Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Honouring technique

When practising martial arts with a training partner one is often told that you must ‘honour the technique’ that your partner is trying to practice on you. But what is exactly meant by ‘honouring the technique’?

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.

The concept of ‘realism’ in karate training often becomes very abstract. The only way of introducing concrete realism is to have a real fight but paradoxically a real fight is not the best environment in which to practice techniques in. So we have to train with abstract realism instead. Apart from the use of many simulated responses, abstract realism ought to include realistic types of attack.

Only if you have been in a real fight can you know what the experience is like. I, like many other martial artists have never been in a real fight so I have to rely on descriptions of others as to what a real fight would be like. Apparently a real fight is fast, furious, un-relenting but technically very sloppy. How do we simulate this?

One of the problems with martial arts training is that we train with other martial artists, yet we wouldn’t face a real attack from one. The person that may attack us is likely to be an untrained ‘yob’ who doesn’t know how to kick or punch correctly. We are not likely to have to defend ourselves against the perfect oi zuki or well snapped back front kick that is too quick to be caught. It seems to make more sense for uke to deliver an attack in a sloppy, unpredictable but more ‘realistic’ way.

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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Felicia said...

Excellent post, Sue - and timely for me as I ran into an "honoring the technique" situation last night. The school I visited has a grading coming up this week, so they went over Ippon Kumite techniques. There were two women in the class working together - a soon-to-be 6th kyu and a soon-to-be 4th kyu. It became obvious really quickly that they were kinda just falling to the ground the second they were touched and sort of pulling their punches and techniques when each was working as the tori. True, they are relatively new on the path, but I stepped in - with their sensei's permission - and really tried to help them understand that they are doing each other a dis-service when they simply "went with" the techniques. I'm not suggesting they become "Iron Ukes" and refuse to fall, but moving to the slightest touch is not good at all. And I don't think that white belt is too soon to learn that, either.

For women especially, I think it is ultra important to know what techniques work for you and which ones don't. Maybe these particular ippons would not be ones these women would ever use in a "situation" but that they are a part of our system that they need to know means they should at least know them effectively, IMHO. So when I stepped in to be the uke for the 7th kyu for goshin waza, I grabbed relatively hard (not like GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip, though!) and I MADE her sweep me or I didn't go down - not just to be difficult, but because that's what she'll need to do to be effective - and I wanted her to feel/know what effective is.

In a nutshell, that's what "honoring the technique" means to me.

FredInChina said...

Osu Sue,

I too am frustrated with this "level" of action/reaction in my dojo in China; the self defense techniques are often executed with over compliant partners and belie what would happen in a "real" situation.

On the other hand, I introduced an acknowledgment of a technique that worked in kumite:
we practice high contact continuous sparring in the dojo. What often happened was that the level of contact tended to increase as time passed by; the reason was that students would feel a strong shot, suck it up and increase their own delivered power, starting a spiral.

Introducing a simple "osu" and slight bow when a technique worked, allowed students to "honor the technique" applied to them and had the effect of steadying the pace. We now rarely have fights that rise to too high a level of discomfort for one student or another.


Prof. Guilherme Fauque said...

Very good post! Congratulations! I love follow your blog.

Sue C said...

Hi Felicia, I must be a mind reader eh? lol. Actually I think the fact you've had this situation occur at the same time I decide to write about it probably just shows that it is a common problem and crops up all the time in dojos around the world.

I love the phrase 'iron uke'! I haven't heard it called that before but I know exactly what you mean. Standing as rigid as a statue is just as bad (and unrealistic) as falling over at the slightest touch.

Hopefully your kyu grades appreciated what you were doing for them.

Sue C said...

Hi Fred, that sounds like a good introduction you've made in your dojo. One of Funakoshi's guiding principles is 'karate begins and ends with rei' - I think that applies to the execution of a technique or bout of sparring, not just the beginning and end of a class. Constantly being reminded to respect our training partners keeps us civilised :-)

Hi Guilherme, thank you. I like your blog too - I'm learning a lot about your style of karate so keep it coming!

sandman said...

Great topic Sue! I've been fortunate enough to have trained in two different styles of karate in my life, but I've experience much the same in both - ippon kumite and self defense training with over-compliant partners. I have to believe this must be quite common. The problem is that the uke believe that he or she is being nice - by not giving the partner a hard time. Unfortunately its a great disservice - the partner does not get the chance to really test the defense - to get the feeling of what its like to REALLY have to block, evade, counter, or whatever. Many people see ippon kumite as being a waste of time - and I have to agree, if it is done in this manner!

Sue C said...

Hi Sandman, it does seem to be a common problem, at least in karate. I don't know if other martial arts get the same problem. I think the role of uke needs to be given a bit more attention in class, I'm sure a lot of people just don't know what's expected of them in this role. The under compliant uke (iron uke as Felicia calls them) is just a big a problem as the over compliant uke.

fishface said...

Good post!

Homouring technique is a difficult one for people to understand.

In sport karate in a club environment it can be as simple as recognising the opponents score would have registered with the referee and a way of praising good technique or reactions.

In applied karate it is some times difficult to get the balance right between employing enough force to disable the attacker and do it safely in a way that allows repitition. In most cases the move is practised or explained before its use so both parties are familiar with the outcome.
It is generally the percussive impact scenarios that require attention i.e. attack to the groin which will prevoke a pre determined response. Uke should know by their own training the pre determined reponse for a certain technique and therefore replicate it in that instant.
throwing and unbalancing technique dont require as much input from uke but can rely on their ukemi waza skills as well as maybe a slight technical tweek from yourself to allow them space to fall safely.
In self defenfe terms its slightly different than ippon kumite in many cases as maai is different and the goal is to escape so moves tend to be smaller and hurt more here pressure point sort of work is ideal as you can create the response with little force. it can then be repeated.
being a good uke also involves having a good understanding of technique so dont just pick on a low belt as often they would nt know the relevant response.
it is a good idea to trow in training with a non compliant uke to see what works best for you.

Sue C said...

Hi fishface, thank you! I think you are right about it being the percussive impact scenarios that seem to be the most difficult to grasp. People often say but that wouldn't work because I'd..... forgeting that they'd be nursing a broken jaw/flat on their back/doubled up in pain before the technique was applied.

To be honest I've started putting in one or two 'weakeners' in for real (not too hard) if I'm training with a man, just to make sure they start moving in the right direction! Don't tell anyone ;-)

Anonymous said...

Read a few of your articles. My read on cooperation among practice partners is this:

First. You've touched on what MENTALLY makes a good learning environment throughout your blog and these adult concepts should be present among participants.

Second. There many facets to the traditional karate curriculum. IMO, the best lesson of the belt system is that there is a progression in traditional karate skill & training. You are climbing an incline, and it's possible to slip backwards.

Third, the application centered exercises are simulations. See them for what they are and that is their use. The working objective is to provide a learning environment.

>> Contrary to the "muscle memory" mantra, traditional karateka are to be learning and absorbing the conscious martial decisions presented by the exercises.

The MMA / full contact crowd, among others, criticize the passive nature of uke. Well, we have free sparring and belt tests and tournaments which address that. You can always add more realistic, resisting or disruptive activity.

The real question is how do people learn karate best. Adding too much stress, intensive competition before skill and knowledge are accumulated produces people who are basically fighting with their natural reactions--the antithesis of traditional karate.

Mindlessly doing passive, scripted activities over and over is not traditional karate. Progression is the underlying educational concept that you're after.


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