What does it mean by “There is no gyaku zuki in karate”? 「空手に逆突きは無し」とは如何なる意味か？
Have you ever heard this from your sensei? I suspect most of the readers, whom I assume are Shotokan practitioners, have not heard this. If you have had some exposure to some styles of Okinawan karate, you may have heard it but for the Shotokan practitioners I am sure this statement does not make sense.
Let me explain what this puzzling statement means but first, I would like to evaluate how we (or most of us) were taught to do a gyaku zuki punch. I will try to describe the physical mechanism of performing gyaku zuki but I find it very difficult to do so, especially in English, as I do not have the skill level in this language. I hope that the advanced level readers (shodan and above) know the mechanism so that they can follow my explanation here.
First, think of the punch being done from an in position or a stationary stance, say, zenkutsu dachi. You would most likely perform gedan barai with your front arm and you are in a hanmi (半身 half face) position with your rear hand pulled way back. From this position, you will rotate your hips to kick start your punch. As the hips turn your rear shoulder will move forward and your punch will shoot out. Your arm will end up in a fully extended position and tensed when your hip position ends in shomen (正面 full-square straight). I am sure you have practiced this gyaku zuki exercise hundreds or even thousands of times in the past. When your hips lock in a shomen position and your gyaku zuki punch also locks in at the same time, you feel the excellent kime and the power of this punch.
Let us look at an ido (移動 body shifting) situation. Typically you will take a step forward (moving backward is harder but the basic concept will be the same) as you deliver gyaku zuki. Let’s make it an easy situation by starting from the gyaku zuki position with your punching arm fully extended forward. To make it easier to explain let us break the step forward in two stages. The first stage is to pull up the rear foot to meet with the front foot and you will make heisoku dachi (閉足立ち closed feet stance). At this stage you will relax your extended arm a little and you may even open the fist into a tate shuto uke (縦手刀受け) position. The hips remain shomen with the rear fist still kept at the hip. The second stage requires some intricate hip movements. As you advance the stepping foot forward the hip of the advancing side will move forward but you will keep the other hip in position, thus you will make a hanmi position as you step forward. By the time the advancing foot reaches the targeted position to assume zenkutsu dachi, your rear hip is still behind with the rear fist attached to it. As soon as that final stance position is assumed, you will quickly turn your hips followed by the rear side shoulder to make shomen and gyaku zuki punch is quickly executed at this point. This final movement is the same as the gyaku zuki mechanism that was described for the gyaku zuki position earlier.
I am pretty sure that most of the readers will agree with the explanation described above about gyaku zuki mechanism with shifting or taking a step forward. How about if I tell you that this mechanism is incorrect or at best the worst method from a budo (武道) perspective? I suspect most of you will not agree or would not understand why I say such a “crazy” thing. I am aware that now I am obligated to explain in a way you will understand. I am happy to share the correct mechanism of gyaku zuki in budo karate.
Unfortunately, the main problem with the way gyaku zuki has been taught to us for all these years was improper so most of us are not aware of the problem. So you will ask, “What is the problem?” that I am talking about. Believe it or not, in budo karate gyaku zuki must be applied with little or no hip rotation. This statement must be a surprise to most of the readers. OK we need to continue so you will see what I am talking about.
When you do oizuki (追い突き stepping straight punch), I suspect you were taught not to rotate your hips and I am sure you will agree that oizuki is done without a hip rotation. In short, gyaku zuki must be done in the same manner. In other words, it must be done with the hip pushing forward and very little hip rotation. By “hip pushing” I hope the readers can understand this important hip movement. When you do the oizuki with body shifting forward, the majority of the power in your punch will not come from your punching arm and the shoulder, as you know. The majority of the power comes from the power of body shifting and also the final hip pushing as you extend your punching arm. In the “hip pushing” forward mechanism, the pelvis is tucked under rather than pushed back. By looking at the side view of the pelvis, you will understand that tucking means pushing the bottom part of the pelvis bones forward. The hip joint (the part where the pelvic and the thigh bones are connected) is located towards the bottom of the pelvic bone, thus to tuck forward you will push the leg part forward as you keep the upper part of the pelvic bone stationary. The reason why you want to tuck is simple once you learn the mechanism of power generation. By having this correct bone structure you can generate more power by being able to transmit the power that was generated by the legs. By having the pelvis inclined forward (opposite of tucked under), the bone structure of the legs and the hip area will cause the generated power to dissipate or to prevent the transmission of the power to the extended arm. As the mechanism of gyaku zuki here is almost identical to that of oizuki, there is no reason to separate these two punches. It is like punching with your left fist or right fist. This is the reason why we say there is no gyaku zuki.
But you may argue, “Well, how about when you do an uke (受け block) first and a gyaku zuki counter? We learned to take a big hanmi in performing the uke before we do gyaku zuki. Do you claim that this is wrong?” This is a good question. My answer to this is that this mechanism is not wrong but at the same time this is the last choice one wants to use. To explain why this is the last choice we need to talk about choshi (調子 timing or tempo) in kumite. In other words, there are several different tempos between the technique by an attacker and the defender’s technique. So, in the case an attacker steps in with a jodan punch, the following are the different tempos for the defender’s block and counter.
1) The most popular technique in Shotokan karate: age uke (挙げ受け rising block) first then followed by gyaku zuki; this technique of using two arms is a two count tempo which happens to be the slowest.
2) A more challenging technique: age uke and uraken uchi using the blocking arm; this counter is faster and we call it one and a half tempo
3) Though not as popular but faster than the preceding two methods, age uke and a simultaneous gyaku zuki (in other words, these two techniques are delivered at the same time); the tempo for this technique is one as you deliver the counter as soon as the block is done.
There are other one tempo techniques. One example is jowan osae uke (抑え受け pressing block using forearm) and (simultaneous) kentsui uchi (拳槌打ち) using the same arm. Another example can be found in the first move of Bassai dai (バッサイ大). In the kata you were probably taught that the right fist is chudan uchi uke (中段内受け) and left hand is only a soete (添え手 accompanying hand) on top of the right forearm. In this technique your left hand is, in fact, osae uke against the opponent’s punching arm (at wrist or elbow) and your right fist is simultaneously used as uraken uchi (裏拳打ち) to the opponent’s jodan. There are many other techniques of one tempo kumite but I will not go into this as I want to use the first example to explain the concept of budo gyaku zuki.
So, let’s get back to the technique of the third example “tempo one”; age uke and simultaneous gyaku zuki. When you do this technique it is obvious that one cannot rotate one’s hips much even if you wanted to. What you need to do is to tuck in the pelvic bone as described in the oizuki technique earlier. As you can see one tempo kumite is the fastest of the three options described above. Though the first one; uke followed by gyaku zuki, is an option but it is the slowest and the least desirable. First of all, it takes too much time to rotate your hips to deliver gyaku zuki. Secondly and more importantly, this method generates, surprisingly, less power in your counter attack. Yes, less power and I’ll explain why. It is a very simple matter of physics. To execute gyaku zuki after uke, one must stop the body shifting. Of course, this is why you need to rotate your hips largely to generate power. If you can do gyaku zuki with your body shifting forward it can generate much more power than only with the hip rotation. However, a wise reader will point out, “Yeah but you are stepping back so the body shifting will not provide the energy forward.” You are 100% correct so you do not want to step back in kumite. Just as the two tempo kumite (uke followed by gyaku zuki), stepping back should be the last option or choice for the defender. Unfortunately, in most of the Shotokan dojo the students both beginners and advanced are taught this least desirable option day in and day out. In order to generate power with the quickest timing, a defender must step in just as you find in the first move of Bassai dai (an osae uke with a simultaneous uraken uchi). Why is this not taught more commonly? That is a good question and this is the very reason why I am writing this article.
In our organization, ASAI, we dropped gohon kumite (五本組手) and we kept sanbon kumite (三本組手) but only for the novice who needs to learn the fundamental move of kihon kumite. We dropped gohon kumite as this exercise repeats stepping back five times which we do not believe is a good exercise. As soon as the students advance to 8 kyu we teach them to practice only kihon ippon (基本一本) kumite. Initially, the students are allowed to step back as it is the easiest technique after practicing sanbon kumite. Eventually, the students are taught to step back in an angle, then on to the sideways angles then finally to step forward (yes, step forward to the attacker).
If you examine all the kata we practice, you will see only a few stepping back techniques. You will find most of the techniques, even in Heian kata, are stepping forward. Also, there are many morote waza (諸手技 both hands techniques) in our kata including Heian. Those are very advanced techniques. This is also a very interesting subject but I will not go into it as the subject of this article is gyaku zuki.
You may ask, “How about a case when an opponent grabs your hand? In that case, would you not pull the other fist back with your hip so you can give a strong gyaku zuki?” Yes, you can do this but you can also do this without rotating your hips. It is faster and more effective. Then you may ask, “Is making hanmi wrong?” My answer is that you make hanmi not only for setting up for gyaku zuki but for other reasons. One of them is to expose less frontal area by turning your body on an angle. Another may be by a pulling or nagashi uke, you may take a hanmi position. It is not wrong to execute gyaku zuki with a big hip rotation but it takes too much time thus not desirable in a budo situation.
To do gyaku zuki without hip rotation may be more difficult to master. If you can generate the same or more power by smaller hips movement, then it can be delivered much faster. Now, do you not agree that this method is much more desirable and effective?