Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hojo undo

Hojo undo, or supplementary exercises, in Okinawan karate are
Using the forearm to attack in
Saifa and Seiunchin katas.
usually done with a variety of old-style implements one often sees in a traditional dojo. You can make them yourself or employ various modern substitutes to effect the same results. To me, however, the one caveat is that the implements and the training one employs should be used to develop or strengthen the techniques one sees in the classical katas. In fact, one could argue that everything one does with respect to hojo undo training should be practiced with that in mind; how the exercise benefits one's technique, one's ability to perform the techniques we see in kata and bunkai. So, as blasphemous as it may sound, training on the makiwara (punching post), for example, as ubiquitous as this tool is in traditional karate dojos, seems to me to be rather low on the list of hojo undo practices. There are many other techniques in the classical kata of Goju-ryu that actually seem more common or at least as deserving of supplemental training as the straight punch (tsuki). (Though, of course, the straight punch is not the only technique one can train on the makiwara.) What about training implements to develop one's forearm strikes? Or something to work on strengthening knee kicks? Or twisting motions to develop the mawashi techniques?

Using the knee to attack the head
in Seiunchin kata.
I suppose one could rely solely on kote-kotai (arm pounding) to develop one's forearm strikes. But there are implements one can also use. I have a couple of saw horses in my dojo. When Sifu Liu, the noted Feeding Crane master, saw them, he suggested I round the edges on the top 2 X 4s a bit and use them for arm pounding. He thought the height was just about right for that.

The iron geta can be used to develop leg strength for knee kicks, but some sort of horizontal kicking post would also be good. I've sometimes also used a medicine ball held in two hands for working on knee kicks--gruesome thought, but a fairly good approximation of the opponent's head in many of the techniques/bunkai we see in Goju classical subjects.

Using the grip to pull the opponent
down in Saifa kata.
The gripping jars (nigiri-game) are good to work on grip strength, of course, which occurs everywhere in Goju classical subjects, but there's also stick bundles. You get a handful of those three-foot skinny bamboo tomato stakes and put them in a cloth bag. You can twist them and work on splitting them with your fingers while gripping them. My teacher used to have us work in pairs twisting belts (obi) for the same effect.

The kongoken is another useful hojo undo tool. Legend has it that Miyagi Chojun sensei saw it being used by wrestlers on a visit to Haiwaii and decided that it would be a good addition to the arsenal of Okinawan training equipment. It's a large, metal, elongated oval. It's heavy and perhaps a bit ungainly looking, but it would be a good way to train the use of the arms and hands in applying mawashi techniques--most of the mawashi techniques that we see in the classical katas are not for blocking, but rather twisting the head and neck of the opponent.
Using the grip and twisting strength
of the arms against an opponent's
head/neck in Seipai kata.

Another tool one could use in a similar way is the sashi-ishi--a large, round stone or concrete ball with a wooden handle through it. Since there is also significant weight here and the grip can be alternated, it can provide excellent resistance training for the mawashi movements so important in Goju-ryu finishing techniques.

Hojo undo training is important, but one should remember to keep it functional. Despite the appearance of techniques in kata--and one should always remember that the appearance of techniques in kata may be quite different from their actual applications--Goju-ryu is largely comprised of forearm blocks, grabbing, grappling, forearm attacks, knee kicks, and head/neck twisting techniques. This is what we want to develop with hojo undo training--that is, it's not simply to develop strength per se. In fact, a reliance on physical strength often makes one's Goju-ryu too "Go"--often appearing to hard and rigid--and gets in the way of truly understanding what is meant by "hard and soft."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Say what...?

Shuzan held out his short staff and said: "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?" Mumon's comment: ...It cannot be expressed with words and it cannot be expressed without words. Now say quickly what it is. (from The Gateless Gate, by Ekai, called Mumon, in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps, p. 127.)
This is not uraken uchi from Saifa.

I thought of this story when I recently came across a discussion of a posture in Sanseiru kata. In this particular posture, the kata practitioner is in front stance (zenkutsu-dachi) with the right arm up, elbow jutting forward, and the open left hand in front of the chest. Wait...I think they called it something like chudan-uke/ mae-geri/ hiji-ate. I guess you have to call it something, but the problem is that once you call it something you begin to think of it only in those terms. When you name something, you tend to put things in cubby-holes. Once you name something, you limit the "experiential" identity of the thing. This is particularly true of kata techniques. What I mean is, when you refer to a technique in kata as a hiji-ate (elbow strike), then that's the way you think of it in application or bunkai. What if the name, hiji-ate, is meant merely as a descriptor? In other words, the teacher is using a short hand method of saying, "Do the technique that looks like an elbow attack."
This is not a kaiko-ken zuki from
Saifa kata.
When the T'ai Chi teacher says, "Do the technique that looks like parting the wild horse's mane," he doesn't mean the application is to part a wild horse's mane! 
Nor does he mean that you use that odd bending over technique to search for a needle at the bottom of the sea. Calling a posture a cat stance (neko-ashi-dachi) doesn't have anything to do with its application. Words are sometimes more confusing than if we didn't have the words in the first place. 

But how would you teach if you didn't have the words to describe what you were doing? That's really a rhetorical question, isn't it? Sometimes I think people in the old days used words to intentionally hide what they were doing or at least the meanings of moves in kata. Give a technique a descriptive name--a poetic name would be even better--and someone not in the know, an outsider, might pick up the kata movements but never guess their meanings, the applications. 

This is not gedan barai from
Seiunchin kata.
You don't really need any words to teach karate, I think. You only need to demonstrate--first kata and then bunkai. Words can be misleading. Is there a sokoto-geri in Sanseiru kata or is it a hiki-ashi? Or maybe a hiza-geri? Is there a kaiko-ken zuki (crab shell fist as Higaonna sensei calls it in his first book) in Saifa kata or does it just look like that and you are really grabbing the opponent at the shoulders and pulling them down? Is the name describing the application or simply what the technique looks like? How can you think of it as a pulling technique if you call it a strike? If you call it a uraken-uchi (back fist strike) in Seiunchin, does that become the explanation of the application? Will you be able to see it as a forearm strike if you call it uraken? Is it really a block just because you call it a gedan barai? What we call things
This is not a hiji-ate (elbow strike)
in Shisochin kata.
influences how we look at them; we are tied to language. But we must remember that they are just "words, words, words," as Hamlet says to Polonius. Sometimes I think that words are the biggest obstacle to people understanding bunkai--that and tradition!