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No Fixed Postions

I want to piggyback on the guest post by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, entitled Kamae. I think that in Shorin-Ryu (all the different branches) we have learned that there are no fixed positions, or kamae. When we move, we move. We do not take up certain postures.

However, if you were to look at a book showing kata photographs, it would seem that each movement of the kata is fixed. You punch and hold it. You block, and hold it. You kick, step down, and hold it. We take certain stances and hold our hands in certain positions -- at least it looks so in books.

But in actuality, the photos in a book are just snapshots. If a kata is made up on 1,000 photos, a book might only show 20. It is showing just the highlights. If the 1,000 photos were shown, it would take a whole book for just one kata. So we are only seeing 1 out of 50 photos.

These snapshots seem fixed, but really they are not. We hit and move, and block and move, and kick, and move. We move.

Have you noticed that most kata begin with the hands held down? I believe that this is to represent the most natural position. Usually, we do not walk around or stand with our hands held above our heads, or even at our chest level. Usually, our hands rest naturally.

I was working on a set of yakusoku kumite patterns for our dojo. I consulted my Sensei in Okinawa, Sensei Katsuhiko Shinsato, about the patterns. He recommended that they begin with the hands resting naturally on the thighs. He did not want the hands to be held up in a fixed postition.

Shinzato Sensei has also made the point that we must learn to be able to block from wherever our hands may be. If they are down by our thighs, we block from there. If they are crossed on our chest, we block from there. If they are on top of our head, we block from there. Wherever they are, we block from there. We do not adjust.

Of course, the same goes for striking, kicking, whatever. We move from where we are. From that point, we move directly into the block or strike. We do not waste time taking a position or pulling our hands back. The movement must be direct -- otherwise there is wasted time, and in that time you will be hit.

Imagine two people. One pulls his hand back before punching. The other one punches directly. By the time the first one pulls his hand back, the other one may already have completed his punch.

Using the koshi (whole body dynamics), it is possible to generate considerable power in a short distance. So blocking or striking without pulling back or taking a fixed position is possible.

If a person takes a fixed position -- this is very important -- there is moment, a split second, when he cannot move. In his mind, he is moving to a fixed or rigid position. He is not zig zagging -- he is moving to a certain position. If you know this, you can attack at that moment.

And if you do this (take a fixed position), the attacker can attack you at that movement.

When an attacker stands in front of you with his legs open, I like to tell my student to "make a wish". This refers to what you say when you break the wishbone at Thanksgiving and other family events. If a person is dumb enough to stand in front of you with his legs open (an unintended kamae probably), you should just kick him in the groin as quickly and as hard as you can. It is like breaking the wishbone... "make a wish."

As Nakata Sensei mentioned, taking a kamae telegraphs your intention. It also shows that you know some form of Karate. A skilled Karate person will be able to gauge your ability by your composure and the type of kamae you take. You will be giving away something.

Think about wild animals attacking a prey. Once a lion charges, it takes no fixed position until it has the prey firmly in its jaws. It is just a blur of motion.

Actually, animals only take fixed positions in mating rituals. Otherwise, they move quickly to attack or escape.

Why have fixed positions become so common in Karate? I think that there are several answers, including:

  • Tournaments. Competitors are judged by the perfection of their positions rather than the effectiveness of their movement.
  • Books. The photo thing.
  • Fighting. Many modern instructors do not know how to fight and think of Karate within the arena of Karate movements and rules, rather than street attacks with no rules.
  • Movies. Fixed positions look cool to the audience.
  • Magazine covers. Same as movies.
We have to learn movement in a fixed way to that we can get them right. That is like tracing the outline of a picture (remember when you were a little kid?). But once we learn to move correctly, we have to learn how to move into and out of that movement freely.

In fact, that is the main thing -- to be able to move freely. Once we accomplish the block or strike, we have to move into the next technique or escape. There is no time or use for posing.

In the words of the great movie Talladega Nights (paraphrasing it), we have to learn to "come at you like a Spider Monkey!"

We have to learn to move freely. This also requires that we can think freely. A fixed mind leads to fixed positions. Rigid thinking leads to a rigid body. A relaxed, free mind, leads to a relaxed, free body.

No fixed positions (kamae), no fixed stances, no fixed responses. Without hesitation or conscious thought, we have to be able to move appropriately and directly. It is like turning on a light. There is no perceptible gap between the light leaving the light bulb and striking the floor.

I have thought of another analogy. Think about an Olympic swimmer. He takes a fixed position at the start and he reaches out to touch the wall at the end of the race. In between there is only motion, no fixed or rigid positions. The same goes for sprints and other races.

Is Karate any different?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin