Karate is a very effective style of combat with a vast range of techniques, but it is probably best known for being a long range style that is very efficient at delivering powerful strikes or blocks.
Most Karate is commonly practised as a hard style, contesting your strength against your foes, and this usually works due to the efficiency of the postures in giving or receiving power.
What is not so well known is that it can also be used as a soft art which exploits the foes energy and allows attacks to be made even faster, and therefore more efficiently. There is no great secret to this: you just have to relax your upper body and arms when striking and use your defensive moves to deflect rather than block.
A few years ago, I read something written by a Penjak-Silat student in which he mentioned that in his art you always tried to perform an action with the hand on the same side as the foot that was advanced.
Curious, I thought, and thought no more. The other night, however, it suddenly occurred to me that there was an art I was more familiar with that fitted this guideline: Karate! Bearing this in mind made the fundamental moves of karate very easy to learn.
All of the following moves become quite easy to grasp if you remember that they are all made with the hand on the same side as the foot that is advanced, or that when a hand is used the posture is changed to make the foot on that side the forward one. Most of these moves are also made with a step, either forwards or backwards.
For brevity Ill not describe the exact movements of each technique or stance since these are well detailed in various books. Try to keep your arms and shoulders as relaxed as you can and breath out as you throw an arm outward or forward.
Ive kept the term block for the defensive moves since this is the term usually used, but keep in mind most of these moves are more effective as parries or deflections.
The most fundamental move of karate has to be the lunge punch: O-zuki.
As you probably know, this is made with the hand on the same side as the leg that steps forwards.
Beginners make two common errors when performing O-zuki:
The first is to reach forward too far, so the hips are not perpendicular to the direction of travel. Sometimes this is accompanied by the trunk leaning forwards. I find I do this less when making palm heel strikes than punches, for some reason.
A friend of mine uses a very interesting lunge punch that is more like a fencers lunge without the sword. This works well for him but until you are more experienced I suggest you keep the hips square and the trunk upright: it will be easier for you to keep your balance and respond with the rear hand.
Power for this move is from the forward motion, but especially the forward thrust of the hips.
The second fault in making this move is that it looks jerky.
This is usually a product of the fighter punching as they step, rather than stepping as they punch. The co-ordination of the step and the punch are often debated, though to my mind it makes sense for the hand to land just before the foot does.
Let the hand lead the foot and your kata and practice will flow more naturally.
On the subject of kata there is one that is particularly informative, which I think is called Taikyoku Shodan, and is usually the first ever learnt.
Compared to the later katas it seems pretty boring, since it only consists of a chain of lunge punches, with the occasional 90° turn. This turn is made by swinging one hand up to the opposite shoulder.
If you have the right foot forward and wish to turn left, the left hand reaches up to the right shoulder then swings down to the left, the hips twisting and the rear leg stepping forward.
A right turn was made with the right hand swinging up then outward, the weight shifting to the rear leg and the lead foot stepping to the right side.
This kata actually teaches us a lot. Obviously it teaches lunge punches, but the lunge punch is essentially the same as the outward block: you just punch to the side slightly and add a little outward turn of the waist.
The motion of the arm used in turning is in fact the downward block, which sweeps across the lower body to take an attack to the outside.
The nice thing about this kata is that it appears to have only two moves, so if practising on your own you can vary the sequence and directions to suit the area you have to practice in. You can also start replacing some of the downward blocks or punches with some of the other techniques we are about to cover.
Most martial arts have four blocking directions for each arm: high inward, high outward, low inward and low outward. Karate flips this through 90° so you have a rectangle rather than a diamond. The other two blocks not yet mentioned are upward block and inward block.
Inward block is made by swinging the lead arm inward, rather like one was swinging a shield. You can make this with the rear hand but usually you would combine this with a step to move the body away from the path of the blow. The rear leg may step forward or the lead step back, but either way the blocking arm ends up in front with the forward leg on the same side.
Upward block is made by moving the horizontal forearm up over the head, again with a step either forward or back so the technique ends up being performed on the same side as the forward leg. Sometimes this block is performed with a upwards and outwards action to deflect that attack rather than just stop it.
So far we have a punch and four blocks, but in fact we have more. Just as the punch is a similar motion to the outward block, the action of the downward block can be converted into an outward knife-hand or backfist. The inward block can become a inward chop or hammerfist and the upward block brought down as a chop or hammerstrike.
Youll notice that three out of four of these basic blocks take the attack to the fighters outside gate. This may also take the foe to your outside gate, which is a tactically poor position to put yourself in. The solution to this is to immediately follow each block with another step, either forwards or back. The ;hikate motion of the other arm means that each technique that we have discussed so far finishes in a perfect position to immediately step into another with the other side. You may have to move backwards occasionally, but it is better to advance on the foe whenever you can. Your second step may also be another block, but switch to the attack as soon as you can. Follow the old maxim:
Most of your attacking moves can be converted into blocks anyhow.
There is one more technique that we must mention, and this is what makes our concept of The technique is always made with the forward hand a guideline rather than a rule: Reverse Punch.
Reverse punch is made with the hand on the side of the rearward leg. This can be a stepping punch, but is more often a follow up to a lunge punch when there is insufficient room to move forward into another lunge punch. The power for a non-stepping reverse punch is made by a forward thrust of the hips, although in fact a little more power can be added by twisting the waist to throw the punching side hip towards the target. This also chambers the other hip to power a punch of the other arm, and throwing this punch withdraws the other hip to make a reverse punch and so on. The same action can be used to throw inward knife-hand strikes or backfists. You an also make blocks with the reverse hand too once you have got the hang of the obverse moves.
The kata we have already mentioned is nearly all in forward stance (Zenkutsu), although it could be argued that part of the turn is Kokutsu (back stance).
To learn the moves and develop balance and a low centre of gravity, keep in forward stance to begin with. In combat you will probably use a higher stance, especially if fighting close to the foe, but hopefully by then youll have learnt to send your weight down to be better rooted.
So what have we got so far? We have a collection of strong defences that will cover any angle, whether we are stepping forward or forced to move back. And once we have stopped the attack we are in a position in which we can immediately move forward with a lunge punch or several other forms of powerful attack. We can keep on raining these blows into him with successive punches and steps. If he wont retreat, we can follow our lunge punch with a volley of reverse punches, backfists or knife-hand strikes, powered by waist action.
Not only have we learnt the moves, weve also learnt to keep the pressure on an aggressor and take the initiative.
You might be asking, What about the kicks? Kicks have their place in martial technique, but they are not as useful as an effective defence, mobility and good hand techniques, all of which you have learnt above. I will mention, however, that it is better to perfect the technique of a kick rather than worrying about how high you can make it. Low kicks tend to be more effective in a self-defence situation, anyhow.
Karate has many more techniques, but the techniques above are the fundamentals upon which many of these are based.
This is a quick and simple way to learn them. Mastering them may take a little more time!
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.