The Formal Head Turn in Kata

Makalakumu

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The concept behind a most definite 'look' in martial arts, at least Japanese ones, is that of using metsuke to promote seme. It is in essence 'striking with the eyes' to put pressure upon the opponent.

Sudden snaps of the neck are an exaggeration of this feeling. The pressure comes from the spirit of the swordsman {speaking in the art of my experience of course} rather than the physicality of the 'look'.

This sounds like nonsense but all martial arts are a game of inches and milliseconds. If you can give an opponent a fraction of a second pause or, conversely, make him 'rush' then you have gained an advantage that you can exploit.

The mantra I have heard from Kendoka on this is:

ichigan-nisoku-santan-shiriki

Roughly speaking: Eyes first; footwork second; spirit third; and power last


EDIT: Did a bit of digging on that aphorism and found this useful treatise: http://www.standrewskendo.co.uk/articles/what-is-seme-ashi/

Brilliant post!

I'd like to add to it, if I may. When I was researching my book, I read a lot of material about Gigo Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoski's son. This man was instrumental in turning Okinawan karate into a Japanese product (which was later shipped to Korea).

Gigo studied kendo and was impressed with the zen austerity of the two person kata and he wanted to create something like that in karate in order to attract more Japanese. Therefore, he ended up changing the way that karate was taught in Japan by changing the practice of basics, the performance of the kata, and by inventing the concept of ippon kumite.

This was an integral part of making karate into a Japanese art. I am willing to suspect that if we examine the history of these head turns and talk to Japanese instructors, they will give this exact explanation.

There are a lot of similarities between Japanese swordsmanship and karate. It is difficult to differentiate the origin of these influences because Shuri and Tomari systems of karate draw many technical aspects from the Jigen Ryu school of kenjutsu. From my research into the matter, it seems that these can be teased by apart by noticing the similarities between Jigen Ryu's physical techniques and actual kata application. Gigo Funakoshi's influence, and the influence of kendo, can be found in some of the more metaphysical explanations and teaching methods.
 

K-man

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Brilliant post!

I'd like to add to it, if I may. When I was researching my book, I read a lot of material about Gigo Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoski's son. This man was instrumental in turning Okinawan karate into a Japanese product (which was later shipped to Korea).

Gigo studied kendo and was impressed with the zen austerity of the two person kata and he wanted to create something like that in karate in order to attract more Japanese. Therefore, he ended up changing the way that karate was taught in Japan by changing the practice of basics, the performance of the kata, and by inventing the concept of ippon kumite.

This was an integral part of making karate into a Japanese art. I am willing to suspect that if we examine the history of these head turns and talk to Japanese instructors, they will give this exact explanation.

There are a lot of similarities between Japanese swordsmanship and karate. It is difficult to differentiate the origin of these influences because Shuri and Tomari systems of karate draw many technical aspects from the Jigen Ryu school of kenjutsu. From my research into the matter, it seems that these can be teased by apart by noticing the similarities between Jigen Ryu's physical techniques and actual kata application. Gigo Funakoshi's influence, and the influence of kendo, can be found in some of the more metaphysical explanations and teaching methods.
This may well be the case but the head turn is also basic to the Goju Ryu kata Saifa. Gekisei kata doesn't count because that was basically developed in Japan, but the pronounced head turn is in the middle of Saifa. It is obviously not something that has been deliberately added in the 20th century as there is no deliberate head turn in any of the other kata. If there was a pronounced change to one kata you would expect a style to make the change across the board. We also study Naihanchi but whether we got our version from Shuri-te or Shotokan I couldn't say. Certainly it has the head turn as well. Goju also has two versions of Sanchin kata. The older version (called Higaonna Sanchin) has the headturn as part of the 180deg turns. As this is the older form it may suggest the head turn is some kata was imported from China. :asian:
 

Makalakumu

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This may well be the case but the head turn is also basic to the Goju Ryu kata Saifa. Gekisei kata doesn't count because that was basically developed in Japan, but the pronounced head turn is in the middle of Saifa. It is obviously not something that has been deliberately added in the 20th century as there is no deliberate head turn in any of the other kata. If there was a pronounced change to one kata you would expect a style to make the change across the board. We also study Naihanchi but whether we got our version from Shuri-te or Shotokan I couldn't say. Certainly it has the head turn as well. Goju also has two versions of Sanchin kata. The older version (called Higaonna Sanchin) has the headturn as part of the 180deg turns. As this is the older form it may suggest the head turn is some kata was imported from China. :asian:

It could mean that or it could mean that Japanese Karate has pollinated Okinawan Karate. Ask your seniors where that move came from? Look at videos of the oldest katas you can find.

That said, the concept of the head fake is something that my karate teacher taught. He is a LEO and has used that on the street many times, so he emphasized this move in certain kata.

The curious thing about this is that he didn't emphasize it in all kata. Since I have not learned saifa, I can't really comment.
 

David43515

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I distinctly remember the headturns in the first Isshinryu kata I learned (Seisan). The way my teacher explained it was that you`ve just finished an opponant in the direction you`re facing. You have your periferal vision on the sides, so the place you`re most vulnerable from is the rear. So one of the lessons from Seisan that he emphasized was "after defending against one attacker, always check your back so you don`t get blind-sided." There may not be anyone there, but it never hurts to check.
 
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dancingalone

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This may well be the case but the head turn is also basic to the Goju Ryu kata Saifa. Gekisei kata doesn't count because that was basically developed in Japan, but the pronounced head turn is in the middle of Saifa. It is obviously not something that has been deliberately added in the 20th century as there is no deliberate head turn in any of the other kata. If there was a pronounced change to one kata you would expect a style to make the change across the board. Goju also has two versions of Sanchin kata. The older version (called Higaonna Sanchin) has the headturn as part of the 180deg turns. As this is the older form it may suggest the head turn is some kata was imported from China. :asian:

Do you mean the front kick sequence in Saifa? If so, I don't know that I would call the head turn pronounced. Here's Higaonna Sensei - the view to the sides are made in conjunction with the body movement and kick.

Side note: I believe the Gekisai and Fukyu kata were created in Okinawa by Miyagi and Nagamine respectively albeit at the behest of the Okinawan governor (perhaps a Japanese?).

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Here is Sanchin. Head turn made with body shift too, although the lag is a bit more noticeable. <shrugs> I was taught to turn as one.

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We also study Naihanchi but whether we got our version from Shuri-te or Shotokan I couldn't say. Certainly it has the head turn as well.

In general, the Shotokan version is performed with a lower horse kiba dachi and the open hand block to the sides is done with the back of the hand. I usually see Shorin-ryu people do the knife hand block in Naihanchi as a reverse knife hand block where the palm faces upwards.
 

K-man

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Do you mean the front kick sequence in Saifa? If so, I don't know that I would call the head turn pronounced. Here's Higaonna Sensei - the view to the sides are made in conjunction with the body movement and kick.

Side note: I believe the Gekisai and Fukyu kata were created in Okinawa by Miyagi and Nagamine respectively albeit at the behest of the Okinawan governor (perhaps a Japanese?).


Here is Sanchin. Head turn made with body shift too, although the lag is a bit more noticeable. <shrugs> I was taught to turn as one.

In general, the Shotokan version is performed with a lower horse kiba dachi and the open hand block to the sides is done with the back of the hand. I usually see Shorin-ryu people do the knife hand block in Naihanchi as a reverse knife hand block where the palm faces upwards.
That was the part of Saifa I was referring to. We do have a slightly more pronounced turn. In Sanchin this guy is turning his head the opposite way to the turn. We look the way we are going to turn.
WRT Fukyu and Gekisei. My understanding of Fukyu was that it was developed for the Japanese schools by Miyagi and Nagamine Senseis and that Miyagi Sensei then developed the Gekisei kata from the Fukyu kata.
And, it seems that our Naihanchi may indeed be the Shurin-ryu version as our move to the side is palm up. I consider that a ura haito strike rather than a 'block'. Our stance is pretty much kiba dachi, in our terminology 'uchi hachi dachi' which is not lowered. Our lowered stance is Shiko dachi.
:asian:
 
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dancingalone

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WRT Fukyu and Gekisei. My understanding of Fukyu was that it was developed for the Japanese schools by Miyagi and Nagamine Senseis and that Miyagi Sensei then developed the Gekisei kata from the Fukyu kata.

It's probably a minor detail/quibble. Yes, they were asked to create a unified series of kata for use in primary and secondary schools. Whether that was for Japanese or Okinawan schools is probably unimportant, although now that I reflect on it, it seems likely that there would have been some cross usage if not universal usage.

If anyone knows, I am curious why there was a need for some new basic kata though, considering the Pinan kata created by Itosu already existed. Unless this was an effort to get feedback from the Higashionna/Miyagi Naha tree?
 

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It's probably a minor detail/quibble. Yes, they were asked to create a unified series of kata for use in primary and secondary schools. Whether that was for Japanese or Okinawan schools is probably unimportant, although now that I reflect on it, it seems likely that there would have been some cross usage if not universal usage.

If anyone knows, I am curious why there was a need for some new basic kata though, considering the Pinan kata created by Itosu already existed. Unless this was an effort to get feedback from the Higashionna/Miyagi Naha tree?
I suspect it may have been because Funakoshi had been in Japan for many years with Shotokan it may have been an attempt to give Goju and Matsuayshi Ryu a presence.
WRT the new kata, I have a theory that I have never seen presented but it is an explanation I often give in discussion. Nagamine had been in the army and had fought in China. If you look at the moves of Fukyugata Ni or either Gekisai kata and imagine that you are in a hand to hand combat situation in a military sense. If you had lost your weapon and someone was attacking with a bayonet for example, these kata work to deflect the attack and attack the neck below a helmet and the floating ribs. From a kyusho perspective these kata also have great relevence. As the Japanese had already determined that karate was desirable for the fitness of their conscripts I wonder if this was just an extension of that fact. Of all the kata I have seen, these are the only kata in which I can recognise a modern military application. :asian:
 

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Turning the head may be more about style than necessity.

The head turning suposses one needs sight to see and respond to an opponent, but if other senses are used (hearing, touch for air dispalcement, smell for body odor <G>) you may not turn the head and just turn using other triggers and waiting till the body turns for sight to kick in.

It's situational in all cases.

This starts to get into an interesting question about sparring. Given the fact that there are other ways of locating an opponent than by sight, why should there be a prohibition on "blind" techniques like the spinning backfist? IMO, if you are in sparring distance of an opponent, you should be able to close your eyes for a moment and still hit him/her. What do you all think?
 
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dancingalone

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This starts to get into an interesting question about sparring. Given the fact that there are other ways of locating an opponent than by sight, why should there be a prohibition on "blind" techniques like the spinning backfist? IMO, if you are in sparring distance of an opponent, you should be able to close your eyes for a moment and still hit him/her. What do you all think?

I always thought this restriction was primarily for safety reasons in sport (primarily point-based) sparring. I used to watch quite a bit of kickboxing when it was televised on ESPN back in the eighties and nineties. There were plenty of knockouts due to a 'blind' spinning back fist and there were certainly no disqualifications made.

In fact for self-defense purposes, a big arc spinning back fist can be an excellent means for creating space from an attacker who is close to you, and I would argue that precision is less important in this situation since it's irrelevant whether you strike with the knuckles or with the forearm itself.
 

DragonMaster Jay

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A quick head turn is what I am used to. I would do it, because I imagine an enemy coming at me, so imagining that, it helps the reflexive/fluid movements of the kata.

More of to know the threat is close, to see the threat, and know how to defend yourself.

You cannot predict an enemies' movements with your head turned. There are no eyes in the back of anyone's head. And sensing comes with great skill or psychology of areal movements.

I employ head turns, and am only white belt. Now, that I am getting the basics down, I have the ability to automatically employ head turns.
 

Robert Lee

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we have to look, because if we dont we're not doing the kata right. (Its supposed to be fighting opponents. imaginary, but we still act like we mean business.)

Its not necessarily counted as a distinct seperate movement though.

i see it as important. You'd naturally look, wouldnt you? Me thinks so. =]
Kata teaches you to turn left and right. Teaches you to hear then see then do. Kata has put together self defence applications For solo training. But KATA never teaches you to fight or fight more then one person. If you look at any kata you see that only you are performing not fighting. Bunki shows you two man drills application Of the katas. Each move in kata is by its self a broken down self defence application. But best said kata is solo self defence training. And the unwritten book to the style or ryu of karate the a person chooses to learn. just my thoughts and that means little to others.
 

K-man

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If you look at any kata you see that only you are performing not fighting. Bunki shows you two man drills application Of the katas. Each move in kata is by its self a broken down self defence application. But best said kata is solo self defence training.
Mmmm! Perhaps worthy of a thread of its own. In some styles the bunkai is basically kata with a partner. Therefore when you perform the kata, in your mind you are fighting. That is not to say that kata isn't a collection or toolbox of techniques, but the traditional kata based on Chinese Boxing are far more. :asian:
 

Robert Lee

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Mmmm! Perhaps worthy of a thread of its own. In some styles the bunkai is basically kata with a partner. Therefore when you perform the kata, in your mind you are fighting. That is not to say that kata isn't a collection or toolbox of techniques, but the traditional kata based on Chinese Boxing are far more. :asian:
YES kata does teach much more. But that would take a rather long post or thread to explain that. But if you really look at kata you are not fighting anyone. You are learning and training solo moves along with mind and body. Where even the head turns have a meaning and use in real life. You hear something to your side you turn to look you see a threat you respond to the threat. hear, see, think ,do.
 

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A lot of thoughtful comments on this thread. Forgive my laziness/shortness of time, but without thinking real deeply on it at the moment, here is how it seems to me. You hear a sound, quickly look, then block and/or attack. It's not a dramatic pause, not a "snap", but without the quick glance to verify what one is seeing, there's a danger of the hunter shooting another hunter instead of the bear.

In my style, (Shito-ryu), we do look first in kata, though there are probably some moves in some kata that are exceptions. We do not do blind techniques in sparring.

I'll have to think about this some more. :)
 

DragonMaster Jay

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I would see it to be more dangerous, if you do not look first before you start swinging.

#1: While training, there could be another person behind you, even though you are just doing a kata.

#2: If you don't know what you are swinging at, you won't know how big the opponent is, how much technique he knows, exact position of target, etc.

It is pointless to think that just because the katas are symmetrical, does not mean that it will always be like that in a real fight. It is purely for the art of form, thus Martial Arts.
 
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