Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sanseiru kata and its variations: Part 2

[Note that this is a continuation of Part 1 of this article.]

One of the chief differences that has been pointed out to me about the way I was taught to do sanseiru and most other dojo is that in the second shiko dachi a jodan uke / age uke is used instead of the sokumen awase uke.

In this variation (as demonstrated by Teruo Chinen and perhaps the most common and regarded as the standard) the feet in the shiko are angled 90 degrees but the body is turned 45 degrees. The kata performer then effects a jodan/age uke (not an inside sokumen awase uke as I had always assumed - it looks like it could be one).

The problem I have with this is set out below:

The bunkai doesn't seem to me to have the feet at 90 degrees, and for good reason: the angle of your forearm would simply be insufficient to create a deflection. See this video for an example:

You'll note at at about point 1.33 that the angle of the defender's feet is about 45 degrees and the body is then further turned so that it actually faces the attacker. This makes the block effective. If the angle were less, the deflection would have an insufficient "angle of attack": potentially the block would slope towards you and not away.

On the other hand, you will also notice that the bunkai -

(a) is very little like the kata at this point and is at odds with the fundamental tenshin/taisabaki in the kata move (which is to go in towards your opponent at 90 degrees); and

(b) puts you in a very precarious position (take a look at point 1.33 and see how the defender is flying straight into the attacker's fist - yikes!).

[I should point out that this is not intended as a criticism of the martial artists' ability in this video. As a rule, I only post videos of martial artists who I consider to be good. Disagreeing with a technical point is different from disregarding their ability or knowledge generally. In this case I think the applications shown in the video are of a very high standard.]

By contrast, take a look at this picture of a person who I presume is Chojun Miyagi performing (what I think) is a much more appropriate bunkai of the move (courtesy of http://www.gojuryu.net/):


Miyagi might have just moved in to do a hiji ate with his right hand after blocking the attacker's punch with his left using a gykau te / haishu osae uke (far more consistent with the move in the kata than a groin grab, IMHO). On the other hand if he needed to he might use the right "hiji ate" as an outside sokumen awase uke then apply the hiji ate. In any event, he is shielded from further attack on his right side by his right arm which, if a left punch is thrown by the attacker, can be deflected using the kata's next move - a hike/kake uke together with the footsweep, double punch etc.

I can see now why some schools turn to face the opponent head-on when they do the jodan/age uke. I think it is an attempt to make workable a bunkai that is, at best, an oyo. See for example the version below at point 1.27:

I have been asked whether any of our goju is Chinese influenced - in this regard I think my version of this move in the kata probably is (I am slowly starting to realise just how much CMA have influenced my teacher's art and now mine - more on this later).

To my mind the hiji ate / sokumen awase uke application of this move is inherent in the kata at this point regardless of my influences...

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Seisan - the Universal Kata?

It is known that a version of Seisan was taught in Naha by Seisho Aragaki as early as 1867. Moreover the Shuri and Tomari te styles of karate (the “Shorin” schools) appear to have taught a version of Seisan even before this.

Seisan is presently taught in all Goju-ryu schools, in Ryuei-Ryu, in Tou’on-ryu and Uechi-ryu (the "Naha te" schools). Although the Uechi-ryu version is significantly different from the other Naha te schools in the second half, the first half is clearly identifiable as being from the same source. As with Sanchin, Seisan is said to have been performed originally with open hands (which is still the case in the Uechi-ryu kata).

Seisan is also still common to all systems of Shorin schools, truly warranting its status as "the universal kata". At first glance the Shorin versions of Seisan appear to be completely different to those of the Naha te schools, however a closer analysis reveals that they too are related, albeit distantly.

Goju seisan - as performed by me in 1993

Traditionally it has been said that the Goju-ryu version of Seisan contains the beginning and the end of the "ancestral form", while the Shorin contains the middle. In this regard it is interesting to note that the Uechi-ryu version (which begins in a manner similar to the Goju form) features in its "middle" techniques and an embusen similar to those of the Shorin version. Compare the goju version with the ryuei ryu version:

Ryuei Ryu version performed by Sakamoto Sensei

Shorin seisan as performed by Howard Moring

See also Kyan style seisan here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR-msF9LpJM. Note carefully the "stomping" technique before the turn, highly reminiscent of tou'on ryu's version of the kata.

All of this poses the interesting question of whether the Uechi version is perhaps closer in some respects to the "original" Fujian version than any other Okinawan kata, or whether it reflects a "combination" of both forms by Kanbun Uechi.

Uechi seisan as performed by Kanei Uechi

The video below illustrates a technique from uechi ryu known as "ryuken". It is a technique that features in the uechi ryu seisan, but is also an application of the naha te versions. Consider the movement in the gif below and the video of ryuken as an application:

A technique that can be applied as ryuken in goju seisan (it corresponds to the same place where uechi ryu perform ryuken)

Ryuken in seisan kata

The closest present day "relative" of Seisan on the Chinese mainland would appear to be Yong Chun's "Shr san tai bau" form (which translates as "13 treasures" ). Some have argued that this kata might be the "ancestral" form of all the Okinawan Seisans, however a more likely scenario is that it is a "cousin" form - ie. it shares a common ancestry with the Okinawan versions. Again, the Uechi version would appear to be its closest Okinawan counterpart.

My friend Martin Watts performs san shr tai bau - note his sanzhan stance (to download the form see http://www.fujianbaihe.com/fujianbaihe/main.html).

Seisan is most notable for its use, in some schools, of a stance known as "Seisan dachi" in place of sanchin. Seisan In some karate schools seisan dachi resembles the Yong Chun san zhan stance. In others (eg. IOGKF/Jundokan) it takes the form similar to Xingyi's "san ti" posture.

Seisan dachi in Shorin karate (middle person) cf. Yong Chun's sanzhan - image from www.ikkf.org/

Chen Pan-Ling demonstrates san ti shi posture from xingyiquan - picture from www.yizongbagua.com/ cf. goju's sesan dachi

The potential link to Xingyi is not to be lightly dismissed as many of the moves (in particular the double block advancing forward after the first turn) are highly reminiscent of Xingyi's "pi quan" in feel and application.

(The IOGKF seisan dachi as performed by Higaonna Morio - note the similarity to the stance in xingyi's san ti posture above.)

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Shao tran / Nikkyo in Seiyunchin kata

Seiyunchin is a kata that contains many locks and holds within its bunkai.  This is hardly surprising when one considers the meaning of its kanji: to control and pull in battle.

For me the "king" of all qin-na wristlocks is the one I know as "shao tran" (or more accurately, "xiao chan" meaning "small wrap") - also known as the "z-bar" and (in aikido) as "nikkyo/nikyo" (although I avoid using the latter since the wristlock is only a small part of the particular series of techniques described by that name and which translates as "second lesson").

Seiyunchin covers many variations of shao tran in its applications.  I was recently asked to describe these, so I prepared the following short video in response:

When practising shao tran you should take care not to use brute force: shao tran is a technique that requires very little pressure.

The late ju-jutsu master Jan de Jong used to tell me that the weight of one finger was all it took to produce excruciating pain - and he would then proceed to demonstrate this most ably. I have never in my life experienced such pain. While I was pain, furiously tapping my thigh, he would say, in polite terms: "So you see sir, it takes very little effort" (he called everyone "sir" despite being arguably one of the greatest living masters of jujutsu at that time).

Twenty something years later I've got a fairly good feel for shao tran, but still nothing like Master de Jong had with his 60+ years of experience.

The golden rule is, if you have to push hard, you're not doing it right.

When you get it right (ie. just the right angle of the z-twist, just the right angle of pressure) your opponent should collapse like a sack of wheat, tapping his/her thigh furiously. It's very satisfying.

In the end, it's all in the angles. And every opponent's angles are subtly different due to his or her unique physiology. 

I always say to beginners that one day they'll be able to "feel" the subtle differences in a new opponent when they apply the lock on him or her, a bit like an experienced safe-cracker.

For the time being, if you're not getting an easy response from your partner, back off or you risk damaging his wrist joint by using brute force. Just keep practising...

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Sanseiru kata and its variations: Part 1

Sanseiru/sanseru is an interesting kata in historical terms. Not only is it practised by all goju-ryu schools and tou'on-ryu, but also by uechi-ryu. Yet it is a kata that has arguably the greatest variation from school to school.

The uechi-ryu version appears completely unrelated to the goju/tou'on versions.

The tou'on-ryu version is very different from its goju cousin at the beginning (no mae geris) and does not end with the double ko uke. There is also no kansetsu geri, but rather a stomping ball of the foot to the hip joint.

Some suggest that this is because Chojun Miyagi learned the kata off someone other than Kanryo Higaonna - he was away doing military service when Juhatsu Kyoda and others learned it.

Seiko Higa's version is subtly different, although I'm not sure exactly how - more on that later.

I know that our version (brought back from Okinawa in the 60s) looks a little different from most goju kaiha in 2 respects:

1. The "mae/rising empi" performed in the IOGKF etc. we do as a forearm wedging block - ie. the elbow doesn't rise as an uppercut, nor is it a forward elbow thrust, but is instead a forward thrusting deflection, with the forearm vertical. We also apply it as a "sokumen awase uke" (hand sweeping past face block) - see below.

2. The move done just before the sideways elbow strike in shiko (in turn, just before the sweep and chudan morote zuki) we do as an outside sokumen awase uke, rather than a simple age/jodan uke or an inside sokumen awase uke (although we practice both in bunkai).

Here is a video of one of my sempai, Sensei Dave Goodwin in 1985 performing the kata as I was taught it:

Here's me a year or 2 later (not a complete performance):

In relation to the "empi/hiji ate", An'ichi Miyagi's version is quite similar to ours, except he seems to be using it as outside sokumen awase uke rather than a mae empi uchi:

I don't see point in throwing a high mae empi uchi. The only possible targets of a mae empi are:
* the solar plexus;
* the xiyphoid process (slightly higher);
* mid-breastbone (the middle of the line drawn between the nipples - a nasty nerve point);
* nerve points on the pectoral/under the arm (slightly higher again);
* the jaw (a rather weak and foolish uppercut, IMHO).

Once an empi passes the mid-line of your body its power reduces exponentially to almost zero at head height. Furthermore, as a high strike the technique exposes your midriff quite dangerously.

Rather, if you're going to raise your elbow it would be slightly to the side to effect a sokumen awase uke to the outside - sweeping the attackers punch past your head and protecting your face/ear.

You'll notice that the finishing position of the outside sokumen awase uke is used by MMA practitioners (where they put the hand or fist on their ear) - however they do not apply the move as an intercepting deflection, but rather just as a shield (which I feel is a lesser application of the movement).

In relation to sokumen awase uke in sanseiru, take a look at this short video I filmed last night:

I am told, but I have not had it verified, that our version of sanseru is, in this respect, the same as Seiko Higa's early version of the kata and was brought back from Okinawa/Japan by our instructors in the 60s (possibly via Ichikawa who was a student of Kanki Izumigawa who in turn was a student of Seiko Higa). Potentially we show our link to the Ichikawa lineage by the fact that we still use his fist in our logo.

That said, our style is predominantly IOGKF-based given our instructors learned from, and were affiliated to, Higaonna Morio Sensei in the Yoyogi days. I'd love to know more, but I am fearful of offending anyone by asking questions that traverse into the political minefield of ended associations.

For the time being, I am quite happy from a technical perspective to practice sanseru the way I was shown it so many years ago - after all, I've trained with IOGKF, Jundokan and Graham Ravey's TOGKF and known their versions for 23 or so years. I can easily do both, but I make a (hopefully) informed choice to make my standard version "different" from what seems to be the "norm" nowadays. But I certainly practice the bunkai for both.

As noted in the above video, I think the inside sokumen awase uke is really suitable only to the outside of an opponent: on the inside it leaves you quite vulnerable and creates a blind spot.

On the whole the inside sokumen awase uke is, in my view, a less useful technique, hence I am quite happy for it to be a lesser bunkai and for the kata to reflect the outside sokumen awase uke.

I have some views as to the use of the jodan uke in the shiko technique (just before the double punch), but I'll deal with that separately...

Next: Part 2.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Randori - the function of "soft" sparring in martial arts training

Have you ever noticed how dogs prepare for fighting?  They play fight - working at about 1/2 to 3/4 speed by mutual consent (neither dog moves to full speed at any point, even though they could "cheat").  They "pull their punches" - their bites are not the kind that injure, even if the experience is quite "rough and tumble".  And they flow continuously - they don't dart in and out.

Despite the fact that dogs never practice "hard and fast" I bet you have no doubt that dogs can fight very well indeed thanks to this "practice".  Just because they "mouth" your hand without breaking your skin, you shoudn't doubt that they can do some serious damage faster than you can blink.  If you've ever been attacked by a dog (and I have on 2 occasions) you'll know what I mean.

I believe that it is for this reason that continuously flowing sparring with light contact is not only useful, but essential in martial training.  In our Academy, and in many goju kaiha, this type of sparring is called "randori" - a term taken from judo.

Randori allows you to experiment and put yourself in positions where you can learn.  Depending on your favorite, tried and trusted techniques doesn't give you a chance to grow, no matter what discipline you practice.

Put another way, if you are always fearful or conservative, how can you do anything other than repeat your past successful movements?  If you try something new it could mean a broken tooth, jaw, elbow, finger in they eye, etc.

In our Academy we have always believed in randori as an essential aid to training.  It is not "real fighting" - it isn't intended to be.  It occupies the same role as play dogfights - a chance to learn without injury.  To learn about your strengths and weaknesses and develop new skills in a controlled environment.

Here is a video I compiled today of footage taken in previous years of our "randori" sparring:

The other crucial aspect to randori is that it insists that the sparring take place entirely within what I have called the "melee" range...

Next: The anatomy of randori

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic