Monday, August 13, 2012

Classical Tsuki Waza (Uchina Nu Chichidi)

This is merely my personal understanding of "old style" tsuki waza (Uchina nu chichidi [Okinawa no tsuki-te]) based mainly on the techniques passed on via the Machimura Suidi lineage of Soken Hohan shinshi but it has also been informed by training in other "old style" Okinawan systems. I do not claim to be an authority on body mechanics, but I do believe all the information in this article is accurate and does reflect an older and significantly more effective/efficient method of striking.

There are a number of significant differences between the tsuki waza of old style Tudi-jutsu and modern karate-do. Some of the changes were made for safety reasons (making the strike less dangerous for junior high school aged children) while others were probably made for aesthetic reasons. The modern karate-do punch is "squared off" and uses very straight lines. This results in a very aesthetically pleasing technique. Unfortunately the very characteristics that make the technique beautiful also make it mechanically less efficient. This is not to say it is ineffective, but it is less effective.

Machida has repeatedly proven that the modern karatedo tsuki is far from ineffective.

Some of these differences are rarely discussed while others are relatively well known. Among the better known differences are those related to the structural alignment of the arm:

1) The fist is rotated only to the diagonal position

2) The elbow is pointing down and is slightly bent

3) The fist is off-center and more closely aligned with the shoulder than the centerline

4) The fist uses a straight index finger allowing the fist to be very solid while keeping the hand and wrist relatively relaxed

5) There is significant ulnar deviation at the wrist

As I mentioned, these difference are relatively well known and have been discussed in various texts. In terms of online resources, I can recommend the following articles:

The key differences in terms of structural alignment with the torso and lower body are:

6) The shoulder is both extended forward and pulled down. The downward pull engages the latissimus dorsi muscles. When the elbow is pointing down, a forward extension of the shoulder can create better structural alignment between the arm and the torso especially with respect to the latissimus dorsi muscles. This foreward and downward stretch of the shoulder is called "gyame" in Uchinaguchi

7) The pelvis is rotated forward which minimizes the lumbar curve. This allows more efficient transfer of energy through the gamaku area

8) There is a very slight lean forward which helps minimize the lumbar and thoracic curves and also facilitates efficient transfer of energy through the gamaku area. This shifts the weight and center of gravity (tanden) slightly forward increasing the power of the blow as well

9) The cervical and thoracic curves are further minimized by pulling the chin back and pulling the top of the head upward as if suspended by a bungee cord

10) The gamaku area contains the "core muscles" which join the ribs (and lower back) together with the pelvis. These are engaged in the old style tsuki-waza thus creating a firmer structural support for the technique

11) The stance is slightly shorter and more upright than the typical karate-do tsuki

12) The rear knee is somewhat bent to accommodate the forward pelvic rotation

(click to enlarge) Modern karate-do tsuki waza

(click to enlarge) Classical (Machimura Suidi) tsuki waza

(click to enlarge) Illustration of the transfer of force from an imagined machiwara into the ground

(click to enlarge) Inefficient transfer of force from an imagined machiwara into the ground

A few quotes about the use of the gamaku area:

  • In the process of lowering your shoulders, tucking your koshi, and squeezing your lats, you can create a tension that is called "gamaku." But the name is not important -- the tension is what counts because you can use it.

  • Shuri-te practitioners employ gamaku, or shimegoshi. Arakaki describes it as “the moment a fist reaches a target, you employ gamaku so as to rapidly contract but not tighten the muscles between the lower ribs and the sacrum. Gamaku will put extra weight behind your tsuki and help stabilize your position, so when you hit a target, you will not be pushed back by a rebound from your own tsuki.”
  • Gamaku squeeze
  • Arakaki uses a clear illustration to describe gamaku. Imagine a balloon filled with water and placing it in a hand towel you are holding at each end. The weight of the balloon will pull down the towel and increase its tension. The position of the balloon in the towel is the sacrum and the ends of the towel are the ribs. It is important to imagine a water filled balloon rather than a solid object, such as a heavy metal ball.

  • One of the keys to striking in Matsubayashi is sinking or sitting down on techniques. In front stance when you "sink" your pelvic girdle is tilted forward slightly. For proper alignment of the spine relative to the hip girdle there appears to be a "lean", but due to the physics of the sinking this alignment requires a slight "lean." Simply leaning without sinking properly is improper technique. As far as koshi and gamaku in karate you move with your hara. Movement with hara requires development of gamaku through movement of the koshi. Once the gamaku is developed sufficiently movement is accomplished using gamaku and any movement of the koshi is a byproduct of using gamaku.


  1. This is a really good breakdown of how punches should be performed in karate. In the branch of Shorin-Ryu that I study, we do actually perform our strikes the way that is highlighted as the "classical" method, but I have seen many people using the more modern method and I fear for their spines, hips and elbows as they age as much as I fear their lack of effectiveness.

    1. Yes, you are quite right, the bio-mechanically more sound version is less damaging to the joints. That is a really excellent point and I am very glad you mentioned it!

  2. As a bare knuckle boxing enthusiast; Some other sources, from other backgrounds (but equally relevant on a physiological standpoint):

    -Jack Dempsey's Championship fighting (out of print, available on the web in pdf if you dig a little).
    -Ned Beaumont's Boxing as a Martial Art. (paladin press)
    -David Lindholm and Ulf Karlsson's Bare Knuckle Boxer companion.

    "Most people focus on generating more power to hit harder... Well really, they ought to lose less and deliver more. But no, instead they pump iron and do the same flawed thing over and over, expecting a different result."

  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll be checking them out

    "Most people focus on generating more power to hit harder... Well really, they ought to lose less and deliver more."

    I think that is it in a nutshell! Extremely well put.

  4. Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our sails, and let old bygones be.
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  5. Nice article , would Like to know why when i watch at katas or pictures ( Luke in the case) of karate punch, i ha e the impression that is not directed at the face but instead at the chest there a reason?

    1. Yes. the skull is much more durable than the hand. The hand will break long before the skull does.