Hanmi and Gendan Barai: Co-authored with Andre Bertel Sensei
Had a long conversation with Andre Bertel Sensei on Sunday about quite a few things, and as usual I learned so much it made my hair stand on end. Well, I happen to be bouzu at the moment... but let's not get lost in ironic translation, shall we?
Anyway one of the many interesting things that came up was the difference in ideas behind hanmi; specifically the importance and role of hanmi. Now I am not taking sides here, as there are no sides- only different and highly relevant perspectives on this technique. The point is, if you are going to execute a technique, make sure you do it properly.
So let's explore this- to Hanmi or to Shomen - Jun Kaiten vs Gyaku Kaiten
...or as you might say, Lets Twist Again...
The origin of this entry is in the Heian Shodan that Ibusuki Sensei says is the original Heian Shodan he was taught, back in the late 1940s, which had no hanmi. Ibusuki Sensei has quite an opinion on Shotokan hanmi as he sees it as something that was introduced by Nakayama Sensei and the JKA as a muscle and hip strengthening exercise.
What is clear is that rigid rules, and some would argue, some very rigid stylistic channels and mindsets were introduced in the JKA, whereas before things were literally and metaphorically more fluid and dynamic and, let's face it, less dogmatic before the 1950s. Of course they didn't make it up as they went along...
No Hami - Ibusuki: Practical Grab and Smash
So in Ibusuki Sensei's Karate, Heian Shodan has no hanmi, so it seems half way to Taikyoku Shodan. The reason for the lack of hanmi is the basic idea that there is no block in Shotokan- the block is an offensive weapon that should be able to stop your opponent, or be part of an immediate attack. In H.1 there is no block, you basically try to get inside your opponent as quickly as possible, preferably grabbling the leg and smashing through with a punch, headbut, elbow smash, whatever the distance, timing, dynamics call for. This means that you don't block with a hanmi and then counterattack, but that you go at your opponent straight in so you defend with one hand and attack with the other simultaneously.
Of course, this makes perfect sense: the hanmi gedan barai, gyaku-zuki combination, are you really going to use this in a fight? Ji-yu ippon kumite, for sure or perhaps ji-yu kumite, because the other person is doing Shotokan Karate with its well-known patterns of attack.
Extreme Hanmi - Yahara: Twist and Smash
On the other hand this idea of no hanmi Heian Shodan is total opposite of KWF Heian Shodan, in which extreme hanmi, to the point where the rear hip is lower than the front, with compression on the back leg, is paramount. In Yahara Karate, the oi-zuki is supposed to be the blow that knocks your opponent down and you want to generate power through compression in hanmi to do this. In fact basic KWF yudansha ido kihon is based on the principle of maximum and extreme holding of hanmi to the last possible instant before unleashing an oi-zuki. It's built into Isaka Sensei's slow training and built into ido kihon.
Taking this idea to the KWF limit, you'll often see in the black belt class kihon going right back to what you should have been taught as a white belt, correct movement through the hips. So in the KWF you will move forward in extreme hanmi until the last possible moment before the oi-zuki making sure you are putting your full body mass and power behind the punch.
No arguments with that, right. And Ibusuki Sensei doesn't believe it's "wrong" at all- he loves Yahara Karate because it's so damn fine!
But for Ibusuki Sensei, this is just YS "brand" to suit his own philosophy. And you have to look at things from different angles: what are the downsides?
Well certainly one potential disadvantage is the time wasted with the extreme chambering could have been used to rip your opponent up; you could say, don't waste time; if he gets his leg anywhere near you bundle him off balance by smashing into him as quickly as possible.
And for those of you who are like me, only slighty above feeble and all techniques are hanpa, the Ibusuki Way makes perfect sense. I haven't got the speed. I'd be an idiot to block a leg with an arm. I should get out of the way, tai-sabaki, grab the offending limb, and get inside anyway.
On the other hand YS extreme hanmi also makes sense to me. The decisiveness of the hanmi means that you have huge amounts of energy to quickly attack your opponent, and the power generated through the hips makes the block all that stronger.
Twist and Shout: Hip Vibration
One of the first things I was taught by Richard Amos Sensei was to always flick the hips away driving down and back when blocking with gedan barai. This is supposed to make the block stronger. This so-called double hip movement or hip vibration was built into nearly every move: for example sonoba chudan-tsuki would have us wiggling our hips like itchy snakes.
So this is where I hand over to Andre Bertel Sensei to get a professional opinion, and make some sense of it all: This is what he wrote:
"My late teacher Asai Tetsuhiko interchangeably utilised jun-kaiten and gyaku kaiten for all of his techniques. This brightly highlights a key fundamental difference between Asai–ha Shotokan-ryu and majority of other Shotokan methodologies in the karate world. Quite simply he did not believe in the unalterable gospel of form that is typically enforced by many organisations. What I am trying to convey here is that he didn’t have a `set in concrete method’, but rather used the method, which was best, at any given time.
For example sometimes Sensei would perform the gedan barai in Heian-shodan employing a `to the limit hanmi’ yet other times he would wind up in the opposite direction and rotate towards the technique finishing in shomen. Another method he employed and can be nicely illustrated is in the first movement of Heian-sandan and Heian-godan (hidari chudan uchi-uke). This double hip action is sometimes referred to as hip vibration as it is a coordinated combination of jun-kaiten and gyaku-kaiten.
Asking Asai Sensei about such differences in basic hip rotation and he explained to me that everything depends on the target of practice or the situation. He explained to me that (Please note I have paraphrased these):
(a) ==> Gyaku kaiten into hanmi is superior for halving yourself as a target, and countering most powerfully with the hikite;
(b) ==> Jun kaiten into shomen is strongest and faster for immediately going in and attacking;
(c) Hip vibration allows for a stronger defensive measure than just a standard hanmi but is not as fleeting. However it does permit the maximum counterattack from the hikite which is perfectly equal with hanmi and although not previously mentioned, the gyaku-hanmi, which naturally torques the body for lead hand/arm techniques and hiza-geri or mae-geri with the rear leg (for example Heian-nidan, Kanku-sho etc.)
I cannot emphasise enough that Asai Sensei stressed physical understanding of karate, and decisive adaptability, which he claimed is necessary for reliable self-defense. Therefore, how Sensei executed his techniques in kihon and kata, at any given moment, would depend on what he was working on. And in kumite, it would depend on how his opponents attacked, and how he reactively responded in accordance to the situation. Much of this of course depends on ma. What I personally learned from this was how restricted one is, if they cannot use their hips in all ways, because each way has its advantages and shortcomings."
The message is clear- Karate is not a broken record: it's poetry in motion- and you author the script to fit the audience.
The only thing is, keep your Kihon King- if you are not bothered, there is always Kyokushinkai or kickboxing and MMA.