Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Is Okinawan Karate?

Over the years, my view on what Okinawan karate is has changed dramatically, so I will now restate my views.

The Okinawan Shorin karate that I know is smooth, relaxed, and powerful. The stances are natural, narrower, and shorter with toes pointed out to allow the flowing of hara forward and stepping is done heel to toe. Weight is towards the outside of the foot. The transition between each technique is just as important as the endpoint, to include how stepping is done and how the entire body moves from A to B. Moving with the weight continually into the opponent to crowd him is what we call "osae".

Flow does not mean there is no kime. Without kime, there is nothing, just like without a strong stance or a good posture, there is nothing. There is no muscling of technique, but there is an incredible amount of muscle, ligament, and tendon usage.

The rhythm of movement is done at a natural breathing pace with no artificial breathing. While it does flow, there is a staccato when there is kime. It flows relaxed into the kime. Each movement is done with a separate "count", as maximum power is generated for each block, strike, and kick. The goal is to end the confrontation with a single technique.

The emphasis on analysis is not on "what" is being done in kata, but on "how" it is being done. Knowing the meaning of movements is necessary, but knowing how to do it is essential. The interaction of stance, posture, timing, weight, and muscle/tendon/ligament/skeleton usage is what is analyzed. The "what" appears to be incredibly basic, because it is. The vast majority of our meanings for kata are simply punch, kick, and block. There is some grappling, but it is quite simple--again, the emphasis being on "how" and the transition between movements rather than "what". The meaning, or bunkai (popular term used nowadays), should match the kata movement exactly. Any deviation and either the meaning or the movement is wrong.

When fighting, there is no offset between you and the opponent. You walk straight in and destroy him; there is no deviation. The goal is not an exchange of technique, it is one-sided destruction.

Okinawan karate is neither Chinese nor Japanese; it is Okinawan. It borrowed some from Chinese arts, but its nature and development is uniquely Okinawan. I have seen karate with so much flow and no kime it looks like Tai Chi. I have seen karate with so much tension and muscling it looks like the robot. I have seen karate with so much grappling it looks like judo or chin na. None of these is the Okinawan karate I know.