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THE REAL SECRET OF OKINAWAN PUNCHING
by
Dr. William Durbin

Much is written today about the effective, or lack thereof, of the traditional Okinawan Tsuki, thrust, which is the main weapon of the Karate styles. Some say that the punch is in reality only a weak method that was used for teaching children, and not effective at all. Some say that the Okinawans taught a false punch to the Japanese so that their 'conquerors' would never know the true Okinawan skill. Others say that the punch is purposefully over rotated in order to keep it from being effective, unless one knows the three quarter secret.


The truth is that the Gyaku Zuki, 'reverse punch', the fully twisted thrust of Okinawan martial arts, is exactly as it should be, if one understands the actual use of the technique. But there are two aspects of the punch which most practitioners do not understand.


The first aspect is the power of Shin, mind. People have made the mistake of thinking that since Mushin, no mind, is the central teaching of most Oriental martial arts, that literally the person strives to have 'no mind' in their techniques. However, Mushin refers to the absence of extraneous thoughts. This has nothing to do with mental presence in fighting skills, but rather the concept of not allowing other thoughts to enter it when involved in something else. In regard to combat, it means to be totally focused on the fight. If in the middle of a battle a fighter starts thinking about what he will fix for supper, he will create a Suki, or gap, in his defense, allowing the opponent to defeat him/her. This principle is universal, in that it applies to all aspects of life. If a student is taking a math test and thinking of his English homework, then s/he will make mistakes on the test due to distraction. If a person is driving a car and thinking of their destination and what they are going to do once they get there, then it is possible that they will not see potential accidents in the making.


But the Oriental martial arts have always focused on having mind in technique. This means that the weapon, whether empty hand, such as in the Tsuki, or when holding a weapon, such as a sword, the mind extends into it. It was the belief of Japanese swordsmen that their Ki, spirit, literally extended into their sword, due to their mind. The spirit of the sword thus was a composite of the swordsmith, as he created the weapon, and each person to wield it.
In regard to body techniques, the spirit too should be focused in the weapon, such as the fist, through the presence of the mind. A way to test this presence of mind is to have a person hold their arm out in front of them as in a punch. Then, even while allowing them to resist the pressure, push their arm down. One should find that easy to do. Then have the practitioner execute a fully focused punch and maintain that high level of focus. Once again try to push the arm down. This time it should be much harder to do.


It is from this presence of mind that the power of the Okinawan Tsuki derives. Next it is important to have good technique, and this is the most debatable aspect of the punch. However, it is due to a lack of understanding of Shin that has lead to all the misunderstandings. In the ancient past it was important that the martial arts were effective. In regard to power, they were effective because each technique possessed mind and they were physically sound. In the traditional Tsuki, the whole body was directed into the punch.


But the aspect that is misunderstood, is that for a technique to be really good, both from the presence of mind and in regard to proper physical form, the skill must be practiced thousands of times. In the multiple repetitions is found the key to putting mind and form together. The body and the mind become unified so that the technique becomes effective.


Once this mind and body union is achieved, then it is possible to have power and effective technique in a multitude of similarly based skills. In example, the teaching of the basic reverse punch, Gyaku Zuki, here used to mean the full twisting punch of most major styles of Okinawan and Japanese Karate, as well as, Kempo, is in actuality the practice of three punches.


Each technique works according to range. When an attacker is close, the first punch is Sakasa Zuki, an inverted punch. This means that the punch is delivered straight from the load without any twist. If the attacker is slightly farther away, the punch is a Tate Zuki, vertical punch, meaning that the punch only rotates until it is palm in before it strikes. Finally the third punch is the Gyaku Zuki, or reverse punch, referring to the full rotation of the palm from up to down. Each punch is effective according to the proper application of the technique at the correct distance. Change the distance, and the technique will either be jammed or fall short.


What then imparts effectiveness of each punch at the correct distance? Shin, mind. What causes the mind to be effective and power to be properly transmitted? Kime, focus. If a technique is focused at the point of contact, then it does not matter if the punch is throw palm up, palm down, or anywhere in-between. And this is what has caused such commotion in the discussion of proper Okinawan punching of late.


There are some Okinawan stylists who have begun to insist that only the three quarter punch is effective and actually traditional. They say that this can be proved by punching a Makiwara or a person, and noting that the punch is most effective at the three quarter point of rotation. But what they are actually doing is standing at a distance so that the fist can only effectively rotate three quarters before it hits it's target. What they are actually showing is proper distancing for the punch, not the lack of effectiveness of the full rotation. If they would have the Makiwara or person one extra inch away or so, they would find out that the full rotation is just as powerful as the three quarter punch.


And actually this is one of the 'secrets' of Okinawan martial arts, a fist should be able to be held in any position, launched at an opponent and with some twist, no twist, or a full twist, be effective. If mind and spirit are present in the technique, it will be effective. The main reason that Okinawan martial artists use the full twist is in the ability to practice multiple techniques in one.


In Okinawan Bujutsu there are literally thousands of techniques. It is impossible to practice thousands of techniques, thousands of times daily. But if a person is taught how to interrelate techniques, then in the practice of key movements, literally hundreds of techniques can be practiced at one time. The best example is the Gyaku Zuki. As mentioned earlier, in the practice of the Gyaku Zuki one finds also the Sakasa Zuki and the Tate Zuki. But also found in that one movement are grappling techniques such as Kote Gaeshi and Kote Mawashi. There are even variations of the throws Sumi Gaeshi and Uki Otoshi, as well as, certain variations of Aiki Nage. All of these techniques and more are part of the practice of the simple one technique, Gyaku Zuki.


One great Okinawan Bujutsu master has said that the Okinawan martial arts have endless techniques. But when we start forgetting the full movements of traditional practice, it is possible to loose some of those endless skills. The Okinawans were geniuses of martial arts development. They combined the striking skills of their indigenous art of Te, with the various techniques they absorbed from Chugoku Kempo (Chinese Chuanfa), and the throwing skills of Japanese Jujutsu, which entered their countries at different times during their history, to develop an incredible method of combat. Their form of punching is probably the single most effective method in existence. Yet in modern times it has come under scrutiny as possibly less than effective. And yet it is not because the skill is ineffective, but because most simply do not understand proper Okinawan punching.


Many people note that when full contact Karate was formulated, the fighters found that the classical punches of Karate were ineffective in the ring when wearing gloves. But what was actually discovered is that a sword (the fist) when covered with a sheath (gloves), is not effective. It would be like trying to fight a battle with a Katana (Japanese sword) still in it's Saya (scabbard). The Okinawan method of punching was designed for use with a bare fist against flesh, a glove requires entirely different principles to be effective. And while there is nothing wrong with full contact Karate fighters, or kickboxers, learning how to throw punches with gloves on from boxers, it is a serious mistake to discard Karate punches because they are ineffective in the ring and with gloves on. Proper Okinawan punches were never intended for sport, they were designed for serious self defense and are extremely effective when applied with proper form, focus, and mind.


It is time to stop criticizing the technique, and time to start practicing. For years Okinawan and Japanese masters have taught and practiced the full method of fist rotation as the main form of punching. Some of these masters, being involved in law enforcement, have proven the techniques on the street. Many Karate practitioners who have had to defend their lives on the street have found the punch highly effective. In the repetitions of proper practice, involving thousands of punches, and practice in Kihon Kumite to develop good applications, one will find the true potential of the Okinawan method of punching.