Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Friday, April 22, 2016

Please, sir, can I have some more?

First move of Seiunchin kata,
breaking the attacker's grab.
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear. "What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice. "Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more." (from Dickens' Oliver Twist)

And with that, the boy raised his bowl, palm up with his arm bent at the elbow. And the master shrugged with that universal gesture of ignorance, shoulders lifting, with both arms brought up and out, away from the body, palms turned up to heaven, as if to say, "What the dickens! I have no idea."
Initiating an arm-bar to bring
the opponent down.

No, there was no bowl, there was no master, and of course there was no little orphaned boy named Oliver. But I did find myself thinking about this gesture the other day while doing Seiunchin kata. I thought, "Why bring the hand up in this curious gesture, as if you're raising your bowl for the cook to fill?" I can see what's going on here: the grab release, the control of the arm, the attack to the head. But if you're just grabbing the head from the down position, why bring the hand up this way? And even less satisfying is the way some schools interpret this as an inside block of a second attack.

I don't know about you, but I find that explanation about as satisfying as a bowl of watery gruel with a stale bread crust. So, let me describe what's happening so that we're all on the same page, so to speak. In the opening move of the kata, you step forward on an angle into shiko dachi, bringing the arms up with the hands out, palms up, more or less back to back out in front. Then the hands close and are brought down and out to the sides. Then the left hand is brought up to the ribs and the right hand comes up into this curious palm-up position at shoulder level. Then the right hand turns over, pulling in as the left open hand pushes out.
Rolling on the opponent's arm to
control the elbow.

Now I realize that in many traditional circles this first move is used to grab the wrists of an attacker who's got both his hands around your throat and is trying to choke the breath out of you. But if that's the case, there's no reason to step into the attack or forward as the kata does. (Some teachers maintain that even though the kata shows forward movement, it's really meant to be applied stepping back--as if we're supposed to do the opposite of what a kata shows--an example of the kind of logic we often find when it comes to martial arts applications!) So if we could, for the moment, imagine that an attacker has grabbed one's left wrist or arm with his left hand. Both arms are brought up to break the grab. The defender moves to the outside. In bringing the arms down and out, as in the second movement, the defender's left hand reverses the grip of the attacker and grabs the attacker's wrist with the right forearm being brought down on the elbow. Then, maintaining one's left-hand grip on the opponent's wrist as it is brought up to "chamber," the right arm is rolled in this "Oliver Twist" palm-up position, maintaining contact and control of the opponent's arm. With the opponent brought forward and down, the right hand then turns over and grabs the opponent's head, while the left spear-hand attacks the neck. This "rolling" quality of the arm-bar technique is found repeatedly in Goju-ryu kata.
Grabbing the head and attacking
the neck.

I'm not sure that's a very adequate description of this "rolling" technique or coiling, as they might call it in the classical Chinese arts. Perhaps it would be better to call it a "twisting" motion, since both arms are really used to execute it. Or we could call it the old Oliver Twist, 'cause it looks sort of like you're raising an empty bowl.


  1. Excellent explanation. Another point that is always forgotten is that almost all grabs are followed by a punch (generally a sucker punch) and that the first movement not only breaks the grab also protects the head.

  2. One thing that's I'm thinking for long time is that the final movement is a attack or a chin grab some when you do the step back there is neck twist followed by the elbow.
    Or like we say here "I'm looking for the cow's five leg"

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Excellent explanation. Another point that is always forgotten is that almost all grabs are followed by a punch (generally a sucker punch) and that the first movement not only breaks the grab also protects the head.

  5. Exactly right, Martin. But could you explain the idiom, "I'm looking for the cow's fifth leg"??? Just curious.

  6. It's an saying that's mean that you are overperfectionist and nothing seems to be right and keep looking for something better but in a bad way. But without keep asking questions you never go better.
    I think that the phrase come from the book "Martin fierro" from Jose Hernandez. Wonderful book

  7. Thanks for explaining the cow, Martin. I know what you mean about looking for that fifth leg on the cow, but in this case Creo que si! (I'm trying to teach myself Spanish!)

  8. Jajajaja(Spanish laugh) but you gonna recognize that this wrong bunkai is better that almost all that is around there. By the way the part that goes in siko dachi with a vertical punch rapidly followed by an elbow strike an uraken and a gedan bargain always get foggy to me.

  9. Yeah, that is hard to describe in words, but the second gedan stepping back is the finishing technique, a forearm to the back of the neck. The first gedan, as you're stepping back, brings the head down.

  10. It's clear now. Thank you Giles!