Naihanchi Bunkai and Randori 1

Morote-Uke (Double Receiver) from Naihanchi kata

On Wednesday nights, I usually teach the Self Defense Class at my dojo, which is usually attended by Youth Students, but adults are welcome. In this particular class, as I often do, I focused on Naihanchi applications. We started off with a basic forearm blocking drill against wide swinging punches, and then moved on to a block-counter drill. These drills were somewhat based off of the morote-uke (double receiver) techniques and me-oto-de (married hands) movements in Naihanchi, but some techniques were brought in from Passai and Kusanku.

Naihanchi Shodan Excerpt

From there, we moved on to an application for the section shown in the animated GIF above. If you watch fights and assaults from camera phone or CCTV footage, you can see that they often turn into a messy grappling affair, with one or both parties trying to control the arms of the person trying to hit them. This evolution into sloppy clinchwork is one that doesn’t get explored very often by many karateka, which is a dangerous sign of complacency–of course, we would rather be striking, but if someone attacks you and you hit them back but they don’t go down or run away, they are probably going to try to grab you so you can’t hit them anymore. One thing I have seen happen in these exchanges that also isn’t addressed very often is when your attacker pushes on your face or neck to make space to hit you back. This section of Naihanchi Shodan can be used to address that issue very effectively.

Waki-Gatame – Armpit Lock

Before getting into the clinching, itself, I wanted everyone to get comfortable with the counter to the face pushing. It works by deflecting the push and controlling the attacker’s forearm, pulling it across your body and applying downward pressure on the elbow, while simultaneously lifting and pulling the wrist. At first glance, this joint lock looks very much like waki-gatame (armpit lock), which is pictured above. While you can apply the kata movements as waki-gatame, it doesn’t quite fit the movement, as we do not drop our near-side shoulder. The lock we use in this case is done by placing the elbow on top of your attacker’s elbow and pressing down with that. In the drawing above, we even see waki-gatame applied on a standing opponent, with the tori (person doing the technique) standing in shiko-dachi (horse stance). While many versions of Naihanchi are done in higher stances with the toes pointing forward or inward, some versions of Naihanchi use shiko-dachi instead, such as the Kishimoto-Di version seen in the animated GIF below. This ensures that the tori lowers their center of gravity to generate power for the lock.

Tachimura no Naihanchi, performed by Shihan Ulf Karlsson

This lock could potentially be the end of the application, either dropping your attacker to the floor, or dislocating their elbow and causing them to give up their attack. It is quick and effective, but some people are very flexible or pain-tolerant. Should this occur, the kata tells you exactly what to do. Even if the lock did not damage the arm or cause the attacker to stop, it should still cause them to bend over. This is the body’s natural reaction to hyper-extension of the elbow. From that position, it is very easy to strike the head/neck of your attacker with a low hammerfist (seen as gedan barrai–low sweep–in the GIFs above), and you know exactly where their head is because you have a hold of their arm, and can use it as a guide. Should that not be sufficient, you can follow up with a punch across your body to the side of the head/neck, using the hammerfist to then grip the head/neck/shoulder to serve as a reference point for where their head is. The step that follows this section of the kata can also be used as a sweep, or as shovel kick to the knee, to ensure that the attacker ends up on the ground.

Soldiers clinching during unarmed combatives training

After everyone was comfortable with this technique, I wanted to put it into context, so we started some controlled randori (“free grappling,” referring to grappling-only sparring). Whether your opponent is trained or not, they may try to grab onto you if you strike them, resulting in a clinch-type position. This is a safety mechanism, because it allows them to continue their aggressive behavior without the thread of being struck in the face. Sometimes this allows the confrontation to fizzle out, and other times it ends up with both people tripping and falling to the ground. Every now and then, though, the attacker will realize that not only can you not strike them in the face, but they also can’t strike you in the face! At that point, they often push you away to make room for their punch, as you see the soldier on the right in the picture above attempting to do. To simulate this situation, I had everyone clinch up with their partner and first work on simply controlling each other around the mat, with the occasional shovel kick (a signature strike in Naihanchi, which can also be used as a sweep or trip). As they got comfortable with that, I had them include one person attempting to shove the face of the other away from them, at which point the person being pushed was to apply the armbar and strikes from Naihanchi that they practiced earlier.

Hiza-Guruma (knee wheel), an evolution of the shovel kick, during randori at a judo club

While the randori was light, and only one situation was being drilled, it still got a little chaotic at times. This made it a very good introduction to dealing with a resisting opponent and being forced to make your techniques work. That said, it still wasn’t a fully “alive” drill, because everyone was limited in their responses, and some of them didn’t resist enough during the Naihanchi application. As they get more comfortable with drills like these, I hope to make them more and more “alive” until we can work full scenarios with resisting attackers. Until then, this works out well and the students all seemed to enjoy it–aside from the girls not wanting to clinch with boys :P.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.

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