This is a big-secret-revealed kind of post. The question – What are the two deadliest fists of karate?
Is it the seiken, or two-knuckle fist?
That would be a good guess. The seiken is used very heavily in most karate styles and can be an utterly devastating weapon. But that is not one of the two.
Is it the shuto, or knife hand?
This technique is also very common and embodies karate’s empty handed nature. The ridge end of a shuto strike can often be found breaking boards and roofing tiles in exhibitions. Unfortunately, this is also not one of the deadliest fists.
It must be the ippon nukite, or single finger?
The ippon nukite uchi, or single finger strike, can be extraordinarily unpleasant when used properly. The Bubishi refers to it as the “one blade of grass hand,” and anything that poetic has to be good. Used for jabbing into vital areas such as the eyes, ippon nukite is formidable…but not one of the two deadliest fists.
So what are the two??
Distancing and Timing.
The dual fists of distancing and timing are more deadly than any hand or foot formation ever devised by man. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Matt, you cheated. You didn’t tell us you were going to use metaphor.” That’s true, I did cheat a little bit. But we learned something about fists anyway, right?
Distancing and timing are such an effective combination that the fanciest flying kick and the most bulldozing punch are helpless against them.
A practitioner who properly utilizes distance is able to maintain a zone of safety around himself/herself by avoiding attacks and cutting angles. When that same practitioner uses timing, he can then evade and intercept attacks as they happen. A person who masters distancing and timing can place themselves at the perfect distance away to strike their enemy, while knowing how much their enemy must move to strike them back.
While in that perfect distance, the expert exponent of timing can read his opponents intentions of attack – when the decision of attack is made, when the body begins to move, and when the body finally executes a technique. A proper counterattack can be made while the opponent is making decisions, while they are initiating attack, while the attack climaxes, or while the attack recoils and the opponent prepares his next attack.
It becomes a matter of when, not if.
Much more on distancing and timing later…because they REALLY ARE that important.
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I never had the chance to personally train with Seikichi Odo Sensei. This is very regrettable. But don’t we all feel that way about those seniors who have passed before us? I bet there are men who Odo Sensei would have loved to train with, but never got the chance. Luckily, I have had the chance to study with excellent instructors who spent extensive time with Odo Sensei, and who patiently entertain all of my inane questions. I have also had the luxury of pouring over tape of Odo Sensei training. Here are some observations for those inclined to learn more about those who came before us.
In these days of martial arts mayhem, it can be very difficult discerning who to trust and listen to. For example: who am I? Who cares? I’m not anybody of significance. But Odo Sensei was someone who was respected globally for his skill and contributions to the martial arts. He was commonly cited as one of the greatest weapons practitioners of his era. As Judan and successor to Nakamura Shigeru, Odo was responsible for the proliferation of Okinawa Kenpo. That’s significant.
Odo Sensei was also renowned for having a kind spirit. Of the many stories I’ve heard about him, they all revolve around the positive influence he had on training and growth.
One of Odo’s trademark characteristics was his penchant for courtesy and saving face. If a student were to ask him if they were doing a technique “right,” Odo would rather simply say yes than suggest they were doing something poorly. But if a student were to ask how Odosan did a technique or advice on ways to improve it, then he would feel comfortable teaching and transmitting knowledge. By behaving in this way, Odo Sensei not only taught students technique, but also ways of communicating with diligent reshiki.
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Odo Sensei’s techniques seem a bit odd to modern eyes. His body is very relaxed and his motions seem almost lackadaisical. These days many people fall into two camps – the traditional karate/taekwondo stances and strikes, or the free-range mma and judo scrap…neither of which resemble Odo’s “casual” approach.
Relaxation is key in arts such as Aikido, but even so-called hard arts utilize it at high levels. Odo Sensei was constantly integrating his karate to such a degree that his movements became the natural body language of his every day living. The focus of his strikes and techniques were sharp upon impact, but they were surrounded by motion that was so well practiced that it seemed nonchalant.
Here is a video of Odo Sensei engaged in one of his favorite activities – teaching.
It’s brief, I know. Unfortunately youtube footage of Odo Sensei is limited. Here he is teaching hakatsuru (or white crane) kata, a lesser known Okinawan form.
To me, Odosan embodies the unpretentious unity of martial arts into every day life. His karate was an expression of who he was, not of who he could hurt. While I’ll never know him personally, my pursuit to better understand him has led to deeper learning of Okinawa Kenpo. Isn’t it interesting how true teachers never stop teaching, even after their time on this earth is spent?
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It’s tough for us to remember what it was like starting something new as a child. The strange people, the strange surroundings, the complete abandonment of our comfort zone. Sure we still experience that as adults, but it’s not quite the same. From my experience teaching children, here are some stumbling blocks that I think are common for kids to run into. Of course, every child is different and must overcome unique obstacles, but there are a few issues that commonly arise in the realm of martial arts.
5. Fear, Intimidation, Jitters
Starting school can be tense. So can trying out for the softball team. But what about coming to a karate school where you will inevitably be punched and kicked!? Some kids actually thrill at the thought of strapping on pads and going at it, but many experience trepidation and anxiety. I often found it to be a good idea to spar with children on my own before sending them out against each other (control can be a bit lacking then). Something else that causes fear is performing alone, in front of others. Sometimes shyness is so strong that they refuse to participate and shut down for the rest of class.
Karate and other martial arts offer all kinds of seemingly unpleasant obstacles, and can occasionally leave children asking their parents if they ever have to go back again. But its those same trials that build strong character and a willingness to take risks that pays dividends later.
4. Peer Ranking
Ranking is one of the strongest motivators used by many American schools (if not most schools worldwide) these days. An instructor must gauge students for progress and ability and award rank accordingly. Unfortunately, if a child sees some of his peers being promoted while he/she is not, it can cause jealousy and a desire to quit.
This is a sometimes insurmountable obstacle for instructors because the schools that provide the most amount of rank (and award it the quickest) are often the ones that get the most business. Instructors are therefore put in a position to provide children with rank frequently for fear of discouraging them and losing them to competition. It’s really up to the parents to introduce kids to a good school right off the bat, before they get in the habit of constant rank attainment. Both the parents and child have to ignore little Johnny down the street when he gets a new rank every month.
Balancing martial arts and school activities can be as difficult as tightrope walking. They both prompt kids to spend their time and energy to succeed, but there are only so many hours in a day.
I do believe that kids should experience other activities as they grow up; it’s really the only way to find out what they are passionate about. That’s why I am always filled with contrasting feelings when kids or young adults leave the dojo. They have my best wishes for success in their other endeavors, but I also know how difficult it can be for them to make the leap back into the martial arts.
2. External Oriented Teaching
Ranking is a small subset of a bigger problem – teaching that is driven by external reward. Tournament trophies, ranking, patches, championships, titles…it’s all a big mess.
Here’s the problem – that stuff runs out of steam after awhile…and the child will move on to another endeavor that will provide BETTER external reward. It’s not a good cycle.
1. Black Belt
The black belt has become the finishing line. Think about it – would you take your child to a martial art school that didn’t offer a black belt?
The black belt has become a symbol of supposed mastery, instead of it’s intended meaning – a readiness to begin learning. Black belt is on top of my list because it’s not just the biggest hurdle for young martial artists, but for all martial artists. Why carry on after a black belt is attained?
The answer is extraordinarily complex, and the rest of my writing is generally dedicated to explaining just that.
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