Translated from: Takamiyagi Shigeru, in: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten, 2008, p. 79 – 81.
Based on the characteristics supported by both its history and tradition, Okinawan karate can be divided into four types: martial arts karate (budō karate 武道空手), competition karate (kyōgi karate 競技空手), health karate (kenkō karate 健康空手), and dance karate (buyō karate 舞踊空手). I want to explain each of them briefly and use them to show the complete picture.
(1) Martial arts karate (budō karate)
Okinawan karate has traditionally been created based on martial arts (budō). Technically, karate is a martial art that regards “to kill with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu)” and “complete self-protection” as absolute truths, and Okinawan karate is a bujutsu and a budō that embraces these concepts as something traditional. It has a considerable potential to wound and kill unimaginable in modern sports karate, but at the same time has the quality of a superb life-giving nature. It is said that it can kill people and that it also can bring people to life. Literally, it is a martial art with the ability of life or death.
Over the past 500 years, it has been polished through the eras and over generations, deepening the degree of its sophistication, refining it in style into a vibrant martial art (bugei). While cherishing the traditional qualities of martial arts (bujutsu), it has been revitalized in the modern era, has been enhanced into a path of human ethics, and has solidified its position as a martial art (budō). This is karate-dō of Okinawa.
Martial arts karate (budō karate) is the thorough training of kata, forming a complementary relationship with free sparring (jijū kumite) as its applied technique, enabling synergistic operation.
The free sparring here is different from that of competition karate (kyōgi karate) performed under “various rules” and based on the principle of “stopping an attack just before the target (sun dome),” and it is premised on the full use of the fierce technique of “killing with one strike (ichigeki hissatsu).” There are no physical or technical restrictions. The entire body is the target of the attack. Therefore, it is necessary to train the techniques of complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo). It is dangerous due to violent techniques and colliding techniques. A desperate situation unfolds of basically putting one’s life at stake.
Also, the technique of “killing with one strike” (ichigeki hissatsu) and complete self-protection (kanzen bōgyo) are embodied by the inseparable integration of defense (uke-waza) and attacking techniques (seme-waza). Morphologically, this so-called practice of “reason first, action second” is the route of training.
However, this “reason” is not just a notion, but the art and technique of bodily sensibility that matures with experience. The body teaches you to handle techniques unconsciously. The embodied techniques of defense (uke-waza) and offense (seme-waza) appear as flexible body movements adapted to the requirements of the moment without being conscious. It is the so-called mind-body unity (shinshin ichinyo). Needless to say, it takes a thorough and rigorous form of training to reach this dimension.
It seems I am repeating myself, but the seemingly contradictory techniques of receiving (defense) and attacking are inseparable and simultaneous execution is not a double count of defense and counter-attack, but they are one single count. That is, there must be no stationary break between the techniques of defense (uke) and offense (seme). Until the time this dimension is reached and the two explode together as one, the skills of kata must have been highly mastered. The simultaneous application of defense and offense and the acquisition of skills through practicing kata are directly proportional. If the kata are highly developed, the level of chaining techniques of defense (uke) and offense (seme) should also be high.
Besides, there are some receiving techniques (uke-waza) that go beyond this dimension of “receiving and attacking in one count.” There is also a method of forcing the opponent into submission both technically and psychologically only by “receiving.” This is the essence of martial arts karate (budō karate). In other words, the absolute functionality of the category of the receiving techniques (uke-waza) is to entrap the opponent’s movement and to leave him neutralized. Emeritus professor Shinzato Katsuhiko of Okinawa International University discusses this as follows.
“It’s not only the attacking techniques (seme-waza) that control the opponent, but also the receiving techniques (uke-waza). A thorough containment of the opponent’s techniques is also a means to control the opponent. For that purpose, to prevent the opponent’s attacking techniques (seme-waza), it is indispensable to use a perfect receiving technique (uke-waza). There, at that point, is the martial arts character of karate.
The martial arts character of karate should not be discussed notionally. But the fundamental martial nature of karate should be talked about. For example, the expressions “life-taking fist (satsujin-ken)” and “life-giving fist (katsujin-ken)” are used carelessly.
In martial arts, training with an emphasis on “attacking techniques” has ended in learning the “life-taking fist.” Because it has no method of letting the opponent live. In other words, if only “offensive technique” can be used to control the opponent effectively, it will be the sole outcome. That’s because you can’t afford to miss the opponent’s technique, only attack is on your mind. Therefore, it can be said that its martial arts skill level is low.
Only those who have fully acquired the “uke-waza” can let the opponent live. If the opponent’s technique is closed off and controlled by receiving techniques (uke-waza), neither the opponent nor you will be injured. As regards life-giving fist (katsujin-ken 活人拳), it is the receiving techniques (uke-waza) that can lead to this skill.
To commit to receiving technique (uke-waza) requires an effort that goes beyond attacking techniques (seme-waza). Therefore, the most advanced and sophisticated category of techniques is the receiving techniques (uke-waza).From: Chatan Shūbukan Sōritsu San Shūnen Kinen Jigyō Jikkō Iinkai (Executive Committee commemorating the 3rd anniversary of Shūbukan Dōjō foundation in Chatan): Okinawa no Karate-dō. Sono Riron to Gihō. Uechi-ryū Karate-dō Kyōkai Chatan Shūbukan, Chatan 1984.
We receive and eliminate (uke-hazushi) the opponent’s continuous attacks one by one, adapting to the requirements of the moment. This chaining of receiving techniques drives the opponent into a dilemma until he finally loses his fighting spirit. Precisely this is putting into practice the karate proverb, “Without being hit by the opponent, and without hitting the opponent, all ends without incident.” This is the spiritual and technical philosophy of the karate that is characteristic of Okinawa, and it can be said that martial arts karate (budō karate) is where this is put into practice.
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