Sunday, December 29, 2013

Osae (The Press) and Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings

In a previous post from Dec 2009, I discussed an excerpt from Miyamoto Musashi’s classic work The Book of Five Rings which emphasized the importance of fully closing distance between you and your opponent so you do not execute any techniques before you are in proper range. I then alluded to the related concept of osae (press) that we use in OSKA, and that it would require a post of its own to do it justice. And four years later, here we are.

In the simplest of terms, pressing is a constant press forward into an opponent with the full body and body weight. That means moving the entire body without leaning, hesitance, or any undue actions which would otherwise compromise your posture and position. In OSKA, we use the press as we close distance to get into proper execution range or to engage a new opponent after finishing off the previous one. Technically speaking, closing distance doesn’t require this press, but it greatly enhances control of the situation and promotes a strong frame of mind. For more on what we simply call “the walk-in” to close distance, see this post here.

As I will explain below, however, the press is also used after closing distance and/or execution of a technique to further crowd the same opponent.

Borrowing again from Musashi, the concept of pressing is illustrated in his sections entitled “The Body of Lacquer and Glue,” “Comparing Stature,” and “Applying Glue” which I will cite below: 

“... When you have come close to the body of your opponent, stick to it without separating. When you have closed in on your opponent’s body, stick to it with strength: head, body, and feet. Often people will close in with their head or feet but will leave out the rest of their body.”

“Comparing Stature refers to the avoidance of contracting your body in any way whenever you have closed in on an opponent. Close in with strength, extending your legs, waist, and neck, and align your face with that of your opponent...”

“When you and your opponent strike together and he has checked your blow, continue to apply your sword to his as if you were applying glue, and close in. The essence of this stickiness is to make it difficult for your swords to separate, but you must be mindful not to use too much strength... do so with great tranquility and you will feel no distress. The difference between being sticky and being entangled is that stickiness is strong and entanglement is weak.”

In other words, the press is also used to move an opponent’s body after he is incapacitated, to finish him off, or to aggressively maintain control of the situation before you execute your technique or even if your first technique was unsuccessful.  In all of this explanation there was never a mention of speed. When you maintain absolute control of yourself and your own rhythm as you enter into range, you will control your opponent’s rhythm and thus the entire situation. Withdrawing from an opponent is undesirable as it provides an opportunity to be overrun. Conversely, with the press, there is no need to fear advancing into a retreating opponent; even if he is feigning weakness, you are still in control.

As Musashi would say, “you should study this well.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session: 8 December 2013

On 08 December 2013, the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai studied Naihanchi Shodan, Tensho, Seipai, and the Kyan Sai no Kata Dai. Each school performed two rounds of their kata, and following their second performance, they explained/demonstrated the meanings and applications of all the kata movements while fielding any questions.

Previous writeups have explained much of the background behind Naihanchi Shodan, Seipai, and the Kyan Sai no Kata Dai. Alan Lee Sensei explained that while the Tensho kata does consist of predominantly one-handed techniques with legitimate meanings for the movements, Miyagi Chojun Sensei created it for his Goju Ryu system in order to emphasize suppleness as a complement to the “hardness” of the Sanchin kata.

During this session, there was a lot of discussion during the “open forum” portions after each school explained the meanings of the kata movements. Some of the topics brought up included stepping methods, breathing methodologies, moving off-line, stance dynamics, and understanding distance when studying the meaning of kata movements. I will get into a little of the stepping and breathing discussions below.

Stepping Methods
There was some conversation regarding stepping methods in the Naihanchi kata, as this kata is performed with only side-to-side stepping. Some schools emphasized stepping in a manner that tested the safety of the ground (i.e. rocks or glass), some used the meaning of stepping over an opponent, while others still used it as a method for stomping or otherwise attacking an opponent’s leg. In OSKA, as we step in Naihanchi we emphasize controlling the body weight in a manner that it is always centered, even as we move from side-to-side. The stance itself also has training benefits, as the flared knee is the exact same setup as our rear leg in our neko ashi (cat stance).

Breathing Methods
There was also some debate regarding how people breathe during kata (and thus fighting). Some schools proposed that like in kendo, there is minimal visible breathing, as an opponent would be able to time your breathing and strike when you are vulnerable. Others mentioned the importance of how much air should be exhaled and how much should be left in reserve, and most schools usually encourage inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. 

In OSKA, Nakata Sensei would always relate how Chibana Sensei spoke of fighting rhythm as breathing rhythm.  Essentially, we inhale to expand and relax, and exhale to tighten. Inhaling as we move allows for flow, but at the end of the move, we exhale to set our stance.  Technically we don’t “take” stances, but it is simply the position we end up in during the execution of a technique.

As we execute techniques, we inhale to smoothly start the delivery of a blow and explosively exhale to make contact. Inhaling quickly through the nose can sometimes cause a tendency to lift their shoulders, which causes stiffness or telegraphing of techniques. On the other hand, inhaling quickly through the mouth can emphasize hara (center of balance), while exhaling through the mouth allows for a more explosive exhale as we use our abdominal muscles, diaphragm, and squeezing of the back muscles. Of course, we can quicken our breathing all we want, but we must inhale and exhale with proper timing, otherwise our blows will be weak and ineffective. 

Parting Thoughts
As always, the openness of the Kenkyukai was quite refreshing. Although the dialogue brought to light various viewpoints on a wide range of topics, some of which were exact opposites, it was nice to see all ideas courteously considered and analyzed from so many perspectives. Of course, it is always easy to get along when we are so used to enjoying light refreshments and talking story after every session, right?

Performing the kata (in order):
  • Naihanchi Shodan - OSKA - Alan Yokota (with explanation), John Oberle, Grant Kawasaki 
  • Seipai - Minakami Dojo - Sean Roberts Sensei (with explanation)
  • Tekki Shodan - Island Ki - G. Hisae Ishii-Chang Sensei (with explanation)
  • Naihanchi Shodan - International Karate League - Craig Kobayashi Sensei, Steve Lodge Sensei (with explanation), Robert Matsushita Sensei, Gavin Hiramatsu
  • Naihanchi Shodan - Hikari Dojo - Charles C. Goodin Sensei (with explanation)
  • Tensho - Kyokushin - Herbert Ishida Sensei (with explanation), Dean Harada Sensei
  • Sai no Kata Dai - Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai Hawaii - Alan Yokota, John Oberle (with explanation), Steve Lodge
  • Tensho - Senbukan Dojo - Alan Lee Sensei (with explanation), Kyle Nakasone Sensei, Ryan Okata, Chie Young, Matthew Kawamura
  • Naifanchi - Zentokukai - Angel Lemus Sensei (with explanation), Judy Lemus Sensei