In colloquial Japanese, “gyaku-uchi” 逆打ち refers to “to pilger along the 88 stations of the Shikoku Pilgrimage in opposite direction, i.e. from point 88 to point 1” (from Ōkuboji in Sanuki, Kagawa Prefecture to the Ryōzenji in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture).
In the jargon or technical language of kobudō, however, “gyaku-uchi” means “reversed strike.” Donn F. Draeger called it the most important technique of bōjutsu. Indeed, without it, bōjutsu would make little sense. It is therefore interesting that neither Ufugusuku no Kon nor Shūshi no Kon Shō nor Sakugawa no Kon Shō and Dai have this technique. In fact, in the classical kata of Taira lineage, the technique first appears in Yonegawa no Kon – four times to be exact. But Yonegawa no Kon is a 4th Dan kata, so for beginners it is out of reach for about 10-20 years and thousands of dollars and hours for seminars and travel and merchandise and whatnot. Well, today everyone has video so the whole thing got a lot cheaper (pun intended).
Anyway, maybe due to its importance, the technique in question is often already taught as a basic technique. See Nakamoto Mamoru sensei (director of the Bunbukan) explaining Gedan-gyaku-uchi:
In his explanation, Mamoru sensei uses the term Gedan-gyaku-uchi 下段逆打ち, i.e. reversed strike to the lower level. He also says that the technique is initiated by Jōdan-nagashi-uke 上段流し受け, i.e. upper-level floating deflection. Floating is a figurative term. It is to be understood as in water trickling down (the Bō). Because this is the main intention of the technique: to deflect an incoming attack from above, which is intercepted and trickles down the end of the Bō, thus being neutralized. It is otherwise also called Sukui-uke すくい受け, i.e. scooping deflection. This is because you scoop up against an incoming attack, deflecting and neutralizing it.
Of course, at the time of the attack, while performing the Jōdan-nagashi-uke you move your body out of the attacking line, so you shift your body weight and use your stance intelligently. Likewise, when you continue and counter with the Gedan-gyaku-uchi, you shift the front hand towards the rear hand. Taira Shinken in 1964 referred to this as Yose-nigiri 寄せ握り or “coming-together grip”: The tripartition grip in Taira lineage, which it is often scolded for, is actually only for beginners.
Let’s take a look at terminology: Of course, all kinds of schools use this technique. It is found in manuscripts of historical European martial arts as well as in Chinese and other Asian martial arts. It is found in Japanese Budō (koryū and gendai) and of course also in Okinawa Kobudō. While it is a fact that methods of stances and body shifting substantially vary between different Taira lineage schools, here is a terminological reference:
TAIRA SHINKEN 1964:
- Jōdan-age-uke 上段揚受
- Gedan-uchi-komi 下段打込
INOUE MOTOKATSU 1972-74:
- Sukui-uke すくい受け
- Ura-uchi 裏打ち
AKAMINE EISUKE 1984:
- Jōdan-uke 上段受け, rarely Nagashi-uke 流し上段受け
- Gyaku-uchi 逆打ち
OKINAWA KARATE KOBUDO ENCYCLOPEDIA 2008:
- Jōdan-nagashi-uke 上段流し受け
- Gyaku-uchi 逆打ち
So while the terms are similar, they are also far from being standardized. Also, none used the terms used by Taira Shinken, the mutual source. It may, therefore, be surmised that the development of terminology for Kobudō is a more recent matter, say 2nd half of the 20th century. Miki in 1930 does not use a terminology per se, but is more of a descriptive kind, like “from the left side of the head, strike down to the lower level in direction A” etc. The descriptive kind is true for Taira Shinken in 1938, which – however – does not feature this specific technique. Therefore, the development of terminology should be considered a rather new invention.
In this connection, in the Matayoshi Kobudo of the Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei (2010), the techniques are found under the names of Jōdan-age-uke 上段挙げ受け and Gedan-uchi 下段打ち, and these are the closest to Taira Shinken’s terminology used in 1964. However, in Matayoshi Kobudō, this combination is rather rare it seems.
So what about the quantity of distribution? There is no standardized terminology for techniques in Okinawa kata of Bojutsu. Therefore, in order to be able to approximate the task, in the following I used Akamine Eisuke’s handwritten notes (dated 1984) as a reference (which Akamine Hiroshi sensei kindly allowed me to copy for my personal study back in 2011).
The results are as follows:
- In sum, there are 78 Gyaku-uchi in all these kata.
- 50 of these are only Gyaku-uchi (2 Jōdan, 31 Chūdan, 17 Gedan).
- 28 of these are Gyaku-uchi preceded by Jōdan-uke (of the Gyaku-uchi, 1 is Jōdan, 18 Chūdan, and 9 are Gedan).
Why is there sometimes only Gyaku-uchi, and why is there sometimes Gyaku-uchi preceded by Jōdan-uke? I think it might be a looseness in terminological consistency, rather than an actual instruction as to what the original content of the techniques was. Even modern 21st century global players have their own terminology management for a reason. It is simply crucial for exact communication.
In Detail: As I already mentioned, neither Shūshi no Kon Shō nor Sakugawa no Kon Shō and Dai contain the techniques in question. A Gedan-gyaku-uchi first appears in Shūshi no Kon Dai, where it is used during the final combination. However, here it is done without the preceding Jōdan-uke (in his terminology).
- So from kyū grades to 3rd Dan, the technique appears only once (!!!), and also without the preceding block.
- Then, in Yonegawa no Kon, a 4th Dan kata, there are four Gyaku-uchi. These are all executed to Gedan level. Two times they are preceded by a Jōdan-uke, and two times not.
- Shirotaro no Kon has six Gedan-gyaku-uchi, four of which are preceded by a Jōdan-uke.
- Tsuken Sunakake has 14 Gyaku-uchi, performed to Chūdan level as well as to Gedan level.
- Chōun no Kon has five Chūdan-gyaku-uchi (only one of which is preceded by a Jōdan-uke) and one Gedan-gyaku-uchi (with no preceding Jōdan-uke).
- In Chinen Shikiyanaka all eleven Gyaku-uchi without exemption are performed to Chūdan level: Of these, six are preceded by Jōdan-uke, and one by Nagashi-uke.
- Urasoe no Kon also has eleven Gyaku-uchi, four of which are to Gedan level, six to Chūdan level (of which four are preceded by Jōdan-uke), and one to Jōdan level.
- Chatan Yara no Kun has twelve Gyaku-uchi, of which seven are aimed at Chūdan level (and of which only one is preceded by Jōdan-uke) and five are aimed at Gedan level (of which three are preceded by Jōdan-uke).
- Soeishi no Kon has thirteen Gyaku-uchi. Of these, ten aim at Chūdan level (all of which are without a preceding Jōdan-uke), one aims at Gedan level (without preceding Jōdan-uke), and two aim at Jōdan level (of which one is preceded by Jōdan-nagashi-uke).
LIMITATION OF ABOVE:
The Kata used for the above analysis are those detailed in written descriptions by Akamine Eisuke exist, namely Shūshi no Kun Shō, Shūshi no Kun Dai, Sakugawa no Kun Shō, Sakugawa no Kun Dai, Yonegawa no Kun, Shirataru no Kun, Tsuken Sunakake no Uēku-dī, Chōun no Kun, Chinen Shichanaka no Kun, Chatan Yara no Kun, Urasoe no Kun, and Soeishi no Kun.
While Sueyoshi no Kun, Sesoko no Kon, Tsuken Bō, and Hantagwa Kōuragwa no Kon appear in an original Kata list of the school, they are apparetly not in use anymore and to my knowledge there is no written description. It is also questionable if Soeishi no Kun ist still in practical use. Moreover, new Kihon kata have been developed in which the Gyaku-uchi found entry. All these were not considered and not counted in the above analysis.
© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.