In karate, partner work is undertaken during the practice of ippon kumite (1 step sparring), bunkai (kata application) or goshin waza (self-defense techniques). The main aim in all these training approaches is to learn good body and foot movements; develop strategies for dealing with certain types of attack and perfect individual defence/counter-attack techniques.
In the early stages of training a lot of thought needs to go into developing and executing techniques and so they are generally performed slowly, with many pauses, rewinds and re-runs as learning takes place. As training advances hopefully you do a little less thinking and begin to execute techniques a little more speedily and with greater intent. The very advanced practitioner will just act and not think at all and training should become much more ‘realistic’.
So if training becomes more ‘realistic’ as the practitioner progresses through the kyu and dan grades then presumably one’s training as an uke also needs to progress if the attack and response by uke is to simulate realism. It seems likely then that ‘honouring the technique’ will mean slightly different things at different stages of training.
However the basic principles of ‘honouring technique’ hold fast at all stages of training and include: not allowing your partner to get away with sloppy or ineffective technique, offering a level of resistance that is commensurate with your partner’s skill level and giving feedback to your partner about whether locks are on or pressure points have been effectively accessed. It also includes delivering attacks at realistic distances and with a speed that is commensurate with your partner’s skill level.
I think that good uke training is often a neglected component of karate. To be a good uke and to be able to follow the principles of ‘honouring technique’, one needs to have a certain set of skills and knowledge. To start with a good uke needs to know how to breakfall and to feel confident with this. But uke’s role also involves simulating a lot of responses and thus they need to have the knowledge of how to do this. Many techniques delivered by tori may depend on uke simulating the correct physiological response to a counter-attack. For example a groin strike should make uke bend forward, a palm heel to the chin should have uke throwing back their head and their weight moving backwards. If uke doesn’t simulate these predictable physiological responses then they are not ‘honouring the technique’.
However, uke should not confuse simulating predictable physiological responses with ‘going with the technique’. For example, if tori is attempting a leg sweep then he must sweep uke off his feet – you shouldn’t fall for him. If tori is trying to unbalance uke then he must actually unbalance him for real.
If our aim as martial artists is to learn to defend ourselves against a street attack then we must ‘honour’ our partner’s techniques in both the way we attack and the way we respond to their defence. Only through this mutual cooperation and trust between partners can we develop and internalise the strategies and techniques that may one day save our lives.
What does ‘honour the technique’ mean to you?
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