As part of my training under the WJKA to become a certified instructor, I am revisiting my knowledge of Japanese terminology. Knowing the Japanese terms for techniques is important, I believe, for a variety of reasons. One of these is that the Japanese term offers some insight into the technique itself.
Take the term Uke for example. If your training partner is on the receiving end of a drill or technique, he is often called the Uke. Also, we use Uke to define a block, as in Soto Uke, or Soto Ude Uke. Beyond this again, the term Uke represents the concept of reception or receiving. Thus, one could say that, in order to block an attack properly, you must understand how to receive the attack.
As part of my study, I have been going through the Nakayama Best Karate Series books and reading the English and Japanese translations of concepts, movements, and techniques. The translations do offer excellent insights into Karate Waza.
What I have been finding also in my research is more about the sheer number of techniques that exist. This then got me thinking about what Miyamoto Musashi said in the Book of Five Rings:
“You should not have a favorite weapon, nor likes and dislikes. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well.”
As Karate practitioners do we too often fall into the trap of working feverously on a single technique or combination? We also get stuck in thinking that a ‘combination’ is two techniques. Two techniques in a real fight are about as effective as two French fires when you haven’t eaten for a week.
Say for instance you’re in a fight and you use the typical left-hand jab followed by the right-hand reverse punch. But, while executing the right-hand punch, you clash and break a bone or two in that hand. Your go-to technique is now off the playbook. All of a
sudden you have to rely on plan B – which you may not have put
much time into.
Similarly, on a hunting trip years ago a gentleman in our group decided he would take only one shotgun – a super-expensive semi-automatic 12 gauge. He was so confident in the gun that he didn’t take a backup. We were a few minutes into the hunt when the heavy morning frost messed with the pneumatic action of the gun, and it jammed up.
Circumstances dictate that you should never rely on a single weapon. Nakayama Sensei's books used the phrase "continuous strong" in a number of places, particularly in Kata. A fight isn't one-two and it's over; it may go on for a while, and the techniques you use will be dictated by the scenario, not by your choice of what to use.
Yes, we all default to techniques or kata that we are good at, but, like the opening move in Kanku Dai, Karate has to be fully rounded. Nishiyama Sensei said that Karate means seeing every part of the body as a potential weapon.
I follow Iain Abernethy of the Applied Karate fame, and I do so mostly because he strips Karate down to what works: the Art of Karate becomes the tools for fighting. A fight with Iain would mean getting hit with knuckles, knees, elbows, forearms, or feet – whatever it takes to survive.
In my opinion, there are lots of Dojos that don’t get into mixing it up. They don’t teach what happens if someone grabs you, or attempts to, or if you end up on the ground, or if your opponent just keeps on coming.
I like picking apart Katas and asking students what certain moves are. Is it any good? Where can you use it? Can you use it in a different stance? What can you follow it up with?
We train so that techniques will simply come out of us when the time is right during a confrontation. We have to be careful that we are studying and testing all the techniques at our disposal – regularly. Every technique has a place in our fighting system.
It makes sense to say that we never truly master Karate, but I think we can all agree with Musashi: we can know Karate sufficiently well.