Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: December 5, 2010 - Ippon Kowashi and the Walk-in

The Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai met for training again on 5 December, 2010. The first half of the training was standard, with every school demonstrating a kata (or two) in the first round, followed by the same kata demonstrated in another round with a chance for everyone to ask questions. This was followed by an open discussion on fighting methodology, namely the concepts of ippon kowashi, or “destroying the opponent with one hit”, and how to close distance while fighting. The last portion of the training involved everyone pairing off with a partner to practice these above concepts using focus hand pads. Because I found the discussion interesting, most of this write-up will focus on a summary of the main points.

The first round of kata started off with OSKA performing Pinan Nidan, followed by the Roberts Sensei doing Heian Nidan and Ishida Sensei demonstrating Pinan Sono Ichi. In the writeup for the last session, I erroneously stated the Hayashi-ha Shito-Ryu Heian Nidan was equivalent to our Pinan Shodan. However, Roberts Sensei said what he performed in this session was the Heian Nidan (equivalent to our Pinan Nidan). This was interesting, as most schools that use the Heian name swap the order of the first two Pinan/Heian kata.

The next segment was OSKA doing Pinan Sandan, Roberts Sensei performing Heian Sandan, and Ishida Sensei doing Pinan Sono San. Afterwards, Lemus Sensei performed the Tokumine Bo and Lee Sensei did Gekisai Yon. It was explained that the Tokumine Bo was the style of Tokumine, who was quite the carouser, resulting in his exile to the island of Yaeyama. Chotoku Kyan went there to learn from him, but by that time Tokumine had already passed away. Instead, Kyan learned from the landlord or caretaker of the place where Tokumine lived, as this individual had learned the kata from Tokumine. The kata had a lot of scooping movements that scraped the ground, reminiscent of the Tsuken Sunakake eku (oar) kata wherein sand would be thrown into the opponent’s face. Another characteristic was the circular scooping that targeted the opponent’s leg, similar to the Shirotaro no Kon bo kata. Just like Gekisai San, Gekisai Yon was created by Izumikawa Sensei to increase the variety of kata for younger practitioners, especially for use in tournaments.

During the second round of performances, everyone was able to ask questions on the varying methodologies exhibited.

Following this, a discussion on fighting methodology was started, examining the concepts of ippon kowashi and how to close the distance between you and your opponent. Ippon kowashi means “destroying the opponent with one hit” and has parallels with the terms ichi geki hissatsu, or “one hit, one kill”. More than just the act of “trying to hit someone hard”, it is at once both a mindset and a realistic training goal, which is to generate such intense power in all techniques, whether a punch, kick, or block, that the opponent simply cannot withstand it. If an opponent strikes at you, your block should floor him. If he tries to block you, your punch should drive right through. If he tries to cover up and take your punch with his arm, his arm should break. These are fairly strong statements, ones which require total commitment and supreme confidence, and ones which many tend to view as unrealistic. However, if their potential is not acknowledged in the first place, if training is never structured with them in mind, how can they ever be realized? Achieving this requires an objective study of power generation and constant training towards this end.

When analyzing striking power and fighting methodology, there are often debates that crop up, such as “speed versus power”. Ippon kowashi requires you to be in close range to your opponent and would represent “power”. Yet in many cases, “speed” refers perhaps tangentially to how fast the hand is moving, but has more to do with how quickly you can get in and out of range to attack the opponent or disrupt his timing. In these cases, the issue actually being addressed is dealing with the distance between you and your opponent.

In sparring or sport fighting, there is a specific distance between two opponents, which is why you see “reach” listed as a personal stat before boxing or MMA matches. More important than just “reach” is someone’s range. You must know your range and judge the opponent's range. If you are in range, you hit. In sparring, you maneuver just outside of the opponent's range and set him up for a one step attack. In other words, the opponent needs to take a step to hit you. The moment he steps forward, you shoot your punch and will be successful in catching him almost all of the time. Sparring to a large extent is waiting, and the focus is not on absolute destruction of the opponent with one technique. One of the difficulties of waiting to time the opponent is just that, waiting. One can only maintain absolute concentration for a few seconds at a time and this strategy grants the initiative to the opponent. Furthermore, to distract themselves or the opponent, many choose to jump or bounce around, or to constantly bob and weave to present a difficult target. In these situations, timing the opponent can become tricker, especially if the opponent is purposely trying to throw your timing off.

In a real combat situation, however, there should be no setting up inside or outside of the opponent’s range, there should only be a walk-in. As the name implies, distance is closed by simply walking in, not too fast where control is lost, and not too slow where you can be easily timed. Your attack is executed as you walk in, but your method of attack is not decided before you begin. What is required instead is the firm decision to walk in, which prevents you from overthinking the situation. You accept whatever consequence may occur, whether it be complete success or total failure, and whatever the opponent gives you. Attack his arm if he punches and attack his legs if he kicks. If he covers up, remove whatever obstacle he presents and punch, strike or kick... or just destroy the obstacle with your hit. This is the tie-in with ippon kowashi. Without training for and achieving ippon kowashi, it is harder to develop the confidence to walk into and attack the opponent. And of course, it almost goes without saying that if you do successfully walk in, your chances of victory are far better when you can put your opponent away with one hit, since if he is in range, so are you. Fighting in this manner is not waiting for the opponent, it is taking control of the opponent and being active rather than reactive.

With this methodology, things such as speed or timing the opponent for an opening become irrelevant. When you are in control and enter into the opponent with the walk-in and destroy the opponent, sparring methods and pure speed are not needed. To fight in this way, one must train this way. Therefore execution of kata should demonstrate action and control rather than reaction. Every technique and the transition between them must be oriented towards entering the opponent and destroying him with one hit. The transition from movement to movement must involve pressing forward into the opponent with the entire body and body weight, which is the concept that we call osae, or press. While the walk-in does not technically require this press, it further enhances control of the situation. However, when all of this is missing from training, especially in kata, the training becomes reactive and we condition ourselves to lose the initiative and give up control of the fight. With this kind of reactive mindset, it becomes that much harder to walk in to the opponent and achieve ippon kowashi. Again, to train for the walk-in and ippon kowashi, intense concentration must be given to each technique and the transitions between them.

Since the study of fighting is best done through training rather than words, we then partnered up with focus pads and practiced walking in from several steps away and then hitting without “setting” or pausing first. Focus pads can be more useful than hitting makiwara or heavy bags since the feel of it lets you know if you are pushing/muscling through the hit, making contact incorrectly, or other deficiencies in form that might be masked otherwise. We practiced both a punch and a uraken, or back fist. True to our discussion, we aimed to use the backfist not as a glancing or jabbing strike, but as a powerful blow to end the confrontation. Partnering up allowed us to view both the similar and different ways that everyone employed body weight and focus during these techniques.

Upon conclusion of our training, we all partook of some Hanapa’a Sushi graciously provided by Grant Kawasaki and talked story for a little while. Like always, I felt privileged to take part in the Kenkyukai training.

In attendance:

Herb Ishida Sensei (representing Bobby Lowe Sensei, Kyokushin Karate)

Pat Nakata Sensei (OSKA [Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association]), Alan Yokota (Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai Hawaii), Steve Chun, John Oberle, and Grant Kawasaki.

Alan Lee Sensei (Hawaii Senbukan Dojo, Goju Ryu)

Angel Lemus Sensei (Ninchokan Dojo, Zentokukai)

Sean Roberts Sensei (Minakami Karate Dojo, Minakami-ha Shito-Ryu)

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