This very short video shows a basic arm-roll drill. The footage comes from a seminar I taught in the Netherlands in February of 2015. This drill comes from my training in Judo, but it is now a part of my karate too.
It should always be kept in mind that, despite common misconceptions, karate is not an unchanging art with a direct line back to a single source. “Karate” is in fact a cover-all term for a wide range of systems that came to be practised in the geographical location of Okinawa.
The kata – which are the very backbone of karate – come from a variety of differing systems, individuals and geographic locations which eventually converged to be given the label of “karate kata”. Karate has therefore always been ever-changing and evolving. The karate of the past was also quick to pick up and adopt anything deemed useful.
I would therefore suggest that it is both impractical and untraditional to reject any methodology simply because it is “not karate”. The inescapable fact is that absolutely EVERYTHING we do in karate was at one point “not karate”!
While some would see the adoption of “new methods” to be akin to martial blasphemy, I see it as pragmatic, traditional and vitally important. I think this way of thinking is very succinctly and poetically summed up by Choshin Chibana when he said, “A pond which is not fed by a fresh stream becomes stagnant and dies ... in much the same way does the enthusiastic karateka continually modify their art".
While we never want to be on the floor in a real situation, the fact is that “even monkeys can fall out of trees.” If we do end up on the floor, the self-protection focused karateka should have some skills to help them to return to their feet.
In his book ‘Karate-Do: My Way of Life’, Gichin Funakoshi discussed practising regaining the feet (against both single and multiple opponents). Funakoshi writes, “It was after I had taken up karate seriously that I came to realise that tegumi [Okinawan wrestling] offers a unique opportunity for training, in that it need not be limited to two participants … such bouts begin with the lone wrestler lying on his back as his opponents pin his arms and legs …”. Funakoshi would practise fighting back to his feet and he said such training did much to strengthen his body and will. Getting back to the feet has obvious self-defence uses too of course.
So here we have Funakoshi, “the father of modern karate”, adopting and adapting the ground fighting methods of another art based sole on their utility. I see no reason why we should not continue to follow his example. The roll shown in this video can be a useful way to help you regain the feet when the enemy is leaning over you from a kneeling position. It is well worth adding to your repertoire on that basis.
All of this said, we need to remain ever mindful that karate is first and foremost a striking system focused on the needs of civilian self-protection. If we are seeking significant levels of skill on the ground we must engage in the in-depth study a system that specialises in that area such as wrestling, judo, BJJ, etc. That is the only way to acquire the skills one would need to compete with practitioners of those arts on the floor. However, if we want a core skill set to be used as a last resort in self-protection should all other methods fail, then we can follow in the tradition of karate through building on what we have and acquainting related skills while remaining true to our core ethos.
All the best,
PS The YouTube link can be found HERE