Copyright 2001 by David Elkins, 1160 Garden Grove, Roseburg, OR 97470
Telephone # 541/672-3565
ELEMENTS OF FAJIN IN UECHI-RYU KARATE
By David Elkins, L.C.S.W
This article will examine two movements from the hojo undo(preparatory exercises) sequence of Uechi-Ryu Karate and explore elements of fajin (expressed energy) contained therein. Each hojo undo sequence will be described, andfajin implications will be presented.
The material of the kata from which hojo undo derives is profound yet its depths are only revealed to those who earnestly seek.Without such research the movements of kata, and hence a designated style, are at best limited in application. The importance of physically using the movements of kata–individually and in combination–to obtain understanding and ownership cannot be overemphasized. The process of ingraining the movements of kata into the neuromuscular memory of the body is something akin to target shooting. Knowledge of ballistics without practice on the firing range produces no success. Therefore, it is the utilization of both mental and physical energies that allows one to master the movements of kata. Only then can the practitioner begin to see kata not as a catalog of so many techniques but rather as an encyclopedia of energy vectors which are governed by concepts of structure and movement, thus having unlimited potential for bunkai.
It is unusual to associate concepts such as fajin with systems of karate. Understanding the history of Uechi-Ryu karate will make meaningful discussion of material usually associated with the study of Chinese gung-fu.
Uechi-Ryu Karate is a system of civil combative concepts, techniques, and strategies initially taught by Kanbun Uechi Sensei (1877-1948), and later elaborated by his eldest son and successor, Kanei Uechi Sensei (1910-1991.) The nucleus of the Uechi-Ryu system was learned by Kanbun Uechi Sensei during the period of thirteen years that he lived, studied, and taught in China (1897-1910.) Although scholars believe that Master Uechi studied at several kenpo (way of use of the fist) academies during that period, the majority of his instruction was from Nan Chuan (southern fist) Sifu, Chou Tzu-Ho. Chou Sifu was reputed to have expertise in several fighting styles notably, Tiger Boxing. The Uechi style was initially known as Pangainoon Ryu Karate-Jutsu and represented an amalgam of fighting concepts, techniques, and strategies of the Tiger, Dragon, and Crane Boxing systems.
There are various interpretations of the term Pangainoon–literally “half hard soft.” Assigning specific meaning to this term is difficult in the absence of a context. A conceptual link is necessary to determine what is half hard and what is half soft. The interpretation most favored by the author is “soft outside, hard inside.” This interpretation is akin to a popular idea in Chinese martial arts rou zhong han gong (hard within soft) and has robust implications for analysis of movement within the Uechi style. The favored interpretation denotes a holistic synthesis of yin (soft, receiving, or passive) and yang (hard, aggressive, or active) energies much as that advocated by the so-called internal styles taught today. It suggests relaxed elastic movement necessary for the successful delivery of projectile energy. This is the type of movement necessary to powerfully throw a baseball, or to crush the bones of an opponent. This contention is further reinforced by the overwhelming presence of yang (hard/pointed) striking waza in the Uechi curriculum, i.e., shoken (one knuckle), hiraken (flat fist), hiji (elbow), nukite (spear hand), kakushiken (crane beak), and sokosen (big toe.) Even the ubiquitous palm heel strike (yin) is performed in a yang manner in the Uechi style as a bushiken (coiled thumb.) It is generally accepted that yang (hard) forms are used to strike yin (soft) anatomical points of vulnerability. [For an elaboration of types of strikes and hand actions in the internal Chinese arts the reader is referred to Frantzis’, The Power of the Internal Martial Arts.]
As the sands of time have all but obliterated objective evidence regarding the origins of the Uechi style, it is difficult to make statements regarding its antecedents with certainty. Much as Master Chojun Miyagi named his inherited style Goju, based upon an extemporaneous interpretation of the Bubishi, the designation Pangainoon may have been as much the product of Master Uechi’s efforts to describe an important concept of the style as the existence of a formal heraldry. We should remember that in the historic period under consideration, style names, and other significatum such as symbols and uniforms, played a decisively less important role in martial arts than is presently the case. What we do know with certainty, however, is that Uechi-Ryu Karate is largely the product of one man’s intense and prolonged study of Southern Chinese gung-fu.
In delineating the four main karate schools in Okinawa, Master Morio Higaonna traces the lineage of Uechi-Ryu not from an indigenous form of Te (Okinawan unarmed fighting tradition) or an admixture of Te and arts of Chinese origin, but directly from Chinese Kempo. We know also that Uechi-Ryu has historically given little concession to change, and is considered by many knowledgeable practitioners and scholars as one of the last “real” karate systems. “Real” in this sense refers to a close quarter combat system that acknowledges the realities of hand to hand fighting by emphasizing body conditioning and use of the makiwara. Moreover, Uechi- Ryu is still largely taught in the old tradition of individual and small group instruction. It is difficult to imagine another effective means of teaching the subtle energy work required in Sanchin, the first and most important kata in the Uechi system. Shotokan Master Roland Habersetzer, in Karate Fur Meister Mit Korper Und Geist, attributes Uechi Ryu as giving “Mehr als nur ein Hauch von Tradition” meaning that Uechi Ryu gives more than a ‘small breath’ or lip service to tradition.
Compared to other Nan Chuan traditions, a relaxed flow of energy has usually not been taught explicitly in the initial and middle aspects of the Uechi-Ryu curriculum. Until recently, a beginner in Uechi-Ryu would neither have been exposed to the concept of economy of motion nor to that of simultaneous attack and defense although the roots of those principles are latent in the kata and as we shall see, in the hojo undo series. The Uechi system, unlike Wing Chun or Southern Mantis, for example, traditionally exposed the beginning student to an exploration of tension via the Sanchin kata so that he/she may later discover relaxation. The end result is the same: acquisition of total control of one’s self. The Bubishi states “Understanding the physical and metaphysical precepts of hard and soft one must learn that it is the even balance between the two that enables one to overcome the greatest adversary of all, oneself.” This teaching reflects the Taoist doctrine of the ultimate convergence of all extremes. The strategy of teaching manipulation of complimentary feelings is used frequently in other venues such as psychotherapy and other western healing arts. In the management of chronic pain for example, a patient might be taught initially to “make it hurt more” so that they may ultimately realize that they have the power to “make it hurt less.”
Having made the above generalizations regarding the teaching of Uechi- Ryu karate, it would be well to note that there are important changes presently occurring in the evolution of the style, particularly in North America. Senior level practitioners such as George Mattson Sensei–frequently referred to as the Father of Uechi-Ryu in the U.S.– have encouraged all Uechi-ka to explore the “softer” aspects of their art. This trend can only be seen as positive if one agrees with noted authors/practitioners such as Stanley Henning and Adam Hsu in their assertion that it is artificial to attempt to describe Chinese boxing styles in terms of being either internal or external. These are qualities that pertain more specifically to the nature and refinement of individual practice rather than terms that can be applied with any validity to entire art forms. To ignore or minimize either yin or yang in an object is to deny the dynamic symmetry of the universe. History tells us that efforts to do so are doomed. A Wing Chun practitioner focused only upon the blade of the bot jom doh (eight slash broadswords) foolishly overlooks the offensive and defensive potential of the hilt and hand guard of the knives. Similarly, a Uechi practitioner who focuses only upon hardness (tension) will soon burn out (yang = heat) or accommodate to his/her resultant limitations with a robotic, ineffectual expression of the art.
Although other southern Chinese boxing styles and Uechi-Ryu may differ with regard to the methods with which power is generated (particularly at the beginning and intermediate levels of expertise) there are many surprising similarities in the ways they express energy in combative application. The sophistication and elegance of the similarities may be “discovered” at dan level or possibly earlier if one is fortunate enough to have an enlightened instructor and be sufficiently mature to receive what is presented. Unfortunately, such teachings may never be comprehended. If grasped, such understanding may be largely on a visceral level that defies or confounds attempts to teach others. Appreciating similarities in methods of generating and expressing power between different martial art styles are subtle and elusive processes that usually take much long and intensive research.
Despite superficial differences, Uechi-Ryu shares many commonalities with other southern Chinese boxing styles. It shares with its sister styles of coastal southern China a concern for protection and attack of the centerline; an immovable elbow line mechanism for generating upper body power; a stable, relatively high fighting stance; the use of narrow stepping and short arm bridges; a predilection for striking with the hands; use of low and middle gate kicks; and perhaps most significantly, a devotion to its first and most important kata, Sanchin. If there is one unifying thread that characterizes Fukien boxing styles it is reliance upon a form of the Sanchin kata to teach the salient precepts of the system. Patrick McCarthy Sensei recognizes Sanchin (alternately Saam Chien) as common to five Fuzhou Crane Boxing styles: Dragon boxing, Tiger Boxing, Dog Boxing, Arhat (Lohan or Monk Fist) Boxing, and Lion Boxing. Additionally, the recently popularized Ngo Gyo Kun style relies on a version called Sam Chien as the backbone of the system. The Hakka style of Southern Praying Mantis (which possesses more than a casual resemblance to Uechi-Ryu) also relies upon an initial form that has been compared to Sanchin, Som Bo Gin (Three Steps Forward.) Having explored something of the dual citizenship status of Uechi-Ryu as both a valid Okinawan karate and southern Chinese gung-fu style, let us examine the series of movements known as hojo undo.
Hojo undo is an encapsulation of the Uechi curriculum offering some of the most effective self-defense movements of the kata in an abbreviated format. The regular practice of hojo undo allows practitioners to warm up as a group at the beginning of each training session while engraining effective self-defense technique. Use of the term hojo undo in the Uechi style should be differentiated from the same term used by proponents of the Goju-Ryu system which denotes supplementary exercises employing primitive equipment such as sashi ichi (lifting stones), ichi sachi (stone padlocks), nagiri game (gripping jars), chishi (stone lever weight), and kongoken (iron oval weight).
Uechi-Ryu hojo undo teaches self defense in the manner which Master Kanbun Uechi initially taught–that of ikyoryu, the practice of performing one crushing explosive movement at a time. Hojo undo provides an opportunity for repetitive practice of technique favored by all great martial artists. Nothing ingrains a movement and the concepts that underpin its use better than repetition. As hojo undo is not usually performed with a partner, the movements are one step removed from bunkai, thus allowing the trainee an opportunity for thorough and dispassionate exploration of the kinesthetic and combative meaning of each sequence. The advanced practitioner, however, can and should elaborate and train a dyadic application of each hojo undo sequence. In the author’s opinion, each and every element of kata should be explored in two person “slammer” drills. This descriptive term coined by noted Uechi-Ryu Sensei, Van Canna, requires no further explanation.
Hojo undo also allows concentrated training of fajin (expressed power) along a continuum of the individual trainees’ experience and degree of insight. As the practitioner gains experience in the performance of the gross physical movements of hojo undo, he or she will ideally begin an ongoing lifelong process of refinement of the energies deployed in each sequence. At the level of mastery, conscious monitoring will no longer be necessary for even the most subtle physical movement. The practitioner may at this level of development devote themselves to cultivating a sense of enemy in the movement. Ultimately, this training also becomes irrelevant, and at this point refinement of the will or spirit becomes the central focus of training. The karate-ka’s will is now manifested in physical movement and the practitioner and the art are one.
The concept of fajin although multidimensional is neither impenetrable nor unrealizable. Fajin refers to the quality of a movement which is elastic, pulsed or wave-like, and performed with explosively. If you think of a snake coiling (energy compression) and striking (energy release) you will be well on your way to understanding fajin. Popular martial arts instructor and author, Erle Montaigue, highlights an distinguishing feature of fajin when he states “fajin is not a fast movement, it is not a very fast movement, it is an explosive movement.” Montaigue likens fajin to the unconscious, explosive, total body “shaking” that occurs during a sneeze. Kumar Frantzis defines fa as “to discharge, release, throw out, or project” and jin as “power.” Liu Xing-Han and John Bracy define fajin as issuing force based upon increasingly refined timing, angulation, and sensing an opponent’s intention. Michael Babin describes fajin as “the energy of a whip which travels in a wave along its length, to be discharged with explosive force at the tip.” Finally, Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming defines fajin as “using the Yi (mind or intent) to transport the Qi (intrinsic bioelectrical energy.) He states “Use the Qi to urge on the Li” (muscular power.)
From these definitions it becomes clear that fajin is not simply a display of brute force. A simple empty hand percussive strike while potentially efficacious does not begin to approach the destructive potential of the fajin strike. One explanation for the difference is that the effects of the percussive strike are limited to superficial disruption of the bodies tissues. This is especially relevant to the striking of body cavities in which the more deeply penetrating fajin strike produces a greater degree of hydrostatic shock and hence greater disruption to the bodies organ systems. An example of the difference would be to imagine being struck by a the thrust of a log which is suspended from a fulcrum and swung by the force of gravity alone (an iron body training practice.) This represents a superficial percussive strike which might be considered the equivalent of an arm punch in boxing. Contrast that example with being struck by the projectile of a Chinese rope dart or the weight of a manrikigusari (weighted chain)– both far lighter than the log but infinitely more potentially destructive as a consequence of the energy generated by the whipping delivery system. Fajin is considered by many to be the most sophisticated physical expression of energy in the martial arts and Uechi kata are replete with movements ideally performed with fajin.
To fully understand the concept of fajin, it is necessary to examine the theory of jin, that which is projected in the process of issuing fajin. Although there are several definitions of the word jin (alternatively spelled jing, ging, or gin,) the one with which we will be concerned is that of a neuromuscular process involving a unity of body and mind. There are three inseparable elements involved in jin: yi – the mind, li – muscular energy, and qi – bioenergitic life force.
An understanding of these elements can best be understood via a simple analogy. Imagine that you awoke one morning miraculously possessing the muscular strength (li) of a champion Olympic weightlifter. Let’s carry the fantasy a step further and also imagine that you were given the lifter’s indomitable will, powers of concentration, and intellectual understanding of the biomechanics of the competitive lifts (yi). Surprise! Your best efforts on the lifting platform would fall far short of our imaginary superman. The explanation for this irony is that you simply had not paid your dues in hard training to repetitively command (yi) the flow of bioelectrical energy (qi) to activate musculoskeletal patterns (li) necessary for the superior performance of the lifts. Each component is necessary for the process to occur and as martial artists we constantly strive to perfect the three elements singularly and in concert.
As mentioned previously, there are many kinds of jin. The fascinating study of jin exists along a continuum. At one end of the spectrum lie the soft/internal qi practices known as qigong. At the other end is found the hard/external discipline of dynamic tension–classical Uechi-Ryu Sanchin training. The type of jin used primarily in Uechi-Ryu combative application may best be thought of as soft/hard. [To further their research in this area the reader is referred to the excellent typology of jin provided by Dr. Yang Jwing Ming in The Essense of Shaolin White Crane.]
The hallmark of soft/hard jin is the bodies transformation from initially soft (sung or relaxed) to hard at the moment of impact. This type of movement is characterized by an initial and middle phase in which tension is conspicuously absent. At the terminal phase of movement, the muscles are briefly tensed to prevent exceeding the capacity of the tendons and ligaments. The degree of tension employed in this type of movement is neither of the magnitude nor the duration of that involved in kime (focus) – at least not kime expressed at a beginning or intermediate level. This difference reflects the dictum of form following function. Uechi-Ryu is a close combat system that while Okinawan is also Chinese in origin. Thus, the degree of tension employed in the terminal aspect of movement in Uechi-Ryu lies somewhere between that found in typical southern Chinese and Okinawan styles, e.g., Southern Mantis and Shorin-Ryu. Understanding the system’s historical antecedents allows one to reconcile the apparent incongruity of its very appropriate affiliation with both the Okinawan concept of ikken hisatsu (one punch, one kill) and a Chinese model of a relaxed continuous flow of energy–unrelenting until the enemy is red (threat is no more).
Uechi fajin movements are coordinated with the cycle of breathing to maximize power. Interestingly, in discussing breath and power, Dr. Yang Jwing Ming reports that the breath is frequently held at the ultimate moment of striking to maximize muscular focus. This observation is perfectly correlated with the classical Uechi-Ryu Sanchin breathing pattern in which breathing is circular and expelled on exhalation only after the Sanchin strikes and mawashi uke (circle block) movements occur. Dr. Yang quotes a source in Chinese which states “When it is necessary to be hard, it can be hard. When it is required to be soft, it can be soft. Soft and hard can support each other skillfully. Then it is called understanding the jin.” This is the spirit of Pangainoon/Uechi-Ryu Karate, soft outside and hard inside.
Having established that it is an historically reasonable and valid inquiry to explore elements of fajin in Uechi-Ryu karate, and having briefly reviewed salient characteristics of this concepts, we will now turn our attention to an in-depth analysis of two specific movements from the hojo undo series. The two movements chosen; sokuto geri (front snap kick) and uke, shuto, ura, chudan tsuki (circle block, knife hand strike, backfist, and one knuckle strike) were chosen as representative of geri (kicking) waza and tsuki (striking) waza respectively in the Uechi style. Each contain movements that are taken directly from Uechi kata, conform to Uechi theory regarding structure and function, and possess the unique flavor of Uechi-Ryu Karate, e.g., a sophisticated observer viewing these movements would have no question that they were seeing a performance of Uechi style karate.
The snap front kick utilizes the sokusen (toe kick or tiger’s tooth). This is the only kicking structure from the original Chinese art taught by Uechi Kanbun Sensei. As such, it reveals much about Uechi-Ryu combat theory: Uechi-Ryu is a system that stresses fast movements (the front snap kick is comparable to the boxing jab); it is a system that is concerned with striking points of anatomical vulnerability (the tiger’s tooth penetrates cavities); it is a system that demands body conditioning of it’s practitioners (the toe is ineffective if not conditioned); the system utilizes borrowing the energy of the opponent to grab and pull him into strikes (the kick is preceded by deflection and grabbing motions); and the system is primarily a hand fighting system with low to midrange kicks used to support the hands (Uechi-Ryu much as other Nan Chuan styles seldom kicks above the waist in non-sporting application.)
The snap front kick permits (and encourages) the development of dragon (coiling) energy. Dragon influence in Uechi-Ryu is variously conceived as:
discrete movement such as descending to the low Sanchin
position immediately prior to the jump in kata Seisan
employment of the dragon spirit of elusive, flexible, and relentless power
or a fluidity that allows the Uechi practitioner to change from tiger (yang) to crane (yin) energy.
Alan Dollar Sensei refers to this quality of elasticity as muchi tengwa, a sticky Okinawan taffy-like confection which may be pulled out of shape only to snap back to its original form. The movements of the dragon are exemplified in shomen geri and are found in all eight Uechi-ryu kata
The shomen geri sequence is the prototype of all front reference block/deflect and strike movements. Front reference refers to the practitioner not the opponent, that is, you are directly facing him, but he does not necessarily directly face you, in fact, ideally, he would not be directly facing you thus negating many of his weapons. Shomen geri reinforces the idea that it is acceptable to pull an opponent into a strike on the same side.
PERFORMANCE OF SHOMEN GERI
A. post – left Sanchin dachi kamae (left foot forward Sanchin position)
The tiger kamae can and should be explored as a stationary qiqong posture. It is used similarly to San Ti (stationary nei gong postures) of Xing Yi Quan and seems to be particularly effective in mobilizing yang energy. In this posture movement is internal as a consequence of reverse or Taoist breathing in which the dan tien (including the circumference of the entire lower abdominal girdle) is withdrawn upon inhalation and pushed out upon exhalation. The tongue touches the roof of the mouth as one inhales/exhales through the nose. The pubococcogeal muscle (located in the perineal area between the genitals and the anus) is gently contracted upon inhalation and relaxed upon exhalation. At the beginning stages of practice one may simply stand for increasing periods of time and become aware of ones root, center, and unity with all other things. At any level of practice the internal organs are massaged by the rhythmic breathing pattern. [Sifu Tim Cartmell and Dan Miller’s Xing Yi Nei Gong will provide the reader with ample material to further their research in this very important practice.]
B. ichi – block, right shotei nagashi uke and left hirate mawashi uke (palm heel inside block and open hand circular block.)
Remember that all movement in gung-fu/karate can represent blocks, strikes, Chin Na (seizing) , or Shuai Jiao (wrestling.) In keeping with other Nan Chuan traditions, higher level Uechi Ryu does not distinguish movement into discrete categories of offensive and defensive application. Movements of the kata simply represent paradigms of energy vectors that can be meaningfully applied in unlimited ways.
The right hand performs an inside palm heel block to initiate deflection and trapping. The left hand performs a circle block repelling and grabbing. These hand movements (common to most deflections in Feeding Crane gung-fu style) are simplified as a model for ideal combat circumstances that assume your opponent is unaware of your intent or is not able to respond in an appropriate and timely manner. Ashi sabaki (foot movement) would support the hands should tai sabaki (body movement – redirection) be necessary to change the centerline relationship between you and your opponent. Shomen geri is a linear technique and therefore does not require gross rotary movement of the waist to turn the body or to generate power. However, rarely will combat circumstances be laboratory perfect. In the real world one will seldom be in a direct frontal reference to the opponent and some degree of rotation of the waist will be appropriate and acceptable.
It is important to reiterate that the techniques performed in hojo undo are provided as a simplified template of combat activity that encourage the practitioner to learn the basics of the system while engraining effective self defense technique and developing combative spirit and fajin in each of the movements. The movements themselves are a snapshot in time of combat, and therefore do not address how the practitioner came to be in any given physical relationship to his opponent. Nor do they directly address what happens after the given sequence. Thus, what may seem to the beginner to be a dramatic shortcoming in the curriculum (it’s absence of entry and follow thorough components) is viewed by the seasoned practitioner as an advantage–the amplified power of each of the movements to be applied to an infinite number of combat scenarios.
C. Ni: front snap kick.
The front kick motion originates in the earth, is carried up through the non-kicking lower extremity, is transmitted to the pelvis and the spine. Much as is taught in Sanchin kata, power is brought down from heaven, up from the earth, and out to the opponent. Power is also borrowed from the opponent via pulling in the trapped extremity that has been grabbed with the left hand.
Focus on the muscles involved in this kick should not be the musculature of the thigh, but rather according to noted Uechi-Ryu practitioner/teacher, James Thompson Sensei, the psoas muscles; the greater of which (psoas major) attaches to the lumbar vertebra and inserts on the femur, and the lesser of which (psoas minor) attaches to the lumbar vertebra and inserts into the brim of the pelvis.
The objective in performing shomen geri, as with any strike is to deliver the projectile (in this case the sokusen) with appropriate timing and as much focused speed as possible to a given target. The force involved is a delicate balance of tension and relaxation in the appropriate musculature. Ideally, one would want to have perfect timing of total muscle recruitment in the agonist muscles performing the technique and minimal recruitment (tension) in the antagonistic muscles. A simplified example would be the upper body mechanics involved in the delivery of a punch where the pushing muscles of the shoulder, chest, and arm would be maximally engaged when appropriate, while the pulling muscles of the arm and back would be relaxed until such time that they were needed to provide stability on impact.
An image that can be useful in training powerful kicks and punches is to see the hand or foot as the projectile on a Chinese rope dart. A similar analogy was used by Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid II, when he cryptically demonstrated the secret of Miyagi style karate to Daniel-san by twirling the clappers on a toy drum. In this fashion, the arm and leg are simply flexible ropes moving much like a whip to deliver maximum velocity to the dart. The Bubishi states “Hand techniques require the use of the body. The body generates the power and the hands serve as the instruments of contact. Like a cat catching a rat, a tiger pulls down a wild boar with its body; the claws serve as the means of contact.” The best training for the development of this type of jin is putting out candles with kicks or strikes. If intent is not combined with fast and correctly structured movement, the candle will not extinguish.
Some Uechi Sensei teach the coordination of deflect/grab/and kick by emphasizing the pulling in and immediate snapping out of the grabbing hand. This application can be seen in vintage films of Uechi Kanei Sensei performing the basic exercises and kata of the style. Performing the sequence in this manner puts shock power into the grab and pull, power which can potentially produce a whiplash type of effect and knockout an opponent. This expression of grabbing hand additionally has the advantage of conditioning the practitioner to strike from a grab. Even if the grab is only partially successful, the opponent still gets hit.
We learn from shomen geri that pulling an opponent in to a strike from the same side as a grab is acceptable. You can grab/pull in and kick, knee, or sweep; grab/pull in and hit (as described above); or hook with a leg/pull in and hit, elbow, or head butt.
The front snap kick is employed similarly to a boxing jab, it creates distance when needed, earns the respect of the adversary, and when properly employed can create a knockout situation. Master Ryuko Tomoyose has described the Uechi kick as one that drops the opponent where he stands. There is no thrust involved in this kick and as a product of it’s weapon of choice (the sokusen) is designed to be used against vulnerable anatomical sites. The toe kick has awesome penetration as evidenced by Uechi Sensei Robert Campbell’s tameshiwara of six, one inch pine boards. When asked where he targeted sokosen, a senior Okinawan practitioner responded “Where ever I kick – it breaks.”
D. San: Repeat of the ichi movement on the other side.
As Sanchin stepping (C or semicircular movement) is performed to advance to the next hojo undo movement, the practitioner is effectively performing another kick, a leg sweep, clearing an obstruction (such as the opponent’s foot), or otherwise favorably changing the facing relationship with the opponent. This allows the practitioner to bring a formidable array of weapons to bear upon the opponent while he ideally has restricted options from which to choose.
E. Chi: Repeat of the Ni movement on other side.
Uke, Shuto, Ura, Chudan Tsuki – The Tiger, Dragon, and Crane
This complex block/attack movement is uniquely Uechi-Ryu in appearance from the initiation of the circle block to the completion of the sequence when the final strike (shoken tsuki) is retracted back into a Sanchin posted position. As is the case with other hojo undo sequences, uke/shuto is taken from kata and reveals much to the critical eye.
This sequence as much as any to be found within the curriculum typifies the three animal inspirations of the style: tiger, dragon, and crane. The palm heel deflection and circular block characteristic of Uechi-ryu connotes the crane, a relatively fragile animal who possesses survival characteristics of agility, skillful timing, angulation, and the ability to strike with laser point accuracy.
The subsequent three strikes using the edge of the hand, backfist, and one-knuckle punch are delivered with tiger like ferocity, their sole impetus being the utter crushing destruction of the enemy.
The dragon spirit is found in both the relentlessness with which the strikes follow one another, and the subtle primarily upper body energy transformations used to power the strikes. The dragon is known as epitomizing the ancient gung-fu adage “float and sink, swallow and spit.” It is necessary to sink the body and use the coiling power of “swallow-spit” when delivering elbow line powered techniques such as backfist and straight punch in rapid succession on the heels of a rotary powered technique such as shuto. If the dragon inspired mechanisms described were not employed, the entire sequence would lack vitality and have the quality of what boxing refers to as arm punching. Without these energy transformations each successive technique would diminish in intensity, the final shoken representing a whimper not a bang!
The strikes in this sequence are unique in that they are three in number. The number three in Chinese cosmology is replete with significance, especially as it applies to the martial arts. Taoist internal alchemy is predicated upon reunion and refinement of the three treasures, jing - generative energy; qi - vital energy; and shen – spiritual energy.) These energies are stored in the three dan tiens (elixir fields), which are controlled by three gates (Wei Lu; Mingmen; and Yu Gen.)
Sanchin (three conflicts or battles), upon which Uechi-Ryu and most Fukien civil fighting arts are based, is taught to represent three levels of meaning usually interpreted as body, mind, and spirit.
Functionally, the three strikes (shuto, uraken, shoken) may guide the trainee to striking the same point on the opponent’s body three times or it may represent a series of strikes to various anatomical points. Nothing in the curriculum of traditional karate is presumed to be of random occurrence. It is therefore significant that the three strikes are in an ascending order of focus of energy, e.g., from the edge of the hand chop to the one-knuckle punch the striking surface area becomes progressively smaller. At the very least, the three strikes can be thought of as comprising what Southern Mantis practitioners refer to as “live power,” the quality of a hand to be continuous and flowing without breaking contact. In Wing Chun gung-fu the attack and defense pyramids used in combat are said to possess the quality of multidirectionality, that is, motion that travels in at least two but usually three directions at once. This quality when combined with juen ging (whirlpool energy) – the application of circular energy to linear motions) results in movement of technique that resembles a drill bit, e.g., encountering an obstacle results in penetration or deflection but not cessation of movement. This is the awesome power of the spiral. So too, the shuto, uraken, and shoken can be thought of as successive machine gun-like attacks which neither withdraw to chamber nor cease their relentless penetration when confronted with obstacles.
A. Post: Left Sanchin dachi
B. Ichi: block right shotei nagashi uke and left hirate mawashi uke
(palm heel inside block and open hand circular block.) Text describing ichi in shomen geri section is applicable here.
C. Ni: After performing the right palm heel slapping block, the right hand returns to the guard position in the center of the chest at elbow level. Sensei vary in their interpretation of the next move–initiation of the shuto uchi. Some teachers stress chambering the right hand prior to raising it to eye level to initiate the edge of the palm strike while others advocate an immediate placement of the right hand from the guard position to eye level and readiness to strike. The latter interpretation is preferred by the author for two reasons: it eliminates an unnecessary syllable of movement/time necessary to chamber and then raise the hand (which also may encourage bypassing the all important retraction to guard position – a hand that is not occupied with blocking, grabbing, or striking duties should always be retracted to guard position), and whereas the former interpretation is performed using primarily shoulder power, the latter utilizes a subtle rotary motion of the waist in addition to the spinal wave generated to power the shuto strike thus resulting in greater power.
The flow of energy in the ni phase of the movement is similar to that described in shomen geri. This force is augmented by coiling and uncoiling the waist. Further power is borrowed from the opponent via pulling in the trapped extremity which has been grabbed by your left hand after the circle block. Energy from the earth traveling up the skeleton is amplified by successive snapping of joints and transferred to the left and right arms as they engage in yin (centripetal – left) and yang (centrifugal – right) motion. The right hand which was cocked at eye level is hurled toward the opponent and around to the right.
D. San: The right hand shuto, having scored on the count of ni, now retracts slightly along the elbow line to immediately strike again using the uraken (backfist.) The retraction at this point may be thought of as primarily serving the purposes of the drill. The presence or absence of a retraction in a real fight would be dictated by the exigencies of combat. Should the shuto have been partially blocked, or should the opponent have thrown a punch that obstructed the shuto, the second wave of energy used in its deployment could continue with the only real change being that of converting the shuto’s forward/outward trajectory into the forward trajectory of the uraken.
Similarly, the energy used to power the backfist could be simple elbow line power utilizing the pushing muscles (triceps, anterior deltoids, and pectorals) stabilized by the back muscles or; time, opportunity, and circumstances permitting, a more sophisticated expression of fajin could be employed using a third wave of energy of the hips, spine and chest to retract and strike. The lower extremities would support this second strike if possible by shifting body weight into the opponent in the form of a shuffle or drop-step.
E. Chi: The right hand uraken, having scored on the count of san, now retracts fully to the chambered position prior to striking straight shoken (one-knuckle punch.) Again, the retraction is necessary for the integrity of the drill, but would not necessarily be done in actual combat. This retraction could easily represent an opportunity to catch up with an incoming strike, deflecting and controlling it while the left hand freed from trapping could return fire in any number of possible strikes. The left hand would then resume trapping duties while the right hand drove in with the prescribed shoken. Reflecting back to the live power or continuous flow of energy argument posited for this hojoundo sequence, one may ask the question “what justification other than training fajin would there be for three strikes with the same hand?” Strikes necessitating retractions occupy valuable syllables of time in which the opponent could be struck with another technique or conversely, could be striking you!
Following the straight shoken punch, the count would begin again at ichi. After a series of repetitions on the right side, the practitioner would advanced to right Sanchin dachi and an equal number of repetitions would be performed on that side.
There is, however, a transitional movement at this point in time that is frequently omitted. That movement is the twisting retraction of the shoken. Ideally, the fist is retracted along the elbow line into a Sanchin post position (palm up.) From that point, the hand is opened into Sanchin (nukite) position, the elbow is driven forward, the hand is coiled (supinated) to tiger kamae, and finally, the elbow is retracted into Sanchin position. In the author’s opinion, the omission of this transitional movement is inadvisable. The movement in question teaches several important lessons to the trainee
· One – it encourages proper performance of the initial palm heel block. The palm heel block should be delivered on an angle of 45 degrees to the imaginary plane connecting the core of your body to that of your opponent. From that initial thrust, the movement may then be altered via wrist/finger snap to strike vulnerable points along the inside of the opponent’s arm. Omission of the posted shoken often results in sloppy execution of the palm heel movement that is forced to travel backward from its extended shoken position in a catch-up movement that may or may not successfully deflect an incoming strike
· Two – the posted shoken simulates grabbing/tearing and pulling back whatever the practitioner encounters. The movement of retraction also represents an opportunity to borrow power for the opposite hand/foot in delivering another strike
· Three – the retraction of the shoken strike into Sanchin post position encourages the trainee to develop an instinctual reaction to bring the elbows in to guard the flanks after striking/ grabbing/ or blocking. All of the benefits enumerated are lost when the trainee is encouraged to whip the arms around in the air in the service of speed rather than precision.
A most interesting set of speculations may be applied to this complete hojo undo sequence based upon the inclusion of the palm heel deflection and circle block preceding the three previously described techniques. A basic tenant of Chinese gung-fu is that each movement is an energy vector which has the potential to materialize as a block or deflection, a strike, a chin na grab or wrestling hold or a throw. This concept connotes an energy flow (Pangainoon – soft outside, hard inside), sticking to the opponent (mushimi or chi sau – sticky hands), and transforming movement in response to that encountered from the opponent (sensing jin.) This is in sharp distinction to modern sport-oriented karate where movements are usually simplified and identified as having discrete and limited application. Unlike training for sport application, the internalization of this sequence in no way promotes disengagement from the opponent once contact is made. As Jim Maloney Sensei instructs senior Uechi practitioners “Once I detach, I only have to go back in. Why would I want to do that?” Why indeed?
Having made the cognitive shift necessary to view the palm-heel/circle “block” sequence as not necessarily denoting blocks, we may imagine them as strikes. Where the sequence initially contained three strikes now we have a set of five attacking movements. Think of defense as a fence that you erect between yourself and your opponents intent to inflict harm upon you. In this light, whenever you have the opportunity, why not hit him with one of your “fence posts”?
As any living system, Uechi style karate is challenged to change and grow or suffer entropy and extinction. The waters of time and change are perilous indeed and many civil combative traditions have perished as a consequence of their refusal or inability to adapt. Growing cultural difficulties with commercialism and a litigious society have contributed to the dilution of “honest” styles. In an era of unbridled narcissism and individual entitlement many well meaning Sensei have “watered down” traditional training values in an effort to retain students. Entire systems have shifted their foci to sporting application. Thus far, Uechi-Ryu karate has held forth a “real” karate with value sustaining for the 21st century.
Perhaps some of Uechi-Ryu’s ability to endure is simply a matter of good joss (fortune) or perhaps a genuine individual, collective, and organizational internalization of the teachings of kata Sanchin. The practice of Uechi-Ryu Sanchin promotes the ability to remain calmly focused in the midst of furious action. It allows the trainee access to total awareness of the realities of the present–awareness unblemished by illusion regarding past or future.
As mentioned previously, Uechi-ka are increasingly sensitized to the importance of attending to the totality of energies available within the art–yin and yang/soft and hard. It is the author’s contention that Uechi-Ryu’s viability is enhanced by this ability to look back in time without self-deception or embellishment and rediscover its roots in authentic Chinese gung-fu.
Senior Okinawan masters have long sought the yin dimensions of their art. Kenko Nakaima Sensei of Ryuei-Ryu Karate has stated “This is the highest stage of a student’s kata development – kata that looks as if it has no strength at all.” Close examination of vintage films of Kanei Uechi Sensei performing the kata of Uechi-Ryu karate reveal this relaxed power. This is Pangainoon/Uechi-Ryu–soft outside and hard inside–the iron fist in the velvet glove.
It is the author’s sincere wish and fervent hope that this article may serve as a springboard for discussion, debate, and further research into the wonders of this traditional karate style.
Mattson, George Uechi-Ryu Karate Do Peabody, Brockton. 1974
Ibid The Way of Karate Tuttle, Boston. 1963
Cartmell, Tim personal communication 1999
Frantzis, B. K. The Power of Internal Martial Arts North Atlantic, Berkeley. 1998
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Higaonna, Morio Traditional Karate Do, Vol. I Fundamental Techniques p. 21. Sugawara, Tokyo. 1985
Edwards, John Editorial, Dragon Times p. 2. Dragon Associates, Thousand Oaks, Vol. 10, 1998
Habersetzer, Roland Karate Fur Meister Mit Korper Und Geist p. 34. Verlag, Berlin. 1994
Maloney, J. “New Wave” Uechi-Ryu Uechi-Ryu Video Magazine # 016. Peabody, Brockton. 1996
McCarthy, Patrick The Bible of Karate: Bubishi p. 64. Tuttle, Rutland. 1995
Speigel, Herbert and Speigel, David Trance and Treatment pp.253-254. American Psychiatric Press, Washington. 1978
McCarthy, Patrick The Bible of Karate: Bubishi p. 38. Tuttle, Rutland. 1995
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Montaigue, Erle Yang Lu-Ch’an Old Yang Style MTG #2 Video Lecture/Demonstration Moon Ta Gu Productions, Murwillumbah
Frantzis, B. K. The Power of Internal Martial Arts p. 110. North Atlantic, Berkeley. 1998
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Yang, Jwing-Ming The Essence of Shaolin White Crane: Martial Power and Qigong p. 101. YMAA, Jamaica Plain. 1996
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Yang, Jwing-Ming The Essence of Shaolin White Crane: Martial Power and Qigong p. 127. YMAA, Jamaica Plain. 1996
Yang, Jwing-Ming The Essence of Shaolin White Crane: Martial Power and Qigong p. 257. YMAA, Jamaica Plain. 1996
Dollar, Alan Secrets of Uechi-Ryu Karate and the Mysteries of Okinawa p. p. 414. Cherokee, Antioch. 1996
Cartmell, Tim and Miller, Dan Xing Yi Nei Gong pp. 76-85. High View, Pacific Grove. 1994
Liu, Chang I Feeding Crane Gung Fu Video Lecture/Demonstration Tsunami, Thousand Oaks. 1998
Thompson, J. personal communication. Annual Philadelphia Uechi-Ryu Karate Academy Seminar. July 19 and 20, 1997.
McCarthy, Patrick The Bible of Karate: Bubishi p. 66. Tuttle, Rutland. 1995
Mattson, George Uechi-Ryu Video Magazine # 010 Peabody, Brockton. 1995
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Bishop, Mark Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles, and Secret Techniques p. 21. A and C Black, London. 1989
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