the idea of hidden energy of the water that is held in a dam. I must say this old time curriculum of learning the fast body shifting is amazing and so wise. I covered the details of this concept in another chapter, “Balancing in unstableness”.
In fact there is another reason for kiba dachi which is not too emphasized in the most dojo. Kiba dachi is classified as one of the outside tension stance. However, by moving sideways one learns how to tense the inner muscles of upper legs. This again helps in fast body shifting.
I must add one more point from the training purpose of Tekki Shodan. As you can see in the photo (right), Master Funakoshi is beautifully demonstrating the flexibility of his hip joints. A student must learn to rotate the upper body in 180 degrees in these particular combinations without deforming his kiba dachi. Unless your hips and mid- section are flexible it will be extremely difficult to rotate the upper body as shown in the photo. This is the excellent example of a solid and unmovable stance with flexible upper body movements.
The last one is the most challenging to understand and this has never been explained before. It is a concept of an invisible leg and I see the true wisdom of Okinawan master who created this kata. Let me explain but first take a look at the photo below. Here is a photo of Nakayama sensei instructing Tekki using his assistant, Osaka sensei who is doing namigaeshi. As you can see he is not standing straight up on his left leg in this technique. He remained in kiba dachi position except his right leg is doing namigaeshi. In other words, he will “fall” to his right side if he continues to keep his right leg up in the air. Of course he will land his right foot quickly and continues to the next technique. When you learned this kata I suspect many students might have been instructed by their sensei to do exactly that. In the video Nakayama sensei is saying, “Don’t lean to your left. Do your namigaeshi very quickly and put your right foot down before you fall so that you can keep the upper body in the same position.” To do this you had to remain in this position for a split of a second while you execute a namigaeshi technique. So look at the photo again. By looking at his upper body Osaka sensei could be in a stable kiba dachi. In other words, for a split second he was standing as though he had an invisible right leg under his right hip. You could almost draw an invisible leg there. To be able to do this you have to learn the use of internal muscles which I will not explain here as it is very much involved. But you must ask now why do you have to learn this. Some sensei probably told you that you need to learn how to do namigaeshi quickly. It sounds too obvious and no brainer. No one has explained that there is a hidden purpose or objective in this particular technique. Remind you the technique I am referring to is not namigaeshi but an invisible leg stance.
OK so I said it was to develop the internal muscles but for what purpose? Believe it or not, this is to develop the balance that is necessary for strong support in zenkutsu dachi and kicks. Let me further explain. When I say zenkutsu dachi I do not mean a still zenkutsu dachi with both feet on the ground. I am talking about the zenkutsu dachi while you are attacking forward. Take a look at a photo below. This is a famous photo taken at one of the matches at 1961 JKA National Championship in Tokyo Japan. The attacker on the left is Mikami sensei (JKA 8 dan now resides in Louisiana) and the other is late Asai sensei (the founder of JKS) who is doing a taisabaki in the air. Asai sensei won this match and went on to win the championship this year but this is not the subject here. What I want to call your attention is the stance of Mikami sensei in this photo. Look at the extension of the left leg and he looks like he was flying in the air. I am not saying Mikami sensei developed his great extension ability only from practicing Tekki. What I am saying is this invisible leg technique in Tekki can help the practitioners if they wish to develop the strong extension ability. Then the smart readers will quickly realize why this ability is also used in the kicking techniques. You probably figured out correctly that this ability is not particularly aiding the kick itself but rather for the strong supporting leg that will give you the forward reach. A rifle has an advantage over a pistol because a rifle has a longer range. The same can be said if your kick has a longer reach. A high kick is fine in a close distance fight, but you need a reach if an opponent is far. The photo on the right is showing a well extended mae geri but this can be applied to all the kicks. So, I hope you understand the importance of this invisible leg technique secretly hidden in namigaeshi practice of Tekki. Now the readers are curious about the internal muscles and their training. Maybe someday I will spend much time to address to this interesting and important subject. For now I suggest you to practice Tekki hopefully with a different vision. If you like kumite it is worth your time to improve the invisible leg technique as it will make your tsuki or keri attacks much more effective and threatening to your opponents.
The last thing I want to include in this article is Bunkai. Here, I only wish to provide you the basic concepts from which you need to build your understanding. We have already established that there are several levels of interpretation and applications which is called Bunkai. If the application works then basically that bunkai can be considered as “applicable” or “realistic”. If it does not work then it means either the interpretation or application is incorrect or your techniques are poor.
There are two fundamental concepts we must know about Tekki bunkai. Unfortunately, these concepts are not well known and some incorrect interpretations are widely spread or believed.
#1: Tekki kata teaches many short distance fighting techniques such as tsukami uke, kagi zuki, ashi uke or knee kicks (blocking with knee or leg) with nami gaeshi, enpi uchi, jodan nagashi uke, tate uraken uchi, hold breaks (first move of Nidan), throws (kagi zuki in Shodan, 2nd and 3rd moves of Nidan), gedan zuki, joint attacks and arm twisting waza to name a few.
#2: Fundamentally, your imaginary opponent is in front of you and not necessarily to your side. You must not confuse the direction of bunkai just because the kata foot steps are done only to the sideways. This kata is not teaching you to fight only in kiba dachi which exposes your front (groin and midsection) to your opponent; of course, tactically unwise. Look at Funakoshi photo above where he is doing morote ude uke to his right side in a beautiful kiba dachi. Just try this. Hide below the belt and see how his upper body above the belt looks like. What do you see? Doesn’t it look like he would be doing this technique in his right zenkutsu dachi? In bunkai you will do this technique in zenkutsu, but in Tekki kata you practice from kiba dachi (for the purposes I had described). This kata was not designed as a fighting method with your back against the wall or in a narrow corridor as suggested in Shotokan’s Secret by Bruce Clayton though I respect his opinion and his work. It was designed rather to teach a fighting method with restricted hip rotation by keeping the stance only in kiba dachi. This is a perfect training for short distance fighting which means you are in a grappling distance and not much room to move. When you observe this kata by Shorin ryu practitioners you will witness a much more pronounced hip vibration with each technique.
Here are two photos that show an interesting bunkai performed by Funakoshi and his student. They show a bunkai for the second and the third movements (haishu uchi and enpi uchi) of Tekki Shodan. Hhere haishu uchi is used as haishu osae or otoshi uke. Then he grabs the opponent’s right wrist next and pulls him down while he takes one step forward and rotates his hips to bring his opponent’s upper body down. During this process, he executes left enpi uchi to the opponent’s right elbow or place his left hand on the opponent’s elbow joint for a leverage. More aggressive interpretation (not shown in the photos here) can be a jodan enpi uchi to the opponent’s head instead of his elbow.
By the way, with this hip rotation and a take-down he faces completely opposite side (to his 6 o’clock) in this bunkai. If you are mentally trapped and believed that Tekki techniques must face only to one direction then you cannot even imagine this bunkai. In fact, this rotation move is incorporated in Tekki Mugen (Infinite Tekki).
I shared only two key points of Tekki and what did you think? Did these key points make sense to you? Did you realize those points are essential and fundamental elements as you develop your karate especially for an intermediate practitioner? I sincerely hope you did. I recommend all intermediate practitioners between 4 kyu to 1 kyu and possibly including Shodan to put this kata in his regular training menu. I ask 4 kyu practitioners particularly not to stop practicing this kata after passing to 3 kyu. I am aware that there are many new kata a brown belt needs to learn but Tekki is a short kata and it will not take too much time to include this kata. Spend 5 if not 10 minutes with this kata in each training and you can do at least 10 times. If you learn Tekki Mugen you can continue to do this kata straight 5 minutes or how much ever time you give without stopping at all. In addition I must add, you can do Tekki Mugen in a different shape enbusen including a circle, square or whatever the shape you wish.
As I learn further into the art of karate and find new meanings I become more impressed with the cleverness and wisdom of those ancient Okinawan masters who left us this treasure called kata.