Saturday, 15 July 2017

Kungfu Moves in Karate: Move 3- Swinging Punch/ Reinforced Block

Hi, everyone!

I have taken some time before today's training to make these short videos about this very versatile move.

You don't really have to study Karate for very long to come across the Morote Uke. It is right there in the Heian/ Pinan Katas from Heian/ Pinan Nidan!

At your 8th to 5th kyu grades (I won't mention belt colours anymore after I have heard how Kyokushin belt grades are made up) you learn that this move is a block, as the "Uke" in the name connotes. I really have no objection to that to be honest. In Shaolin it is taught as exactly that. Then it is called "Stopping Fist"- if done with a closed fist- or "Beauty looks at Mirror" or just "Mirror Hand" when it is done with an open hand.

In one of the Shaolin forms I have learnt the Mirror Hand is followed up with the Precious Duck punch that I have written about last week. In Taijiquan forms it can flow into a Single Whip, Cannon Punch or a double handed push, depending on the form you have learnt.

Now- just so that everyone knows what move I am discussing today I direct your attention to the video showing the block as it appears in the form Bassai Dai from 3 angles. Just to be fair to all the styles I have done it once with the raised knee at the beginning as Shotokan does it and twice in the floating step manner as it appears in Okinawan-based styles.


In Karate and Taekwondo a conscious effort is made to swing the arms from the back forwards into the adversary's attack or just into the adversary if it is used as an attack. I remember feeling like pitching a baseball when I have first learned Bassai Dai. In this kata the block is never followed up, by another attack, but I have seen bunkai demonstrations featuring an uppercut very much like Kungfu's Cannon Punch.

In my view, under the right circumstances, I do not deem it necessary for there to be a follow up.

Here is why:

Let's say my opponent is taking a horizontal swing at me with a chair. His attack comes in a huge arc and if I intercept it in time one of his arms will be jammed across his centre line, making any other attack impossible. Now- this is not a competition setting. Pushing and shoving is definitely allowed. So- stepping forcefully into the attack I use my forward momentum and a good measure of peng-force to cannonate my opponent across the room while he is still gathering power to swing that chair.

In that context you can think that this attack would work against someone just standing too close to you in a normal guard out fighting posture. Sure- he may be closing him off from punches to scoring areas, but he's not going to do you any harm while he is flying backwards...


One of the huge differences between Karate and Kungfu is that with Karate the body and feet shoot forward when advancing.  The attack is timed to finish off as weight settles onto the lead foot, but the shifting of weight that we see in Taijiquan you do not really find in Karate.

As the video above shows, however, the Morote Uke in Karate breaks away from the normal method of blocking that involves one hand pulling back while weight is kept fairly centered. I have a habit of shifting from Kokutsu Dachi (back stance) to Zenkutsu Dachi (Forward Stance) that can be seen in the video. I have seen many karateka not doing this, though.


I have heard that the back fist (Uraken) is regarded as an inferior blow in Karate. In Shaolin Kungfu the horizontal back fist is called a Whip Punch. The vertical back fist- as shown in the video above- is called a Swinging Punch.

Where thrusting techniques start out with the body's support behind them strikes such as these fly into their targets at blinding speed, building up a huge amount of momentum before the body'muscles contract and the energy is sunk into the ground to prevent any force of the collision to be sent back to the user. This does not mean just a broken nose- the person on the receiving end of this attack can get a nasty concussion as well. 

Adding a Following Step like here below adds even more momentum.


Taijiquan is known to use the shift of weight in many of its movements and the Mirror Hand is no exception.


This approach strengthens my opinion that this block is best done closing up the opponent's centre line. It is not so difficult to conceive closing up your opponent's centre line and shaking his brain at the same time with the swinging punch done at nose-level.

With the Mirror Hand the energy does not need so much to be focused in the blocking hand. If the energy of your explosive forward attack gets focused into the blocking arm you can easily push your opponent off-balance or do knock the wind out of him in very much the same way as is done with kao force or Musashi's Body Strike.

From a pragmatic point of view we can all agree that people with no martial arts training usually raise both their arms in defence when being attacked. It takes some time to learn to jam the attack with one hand while the other pulls back.

Also- if you are standing in a natural, non-aggressive posture and suddenly needs to strike you will find that the single circular movement of this strike is much faster to perform than first aligning the fist with the target and bending the arm for a straight punch and then straightening the arm into the punch.


That's it for today! :)

Join me next week as we look at the single tiger emerging from the cave. :D

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Kungfu Moves in Karate. Move 2: Precious Duck Swims Through Lotus

Hi, everyone!

Welcome to the third installment in my series of posts about Kungfu moves found in Karate.

Read articles on the internet and you'll find that almost everyone says that Karate is developed from the White Crane style of Fujian. That is really an oversimplification of things.

I have never learnt White Crane. We at Martial Arts Forums have seen one video being posted in our group of an elderly master performing a White Crane form and I think we can all agree that it certainly does not resemble much of what we see in Karate today.

Today's technique, however, I have found in two styles of Karate before I have learnt about it in Shaolin Kungfu.

The move is called "Precious Duck Swims Through Lotus".

In Master Wong Kiew Kit's Five Animal Set this movement looks like this:


In Shukokai's- and Shito Ryu's version of the kata "Rohei" we find it looking like this:


The Precious Duck is the punch and not the block that preceeds it. That particular type of block I will discuss in another post.


In Shotokan's version of Jion we find the same type of punch used at the end like the above video is showing.

My apologies for this one. Simply rotating it does not seem to do the trick...

Where the punch starts of from a square-on position it uses hip rotation to shoot it into its target, reaching as far as possible by rotating the body and also making the target area facing the opponent much smaller. One can imagine how a maneuver like this can create space for you in a clinch situation.

Although Karateka have kept this movement in their katas they now use Oi Zuki to lunge into attack with a punch. The Zenkutsu Dachi (Forward Stance) used in Oi Zuki increases the reach while the body faces the opponent square-on. 

My first Sensei explained that Karate people prefer not to punch in the Precious Duck- manner because a lot of leverage gets lost once the shoulder stretches out too far. To be honest I still don't get that. Having studied grappling, however, has made me aware that your Jujutsu, Judo and Aikido people love it when your shoulder is stretched out towards them like that. That is practically begging to be put in an arm bar...

The "Shomen" or square facing posture with punching makes the execution of grappling moves relatively more difficult, particularly the ones that involve seizing your arm and pulling you into the technique.

Where both Karate and Kungfu people agree, however, is that punching is a lot more powerful with the hip rotation. This move may be a lead hand punch, but the hip rotation lends it the power of a reverse punch.

I have not yet seen any movement resembling Karate's Oi Zuki in Shaolin Kungfu. It  may be there somewhere, but I have not yet found it. In the Five Animal Set the Precious Duck is as close to Oi Zuki as you can get.

It is necessary to bear in mind that the Okinawan fighting arts did not lack any fighting techniques before the Chinese showed up. They actually already had a system of kicking, punching and grappling in place. Getting unusual techniques that your rivals have not yet seen is a very attractive idea to martial artists, however, and the martial artists on the Ryukyu Islands were not any different in that respect. We do see, however, that a lot of techniques got modified when they got taken over or just got replaced with techniques that were more familiar to the Ryukyu people.

A similar process happened again when Karate landed in Japan. I think anyone who has done a bit of research on Karate will agree that there is a world of difference between Shotokan and Goju Ryu.

That's it for today.

Enjoy the weekend and best of luck for the week ahead.



Saturday, 1 July 2017

Kungfu moves in Karate: Post 1- Wushu Baoquan Li (武术抱拳礼) a.k.a "Dragon and Tiger Appear"

Greetings, everyone!

I have thought it best to start off this series of posts with a greeting- not just any greeting, but a greeting straight out of the world of Martial Arts!

Our American friends have lots of awesome tales of the Wild West, but what about the East? They certainly have their time of Ronin and Ninjas to look back to in Japan. One of my favourite eras, however, was the Jiang Hu era in China. This era was not necessarily tied to a particular dynasty, but it was a time in which martial artists lived a life on the edge in an underground lifestyle of challenging each other to the death, righting wrongs, driving out bandits or just taking revenge. The kind of stuff movies get made of.

This greeting hails from that time...

This greeting, of course, is the familiar salute with the right fist covered by the left hand.

To us Westerners this is a greeting associated with martial arts only as modern Chinese civilians do not bother to greet each other like this anymore. The use of this salute is traced back all the way to the Qing Dynasty that started in the 17th century and lasted all the way into the early 20th century (1912, I believe). It was said to be used by Ming loyalists that wanted their old regime back to greet their rebel brothers in a secret, yet recognisable manner. What happened to the rebellion I don't know, but I think the Communists were eventually the ones to overthrow the Qing...

But I digress...

Let's get back on track.

We know Japanese greet each other by bowing. We greet by shaking hands. In these greetings there is a sense of acknowledging one another.

Showing someone a fist in a palm, however, said something more.

If you ask Ashida Kim (hehe- I see Owen cringing in my minds-eye now) he would say that this was to tell the people being greeted that they were being greeted by a possessor of secret knowledge. This calling card might have meaning among martial artists at the time, but this explanation does not fit in with the fact that non-martial people used this particular greeting- known as Yi Li in Chinese as well. It had no martial connotation whatsoever.

Sifu Shuai Zheng has an explanation, however, to clear this up: Having the fingers folded over the closed fist is a ceremonial greeting.

Having the fingers of the open hand, straightened however, signified to the wanderers of the Jiang Hu world that you were a martial artist. Sifu Shuai actually explains why in an article of his here:

Good day! A martial artist greets you! 

Using the straight fingered greeting is called Wushu Baoquan Li. My Chinese is not that good, but it sounds to me like "Fighting Arts Embraced Fist Standing", which sort of makes sense...

In the Kungfu of this day and age we see something similar being used as the opening to a form or as the salute to a sparring partner before you start the bout. In the photo below I have the fingers over my fist (because I have not read Sifu Shuai's article at the time of taking the photo. :D) while standing in a False Leg Stance. This movement is known as "Dragon and Tiger Appear" in Shaolin Kungfu. I have never figured out why Chinese martial artists had to give their movements such poetic names, but it is kinda cool.

Now- what "Dragon and Tiger Appear", Wushu Baoquan Li and Yi Li all have in common are the references to Yang and Yin.

You see- the tiger represents the Yin side while the Dragon represents the Yang side.

The left side represents the Yin aspect and the right side the Yang.

A closed fist (as if holding something) represents Yang while an open hand (empty) represents Yin.

Bringing Yang and Yin together in a symbolic greeting like this signified a unity and balance between these contrasting forces. It conformed with Confucius' teaching that a proper gentleman is schooled in the martial ways as well as the scholarly. It also says that effort should be tempered with patience.

In martial arts it can tell us that courage and ferocity is balanced with compassion and calm observance.

This greeting of course found its way to Japan. Shotokan karateka can recognise this pose from the kata Jion.   

Now- I intended to show a Chinese link to Japanese karate, but must confess that my research on Jion actually yielded a shocking result:

You see- in Japan's Sengoku period, which is during the 15th Century, the man we know as Jion had another name- Soma Shiro Yoshimoto. Nothing is said of him ever having studied Karate at all. The only martial arts reference to him is the Nen-Ryu (Nen- school)of Kenjutsu (swordsmanship) that he had founded in his days as a Samurai.

Later in his life he had taken up monastic life and took the name Jion.

You can't get more Japanese like that. Not a single Chinese link to be found.

Before writing this post I contacted my friend and fellow karateka in Japan, Senpai Miki Yamaguchi, and asked her when the fist-and-palm greeting was first seen in Japan. She told me that Japanese do not greet like that and that it is the Chinese way of greeting. When asked about Jion's use thereof she said that he is known to have travelled to the Buddhist Temple in India.

So- we know now that monks in that time travelled and that foreign practices are found on these travels.

It would be interesting to know how this monk from the 15th Century found his place in Karate that came to Japan during the 20th Century... Guys- I don't have a comment section for nothing. If you know something, please share!

Now- having said that this Chinese Kungfu movement was taken up in a Karate form- I have found another interesting phenomenon. Most probably it came from Mister Miyagi showing us that waxing a car is actually a karate technique or Master Han who showed us that hanging up your jacket can be dangerous to assailants, but it clearly seems that someone in the Karate World felt that this movement simply had to have a fighting application. 

I don't really object thereto, but the Shaolin part of me feels that people should just chill and look a bit further than just fighting. Kata actually have more to offer than just that. There is a reason why some movements are not even performed at combat speed after all...

Now- if you have read all the way to here I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had typing it.

Finding movements from Kungfu in Karate is not as easy as you'd think, but I have found a couple that Kungfu students can easily recognise. Next week's post will be about such a move.

Until we meet again- stay well!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Kungfu in our Karate

Hi, everyone.

Last week marked the end of a discussion that I have really enjoyed. Taijiquan has- just like much of China's other martial arts, really awesome forms to watch.

Having studied Jeet Kune Do- I am well aware that a lot of modern fighters don't care much for forms. Bruce Lee was quite frank about it. He did not like them. Whether he liked them or not, however, forms were used from as early as the 17th century to transmit the martial arts techniques we know today from one source to another.

Karate as we know it today is the result of Okinawan martial arts having been introduced to 20th Century Japan. Since that time Karate has changed and developed a lot. New schools have even emerged in this century.

Here in South Africa I have become aware of more than one school of Shotokan that has absolutely no affiliation with Japan. I currently attend classes at one of these schools.

These schools often show a neglect of traditional teachings that I find lamentable to say the least. I have witnessed a period in which Karate's popularity was declining because the public felt that other martial arts were a lot more effective for health, spiritual development and of course- self defense.

The efforts of teachers like Jesse Enkamp and Iain Abernethy have in the recent years proven most valuable in showing Karate's true nature to the world. I know that I for one became interested in Karate all over again as a result of that.

The largest part of these efforts consisted of explaining the applications of kata movements. These applications are often referred to as bunkai, but- as Sensei Jesse will tell you- bunkai actually means breakdown. So- I prefer the word "application". My first Sensei used it instead of bunkai anyway.

In spite of Sensei Iain and Jesse's spreading of the word a large number of Karate schools do kata that they do not understand. The very fact that a student learns a new kata without its application or purpose is actually a sign that something is very wrong in this day and age.

My project for the next couple of weeks is not going to be explaining bunkai, though. I might discuss bunkai in the course of what I am doing, but I am actually going to be taking a closer look at those techniques of Karate that are evidence of the influence Chinese martial arts had on the early development of Karate.

One of our Martial Arts Forums community members can tell you that Karate is not the only Japanese martial art that has Chinese roots. Shorinji Kenpo is the result of a Japanese General called Doshin So who learnt Shaolin Kungfu in China and developed a uniquely Japanese martial practice from it.

It is interesting to note that while Karate teachers on the internet have been at time ascribing up to 12 different applications to one given movement in a Karate form Shaolin practitioners have been practicing the same way they had for years without the need to debate or question the applications of the movements in their forms.

I trust that the posts for the next couple of weeks shall explain to us why...

I hope to see you all here again next week. Stay well, everyone!


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Taiji Movement #6- Brush Knee and Push (and other related movements

Hello again!

This is acutally one of the simplest of movements that appear in every Taiji form that I have seen.

I was planning to do a post on its application as a simultaneous lower parry and push and show how other similar techniques get used in the Wudang arts, but must admit that Sifu Iain has a much cooler application for this movement- as is shown in the Youtube videos that I have linked below...

Image result for brush knee and push

In Shaolin Kungfu we have a move called the "Green Dragon" and to put it very simply it is a downward block that is accompanied by a tiger palm strike.

The value of attacking while defending cannot be overemphasised since a lot of seasoned fighters only provide you with an opening when they are actually attacking. Fighters who are too focused on evading or blocking at the cost of their own counterattack miss that opportunity to attack.

The ability to defend and attack at the same time of course also stops your opponent from letting his attack escalate into something that is impossible to control.

In the video below I first do the classical "Brush Knee and Push" as if I am passing a front kick from my side and pushing my opponent over. After that I parry an imaginary opponent's mid-level punch to the side and push and lastly I redirect a face punch upwards and away while pushing into my opponent.


Sifu Iain's Taiji is actually the best that I have seen on Youtube for years now. His videos also give the best explanations- much like another Iain to whom I look up a lot.

Sifu Iain is not showing lower parry and push, though.

He actually shows how you can shake off a grappling opponent like a dog shakes water off its body by maintaining that ever-important rooting and using that hip rotation.

The two videos are here:

This concludes my posts on Taiji movements. These posts are my response to that video that seems to have destroyed people's faith in Taijiquan. 

I have applied Taijiquan in fights and sparring matches myself and have found that it provides an edge in grappling situations. It also provides space in a clinch situation and actually simplifies that panicky situation where an opponent has you cornered and pelts you with blows.

My only advice on using Taiji is not to fight like a boxer or a Greco-Roman wrestler. Maintain your posture and maintain your calm. Taiji is not done with a flinching spirit, buts meets attacks and redirects them or absorbs them and attacks with the devastating power of gravity itself.

Much of this forms part of Wenhsiuquan. While it is not really suited for points competition- it is the basis of a good defense.

Stay well, everyone and train hard!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Taijiquan Movement #5: Part Wild Horse Mane

Weekend is finally here and I can finally get to writing this weekend's post! :)

Today's Taijiquan move is also found in almost all forms being taught in the world today. Readers who practice Tai Chi, but who have never bothered to find out about any of its combat applications might find the applications of this move interesting.

If you are a Karate student you are most likely, just like me, used to techniques having simple names. Gyaku Zuki, Mawashi Geri and so forth. The trouble with the names of Kungfu movements, especially Taijiquan's, is that the absence of a visual demonstration would leave the uninitiated at a loss for any idea what the move's function is or even how it is performed.

Fortunately- I have found photos and videos to give non- Tai chi folk an idea of how this movement is performed and what use it has in a fight. 

In Shotokan Karate's kata Enpi we have a similar move that looks like this:

The two claw-hands look really menacing and makes the movement look a lot scarier than its Taijiquan counterpart.

What is agreed by most exponents of Taijiquan is that the body rotation at the start is very important as it is used to evade a frontal attack from your opponent.

It also sets the opponent up to fall over when that rotation unwinds and your arm sweeps outward in the palm-up position, much like Karate's Uchi Uke.

I have found two videos demonstrating this principle:

The best video I have found, however, comes from none other than our community's Dan Djurdevic!

This awesome demonstration conforms with my self imposed rule that a form's application should not merely be a justification for keeping a move around, but should rather give a satisfactory answer to the question: "why would I want to use this move?" Sifu Dan's detailed explanation showing how he maintain's control over his opponent's one hand while putting himself out of the other's reach is simply perfect in that regard. I strongly recommend you watch the video.

The link is here:

Now- since Karate has a similar movement I simply had to hear what Sensei Iain had to say on the subject. He is after all the authority on putting kata to use.

Upward palm strikes may be awkward, but are found in  the Shaolin fighting styles. It is therefore not surprising that Sensei Iain would find an application for the movement that uses an upward palm strike. The angle may look a bit different from that of the kata, but then again- I have seen an upward grab on the jaw being used as well by a Kungfu fighter which uses the same angle of the palm. It is not really of any use to go under your opponent's chin any other way when you are using an open hand...

This video shows how he gets the opponent's head in just the right position for an upward strike that has the striking hand at the same angle as the hand in the kata's movement.

I have also seen applications that use a vertical backhand strike or an outward forearm/ ridge hand strike.

This was now the second last movement that I was going to discuss on this blog.

Next post is actually going to be about more than one movement, but shall be based mostly on "Brush the Knee and Push".

Until then- stay well and train hard!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tai Chi Movement #4- The Single Whip

Today's post is about a movement that is as identifiable with Taijiquan as the Age Uke is with Karate.

Nowadays I find a lot of DVD's and literature on Taijiquan that go into detail about movements, but do not bother to give any explanation of the martial application of these movements.

My first book on Taijiquan did just that.

My teacher before then did not want to teach me the fighting applications in the hope of curing my anger issues.

After 5 years or so from learning Taijiquan for the first time I got this book by David Gaffney and Davidine Sim on Chen Style Taijiquan. The book itself is a valuable source of information on Taijiquan technique while it does not do anything to teach a form to beginners.

The book had this to say about the Single Whip:

What is described in this poem is a posture akin to Happo Biraki in Japanese martial arts. This posture keeps the stance relaxed, but firmly rooted while the arms are spread wide open. The purpose of this posture is readiness for an attack from any direction and the posture is designed for use in situations where the user has to fight against multiple adversaries.

What might not satisfy many of us from the happo biraki or even kamae application of this movement is that neither happo biraki nor a simple kamae need any one of the hands to form that bird's beak to make them work.

In all the forms I have seen this movement also does not consist of merely raising the arms in anticipation of an imaginary attack, but consist of elaborate arm movement and shifting of weight.
I have found a Youtube link in which a typical execution of this movement is explained.

The execution is usually as follow:

Weight shifts onto the the back leg while the rear hand travels from the front of the body to the back while forming the bird's beak. The lead hand joins the rear hand in this movement. Then, when weight gets shifted onto the leading foot, the leading hand leaves the bird's beak hand behind and pushes out to the front. The arms never fully straighten, so it is hard to tell whether it is meant to be a thrust, a strike or a blocking movement.

This guy shares my view that the bird's beak indicates a grab. I apply Single Whip in a matter similar to the photo below.

Sifu Mantak Chia is a master of the very strange and unusual Wu Style of which I like the internal aspects much more than the technical applications. He does not feel the need to grab the opponent's hand, but uses the bird's beak in a manner similar to Shaolin's Monkey Paw. The Monkey Paw can be used to hook an attacking arm to the side. We see Master Chia in the photo below guiding an attacking arm to the side with the bird's beak while intercepting a punch from the other side with a shuto uke. Yes- there is a lot of similarities with karate if you know where to look...

Thing is: I can guide pushing attacks to my side in more efficient ways that do not involve unnecessarily deforming my hand and I trust that you will say the same.

Another thing is- in Karate we learn that pulling someone is much more effective when you keep the arms close to your body and pull the opponent towards you instead of away from you.

So- why would you need to take someone so far to your side?

To me the answer lies in the lateral weakness all fighting stances have.

This weakness lies across the line between a person's feet. Where an opponent stands in a front stance, for instance, the lateral weakness will be from a 45 degree angle from his front.

Now- taking this opponent's arm and just pulling it towards you is not going to unbalance him. His shoulder may turn, but he will remain standing.

Pull a bit to your side though he will find his footing being challenged, though. Once this imbalance is created it is necessary to exploit it immediately with a slight push with the free hand.

If you successfully applied this move against a lead hand punch you can find the opponent turning his shoulder away from you and landing on his butt. Against a reverse punch the opponent may remain standing, but striking at the right spot can dislocate his shoulder or dislodge his collarbone. For friendly sparring I like to counter a reverse punch with Snake Creeps Down, which is actually a variation of the Single Whip that attacks the lower body and that, as we have seen in an earlier post, can be quite an effective throw.

That concludes today's post.

Next post shall be about a move called "Parting Wild Horse Mane".