Friday, May 23, 2014


      I remember watching a martial arts demonstration many years ago where the instructor informed the audience, which was comprised largely of other teachers, that he and his students would be performing an ancient Japanese martial discipline. He then proceeded with his exhibition, which featured various and sundry forms of punching, kicking, and swordsmanship. To say that his use of the Japanese katana was somewhat flawed would be a very serious understatement; I, for one, was amazed that he didn't cut himself as he whipped the blade around with one hand, flipping it this way and that.
      His empty-hand sets weren't much better. They featured the usual variety of punches, strikes, and kicks, including roundhouse kicks, side snap kicks, and...HOLD ON! ROUNDHOUSE KICKS? SIDE SNAP KICKS? Yep. Little did he suspect that techniques such as these are far from “ancient” and most martial arts enthusiasts would never suspect the truth, anyway. So here's a couple of eye-openers...
      The roundhouse kick, as we know it, didn't exist until the 1950's! That's right. The familiar form of executing the kicks with the thigh raise up parallel to the ground and striking with the ball of the foot was actually developed by an instructor of the Japan Karate Association (he was a classmate of the President of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama) in the 50's. It was designed for use in jyu-kumite (freestyle sparring) competition and it has worked quite well in that regard. But this is also why this popular kick is not to be found in ANY of the original Okinawan karate katas; it simply didn't exist!
      The old Chinese forms sometimes used a form of roundhouse kicking that actually bears a closer resemblance to the muay-thai “cutting kick.” The foot in chambered lower and contact is usually made with the top of the instep as the kicks comes in at a rising angle. In my opinion, it lacks the destructive power of the newer Japanese version. But this kind of kick is also very rare in Chinese forms, appearing only in a very few sets of northern Chinese origin. It does not appear in southern kung-fu styles and it is from these styles that most Okinawan karate forms evolved.
      The method of using the top of the instep to strike with a roundhouse kick actually was rather uncommon prior to the development of foot pads in competition. This is because such a kick could easily become a religious experience; if your kick connected with an opponent's elbow or other similar bony protrusions, you'd swear you could see God! When the foot pads came along, competitors saw that they could point their toes and make contact with the tip of the pad to score a point, The pad provided them with up to an extra twelve inches of reach, This led to many instructors actually teaching their students to execute this kick with the instep rather than with the ball of the foot.
      The same thing is true of the side snap kick. Now, there are two ways of executing a “side kick.” One method utilizes a quick snapping movement from the knee (the snap kick), and the other drives the edge of the foot out in a straight line, more or less (the thrust kick). In chambering the side snap kick, the kicking knee points out at an angle. If you're facing north and you chamber your right leg, your knee will point towards a northeasterly direction. The thrust kick is done differently because it is very powerful and requires a strong hip rotation. When you chamber the leg, your knee will be pointed straight ahead (in the same direction that you are facing).
      The snap kick is considerably weaker than the thrust kick and is not to be seen in any of the ancient Okinawan kata. Moreover, the old katas don't include ANY kicks that travel above the level of the waist. The side thrust kick is almost always directed at the knee of the opponent. To kick much higher would expose the groin to a quick counter-attack which wouldn't necessarily require much power!
      Nonetheless, the JKA developed the side snap kick for use in kata competition because it is exciting to watch and allowed for more variety in (kata) kicks than seeing the same old front snap kick performed repeatedly.
      Many shotokan karate stylists broke away from the JKA because of these changes but the influence of the JKA was felt throughout the entire karate community. Taekwondo and Tangsoodo, both of which are Korean arts, were developed from shotokan and subsequently include these peculiar kicks.
      So, there you have it; a short but interesting lesson in the history and development of modern-day karate. And there's more. Much, much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment