January 26th, 2010

“Why Don’t We do this?” Sanchin-Ryu Karate’s Frequently Asked Questions Part 1

Kick and Fist Vector graphic

Sanchin-Ryu FAQ Part One

If you have been reading through some of my past articles, you will see that there was a pattern of some of the “whys” we do things in Sanchin-Ryu.  For example, we have talked about why we don’t compete, the role and use of forms and kumite.  In this article, I want to break it down past the philosophical things we do and talk about specific techniques we see a lot of times in other martial art styles (or even through media, such as TV/Movies and Sports competitions).  In every aspect of our lives we have tradeoffs.  We need to weigh the risks vs. the benefits of these things and determine if it is worth the risk by what we have to gain by employing such a tactic.

We are going to talk about some of the more common things that we may have seen or have been asked about by our students or wondered ourselves.  We will talk about the risks vs. the benefits of these techniques and then look to our Sanchin-Ryu toolbox to see what we have in place of that tool and how to apply it strategically from our forms.

Full Twist Punch:

The stereotypical “karate punch” that every new student to Sanchin-Ryu thinks that they will learn.  The punch is usually chambered at the hip, with the palm facing upwards (just like getting ready to throw a basic san).  From there, the punch is thrust outward and the fist turns over as it extends outward so just prior to impact the fist has fully rotated over so the palm is downwards facing the floor.  The thumb is usually down to wrap around the first two fingers.  The point of impact is still supposed to be the top two knuckles.

Strategically, why don’t we use a punch like this in our studies?  First, in Sanchin-Ryu we train to be close-in and try to keep our opponents close to us.  The twist punch is designed as a thrusting action and using this punch to the solar plexus will cause an opponent to move back out of range and given a chance to reset and attack again.  Second, look at your own body for a second…how many spots does that fist configuration really fit into?  In Sanchin-Ryu we use the angle of the fist to best fit into vulnerable spots on the body, and also the best to manipulate our opponent without having to drive them away unnecessarily.  Basic ichi and san, are configured to fit right into the area under the xiphoid process and attack the solar plexus for us without driving the opponent back.  Basic shi and reverse shi gives us the chance to thrust a punch into the opponent and get manipulation of the spine by using the vertical axis, so the opponent stays in place instead of being driven backwards.

Physically, is one punch better than the other?  Let’s begin by doing a basic exercise just with the thumb placement.  Go up to a wall and make a fist with the thumb down and around the first two fingers.  Placing your fist flat on the wall, allow the wrist to buckle and attempt to let the top of your hand touch the wall and see how far your wrist bends.  Now, attempt the same thing again with a proper Sanchin fist and see how far the wrist will bend.  By placing the thumb on top, as we do in the Sanchin fist, we see that it moves some internal structures around to solidify the hand and wrist to make it more stable for impact while punching.

Moving on to the vertical fist position vs. the palm down position, let’s examine the bone structure of the forearm and how that impacts our structure during a punch.  The forearm is made up of two bones; the radial bone and the ulna bone.  The bones are thicker at one end and thinner at the other (although, overall the radial is the thicker of the two), which allows them to rotate around each other so you can rotate your hand from a palm up to a palm down position.  Connecting these two bones is something called the interosseous membrane.  This is a band of connective tissue that runs the length of the bones and helps to disperse force equally to both bones.   When executing a vertical punch, the membrane is tight and both bones are stressed equally when contact is made with the punch.  When you turn the palm over, the membrane collapses and does not offer support to allow the bones to twist over and complete the action.  When you make contact, all of the force causes the bones to bow outward and if enough force is given, it will cause them to break.  You can examples of this happen all the time when someone extends their hand out to catch themselves from falling.  The forearm is put into a bad structural position allowing to break easier.  Also, the musculature of the forearm is comprised of pronator and supinator muscles (fancy way of saying muscles that turn your palm over).  Again, when the forearm is in a vertical position, both sets of muscles are allowed to flex and stabilize the forearm equally, but when you turn the palm completely over, one set of muscles has to relax to allow the other set of muscles to contract.  This means that not only are you relying on one bone to support the punch, you are also now relying on one set of muscles to support the punch.

Lastly, let’s take a quick look at using the top two knuckles as opposed to the bottom three knuckles that are advocated by some systems.  Just looking at your knuckles you can quickly realize that the first two are larger in size and able to absorb more impact and align themselves better with the forearm.  When you land with the bottom three knuckles you are much more likely to break a bone in your hand (it happens so frequently when punching wrong that it is known as a “boxer’s fracture”).  If you land with the bottom three knuckles in a horizontal position you are putting all of the impact stress not only on the smallest bones in the hand, but also this puts all of the force on the ulna , which is the smallest of the forearm bones.

When we take a look at all of the factors, we can start to see why the vertical punch was chosen for it’s practicality and structural integrity.

Hook Punch:

First, let’s define what a hook punch SHOULD be.  The hook punch, is one of the main tools in the sport of boxing.  To execute it correctly, the arm should be bent at a 90 degree angle, with the forearm parallel to the floor (for a head shot).  Power is achieved by rotating the whole body into the punch using a twist of the shoulders and hips, and is a close range weapon.  Many times we see “hook punches” that aren’t really close in, but seem to be long range weapons.  These would be referred to as “swings” in boxing lingo, and are more commonly called “roundhouse punches” or “haymakers”.

We’ll examine the physical aspects of the technique first before we address the strategical considerations later on.  There are two schools of thought on whether the palm should be held in a vertical or horizontal position when throwing the hook.   Either way, you are striking with the middle and bottom two knuckles when you punch.  In the sport of boxing this is okay because you hands are wrapped and gloves on them so hand structure can be at sub-optimal deployment and the glove will still transfer the energy into the target and protect your hand.  When you are attempting this strike in a self-defense situation, you don’t have the luxury of hand wraps and gloves to protect the bones of your hand.  There is a high likelihood of breaking your hand on your opponent’s jaw when using a full force punch.  If our goal is to protect ourselves, it stands to reason that we would want to protect ourselves from techniques that put us at risk of injury as well.  This goes for the longer version (haymakers) as well, due to the long arcing path that the punch has to travel to get to the target.

Strategically, the idea of the hook punch is okay.  It allows us to create opportunities to end the situation quickly.  But, how can we utilize this strategy, while still protecting ourselves from injury?  Well, let’s do another quick experiment before we answer that question.  Go to a door and open it so you can stand where the door would be in the middle of your body (nose to belly button), turn your stance and body at about a 45 degree angle (a diagonal seisan stance).  Bend your arm to a 90 degree angle and raise it so your arm is parallel to the floor.  Find your distance and touch the door as if you were making contact with a hook punch (don’t worry too much about what part is making contact, this is a distance exercise).  Now, without moving your stance; pull your arm back and bend the arm into a basic go position.  Again, extend the arm towards the door and what do you find out?  Yep, using your elbow in the same exact manner will give you another 2-3 inches to strike the target.  PLUS, you are hitting with a very hard surface and don’t have to worry about injuring your own hand/arm when striking in this manner.  When we examine CBA Ichi-Ku, we see this idea first introduced of using our elbows to “hook” into the body and take out the ribs.

Now let’s look at the other aspect of working around an opponent’s guard.  We first start to explore this idea in our CBA’s as well.  Really start to work your CBA Ichi-Roku thru Ni-Hachi with how we are using the hammerfists and shuto strikes.  By using the high chamber of those strikes it not only can be used as a deflection of an incoming strike and clearing our own path.  It also can allow us to be outside of the opponent’s guard and creating a new angle of attack for us.  Get a mirror and play around with putting your hands into a “I don’t want any trouble”  position.  Now, lead with the elbow inward and shoot the hammer or shuto straight in from there and notice that if an opponent’s hands were trying to protect the front of the face it allows us to get to the temple and jaw very easily.  As you advance in your studies, exploration of the ridgehand will also give you more tools of attacking to the side of an opponent’s guard and gives some different opportunities for spinal manipulation as well.

High Kicks/Jumping Kicks:

Another frequent thing that the public sees and wonders why we don’t use them, is the idea of using high spinning kicks and jumping kicks to the head area.  As any of us have been around long enough, our junior students love to emulate the kicks they see on TV and wonder when we will unleash the temple secrets of these tools.

Strategically, when we look at Sanchin-Ryu as a whole, we embrace the idea of once contact is made with an opponent we want the distance very close.  Using these types of kicks violates that number one strategy of our art.  We would need a lot of space and distance to jump into an opponent or try a spinning kick to the head.  We do kick to the head in Sanchin-Ryu, it’s just that we bring the target down to the proper range of our kick (meaning that they will be bent over or laying on the ground). We must also take into account, environmental considerations.  Most fights occur in crowded places or in the street.  We can’t account for what the terrain is going to be like and the likelihood of it being uneven and littered with junk is a big risk to take to jump or give up balance to that extent (I won’t go into what percentage of the year in Michigan is spent snow covered and an added risk).  Needless to say, we want our kicks to be lightning fast and to a lower target where we don’t compromise our balance or structure to lift a leg that high.  When we look at jumping we are giving up all of your center to our opponent and once committed can’t change the tactic once it is employed.  You are fully committed to jumping at your opponent, and once they move that is it you can’t change strategy until you land and regain your balance.

Physically, our legs are not designed to be used in that manner.  If you look at masters of arts that do rely on these types of high kicks, you will find that it is NOT uncommon for them to have hip replacements and/or knee replacements.  You will also see the same thing with other artistic endeavors that put the legs through motions they were not meant to be used in, such as gymnastics or ballet.  How many “old” ballerinas or gymnasts do you see out there?  The body can only handle so much abuse before it stops working.   Our hip joints are designed to have a bit of flexibility out to the side (laterally), but they are mainly designed for walking and running forward and climbing up hills/stairs.  When we extend the leg out to the side it starts to damage some things inside the hip joint that will eventually cause permanent injury.  If our goal is self-defense, again, why are we doing something that puts our own bodies at risk?  In Sanchin-Ryu our kicks are designed to work the way our body was meant to work and not against it, this allows us to enjoy our study of Sanchin-Ryu well into our advanced years without worry of damaging it.  So, in the mean time, we will keep those kicks in the natural range of motion so it does not put undue stress on the joints and cause problems down the road.

Roundhouse Kicks:

These are the types of kicks that are popular in the mixed martial arts competitions that everyone seems to use.  If thrown properly and landed, they are a powerful tool using the shin bone as the striking weapon.  So why don’t we use them?  Physically, we aren’t putting ourselves at risk for injury too much so that isn’t really a concern.  It mainly comes down to strategic concerns.

Strategically, due to it’s arcing motion, they require a bit of space and distance to use properly.  Next, is it requires a whole body commitment that does not allow for a good follow up, or fluidity of technique.  To counter this kick, use your star step as you move into the arc of the motion, this dissipates the force and also hurts the attacker’s striking limb.  These kicks are great in a sporting competition because in sports you aren’t allowed to target the knees or groin. They are also good, because in sports, you have that jockeying for position where you probe your opponent’s defenses looking for an opening.  This is something we don’t have the luxury of when protecting ourselves for a street attack.   In a self-defense situation, these are the exact targets that we chose to exploit to protect ourselves and get out of there safely.  Due to our chambering position of our kicks it allows us to instantaneously respond to a changing situation.  For example, if we are stepping into our opponent and they try to disengage our leg is already chambered for a basic ni kick.  Or vice versa, we get ready to throw the kick and the opponent attempts to close the distance, they run into the star step and we are still in control of the situation.  Round kicks don’t allow for these changes in distancing.

In this article, we have attempted to address some of the things we may have wondered about.  Explore your basics and find OTHER uses and ways to strategically employ them to enhance and maximize your knowledge and use of them as tools.  Also, there may be other drawbacks that were not addressed, our goal was just to hit some of the bigger ones.  When you see a technique we don’t use, there is a good reason for it.  Start to look at it strategically and find it’s weakness.  Then look at your Sanchin-Ryu and find a tool or technique that can exploit that weakness to keep control of a situation.  In this way, you are truly making Sanchin-Ryu your own personal study and making it yours.

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