Martial arts - concepts with words
You need to learn how to paint to create an artwork. With practise you develop a steady hand and learn the concept of light, color and distance to paint. But to create a painting that is a result of your own self expression, your style, to create something like what the persistence of time was to Salvadore Dali or Starry night was to van Gogh, there is a world you have to explore, within yourself, to discover how to build and manifest ideas into your work.
Here’s a better and less far fetched example that we all can relate to- conversations. To hold a conversation with someone, you have to learn a language, the grammar and then practice it to converse. But what you need to negotiate, convince or appreciate someone is a lot more the language itself.
This concept can be applied to the world of self defense. Being aware of it changes the rendition of your art, because not only have you picked up a move or a language but you understand how to use it effectively. To not be aware of these concepts is no different from using a tool over an over again but not utilizing all its features to improve the output. If you are following me, then you might now be convinced that to execute perfect self defence techniques, simply perfecting your katas, kicks, blocks and kumite is not enough.
At this point one would argue that, being able to write with accurate detail the definition of these concepts, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can translate these words into actions. And I agree a hundred percent. But I do train with these concepts in mind and just being aware of them can make a huge difference. That being said, by ignoring these concepts you really miss an opportunity to improve your art that should be taught and understood by all.
Essential concepts for self defence
Moving with speed. In any form of self- defence or martial art, taking your opponent by surprise will give you an advantage. In order to move faster than your opponent can conjure your next move in order to block it, you have to train in fei sa. Constant repetition, among other ways, will allow you to develop agility and feisa
To coordinate focus between your body and muscle. Foundation is an important building block of anything. To deliver a strong kick or blow, your base has to be impregnable. You have to use your momentum towards your move rather than go against it. Generating and focusing power from the ground up and letting it flow up through your hip into your hands and releasing it when delivering your blow is the essence of chinkuchi
Similar to Kokoro meaning “a thinking and feeling heart” (from a celebrated novel by Soseki Natsume) It exemplifies a practitioner’s dedication to their art with their heart, soul and mind. This concept symbolizes the importance of putting your heart into what you do to achieve perfection
Stickiness or whipping power Muchi similar to Mochi, which is a sticky sweet made from rice. This idea can be best defined in two ways, first the concept of stickiness. Imagine fighting your opponent in a dark room, the only way to understand where they are and to break their balance is to be close, glide your hands over theirs to establish reach/contact, without startling them to prevent a response, to defend effectively. If someone punches you, react even before the punch actually lands, use your hands to lightly deflect the attack while staying close to establish a close contact and then take them off balance. Whipping power can be thought of as originating power in your hips and using your chinkuchi to land an iron fist or back fast on your opponent. The act of pulling and pushing the power is analogous to pulling out a bucket of water from the well while staying grounded.
Softness or pliability of the body Is it possible to counter an attack with softness? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In fact some masters specialize in training with yattengwa- Naksone Sensei from Okinawa has spent over half a century training and perfecting these. Ideally when you counter with a soft technique you strive to take the opponent by surprise by not displaying your move ahead of yourselves or getting them to respond. Also when it comes to softness think of how something soft like a soft rubber ball or water, can slip away from tight hold because they are giving way or adapting to a certain force without resisting it but also freeing themselves. So if someone pushes you, don’t resist, take it move with it, this will cause the opponent to go with their momentum and fall out of their center line
Visually it’s the area at the edge of our waist, above the thighs which is skin and fat. But this actually refers to the internal muscles in the area that stabilize the connection between the hip region and the upper body to achieve better balance and the maximum power in a technique that is executed. Gamaku-iri : is the application of gamaku on your movements or modification of power. Your center of gravity changes when you move. For example when you lift your leg to deliver a front kick your body leans towards the standing leg to compensate for the loss of gravity. But this lateral shift can be easily detected by your opponent. To kick without shifting you will require the use of gamaku technique, an invisible shifting of the internal organs to compensate for imbalance of weight. To learn about the difference between Gamaku and Tanden [click here]
From 8 poems of the fist : The eyes must watch all four directions. The ears listen in all eight directions. Awareness of your surrounding when in a fight is crucial to acting decisively. We shouldn’t set our eyes on a single person or opponent, for what if we’re attacked from the side. Using the periphery of your vision, moving constantly to create a mind map of opponents around you to respond in time is the essence of Michichi
Pushing or striking through power or movement You might have heard your sensei’s stressing on this point often. They say don’t kick the bag, kick through it. The mysterious story of Bruce Lee sending shockwaves through his opponent and driving them back by several feet, with a one-inch punch, sort of idealizes the effect of Atifa. Go ahead and do a punch. Now relax you muscles and push an imaginary target, not a prolonged push but one where you pull energy from below you and push it out. It must feel different. Now try the punch with the same kind of pushing power and intention, it should feel much better and effective. Excerpt about Atifa by Dave Lowry: Pushing(continuous push) a door open is not an example of atifa. Jerking up a window is. Atifa carries the connotation of “shocking” or, more accurately, “pulsing”. Punching a heavy bag is not atifa. Place your palm on the bag, then relax the muscles in your arm until you’re using just enough energy for the palm to stay connected to the bag. Put your feeling down into your hips. Try to tighten the muscles there, then let that quick tightening travel all the way up your side and into your arm. Don’t push. Try to just give a shudder or a pulse. You’ll make the bag move, though it will probably be just a twitch. That movement is an expression of atifa. Perhaps these skills really exist, but I’ve never seen them. Atifa, however, while it’s subtle and does require a lot of training, is not in this realm. Think of it this way: There’s the steady, continuous force exerted in turning a jar’s lid. There’s also the brisk, relatively light force exerted on a tight lid when you rap it with the back of a knife blade to loosen it. Atifa is that latter kind of energy application. Not magic, just physics. Atifa requires relaxation
Sliding in angular movement Tai sabaki is the act of moving your body or repositioning yourself with your opponent. It’s used to avoid an attack and get yourself in an advantageous position for the next move. Both Tai sabaki and kawashi are similar in the sense that when you’re attacked, you deflect yourself from the center line or point of attack by moving sideways. Now the end result of this movement can result in you facing the opponent called Irimi (defined below) or Tenkan where you end up not facing but standing alongside your opponent. Both require a series of sliding movements.
Irimi is to enter the guard of the body Unlike Tenkan, irimi is to directly neutralize your opponent's offense by taking a step forward straight or at an angle (depending on the attack) to end up facing them directly. If an attacker comes towards you with a knife, you step forward at an angle at the same time or earlier, thereby missing the knife completely, now you are in an advantageous position to take down the enemy because you have entered their guard and reacting before they know it, with a with a single leg sweep and an appropriate disarming technique you can defend yourself successfully. It teaches us how to blend with their attack to become one with their movement and leaving them with nowhere to strike.
Breaking the stance or unbalancing your opponent is Kuzushi. Kuzusu, it’s root means to bring down, demolish or destroy. In entirety, it refers to not only unbalancing them, but also putting them in a position where their stability and ability to regain their balance is destroyed. If an attacker begins to strike you with a bo, and before the strike lands you move their body off the center-line, possibly by pivoting the top half of their body with your hands while keep the bottom grounded in place with your legs, their balance will be compromised and would render the bo useless for the remainder of the attack
- Kobo Ittai
Simultaneous attack and defense. Kobo ittai is a reminder in the practise of self defence to not just parry or block stop attack- the way beginners or practitioners who don't force themselves to break out of the mundane block attack routine, but to intercept, close into their guard and stifle their movement and deliver the attack before the opponent is ready to counter attack. It is the philosophy of not blocking and then attacking but doing them simultaneously in a single attack
- Issun hazure
- いすん はずれ
To avoid by an inch It combines Muchimi and Irimi to develop a concept that emphasizes that any attack, be it a punch or a swish of the sword can be evaded by an inch. A great example is a mawashi geri to your opponents thigh. If delivered excellently, it will hit your opponent right on the nerve causing them to collapse immediately, no matter the size, with a single kick. As a recipient of this kick, to avoid this downfall, you have twist slightly to the opposite direction of the kick, while staying grounded, causing the kick to now be delivered away from your nerve, and thereby allowing you to respond without losing your balance.
I hope you found this useful and actionable. I’m very grateful to all the amazing Senseis who have trained and inspired me.
As I build on my series of posts on self defence, I plan to write extensively on my learnings from my daily karate practise, dojo insights and reading.
Thank you for reading!