Hanshi Kaufman – Author of world’s best-selling version of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings
Improvisation and Performance in Hebi-Ryu Kata
In the execution of a downward deflection, (erroneously called a “block”) followed by a punch there is always a slight hesitation. Everyone has experienced this moment—there is a deflection, a miniscule hesitation and then a punch or strike technique. Hesitation is the first problem to be overcome. There must be no hesitation when moving from one move into the next and movements must be accompanied by proper and dynamic breathing technique in synchrony. It should be understood from the outset that strength and speed as applied to execution of technique always limits technical efficiency and effectiveness until control occurs at which time the deflection is activated, and the strike instantly follows—one motion. The same applies to movement in the kata forms themselves. There must be no time lag between sequences especially in directional changes. This is easily overcome if the student attacks with the body and uses arms and legs as extensions and not as separate entities. It is essential to understand that you do not kick with your arms and you do not punch with your legs. (This is not intended as a pun. Too many practitioners use arms for leverage in kicking and legs in emphasis of executing a punch.) Conviction is implied in the attack and a natural flow of energy ensues. Breathing is not an “addition” to technique as it is so often mistaken to be and should NOT be considered as part of the “ki” as a separate component. The obvious oneness of self and body must be constant. Breath must flow with the movement of the body and be coordinated with the actual techniques. “Ki,” on the other hand is an aspect of “will,” not will power.
Fluid motion is a significant factor in the ability to function correctly. The ONLY way to move is with the entire body. It is an unsteady and unstable act when you move with the arms or the legs and then to follow up with the torso. The same goes for leaning in or leaning out during execution of technique. PROPER FORM IS ESSENTIAL! This is requisite especially when using deceptive tactics. Moving with anything less than the entire body indicates a weak commitment to the attack. Also, in an attack scenario you should not “throw” lots of punches and lots of kicks. Generally, only one attack with any number of realistic extensions of technique will suffice if it is done properly. Even if an attacker is “stoned” and supposedly feels nothing, a well-placed focused execution is all that is truly needed. Keep in mind that karate is not for fighting in the ordinary sense of the word; it is for stopping an attack—only and thoroughly. This idea will be explained in depth throughout the text.
When you move to attack and do not include your whole being, an amount of resolve is lacking, and you will not be able to execute correctly. As a person, you are finite, and therefore even in the best of cases, you are limited in ability. Not understanding this, with concerted effort, is why most people cannot punch or kick effectively much less deflect an attack regardless of “rank” or the ability to hurt someone. It is not enough to be proficient with technique. You must develop and accept contempt for death. The intention of every attack must be considered as an act of finality regardless of the technique used: kick, punch, etc. There should be no difference in the definition of any extension emanating from the spirit through the body.
You must go into the attack with your whole being. The arms and legs performing the “hit” must accompany the torso. Not the other way around, and not to do so is like arriving at your destination and then calling for your car. Think this over carefully. This is a major consideration in proper warrior attitude.
The warrior attitude is based on the belief that constant practice will eventually enable you to overcome your own personal limitations with everything. Kata must be practiced over and over again until it is first nature NOT second nature at which time you will understand the futility of the martial arts, become enlightened and really be able to use technique when required by never having to do so. Think about this!
Most people will not attack in this manner because they are considering the possibility of themselves getting “hit” during the encounter. This mentality creates hesitation and deprives the spirit of the thing itself of its “beingness.” Not being committed to the attack means you are thinking of “things” that have nothing to do with the implied purpose of your actions in the first place. When you drive into an attack, you are physically and psychologically “pumped” relative to the amount of devotion you have given to the reason for your attack. Getting hit should not be a consideration to deter you from the intention and objective of destroying the enemy.
Karate is not about who hits harder, but who attacks with the most commitment. This is the “warrior” attitude and must be maintained throughout the entire attack to provide a totally unified action. This includes deflections, kicks, punches and breathing as well as timing, rhythm, and definition of the moves, which include balance and posture. It results in an attitude of technique not having to be thought about, a mindlessness, (not to be confused with being mindless) and oneness in delivering the specific technique for the desired result. The goal is to “hit” and not “make a hit.”
If you are studying the martial arts with the idea of getting a blackbelt then that is what you will do—get a blackbelt. You will then HAVE a blackbelt. You will not BE a blackbelt. Understand the significance of this difference. Karate may first be an intellectual process and then visceral, or vice-versa, but eventually, and with enough practice, it becomes “no-thing” as you become the thing itself and the thing itself becomes you. If teachers do not teach this mentality it is because they do not understand it and have no right to be teaching in the first place—language limitations notwithstanding.
Improvisation of the kata form allows for additional movement such as might be used by any artist or musician to effect communication with either a viewer, an audience, or in the martial arts, a target; an enemy.
Hebi-do kata are well thought out and are proven in practice and combat. Following specific and original forms of the kata is a vital first step in developing fluidity and growth within the art itself. After the basic kata have been mastered and fully understood, it is quite possible for the practitioner to create personalized forms and to develop improvisations of their own. It is assumed that if you are reading this you know fundamental techniques such as a lunge punch, round house kick, etc.
The concepts and theories presented here are not limited to the specific Hebi ryu kata. They can be applied to any kata from any style from any school. I have composed these kata because they satisfy a personal need for constant practice and simplicity in transmission of the knowledge of karate. They also give me the ability to extend form and function into full-blown combat technique of a more elegant style.