Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Technique 3: Hikite

I was sparring with a green belt yesterday.  I had a good kumite kamae and was protecting my centerline vigourously.  My jabs were penetrating effortlessly and I wondered why.  I wasn’t so good that nothing he did could stop me.  After studying him for a while, something thrilling occurred to me…

His hikite was awful.

He’d punch and leave his hands out there.  Sometimes it would be to maintain the distance, sometimes to push me away.  But those extended arms made throwing, deflecting, immobilizing and countering a breeze.  Those arms made everything easier.

And now I understand Hikite.

Hikite is not a destination.  It is not a goal.  It is a means.  It is a process and it has a purpose.

In Karate we spend a lot of time with our arms extended.  Step punch, step punch.  It is important to get full extension on the punching arm, to strengthen the shoulders, to turn the wrist over and penetrate into the target.

Most people see hikite as pulling your hand back to your hip.  Hikite is simply pulling your hand back.  Nothing more or nothing less.

If extension is Kyo, then hikite is Jutsu.  Because though we may not realize, all that time we spend with arms extended in karate is teaching us a very bad habit.  The habit of keeping our hands away from our body.  The habit of breaking our kamae.  The further the hand is from the core, the less useful and powerful it is.

How do we counteract this?  How do we ensure that we get good penetration on our punch but don’t compromise our guard?  Hikite.  Hikite, the withdrawing hand.  Or perhaps better put, withdrawing the hand. People will describe hikite sometimes as a grab to turn the opponent as you strike with the opposite hand.  They will describe it as a rear elbow.  They will say it accelerates the opposite side of the body to pull the arm in.  And it can be all of those things.  But Hikite’s three main purposes are 1) simply pulling your hand away from where the opponent can manipulate it and 2) returning to kamae where you can again defend centerline and 3) chambering your arm so you can strike again.  Whether the destination of the pulling hand is your hip, your rib or chin, the idea is simple: don’t leave your fist out there.  Pull it back so it can defend your seichusen and launch another attack.

In this interpretation, the act of pulling the fist back to the hip is an exaggerated movement.  It is a reminder that as the fist goes out, one should return, ready for what comes next, ready to defend.  But we should not think of hikite only for the fist that is not punching.  Arguably, hikite is most important for the fist that is punching, the one that is nearest the opponent, the one that is greatest threat to being manipulated.   Hikite then, on top of rotational acceleration, on top of rear elbows, on top of protecting centerline, also prevents the opponent from immobilizing the hand as in HIA as hikiashi does from LIA.

Boxers have excellent hikite.  With each jab, the hand withdraws right back to where it started.  With each cross, the fist returns as if tied to an elastic band, sewn to the chin.  Hikite exists so that we can find the proper balance between penetration and withdrawal – between attacking and defending.  Explore what your fists do and where they are and ask yourself if Hikite is something you can afford to ignore.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Technique 2: The SMALL stuff

I can't remember who said it.  It might be Ushiro, or Musashi or Lao Tzu.  It goes: Consider trivial things deeply and significant things lightly.  I understand that now.  By understand, I don't mean that I know what it conveys.  I mean I've lived what it conveys.

I understood the words the first time I read them.  People have inclinations, predilictions, habits.  One of them is to dismiss small things and worry over large, far off things.  Like death.  Or being embarrassed.  When if you put some of that concern into small, everyday matters like eating right and speaking humbly, big matters would matter even less than they do.  Balance.

But those are all just words...

I like packing my gym bag.  I like ironing my gi.  I like taking pride in it and telling myself that just as I iron the folds out of the fabric so do I try to iron the kinks out of my karate - smooth out the flaws, the bumps, the creases.  I like paying attention to the details and packing the fabric, my books, my gloves, my towel, my water bottle.  And on the bus ride to work, I was proud that I didn't leave it to the last moment.  That I was responsible and diligent and disciplined...

Until I realized that I'd completely forgotten to pack my belt.

The irony was not lost on me.  That I could be so absorbed in the ritual of packing my bag and overlook the obvious.  Such a small thing, my belt.  But without it, everything else in my bag is just weight that I'm lugging around.  All the enormous things in my head that I was going to do in class today disappeared.   It all dissolved into nothingness...for I had forgotten the simple small detail of packing my belt.

On the contrary, for all the pride and respect that I showed Karate and my gi, I would do it even greater honor if I was mindful enough to remember my belt so that I could actually train.  The small things are what make big things possible.

I have a hole in my hand from today.  It was given to me by Peter Giffen.  He was doing the bunkai for NiSeiShi to me and to fully compromise me, he attacked a nerve in my hand as he pulled me down.  The target must have been half a centermetre squared between my thumb and index finger.  But the pain in my hand gave him more than enough time to break my posture downward.  That small extra motion made the big work of taking a person to the ground that much easier.

I'm beginning to see that the heart of karate is in these small details; every technique has at its heart a small window of opportunity to fill with these small details that compromise another person.  Once you've internalized the Stillpoint - the nugget of a technique, the key aspect, the Moment where you'll win or lose - it's just a matter of waiting for the opportunity and applying the details.

But to wait for the moment takes courage and patience.  To apply the details in the moment takes much practice.

And confidence that I'll find that Stillpoint when it counts demands total Commitment.

Small stuff.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Technique 1: Ju Go Waza

Shane Higashi drives me nuts sometimes.  He's divided the class up into young people and old people.  Which would be fine if the person running the young class was good.  But instead they're doing all this nonsense that has very little to do with karate and it's getting me upset.

There is a pernicious, kumite-centric thread in the class that leaves me feeling really frustrated.  These younglings don't know anything.  Kumite is exciting and fun, sure.  But they've structured the class entirely around it and I find it ironic.  I find it ironic that Sensei should indulge them in this kumite focus when he knows what we all should be working on.  More on that in a moment.

They're doing plyometrics and circuit training and my legs are killing me with DOMS.  It's all this athletic karate, sport karate.  It isn't even fitness karate anymore.  Situps are token, stretching is cursory, pushups optional.  It's just jump, step, bounce.  You know, the way that samurai used to move, bouncing around like idiots.  The way judoka move, raising their center of balance.  The way boxers move.  Where did all this bouncing in karate come from, anyways?

Are they really going to bounce around at a bus station or a schoolyard?  Bouncing around makes it easier to grab a leg, sweep a foot, lift someone?  Do we bounce around in kata?  It's just crap.  Crap codified by tournament karate, where you aren't allowed to grab a leg, lift someone, or throw someone.  I try to imagine what a judoka would do to the people in our class if our sparring was combined with their randori.

So my ankle, feet, calves, quads, hams, and hips are killing me and I say to myself: I can do plyo at home, I come here to do karate.  So I excuse myself from the young class and go downstairs to where Sensei is working with the fogeys.  He's taking them them through ridiculous nonsense like situps, pushups, kihon, kata, and bunkai.  You know, the silly stuff that won't ever help you in kumite.  He gets a manual out and takes us ('us' meaning me) through the black belt requirements and he's on me when I get 2 out of the 40 things he mentions wrong.  And I'm thinking to myself:  I shouldn't get them wrong, I've been taking karate longer than almost all the younglings up there put together.  But how many of them know half of these things off by heart, including that black belt?  Why does Sensei indulge them in all this sparring when the rest of their karate is so suspect?

My wonder and frustration at the man was reinforced later on, after my class, when Sensei asked me to work with another brown belt.  He isn't very good and doesn't know how to fall.  He has no clue as to Ju Go Waza, whereas I had to look some of them up.  So it wasn't as easy as it could have been.  We get to number 15, the one I could never see working in real life and Sensei does it.  It works.  It works so well and the technique is so simple and fluid that I wondered why I thought it couldn't work.  So I do it, admittedly badly, and Sensei is all over me.  Getting impatient like I should know this.  And I'm of a mind at certain points to look at the old man and say:  Why should I know this?  We never practice this.  Where else can I find someone willing to be thrown to the ground repeatedly than here?  If we don't do it here, in class, where else would we get a chance to practice it?

I realize that old people should be free to be impatient with young people - they're running out of time, and everything they know seems obvious to them.  But there's no magic to Sensei making a move work that I couldn't even imagine working. The man practiced this stuff a million times more than me.  He lived in O'Sensei's house for Christ's sake - days spent practicing for hours and hours on end.  I won't get that opportunity.  So the least we can do when we come to the dojo is actually spend this precious time working on what matters.

Maybe I should just say this to him rather than venting here.