Kihon-geiko (basic/foundational training) is meant to isolate karate movements so they can be individually focused on during practice. Karateka from nearly any style will be familiar with a variety of methods for this purpose–punches while standing in shiko-dachi (sumo/horse stance), kicks with the hands on the hips, walking across the mat in a stance, etc. Whatever the technique may be, isolating it can be very valuable for any karateka, but especially for new karateka. Not only can it help develop and refine movement and body mechanics; it can also make learning easier. By removing a movement from the context of its kata (form) or waza (technique), we remove distractions and narrow the scope. The student can then focus on very specific points to learn and correct, rather than worrying about what else they are supposed to be doing.
While practicing these fundamental movements in isolation can be very beneficial, problems tend to arise when students transition from solo practice to partner practice. This is largely because the techniques have been removed from their intended context. The kata show us how to use the techniques, so without that as a guide, it can be difficult to practice them correctly with a partner. All that students have to go on, at that point, are isolated techniques practiced while stationary, or moving only in straight lines. The result is the well-known (but relatively modern) tradition of using kihon techniques head-on against kihon techniques in partner drills, such as the drills in the video, above.
This format works fairly well for tai tanren (body conditioning) and tactile sensitivity, due to all the force-on-force collisions of arms and legs. There is also an aspect of reaction time, even when the drills are prearranged patterns of techniques, although excessive distance can alter the reaction time being developed. For teaching practical application of the techniques, particularly when we are looking at kata, this format is inadequate. Thankfully, some very simple tweaks can be done to help students transition effectively from isolated movements to applicable fighting techniques. In this case, specifically, we will be looking at uke-waza (receiving techniques).
While uke-waza can be used as strikes, joint locks, limb controls, and more, it is important to understand their applications as “blocks” or, more accurately, “deflections.” As anyone with full-contact fighting experience will tell you, the “blocks” of karate do not work very well head-on, as they are often practiced. That does not mean that they cannot be made useful. The keys to making these techniques effective is the use of tenshin (body shifting) and tai sabaki (body movement). Our kata incorporate these concepts, but they are lost when we remove techniques for isolated practice, so it is important to reintegrate them when transitioning from individual kihon-geiko to partner drills.
As an example, we will be looking a general sequence that shows up in a large number of kata–turning to the side before executing an uke-waza, which is often followed by a strike, of some kind. This sequence can be found in Taikyoku, Gekisai, Pinan, and Kusanku, just to name a few. There are different stylistic variations, but that core sequence of “turn to side > uke-waza > strike” tends to remain the same. We know that the directions we move in kata tell us how to move in relation to our opponent, who is attacking from in front of us. Using that guideline, we can see that the kata that include this sequence are telling us to move to the side of our opponent’s attack as we receive it. With this sequence in mind, we can easily assemble some very simple drills for practicing kihon that connect back to kata.
In this video, I demonstrate a series of uke-waza drills that utilize the concepts used in sequence mentioned, above. We begin with solo kihon drills, practicing our uke-waza while standing still (in shiko-dachi, for example). Normally, when a student is comfortable with these movements, the instructor will punch them head-on to test the functionality of their uke-waza. In this approach, however, the punch comes from the side, which allows the student to see and feel where their uke-waza should put them in relation to an attack. Finally, we add movement to the drill, having the attacker step in with a strike, while the student steps to an angle and turns to face their opponent, just like the kata sequence mentioned earlier. Initially, these drills can be done in a very basic fashion, without utilizing the stances, hikite (pulling hands), grabs, etc., just the way they are shown in this video. As students become more comfortable with the drills, however, they will be able to fairly easily alter and expand on them. This gives students a clear line connecting kihon and kata, and gives them a platform to build from.