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!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Kungfu Moves in Karate- Move 4: Single Tiger emerges from Cave

Hello again, everyone.

Thank you for joining me. I am at the last chapter on moves found in forms of Karate and Kung Fu that are similar or even exactly the same.

This particular movement called "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" consists of three elements that I will analyse separately.

Firstly- the stance being adopted may be known to even a lot of kyu-level students of styles like Shito and Goju Ryu as Cat Stance. In Chinese martial arts we find it being referred to as Tiger Stance.

While I have not yet seen any Karate katas showing it, one of the functions of this stance is to enable you to shoot into Bow (forward) Stance while attacking with a move like Black Tiger Steals Heart (which is a fancy Chinese name for Gyaku Zuki to put it simply).

The second element is the hand form called "Tiger Claw" that sweeps forward and outwards to deflect a straight attack. Hand forms are an integral part of Shaolin Kungfu and the Tiger Claw is but one of a number of these hand forms that include arcane looking hand forms like the Dragon Claw, One Finger Zen and the Sword Fingers.

These hand forms strongly resemble the mudras found in Hinduism and are evidence of Shaolin Kungfu being regarded by the Monks as not just a martial art, but also a Buddhist spiritual exercise.

The third element is the withdrawing hand. Shaolin Kungfu seems to share Karate's love for this concept more than Taijiquan or Wing Chun Quan/ Yong Quan.

In fact- although people generally credit  White Crane Kungfu with the development of Karate this type of withdrawing fist (hikite) is not even found in the form that I have seen.

In Kungfu the Single Tiger is mainly used as a block against a straight, mid-level punch like the Black Tiger. In sparring, however, it is also a very popular "poise pattern" (or fighting stance/ kamae). Jeet Kune Do, Sanda and Karate athletes might scoff at this type of fighting stance, but the reality is that the one free leg can actually respond to an attack much faster with a kick or a side-step than a foot that has weight on it. When used in this manner the Tiger Claw serves as a guard ready to not only block a punch, but to grab hold of the attacking arm.

Now on to Karate...

Shukokai students will be able to tell you outright that this is Shuto Uke. :)

Goju and Shito Ryu students also perform Shuto Uke in this manner.

Karate, taking a more pragmatic approach to training than a spiritual one, does not bother with hand forms like the Tiger Claw. That is replaced with a neat Knife Hand with fingers, nicely together. On a personal note I can say that I'd prefer to keep my fingers together as well as an overextended pinkie can be a huge distraction in the midst of a fight.

Still- the Cat/ Tiger Stance is kept and the Shuto Uke performs exactly the same function as the Single Tiger.

Japanese styles like Shotokan and Wado have substituted the Cat Stance (Neko Dachi) for the Back Stance (Kokutsu Dachi). The sideways step creates the impression that the karateka now squeezes through a narrower space with his block. A conscious effort is made to keep the hikite over the solar plexus. It is said to be done for protection of this vulnerable spot. Not seeing it being done with techniques like Uchi Uke and punches tell me, however, that Japanese karateka are not really as concerned about the safety of their solar plexuses as we make them out to be, though. 

Sensei Iain, however, has a very straightforward and practical use for the Japanese Shuto Uke, however.

This can't be done with the block from Cat Stance:

I have actually found 3 videos of Sensei Iain explaining the use of this block on Youtube.

A lot of traditional Kung Fu teachers (Jeet Kune Do teachers are not among them) maintain that a student of their art does not attack first, but only responds to an attack against him/ her. From where I am looking at things a pre-emptive attack might sometimes be the best way to prevent a lot of unnecessary bloodshed. So- I work equally hard on ways of attacking first as I do on responses to attacks.

The Single Tiger comes in handy in this instance. In the previous post I have explained that the Swinging Punch's fluid arc path is a lot quicker than the pulling back and straightening out of a straight punch. Now- if I want to attack from a natural position with a powerful reverse punch (or Black Tiger punch) I need a way to set the opponent up. The Tiger Claw can serve here to get an arm out of the way or even to cover an opponent's eyes before I punch.

In Wudang forms that sweeping open hand can quickly transform into an uppercut.

I have now reached the end of my post. I hope you all have a great weekend and an awesome week ahead.

Next week's chapter shall be on the Horse Stance.

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!