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The animal techniques of Uechi ryu (2)

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Kicking in Uechi-ryu karate differs from many other styles. The front-leg snap kick is the only kick used in the katas brought from China. It is found in ......


Kicking in Uechi-ryu karate differs from many other styles. The front-leg snap kick is the only kick used in the katas brought from China. It is found in every kata of Uechi-ryu except Sanchin, which contains no kicks. The front-leg kick, like the lead hand punch, is the first line of defense, as it is the closest technique to the opponent. It can be executed quickly against an incoming attacker. This approach exemplifies the "defense only" philosophy of Uechi-ryu karate. The snapping of the kick is an important source of power since the hips cannot be used in the front-leg kick as effectively as with a rear-leg kick. Front kicks in traditional Okinawan kata are aimed at the middle (chudan) or lower (gedan) areas of the body. Kicks that are normally performed by most systems with the ball of the foot, sokutei, are executed in Uechi-ryu karate with the tip= of the big toe (sokusen). Kicks with the ball of the foot do not exist in this system. Sokusen geri is the only kick in the original three katas brought from China. Like the shoken fist, sokusen kicks emulate the destructive effect of a tiger's teeth. These techniques deliver an enormous amount of power to a small area. Deeper body penetration and more damage to the area attacked are the results. Any part of the body is a potential target for sokusen. Newer students should practice kicking with the ball of the foot for their own safety. Preparing the toes for kicking is an arduous process. First the muscles in the toes must be developed so they can be flexed into the proper position. This can take several months. Second, the tip of the toe must be conditioned to take hard contact. This takes several years. To form sokusen, pull your toes back toward your foot, tightening all toes together. Here are six methods for strengthening sokusen technique: 

1. Make a tight sokusen foot and walk on the tips of the toes.
2. Jump up and down on sokusen toes.
3. Kick in the air with a tight sokusen foot.
4. Kick the makiwara, tire, and sandbag with sokusen.
5. Keep a tight sokusen foot when you do Sanchin kata.
6. Use sokusen when practicing all kicks.

Nukite is an advanced technique that is very prevalent in the Uechi-ryu system. It is found in all eight katas. Like a shoken punch and sokusen kick, it delivers the primary point of impact to a very small area. Attacking pressure points and soft body parts with this specific strike allows you to inflict maximum damage using little movement. Therefore, body size and strength are not a major factor for effectiveness. When you form your hand for a nukite strike, tighten all four fingers together and place the thumb firmly against the ridge of the hand. When you tighten your fingers, they will naturally curve in slightly. It is important not to let the fingers bend backward on impact. The name of the striking weapon changes as the hand is bent to apply fingertip strikes from different angles, such as kakushiken and koken. To form kakushiken, bend all four fingers where they join the hand and support them by placing the thumb at the base of the forefinger. Kakushiken is executed with the fingertips, in a forceful downward strike, like the beak of a desperate bird defending its life. Snapping the elbow and wrist increase the power. The targets of the crane's beak are the neck, throat, and soft area behind the collar bone. Kakushiken, an advanced and deadly technique, is found only in Sanseryu kata.

Koken is formed the same as the kakushiken strike but is applied differently. A large swinging motion is used to deliver this downward strike. To increase power in this technique, a scooping action is added at the point of contact. The targets of this strike are the groin and nerves in the pelvic area. This technique is effective against a grab from behind. Uechi Kanbun told a story to Shinjo Seiyu about a Chinese martial artist who visited him and discussed an interesting conditioning exercise emulating a crane. The man dumped a small bag of rice on the dojo floor. He picked the rice up, one grain at a time, with the fingertips, much in the way a bird would pick them up with its beak. As the grains of rice disappeared, the strength of the man's developed fingertips became apparent. The visitor explained that in a fight he could apply his pecking and pinching techniques to the veins in the arms of his opponent, causing deadly internal bleeding.

Uechi became intrigued with this idea and stood up, directing the man to demonstrate the technique on him. Several attempts were made but none were successful because of the extreme development of Uechi's arms. Arm conditioning (kote kitae) had rendered the crane technique ineffective. The degree of conditioning necessary to develop these advanced striking techniques are a major hindrance in modern use. Extensive use of the Okinawan conditioning device, makiwara, is not as prevalent in the West as it is in Okinawa. A well-conditioned and highly refined animal strike may be your only saving grace when you face a deadly opponent of greater strength or determination.


The big toe kick (sokusen) of Uechi-ryu karate emulates the tiger's bite. Sensei Shinjo Kiyohide demonstrates the penetrating effects of this effective technique on his son Shuichi, of Kadena, Okinawa.



Developing the toes for kicking is an arduous, painstaking task requiring years of dedication. An old tire makes an ideal target.



To execute a nukite strike, tighten all four fingers together and place the thumb firmly against the ridge of the hand. Legend contends that ancient Okinawan karate masters could penetrate the rib cage like a spear using a nukite strike.



Kakushiken (left) simulates the damage of a downward thrust of a crane' beak. Targets of the koken strike (right) are the groin and the nerves in the pelvic area.




Tagged in: Karate Techniques