Teaching for Structure and Power
Stance and Structure
Sanchin is an Adduction Stance. Sanchin provides strength in 7 of 8 directions, unless you make an adjustment, which allows coverage of the eighth direction.
The ground is an unlimited source of power. Study how to access that power:
Sound structure, sensitivity, experimentation, proper positioning and relaxation into structure are required. Remember the “Nine-bending pearl”, and release any blockages.
Familiarize yourself with the four quadrants of the bottom of your feet. Experiment with placing emphasis in each one. Keep your plantar arches full and strong. Learn the “bubbling-well” point behind the second and third metatarsal-phalangeal joints; this is the center of your feet’s sensitivity and power.
Remember the “elevator” within you. It can go from the top floor to the basement, without you outwardly manifesting any movement of the body. Nevertheless, as your center (of attention as well as activity) sinks, you thereby greatly stabilize your stance and structure.
Testing Foundation and Stepping
Step with awareness of the outside edges of your feet, as if they were curved knife-edges. Skim and graze the ground. Practice bringing the stepping foot to the midline, as you step through. Visualize sweeping your opponent with the outside of your foot when stepping forward, and with the inside of your foot when stepping to the rear.
Test your structure starting in Sanchin stance. Without moving your feet, shift your weight forward and backward. Then side to side. Your greatest power and stability will be if your hips are kept just in front of your ankles. Examine this for yourself. It places you slightly on your toes, and creates a light “spring-energy” forward.
Test yourself in natural stance with feet parallel and shoulder width. Test all your other stances, as well.
Become well familiar with your toes. They are not idle accessories, but the key to an active, alive stance. Learn toe exercises to strengthen them, including how to pull yourself forward with just the toes. Stepping, whether walking or Sanchin is not a controlled-falling-forward process. It is at first deliberate and exact. It should serve you and your Art. After careful practice, like all other skills, it will become automatic.
Use the “Eight Form” exercise, to practice both light and heavy stepping. Light for speed and quiet; heavy for stability and immovability. You should be able to automatically adjust your stance emphasis as the situation or need requires; this is like the suspension on a sports car.
Verify your stance ability with the help of your partner. Begin with the Static Punch test. The puncher has contact on the partner’s sternum, and by stepping forward should move him back. If unable, then the punch will only be a weak arm movement, with no serious intent or result. Next test high, medium and low. Next verify stability from the sides, by gradually pushing on the shoulders. Then step forward with the partner holding the belt knot while in leaning stance. Adjust resistance to allow the stepping practitioner to move forward, but with some effort and need for adjustment.
Avoid Exertion / Don’t Contest for Space
Kote-Kitae involves both arm rubbing and arm pounding. Each is a separate exercise. Both are physical, testing accuracy of technique. In fact, the most useful result of this exercise is to test stance, stability, unobstructed energy flow, and the ability to pass through the opponent’s maze of strength without using undue force or effort. To reach this point, the student must begin with good stance and body position, and check his structure. Proper structure allows us to withstand opposing effort without tiring and without using equal force. This is done by superior leverage, positioning and intention. Though aggressiveness is of value, it is best to keep it in check, and simply think of becoming the predator, even when your opponent initiates the attack. You not only “beat him to the punch”, but you attack his center-line. Remember, the shortest distance to the target is a straight line. Though your intention should be stronger than his, do not contest for space, or try to use more effort than he. Be smarter, and move around and through. Never oppose force with force. Always flow around, like water.
During arm rubbing and pounding, let power flow through you from the ground.
If your arm is blocked, drop your elbow and go around. Always threaten his center-line with your legs and stance.
Striking with Movement
Always move when striking, whenever possible. Drive techniques through and past your opponent. Breathe and contract into your movements.
Remember, we can step, then block and then strike; we can step and block, then strike; we can block with the forward foot and strike as the rear foot comes up. The last is preferable, and most effective and powerful.
Alternate responses to an attack: We can block, then punch; or we can block and punch simultaneously; or we can strike and block with the same striking arm; or we can “stop-hit”. These represent a progression of understanding and effectiveness.
Mawashi-uke arm sequence is repeated in various ways in all the kata that utilize double arm movements. These are all variations on the same theme or concept.
Even when you can’t step, as with Ryote (double arm thrust in Sanchin), the body can rock forward and back within your stance. The observer may not see your body moving, but within there is shifting of the center of energy. This internal movement and shifting cannot be seen, but is accompanied by breathing and compression / expansion.
Development of Power
Learn and study the difference between Strength and Power.
Pangainoon has been translated as “half hard, half soft”. Another interpretation might be “part compressed, part relaxed”.
Stay relaxed. This saves more wind than rapid breathing does, and allows you to stay maximally alert. Remember that the core is the car and the hands the bumper.
Use your core for evasion-blocking, and for striking. The arms and legs are only useful when they are attached to and part of the core. This is why Sanchin arm position was developed. It defends and attacks with maximum structure and efficiency. The arm remains part of the body.
Use Sanchin hands with a “puddle in the palm”. Learn the Sanchin arm waypoints. When Sanchin striking keep lowered shoulders, and a flat arm with palm up, until 1/3 of the distance from the target. Remain relaxed until moment of contact and Kime. Contact involves core contraction, hip and shoulder action, breath control, and ideally stepping forward when possible. The step and strike should occur together, for maximum energy transfer and effect.
Use the core for blocking, evasion and striking. Its main purpose is the generation of energy which then fuels the power in our techniques. The arms and the legs are truly effective only as part of the core. The hands and feet are the nails, but the body is the hammer.
Think about the function and action of a long bull-whip: its action begins with the handle moving. But with angulation and acceleration a wave moves through its length, until the tip (which is the thinnest part, like the wrist and hand) snaps and breaks the sound barrier.
Keep in mind the principle of reciprocating power. When you block, intercept and grab the attacking part. When attacking do not let go, but rather pull your opponent toward your center while you strike with another arm or leg. Pull and strike; pull and kick. Allow this power and momentum to augment strikes and disrupt structure.
When you strike high, sink low. When you’re kicking, grab your opponent, (or your imagined opponent in Kata), and pull him into you. This enhances your force, balance and posture, while disrupting his structure, disturbing his focus and concentration. While he comes towards you with the grab, your strike extends toward him, thus multiplying your effectiveness.
When you hit, hit through. For example, in arm pounding do not hit the arm, but rather imagine passing through the arm. With no more use of strength, the technique will be much more penetrating. Also, relax into the strike instead of being stiff. Your force will thereby be unopposed (by your own muscles). Open-hand strikes or punches to the head or body should be administered the same way.
Always take time to practice your kata slowly. Just as Tai Chi Chuan is practiced slow but executed fast, do some repetitions of each kata slow enough that you can see your mistakes. This does not dilute “realism” in your practice. Rather, it improves natural breathing, encourages coordinated stepping and thrusting, and enhances true balance and coordination. Much of the strength in our kata occurs in the transitions between movements. Typically, most of us gloss over these in favor of the blocks and strikes. Yet, without natural balance and smooth transitions, we lack the foundation of true power.
Speed and power are less a goal than a byproduct of efficiency, relaxation and good technique.
Perfecting Natural Weapons
Never forget to harden your weapons. This doesn’t mean hurting them. Rather, slow and gradual daily training to allow you to develop strength in all your open hand and foot techniques, including nukite, shoken, boshiken, hiraken, koken, kakushiken and sokusen. What differentiates Karate from MMA is the use of open hand and foot techniques. Plus we target striking areas not allowed in organized sporting activities. Study the meridians and the striking points of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as noted in the Bubushi. Open-hand techniques make Karate and Gong Fu what they are. Examine Dim Mak and Kyusho. Since we want to avoid fighting unless our life or limb depends on it, there’s no reason not to use open-hand techniques to the opponent’s most vulnerable areas, in order to secure victory. This allows us to stop the violence from either side. Recall from MMA bouts, closed fist strikes to the head usually do not stop a determined opponent. Also recall from MMA that accidental strikes to the eyes or to the groin stop a scheduled bout. In actual combat, they along with other vital points are the key to victory. Use your strongest techniques against his weakest targets. Use hard techniques against soft targets, and use soft techniques against hard targets (i.e. Shoken against the neck, and palm-heel against the head/face). The idea is to hurt the opponent, but not hurt yourself.
Harden your weapons by gradual persistent practice. Without effective open-hand weapons capable of hitting and creating damage, the kata remain only embusen—movement patterns, but not effective techniques. Not long ago, people’s lives depended on the effectiveness of their techniques, and that still holds true.
Attacking and Defending the Centerline
Face your opponent’s centerline, and adjust your stance accordingly. By doing this you threaten his vital points, and weaken his resolve (this is understood subconsciously). Always protect your own centerline and maintain an awareness of how to protect it and prevent vulnerability to pre-emptive attack by your opponent. Respond to attack with vigor and penetrating intent, rather than hostility. The calmer you are, the more energy you save, and the more awareness is retained, for additional threats (other opponents and other attacks).
Blocks should not be an end to themselves. They should be a brief diversion of the incoming technique. Of greater importance is the strike, which is where our focus should lie. Attack the attacker. Threaten his center-line. Start second, but finish first. Watch his eyes, shoulders and hips. When you detect the start of an attack, hit him first.
Sanchin arm movement involves crossing the striking arm over the still arm. This is a chudan block, and is followed by a sinking forearm block. Keep aware of these functions, as you execute every Sanchin strike. The still arm is not idle (no position in Uechi-ryu is without purpose). Rather, the still arm is tied to your core and contains the function of a shield, to the striking arm’s sword-like function. Sink the elbow of the shield-arm, and unite that arm to your core. It is your protection, while your other arm circles and chambers for the strike.
Intention and Aggression
In Kamae-te the hands and arms are held in Tiger hand positions (Toro no Kamae-te). The palms and fingers are not flat, static or soft, but are active and dynamic. They are as keen as our Glare. They manifest one of Uechi-ryu’s main principles, that of “Grab and Strike”. Once we engage with the opponent we should attach and attack. There is no utility in letting go, since risk to us increases as the opponent gains distance and freedom to move.
In unavoidable conflict, there are sheep, wolves and hunters. The attacker may think he’s a wolf to our imagined sheep. Only later, does he discover that he’s tangled with the hunter. If attacked, take on a predator’s mind. Defense is not the ticket, since one cannot defend for long before being hit. Rather, become the determined aggressor, and strike his strike, but ultimately attack his Centerline until he is incapable of continuing violence. Your blocks and defense then, are only a means of positioning yourself to attack. He might start first, but we shall finish first.
Use the hands to divert hand attacks, and the legs to ward off leg and feet techniques. Do not reach down, since this exposes your head and upper body to simultaneous and secondary attacks.
Study the function of “sticky” or intercepting legs. When your legs are next to your opponents, there is always a way of disrupting his stability and stance using your knees and ankles. Coupled with the hands, your attack should overwhelm.
Funakoshi said “Karate ni sente nashi”, or “There is no first strike in Karate”. This means that we do not initiate attacks, but only defend. Our intention is peaceful, but we will not tolerate physical harm to ourselves, or our family and friends. We avoid conflict whenever possible, and verbalize our intention to avoid fighting. All present understand we wish no one harm. But if fighting should prove unavoidable, we proceed with full resolve and piercing intention. The angry or aggressive opponent’s shoulder lift, suddenly clenched fist, cocking hip, or dilating pupils may well signal the start of an attack. We keep fully aware of those signs, and are prepared to “beat him to the punch” if his attack launches first.
There is an old Samurai maxim: “If you cut my skin, I cut your bones. If you cut my bones, I take your life.” The only tactic better than this, is to avoid conflict altogether. When wisdom and experience allow avoidance of conflict, no one gets hurt, and that’s the best possible outcome.
De-escalation and Avoidance
The central purpose of Karate, more important than its role in self-defense, is the perfection of character. This differentiates MMA from an Art or Way. Our techniques and their road toward elusive perfection are in reality a means to an end.
If we’ve studied long enough, and with enough traditional purpose, we no longer have the same need to be right, or to be victorious. We avoid situations that are known for trouble, and we take on a more humble and flexible posture. Instead of asking to have someone knock a chip off our shoulder, we have no problem saying “You’re right”, and walking away from a confrontation. Potential opponents can control us with words, only if we give them the power to do so. As prior masters have said, the opponent we all most need to conquer is ourselves. Conflict is the need of a hungry ego, and not the concern of an accomplished person.
Chairman, IUKF Board of Advisors