EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
I have just got back from spending a day in the company of someone who in my humble opinion is a very 'special' person. So, I am writing the editorial now while I've still got a 'buzz' from the sheer 'energy' of a man over sixty years old! This special person is TETSUHIKO ASAI 9th Dan the Chief Instructor of the J.K.A. (JAPAN KARATE ASSOCIATION). As you probably know there are two JKA's now! and Sensei Asai is head of one of the two groups. Asai was over here in England to teach on the J.K.A.(GB) spring course at York (report in this issue).
Sensei Asai's enthusiasm for the martial arts is quite something, he lives and breaths it. You can ask him anything, he is so open minded and fair. He will not criticise anyone's methods or ways and he will always pick out the good points in everything. He is a very honourable and understanding man, a gentleman. This is a man who you would feel proud to be your SENSEI, I know I would if he was my instructor. So many people criticise other peoples methods in the martial arts without looking for the good points.
One minute Asai Sensei is laughing and joking and the next he is up demonstrating a technique with 'deadly' seriousness. The way he changes is quite frightening. Total 'zanshin'. He can be doing a soft, beautiful movement from a Chinese form one minute or a dynamic 'kime' with a karate technique the next. He truly has mastered the art of being 'hard and soft'.
I think it would be a shock for men his own age to see the speed, power and energy he displays even when explaining a point. Yet, he can look exactly the opposite sometimes and be the epitome of relaxation and calmness.
In his presence you feel that here is a person who knows things in great depth, a very wise man. The young Sensei Aramoto who was over here with Sensei Asai, listened intently to the interview and obviously has great love and respect for the Master. You have probably heard it before but you do get a 'feeling' when in the company of someone with such charisma. Someone who has dedicated their whole life to the serious study of an art form, like an artist or great musician.
There was a point he made on the York course that for me was a 'gem'. During a question and answer time after Sensei Asai had taught kata - Nijushiho, to a dan grade class, Graham Austin asked if there was a sliding movement (yori ashi) combined with the very last technique in the kata? Asai Sensei laughed his head off, this really 'tickled' him.......
" No, No, No, this is my 'habit' you must not do that ."
He was really amused by that point. That was a good observation from Graham and great honesty from someone of the stature of Sensei Asai who many feel was the natural choice, as the then Technical Director of the JKA, to take over after the death of Master Nakayama, as the undisputed Chief Instructor.
It's a nice coincidence that we have also in this issue an interview with Sensei Kenneth Funakoshi who was in fact a student of Sensei Asai in Hawaii. This is a brilliant interview by George Carruthers, thanks George. It's like a history lesson where the JKA is concerned, Sensei Funakoshi was around when Shirai and Enoeda were still competing. Good stuff!!
USHIRO GERI - A TECHNICAL BREAKDOWN By John Cheetham
Ushiro geri (back kick) is often said to be the most devastating kicking technique in karate. I don't think too many people will dispute that statement! The actual end product and how the technique looks on impact will virtually always look the same and if the technique is fast and powerful the effects are usually disastrous for the receiver!
However, the point of this article will be to technically examine some of the many different methods of delivery and the various teaching methods applied for 'spinning' to launch the kick. There really are quite a number of variations from instructor to instructor and possibly various ways to teach lower grades and later more senior grades. The end product however is the same.
Karate can often be quite contradictory in as much as you will learn a technique in a certain way then when actually trying to apply it at speed it will change, sometimes quite dramatically. USHIRO GERI (ke komi) of the spinning, thrusting variety is such a technique.
This particular spinning kick was certainly introduced early on in competition karate. You would not risk it on a slippy surface in a real situation!! On the other hand the other version of ushiro geri is a practical kick for self-defence if being attacked from behind. It can be used at either very long range or really close range usually to attack the groin area of an assailant. It can be used either in the form of a thrusting action (ke komi) for long range or a flicky snapping action (ke age) as if trying to kick your own backside with your heel, as a very close range technique. It's an interesting point that when the first karate books were published in English - (1960) Master Nishiyama's "The Art of Empty Hand Fighting" and Master Nakayama's "Dynamic Karate" the spin was not mentioned or demonstrated, only the technique of actually kicking directly behind to attacks from the rear were covered in these early Shotokan 'Classic' books.
The spinning ushiro geri which will be looked at here is much more difficult to execute with any great effect. The vast majority of students will start learning ushiro geri (spinning) from a free-style stance usually from say green belt or 6th kyu grade. Before that you would have to be pretty special to get to grips with this technique. I, probably like many others was originally taught the most basic method which appears in most karate books. This method is good for learning the technique but you would never apply it this way because it is usually taught in two parts with a 'pause' in between. I think this is fine for say, below brown belts whilst developing good balance but after that it has to be 'one' action - just spin straight round to the target, if you even fractionally stop half way your opponent will be 'gone'. I've also seen in several karate books, a method where you spin and turn your body - back to the target but the head is looking the opposite way to the spin. This is maybe o.k. for learning purposes but at speed it is not biomechanically too good an idea. The neck should always rotate in the same direction as the body, especially the shoulders. Another different way the technique is shown, is that at the 'leg cocked' ready to fire out position; here the knee of the kicking leg will be high up - almost to the chest, in front of the body (as if you were going to do mae geri - front kick). The problem here would be the 'speed' of delivery from such a position. It would be great for power but hard to pull off at speed. Here's a basic method used by many instructors......
From a free style stance position spin and turn your back to your opponent with both feet still on the ground and looking over your shoulder at your opponent or target. The leg is then pulled up with your heel as close to your backside as possible as in (photo 2). The leg is then thrust out (photo 3) strongly to contact the target with the 'heel' of the foot, (koshi). Utilise the power from both hips into the kick - note that the supporting foot has remained straight as in photo 2.
This is just one of the basic methods for practising ushiro geri. It is possibly better for lower grades to practice this method first because of restrictions with balance. The disadvantage is that it feels like the action is in two parts, when even like this it should be 'one' smooth technique with no stop or pause half way through. That's the hard part!!
For the first few years of my training I thought ushiro geri was only for the gifted few who are termed 'kickers'. Then along came Sensei Andy Sherry (as a guest instructor to our club) who was known as a 'puncher'. Andy has an unbelievable ushiro geri technique. His method of teaching ushiro geri for me was revolutionary. It just made sense straight away and I totally changed my mind about using or trying to use ushiro geri.
This differs from the basic method described previously because the very first action is to get the kicking leg airborne and practice quickly touching the back of your knee of the support leg, (with the bridge of your kicking foot) before you spin. Another method is (as you spin you immediately lift and cock your kicking leg into firing position, as demonstrated here (photo 2) by Sensei Aramoto. This is where good balance plays an important role. There are several variations on this theme but fundamentally they are the same in that:
THE BACK (KICKING LEG) LEAVES THE FLOOR AS SOON AS YOU START TO SPIN.
From free style stance as in (photo1) you spin fast and smoothly to a leg 'cocked' and ready to fire out position looking over your shoulder to the target as in (photo2) then the leg is thrust out as before (photo 3). Some spin on the ball of the foot others spin on the heel, as long as you get the desired effect, namely speed and good balance, it matters not. Remember at speed this is all 'one' action with no pause as in the photo's - this is just for learning purposes and a break down of the technique.
Here are some tips by various instructors on application in free style or competition....1.The faster you turn your head to the target, the better.
2. Without making it obvious to your opponent, line up your front foot with their front foot (if they are leading with the same foot as you) before you spin and attempt your ushiro geri attack. This way you are attacking down the centre line of their body and have more chance of success.
Many people say that they find ushiro geri incredibly difficult when kicking in fresh air as opposed to actually having a target of some description i.e. a pad - bag etc. Also for many people ushiro geri is easier when done in combination following a mawashi geri (round kick). This is probably a good method for lower grades to get the 'feel' of the kick. Or stepping across with the front foot before spinning, which some other styles practice, etc... .The best exponents of this technique that I have seen actually applying the kick in competition and always scoring an 'ippon' and invariably leaving their opponent in a folded 'heap' - totally winded and out of the game, were the K.U.G.B.'s Frank Brennan and Ronnie Christopher.
This was a few years ago when - if you hit someone with a body shot and they went down you would invariably get an ippon. The match was over. Now you would probably get disqualified for too much contact!!
Many instructors also have incredible ushiro geri techniques but obviously they can hardly demonstrate by actually 'downing' some poor unsuspecting student, which is why I mentioned Frank and Ronnie, both masters of actually 'applying' ushiro geri. They have proved time and again that the technique actually 'works'.
I must also mention for anyone who has never seen the tape, the unbelievable classic ushiro geri from former world Full Contact Champion, Benny "The Jet" Urquidez against the Japanese - Thai Boxing Champion.
Benny was brought up on traditional karate before moving to full contact and kick Boxing. The kick boxers and Thai fighters don't use this technique (ushiro geri) as the traditionalists do.
I think it was the first or second round when Benny spun round with a text book ushiro geri 'chudan' and looked as if he had put a hole right through the Thai boxer - he caught him right in the mid-section just under the rib cage with the heel of his foot and folded him into two pieces. He was absolutely out for the count and in fact had to be carried from the ring.
He just had not expected such a technique from a fellow kick boxer. So, Benny's traditional training paid off.
To finish this hopefully helpful technical article, Ushiro geri or spinning back kick does not have to be a kick only for the super talented kickers and box splits merchants. Far from it, small stocky or skinny people with limited flexibility can also develop this fantastic technique to great effect, by constant practice, good timing and having the commitment to really 'go for it' when trying to apply the technique. It's a one chance technique which can often be easily countered if not successful. I have purposely shown here one of the more advanced methods to practice because the basic way is taught more widely.
A special thank you to Sensei Aramoto 5th Dan, for demonstrating his method for SKM readers.