Saturday, 16 September 2017

To the point where Martial Art ceases to exist

I love a good martial arts movie.

I have often watched a good fight scene and then imagined myself fighting like the protagonist in the story.

Later on, though, I have found that I could fight even better using less agility and definitely a lot less acrobatics.

Since I am speaking to a community of martial artists I am sure I am not alone.

Kungfu is a great example. Its jumps, somersaults, swinging hand movements and spectacular kicks are world famous.

Yet- when you hear stories of actual encounters with Kung Fu exponents you are likely to hear something like the story I have once heard of the old lady who had her assailant fall on his ass with a simple front kick.

I also don't think that we have to search very far to hear an account of an attacker being sent stumbling back and falling down with a simple push.

ICE FANTASY Huancheng movie asian oriental action fighting warrior fantasy martial arts television series chinese china romance drama supernatural 1icef perfect

While my first Karate teacher's students learned elaborate block/trap/throw or block/trap/counterattack sequences against attacks with sticks he was also very quick to show us that many blows can be stopped from happening with a simple front kick.

Kendo students can tell you that their teachers can prevent a large number of attacks from reaching them with a simple whack on the head with the shinai.

I am sure that none of the above would make for a good fight scene in any movie. Hell- there's not even enough time to play a decent techno track in the background with a fight this short...

That is, however, a sign of mastery if you are able to solve big problems with minimal effort.

I won't tell anyone not to practice agility and advanced techniques, though. For one- an agile body and fluid mind is what gives us the ability to escape clinches and arm locks and to land attacks against seemingly impenetrable defenses. If the simplest of answers do not work you still need to be able to give the opponent more than he can take and take more than he can give.

In strategy, however, the above observations serve to remind us that all problems start out small. The amount of effort it takes to contain any problem at its initial stages is always much less than the effort needed to deal with a problem that has gotten out of hand.

In class you can demonstrate this to students by using multiple blocks (like Wing Chun's "chi sao" or "sticking hands") to deflect a number of punches and strikes and then demonstrate the effect of closing up an opponent's centre line with his first attacking arm and immediately counterattacking.

I think you would agree with me that being able to duck and weave your way past a series of spear thrusts like this girl is an awesome skill and a sign that one's body and mind has been trained to an extraordinary level.

Image result for aikido disarm

More of us, however, can pull off a simple pass/disarm move like what is taught in Aikido. Also- it finishes the fight sooner and uses less energy.

In life, however, it goes even further.

A story I have once heard goes something like this:

A lord in ancient China once asked a physician which one among him and his two brothers was the most skilled healer.

He replied:

"My eldest brother removes illness before it takes shape, yet his name does not get out of the house. My second eldest brother cures illness while it is still minute and his name does not go beyond the neighbourhood. I puncture veins, prescribe potions and massage skin. My name gets out and is occasionally heard by lords."

Do not be surprised if you one day become so skilled at fighting that you reach the point where martial art ceases to exist. :)

Stay well, everyone.

Hope you have a great week.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Keeping up with change

I don't know about you, but I like stability. I like a set routine and I like having friends stay with me for as long as they can.

We have possessions to which we hold on and relatives that we cherish.

Still- we live in a changing world. When the changes in this world involve friends moving away, relatives dying or treasured possessions being lost we feel unhappy. Our natural mindset is to resist this kind of adverse change and we find that the longer it takes us to accept it the longer it takes for us to move on.  

Kata, Taolu, Randori or any form of set practice in martial arts feels comfortable when it has become familiar to you. We know, however, that a good kata performer is not necessarily a good fighter.

The reason for this, of course, is because fights are dynamic. Your opponent's timing is not always in sync with yours (although Aikidoka strive to have you synchronise your timing with that of your opponent) and positions, attacks and defenses change.

You can easily see if a fighter is resistant to these changes. He is the person who lets punches get past his defenses. She is the one whose attack misses and does not follow through with another move.

This- is how the practice of martial art brings you in harmony with the world. That same mind that is one with the opponent and the battlefield is the mind that is in harmony with the changes that occur in our lives. 

The Universe itself is alive and dynamic. You need to be the same in order to keep up. 


Saturday, 2 September 2017

Transformative Martial Arts- Going to the next level

While my legs are still tired from this morning's training I want to talk about a part of the martial arts spectrum that I like a lot, yet not see being publicized in the West as much as MMA and other martial arts based sports.

Every now and then I get to speak with non-martial artist members of the public and get their idea of what they expect of martial arts and why they do or do not want to take up martial arts.

What I have heard quite often now is "I want to learn Krav Maga!" and every now and then "our competitions are full-contact". I also happen to hear "I used to do this or that style..."

I guess that in spite of martial arts being around for this long people still regard it as a way of fighting and nothing more.

Before these movies came out I have received what one could call an extensive martial arts education in the physical, psychological and philosophical aspects of the martial arts of Japan, Korea and China.

Before I knew of Goku as well I have already felt how much I have changed as a 16 year old when I started to learn the mental and philosophical aspects of martial arts.

Thing is- I was a weak and scared little boy when I started reading books that taught me how to kick and punch. I was even scared and weak when I joined a dojo that taught me how to kick and punch.

What turned me into what I am today (I'd rather not say myself :D. I do have a bit of a temper on me that I am working on now...) was when I started learning the mental conditioning techniques and philosophy behind Oriental martial arts. Back then it was mostly Zen-based, but later on I have learnt that Taoism and even Christianity can help a lot in developing one into a warrior.

We are not all soldiers. Krav Maga was developed initially as a means of CQC to be used by soldiers. Sure- if you are not in any army and want to learn it I won't judge you. I don't want to explain my swords and weapons- why would you have to explain why you want to practice military hand-to-hand combat?

But still- there are styles with a lot more to offer.

Sure- I can now fight and defend myself, but thanks to my martial arts training I can also:

- heal faster

- speak in public

- take a fall

- take risks

- accept loss 

- solve problems

- be confident

- be calm in times of crisis

- take action when needed to

- stay positive in the darkest of times.

We might not turn into Super Saiyans with our hair colours changing, but we can overcome fears, lose bad habits and recover from being hurt.

Now- this blog has a comment section and so will the post on G+.

I'd like to hear examples of how your style's training transforms you or the other people involved.    

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Specially for Sifu Randy Brown and Sensei Ando- Punch Under Elbow! :D

Hi, everyone!

During this week Sifu Randy Brown from our G+ Community collaborated with another favourite member of mine-Sensei Ando to give us a really good demonstration (good meaning practical and straightforward) of how to deal with a rear bear hug.

Because I know both instructors are Kungfu instructors and because Kungfu has a very special place in my heart (Wenhsiuquan is about 70% Kungfu) I felt like sharing my take on this classic Taijiquan move with them.

You are welcome to see it too.

Now- I must apologise in advance. My ability to get a partner for a demo video is about the same as a Jehovah's Witness getting invited in. So- I had to create my own Uke for this post.


I know he is not as good as a real person, but he gets the job done...

Now- Although I will agree that modern arts like BJJ and Krav Maga have done a lot to teach us real solutions to real problems I still have a strong preference to a martial art that you can study your whole life long and have more to show for the longer you study. And by that- I don't mean a belt or a medal...

The technique I demonstrate won't work for everyone. As a matter of fact it just came to me one day during meditation and after a couple of trial runs I decided to use this move to show people the effect of prolonged training and specifically the difference between a martial artist and someone who knows self defense. So- see this technique as a test of where you are and if you are a beginner- as one of the goals you wish to attain.

The photo above shows what the move "Punch Under Elbow" looks like in a Taijiquan Set (Form). It starts with the arms spreading out and ends with a fist punching under your elbow as you twist from your feet and hips.

Now- one of the things you need to have to make the move work against a bear hug is what we call the "Iron Shirt". Normally it means that you let your energy flow freely throughout your body and as a result become resistant to blows.

With the bear hug however it means that you will feel your body expand within the grip so that your attacker feels that your muscles are as hard as iron while you feel that you can actually breathe normally. 

This is a great way to start teaching the Iron Shirt as the grip is safer than blows. You should condition your body with blows as well, however.

Okay! So you have your Iron Shirt. Now the next skill you need is called "Sinking your Qi".
This is really not some weird mumbo-jumbo. This move actually demonstrates the principle really well. When an untrained person gets a fright his/ her energy usually shoots upward, making them less sturdy on their feet. One of the first responses you train to have in Shaolin and Taijiquan is that you face adversity by sinking your Qi. This does not only mean lowering my stance like I am doing in the picture above, but also calming down and rooting myself firmly in the ground. 

At this point the grip is not crushing me and I can't be picked up or moved.

Just having the above mentioned two skills is enough to let you escape a bear hug with ease, but who says I want to break my attacker's grip? In fact- I like having both his arms and hands occupied! :D

So- I now just twist and wind up...

Now- the last skill you need to make this work is a One Inch Punch. This punch actually starts from more than one inch away, but still- you don't have a lot of room within which you can gather your energy and wind up your punch. The power that you are able to put into your punch under these circumstances is the mark of how much you have mastered the delivery of percussive force in your attacks.

Moves like this one remind me why it is important to preserve the traditional while we remain open to the new. It also teaches us that the internal is as important as the external.

That's what I had to share for today. Hopefully- one day- I will be able to make demo videos. :) Until then I hope everyone stays well and keep on training!


Saturday, 19 August 2017

What the Law sees as Self Defence

Hello, everyone.

After reading Jackie Bradbury's recent article in our G+ community I felt compelled to share what I have learnt in this regard.

Some of you already know that I am a practicing attorney and among those who know are a number of people who know that I have at one stage of my career spent 4 days out of my 5 day work week in a criminal court as what American readers refer to as a "Public Defender".

Charges of "Common Assault" and "Assault GBH" formed a large part of my briefs during that time.

Now- I am not going to quote a bunch of court cases or legislation in today's post. I save that kind of talk for when I appear before magistrates and judges. They like hearing that kind of thing.

What I do want to do is give martial arts students who do care about the law and who wish to abide by it the guidelines that he/ she has to keep in mind. It is actually not a lot to remember and actually quite simple.

I live in South Africa and belong to an ethnic group in this country known as the "Afrikaners" or the "Boers". With a lot of us being hot-blooded- especially those of us who'd rather spend a Saturday night at a bar or club instead of in front of a computer- violence amongst ourselves is not a rarity. Being perceived by a seemingly large part of this country's Black population as walking ATM's or just people deserving of most cruel acts of violence the chances of any of us to run into a black person wishing to do us harm is rather large.

As much as the need for us to defend ourselves is undeniable a large number of us fear prosecution far too much to fight back because they do not want to end up like the farmer in the story below:

My apologies- the news article is in Afrikaans. For the purpose of this post I will just say that a white farmer in a town very close to mine got attacked by a black man and he defended himself with a knife- stabbing the black man to death. He phoned the police and ambulance and for his trouble he got arrested and- since it was a Friday night- detained in police custody until he could be brought to court that coming Monday.

Incidents like this do not happen very often. We do- however- have lots of incidents where the victims are unable to fight back and end up being robbed, raped and mudered.

While to laypersons the above incident seems irrational I am not surprised by the police's approach. You see- the first reality you as an adult, who is no longer in the schoolyard, has to face and accept is that self defense is indeed a defense against charges of murder and both degrees of assault, but defenses won't do you any good being raised with policemen. I can actually warn you and say that telling a policeman your defense/ excuse at the time of your arrest or at the time of you being charged at the police station can in some cases lead to the policeman working on the case thinking up ways to rebut your defense.  

Defenses are raised in court and before you get to raise your defense you have to be arrested, charged and brought to court. If you are arrested at any time from a Friday afternoon to a Sunday you will wait in custody to be brought before court. It is also only in court when you will get a chance to apply for release on bail pending finalisation of the case against you.

This is really not the kind of trouble you want to get into just because somebody was "lookin' at me funny", but I am sure that many of use would rather go through all this instead of getting maimed or killed.  

During your trial the presiding officer (in our lower courts that would be Magistrate and in our High Courts a Judge. Assault gets heard in a lower court, btw.) will judge your story by the guidelines that I will set out below. It has to be mentioned that, because of the standard of proof against you being that of Above All Reasonable Doubt you have to be acquitted of your charge/s if the reasonable possiblity of self defense is proven to exist.

The guidelines are the following:

1. Retaliation is not self defense- Really- if someone has already beaten you up and then walks away thinking that he has taken care of you and you get up and prove him wrong by kicking the crap out of him that is not self defense. Do not expect the court's sympathy if that is going to be your story. The Law does not care about your fighter's pride or your bruised ego.

2. You may attack somebody in defense of someone other than yourself. Certainly. You may protect somebody who is being unlawfully attacked.

3. The amount of violence being used should not exceed the amount necessary to avert the danger. When Sun Tzu said that it is not wise to attack soldiers who are retreating he was not thinking about any law. In the case of you as a civilian who happens to know how to fight it is really important to know that attacking an assailant that is already incapacitated or fleeing (unless you want to retrieve an item forcefully taken from you) is not going to do your case any good. If an assailant backs off without doing you any physical harm or taking anything tangible from you it is time to stop. I won't say that it is time to drop your guard, but it is time to stop attacking.

Now- with the legal advice having been given I want to talk about putting this knowledge into practice so that you know what kind of responses to have ready for self defense situations...

Now let's start at the very beginning of the confrontation. Accepting a challenge is not self defense. Being called to come over by a suspicious individual or hostile looking group of people and then actually going to them is further a really stupid thing to do from a tactical point of view.

In competition Karate and MMA a takedown means that it is time to go in for the coup de grace, but in a self defense scenario (I'll refrain from using the phrase "on the street") having an assailant lying on the ground can be your chance to escape and if escaping is a viable course of action you do just that without hesitation and you do not even consider fighting any further.

Likewise- if you have rendered your assailant unable to run as fast as you then you run.

Now- self defense experts have come up with this colour coded system of classifying threats into conditions such as "condition yellow", "condition red" and so forth. It is good to know these things. The earliest and least dangerous of these conditions can be averted by early perception and simple avoidance by leaving the dangerous area. If it becomes known that you were expecting trouble and with the love for a good fight as your only reason you decided to stick around to see whether you can get some action you will actually get convicted of having commited a crime.

When you find yourself faced with an assailant who is about to attack and fleeing is not an option, you might think that now is the time to go into your kamae like this:

If that is your choice then- congratulations! You have just warned an attacker that is most likely going to fight dirty and who probably has backup ready for those harder targets that you intend to fight. Now he has been given a chance to prepare!

50/50 chances are nice for tournaments where good sportsmanship has a place, but I don't like giving the scum on our streets any chance.

Besides that- if you have time to dance around in your competition kamae you probably have a chance to run away as well. The court would want to know why you chose to use that chance to throw feints and move in and out...

Also- ask any karateka and he/she will tell you that no kata starts off from the stance showed in the photo above.

Kata- in which a lot of the techniques we aren't allowed to use in tournaments, but that are ideal for self-preservation, rather seem to tell a story that goes like "I was just standing here minding my own business when this guy came at me from the left with a kick and..."- well- you know what I mean...

In the scenarios presented by the kata the assailant is already within attacking range and launching his attack.

That does not mean that- if you know an attack is coming, but you just don't know when, that you have to wait with your hands at your sides. Please- just don't cross your arms and go into "yoi" position! I trust that you are not a moron!

This will do. The angle at which the body is facing the would-be attacker has most of the vital organs out of line of fire and the hands, although they appear to be non-threatening, are already in place to attack or defend or necessary.

Now- it would be the ideal scenario for court if you did not strike the first blow, but we as martial artists know that playing the passive role is not always a good idea. We know that whenever an attacker is within attacking range the one who hits first will most likely be the one whose blow lands as well and who then gets the biggest chance to gain control of the confrontation. So- don't fret. If you really can't flee and your attacker is close enough for you to smell his breath, but he has not yet started hitting you, feel free to break that nose and run a away while his head is still tilting back.

Because this article is only about staying within the confines of the law when defending yourself I am not going to go into aspects such as discretion and any particular self defense technique. I do hope, however, that it will prove useful to those among us who have been wondering about the extent to which the Law allows us to use our techniques for our protection and that of others in society.

This post is also going to appear on my firm's Facebook page and- if I get the sharing right- on its blog.

Stay well and enjoy your weekend!    

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Forget about effectiveness for a while- I am getting tired of discussions about what works "on the street"

Hello again, everyone.

I trust everyone has been training well this week. My Saturday workout took a bit longer to finish as I started on my undertaking to learn the kata Gankaku. By the look of things I have about 75% of the sequence down. Hopefully the other 25% will be there next Saturday. :D

Effectiveness is one of the main discussion points we find in martial arts groups and among martial artists in general. It has probably been the number 1 sales point on which new styles or old, but formerly obscure styles, used to gain students. 

I remember the publicised No-Rules Tournaments in the 90's. They were the precursors to the MMA we see today. Journalists and commentators all held the view that the aim of these tournaments was to determine the most effective martial art. Well- the 90's are long gone and I have not seen any martial art styles disappearing from existence after these tournaments.

Before the 90's Judo champion and Shotokan black belt Hayward Nishioka conducted a scientific study at a California University to determine the difference in power between Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do punch and the classic Karate punch. He found that the Jeet Kune Do punch was more powerful.
Even to this day you have to search South Africa really thoroughly to find a Jeet Kune Do school. On the other hand- almost every town here has a Karate school.

These things are all very interesting to martial artists already engaged in martial arts studies and practice, but we have bigger fish to fry. 

Sensei Jesse Enkamp wrote in one of his articles some years ago that Karate is not considered "cool" by the general public. This  is even the case in Japan.

From where I am looking I can tell you that a similar situation prevails in China where, although Kungfu is considered a national treasure (after having earlier been outlawed by the Guomintan Government in its early years) the largest part of the Chinese public do not really care at all about what goes on in the martial arts world. 

Image result for self defence

In the West you first have to look towards that part of the public that do want to participate in sports or physical exercise and then after sifting through all the runners, spinners and crossfitters you end up finding the odd kickboxer, MMA fighter or maybe a Karateka or two...

Image result for self defence

Those who have identified a need to know how to defend themselves may have attended one self defence class and then afterward never bothered to practice any fighting techniques at all...

Image result for old man practicing tai chi

In China we might still find the odd patient who gets told by his doctor that Tai Chi is just the thing for his condition. I shall not go as far as to call these Tai Chi students martial artists, however, since they most often have no interest in learning the combat applications to their movements.

So- in short- the huge problem that every martial arts school in the world is facing now is not the need of defending itself against claims that the other school's techniques are more effective, but it is getting the ordinary man, woman and child in the street interested in learning what you have to teach.

Now- how you accomplish that is something on which I have not yet heard a lot of discussion.

Fine- you could hold a demonstration or two where you break boards and as soon as you have hooked a couple of kids who wanted to learn to break boards you can see how many tournaments and competition training they will take before they leave without being able to break boards.

Or- go out and tell the world how important it is to be able to defend yourself and then take those interested in self defence that you have reeled in with that sales pitch and give them sports training. See how that works out...

Thing is- this is exactly what has already happened. We have adults who have taken up karate as a child and then gave it up when it did not live up to their expectations. We have people that don't want to learn martial arts because they are just not into sports.

If sports is indeed your angle- then market your school/ gym with the jocks in mind. 

If you want to pull in those frail boys who desperately need to be able to handle themselves against bullies- then make sure that your curriculum caters to them.

I have taken up Karate at the age of 14. I never really wanted to compete in any sports or to win any medals, but martial arts fascinated me without end and I really wanted to learn. I wanted to defend myself, break bricks, do fancy kicks and get rid of bullies. 

It just so happened that my early high school years are not worth remembering since most of it consisted of being bullied by boys, rejected by girls and being ordered this way and that by adults who thought they knew what was best for me.

Still- I liked to read. It was all very cute when my reading material at the age of 10 consisted of books on robotics, astronomy and whatever scientific subject that could grab my attention at the time. 

Later, though, I focused my attention more on martial arts theory and philosophy while I was getting firsthand experience of Karate training at the Dojo. 

All this reading had led me to discover Zen Buddhism and Qigong at the age of 16.

The teachings and exercises of Zen, combined with Qigong and martial arts training had done a lot to make  my teenage years a lot more bearable and at times even enjoyable. To this day I train with this in mind.

    Now- it is really no surprise to anyone that you can find a teacher teaching the same things in China. I am dead certain that a lot of people there would have appreciate an awesome mentor like Mr Miyagi for their kids. 

Image result for mr miyagi

Still- it does not take so long to drop your kids off at a Dojo and find that teachers like that appear to be nowhere to be found.

Well- I figured- who said that that is the way things are supposed to be?

That is why- a while after I first got asked to teach I have decided: If I am going to teach I shall teach the way I in which I would have liked to be taught.

When I asked my Chinese friends about my given name "Wen Hsiu" they said that it meant that I was a gentleman. I was trained and taught with the philosophy that a gentleman has to know martial arts along with his vocational training and life skills. At some times these aspects of one's life seem intertwined. The reason that I have to offer people to start considering learning martial arts is to enable them to become a complete person. This will of course require a different approach to teaching and training a soldier or an MMA fighter, but it is nonetheless something to which it is worth devoting time and effort.

When learning marketing skills one gets taught of advertising to get the public's attention and then after sales service as a means to secure the relationship with the client. In martial arts- even if you do not wish to run your school as a business- that after sales service consists mainly of the results and the experience students get from attending your classes.

I guess I will not really see an end to posts and videos about whether something works "on the street" or not, but I really hope to see people publishing more and more reasons on why people have to bother learning martial arts to begin with.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Kungfu Moves in Karate 6: Twin Dragons Shooting Out Pearl

Hello again, everyone!

Today's post is the last in the series on Kungfu moves that we find in Karate.

This move is one of 3 double handed strikes that show up in forms from time to time. Because fists are allowed in most martial arts sparring competitions (except Judo for instance) some might even say that they have used it as opposed to the other strikes that are both open handed.

The Twin Dragons are found in Shaolin Forms and consist of two punches- one chest level and one stomach level, shooting out simultaneously. It is also executed by punching the face and abdomen at the same time.

The original version of the technique looks like this:

This version is also found in the Bassai Dai and Rohei kata of Shukokai. Other Okinawan-based styles also use this method.

Japanese styles of Karate like Shotokan and Wado Ryu have the arms bent, further apart and the body leaning into the punch like this:

While the first method is sufficient for hitting two targets at once, or to have an extra attack going out for in case the first gets blocked the second method also has its added uses.

Sensei Iain Abernethy actually has a really good explanation for this. In the video below he also explains why this punch is called "Yama Zuki" (Mountain Punch) in Japanese.

I have come across the Youtube channel of DrobyshevskyKarateSystem some time ago and have found that they have another use for the Mountain Punch. The link to the video is below:

Rear Bear Hug Defense:

This has brought has to the end of this series.

Saying that Karate has developed from Fujian White Crane style of Kungfu is really an over-generalisation as the 5 previous posts have shown us.

If you have never seen the White Crane style before here is a sample:

We have also seen that, although Shotokan is regarded as a Japanese style of Karate which we would expect to be the furthest removed from Chinese influence it contains not only the Ma Bu (Horse Stance) of Shaolin, but also other Shaolin techniques that got preserved in its kata and kihon.

Knowing where these techniques come from and what they were originally meant to do helps a lot in understanding the kata and its purpose.

In the end, however, we know that the study of martial arts is not an academic exercise and it is alright if you do not wish to delve too deep into the history of what you are doing. I hope, however, that these last 6 posts have provided some answers to the more inquisitive among us.

Train well and have a great week ahead.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Kung Fu Moves in Karate 5: Horse Stance

Hello, everyone!

I think this stance is one recognised easily by Kung Fu and Karate practitioners alike.

It is the mother of all stances. When you want to teach someone proper posture for Chinese, Japanese or Okinawan martial arts (okay- Korean martial arts as well), the Horse Stance is an excellent place to start.

In sparring context both Karate and Kungfu uses the stance facing forward for stationary practice. Punches and strikes are practiced while the legs get a workout and the student starts to develop the rooting necessary for effective technique.

Once Horse Stance is mastered other stances follow with very little difficulty as the relaxed shoulders, low centre of gravity and upright back are things essential to all other basic stances that follow. It is true that one starts learning ducking and leaning at an advanced stage, but that would be useless without the foundation laid by basic stance training.

Ask a Karate master the value of Kiba Dachi-or Horse Stance- in Karate and the answer you would get shall involve the hara, which in Japanese can mean "stomach", but in martial arts it refers to the centre of gravity. Martial artists agree that this centre is in the abdominal region of the martial artist's body. Proper placement of the hara is essential for having speed, power and balance when executing martial arts techniques. This is especially true for Karate.

In Chinese Horse Stance is known as Ma Bu- which translates to "Horse Stance" or "Horse Step". The latter translation seems to be a reminder that a stance is not a fixed position to maintain in a fight, but merely one of the many steps that you take in fighting.

When used in stationery practice the aim is to teach a student to lower his qi. This in essence has the effect that effort is concentrated within the hara, to which the Chinese refer as the dantian. While we might not all agree on the process, all can experience the effect of having strong firm legs while the head and neck are calm and relaxed while the shoulders are light and "floating" (if we say "relaxed" we may find people pushing their shoulders so far down that they actually hunch over and develop bad posture. That was never the idea. You just want to remove tension and rigidity, not really having them hanging to the ground!).  

Students of some of the more Okinawan based styles of Karate will tell you, however, that they do not use the Horse Stance- or Kiba Dachi, but that they have the Square Stance, also known as Shiko Dachi.

Now- Horse Stance comes from Shaolin.

Where does Shiko Dachi come from?

The answer?

These guys...

I have said earlier that the assimilation of Kung Fu techniques into the Ryukyu Te-systems was not due to these fighting systems lacking any techniques to make them complete. Believe me- every civilisation found its own ways to fight and the Okinawans were no exception. Long before the Chinese showed up they knew how to punch, kick and wrestle.In fact- Okinawa has its own version of Sumo as well.

Being very similar in language and ethnicity the Okinawans had some similarities with the Japanese in their fighting methods. Because wrestling/grappling was one of the corner aspects of Japanese unarmed combat, the Square Stance played a central part in the learning of these arts. Sumo, after all, was the precursor of Jujutsu which would in turn give rise to Judo...

This is why, when we look at Okinawan styles like Goju and Shito Ryu- which we expect to have more Chinese elements than Shotokan- we find that they do not even bother with Kiba Dachi. They have Shiko Dachi and are quite content with it.

Some very knowledgeable Karate Nerds, thanks to awesome sources of Karate knowledge like Sensei Jesse, will tell you, however, that Shotokan DID in fact have Shiko Dachi in its early years under its founder Gichin Funakoshi.

It was only under the stewardship of his son, Ken, that Kiba Dachi got adopted into the style to replace Shiko Dachi.

The obvious difference between Shiko and Kiba Dachi is the way the feet are facing. Ever wondered about the significance thereof? (Quiet, Taiji people! I want to give the Karate people a chance to guess!)

Well- I take things like this as examples of a nation's anthropological traits that get developed. In Asians I find it the most interesting. In Japanese  martial arts, standing with the feet facing apart like this means that the fighter is relaxed. Alert, yes- but relaxed. This is the posture in which he stands when nothing serious has happened yet. Not even the abs are tightened. Well- if you bear in mind that in Japanese martial arts history the assailant was most likely to use a katana, then you can agree with me that tightening your abs won't do much good against that...

Now- in Chinese martial arts, standing like that allows for a lot of energy (for the physicists out there I shall say "potential energy" so that no one gets any Dragonball Z ideas...) to get lost. Standng with the feet facing forward and presing outward on their outer edges build up tension that makes the fighter sturdy and immovable, but also gathers potential energy which can be released when the fighter has to move suddenly. It is interesting to note that styles of Karate that stand in yoi (ready posture) with their feet facing forward do not regard this stance as mere neutral standing, but regard their yoi as a kamae or fighting stance. The abs are tightened, hips push forward and the knees press outward. This yoi is in fact a high Kiba Dachi.

So- an over generalised expression would be: Feet facing away from each other = Hakuna Mitata

                                                                           Feet facing forward = Serious Business

That's it for this post.

During this week I realised that I have forgotten to mention a very significant move. With this post being the second last I shall save this particular move for the last post next week. It is called "Twin Dragons Shoot out Pearl".

Until next time!