At UFC Saskatoon, undefeated Ukrainian prospect, Maryna Moroz, faced off against Canadian veteran, Valerie Letourneau. Although Moroz is not as well known as Letourneau, she was the favorite going into the fight, due to her snappy, aggressive fighting style and her recent upset of Muay Thai phenom, Joanne Calderwood. As it turned out, Letourneau was able to take the tough fight by decision, having frustrated Moroz with counters as she pressed forward. That said, there was one particular moment in this fight that stood out to me as a shining example of karate in action, despite the fact that neither fighter has a karate background. As I have mentioned, before, old-school karate methods tend to show up most often when limbs connect in “trapping range,” which is just outside of clinching range. While most of this fight was spent at long range, Moroz initiated a clinch half-way through Round 2, and Letourneau tried to break free, but ended up in clinching range for a short period of time. In that time, we saw Gekisai in action!
For those unfamiliar with Gekisai, it is a kata (well, a pair of kata) that are fundamental forms in Goju-Ryu curriculum, as well as in some Shorin-Ryu systems, although they tend to call them Fukyugata. These are fairly simple forms, much like the Taikyoku of Shotokan or the Pinan of Shorin-Ryu. Most people see them as basic practice for blocks, punches, and kicks, but they actually contain many good applications. In this article, we will be looking at a sequence that is found twice in both Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni, about half-way through the kata. You can see the sequence in the animated GIF, above–specifically, the age-empi-uchi (rising elbow strike), followed by uraken-uchi (backfist strike) and gedan-barai (low sweep). In the kata, this sequence is preceded by a kick, and followed with a punch.
In formal demonstrations, this sequence is generally shown as a kick to the groin, followed by a rising elbow to the chin/face of the (hopefully) doubled-over opponent, followed by a backfist to the now (hopefully) upward-gazing face of the opponent, followed by a hammerfist to the already-kicked groin. This application isn’t all that bad, but it doesn’t really deal with an opponent who fights back. In the animated GIF, above, you can see Taira Masaji Sensei demonstrating how he uses this sequence in his renzoku bunkai drills. It is subtle, but if you look closely, you can see that the elbow is not simply a strike–it is clearing obstructions so that the karateka can land his/her intended attack. The backfist lands almost by accident, and the gedan-barai clears away any further obstructions so that the karateka can continue their attack if necessary. Paul Enfield can be seen teaching a similar variation in this video.
In this exchange between Maryna Moroz and Valerie Letourneau, we can see that Moroz has attempted to clinch, and Letourneau is pushing her away to avoid it. Right away, this gives us opening for tuidi-waza (seizing hand techniques), but Moroz is a striker. She maintains tight control of Letourneau’s left hand with her hikite (pulling hand), preventing her from blocking or striking with it, meanwhile pressing down (osae) on Letourneau’s right wrist to keep track of it. As soon as Letourneau pulls her left hand free, Moroz is able to feel it and stick with it (muchimidi). As Letourneau’s hand rises, Moroz follows it with her elbow to the face. Letourneau happens to already be pushing the elbow aside, so no backfist is possible. This is exactly what is shown in Taira Masaji Sensei’s renzoku bunkai drill! Moroz naturally follows with a low sweep of her right arm to the outside of Letourneau’s right arm, clearing it out of the way, but unfortunately doesn’t continue her assault, and instead resets at long range. Even so, this is the kind of thing that MMA fighters can learn from traditional karate, and the kind of thing that I hope to see more of in mixed martial arts in the future.