Superhero Paradox – Karate, are punches and kicks enough?

No superpower can exist in complete isolation. This implies that in addition to the superpower, exists other powers in addition to it. A simple example would be Flash. In addition to being fast, I reckon that his body should be able to withstand travelling at that speed. He probably would have enhanced muscle strength (both to support his running and punching at the speed of light) and maybe able to control his metabolic rate so that travelling so fast would not consume his body resources at a rapid rate.

This scenario should clearly describe that you cannot learn things in isolation because each discipline inherits information of another discipline one way or another.

Karate-do is well known as the way of the empty hand, and a predominantly striking art. This would imply that the art is predominantly focused on strikes through punches, kicks, elbows, knees, palm and sometimes open hand techniques such as the palm strike and ‘knife hand’ or ‘spear hand’ (imagine the Karate chop). Sounds like a very menacing self-defense system, doesn’t it?

As mentioned in the first section of the article, each discipline inherits information of another discipline. Historically, karate included techniques such as throws, joint locks and some grappling. In fact, karate has a set of common throws that can be found in many forms (refer: kata).

Some of them include the following:

Leg sweeps – ashi barai, shoto geri, shoto gari (judo), uchi gari, tai otoshi, harai goshi, etc. (some are judo terms)

Throws – seoi nage, ogoshi, kaiten nage, tenshi nage, kote gaeshi, irimi nage, etc.

Joint locks – I’m not familiar with some of the names, but some include my favorite ikkyo, nikkyo, shihonage and their variants.

The above are some examples I can think of on the top of my head that can be observed during kata applications (refer: bunkai) and during sports sparring (refer: sports kumite). If you’re wondering; yes, those are techniques inherited from the systems famed for their expertise in throwing and locking, Aikido, Judo and Jujitsu.

Generally, throws and leg sweeps monetize from exploiting the balance and anatomy weakness of the human body. Leg sweeps exploit the shifting body weight and balance, throws exploit center of gravity and body balance, joint locks exploit areas of the anatomy that limit movement. If understood and used properly, these techniques are just as effective, if not more than striking techniques for self-defense. Not to mention they look cooler to learn and perform.

I do not claim to be an expert in any of the above arts or any form of self-defense, but I am a firm believer that self-defense comes in two forms, restraint and removal and outright beating the attacker up. However, in an event where you clearly know there’s a difference in strength (i.e. the average man vs average woman), it’s hard to predict the outcome, if ball kicking isn’t involved. On the other hand, I can safely say that every human has a similar anatomy and can ensure you that strength is not part of human anatomy. This would sort of describe the saying, brain versus brawn during a confrontation. But, if you are defending against an alien, a gun might be a better choice.

Now, coming back to Karate, a typical class would include warm ups, basic techniques and movement, kata practice and/or kumite. Kata practice often includes bunkai training in a form of one step sparring (refer: ippon kumite) and often ends up consisting of a combination of blocks and strikes. Although some bunkai include joint locks and throws, it is often done with a degree of strength involved, meaning it might be missing some details during execution. Throws, sweeps and locks should be executed with minimum use of strength, meaning a smaller individual should be able to execute the technique on someone approximately twice or half their size (not weight). Additionally, the partner (refer: uke) should learn how to use a variety of break falls to prevent further injury upon execution of a technique.

Admittedly, this isn’t the easiest task to teach, learn and pickup just from watching videos or a master perform it on you several times for a seminar. Like any group or partner activity, it is important to communicate how you felt during the technique to help each other learn. Although this will likely take double, maybe triple the duration to master as opposed to turning up to a judo or aikido class; what’s important is that you understand what you are doing on the journey of perfecting the technique.

In short: Practice, Practice, Practice!

 Karate is a ‘complete’ martial arts system that comprises of strikes, throws, sweeps joint locks and sometimes grappling. Instead of just focusing on striking, spend some time with your peers and instructor to discuss possible throwing and locking techniques within a kata’s bunkai and not tunnel vision on the ‘standard’ answer. Practice, experiment and research different joint locks and throws available although self-learning is a pain. But I promise doing so will be fruitful towards your development.

 Remember, you can’t and shouldn’t learn things in isolation. Be your own Karate Superhero!

 Hong C.L.