Last week, our reader Giuseppe from Italy raised some questions about the relationship of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. For him it seemed as if their is no direct connection between the three. Due to that he asked several questions and our author, Florian Wiessmann, answers him in this article.
Giuseppe raised some wide spread points. Many Karate practitioners (and practitioners of other martial arts as well) ask them. So, I think it is important to answer his questions.
Karate is not a static affair. Stances are mostly just a momentarily expressions while moving (if you could just halt a movement at one point and your feet touch the ground, you have a stance). Don’t think to much about all the formal stances but more about, where your weight is distributed or how feet, knees, hips, pelvis and spine are aligned, where the center of gravity is and how to shift your center of gravity. And then you have the characteristics of many stances in all kind of movements, be it in your daily life or in kumite. Karate stances give us an opportunity to experience and learn correct alignment and body shifting in a structured way. In addition, take a look at classical European swordsmen – they probably have never heard of all the Karate stances and do them all the time while moving freely. Because movement and weight distribution inevitably leads to a certain structure.
As with stances, just think more about general movements and how to use both hands in a concerted way and not just about the standard blocking (and besides, uke translates to ‘receiving’ – this can be offensive as well). I recommend to experience a bit more the movements of certain uke waza in kihon. Use both hands, do not stop at the end of a technique (try a flow drill by connecting movements instead of just block & punch). Think a bit about characteristics and directions of uke waza movements. I can show you an uppercut punch I do 100% exactly as a basic soto uke. Age uke is also quite common as a kind of flinching reaction e.g. A look at self defense expert, Lee Morrison, and what he teaches as ‘flanking’. He does a quite basic gedan barai (and probably doesn’t even know the term).
I’m not fond of explaining hikite for adding power to your punches but there are certainly reasons for hikite to be found in Karate practice.
An obvious explanation for hikite is already given by Funakoshi Gichin. He describes hikite as grabbing the opponents arm, pulling and twisting it, to unbalance the opponent. Of course this is not limited to grab the arm – hikite is basically bringing the grappling range into Karate practice.
Hikite and Weapons
Hikite is also very present in weapon based training. Look at a bo swing, a spear thrust or a sword draw (saya biki) and what function hikite has there. Please don’t believe ‘Karate is empty handed’ or ‘I don’t carry a bo along when getting into a street fight’. Martial arts usually include weapons training, Funakoshi also included weapon training into Shotokan and being ’empty handed’ also means you have the opportunity to just grab a weapon. You might not carrying around weapons but it’s not so uncommon to be confronted with blunt- or bladed weapons or have them readily available in your environment. So, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself familiar with some basics. Moreover, beside many movement principles of weapon training translate very well into weaponless applications (and vice versa). Weapons are a great training tool for your body as well.
Hikite and Other Body Parts
Hikite furthermore helps connecting body parts. While the shoulder of the punching arm moves forward it helps that the other shoulder opens up a bit, e.g. with hikite. But, of course, this doesn’t have to be at the hip, you could also pull back your hand to a guard position. Just try it in kihon and extend one arm into a tsuki and do a tsuki with the other arm without pulling back the arm already extended. This will feel somewhat awkward, right? Or just do a hikite with one arm while the other arm just loosely hangs down. Hikite will initiate a pendulum movement in your hanging arm, if you are really loose).
A nice explanation is also seen in the following video. Hikite as shown there is about creating the necessary space to punch in an infight situation.
Kihon and Kumite
I agree somewhat that sanbon- and gohon kumite are a sub-optimal affair. You certainly need some kind of pre-arranged sparring to build up experience and confidence for free sparring. But sanbon- and gohon kumite also teaches much wrong stuff, in my opinion. Therefore, we don’t do it in my school (wrong stuff is moving back all the time, moving only back with too much a distance and not teaching how to close distances, enter the opponent or how to angle the attack and so on, only focusing on somewhat unrealistic counter gyaku zuki, nothing else, only blocking with one arm, nothing else…). So, do pre-arrangend sparring. But beside absolute beginners people probably can do better as with sanbon-/gohon kumite. This is also true for a standard block-counter uke waza approach, where people certainly could to better.