Sunday, August 28, 2011

Waiting for Irene and not humming Good Night Irene

Well Irene's coming and even in this mornings modest winds I heard tree limbs splitting outside. NH is filled with trees so when the full force hits should be a mess.

I expect the power to be lost, but have an adequate supply of batteries for the radio and lots to read.

I'm going to be starting a new series of articles for the blog on the theory behind bunkai and kata application to try and make some sense of something that really is undefinable, with everyone doing something else than each other. I won't focus on the bad or the ugly, life is too short for that, but if any of you have suggestions or questions, leave a comment for me here.

If the power or internet go out I'll eventually get it back and would be pleased to take your coments into consideration.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Funakoshi Ginchin applications for Isshinryu

Allow me to share several of Funakoshi Ginchin's 1935 Karate Applications from his "Karate-Do Kyohan" that are found in Isshinryu Kata.

Note to understand the photo's you must read from right to left.

Application for Naifanchi

Application for Naifanchi

Karate do Kyohan – Funakoshi reflection of Itosu

Karate do Kyohan – Funakoshi reflection of Itosu

A brief personal history

It was Christmas Eve 1976 and my wife and I were house sitting for a friend in the countryside north of Scranton. The evening was crisp, cloudy and cold. As we were making ready to go to bed snow began to fall. Christmas morning was a purely magical white Christmas.

The gift I received from my wife was a copy of the 1973 English publication of Funakoshi Ginchin’s “Karate-Do Kyohan – the Master Text”. This was one of the first karate texts I owned and has remained in my martial arts book collection ever since.

While I was an Isshinryu stylist my college roommate had studied Shotokan at Temple with Okazaki Sensei and about 5 years later I was to have a chance to study Shotokan with Sutrisno Tristan, whose father had studied with Funakoshi Sensei in Japan in the 1930’s. The text proved to be a help to understand the system to a point.

Decades passed and a few years ago I came to understand this was not the original text, but the latest revision of many that had been made by Funakoshi Sensei and his organization over the years.

When I received a copy of “Tanpanshu” the works of Funakoshi Ginchin, compiled and translated by Patrick & Yuiko McCarthy I was pleased to see a large selection of photographs showing Funakoshi Sensei demonstrating how karate techniques could be used against various attacks. It was mentioned they came from the original 1935 “Karate-Do Kyohan”. When I compared them to my own 1973 copy I found the section had been replaced with sparring techniques (a very different order of technique usage).

Then a few years ago the University of Hawaii shared the original “Karate-Do Kyohan” online in free .pdf format for research purposes. You can download your own copy at

The self defense techniques are found beginning at page 109.

Of course the original is in Japanese which I do not read by I can interpret the photographs fairly well as far as that goes, but it will never replace competent translation. At this time trying to obtain a translation is beyond me means.

Funakoshi Sensei’s Self Defense Techniques

One of the Funakoshi Self Defense techniques from the Karate-Do Kyohan

When I first saw the self defense techniques of Funakoshi Sensei I was surprised at what I saw. Many of them incorporated a grappling/grabbing element that the decades of magazine articles and books about his Shotokan didn’t share.

I’m not going to place them in this article because all of you can view the original for yourself, but there is no question that there is depth in the applications Funakoshi shared. They include defensive uses, countering defenses to your own attacks, the use of kicking and a bit more. Not as much as Mutsu Mizuo shared in his “Karate Kempo” or even Shiroma Shimpan use of kata technique in Nakasone’s “Karate-Do Taikan”. Mutsu of course does include this 17 techniques and variations on many of them in this category of karate usage.

What my studies are revealing is that the techniques Funakoshi Sensei selected to follow what Itosu described in his ‘Ten Lessons of Toudi’ in 1908. Itosu first defines the techniques of Toudi as “entering, deflecting, releasing and seizing”. What Funakoshi is showing certainly uses entering, deflecting and seizing. It is then very possible that these demonstrations are the older use of Karate he had previously studied.

You can read my comments on Itosu’s 1908 letter he wrote at

I am sure the use of the seizing hand incorporates Hikite too. Charles Goodin has has a good article on this at

What first strikes me as interesting is these examples so strongly demonstrate a principle I worked out in the early 80’s that a karate technique could consist of a block or parry followed by a grab and strike followed by a lock, takedown or throw. This was my start in understanding how to apply karate technique and it appears my logic was not faulty. Of course the proof of an application is the attacker goes down.

Furthermore, it appears these applications require extended understanding of how to use technique, similar to the extra movements added by Shimpan in his description.

If anything this confirms my earlier suspicion that all of the works created by Itosu’s students in the 1920’s taken together offer us a great insight into earlier Okinawan Karate. I only wish I had access to the English translation of these techniques (and that more of these works were available for us to read) to understand what the photographs aren’t sharing. I can make these techniques work for myself but that does not mean I fully understand what Funakoshi Sensei meant. I only hope my research points the way for others to go further.

So where did the Shotokan applications go?

This is the big question isn’t it? After training with Sutrisno Tristan for a decade and experiencing his unique family bunkai of Shotokan, what I read in the magazines and Shotokan books (and Shotokan is one of the most thoroughly documented karate systems to a point) didn’t match the instruction I received. Then with the advent of the internet, being able to see what bunkai was being done I found how different what I had studied was from what everyone else in Shotokan seemed to be doing. In fact there is a lot of opinion that Shotokan is Okinawan karate dumbed down and that for whatever reason Funakoshi did so, it was done intentionally.

Personally I think such opinions are wrong and very misleading based on a real lack of understanding of Itosu’s plan for karate and what Funakoshi Sensei was actually doing. In my opinion the JKA Shotokan (and all of the other Shotokan/Shotokai variations) are perfectly fine, just following different templates from each other and from Okinawan karate. Different means just that, not better or worse which is only a judgment based on personal principles.

So how do a minor Isshinryu karate-ka living in New Hampshire arrive at such a conclusion?

Let’s begin with what Funakoshi Sensei did.

In 1922 he traveled to Japan and presented his karate and then remained and worked his way to becoming an instructor. In Tanpanshu there is reference to Funakoshi (a former school teacher) having programs in multiple schools at the same time and we know as time passed he established his program in multiple universities. This is a far different sort of instruction than just running a dojo. He had to develop instructors for those programs in the short term and in turn their responsibility with running each program would make it more difficult for them to receive advanced instruction and likely they were continually drilled in the basics to help develop their students.

Funakoshi Sensei moving from intimate personal instruction to large group instruction moved training to more concentration on basics and drills, likely building on the Itosu school instruction efforts. Then add the factor the likely training time for most students was 4 years before they moved on with life developing what was possible to meet Itosu’s goals of using Karate for physical and personal development moved the art away from the –Jutsu beginnings of Funakoshi into the –Do development.

By 1935 Funakoshi had been in Japan a dozen years and in his mid 60’s. I see the development of the “Karate-Do Kyohan” as a statement of what his art could become. Not a complete template, far too difficult for a book, but a more complete outline of the arts goals. So he did include a section on the use of Karate technique as I have been referring to previously.

He also shared information from his instructor’s Bubishi, as McCarthy Sensei explained in “Tanpanshu” they were “The Eight Principles of Quanfa”, “Maxims of Sun Zi”, “Principles of Ancient Law”, “Quanfa Strategies” and “Grappling and Escapes”. (In both “Tanpanshu” and the “Bubushi” by McCarthy Sensei you can find translations of these sections.) The inclusion of this material is most pointedly referring to the use of karate for further development of Karate.

What is interesting is that this was not to remain constant.

As time passed the “Karate-Do Kyohan” was republished with revisions and by the 1957 edition the self defense techniques had been replaced with a section on sparring techniques, an indication of how the JKA had moved Karate training.

As I try to piece together the histories I have read a lot of this occurred because of the changing times. As the 1930’s progressed students had shorter time to train facing draft into the Japanese military. The advent of the Pacific War years did not leave time for individual karate study on the whole. Funakoshi would have been in his 70’s by those times and I believe much of his efforts were focused on the development of his son Yoshitake’s karate as his obvious successor. But Funakohsi Senseis son died in 1945.

The Pacific War over and the surviving Shotokan students and instructors began to rebuild their Karate traditions. The years of the war meant lost knowledge and various instructors memories gave rise to variations. Funakoshi Sensei was in his 80’s and took the role of figurehead in the developing JKA, but except for classes in kata seems to not be the driving force in the shape of JKA development. One of the articles in “Tanpanshu” described in the 50’s the student’s were focused on competition and I contend that the students wants, the instructors who remained in the JKA combined together to shape their Shotokan towards today’s art.

In every sense Shotokan represents the Do Funakoshi Sensei described. This does not mean it’s less effective than the older arts, just its movement into a new time and need took place.

We need to understand there is no perfect art that fits all needs. One works with one’s art to make it perfect for one’s self. Does Shotokan need deeper application study? That’s not for me to say and in the end a correctly executed technique, any correctly executed technique should be able to destroy an attack providing the training and experience leads to that goal.

Funakoshi Sensei did far more than develop Shotokan, he also documented one vision of his earlier training and left it so we could participate in those days a bit, and I continue to maintain all of the works of the 20’s and 30’s combined share a wider picture of the Okinawan origins of Karate.

Well this is what I see at this time. I only hope my study leads to more individuals looking at the past more clearly and together we can develop and share a greater vision of what Karate was.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tanpenshu – Untold Stories by Funakoshi Ginchin

Tanpenshu – Untold Stories by Funakoshi Ginchin

Compilation and Japanese to English Translation by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy

I continue to be astounded that there is so little discussion of the early karate texts and their relevance to current training and instructor development. It is no doubt that these works, that are now available in English and the material they contain actually helps explain training I have experienced and in turn use with my students, are personally relevant to my studies. It is my strong belief more should try and take the same journey I am taking.

I don’t find books on Karate a simple proposition. Most frequently I spend years and years trying to understand their relevance, but that journey is proving worth the effort.

As I continue to find great value in actually reading the books I have acquired and working on what was written I return to my study of the pre 1940 karate literature with these comments on Tanpenshu – Untold Stories by Funakoshi Ginchin ( Compilation and Japanese to English Translation by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy).

This work covers 15 articles/stories shared by Funakoshi Ginchin, sharing his experiences and knowledge studying the arts of Azato and Itosu and his lifetime of work on those arts. The work is much, much more than an explanation of Shotokan Karate.

I was astounded to find that the first article Okinawa no Bugi (Martial Arts Techniques of Okinawa) was a 3 part article that first appeared in Oknawa’s Ryukyu Shinpo in January of 1914. This would be about eight years before Funakoshi Ginchin traveled to Japan. That makes this article a description of Okinawan Karate about the time Karate instruction was now being made public. Funakoshi Sensei would have been in his 40’s and the description of karate by an established instructor is most telling.

From Part 2 Karate No Ryugi the section on Soshiki-Bunkai: (The Systematic Analysis of Techniques for each Dan) from page 17.

“Once you have learned technique thoroughly which are required for each Dan, you should analyze them. For instance; this movement belongs to this, that one belongs to that etc.”

“After completing this process, start training again using each theory. However, in early stages of training, just relax and focus on learning the order of each technique…”

So we see Funakoshi Sensei describing Dan training. Perhaps it’s more relevant to me because of my time with Sutrisno Tristan whose father taught him Shotokan from his time training in Japan in the 1930’s. For each of the five Dan’s in the Sutrisno family Shotokan system they study entirely different ‘bunkai’ (in the tradition of Shiroma Shimpan another Itosu student) for each kata. Not the way other Shotokan does it as I read, but it seems fully established I a tradition Funakoshi Sensei described in 1914.

From Part 3 Kororoe the section on Relationship Between Karate & Academic Study from page 18.

“The first purpose of training karate is to improve your mind. Physical purpose comes next…

.. It is not possible to become a great martial artist without an education. The serious karateka should study anatomy and physiology, grappling, swordsmanship, horsemanship, archery and strategic tactice, etc. Cross training & study must balance your training in order to master the way. The following works should be considered mandatory reading: Sun Zi’s & Wu Tsu’s books on tactical strategy. “Rikuto Sanryaku” and “Inaka Soshi’.”

Interesting an established Okinawan instructor acknowledges that more than the study of karate is required for fuller understanding for the serious student.

C.W. Nicole in “Moving Zen” did describe how some of his Shotokan Seniors had studied other arts such as Judo, but also described how they suggested his own Judo studies were holding back his Karate training. Whether this highlights a difference of Okinawan training to Japanese Shotokan development, or simply suggests that this was inappropriate for the level of training Nicole was at I can’t say, but it does suggest that the Okinawan’s were open to additional training possibilities.

Funakoshi Sensei is suggesting a wider range than just karate studies is required.

Also from part 3 on Fighting from page 19-20.

“From olden times there has been a valuable message passed on called “Karate ni sente nashi” (There’s no first strike in karate). It has been handed down to this day as an important education lesson for young learners. Without this guidance it’s possible that a contradiction may surface in functional application with things the way they are these days. Preemptive qi control is the more effective strategic deterrent in self-defense. However, if you cannot achieve this outcome right away, then you must seek to achieve the next stage of the confrontation. If and when these concepts are applied in karate, a defender can overcome his adversary by first receiving the attack and then countering. However, the exception to this … “ni sente nashi” theory is precluded when it’s a matter of life and death for out nation, or someone is about to harm or kill one’s parents, wife or children. In the case of street encounters, or even being surrounded by a group of hoodlums, there are many ways to use your skills but I had better not explain such details for young people here & now.”

I see this as part of the underlying education behind Mutsu’s techniques I discussed in an earlier blog post (see footnotes below). Qi control seems to me to be the ability to make the attacker back down without confrontation, and if not plan B or receiving the attack {but not getting struck] and then countering [and actually hitting first].

There is also a different interpretation to this passage. Funakoshi Sensei was an Okinawan but almost a decade later he would share his art in Japan, and there is no question he saw his role as a member of Japan at the same time. The section I’ve highlighted in red is the formal explanation Japan had to their attack on Pearl Harbor beginning WWII. Yes we can and do separate Karate from other thoughts but Funakoshi shows he was thinking about this principle as applied to his countries defense, in much the same way he considered it necessary to study strategy for combat, and Sun Zi’s (Sun Tzu) Art of War was much more than personal combat.

What this does suggest is we always remember the multi-dimensional nature of the seniors, not just that they were Karate-ka. IMO don’t separate true history from the aspects you wish to consider, if that is done you don’t really see the past.

There is much more to the article Okinawa no Bugi but I leave it to the reader to seek their own copy of Tanpanshu and read and learn yourself.

But most interesting is the closing to the article the End note to the series from page 20.

“ On a completely unrelated topic, I’m in the middle of studying bone & joint related exercises from a lying position. If I discover something important, I’ll be sure to let you know”.

Not just suggesting that one must study further Funakoshi Sensei, now talking to the martial public, shared his current study. How rare it is to find this. The only comparable lesson I read about a very senior Daito-ryu stylist in the Aikido Journal a decade or so talking about his current studies where he was focusing on a slight shift when his upper arm was grabbed to straighten the attacker’s elbow allowing his body to then press into their grabbing arm to lock and pass ‘damage’ into the joint.

So we can see what a mid 40’s Funakoshi thought about karate when describing it to the Okinawans.

Tanpanshu contains much, much more to consider but I would like to just select one other section form

Speaking about Karatedo published in July 1935 in Kaizo (Japanese magazine) on page 73.

“For me “Karate ni Sente Nashi” is the principle essence of karate-do. This observation determines that action necessitates response, and that if there is no attack, there’s no need for a defense. If victory is to be certain, then both stillness and movement, like the infinity of yin and yang, must e sensed if you had eyes in the back of your head. A sword cutting the air may be dull like lead, but the iron fists forged in th furnace of karate hold unbelievable killing power. Those who act without thinking, and fight without cause are themselves inviting death.”

” Only a person on the right path, and who’s mastered basic technique, is capable of functional spontaneity, the ability to move at will.”

If you have a copy take it down and really read it, then discuss it widely because Tanpanshu is a solid look at karate in many dimensions.

I will soon have some further comments.

I also wish to thank the McCarthy's, Patrick and Yukio for their continuing most valuable contributions to our martial studies.

The Isshin Concentration Blog posts concerning early books published on Karate

A Glimpse at Bubishi Escape Techniques

There is No First Strike in Karate – the Training

Itosu Anko – New Direction for Toudi

Itosu’S Reflections – The Game is Afoot Watson

Itosu’S Reflections – Watson look for the smallest details

Itosu’S Reflections – It is not BUNK..I say Watson!

Crane Takes Flight

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Low Block: Re-examined

In 2001 I was working with Christopher Caille of Fighting to prepare an article on uses of the Low Block. At the same time publication was announced for a book examining 50 uses for the low block.

Because of technical considerations the article was never published. Finding this in my archives I wish to present it on my blog and I’ve included photographs that were taken in 2001 for the article. Those photographed are the late John Dinger, Claudette Macomber, Dennis Driscoll, Tom Chan and myself. Our loss of John Dinger is still felt and I wish to dedicate this article to him.

At this date some of the background commentary I used I would no longer make as I' ve learnt much more since then and understand less. As a record of my past studies I’m letting this stand on it’s own at this time. I also must thank Christopher Caille for the editing suggestions he made for this article back then.

Do you know your basics? Is that low block you have been practicing for years just that, a block, or can it be something much more?

One of the exciting developments in karate (and to a lesser extent taikwondo and kung fu) today is the re-examination of basic techniques. Students of karate, for example, have studied in or traveled back to Okinawa or Japan for research, analyzed their kata, examined old texts and conducted their own research. What they have found is intriguing, although interpretations often differ. What is generally agreed upon, however, is that obvious applications are just a first step. Unseen to most is a whole universe of other applications that are both versatile and effective.

What twenty years ago was a basic block, many now practice as a strike or other application. What changed, the technique? No, not exactly. Instead another sort of explanation arose, and the thinking of many followed a different template.

Is this thinking new, or the original intent of karate? And is there a link to older traditions, or to the defensive or offensive needs of those who first developed karate? Sadly there are few answers.

Even the exact derivation and history of karate is unclear. Practiced in secret, karate's history was unwritten, and only comparably recently (1800's plus) is there much of any record. Of course, most students know that karate was originally an Okinawan creation -- the term itself (karate) referring to a mix of similar fighting traditions that are part Chinese kung fu mixed in different proportions with native techniques (te). The resulting different styles were exported to Japan in the early 1900's and were further transformed with the additions of philosophy, uniforms, grades, class structure and competition.

Thus karate has undergone many changes from its first inception in old Okinawa -- a path from Okinawa to Japan (and back) and from generations of instructor to students, from the students to their students, and so forth. How much was hidden or lost can't be fully known. But today, many students are looking for new answers and interpretations to the basic template underlying movement. Included are vast changes on execution, and on the tenor of one's karate.

Anatomy of a Low Block

Let us take one of the more basic techniques, the Low Block, a very frequent place where beginners commence their training, and see what we can find.
Of course with so many different systems and instructors of karate, the low block can be found in differing guises.

Low block "number one," begins with the blocking hand alongside the opposite side of the defender's head (blocking palm towards the head), the blocking arm descends, and rotates at the end of the blocking technique to strike with the side of the fist, wrist and forearm (one bone block). In my opinion, the most important aspect of this form of block is that the hand and arm rotate immediately before striking the target, so the rotation diminishes the force against the ulna rotating into the strike (while the radius rotates away). This rotation would diminish the pain of the ulna being struck without such rotation.

the Turning Low Block

Low block two, begins with the blocking hand alongside of the opposite side of the defenders head (blocking palm towards the head), the blocking arm descends and does not rotate at the end of the blocking technique to strike with the back of the two lead knuckles, back of the fist, back of the wrist and back of the forearm (two bone block). [It is felt that low block two allows the arm to take greater punishment with both the radius and the ulna working directly together in the block, but I am of the opinion both forms of blocking are more than adequate.]

the Isshinryu Low Block

The difference between using the technique (the low block) as a block instead of a strike is often one of how much time allowed for a response.

My research leads me to believe on Okinawa blocks were practiced just as that, blocks.

If karate is thought of as a fully defensive art, one would shape the training, to respond in the act of surprise. Antidotal evidence leads me to believe that is the aspect in which Okinawan karate was taught. Repetition after repetition of the low block as a block, to prepare an automatic response when if one was attacked, the blocking arm would sweep the attack away.

Now there is much more going on during the blocking process than just swinging the arm down, another aspect is the correct body shifting involved to remove one from the plane of the attack and to create an opening, a path to the attackers vital areas. In such cases the block itself then prepares the way for the counter-attack, to stop the attacker. Other aspects of the blocking motion can view it as a block and a strike in one movement or even a strike itself.

Claudette Macomber and John Dinger

I’m sure there are a wide variety of contemporary practices in a blocks utilization. But there is some tantalizing information about the potential of older practice in karate. In 1933 Mutsu Misuho published ‘Toudi Kempo’ (also known as Karate Kempo). The book was a very comprehensive presentation of the Okinawan art for its time. Most germane to this discussion was 1/3 of the text was devoted to Kumite, or pictures and text showing how karate could be applied against a wide series of attacks.

As there is no English translation of this text, I’m presenting my analysis solely from the diagrams. I find it interesting that unlike today’s presentations, Misuho began with description of simply dodging techniques and then an extensive use of dodging (punch slipping) and counter attacks. When the middle block is presented, it is always accompanied with the hand turning and grabbing the opponent during the counter-attack. Finally deep into this section the first recognizable low strike is presented, and it is a strike into a kicking leg.

A similar drawing to the Mutsu drawings

Eventually there are other examples, first against a strike but apparently involving considerable body shifting to set that up, and the right low block against a punch is followed with the right hand striking into the head area, or even the solar plexus (a case where the momentum of the block is reversed into a strike..

Another example against a strike begins with both parties delivering side strikes to each others arms, then following with low strikes into the same arm, and a counter reverse punch into the attackers body.

John Dinger and Tom Chan

When the blocks are delivered into the leg, with attendant body shifting the arm then either continues to press and spin the attacker away, or the arm slides under the leg to trap it for a counter-attack.

I do not believe this text is more than one series of examples how karate technique can be utilized, but it does seem to indicate the simple blocks practiced were not in that manner chosen for demonstration.

If I follow the line of reasoning much of contemporary practice grew out of the development of ‘School’ karate, the simpler blocking drills could be a result of those practices, de-emphasizing the combat potential of these techniques.

Now I don’t construe this logic that we should discontinue basic blocking drills, effectively throwing the dishes out with the dishwater. Its obvious MASTERY of basic blocking technique is a precursor for all application. Of course mastery of the appropriate entry into an attack is just as vital.

Application Potential of the Low Block

I truly don’t know what came first, somebody surviving an attack and systematizing the response to train others, or somebody logically deriving techniques of self defense, developing the training system and then keeping what worked in reality.

When I began training, as incredible as it may seem to some today, nobody discussed application of karate technique, or what is referred to today as Bunkai. Bunkai (from the Japanese or perhaps more correctly in Okinawan Hogan ‘ti chi ki’) is the application potential of a karate movement.

These may be direct (as is most often practiced), or indirect involving a great deal of body shifting to make the correct entry, or may even be obscure, by breaking a technique down into smaller and smaller components and learning how to apply each of them. Application potential might emphasize the striking potential of the technique, or the locking potential of the technique or the downing potential of the technique. It might involve striking very specific targets, or instead delivery of shocking power to impart into the attacker.

Except when there is direct line of translation from instructor to student, or some texts as the aforementioned “Toudi Kempo”, the rest involves the analysis and work of the artist martial.

What I will now discuss involves a range of study that I’m sure no one tradition (unless you consider my own perhaps) necessarily encompasses. But they are indicative of what the potential of the low block could be.

  1. The Low Block as a Deflection Against a Punch or Leg

Now some come from traditions where the low block is only practiced against a kick, but it is a very effective counter to strikes into the body too. Where Mutsu Mishuo seems to show this with a great deal of body shifting, it can also be practiced directly into the opponent. When I trained with Tris Sutrisno, his family Shotkan tradition incorporated a complex two person drilling series, and although I only learned a small fraction of this, among the beginning techniques, the use of the low block against the punch was utilized.

I do not believe the basic practice of the low block will develop this, and two person sets are required to develop the timing.

Without a great deal of description the low block affected against the leg to deflect a kick is a standard reply. As this can be practiced head on, or shifting off the line of attack, to accomplish the same result with less power, both need to be considered.

In all cases shifting off the line of attack before delivering the low block seems to be a desired study.

  1. The Low Block as Strike

Defensively instead of blocking the leg, but using the same technique to strike into the leg (with a hammerfist) and destroy the inner stability of that leg to continue attack has merit. Likewise, still being defensive with correct shifting as the attacker begins to move, you can deliver the low strike into their groin, or other exposed target. Finally, it is possible to use the same technique to block and strike (a 2 in 1 combination) such as a low block to the opponents arm completing a low strike into their body.

Offensively (a term which seems to be an anthemia to traditional karateka), especially when using a technique to strike from surprise, there are many targets of opportunity for the low block/strike.

Frankly, while contrary to the Okinawan concept of ‘there is NO first strike in karate’ it does seem if there is any merit to the striking times (Sichen) shown in the Okinawan Bubishi, a case can be made that these targets and time make most sense offensively. In that vein, the low block as strike has a great deal of potential.

  1. The Low Block for its Double Striking Potential

This becomes an example outside of the normal ‘old’ standard of what a technique can be used for. Instead of blocks alone, the technique is broken into pieces and the striking potential of those pieces is pursued.

Your opponent drives towards you with a lunging right punch. You respond with an interior line of defense using your right foot to step forward, the act of your right hand chambering alongside your head now becomes a strike into the opponents arm, creating the opening for the same right hand striking into their side. For even greater effect you might use the downward low block as a slicing technique across the side of your opponents ribs.

You might even shift off the line of attack, step across with your right leg so it locks behind the opponents right leg as you strike into their arm and then continue to strike into their kidneys. This can be a clear opening into a takedown.

The same concept works for the exterior line of defense. The opponent grabs to you with their left hand as they step forward. You respond by stepping outside of their attack with your right foot, the act of your right hand chambers alongside your head is used to strike into the triceps of the attackers arm. You then continue with your low strike which becomes a slicing attack of your hammerfist across the attackers ribs.

Dennis Driscoll and John Dinger

  1. Blocks as Strikes with Follow-up techniques.

Using kata examples, consider how the block as strike opens a path to the opponent.

The opponent attacks with a kick to the groin. You respond with a low strike, to shock the leg and take advantage of that shock to counter punch against the initial strike. The opponent attacks with a punch, you use a low strike to move it off of your centerline, and with appropriate body shifting use this opening to strike into their kidneys.

Other examples are:

Chambering Hand strikes into opponents arm, grabs their wrist and then pulls them down

Chambering Hand strikes into opponents arm breaking their arm

Chambering Hand strikes into opponents arm and then strikes down into their body.

Chambering Hand strikes into opponents arm while other hand strikes down into opponents body. This is followed the completion of the low strike hammerfist as a slice across the opponents ribs.

  1. Kakushite Hidden Hand

On Okinawa, there was a long tradition of ‘secret additional techniques’ being added by an instructor into the kata. This was practiced in Okinawan (and elsewhere) to hide the application from un-friendly eyes watching the practice. These techniques were only taught and practiced in secret, never to be done openly.

Never is the operant word. In all senses there are no secrets, except what you don’t expect. But if the practioner can add practiced ‘secrets’ to their technique, others might not expect them.

There’s a long tradition of people being surprised. Trevor Leggett in his book “Zen and the Ways” gives a great example how seniors in a certain Jujutsu school were destroyed because they made bad assumptions about what was happening during an attack. Their training had devolved to looking at which way the thumb grabbed the handle of the knife in its scabard, and beginning their defense before the knife was drawn. Their opponents recognizing this reversed the scabbard and handle, the defenders worked off of the thumb deflection and instead were finished with the knife in the wrong hand.

There are many more tales, and this can work for or against a martial artist, of course depending on the actual circumstance.

Interestingly, this tradition does not appear in many Chinese Systems, especially the Northern ones. In those cases, they have so many forms, two person sets, etc. the student is only taught one application per technique. But they have so many techniques, eventually they arrive at a point to have a vast vocabulary of technique to utilize.

Kakushite would appear to be a method to take a system of fewer obvious techniques and vastly increase the number of responses.

Although this seems to be a secret transmission from Senior to Junior when the circumstances warrant, and only if they warrant, I believe I can show some possible examples how this could be done.

Hidden Hand 1

From one tradition I’ve studied they have an interesting ‘hidden’ technique. That of doubling up the blocks.

Concentrating only on the low block, Take a simple form such as Takiokyu Shodan, and instead of turning left into left front stance and execute a left low block, they turn left into left front stance and execute a left low block immediately followed by a right low block.

The initial low block deflects the strike, where the second low block is a strike into the arm itself.

If you take a beginning kata, such as Takyokiu Shodan, you can simply double up the blocks in the kata as a training device.

Hidden Hand 2

Another concept involves adding different additional technique to a kata. Rather than a secret, if we go to Nakasone Genwa’s text “Karatedo Taiken published in 1938, we will find this in the Kihon Kata developed by the Okinawan Prefecture of Karate Do Preservation Society Instrutors Division. This group developed 10 basic forms, which build upon themselves. I personally consider this might be the source for training described by C.W. Nicole in his text “Moving Zen”, where he described his first class after attaining ShoDan. He was made to perform Takiokyu Shodan multiple times with additional kicks thrown between each technique.

One of the forms begins turn left, left low block, followed by left middle block. This parallels other instruction I’ve had doing the same. Consider Takyokyu Shodan as follows.

1. Turn to the left and deliver a left low strike

2. Then execute a left middle strike

3. Follow with a right lead punch as you step forward with the right foot.

1) low block followed by 2) middle block/strike into the body

John Dinger and Tom Chan

Among the possibilities you could strike into the opponents leg, and then strike into their body with the left hand.

  1. Chinese Jing Do

Similar to the last technique, is the equivalent technique taught by Ernest Rothrock, or Jing Do “Chinese Short Range Striking”.

While looking like a low block followed by a middle block, in Jing Do the low strike circles out and down striking into a leg at its bottom, but then continuing the circle to return up and strike into the abdomen with the returning strike.

When done like this, it becomes a continuously flowing circle and the circle is used for the two strikes.

John Dinger and Victor Smith


I have tried to show the low block has a greater range of possibilities than is often discussed. This is not an exclusive listing, but rather another opening movement in a vaster group of possibilities.

For a closing thought on the concept of blocking I’d like to quote Hank Prohm from Lebanon Oregon. Hank is a Shito Ryu stylist under John Sells Sihan. He offers us the following Principles of Blocking/Parrying.

1. Blocks should be extensions and refinements of natural, reflexive movements

2. NEVER meet force with force

3. Any defensive action should finish with you in a superior position

4. Good blocking works even when your technique doesn't

5. Try to move the target out of the line of fire

6. Heaven is being 90 degrees on the outside of your attacker

7. Hell is being on the killing ground, face to face, toe to toe both fighters open to attack, at the mercy of luck and reflexes.