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Nimrod Nir
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Shitoryu Sochin Bunkai (community exercise)

Hi all,

I was thinking about suggesting this kind of exercise here for quite some time.

I wish to present a kata, and invite forum members to analyze it and suggest bunkai interpretations for its various parts.

I chose Shitoryu Sochin, for several reasons:

- I guess most of you don't practice it (at least not regularly). This would (hopefully) make the analysis more interesting for you. 

- It is relatively short and simple.

- It has a few exclusive features not appearing in other katas.

Here is a video of the kata:


As I see it, the kata has 8 distinct sections (I numbered them for convenience while referencing later in the discussion):

1. 0:04-0:32 - classical "double block + punch" sequence, 3 front + 3 back (common in Naha-te katas, although this is a Tomari-te kata) 

2.* 0:32-0:35 - "double hammer arm swing + sideways augmented block" 

3. 0:35-0:41 - 3 sideways "hooking blocks"

4. 0:41-0:45 - diagonal "double punch + double block +  augmented block"

5. 0:45-0:50 - diagonal "shuto+punch" (both sides)

6. 0:50-0:55 - 3 backward "side blocks"

7.* 0:55-1:03 - "fake surrender + two punches"

8. 1:03-1:07 - final "mawashi uke" (again, classical naha-te feature, although this is a Tomari-te kata as mentioned)

I would love to read/see your thoughts about the various sections.

I am particularly interested in sequences 2 and 7 (marked with an asterisk). 

Hopefully, this exercise will lead to new insights.



Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

I found another version of this kata, which seems older (?) and has some additional moves in certain places in the kata, which apparently got dropped in the newer version.

Maybe it can improve and add to your analysis.

deltabluesman's picture

I will offer a few suggestions.  I am not familiar with this kata, so this is pure speculation (and certainly not definitive or thoroughly vetted).  Maybe my ideas will be useful for others.  

The first thing I notice is that the kata repeats the double block/pull & punch sequence over and over again.  I interpret this as a simple message:  the kata is telling us to refine that sequence relentlessly until we are very skilled with it.  That may seem like a superficial insight, but I think the implications are significant.  It tells me to be careful with this section of the kata.  There may be multiple applications for the exact same sequence.  It could be the case that the intended applications require a great deal of practice before they become reliable.  Or it could just be that the kata's creator felt that this sequence would see more practical use than other sections.  I'm not sure.  If I were going to study this kata deeply, I would make it a point to come back to that sequence over and over again to see if I could glean new insights.

In the kata I practice, it is common to see the same principles show up over and over again, in different moves.  That's why I usually say that once we understand a kata and its bunkai, we should start exploring ways to use the same principles with different motions, until we are no longer "shackled by the rituals of kata."  But in this case, when the same series of motions is repeated over and over again, the kata is saying there's something significant about those exact moves.  At this early stage of the analysis, I'm not able to say what it is with any certainty.

The double block can be used to crash into the enemy at the beginning of the confrontation.  It can also serve as a general-purpose SHTF move (i.e., the move you use when you don't know what else to do and you're just trying to survive the chaos for a few seconds).  I would imagine that after years of refining that pattern of motion (in training against progressive degrees of resistance using carefully structured drills), a karateka would reach a point where he or she could use the double block in a very fluid and instinctive way, not only as a shield but also as a weapon, and would get very good at identifying openings and taking advantage of them.  (If you haven't already seen it, you may want to search YouTube for Iain's video with thoughts on Seisan kata.)  With enough practice and the right attributes, it might even work as an effective preemptive strike.  I'll move ahead for now, but perhaps in the future there could be a forum thread to this sequence alone.   

deltabluesman's picture

I'll skip ahead to sequence two:  https://youtu.be/ZbhD-GiYJvs?t=38.  This one puzzled me for a while, but I'm pretty sure I have an answer.  Focus on the motion of the hip as the right hammer fist strikes out:  https://youtu.be/obdo6HW02ds?t=32

The hip is moving in a way that supports the right hand.  That makes sense . . . we expect a kata to emphasize the power hand.  The head is also turning to follow the right hand, which suggests that the left hand may only be playing a supporting role.  The left hand is pulling away in the opposite direction.  

I believe we are looking at a specific type of standing collar choke.  There are no exact matches on Youtube that I'm aware of, but here is a demonstration of the general principle:  https://youtu.be/JvKX8KaoXgA   

This is a little tricky to describe in words, but hopefully I can impart the gist of it.  Freeze frame this:  https://youtu.be/JvKX8KaoXgA?t=41 

1.  If you have a partner, take that exact grip on the gi.  Ask your partner to be compliant with the next part of the drill (for his sake, not yours).  He will be standing and you will be behind him.

2.  Slowly pull the partner down to the ground near your right knee using that exact grip.  He won't resist, he will just gradually ease down to the ground until he is lying on his side near your right foot. 

3.  Set the choke and apply it (pulling upwards to augment the power).  You will be standing over him.  As soon as he feels it tighten around the neck, he taps.

That's the nice version.  The kata's version is much more brutal.  In kata version, we will again apply this to a standing enemy from behind, but we will set the choke and then throw him into it.  I say "throw" because we pull him down, with the right hand, towards our right leg:  https://youtu.be/obdo6HW02ds?t=32.  That is why this section features a strong, stable stance.  

The power of the pull comes from our hip.  That is why the hip is turning in that direction and why the karateka is turning his head towards the right hand.  I wouldn't practice this hard with an actual partner, but in application the pull would be violent and brutal.  The enemy would be taken backwards and would fall into the choke, with the collar tightening around his neck like a noose as he falls.

At first glance, the hands in the kata version look like they are pulling in the wrong direction.  But once you think about taking him down across the right knee to choke him, the hands suddenly make sense.  They are pulling in that direction because they are pulling upwards as well as outwards (using the strong muscles of the back to help guide his weight).  He will basically be falling into the choke (which will be acting against the neck using the strength of your back muscles).  

Just to illustrate the point a bit further.  When you are grappling with someone in the gi, you can use that exact collar grip to control them pretty effectively on the ground:  https://youtu.be/JvKX8KaoXgA?t=88.  It's the same idea when standing, only we'll be more violent and explosive when applying the pull.

Play around with it, see what you think . . . it's a suggestion.  I would advise being very careful when practicing it with a partner, falling into a choke like that could seriously injure the neck. 

deltabluesman's picture

At this point, I think it's helpful to pause and consider why the kata would show a collar choke so early.  I would guess that the primary reason the kata is showing this technique is to emphasize the strategy in the fight.  Put briefly, the kata is saying:  "Use the double block/pull & punch sequence to survive the initial few moments of chaos in the fight and to hopefully land a good shot to the body."  It's then saying, "Try to get behind him if you can.  If you get behind him, here's one (potentially) nonlethal way to take him out."  So we are hunting actively for any opportunity to get behind him, but we are not going to focus too intently on landing the collar choke (though if it's there, we'll take it). 

Also, why would some versions of the kata have two sets of hammerfists?  https://youtu.be/EBsrAnJGTAU?t=42 

I think the first set of hammerfists is probably just showing the choke without the turn.  It's indicating both variations (i.e., with a turn and without a turn).  In some versions, it's a little easier to see the hands cross beforehand.  If this is correct, then crossing the hands is just showing you setting the choke on him. 

Since this sequence isn't repeated as often as the prior moves, I think we have more flexibility to vary the motion.  In actual practice, I would probably look at situations where it's hard to reach all the way around his neck.  In those instances, you could just grab the back of his collar and pull him down.  If he's wearing a hooded shirt, you can grab the hood and pull it down.  If he has hair, we can grab the hair, etc. 

deltabluesman's picture

My next question:  the kata showed us a technique from behind the enemy, but how do we get there?  After looking back through the previous series of moves, I found what seems to be a technique for getting around the enemy:  https://youtu.be/EBsrAnJGTAU?t=30.  I'm not certain of that, but it's a decent candidate.  The application might be similar to this idea:  https://youtu.be/_ib-ZuNJ-Sg?t=85 (coming up underneath the arm).  When I see the closed fist, it makes me think he's grabbing the fabric of a gi sleeve.  So maybe you're grabbing the fabric of his gi sleeve, near the elbow or above the elbow, and then pulling on it as you step around behind him.  The combination of pulling on his sleeve with your footwork would give you a better chance of getting behind him.  But if your arm is long enough, you don't even have to get all the way to his back, you just have to be close enough to reach up and grab his collar. 

deltabluesman's picture

We should also have a back-up technique in case we lose the grip and he slips away.  I believe the kata has a move for this:  the sideways augmented block.  The kata is saying, if you lose the grip with your right hand, grab his closest arm and back fist him in the head:  https://youtu.be/ZbhD-GiYJvs?t=39 

Since we are moving sideways in the kata, it's showing us to do this from the side of the enemy.  To borrow again from Iain's video, it would be something like this (only done from the side, after you had lost control of his collar):  https://youtu.be/_ib-ZuNJ-Sg?t=103

Some versions of the kata include a sequence that looks like an augmented block/rising block/hammer fist/augmented block:  https://youtu.be/ZbhD-GiYJvs?t=40

We might use the rising block if he tries to hit us with the far arm.  We block it/intercept it and then crack him across the nose with the hammer fist.  Again, just a quick shot to buy us a moment of time.  (This might be missing from the other kata because it's more of a "what-if" technique.) 

I'll pause here for now.  It's a very intriguing kata, and I think the later sequences have some interesting features as well (including a second takedown from behind that doesn't require a gi). 

It's completely different from the Sochin that I'm familiar with.

Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

deltabluesman wrote:
I am not familiar with this kata, so this is pure speculation

That's exactly the purpose of this exercise. Thank you for contributing.

deltabluesman wrote:
The double block can be used to crash into the enemy at the beginning of the confrontation.

I agree. We can see this pattern in many Naha-based katas (e.g. Sanchin, Sanseiru, Shisochin, Seisan, Suparinpei). for example of this principle, see Iain's video of Seisan: https://youtu.be/dZ_ZPGYQQxQ?t=30

deltabluesman wrote:
I believe we are looking at a specific type of standing collar choke.

An interesting idea indeed. Haven't thought of this direction at all.

deltabluesman wrote:
We should also have a back-up technique in case we lose the grip and he slips away.  I believe the kata has a move for this:  the sideways augmented block.  The kata is saying, if you lose the grip with your right hand, grab his closest arm and back fist him in the head.

Nice. Flows nicely from your previous idea.

deltabluesman wrote:
I'll pause here for now.

Hopefully you'll resume your analysis later. Great stuff! Thanks again for starting the conversation and contributing.

deltabluesman's picture

Great, I enjoyed the analysis and appreciated the opportunity to share these ideas.

Nimrod Nir wrote:

We can see this pattern in many Naha-based katas (e.g. Sanchin, Sanseiru, Shisochin, Seisan, Suparinpei) . . .

I'm not familiar with that collection of kata, but it's interesting that they all share that common theme.  I will make a note to take a closer look at them in the future, there may be other intriguing comparisons. 

I'll offer a few suggestions for sequence three.  Here are the features that stand out to me:

  • The movement is fairly compact and short.  It probably isn't enough motion to deliver a knockout blow or to manipulate a joint effectively.
  • In all of the variations of the kata I've seen, the lead hand traces a circle that is roughly level with the eyes.
  • This is performed from cat stance and the sequence begins with a sideways motion.

I believe this is demonstrating a strike at the eyes.  There are minor variations across the styles.  In the Shito-Kai version, it looks like this is a rake with the fingernails across the eyes:  https://youtu.be/obdo6HW02ds?t=35 

In this version, it looks like the fingers are flicking/snapping at the eyes (like snapping a towel):  https://youtu.be/u-XD2Or9RNg?t=38 

In this version, it's more of an "eye-poke" (for lack of a better term):  https://youtu.be/EBsrAnJGTAU?t=50

If you're close enough, then the rear hand can be used to monitor/trap the enemy's closest arm.

Here are a few additional comments/observations:

This would be a good technique if the enemy is rushing into you.  You simply step off-line and flick at the eyes.

If you have a copy of the Bubishi, you can see the same principle illustrated in a different technique called Phoenix Spreads its Wings.  In Patrick McCarthy's version, there's a caption that says:  "If a person throws a short punch at you, trap the attack and gouge his eyes." 

This technique can be used in conjunction with our prior bunkai.  For example:  flick the eyes as a distraction, then dart behind him and reach for the choke.  This resonates with the strategy of doing our best to maneuver behind the enemy.  The eye strike can also be trained with a kind of flinching motion (throwing the hands up as you step off-line).  Even though the kata version is elegant and refined, in application this can be very simple. 

Here is a video that illustrates what this might look like in a chaotic situation (some of you have probably seen this before, it's been around a long time):  https://youtu.be/lmKeVk9-Ub4.  This was actually a consensual fight, not pure self-protection, but it's a helpful example.

I know a lot of people have strong views on eye strikes (pro and con).  For what it's worth, I just consider them to be another tool in the toolkit.  It seems clear to me that karate masters of the past felt they were useful, so it's no surprise that we'd find them in the kata.  The only caveat I would add is that I always try to follow them with other techniques.  I think of them more as feints or set-ups.  If I were to train this sequence for practical purposes, I'd focus on (1) getting off-line, (2) flicking at the eyes, and then (3) immediatelly following up with another technique, such as grabbing the back of the collar or reaching for the choke. 

This would also work as a back-up if another technique failed (as discussed earlier). 

deltabluesman's picture

There's one other bit of speculation that I'll throw out.  In Patrick McCarthy's translation of the Bubishi, there is some language that says:  "Learn well the principles of 'hard' and 'soft' and understand their application . . . Be pliable when met by force . . . but use force to overcome the opposite." 

This is a long shot, but it may be the case that the kata is inviting us to compare the eye strike sequence (being pliable when met by force) with the crash & strike sequence we saw earlier (using force to overcome the enemy).  To borrow (with gratitude) from Iain's video again, this would be the "hard" style:  https://youtu.be/dZ_ZPGYQQxQ?t=72.  This would be the "soft" principle:  https://youtu.be/EBsrAnJGTAU?t=50

I normally wouldn't spend much time on this kind of abstract theorizing, but if we wanted to locate practical examples of that Bubishi language, those two sequences would fit the bill.  This is just a thought that struck me as I was reviewing the bunkai.

deltabluesman's picture

To build on that point:  once we start using eye strikes, we increase the risk that an enemy might grab our wrist.  The idea would be that he is grabbing the wrist in response to our attack.  This is probably why the double punch follows that sequence:  https://youtu.be/iLaHNVeg9L8?t=119.

deltabluesman's picture

I'll wrap up here, but there is one section of the kata that I'd like to bookmark, which is the sequence where he spins and chambers his hands:  https://youtu.be/EBsrAnJGTAU?t=56 

It would be ideal to have an explanation for that sequence, but at the moment, I don't know what it would be.  In some kata, we see similar motions being used as a hair pull (the left hand would be pulling on his hair and the right hand might be controlling the upper arm or the wrist).  That might fit with this version of the kata:  https://youtu.be/obdo6HW02ds?t=40

. . . and perhaps with this:  https://youtu.be/u-XD2Or9RNg?t=43

It would also complement some of the other applications.  But, based on the solo motions I've seen, I'm not yet confident that this is a close match.

(Alternatively, it's possible that this sequence is just a precusor to the double punch, in which case the spin would be telling us to throw the double punch from the best angle available.) 

Maybe this will become clearer as the analysis progresses . . .

Nimrod Nir
Nimrod Nir's picture

deltabluesman wrote:
I believe this is demonstrating a strike at the eyes.

Another interesting idea I haven't considered. And well explained. Thank you again for taking the time to analyze and contribute.

deltabluesman wrote:
once we start using eye strikes, we increase the risk that an enemy might grab our wrist. ... This is probably why the double punch follows that sequence.

I agree that the double punch could be a demonstration of dealing with a grabbed wrist. However, it still leaves the hands on the hips part that precedes it unexplained, as you mentioned.

deltabluesman wrote:
 there is one section of the kata that I'd like to bookmark, which is the sequence where he spins and chambers his hands. ... In some kata, we see similar motions being used as a hair pull (the left hand would be pulling on his hair and the right hand might be controlling the upper arm or the wrist).

I think that this is a solid suggestion that fits nicely with the eye poke theme.

deltabluesman wrote:
Maybe this will become clearer as the analysis progresses.

Hopefully you'll continue to expand your analysis in the future. Excellent and well thought ideas. Thanks again for contributing.