22 November, 2011

Iaido and Karate

During an iaido seminar I went to a few weeks back, we were working uke nagashi.  Here is a link for those interested: Uke Nagashi - skip to about 25 seconds in, for some reason nihon-me is at the beginning of the video and is in pretty rough shape to boot.  But sanbon-me comes through clearly.

Anyways, during this seminar we were working on getting the angle of the cut correct according to where the opponent is standing.  To make a long story short, we didn't sit at a 90 degree angle to the opponent but rather more like 125 degrees.  This allowed us to check that we were cutting what was originally in front of us.

It got me to wonder and ask myself some questions about iaido and karatedo:
  • Where is your opponent?
  • What is your opponent doing?
And then further to that:

  • When will your opponent attack?
  • When will you counter?
There is a certain way in which we were practising uke nagashi.  In koryu, I am told that you block firmly and then cut.  In seitei, we were trying to "empty out" at the right time, similar to what I believe many aikidoka and jujutsuka are familiar with.  This requires not only great timing and technique and distancing, but total focus on each of those.  Otherwise, why would your opponent attack when they know they can't win?  It really drives home the lesson of knowing your forms, down into the very sinews and bones of your body.

Another thought I had was that in iaido, for the most part, the explanations are present.  But even these have been reverse engineered to a large extent.  I have yet to hear a complete and rational reason for sitting in tate hiza, a sort of half seiza position.  So in that manner, perhaps iaido and karatedo are not that dissimilar - some separation from the core art and intent has created a set of fantasy moves that may well have little purpose.  Dangerous thinking in a traditional mindset, but it bears on reality so I feel it is important to meditate upon.

Finally, this all brings me back to riai and karate.  What is a typical attack in karate?  What are we defending against?  Is it reasonable to practice defending against punches and kicks, or are we misguided in our intent?  It makes sense in koryu to work grappling as this was usable in armour - it would be very dangerous if you couldn't access your weapon due to an opponent restraining you and preparing to use a weapon against you.

This is all tied to the question of practicality in traditional martial arts.  Looking at aikido, you might ask why they train to defend against a downward chop.  But considering its basis in arts where defending against swords is normal, it suddenly makes a lot more sense.  Karate's forming arts are to a large extent hidden, and the question becomes what is the focus, and should there be only one?  What is the ideology of our defensive work.

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