When a new student begins training in Bushinkai Karate, the first skills they typically learn are basic Shoto Ryu Karate (punches, kicks, blocks, stances), to be precise we always start basics with Gedan Barai (lower parry) and we almost always practice Oi Tzuki (lunge punch/stepping punch) as the first strike.
Certain principles are drip-fed to students from the very beginning, such as:
– Use the waist
– Two directions
– Practice slowly
– Hard on soft, soft on hard
– Kuzushi – break the opponent’s balance
As well as the basics which are practiced in a regimented Shoto Ryu line formation (the Kihon punches, kicks and blocks) beginners are also introduced to pad work. Typically padwork involves practical strikes such as roundhouse klck, front kick, elbow strike, rather than “fancy” techniques.
We then move on to throws and of course receiving throws (Ukemi). Typically the first throws we learn are:
Osoto Gari, a simple throw which takes the opponent backwards
Tai Otoshi, a simple throw which takes the opponent forwards
We next look at how Karate basics can be applied as throws and locks rather than just strikes.
Oi Tzuki applied as a throw
Gedan Barai applied as a throw
Shuto Uke applied as a throw
Uchi Ude Uke applied as a lock
Soto Ude Uke applied as a throw
Manji Gamae applied as a throw
Once the basic postures, strikes and throws have been learned we then move on to a self defence environment.
Rather than “Ippon Kumite” where we defend against stylised Karate attacks, our attacker uses a range of street techniques from punches, shoves and kicks, to bearhugs, headbutts, tackles and trips.
So how do we learn to defend against a seemingly infinite range of attacks? Well we employ the Bushinkai Method, which includes the Three Sciences. It works like this:
The Science of Violence:
– Understanding that violent attacks are habitual (refer to Hanshi Patrick McCarthy’s 36 Habitual Acts of Physical Violence) and understand the ranges in which these attacks occur. Practising defending against these attacks. Understanding that the defensive postures used in our Karate Kata and Kihon are designed to be used against attacks like these not just against ‘Karate attacks.’ Basic principles of ‘Jutsu’ defences such as moving into an attack rather than backing away.
The Science of Technique:
– Understanding and practicing the fundamental underlying principles of techniques rather than just collecting techniques. Such as relaxation, power generation through posture, developing speed and flexibility.
The Science of Learning:
– This means ensuring we learn in such a way that the skills are absorbed and not just temporarily copied. This can include through sparring and testing, through flow drills and push-hands, through repetition and through mneumonics.
The most fundamental self defence movement we learn in a two handed flinch block which moving in to the opponent.
Shihan Handyside 8th Dan visiting our Dojo
Self defence must be practiced realistically and vigorously with a minimum of fuss – just a basic finite response to a spirited attack.
Next we come to kata. These are learn at basically one form per grade, for example:
Heian Shodan for 9th Kyu Red Belt
Heian Nidan for 8th Kyu Yellow Belt
Heian Sandan for 7th Kyu Orange Belt
Let’s take a look at how we learn the first forms:
The physical performance of this form is quite basic in the sense that it utilises just a few techniques – stepping punch, hammer fist, lower parry, rising block and knife hand strike.There is of course an art to performing any kata with the correct poise, focus, speed, balance, rhythm and so on.
What Heian Shodan also offers is a series of sweeping front leg turns which take Tai Sabaki (body evasion) to another level (rather like ‘tenkan’ in Aikido).
The initial stage of learning the form concerns the most basic applications, then we start to explore movements that could be ‘hidden’ in the kata. This is called bunkai (analysis) and oyo (application).
These applications include armlocks, wrist releases, throws, locks and strikes.
The beauty of the applications in Heian Shodan is that they reveal completely new techniques not found in say Judo or Aikido. For example as we move from the third Jodan Age Uke to the turning Gedan Barai we meet a takedown that is a most unconventional throw.
A throw from kata Heian Yondan
Heian Nidan includes many of the same basics as its precurser, such as punches, knife hands, lower parries, rising blocks, and it also includes a number of other basic strikes like the spear hand and Motote Uke.
While Heian Shodan’s Tai Sabaki is quite circular and wide, moving using front leg turns into sweeping turns, Heian Nidan has a more aggressive feeling of driving forwards.
The opening move is essentially our “flinch block” and the sequence containing the Uchi Ude Ukes suggests catching a technique such as a kick and driving the opponent into the ground.
Historically Heian Shodan and Heian Nidan (previously Pinan Nidan and Pinan Shodan) may have come from a kata called Channan while I suggest is an Okinawan translation of the Chinese ‘Chang Chuan’ (long boxing) which was a method made famous in around 1500 by General Qi who was one of the earliest advocates of using kata to train technique.
We cover a range of weapons in Bushinkai, of Okinawan, Chinese and Japanese origin. The first is the Jo.
The Jo is correctly a 4.2ft oak staff but it is also possible to improvise this weapon with a simple broom handle.
In Japanese martial arts, notably the ‘Shindo Muso Ryu’ school, the Jo is used rather like a sword (held at one end) while it can also be used more like a quarterstaff and held more evenly.
Learning to use the Jo is good practice for other weapons like the sword and staff and because a broom handle is so in-expensive it is an easy and cheap way for students to become acquainted with weaponry.
The other beauty of the Jo is that it can be used to perform kata such as Heian Shodan and Heian Nidan, which gives a further aspect to these forms and another avenue of understanding for them.
Close Quarter Combatives:
Once we have looked at basic fighting movements such as the strikes, blocks, parries and throws we then look at another aspect which is close in takedowns into ground controls. For example a throw into a scarf hold, a throw into a cross arm lock, or a defence into a pin (such as an Aikido style robuse defence using Ikkyo). We also look at aspects like chokes.
Groundwork is not contrary to Karate and the same principles of balance, posture, relaxation and breathing apply. Locks and breaks use basic mechanical principles such as fulcrum and lever.
Because our Karate is street based we do not prefer to go to the ground (in a way that BJJ would for example) and so many of our ground techniques are geared towards being able to quickly and easily return to a vertical base.
When the student comes to around orange and green belt there are new skills to learn these include:
Heian Shodan which can now also be practiced with Sai
Heian Nidan which can now also be practiced with Nunchaku
Heian Sandan which can also be practiced with Nunchaku
The Sai is an Okinawan weapon usually used in pairs that resembles a dagger, but actually it has no cutting edge. Rather it is a heavy metal club with a hand guard that acts as a trident, its three spikes being used to trap and impale.
The Japanese equivalent of the Sai is the Jutte which only has a single spike. The Jutte was often used by Japanese police.
Another instrument similar in usage to the Sai is the Tanjo.
The Tanjo, commonly seen as the Filipino Escrima/Kali stick is a simple short stick. The Japanese ones tend to be heavy oak and quite short, whereas the Filipino ones are a lighter ratan.
It is also said that the Okinawans would use a folded fan (Tessen) in the way one would a Sai, Jutte or Tanjo.
Heian Shodan is tailored very well for such weapons and adds a further dimension to the kata.
Pairing the Sai against the Jo is also a good exercise in understanding both weapons.
The Nunchaku is another Okinawan weapon of unknown origin, often said to be part of a horse’s bridle or some other agricultural implement. However the Nunchaku could easily be related to the various “two section staffs” in Kung Fu.
The Nunchaku is a fairly unique weapon that is comparable only to a mace. But the Nunchaku can be used defensively and in different ways such as tying up, locking and subduing.
Heian Sandan, which students are required to perform for orange belt is a most unique kata. Its movements seem closer to Pakua Zhang than to the long boxing seen in its Heian companions.
Heian Sandan is circular and utilises, twists, turns, and spins which make for a flowing and beautiful representation of Chin Na grappling.
The circular movements and flowing arcs make this kata perfect for the Nunchaku.
We utilise various types of sparring which are as follows:
– Karate or kickboxing style sparring with various ‘games’ such as ‘kicker vs puncher’
– Judo or grappling style sparring groundwork
– Judo style standing Randori
At around green to purple belt the student begins to learnt a host of new skills. Among the first of these skills is a new manner of striking.
When we first learn Shoto Ryu basics such as Oi Tzuki, the power generation is one of ‘sinking’ into the stance. When we reach an intermediate level we now use a ‘rising’ power which allows the power to spiral (thanks Steve Rowe) up from the floor.
Instead of the Shoto stepping method we use a more direct stepping method where one foot leads (such as is used in Kendo). Some of the techniques that lend themselves to this are:
Gyaku Tate Tzuki
Giving our Karate a resemblance of Hsing-I Chuan, these techniques have a more Chinese circular look to them and power is generated through rising and driving forward.
Heian Yondan is in some ways the little brother of the advanced kata Kanku Dai (Kushanku) and like its older sibling it features relaxed open postures that ‘open the gates’ as we say in Tai Chi.
Consider the opening movements. Heian Yondan’s start is rather like Heian Nidan, but the hands are much more relaxed. Heian Yondan also introduces slow movements to kata.
Yondan has the highest proportion of open handed techniques (such as knife hand as opposed to a closed fist) of any of the Heian forms which give it a graceful elegance.
However the practicality of Yondan should not be under-estimated. This kata features elbow strikes, knee strikes and contains chokes and throws too.
It is a myth that all weapons were banned in all of Okinawa, and there certainly were bladed weapons, such as the Rochin which was a short stabbing sword rather like a Roman Gladius.
As Okinawan weapons are difficult to come by we use instead Japanese and Chinese knives.The Japanese knives are the Aikuchi (knife) and the Tanto (dagger) and even the Wakizashi (short sword).
The Chinese knife we use is the paired Butterfly swords (Dip Dao) which are used somewhat similar to the sai in that they have a hooking handguard and can be held in the reverse position.
Heian Yondan can be performed beautifully with any kind of knife weapon. It is also good to perform Heian Yondan with the Tonfa, another Okinawan weapon that is very similar to a police baton.
Heian Godan acts as an introduction to more advanced forms such as Bassai, Jutte and Kanku Sho. The form returns to the closed fist boxing technology of Heian Shodan and Nidan but exhibits some of the circular Pakua-like movements of Heian Sandan.
Heian Godan also returns us to the staff as a weapon, but rather than the four foot Jo, we tend to use the six foot Bo, where available.
The five Heian kata (in their original nucleus of Channan) are inextricably linked to the kata Kanku Dai (Kushanku). These forms were developed in around 1760 by Tode Sakugawa based on his training with a Chinese master known as Kushanku. The other main form associated with Sakugawa is the Bo form “Sakugawa no kon Sho”.
Many Karate schools do not practice the Bo, but most Karate masters from Sakugawa in the 1760s to Kanazawa in the 1960s, regarded the Bo as an essential part of Karate.
In our school which is historically called Sakugawa Ryu, the principal techniques of Sakugawa no kon sho are distilled into our Bojutsu performance of Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan and Heian Godan, thereby restoring the Channan forms to their Sakugawa origin.
Tode Sakugawa is the father of Karate and teacher of masters like Matsumura, Matsumoto and Makabe (and a contemporary of my ancestor in Okinawa). He began his training with a master named Takahara who is thought to have learnt Hsing-I Chuan and Kobudo from Hama Higa.
For purple belt we encounter a new methodology and set of principles and forms.
Breaking down a throw
In 1828 Matsumura and the Kojo family ‘unlocked the gates’ of the southern Shaolin temple and the stage was set for arts like White Crane Kung Fu to be introduced. Okinawa’s love affair with white crane last 100 years, culminating with Gokenki coming to teach the art as a resident.
Our first glimpse of this method in Bushinkai is through the kata Tekki Shodan (Naihanchi) a form introduced to Okinawa by a Chinese master named Ason. Ason was one of the first Chinese teachers in Kumemura, and taught Matsumura, Sakiyama, Tomigusuku, Gushi, Nagahama and Tomoyose. The form was a favourite of Choki Motobu.
Tekki/Naihanchi uses a principle from white crane called Fajing (explosive power), the kata is like a coiled spring unleashing its power.
Tekki is somewhat like exercises seen in other southern Chinese schools in that it doesn’t move about very much (you move only sideways) and all power is simply generated from the core, rather than by stepping.
Tekki is also by its nature much more ‘close quartered’ than the Heian forms and through learning it we come conveniently to another area of our syllabus which are flow drills.
Flow drills are paired exercises that allow two students to develop flow, sensitivity and drilled muscle memory and relaxation.
Some of the drills are simple flexibility and strengthening exercises, while others work like the Filipino Hubud drills (a kind of stick hands exercise). Others are more akin to Tai Chi push hands and finally we work our way up to a full flow drill called Tegumi Renzoku Geiko, which I will introduce later.
The flow drills perform a number of functions, they move away from the almost robotic beat of Shotokan Karate (punch, kick, punch, block) and into a more flurry rhythm that is closer to a real up close fight. The drills encourage one to keep both hands “live” rather than cocking the fist at the hip as Shotokan beginners do.
One of the first kata to explicitly be taught with an accompanying flow drill is Gekisai a kata I imported, the heretic that I am, from Goju Ryu.
I was first taught Gekisai by master Tadanori Nobetsu in Belgium in 2004 and I saw how beautifully his study of Feeding Crane Kung Fu manifested in the kata. I later discovered that Chojun Miyagi (who had trained with White Crane master Gokenki) and Shoshin Nagamine (a student of Tekki specialist Choki Motobu) devised this form.
It therefore fits in beautifully as the kata that is learnt after Tekki and along with our flow drills.
As the student progresses through the brown belts, they have a large repertoire of strikes, grappling techniques, weapons and kata. The forms they now encounter are Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai and Empi which are all required for blackbelt.
These forms represent the Three Chinese Internal Martial Arts as follows
– Empi (Wansu) represents Hsing-I Chuan and was named after the Swallow form of Hsing-I. It is believed Hsing-I master Wang Ji brought the basis of this form to Okinawa in the 1680s and taught it to Hama Higa, he to Takahara and he to Sakugawa.
– Kanku Dai (Kushanku) represents Tai Chi Chuan (Taiji Quan) and its core animals, the Crane and Snake and its lesser animals the tiger, horse and monkey. Sakugawa and Chatan Yara trained under Taiji Quan pioneer Wang Zong Yue in the 1750s.
– Bassai Dai (Passai) represents the Chinese arts of Baji Chuan and Bagua Zhang. Matsumura went to China at the time Bagua was at its heyday. It is possible Bassai is named after Bazi Quan (the old name for Baji Quan) and I have argued in other articles this should be translated as White Lion Boxing.
If we keep in mind;
Empi – Swallow
Kanku Dai – Crane/Snake
Bassai Dai – Lion
it gives us a clue as to the nature of the movements.
These forms deepen the connection of our Karate to our Chinese Internal Martial Arts, bearing in mind some of the core principles of postural correctness:
– Head as if suspended from above
– Chin tucked in
– Tongue held loosely on roof of mouth
– Shoulders down
– Armpits gates open (as if holding a hot pork bun!)
– Drop the chest
– Relax the waist
– Relax the hips
– Tuck the tail bone under
– Knees in line with toes
– Feet each make nine points of contact with the floor
– Breathe into the abdomen/lower back
– Mind is on the Tandien/Hara
– Power is continuous not snapping
Empi can also be performed with the double edged sword (Jian), Kanku Dai with twin weapons such as Sai or Dipdao, and according to Hohan Soken, with hairclips. Bassai with a range of weapons such as Sai, Tonfa and Bo.
Kanku Dai includes some excellent Chin Na joint manipulation techniques.
Empi uses very light body movement techniques, moving in and out quickly.
Bassai utilises heavyness and lightness, rising and dropping.
Making the body heavy and making the body light is an important skill.
1st and 2nd Dan Kata:
After Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai and Empi, the next kata to learn are:
– Wankan (Matsukaze)
– Nijushiho (Niseishi)
– Hangetsu (Seishan)
Wankan, Nijushiho and Hangetsu, to give them their Shotokan names, were popularised in Okinawa in the 1860s by Seisho The Cat Aragaki. They are more closely related to the Southern Shaolin styles such as Tiger Boxing than previous forms.
Wankan and Nijushiho use quite light stepping but also make a lot of use of what in Tai Chi is called Shao Hua Pipa or Kai Hu (Play the lute or Open and Close) this technique denotes a break of the arm or leg but also utilises the opening and closing of the chest. They are also similar in performance to Shito Ryu forms, making more use of cat stance than the Shotokan canon.
Matsu, named after the half Okinawan half Swedish master Matsu Kinjo (Itoman Bunkichi) is a special kata because it is the solo manifestation of our “Tegumi Renzoku Geiko” two man flow drill.
The performance of the kata is designed to include Tiger Boxing themes found in Fujian-Naha forms like Suparimpei but also to contain the key movements within our flow drill such as elbows, knees, headbutt, shoulder strike and wristlocks.
Matsu is a kata unique to our school, but also very much in keeping with its traditional origins.
I teach two versions of Hangetsu. The first is the standard Shotokan version, the second is based on my study of styles based on White Crane, Tiger Boxing and the Chinese Internal Martial Arts. Like the original version of the form, this Seishan is an open handed “Chi exercise” rather than a kata packed with bunkai. The Shotokan version contains the bunkai, my open handed version is internal.
The kata therefore from white belt to 3rd Dan are:
1) Heian Shodan
2) Heian Nidan
3) Heian Sandan
4) Heian Yondan
5) Heian Godan
6) Tekki Shodan
7) Gekisai Dai
8) Bassai Dai
9) Kanku Dai
The weapons include:
The Bushinkai syllabus may be said to break down as follows:
The Bushinkai Method is our scientific approach to self defence (the three science)
Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu is the name of our Karate, Jujutsu and Kobudo system
Shoto Ryu was the original method of Karate (prior to the development of Shotokan, Shotokai, Wado Ryu etc) that was introduced to Japan and is the basic nucleus of the style. According to Funakoshi it comprised both Shorin Ryu and Shorei Ryu.