Application Drives Technique

You have to know what you are doing. I mean that in more than one way. The problem with standardization is that it dummies the practitioner down, and in the process one loses the little gems of karate that really define it. I had a student whom after visiting an instructor elsewhere, thought we were doing the two back to back techniques after ude uke in bassai dai, incorrectly. He saw someone else doing it a particular way and without questioning or reflecting, he simply made up his mind, that that one way, was the only correct way. I don’t blame him. That particular instructor had probably never reflected, and simply copied his instructor…and hence we get the sorry state of affairs that is karate today. I had to explain to the student that many schools, in fact most, consider the technique after the rather grand ude uke, to be uraken uchi and as such their fist rests below the elbow in that technique, while our school considers the move as “uchi uke”. In other words, the ude uke catches a kick, and the following “uchi uke” throws the leg away, therefore we do not leave our fist below the elbow.

So you can see how application drives technique, yet many find this concept heretical to their dogmatic upbringing. And yet it is there in the most basic of stances and blocks. We have the standard front stance…and oh God forbid…we have a narrow front stance, or a stance that breaks posture as in the yama zuki in bassai dai! Or we can pick from at least half a dozen ways of doing rising block or front kick, each suited for a particular defense, and yet we turn a blind eye to its very existence in kata. I’m not saying standardization is bad. No. It is necessary. It provides a base and foundation that is of existential importance to karate; however, one must not blindly follow and have a soul less, robotic, one size fits all, let me not strain my intellect too much, karate either. And in fact, standardization can be detrimental in some cases. Take for example the last move of hangetsu kata. One has a tai sabaki followed by a pushing block (not a striking block) in cat stance. If the application of the move is to push something down, for example the back of the head, or gouging the eyes of someone shooting for you, then the standard, erect back, cat stance is a terrible idea. The better technique for that application would be to lean the upper body forward to apply weight and pressure…and I hate to make it clear like this because it furthers the standardization argument by creating yet another one…but for the sake of visualization, let me say… a Kanazawaesque cat stance.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that karate, like life, is not a one size fits all so I can cruise on automatic pilot and get by with minimum effort. To get to the gems of life, one must reflect and consider all the alternatives, and then apply the best technique to one’s perception of the challenges at hand…know what you’re doing, and why. Sometimes we’ll get it right, and sometimes we won’t, but at least we’ll own it.

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