For some bizarre reason, over the last couple of weeks as part of my insatiable habit of walking around the house doing karate, I’ve started rolling in some elbow striking combinations. Like I said, no idea why, but hey, if it feels right, why not?
The previous style of karate I used to train in incorporates two basic empi (elbow strike, also written as enpi depending on your preferred romanisation) techniques – age-empi (rising elbow strike) and mawashi-empi (hook elbow strike). Both of these used to be performed at a standing position like in most of our technique drills, rather than in movement, so until I started using a thrusting empi strike within my current combination techniques in prep for my next grading, I hadn’t spent a lot of time playing with them this way.
It’s interesting, as it’s been a few years since I stopped learning my previous style, and due to the approach my current instructors take with how they teach us in class, I’m finding myself more interested in experimenting with technique, and finding those essential common grounds/princples in form and movement and extending these to other strikes/blocks/kicks/etc. In the case of practicing empi, it means I’m trying to utilise my hips in order to generate greater power and stability in my technique, and I’ve also been looking at how to create an explosive impact to each technique. With the former, I’m finding that by lowering my stance and utlising my hips to a greater extent, it feels as though the technique now has greater “weight” to it, but more importantly, that it has more stability as well!! I think before I wasn’t utilising my torso and legs enough and felt like I was over-extending my body (balance), or that I would be knocked back if the technique was blocked by someone more solid than myself (“weight”). It makes my strikes feel much more effective. These are principles common to a lot of techniques in karate, but having been exposed to a wider variety of techniques over the last couple of years, some of the extra training sessions I’ve had in Koryu Uchinadi, kobudo and other weapon training, it feels as though this latest experimentation is a culmination of principles learned as a result of this wider exposure and additional time practicing.
The other area I’ve started playing with is generating fast, explosive power. In much the same way that a good backfist strike can benefit from a controlled, spontaneous release of energy, I’m currently seeing if I can apply those same principles to empi strikes… well, at least with age- and mawashi-empi strikes. My age-empi strikes are a little rubbish, but not without merrit I think. Where I’m finding greater success with my experimentation is with mawashi strikes, as the combination of solid stance, hips and attention to explosive energy creates an extremely effective technique, at least at close range.
On top of this, I’ve also started applying the technique with greater directional movement – moving either side, lunging forward, things like that. I think my movement is actually in need of a lot of work, as I’m a bit rusty and unsure about moving in and out confidently in a sparring situation, most of which is due to utilising the limited movement I have in my legs. Still, you have to start somewhere!
Working on all of this also helps put into perspective the raw effectiveness of an elbow strike, particularly at such close range where traditional punches or kicks may rendered ineffective, particularly in combination with other joint-manipulation techniques, like parrying a strike and countering with a mawashi-empi, or grabbing the arm and applying an age-empi technique against the soft side of the elbow joint. Like anything, it remains a tool to be used where appropriate and its necessary to consider this when thinking about elbow strikes.
Now my only concern is that, with all this theorising out on the table, my technique isn’t actually a bit on the rubbish side! I’ll make a mental note to have a chat to sensei about it in the future and see his thoughts on my technique and where I can improve.
If you’re keen on some more information on empi, Wikipedia lists them amongst other Shotokan techniques, and there’s also a page dedicated to empi (though the latter is only a stub, rather than a full entry).