Thursday, January 8, 2015

Classic uraken knockout in MMA!

Some of you will recall my article back in 2010: "Uraken: karate's greatest folly?" in which I discussed the relative usefulness of the uraken - the backfist of karate.

Over the years I'd heard many opinions on the worth of this technique - mostly disparaging ones.

I'm heartened to see that my opinion of the uraken wasn't misplaced.  Paul Felder's knockout of Danny Castillo use of this very technique at UFC 182 on January 3 was, as it turns out, a classic execution - albeit in the context of a spin.  It even used a snap-back at the elbow (rather than a swinging follow-through)!

And it had a devastating effect.

At first it was suggested by many that the technique was a hammer fist.  Or was intended as a hammer fist.  But, thanks to the work of my friend Noah Legel, the gif below demonstrates that it was indeed a pretty standard uraken as taught in karate - right down to the wrist extension at the end (see the picture above and my uraken example below) which presents the knuckles as a striking surface, rather than the back of the hand (as I discuss in my previous article).

Note the way Castillo is knocked out by a "shock" that doesn't move him much  - rather than a pushing force (ie. a technique that looks relatively "weak" was used, yet produced a determinative result).

And I like the way he pulls back his other hand to his hip at the moment of the strike.  But no one chambers at the hip, do they...?

Lastly, I love the way Paul Felder used a classic ashibo kake uke to deflect the roundhouse kick.  So many great examples of traditional karate in one short clip.

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

One million pageviews!

I am happy to announce that as of yesterday, this blog had officially passed the 1 million pageviews mark!

My sincere thanks to all my readers for helping me achieve this milestone.  When I first started blogging I never dreamt that I would garner more than the occasional read of my lengthy, technical and detailed essays - especially on an internet where soundbites rule.  I've always worked on the basis that I would write what I wanted to write.  I'm heartened to find that being true to oneself doesn't always mean being not having your voice heard.

So here's to the next million - and happy new year!

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A year of activity - and controversy...

A lazy year?

My regular readers will note that it hasn't exactly been a standard year for this blog.

I started off with two fairly meaty (I think anyway) articles in January relating to the karate maxim "karate ni sente nashi" ("there is no first strike in karate") and a fairly big post on traditional techniques in MMA in February.

But from that time until August I wrote almost nothing here - just a few "micro blogs".

Even my January and February posts hardly reflected my usual average of 4 or so large (at least 3,000 or so words) articles per month (something I've maintained since I started blogging in 2008).

So what happened?  A very busy year, is the answer:

Writing a novel in 3 months

Somewhat surprisingly (for me and others) I used the period of 24 December 2013 to 26 March 2014 to write a novel - The Mirror Image of Sound.  This was published in instalments in "real time" (on a blog dedicated to this project).

[Those who want a synopsis can read it here - it's ostensibly my "diary" for this period (of course, it isn't).]

Needless to say, I finished this exercise as planned, which I consider to be quite an achievement: 450,000 words (about 500 pages) in almost exactly 3 months.

While online readership of my fiction didn't exactly approach the levels I typically get with this blog, it did rise from virtually zero in the first weeks to hundreds by the end of the first month, to a thousand or so by the end of the second to around 17,000 readers by the end of the third.

I say that's quite good for someone who has no exposure as a writer of fiction!

The novel has since been published in print and in a Kindle version.  You can buy a copy from Amazon if you're interested (there is a little bit of martial arts in there - although my alter ego mostly gets beaten up!).

Anyway, if you bear in mind that I work a 10 hour day in my "day job", and that this was written principally between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am each night, you will get some idea why I wasn't blogging here quite so much...

So that took me up to the end of March.

Creating comprehensive web resources

The next 4 months were largely devoted to a gargantuan project of developing two new websites for our martial arts school - The Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts in Perth, Western Australia.

Basically I created two new websites - a public one: and a students' only resource website (the latter comprises 169 separate pages with about 400 embedded videos).

The flash video below goes through the websites and gives some idea of what they contain.  (Please note that the video might take a while to load.)

August catch-up

I returned to this blog with a burst of activity in August - 8 blog posts including some big ones, eg: "Why traditional martial arts punch to the chest" and "Avoiding the clinch: more on civilian defence grappling".

In September I was also privileged to be one of the instructors at the annual IAOMAS conference, which was heaps of fun and, for me as a student participant, informative.

Europe trip

From late September to the end of October I was quiet on the blogging front (although I did find time to participate in the ALS ice bucket challenge and write a surprisingly controversial article about it).

There was a good reason for the lull in these months: I was in Europe, taking my family on a well-earned holiday.

When I returned in late October I had just enough time to write a (fairly popular) piece on a potential Chinese ancestor to tensho kata.

In that month I also published a number of "micro" posts; posts that were commenced earlier this year but never really completed or expanded.

As a result you'll see a number of short posts in the months of March through to July.  These typically comprise a video shot during the relevant month (I was still training and teaching throughout these periods) and little else.

Because the posts cover a variety of important topics, I hope to revisit them more fully in the future (eg. my discussion about the "C" back in the internal arts).

Countdown to the end of the year

From November onwards I knuckled down to "make up" for the relative lack of activity earlier in the year.  I can honestly say I've been burning the candle at both ends (not unlike my writing of The Mirror Image of Sound).

In this time I canvassed a number of important topics, in particular I tried to:
Somehow I also managed to write a surprising amount about Ed Parker's kenpo: see "What did Ed Parker study?", "Why good basics matter", "Cross stepping: power and pitfall" (which wasn't originally going to refer to Parker at all) and "Parker's hand postures".

The cost of reckless writing

In doing all of the above I seem to have succeeded in putting a lot of people off side; I've had a record number of complaints and some quite angry feedback - from irritated karateka who feel I'm trying to "improve" their art, scathing internal artists who felt I was unqualified to speak on their subject, disaffected ninjas who disliked my take on a particular godan test, and offended American kenpoists who took me to task for my criticism of Ed Parker.

I thank you all for your feedback as it all makes for a better blog.  In particular I want to thank those who have supported me despite my missteps.

In respect of the latter, the most difficult (and important) realisation for me lately has been the cost of writing in my usual "stream of consciousness" style.  I know I've been a little too reckless in what I've been posting.  This has resulted in me offending a few people unfairly and needlessly.  This has included a few good friends.

I acknowledge that I shouldn't have done this.  All I can usefully say (other than offer a sincere apology) is that I have learned from this experience.  Disagreement is one thing.  Rudeness and callousness is another.  The latter are not really excusable.

Some positives

Despite my sense of regret surrounding some of my martial writing, I do note that it has been a year of at least some sort of achievement.

For a start, I've written around 150,000 words on this blog in just this year.

Obviously a high word count alone isn't really indicative of anything, but I hope some of this has been informative to others.  I certainly wrote it with that aspiration.  I am heartened to have heard from at least a few people who say that it has been of use to them (and to have received a few donations - thank you).

In June I was very humbled to receive a "Golden Shuto" award from Official Karate Magazine for "Outstanding scholarship online" (thanks again to Dragan Malesic and Colin Wee).

I also note that this blog has hit a record number of page views, running just short of the 1 million mark, a record monthly total of just under 40,000 pageviews and a record daily total of 2922 page views (on the night I published "The 7 signs of a martial personality cult").  I was hoping to reach that 1 million pageview goal by December 31st but I can see now it will elude me.  No matter - next year is another year. ;)

So forgive me if I take a break for a while.  I might not do any writing at all for a month or maybe two.  (I think I should really take a break!)  But as always, I'll be back.  I can't seem to help myself.

May you all have a safe, healthy, happy and fulfilling new year!

Yours in budo,


Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Parker's hand postures

Before I leave the subject of Ed Parker behind completely, I'm going to delve into something I touched on very briefly in my last article - his hand postures.  I'm doing so because the issue was raised recently on the Kenpotalk forum.

A friend of mine, MarkC, posted that he felt the postures were "fake".  Another replied to him as follows:
"So tell me again why posing with the extended fingers is some kind of fake. In fact tell that to Ed Parker and his followers. This is the form of the Crane and there is a specific application for it."
So I replied with the more or less what follows below:

There are two types of "postures" seen in photos of quan fa practitioners:
  • poses of strikes; and 
  • poses of "guard positions".
The poses of "strikes" are usually what quan fa people adopt for photos. Here's me posing with others at a temple during training in Taiwan:

The strike is used in action in the tiger crane form (which is related to the one used in modern kenpo). In this case we're using tiger claw - not as a "guard" but as a strike.

Here is a picture of how blurred it is in actual movement when you don't freeze for a pose:

It's at about 0:30 in this video:

By contrast, it seems to me that many kenpo hand poses are usually not indicative of a move from a form, but rather a "ready" or "guard" posture (what is known in karate as a "kamae").

These hand configurations seem to use (very loosely) the sorts of striking forms found in Parker's book "Secrets of Chinese Karate". The one above looks like "eagle claw" (although it is rather too loose and floppy in the fingers to be a "strike").

The "Secrets of Chinese Karate" hand configurations are indeed authentic but they are never, ever used in "guard" or "ready" postures, as far as I know. They are only seen at the moment of a strike.

Yes, I know, Bruce Lee did some strange hand movements too.  This was his brand of nonsense.
I'm pretty sure that it was mostly for cinema; if you watch Lee sparring or demonstrating something seriously, he didn't seem to use any of these.  In other words, they seem to have been poses purely for the camera.

Regardless, just because Bruce Lee did something doesn't make it necessarily practical or meaningful in a martial sense - particularly if he did it in his movies.

I think it's also fair to say that Lee one of a kind - he could get away with his eccentricities, given his athleticism, skill, speed and popularity.  Everyone else using funny hand "guard" positions (including his legions of imitators) just looks plain silly.

Most importantly, as MarkC pointed out, everyone (whether Bruce Lee or not) who uses such hand postures risks the very real problem of having his/her fingers badly jammed and bent/dislocated/fractured/broken.

Having had damage to my fingers many, many times (and bearing permanent signs of this - including bones that jut out at odd angles, fingers that won't come together, etc.), I've learned the main reason to keep your hands in fists when in a "guard": to protect your hands.

There's a reason boxers, MMA, Muay Thai, karate, etc. all use fists in guards.  It's not necessarily because you want to use them for punching.

Jammed fingers can end a fight very quickly as your hands become useless when one or two fingers have been bent back 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Over the decades I've had to visit Accident and Emergency at least a dozen times with fingers like the x-ray below. I've since learned to keep my hands in fists when fighting. That's kept me out of the A&E for 10 years or so and I wish to keep it this way.

So basically, my summation is that anyone thinking they can get away with a "guard" using a loose-fingered "guard" is really affecting a "quanfa look" rather than a real fighting posture. 

It's an affectation and it's positively dangerous - to you.

Real quanfa "poses" look something more like Shaolin kempo practitioner Steve Demasco in the image on the left. 

I don't know what technique Steve is doing, but it looks like a strike or pull/claw etc. He's certainly not "guarding", but is instead executing something - a technique - using his fingers. Note the relative tension in the "claw" fingers.

So yes, this is a pose and uses a "funny hand shape". But it isn't an "guard" or "ready" posture. It is a snapshot of a movement in a form.

By contrast, the standard Parker/Parker-inspired hand postures look "fake" because they look like "imitation quanfa" rather than the kenpo Parker actually used.

Now please note: I'm not saying that Parker's art was "fake" - merely that these hand postures don't do it justice; they look out of place in his art.  The hand postures don't look like they "fit".

They look "fake" in much the same way as early Hollywood impressions of "karate" did when they used strange "hand chop" postures that no one in karate had ever seen.

Consider the picture of Clouseau fighting Kato on the right. 

No one in karate fights, or has ever fought, like this - just as no one in quan fa (or kenpo) actually uses the strange hand postures Parker and Lee made famous (at least, not when facing a resistant partner).

I suspect that these hand postures were retained long after the art of kenpo had substantially evolved from its early 60s incarnations.  They were kept for the reasons Lee kept his own "fake" hand postures: because they "looked the part".  Now they look plain dated and silly (on both Parker and Lee!).

Despite the above observations and my previous ones, I want to make something clear about Ed Parker: I believe he truly did contribute something important to the martial arts.  In many respects he was well ahead of his time.

Parker, along with Bruce Lee, was one of the principal martial arts teachers to break the mould of "single counter" responses that were so common in the first decades of Oriental martial incursion into the West.  This emphasis on "single counters" was certainly a result of the rather literal interpretation of the "ikken hitssatsu" (killing with one blow) philosophy employed in the most popular schools of Japanese karate at the time - and their somewhat basic manifestation (in the West particularly).

So to me, kenpo's strengths lie in its amazing combinations and "technique conversions".  Consider the demonstration below - still impressive today.

An impressive demonstration of Ed Parker's contribution

I credit Parker because I don't think these types of combinations came from his teachers (Mitose and Chow). Rather, the whole "combination approach" of kenpo seems to have been Parker's innovation (if not entirely, then mostly).  Others have since built on his work.

Apart from his kenpo legacy, I'm fairly certain that Parker also indirectly influenced many karateka and gongfu practitioners to go back to their roots - to discover applications that involve such combinations and not just the old stilted "single technique responses".

The idiosyncrasies that "tagged along" with Parker's art - like his hand positions and his "cover outs" - don't detract from his overall contribution.  They should, however, not be preserved uncritically as part of his "lore".

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cross-stepping: power and pitfall


Like any transition in martial arts, the cross step ("kosa dachi" in Japanese) has its uses - sometimes very powerful ones.

It also comes with significant, inherent weaknesses.

On the latter subject, let me quote from the fantastic MMA writer Jack Slack in his recent article concerning Machida's "triangle kick" knockout of CB Dollaway:

In karate there is the idea of kyo, something I was writing about at length this week, but actually abandoned in order to publish my Karate's Holy TrinityKyo is a moment of weakness in an opponent. When he is recovering from an attack, when he hesitates between techniques or mid combination, when he is breathing in or recovering his guard. 

A cross step (kosa dachi) is such a kyo.  Let me explain why.

Weakness #1: extra time and telegraphing

First, it is important to understand that the cross step is really a species of "tsugi ashi" - where one leg skips up to the other (or crosses over it) then the other leg extends forward to re-widen the stance again.

The cross step is really just a longer, deeper tsugi ashi (what I think kenpo call a "drag step").

The tsugi ashi is problematic because the skip of the leg up to, or crossing, the other takes place in "dead time" (the "drag") - during which you are not really advancing on your opponent, but rather setting up for a bigger leap.  The first part doesn't really do much on terms of applying your momentum towards your target; instead it merely allows for a very large (and usually momentous) second step.

Which should tell you that the tsugi ashi (including the cross step) has another problem: it telegraphs.

In this regard, tsugi ashi is the polar opposite of the "drop step" as used in most martial arts, especially xingyi.  The drop step is where you extend the front leg first and the back leg second (when moving forwards) or vice versa (when moving backwards).

It is known in karate as either suri ashi or yori ashi (depending on whether or not the second leg continues to overtake after the initial "drop" step with the lead foot).

Weakness #2: vulnerability

Apart from the extra time/telegraphing issue, there is another problem with the tsugi ashi / cross step: instability.  During the whole of the "dead time" your feet are either together or they are crossed over.

In both cases you are in a kyo - a position of weakess - particularly as regards balance.  You can be swept off your feet, charged or simply punched - and there is precious little you can do about it during that moment of "dead time" when you are "flat footed" (I don't mean this literally but rather that you are relatively immobile compared to when you are not in "dead time").

In fact the cross step is seen as such a vulnerable position in boxing that it is often regarded as a sign of gait disturbance" - ie. significant brain injury leading to instability / lack of bodily control and warranting the stoppage of the fight.

Consider the recent tragic of the death of amateur debutante Dennis Munson Jr - and the criticism of the referee, doctor and corner men for failing to stop the fight once they noticed tell-tale signs of gait disturbance - which included leg crossing.

In the video below you'll note a commentator saying the following:
"It was the first indication of a deteriorating fighter. As the second round progresses the change in Munson becomes more apparent. His feet cross, putting him in a vulnerable position." 
I counted at least a dozen obvious leg crosses.  And, contrary to what some people allege, boxers don't "cross" legs as they circle, nor do MMA fighters; rather they employ a skipping motion with both legs (exaggerated by fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali and now employed by every single "faux boxer" on the planet).

[Addendum: I must make it clear that I'm not trying to correlate voluntary cross stepping and head trauma - I am merely noting that the use of cross steps is regarded as so risky in boxing/MMA that its appearance might be assumed to be involuntary (ie. due to diminishing body control). In other words, I am highlighting its relative danger only - not trying to suggest that doing a cross-step is always akin to brain damage! You'll note that I use a cross-step in my video and in the bagua still frame series below - so clearly I don't subscribe to the idea that they are "immutably weak" - just that they require care in execution and should not be a "default" step.]

The power of the cross step

So why would you use a cross-step?  Because it has very legitimate uses.

One is as an offensive movement to create twisting/torsional force in close quarters.  I illustrate this in the video below:

In karate, the naihanchi kata series make extensive use of precisely these sorts of tactics.

But great care must be taken in using these torsional methods; they must be executed offensively, entering into the opponent's guard (mostly for civilian defence grappling).  To avoid the pitfalls of timing, telegraphing and instability, they must be executed when the opponent is in the midst of his/her own kyo - ie. moment of vulnerability - and not otherwise.

A second use of the cross step is to move across a great distance - and generate a lot of momentum from this movement.

A prime example is when one is executing a side thrust kick.

Bruce Lee did this spectacularly in his commercial movies and home films.  You can see just how much extra ground - and hence extra momentum - Lee can garner by using the tsugi ashi "skip up" to get the kick.

This use of the the cross step / tsugi ashi must also be executed with great care - that's probably why you don't see it all that often.

You'll note that with the recent Louis Smolka kick, you don't necessarily need to cross your legs; a simple tsugi ashi will do.  But the timing has to be just right.  The extra time, telegraphing, and instability during the skip up are all very pressing reasons not to go out and try this in your next MMA fight.  Not without understanding exactly when you can do so safely and effectively.

The other thing to note from the above gif is that any sort of side kick can also necessitate a reverse tsugi ashi or cross step to recover balance, especially when the kick is high.  This is one of the pitfalls of high side kicking that has caused this skill to fade in the MMA era, where broader rules (such as allowing low leg kicks) make such tactics highly risky while in the kickboxing era they were de rigueur.

The third use of the cross step is found in arts like bagua - where it is employed (somewhat counter-intuitively) to move quickly to the outside against an attack.

Note: it must be to the outside.  It must also be quickly reset to a normal position, because you don't want to hang around facing your opponent in a cross-legged position.  That "stance" is a transitional movement held for only the briefest of moments.

I demonstrate this concept in the adjacent images against a deeply committed lunge punch - but it can be used against a cross or hook or uppercut etc.  It just depends on the context.

Note that in the application shown in the adjacent images you must move your front leg across to generate instant momentum transfer (a drop step).

(In this case I move to my left to evade the punch, using my right leg.)

After that, you must quickly bring your back leg through (ie. in the manner of a bagua step) so as to remove the "crossed" element and reorient yourself relative to your opponent.

In this application, I demonstrate an elbow break using a momentary friction hold but there are many different options available with this stepping evasion; I'm simply using a rather literal interpretation of the first palm change.

It is important to note that I would never use this application on the inside: that would invite disaster!  I'd be walking straight into his follow up punch - and doing so in the most unstable position there is.

So if my front leg couldn't step across to the outside, I would have do something else (bagua has other alternatives, as do other fighting methods).

The Ed Parker "cover out": a critical analysis

I know I'm not popular with kenpoists for recently taking on their senior grandmaster, Ed Parker.  And I really didn't want to go back to criticism of him; I think he made some important contributions to the martial arts and I wanted to leave it on a more positive note after my last concessions towards him.

But one element of his (in my view flawed) '60s fighting method that Parker doggedly retained up to the end (and which is kept by many kenpo lineages - although by no means all) is what is called the "cover out" - a retreating cross step employed after you've managed to dispense a string of brutal counters to your opponent.

The video below shows a number of "cover outs" by both Parker and his students (note also the opening image which is taken from the video):

You can already tell that I don't like this technique.  The reason is simple: it contravenes every single principle of appropriately using the cross step.

First, it is being used defensively - to retreat.  That is the time of your biggest kyo: your moment of greatest vulnerability.

I've lost track of the number of times I've been swept when stepping backwards in the face of a particularly fierce onslaught; my opponent has waited until I started to step and caught my feet at the mid-point - the "dead time".

Take a look at the talented Andre Bertel in this video and you'll get some idea of what I mean:

I'm afraid this is exactly what the kenpoist is inviting with the "cover out" (at least, one that uses a cross over retreat): they are attracting a devastating unbalancing attack.

In my view, any retreat would preferably employ a previously-mentioned suri ashi - in reverse.  In other words, you would engage your back foot first (to get instant momentum away from the target) then follow it up with the other leg stepping back past the first leg.

That's if you're serious about "putting distance" between yourself and your opponent (what I understand to be at least one purported justification of the "cover out").

And presumably, you would do this because your opponent might not really be "finished off" as you had hoped with your string of brutal counters - so you're retreating out of an abundance of caution.

Or perhaps you're doing so because he might have accomplices (which raises the question of whether you're backing into these accomplices!).

On the latter point, I've heard it said that the "cover out" with a cross step "allows you to see a wider field".  But I don't see how a cross step can do that - at least, any better than a normal step.

Alternatively, if your string of counters has obviously been so successful that your opponent is "down and out", and you're confident that he/she has no accomplices, why would you bother stepping back with more than a simple, normal step?  Why step back at all?

In respect of the latter, it concerns me that many kenpoists demonstrate this "cover out" after one technique that might not be all that "determinative".

In the adjacent pictures, the practitioner does the "cover out" after a snap kick to the abdomen - which fighters routinely absorb.

I wouldn't be stepping back into a cross-legged stance after such a kick even if I were Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida; to do so would invite catastrophe should the kick miss or be absorbed, or should opponent recover quickly and pursue.

Certainly grooving such an automatic "unstable retreat" after a technique like a snap kick is, I think, a bad idea.

(I don't want to appear to be particularly critical of the practitioner shown - it is taken from a video I saw on a forum and is fairly typical of the method used by many kenpoists.)

So I see this kenpo "cover out" as almost certainly a hangover from Ed Parker's rather strange '60s era fighting method.

In this respect the "cover out" is not unlike Parker's strangely gnarled "hand postures".  I'm not sure what these are - they look like the various finger and hand strikes shown in "Secrets of Chinese Karate" but under Parker they seem to have morphed into "kamae" - ready postures or "guards", albeit ones that dangerously present the fingers for jamming and wedging, especially in the face of fast and hard attacks.

It seems to me that these sorts of "techniques" are more about what people used to think karate/jujutsu/gongfu look like than actual fighting methods.

Accordingly I think the cover out (and the hand positions) should have gone the way of the judo/karate chop and other seemingly "Oriental" affectations that plagued early Western exposure to Eastern martial arts.


The human body only moves in so many ways. Fighting tactics don't change much as between cultures as a result.

There are a few constants common to all fight schools, eg: "turning your back to your opponent is a bad idea".

Crossing your legs is one of these.

But just as "the rule against turning your back" doesn't prevent you from doing the odd, judicious, spinning kick/backfist/elbow etc., so too is there a time and a place for crossing your legs.

I think doing so in retreat is hardly ever going to provide such a time or place.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic