Aspects of Wado Karate – Support Notes.
A set of notes to complement the themes explored on my recent course in the Netherlands.
Over the three days of training at Eemnes we covered many themes related to practical Wado karate. This set of notes is intended as a reminder of some of the points covered for those present, but also might be of interest to the wider Wado community.
With each course I spend much time in careful preparation and plan the lessons in a way that participants at all stages of training can come away with something meaningful and useful. Key themes are my main priority, as will be outlined below.
Who is ‘Uke’, what is ‘Uke’?
I wanted to switch the emphasis away from the person who performs the prescribed technique (e.g. Kihon Gumite Ipponme) that is ‘Tori’, and on to the person who receives the prescribed technique; ‘Uke’. The role of Uke is really really important, so much responsibility rests on him/her. Uke has to ensure that the techniques delivered are meaningful, intentional and appropriately energised; that is one part. But also, Uke supplies body-feedback at the beginning, the middle and the end – it’s a conversation.
Uke is not a machine. Uke supplies reaction, not necessarily resistance (there is a difference). All of these aspects create an atmosphere whereby learning takes place. Uke is not a stooge and certainly not a punchbag.
The dance between Tori and Uke creates a situation whereby both of them can ‘engage with the dynamic’ (a favourite phrase of mine). If that is not happening then what you have is a meaningless pantomime, a parody of something that looks a bit like fighting; neither choreography nor paired kata. For ‘paired kata’ is exactly what it is.
As ‘kata’ it is a compressed package for both Tori and Uke to unwrap. I deliberately included kihon gumite ropponme in the workshop for exactly that reason. In this kata the three-part delivery by Uke creates a situation where he/she is led by the nose into a series of running traps, where options diminish with each move. If the techniques are delivered with intent and vigour the ‘dynamic’ becomes palpable, dare I say, ‘galvanised’, with the electricity coursing through every part – well at least that’s what you should be aiming for.
The role of Uke is a privileged one, not a chore. Why do you think that in the older traditions it is the Sensei who takes the role of Uke and not necessarily the student?
All the credit for this goes to Sugasawa Sensei. As mentioned in the course report, all of this information has been imparted by Sensei over his face-to-face training and his invaluable recent Zoom sessions for Shikukai members. The idea was to demystify Seishan, but in pulling back the curtain the complexity of the kata took on a greater challenge than we’d initially believed. But this was not one that caused us to withdraw in exasperation – personally, I felt like a kid in a toyshop! For me this was the complete antidote to the platitude of ‘just repeat and repeat and it would eventually appear’.
So, what was going on? In my delivery of the information, I was keen to describe this as an ‘internal energy’ kata, but not in a ‘woo-woo’ way. And certainly not an ‘INTERNAL energy kata’. Let’s take the mystification out of it and call it like it is; but, that doesn’t make it any less demanding.
This version of Seishan involves a physical self-awareness that if applied to the other kata has positive and meaningful effects. It has to be remembered that Seishan is a significant stepping stone to the apex Wado kata Chinto; but it also has implications further down the kata hierarchy.
We spent time on the mechanics, mostly in the slow section; but I also mentioned the breathing patterns, but… the breathing patterns can’t be applied if you are still figuring out the mechanics. My advice is to really dig into the mechanics and the way of articulating the limbs, but more importantly, how the tensions are connected to the deeper core and the muscles of the abdomen and shoulders and extended through to the hips and legs. Once you have that flowing nicely, then apply the breathing patterns.
It would have been so easy just to have a ‘run through’ but I wanted to tease out the specific characteristics contained within each section of the kata and particularly how those characteristics apply in a practical way.
Seishan principles cropped up again, in aspects of stance work, particularly in that earlier section where the integrity of the stance must not be disturbed by what the rest of the body is doing, this puts a terrific amount of pressure on the muscles of the middle back, giving them so much work to do. This is not a bad thing, I think we need to be reminded of the importance of those muscles, for example; all swordsmen know that the power comes from the middle back, not the shoulders. Those particular muscles are the engine that drives many cuts. I would also refer you to parts of Naihanchi kata where those middle back muscles are put into nearly impossible degrees of tension in rotation. This then applies to specific parts of Kumite Gata (Wado paired kata again). If you think about it, Wado is such a joined-up system… it’s soooo clever.
We did a lot of work on opening up the hips and the pelvis (I made sure we did this in the warm-up so that we were well stretched and limbered). Seven Shuto Uke in Pinan Shodan and not all delivered on a linear path, an interesting study in itself.
Pinan Shodan contains a number of moves that tend to be broken into their component parts, mainly for the convenience of teaching them. But once those ‘parts’ are hardwired they should blend into one motion and the edges rubbed off – but without losing the functionality.
Wado rules or principles and where they appear.
This featured mainly in the paired kata we practiced across the weekend. It is easier to see them when applied in attack and defence.
The characteristics of ‘flow’ were threaded throughout the applications, apparent in the yielding responses to pressure.
‘Diversion of energy’ was a key part of ensuring that Uke was manoeuvred and tipped off his/her intended course, causing disruption and destabilisation, which became a theme in itself.
We also looked at ‘warping, flipping and bending’, a concept that Sugasawa Sensei first heard defined, as a ‘thing’ by the second grandmaster of Wado Ryu and is keen to shine a spotlight on it.
Across the three days of workshops my intentions were that the students and instructors came away with plenty to digest. Several times over the weekend I tried to show some of the different approaches and applications I have experienced with Japanese Wado teachers. There is not just one way of doing something, and each method has its merits. As long as you understand the bigger picture and the logic behind the system you are in a better position to evaluate what is going on.
For me the teaching/learning thing is a two-way street. If the atmosphere is right, students can ask questions and put forward propositions that maybe they’d never thought of before; this is a healthy challenge for me and often gives me puzzles to go away with and try and figure out. In addition, I never say I have all the answers, I don’t mind saying that I just don’t know. But if I don’t know, at least I have access to somebody who might know.
‘Woo-woo’, more American than British slang. Cambridge dictionary definition, “Ideas or methods that are based on false beliefs or imaginary things, rather than reason or scientific knowledge”.