The recent discussion on Charles Goodin’s “Karate Thoughts Blog”, http://karatejutsu.blogspot.com/ , on the role of ‘Kamae’ is quite interesting. My own studies into the ways karate technique may be applied might offer another answer.
When I began my study of Isshinryu, none of the instruction really involved use of much karate terminology, nor were there many answers beyond the basic descriptions of how a technique might be used, as a tool for beginners to move spatially more correct.
In our kata there are opening postures, closing postures and occasional postures where you hold them for a short instant before continuing with the kata.
A number of years later in books and magazines I read of those pause points being defined as ‘Kamae’ and thought that must surely be the answer.
At that time I came to see them as pauses in a response flow, perhaps to draw the opponent forward for the following kata technique, or as a response in the break in the attacker’s flow and pausing untill they move again.
When I really began my own analysis of how karate technique could be used, and understood there were no rules what a technique really was, I mostly saw the ‘Kamae’ posture as a deflection technique to open the path for the following technique. Those answers are good, but, there is an other answer that I find more provoking.
To disrupt an attack, don’t use ‘Kamae’ as a pose to draw someone in, use ‘Kamae’ as an attack to interrupt their attack. You don’t turn it into an attack, you just form ‘Kamae’ exactly as in the kata and let the chips fall where they may.
One example is found in the Isshinryu kata Wansu. After a right side kick the right foot is put down forming the left Isshinryu front stance and both open hands are raised before your body forming a ‘Kamae’ (the left open hand – fingers up- in front, the right open hand – fingers up- in front of your solar plexus.
You are standing minding your own business and somebody starts swinging a right punch at your head. You step back with your right and form your Wansu ‘Kamae’. That step back adjusts your centerline to cross their attack say 15 degrees to the left. Your stance is exactly that of the kata, you raise your hands, you release you knee to sink into the stance and their biceps smashes into your formed left open hand. You watch their surprise as their biceps impales itself on your hand, and the harder and the faster they’ve swung the more intense is their response.
There are a number of underlying principles here.
1. When suddenly attacked stepping back is a natural reaction to give you more time.
2. Their biceps striking into your vertical knife hand allows the attacker to realize how much pain a biceps attack creates (I had previously learned this from my Chinese and Indonesian studies).
3. The more correct your alignment, the less they will be able to breach the wall their attacking arm’s biceps ran into.
4. The rear hand is insurance, it keeps the technique alignment correct, if there is a follow up attack it is in perfect position to respond naturally.
Note I’m keeping this focused on one answer, there are multiple answers, for interior lines of defense, exterior lines of defense and even surrounding lines of defense, just selecting different targeting.
Then as you investigate advancing principles, such as if your back was against the wall, you can discover the same result with the ‘Kamae’ can be used without stepping, just re-centering your technique with attendant knee release, and the same alignment.
Before one rushes out to try this it is important they have been properly instructed in the technique formation and have trained long enough to really have faith in the technique.
Faith, the crux of the spirit of karate, is the most important ingredient in making a technique application work.
I was teaching this technique just this morning to my own advanced students. They strike and got a funny look on their face when they ran into my ‘Kamae’, but when trying it themselves, no matter how detailed the explanation was given, the pressure of another body moving in, even in slow practice mode, most often means they do something else than their kata technique. They shift their right hand towards the attackers body, or perhaps they shift too far to the left and strike into the inner elbow, both answer which allow their attacker to blast through. In fact for one demonstration, talking instead of correctly doing, I shifted my gaze to one of the other instructors as I was talking, and that strike was on my jaw. Even the placement of the eye’s affects alignment.
I would suggest, properly executed, ‘Kamae’ is a most violent way to interrupt forward momentum of an attacker.
I have only looked at one possibility, the potential of even this one ‘Kamae’ bears much more study.
Final underlying, driving principle:
If you can’t take a technique from your kata and break your attacker (figurative as well as literally) you have to work harder.