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The Point, My First Karate Lesson

T

he best place to hide anything is to hide it in plain sight.  We can call a movement an uke and it will forever be perceived as defensive.  Suppose we change the name from haraiotoshi uke to testicularoshi ouchi.  Now the movement is perceived as a groin smash rather than a downward defense.  A simple name change alters our perception.  Let's call age uke a decapitator, yoko uke a rib or elbow breaker and ude uke a jaw smash.  For good measure, we will use the forearm as the weapon.

 

T

he best place to hide anything is to hide it in plain sight.  We can call a movement an uke and it will forever be perceived as defensive.  Suppose we change the name from haraiotoshi uke to testicularoshi ouchi.  Now the movement is perceived as a groin smash rather than a downward defense.  A simple name change alters our perception.  Let's call age uke a decapitator, yoko uke a rib or elbow breaker and ude uke a jaw smash.  For good measure, we will use the forearm as the weapon.

     Wait a minute.  Why would these movements be called ukes in the first place?  Simple, so the art could be practiced openly, while its true methods kept secret.  If you view these "ukes" as offensive techniques, the kata will make a great deal more sense.  It will also help return karate to its utilitarian roots.

     Thai boxers know something the karate practitioner used to know; the hands and feet are poor weapons.  Yes, you can train the hands and feet against makiwara and bags. However, a human being is a moving target and you usually end up hitting at a bad angle or clip a bony part of your opponent's body in an actual fight.  Ask Mike Tyson. The end result is a broken hand, wrist, ankle or foot.  Since the muay thai fighters actually hit each other, they adopted the shin for kicking, the forearm and elbow for smashing and heavy use of the knee.  They retained the realism of all out engagement.

     In Europe, a boxing punch that was eventually outlawed in the ring is identical to what we call ude uke.  The punch was responsible for several deaths in the ring and deemed too dangerous for boxing.  We see this movement occur several times in various kata. When perceived as an uke it doesn't really fit, especially while stepping forward.  We see yoko uke and twin yoko ukes while going forward.  In practice, how far away from your partner do you stand in order to make yoko uke work against your partner's punch?  About twelve inches too far away I will bet. We try to use an exaggerated distance to make the concept work.

     One problem is many try to reverse engineer the kata.  They will say "the movement is done this way in the kata, but it's really done this way in application."  Huh?  No, it's not.  The kata creators weren't Confucian scholars.  They were pragmatic and direct.  If a movement would get them killed in combat it would be tossed.  No martial artist would train one way and then attempt to undo his training in the heat of combat.  It's just common sense. 

     Take the opening movements of Saifa where you angle step, pull the hand to your hip and then pull the clasped hands to the opposite hip.  Do you really think this is an escape from a sleeve grab?  Unless one still expects quarters under his pillow from the Tooth Fairy, it should occur to the practitioner that this movement means something far different.  Grab my sleeve and I will knock you out with the other hand. Again, we hide the true meaning by explaining it as a rather tame technique.  Gradually, it becomes "the truth".  It is perpetuated ad infinitum because no one dares say otherwise.  There are several highly violent applications for this opening movement, all of which either maim or kill and demonstrate the true martial nature of karate.  I'm not talking about convoluted interpretations.  I am referring to applications which mirror the movements exactly as practiced in the kata.  No abstractions; simple, direct and practical applications - no wasted motions or complex and difficult to execute movements.  Complexity is the enemy of the combatant.  While variations are, of course, an example of advanced understanding, those based on silly concepts are not.  Warriors ended confrontations swiftly and ruthlessly, especially since their opponent was almost always armed.  

     Take joge uke, only now stand very close to your partner at a 45 degree angle.  Anything registering?  If not, drop the uke thinking, and add a blade in the lower hand.  Shuto uke as practiced in Shotokan? Again, drop the uke mindset and get close.  Yama uke at the closing of Seiunchin?  Compare it to the double downward elbow strike of muay thai and bando.

     Were there defensive methods in karate?  I doubt it.  Combat is not a sparring match.  Warriors didn't step onto a battlefield thinking "hey, is that a sword he's carrying?"  Sparring is two people fencing.  Combat is two knights on horseback jousting - a sudden, all out violent clash - all aggression and over in a second or two.  To be considered as a martial art, karate must work, and I believe it surely did.  But along the way the discipline became civilized, gentlemanly and a wholesome activity for the entire family.  Honorable pursuits to be sure, but detrimental to its understanding.

     Traditional karatedo stresses character development, but it should never be at the expense of losing the very essence of the art.  When distortions are repeated so often they become accepted as truth, we have created a dilemma.  We have taken a vibrant, effective system and created a set calisthenics, largely devoid of serious martial application.  And, if repeated often enough, its usefulness becomes lost forever.  We have taken an airplane, removed its wings and are using it as a trailer pulled behind a pickup truck.

     So, am I calling our teachers liars?  No, far from it.  We have to appreciate the culture of obedience to understand.  We also have to understand the concept of not having the whole thing handed down on a platter.  We have to grasp the form over function philosophy of what we are practicing. We have to realize the military nature of the warrior who never fully reveals his capabilities, even to his top students and especially to his conquerors. Secrecy means survival. It is the nature of man. Most of all, we must remember each generation adds a layer of paint until the masterpiece is obscured.    

      My fifth grade teacher lined us up around the classroom and handed the first student a written line.  The student was to read and then whisper the line to the next student and continue the process.  I was the last student.  When I said aloud what had been whispered to me, it had absolutely nothing to do with the original statement. 

     That, was my first karate lesson.