The "Missing links" of Kata?
Interest in the original karate techniques - as recorded within the katas - is most definitely on the increase. It seems that more and more people are no longer content to practice karate as a basic kick /punch system and wish to practice all aspects of the art. In order to extract these oft-neglected aspects from the katas is it vital to have a good understanding of the principles upon which the katas are based. In this article I would like to briefly discuss the principles associated with "Entrance techniques". There are a number of differing names attached to these methods (eg "Pre-kata movements", "lead techniques", "opening techniques" etc) but I feel the term "Entrance Techniques" - as coined by Patrick McCarthy - is very appropriate.
We must understand that the katas were designed by fighters for fighters, and hence they often take a basic knowledge of combat for granted. Two fundamental combative principles - that must always be observed - are the importance of keeping everything as simple as possible, and the importance of seizing and maintaining the initiative.
We will look at the importance of keeping it simple first. As you all know, when a fighting, your adrenal reaction will reduce your body's ability to utilise fine-motor skills (see Geoff Thompson's excellent book "Dead or Alive" for more information). Hence, it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to apply any overly complex movements. Secondly, you should always keep your number of initial responses to an absolute minimum. If you have learnt many different responses to a given situation, by the time you have decided upon which one to use, the situation will have changed; hence that technique will no longer be appropriate. In the moments before the altercation, we should utilise a well-practised pre-emptive strike. If we are already past that point, and engaged in grappling, we should still keep our initial grappling techniques as simple, and as few in number, as possible. This way we will respond quickly and effectively with the minimum of hesitation. So it makes sense that, when formulating karate, its founders would have constructed a set of Tegumi techniques to be used the instant the fight hits grappling range. And they did!
Another error that must be avoided when studying bunkai is the tendency to interpret and express the kata in a way that is overly defensive. When fighting it is important to seize, and then maintain, the initiative. You should aim to fight at your pace and on your terms, rather than let the opponent dictate the fight. It is quite common to hear statements such as, "If the opponent seizes your wrist, you can respond with this bit of the kata." Why has the opponent seized your wrist in the first place? It is hardly the most savage of attacks! Do you just stand there so the opponent can do as they please? - "Wait 'till you grab my wrist, then you're gonna get it!"
Remember, that the katas take into account instinctive responses from the opponent (not to be confused with "trained" responses - but that's another article!). The principles associated with 'one blow - one kill' run right the way through Karate, with the aim always being to end the fight as quickly as possible. One quick and sure way to end a fight in grappling range is to seize the opponent's testicles. The groin is an area that most men will instinctively protect. Whilst attempting to grab the groin there is a strong chance that the opponent will attempt to check the attack. If you are successful in seizing the opponent's groin, then the fight is yours. If you are not successful, then the opponent may well secure a firm grip on your wrist in order to prevent any further low attacks. And this is where the "the opponent has seized your wrist" techniques come in! The opponent seizes your wrist because they are forced to! If they don't, then you crush their testicles. If they do, you apply the kata's techniques to disable the opponent and free your arm. These "Entrance techniques" - such as the groin grab - are often not shown by the kata. The main reason is because they are so obvious! But you must understand their purpose and be aware of their existence if you are to be able to apply the techniques & principles of kata effectively.
There are three main "entrance techniques"; One is grabbing the testicles - as already discussed - and the other two are seizing the throat and gouging the eyes. Again, if any of these techniques were successfully applied, the fight is over. If not, there is a strong chance that the opponent will seize your wrist in order to move your hand away from their face or groin. And again, this is where the releases from wrist grabs that are contained within the kata come into play (See the KGM Book & Tapes). Fighting in this way, it is you who constantly has the initiative, not the opponent.
All three entrance techniques are extremely easy to apply, and that is why the katas favour them. As soon as we begin to grapple, the first thing we attempt is one of the three entrance techniques. This will reduce the options available to us and ensures quick and decisive action. If the opponent counters, we are then in a position to unitise the numerous kata techniques for dealing with a trapped hand.
Original karate is a very brutal system. Today, we may well face legal consequences as a result of our actions. Be sure to only apply the techniques described above if the situation justifies them. The Shaolin maxim, "Hurt rather than be hurt, maim rather than be maimed and kill rather then be killed" should be observed. Never use more force than is justifiable.
Entrance techniques are an extremely important part of the combative side of karate. If you wish to fully understand your katas, you need to understand that they were deigned for fighters by fighters, be aware of what they show and what they don't, and why what they don't show can sometimes be more important that what they do!