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Practical Applications of Uke Waza by Andy Allen

Practical Applications of Uke Waza by Andy Allen

About the Author: Andy Allen is a 7th dan with the ISKF and chief instructor of Bedford West Shotokan Karate. As part of his teaching assignment at Charles P Allen High School in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, he teaches a credit course in martial arts.After having trained in 3K and competition-based karate for many years, Andy began searching for ways to make karate training more practical which is the current focus of his teaching and training.

Practical Applications of Uke Waza by Andy Allen

1. Introduction

There is a plethora of techniques, or waza, to learn throughout one’s karate journey. Most karate waza can be categorized as belonging to one of a number of categories including; punches, strikes, blocks, kicks or sweeps. Truthfully, there are no blocks in karate. A block is not a block. A punch is not a punch. There are no strikes in karate nor are there any kicks. There are only techniques, or waza. It is the categorizing and labelling of karate waza that limits our imaginations and creativity when applying them. A block can be a strike. A strike can be a block.

The karate practiced today is vastly different than what Master Funakoshi learned in his youth (Funakoshi, 1975). One notable difference is how ‘blocking’ techniques are applied. In the pre-Japan era of Okinawan karate, then referred to by other names including karate jutsu, tode and te, training was intended for civilian self defence. Today, Shotokan karate is often practiced at mid to long range distances. There are a number of reasons for this transformation: misinterpretation of the meaning of uke; the explosion in the popularity of karate once it was introduced to Japan; the categorization and systematic naming of techniques;  the transformation of karate from a jutsu to a do martial art; the de-emphasis of grappling as an integral component of karate; and the popularization of sport kumite.

This essay will explore alternative applications to what we traditionally refer to as blocking techniques herein to be referred to as uke waza. When applicable, references will be made to historical writings from well-known karate masters such as Gichin Funakoshi, Ankō Itosu, Kenwa Mabuni, Motobu Chōki as well as current international experts in the field of the practical application of karate. Alternative suggestions will be made for the application of blocks as a means to clear or trap limbs, lock joints, off-balance, throw, strike and choke. Karate was the original mixed martial art which included regular use of such techniques. Adopting these old school close-range applications in our training will serve the karate practitioner well if they wish to be better equipped to effectively defend themselves when confronted with civilian violence.

Researching means to apply uke waza in kata as an effective means of civilian self defence is a personal interest of mine. Some argue that karate has lost its way and has become too sport oriented. There is a growing global movement in returning to the old ways of kata oyo (kata application). Present day experts in the field of the practical application of karate are publishing fascinating interpretations of kata bunkai (the breakdown or analysis of kata).  Essentially, what is old is new. In Funakoshi Gichin’s Tanpenshu (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2005) a copy of Master Funakoshi’s kanji is provided that reads, “On Ko Chi Shin” which translates to, “To study the old is to understand the new”. In many karate circles, the art is again evolving, yet in doing so, it is returning to its roots.  In Karate Do My Way of Life, Master Funakoshi (1975, page 36) writes,

“Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too. The karate high school students practice today is not the same karate that was practiced even as recently as ten years ago and is a long way indeed from the karate I learned when I was a child in Okinawa.”

Here, Master Funakoshi acknowledges the need for the evolution of karate as the world around us evolves. It is widely known that Master Funakoshi was against the use of karate in competition so perhaps he would welcome a return to karate’s origins. It is appropriate to note that the world is a much different place than it was when Master Funakoshi lived in pre-WWII Japan. With the birth of mixed martial arts in the 1990s, martial artists and the public in general are more critical, and in fact are knowledgeable, of what tactics and techniques and are effective in both self defence and in combat. Many people who explore martial arts are looking for an effective means to defend themselves. A return to karate’s roots by including the practical application of uke waza in our regular training would fill the void that currently exists in many traditional systems.

2. Reasons for the misapplication of uke waza in modern karate

2.1 Misunderstanding of the term ‘uke’

The term uke is typically understood to mean block which means to stop. Thinking of uke waza as stopping techniques is problematic as it paralyzes our creativity in imagining possibilities for applications. Uke comes from the Japanese word ukeru which means to receive. It is important to understand this distinction when considering practical uses for uke waza as receiving and blocking an opponent have much different connotations.

Uke waza certainly can be used to block punches, kicks and strikes but they are, in fact, much more versatile techniques. To receive our opponent can mean to clear a limb, to off-balance, to set up for a strike or throw, or to lock a joint once a limb has been seized. In short, uke waza are not just for blocking.

2.2 The explosion in the popularity of karate once it was introduced to Japan

Prior to 1900, karate instructors typically taught very few students in private. A student would typically stay with their teacher for years during which time they earned the trust of their master. Once a student had learned a kata, they were taught the dangerous applications found in kata including those from uke waza. In 1909, karate (then referred to as karate jutsu) was introduced to the public school curriculum in Okinawa and then spread to the schools and universities of mainland Japan. Before long, karate instructors were faced with large numbers of students who may have only trained for a short time. The result was that instructors tended to teach only the most basic of applications. Over successive generations, students who only learned the watered down versions of karate eventually became instructors. (Goodin, n.d.)

2.3 The categorization and systematic naming of techniques

At the onset of training, a student of karate learns the terminology associated with the naming of karate waza; oi zuki, age uke, shuto uke, etc. When the pre-1900 Okinawan karate instructor taught, it was to one or two students and was done in secret. The instructor was likely to demonstrate a movment and have the student(s) mimic it. There was no need for terminology. The publication of books on karate began in the 1920s which necessitated the need for names for the sake of communication. Movements were named and classified as some type of block, punch, kick etc. The naming and categorizing karate waza makes it easier to communicate, especially when teaching large classes but doing so limits our creativity in how we apply those techniques. If we learn that a technique is called age uke then we assume it must be used to block an attack.  (Goodin, n.d.)

2.4 The transformation of karate from a ‘jutsu’ to a ‘do’ martial art

In 1609, Japan's Satsuma clan initiated the Japanese occupation of Okinawa. Okinawans were resentful of their conquerors which resulted in the cooperation of various Okinawan karate schools . Training was practiced in secrecy and the sharing of techniques improved the efficacy of karate as a whole. Karate was very violent at the time as the immediate goal was to destroy one’s enemy in a minimal amount of time. (Reilly, 1985) This version of karate lacked the philosophy that it would adopt in later years.

Gichin Funakoshi was influential in the transformation of karate to a do martial art. (Reilly, 1985). In the 1920s, he wrote that the characters 空手 (empty hand) should be adopted to replace the 唐手 (Tang hand or a Chinese hand). Funakoshi espoused this change for two reasons. First, he felt that the Japanese character 空, meaning ‘empty’ was appropriate due to the fact karate did not make use of weapons.  Second, he favored the ideogram empty as he felt karate was related to the Japanese martial arts which utilized a Zen approach. Empty denotes  the concept of nothingness, or an empty mind which was important for the practitioner's training. (Reilly, 1985). In Karate-Do My Way of Life, Funakoshi (1972) wrote,

“Believing with the Buddhist that it is emptiness, the void, that lies at the heart of all matter and indeed of all creation, I have steadfastly persisted in the use of that particular character in my naming of the martial art to which I have given my life.”

It is common knowledge that Funakoshi’s philosophical and pacifist nature overshadowed his martial prowess. In Karate-Do My Way of Life, he tells of a post war story of how he was attacked by a young veteran. The master explains that the young man had snatched Funakoshi`s umbrella from his hands and had swung at him with it. The attacker missed due to Funakoshi`s quick reflexes and immediately found his testicles in Funakoshi’s firm grasp until the arrival of a passing police officer. Though we may agree that Funakoshi was justified in protecting himself, he felt shame for taking the offensive.

It was the transformation of karate to a do martial art that helped the Japanese accept it as a nobel martial art along with aikido, judo and kendo. The inclusion of ideals associated with self-reflection, self-improvement and adhering to a peaceful disposition gave karate-do a samurai-like quality. The inclusion of this do philosophy in the rebranding of karate was key in its eventual popularity in Japan. That said, the transforming of karate from a jutsu to a do martial art resulted in the emphasis on developing of the mind and body at the expense of learning effective (and dangerous) techniques. I would like to make it clear that I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of preserving Master Funakoshi’s teachings. The ultimate aim of karate-do indeed lies in the perfection of one’s character. That said, it is important that we practice karate so we can effectively make use of techniques to protect ourselves from Habitual Acts of Physical Violence. The philosophies outlined in dojo kun and niju kun serve as a means to instill civility and a noble disposition to temper the potentially violent characteristic of karate-do’s ancestral te.

2.5 The de-emphasis of grappling as an integral component of karate

Although karate was always primarily a striking art, grappling was once an integral component of regular training. In 1921,  American Boxer Jack Dempsey beat Frenchman Georges Carpentier in the United States for the world boxing championships. The match was shown in Japanese theaters as a means to brighten spirits in post-war Japan (Enkamp, 2016 Why Modern) . The event generated a lot of enthusiasm among the Japanese, particularly among young men who had never seen a striking art before. Officials had the idea of bringing in famous boxers to promote the sport in Japan but there were concerns of bringing more foreign influences into the country. Later in the same year, Sasaki Gogai (as cited in McCarthy et al, 2005) wrote an article entitled Secret Fighting Techniques. Gogai did a comparison between western boxing and karate jitsu from Okinawa. In addition to the difference in rules, or lack-there-of, in boxing vs karate jutsu, Gogai also noted that “grappling, like they do in Sumo, is not permitted in boxing where it is in karate Jitsu.” It was not long after the publication of this article that Master Funakoshi was solicited to demonstrate karate on mainland Japan.

Master Funakoshi himself provides proof that grappling was once an important part of karate. In Karate Do Kyohan, he describes nine throwing techniques which are seldom practiced these days. He also cites that the gedan berai in Tekki Shodan can be used as an arm lock in his book, Karate Jutsu. In Karate-Do Kyohan, he writes, “In karate, hitting, thrusting, and kicking are not the only methods, throwing techniques and pressure against joints are included … all these techniques should be studied referring to basic kata” (Funakoshi, 1973 in Karate-Do Kyohan).

So if grappling was once such an important part of karate, why is it not practiced today in some styles of karate such as Shotokan? Charles Goodin (n.d. Why of Bunkai) writes that when kata were first made public, the grappling applications were discarded. Joint locking and grappling techniques were either changed to blocks or thrown out altogether. Master Funakoshi was recruited to Japan to introduce karate as an answer to western boxing that sparked so much interest. Japan already had grappling arts such as judo, aikido and sumo so the grappling of karate including its throws, joint locks, ground techniques, escapes, counters and pressure points were discarded (Enkamp, 2016 Why Modern). Karate became a stripped down version of its former self. Kenwa Mabuni, a student of Master Itosu and the founder of Shito Ryu wrote;

“The Karate that has been introduced to Tokyo is actually just a part of the whole. The fact that those who have learnt Karate feel it only consists of kicks and punches, and that throws and joint locks are only found in Judo or Ju-Jutsu, can only be put down to a lack of understanding […] Those who are thinking of the future of Karate should have an open mind and strive to study the complete art.” (Abernethy, n.d. Karate Grappling)

2.6 The popularization of sport kumite

Sport kumite became popular not long after it was introduced to Japan. Sport kumite is merely a declawed version of old-school karate, perhaps for good reason. In many karate organizations, joint locks, throws, ground fighting and eye gouges are prohibited in competition in the interest of safety. When karate training in any particular dojo is heavily influenced by the rules of competition, techniques which were once an integral part of training are often ignored. Hence, competition does not require an intricate understanding of uke waza. They are occasionally used for blocking the attacks of an opponent but the long-distance nature of competition makes it nearly impossible to use them for other purposes. The popularization of sport kumite likely had a significant influence on the eventual misunderstanding of uke waza.

As Japan recovered from the aftermath of World War II, the karate world was in the hands of a younger generation. The Japan Karate Association was formed in 1949 and Master Funakoshi was named its titular head (McCarthy et al, 2005). At the time he was over 80 yrs old but still instructed classes at a few universities. A class he taught at Weseda University was poorly attended. Few of the young students were interested in learning kata which is what Master Funakoshi prefered to teach. It was club captain, Tsutomu Oshima who told the students that they were to attend Funakoshi’s classes if they wanted to grade (McCarthy et al, 2005). Of course, it is kata bunkai that teaches the karate-ka uke waza applications. By focussing only on kumite, the practitioner deprives himself of the opportunity to practice close-range civilian self defence tactics. I provide this story to illustrate how karate had changed so quickly during Master Funakoshi’s lifetime.

Jiyu kumite was being practiced in the dojos of post WWII and the first tournament took place in 1957 just months after Funakoshi died. This was in spite of the fact that Funakoshi was very much against the development of karate for sport. Today, many karate-ka enjoy sport karate. It allows participants to establish goals, conquer fears and test their skill but it is not what the Okinawan masters knew as karate. Today, jiyu kumite is considered an integral part of karate training. It is an effective means to pressure test one’s resilience but it does not allow a karate-ka to apply the techniques found in kata including uke waza. Kata bunkai fills this void. It allows us to analyze and practice (kata oyo) the prohibited techniques deemed too dangerous for competition.

3. Underlying principles of alternative uke waza applications:

Before discussing alternative alternative applications for uke waza, it would be helpful to put such perspectives in context. This necessitates a discussion on the original purpose of karate’s Okinawan roots, the nature of civilian violence, and the purpose of the front and back hands during an altercation.

3.1 Karate was originally meant for civilian self-defence.

First and foremost, in order to truly understand how kata techniques are applied it is important to understand the purpose for which karate was originally intended. In 1908, Anko Itosu wrote to the Okinawan education authority describing the nature of karate.  He wrote, “...It [Karate] is not intended to be used against a single opponent but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian”. In Itosu’s statement, he is saying that karate is not meant for consensual fighting but rather for civilian self defense (Abernethy, n.d. Karate Grappling). It is essential to understand that civilian self defence and consensual fighting are two entirely different things. Self defence scenarios often involve close range encounters where it is advantageous for the victim to utilize grappling skills including limb-clearing techniques, locks, throws and takedowns. An assailant looking to rob a victim does not wish to engage in a fight. He wants to get close, get what he wants then escape. Because the altercation starts at close range, long range techniques are not as important. If we analyze kata techniques in a self defense context then we should come closer to understanding karate functionality as it was originally intended.

3.2 Realistic civilian violence occurs at close range

Civilian violence takes place at a much closer range than the practice of modern karate so in order for uke waza to be applied effectively we must close the distance. When uke waza are applied in conventional bunkai, they are typically used to block long range punches and kicks such as oi zuki and mae geri. This is not a practical means of training as it does not reflect realistic scenarios.

Patrick McCarthy, a well known karate historian, coined the term Habitual Acts of Physical Violence or HAPV . He theorized that the martial arts evolved as a means of self protection from a variety of common attacks. The following lists of HAPV are most common in Canada in man vs man and man vs woman scenarios (Personal Security, n.d.):

HAPV in a man vs man scenario

● shoving push from front

● large circular punch to head or face

● single hand lapel/wrist/hair grab and large circular punch to head

● wild flurry of unfocused punches to head face from various angles-clinching

● crude standing grappling with attempts to punch/head face or throw to ground and punch head/face

● crude linear kicking

● prone struggle with attempt to mount and punch head/face or pound head into ground and possibly hair-pulling, biting, eye gouging, single or double handed choke attempt to side headlock

● attacker armed with blade or stick tape object (circular or linear attack)

● single hand grab of lapel/wrist/hair

● attack with blade or stick like weapon

HAPV in a man vs woman scenario

● push/shove-strike head slash face circular or linear slap/punch

● push shove and strike head/face

● single hand wrist grab strike head/face

● single hand lapel grab and strike head/face

● single hand hair grab and strike head/face

● double lapel grab and shove or throw to ground

● single/double hand choke from front

● one arm choke from rear with arm grab

● attack with blade or stick-like weapon

● grab wrist/lapel/hair and strike with weapon

● over arm bear hug from rear

● under arm bearhug from rear

● unfocused linear kick

It should be obvious that the the vast majority of these HAPVs occur at close range. As discussed earlier, Anko Itosu wrote that karate was a martial art to be used to protect one’s self against a villain or ruffian (Abernethy, n.d. Karate Grappling). In other words, karate training was designed to keep one safe from civilian violence which is characterized in the lists of HAPV above.

3.3 Two hands have a purpose

Abernethy (n.d. Basics of Bunkai) writes that there are no ’dead’ hands in uke waza. A dead hand is one that does not have a purpose in blocking, striking, locking, punching etc. In kata, whenever we block, punch or strike, the other hand is typically pulled back to the hip or solar plexus. This pulling hand is called hikite.  Before discussing what the purpose of hikite is, it may be beneficial to outline some common misunderstandings of the meaning of hikite.

The pulling hand is not positioned above the hip or on the solar plexus for protection. There are other anatomical structures on the human body that are much more vulnerable than the side of the lower torso or the solar plexus. If hikite was for protection we would likely see examples of the hikite protecting the groin, throat and eyes rather than the usual side of the torso or solar plexus.

The purpose of the hikite is not to make your punch or block stronger. When executing a basic gyaku zuki, it is primarily the use of hip and shoulder rotation that generates the power necessary for impact. This is easy enough to demonstrate. Have a partner stabilize a punching bag with their eyes closed. Hit the bag three times using hikite then three times with your non-punching hand held to the side of your head like boxer. Your partner will not be able to detect any difference in impact so long as you rotate the hips and shoulders. Likewise, pulling the hand back also does not make blocking stronger. In fact, accelerating a forearm into an oncoming shin will likely result in injury to one’s arm.

Hikite translates to ‘pulling hand’ which implies that it must be actually pulling on something. The real purpose of hikite is to pull or trap a part of your opponent’s body, typically an arm. When pulling a hand to the hip position, particularly if it is closed, it should be considered to have some part of the opponent in its grip. e.g. an arm, wrist or even head.

Even the chamber or ‘setup’ of a movement can be used effectively. In Shotokan karate, we spend a lot of time teaching proper ‘set ups’ or ‘preparatory movements’ when teaching blocking techniques. When pressure tested, these large movements are far too slow to be effective in defending an attack. Often it is said that these such movements are merely ‘just basic technique’ and that as we advance we learn to apply blocks with smaller motions. This begs the question; why learn something that does not work? The answer is that these large movements are not intended to be used as blocks.

Motobu Choki, who trained with Ankō Itosu, was well known for his tendency to find himself in street fights. Well known as a capable fighter, he was often criticized for his bluntness and failed to get the recognition afforded to many of his contemporaries. The karate taught by many of instructors of the time emphasized a higher goal of Zen like realisation, while Motobu primarily taught effective fighting strategies to his students.  Motobu coined the term ‘husband and wife hands’, or ‘mefutode’. He wrote,

When facing an opponent in a combative posture it is important to know the lead hand can be used to deal with both offensive and defensive issues. The lead hand can be used for both protecting and attacking concurrently. The rear hand is used as a reserve if and when the front hand cannot accomplish the intended outcome. Then mefutode can be used for both offense and defense.

Motobu criticized the practice of chambering the rear hand at the hip poised to strike as this eliminated its potential as a defensive weapon.

Motobu’s life story is a colourful one. While those loyal to a do approach to martial training may not view Motobu’s outlook favorably, his ideas are nonetheless worthy of analysis considering the vast experience he had in successfully dealing with civilian violence. In the applications to be explored later in this paper, Motobu’s concept of husband and wife hands will be illustrated.

Niju Kun 18 in The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate, by Master Funakoshi states, “Perform kata exactly; actual combat is another matter”. Uke waza, as performed in kata and kihon are practiced in a certain manner. Criteria that have been established by karate organizations such as the ISKF are upheld in dojos around the world. Civilian violence is messy, chaotic and usually ugly. It is not reasonable to expect a martial artist to handle a dangerous conflict with what is deemed to be ‘good form’, nor should this be a goal. In Niji Kun 18, Master Funakoshi writes, “ actual combat, it will not do to be hampered or shackled by the rituals of kata. Instead, the practitioner should transcend kata moving freely according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.” (Funakoshi & Nakasone, 2003 The Twenty).  Naturally, when applying uke waza, adjustments will need to be made in footwork, body posture and alignment and the means by which uke waza are executed. For example, when we perform gedan berai, during kata, it is done the same way whether we are practicing Heian Shodan, Jion or Enpi. Because the same uke waza can have many applications, there needs be subtle differences in the way they can be executed.

4. Alternative applications of uke waza

In describing applications of uke waza, the terms tori and uke will be used. As discussed earlier, uke means to receive. In the photos below, the uke gets locked, thrown struck etc while the tori executes these techniques. Many martial arts such as judo, jujutsu, aikido as well as karate make use of grappling techniques. A lock is a technique that manipulates a joint beyond its normal range of motion. A choke cuts of the airway while a strangulation cuts off blood flow to the brain resulting in unconsciousness. When practicing these dangerous techniques, the uke must ‘tap’ to indicate that the technique is working and the tori must immediately release. Throws are also very dangerous, especially is the uke is not skilled at ukemi (break falls). Care must be taken when practicing throwing techniques so injury does not occur.

4.1 Gedan berai as an arm bar

As with all uke waza in karate, both hands are utilized. There is the obvious ‘blocking’ front hand and the rear pulling hand (hikite). When executing gedan berai, the ‘blocking’ hand chambers to the opposite ear while the other hand starts extended forward. The chambered arm extends downward as the hikite is pulled to the hip. At close range, gedan berai can be used to apply an armbar starting with a cross-hand grab. The outreaching hand can be used to grab the assailant’s wrist if it is held high. The chambering arm is initially used to keep the assailant’s elbow high. The ‘blocking’ arm is used to apply force on a pressure point found on the triceps tendon as the hikite pulls the arm to the hip. It is important to note that in order for this technique to be applied effectively, you must pivot and pull the arm to the side. See figure 1 for an illustrated description.

YouTube video:

4.2 Double blocks of Heian Sandan (chudan uke/gedan uke) and morote uke as a shoulder lock

In Heian Sandan, the double blocks (chudan uke and gedan uke) can be used in conjunction with morote uke to manipulate an elbow and lock a shoulder joint. The simultaneous chudan uchi uke and gedan uke double blocks  and the moroto uke  have an interesting application whereby a hammerlock is applied to the assailant’s arm. See figure 2 for an illustrated description.

YouTube video:

4.3 Gedan berai as off-balancing and throwing techniques in Heian Shodan

The first three movements of Heian Shodan are a gedan berai executed at a 90°angle, an oi zuki and another gedan berai using a 180° rotation. The first gedan berai is used as a means to off balance an opponent which is followed by an oi zuki. This application of gedan berai does not make use of the hikite but the motion of the ‘blocking’ arm is true to the movement required to accomplish this task. The second gedan berai is used to crank the head coupled with a step to the rear to throw the uke  to the ground.  Throwing techniques are very dynamic skills which require coordinated movements of the legs, hips and upper body. Hence, it would be insufficient to say that gedan berai can be used to throw without addressing the total body mechanics required. See figure 3 for an illustrated description.

YouTube video:

4.4 Shuto uke as a limb-clearing and striking technique

As discussed earlier, Motobu coined the term, ‘husband and wife hands’ whereby the lead and rear hands work together. In this application, the outstretched hand during the chambering of shuto uke is used to clear a limb to open up for a strike to the neck. This is a textbook example of ‘husband and wife hands’. See figure 4 for an illustrated description.

YouTube video (The technique described above is part of the flow drill shown in this video):

4.5 Double uchi uke from Bassai Dai: strike, off-balance, strike and head crank

The double uchi ukes near the beginning of Bassai Dai can be used effectively in dealing with a lapel grab. The first uchi uke overwhelms the uke with strikes to set up for a head crank. See figure 5 for an illustrated description.

YouTube video:

4.6 Sukui uke from Bassai Dai as a throw (tai otoshi)

Movement 38 of Bassai Dai uses at 90° pivot coupled with sukui uke. The gross body movement and arm motions closely resemble the mechanics used in tai otoshi (body drop), a popular judo throw. There is more than one version of tai otoshi. The hikite, body rotation and the sweeping motion on sukui uke is used to off balance the uke. Once the feet are in place, the rear leg of a front stance (see fourth frame) acts as an obstacle over which the uke trips. In keeping with karate’s historical focus civilian violence, a no-gi version is described below. See figure 6 for an illustrated description.

4.7 Morote uke from Bassai Dai as a wrist lock

The opening movement of Bassai Dai is a chudan uchi uke with the open left left hand placed on the right forearm. Prior to beginning the kata, the right fist is enclosed by the left hand. This is important to understand the application. The closed right fist implies that it is being used to grasp something. This opening position coupled with the first movement in Bassai Dai can be used to lock a wrist as defence as a straight wrist grab. See figure 7 for an illustrated description.

4.8 Gedan juji uke as a choke

Gedan juji uke is often regarded as a defence against a chudan mae geri. The problem with this application is that the tibia (shin bone) is much thicker and stronger than the radius and ulna of the forearm.  Thrusting the forearms into an oncoming kick will likely lead to injury. In addition, this technique leaves the face open for another attack. The following application shows how gedan juji uke can be used as a choke using the gi or a jacket from a clinch position. See figure 8 for an illustrated description.

5. Conclusion

Incorporating practical applications of uke waza in training requires a multistage approach. The end goal is kata-based sparring where two karate-ka both attempt to strike, block, trap, lock, throw etc. This should be done at close range.  A suggested teaching progression is provided below;

 First and foremost, students must learn a variety of uke waza. This can be accomplished through kihon training, though I espouse extracting techniques from kata. The karate-ka must learn the proper execution of uke waza. The application of kata techniques, or kata oyo, requires an understanding of why certain stances, angles and combinations are used but this is beyond the scope of this paper.

Once the student has learned the basic form of the kata, he/she should practice the application of single waza or combinations of waza. A number of examples have been described above. It is important, at least initially, that the uke is compliant. This will afford the tori opportunities to properly apply techniques. I advocate the use of flow drills. A flow drill is designed to allow techniques flow naturally from one to the next. Careful design of flow drills may illicit a natural response from the uke which is countered with the tori’s next movement and so on. The following is a good example;

The tori grabs the uke’s lapel, pulls and strikes with jodan taisho uchi. The uke blocks this attack. The tori traps this blocking arm and strikes the uke’s neck with a shuto uke. The uke blocks this attempt so the tori grabs this arm and attempts and armbar using gedan berai. A chain of techniques can be added for as long as is desired. Flow drills are an effective means to teach students to recognize weaknesses/opportunities in the uke’s defence.  YouTube video:

The third stage also involves a compliant or semi compliant uke but the tori is not limited to any particular technique or combination of techniques. The tori is free to do as he/she pleases, using uke waza and other techniques from kata. When this stage is introduced, it may be beneficial for the uke to be completely compliant. Once students gain some competence, the uke can be instructed to resist.

The final stage is to allow both students to move freely so there is no longer an uke/tori relationship. Students used to tournament-based kumite with have a tendency to back off to create distance. This should be avoided because as discussed previously, kata was originally designed for close-range civilian defence.

As students progress through these stages, the drills may start to look messy to the point where the karate-ka not well versed in this approach may struggle to actually recognize kata techniques. This ‘chaos’ should not be discouraged. It is important that throughout this process, students learn to break free from the erect posture that is seen in formal kata training. The student also needs to understand the importance of leaning and protecting his/her head when training at close range. This may cause some distress for the purists who wish to maintain the clean execution of techniques as they are applied. It would be timely to conclude by revisiting a quotation from Master Funakoshi;

“Kata has been at the centre of karate training from ancient times. Since techniques and methods of every kind have been woven into kata, and experts and masters from ages past have carefully preserved the various kata. Kata should be practiced and performed in the same way as they are taught. In the words of karate master Yasutsune Itsou, ‘keep kata as they are without embellishing them’. But in actual combat it will not do to be hampered or shackled by the rituals of kata. Instead the practitioner should transcend, moving freely according to the opponent's strengths and weaknesses.” (Funakoshi, 2003 The Twenty).

Modern Shotokan karate is far removed from what Master Funakoshi practiced in Okinawa. Shotokan has evolved to be a dynamic and explosive martial art tempered with a timeless philosophy for guiding the practitioner towards perfection of his or her character. Rigorous and spirited training coupled with dojo kun and niju kun are essential for the complete development of the karate-ka. What's missing is a means to make karate relevant in a world that is increasingly critical of dogmatic pedagogy. The incorporation of kata based sparring into regular training will serve the karate enthusiast well if effective civilian defence is a goal. “To study the old is to understand the new.”

Works Cited

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Abernethy, I. (n.d.). Breaking the Chains: An Analysis of the 1st of Choki Motobus Two-Man Kumite Drills.  Retrieved from

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Abernethy. I. Practical Kata Bunkai (n.d.)

Enkamp, J. (2016). Why Modern Karate Is Broken (& How You Can Fix It). Retrieved from

Funakoshi, G. (1973). Karate-Dó Kyóhan: Transl. by Tsutomu Ohshima. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Funakoshi, G. (1975). Karate-dō: my way of life. New York, NY: Kodansha USA.

Funakoshi, G., & Nakasone, G. (2003). The twenty guiding principles of karate: the spiritual legacy of the master: Trans. By John Taramoto. Tokyo: Kodansha USA.

Goodin, C. (n.d.). The Why of Bunkai: A Guide For Beginners. Retrieved from

McCarthy, P., & McCarthy, Y. (2005). Funakoshi Gichin's "Tanpenshu". Aspley, Qld.: International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society.

Personal Security. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2017, from

Rielly, R. L. (1985). Complete Shotokan Karate: The Samurai Legacy and Modern Practice. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle.

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