Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Evasion is assumed in karate kata

All arts necessarily make assumptions. To have a starting point you have to have presuppositions. Karate presupposes that the practitioner has the sense to step out of the way of a punch and put his hands up. But then that evasion is not really practiced much as a skill in class. Some beginners might have the sense to duck out of the way of an attack, but then they get so tangled up in the teaching system - the 'front stance, downblock, counterpunch' routines - that they drill that common sense evasion right out of themselves. They hope to develop some higher skill but all along they are forgetting about the assumed factor - the starting point - evasion first.
Example - ippon kumite (one step sparring exercises) - mid-level lunge punch countered by downblock-reverse punch. A lot of modern karate systems that do one-step engagements  begin with something like this. It is basically a bunkai - a piece of a kata done with a partner.
Have you ever considered how incredibly hard this first one-step is to do? Your feet get all tangled up with uke's. You have to be faster in order to get your downblock into position at the right time. You bang up your arm against his punch (requiring a lot of 'arm toughening' practice), and worst of all you have to know what is coming to be able to do the move properly.

To be fair, there is some evasion and angulation going on in several of the onesteps above, but Kanazawa seems to be about as good as it gets in the Shotokan world. Also, he's not doing that inane downblock-reverse punch engagement stepping forward into uke - but go with me and you'll see where I'm coming from here.)
If uke is off on his aim, say he throws a face punch or a reverse or hook punch instead of a low lunge punch, then your downblock misses and you take a hit and look stupid (think Jim Carrey's karate skit here). This supposedly basic one-step is really quite complicated the way it is done. You have to be quite good to pull it off spontaneously. I've seen some TSD 4th degree black belts who could sometimes do it, but I don't think I've seen many others that could do this thing out of the blue.
For another, perhaps better example, take Taikyoku shodan, said by Funakoshi to be the universal exercise.  Try to come up with some bunkai for the first sequence: left turn 90 degrees into front stance, left down block, step forward right front stance lunge punch.  The first basic application is, "there's a guy attacking from your left so you..." but now you are right back into the one-step sparring problem from above.  If you're more creative you might come up with 1-2 more pretty solid applications for that move and maybe a handful of possible applications that stretch credibility a bit. 
Want to know how to solve this problem and virtually all others when dissecting your kata into partner bunkai or one-steps? First step out of the way, then do the response from the kata. You might even be surprised to find things like low blocks turning into cool stuff like hammerfist attacks or cool armbars, punch chambers becoming blocks, holds, pulls, etc...
Try this, choose any kata you like. Take it apart into its logical 1-2 step pieces and practice each one adding an explicit evasion (a sidestep or turn, etc...) to the beginning of each one (even if the evasion is not part of the kata). I think the kata will all of a sudden spring to life for you, and a whole bunch of the stuff that is weird and dysfunctional about karate will sort itself out very quickly.
Try making the assumed explicit in your practice.


  1. "Try this, choose any kata you like. Take it apart into its logical 1-2 step pieces..."

    This is something we did on occasion and it's harder than it looks! It's also a very good activity to get some realistic mileage out of your forms, kata, etc.

  2. Pat, I don't think evasion is an assumption in Karate. From what I understand, Shotokan karate's main objective is physical/mental fitness and strength, and thus focuses on the ippon kumite and kime as its way to create that end. Thus there is a narrow band of tactics that create the entire karate 'system'. A book I read a couple of years ago also represents karate as a system which is based of 'team' fighting and surprise attacks. This is certainly at odds with the ippon kumite idea that is the maintstay of modern schools. But on the whole I agree with you. Evasion plus many other skills are 'assumed', and can only be understood and applied once the practitioner gains additional experience beyond how the kihon and the katas are practiced superficially. Colin

    Traditional Taekwondo

  3. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Right now, Dr. Pat, I am wishing so badly that I could send you a copy of a video disc that I've been lent that my eyeballs are practically leaping out of their sockets. The disc has never, as far as I know, been circulated outside of the RyuTe Renmei, and has far more detailed examples of tuite than on any of Taika's other videos. On each of his kata videos, he shows several examples of techniques drawn from the kata, but this disc goes into much more detail, offering at least one, and often several, possible uses of each movement or set of movements.

    I'd send ya a copy, but it was laughingly (?) suggested that I might be hunted down like a dog if I even made a copy for myself, let alone anyone else--that is, I do not have the owner's permission to make copies. (I took extremely detailed notes, instead, on the assumption that it might be a while before I'm given a copy, or given an opportunity to purchase one.)

    I particularly wish you could see the breakdown from the three Naihanchi kata, because when you said

    First step out of the way...

    I couldn't help but think how you'd be intrigued by the fact that almost none of Taika's applications for those movements involve the directions of travel shown in the kata. Almost all of his illustrated applications involved, not the use of kiba dachi, but a step forward and to the oblique of the attacker, a pivot, and a final position very much reminiscent of sankakudai. Seikichi Toguchi said that Chojun Miyagi told him, "Do not be deceived by the enbusen rule."

    Boy howdy.

    You might even be surprised to find things like low blocks turning into cool stuff like hammerfist attacks or cool armbars...

    75 Down Blocks is a good reference for that one.

    ...punch chambers becoming blocks, holds, pulls, etc...

    Some of those applications...


    ...more often than not, these techniques end up slamming the attacker face-first or chest-first into the ground at high velocity. All from applications of what I was told were "chambers" when I was in Taekwon-do.

    Ah, well, good post, worth the wait.

  4. Seikichi Toguchi said that Chojun Miyagi told him, "Do not be deceived by the enbusen rule."

    Yes, yes, yes! I wish I'd said it that way.

    Regarding the kibadachi in tekki - wherever you happen to move when you evade, you land with 2 feet on the ground - that's kibadachi (maybe a shallow, wimpy-looking one) but any time you separate your feet to the sides that's pretty much kibadachi. I can definitely see landing in that position when evading oblique to the attack and turning to face.

    That is basically how we begin almost every encounter in aikido


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