What is Meotode? 夫婦手とは何ぞや？
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.