Experimenting with empi techniques (elbow strikes)

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).

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Catching up on a few weeks’ worth of training

This one’s a bit belated, so apologies for the delay!

While I didn’t train last week (more on that later), I have been working hard in and around class the few weeks prior to that. Training during both of those weeks was really full-on… or if it wasn’t, I was working myself as hard as I could in class to get the most out of it. Since I’m keen to grade in December (or at least aim for it), I’ve been really conscious of getting my syllabus mastered to a reasonable degree of proficiency. Training has involved a lot of work on basics and fine-tuning form to continue pursuing perfect execution, form, power and focus. I’ve been trying hard to lower my stances and keep my strikes as solid as possible and maintaining proper form. We’ve been regularly working on kata, and I’m now at the point where I have the basic patterns and forms solidified in my head, and it’s now about execution, form, strength, all that good stuff. There were a few sticking points which Sensei has gone through with me that I hadn’t picked up on, but I’m confident I’m at the point where I can begin to dig deeper and execute the kata with a greater sense of skill and awareness.

We’ve also been going back to working on go-on and ippon kumite – as I’m gradually moving through my kyu grades, I’m now being expected to demonstrate a greater variety of techniques as part of my training. At first I was having trouble trying to pin down to what extent I can expand upon the usual/simple counter techniques I’ve been using, but in one of those lightbulb moments I’m prone to having, I’ve worked out that I can incorporate a lot of my basic combination drills and movements from kata into my responses. This has immediately opened up my available repertoire responses available to me through these drills, and I’m looking forward to continue working on them.

I’ve looked at time frames and will discuss the topic further with Sensei this week, but I have a feeling that should I intend to grade in December (and I do), I’ll need to be constantly revising my syllabus throughout the weeks in the lead up to grading. I started this last night by systematically going through my syllabus in the late evening to ensure I’m confident with all the techniques, and will be putting extra time aside to work on my kata, basic combinations and consider my options for ippon kumite. What’s new in this grading is the incorporation of bunkai into the exam, as well as the performance of an additional kata besides my grade-kata and kihon. The latter I’m not too fussed with as my gradings for my previous style saw everyone go through every kata in the lead-up to their grade kata, it’s just another step I have to be aware of.

So, it’ll likely be a busy couple of weeks, but I’m determined to make this grading and do well – I don’t want to simply scrape by, as I know I’m better than that.

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Training in the warm weather :)

Despite the fact it’s nearly the end of October, training this week was the first time in a while where it’s actually been warm enough in the evening to bring on a crazy sweat! We did some interesting things in class this week, and there are a few things I’ve picked up on that need considerable work if I’m to grade in December, which is my plan at this stage.

Stance was a very important part of Sensei’s training this week, both the correct form and working on strengthening our base. The exercise we did that really emphasised this was a two-person drill we did. The practitioner would move forward in stance, and in our case it was going through with zenkutsu-dachi, then with koukutsu-dachi. The trick with this drill was that we took our obi and handed it to our partner, who would either stand behind us (for zenkutsu-dachi) or in front of us (koukutsu-dachi); for the former, they would hold onto our obi with the middle of our belt around our waist and try and drag us back as we moved forward; for the latter, we would both be holding the obi and the partner would be applying resistance as we moved. In moving forwards or backwards in stance, the crucial point was that Sensei wanted us to plant our feet, drop our center of balance and move forward with perfect form (or as perfect as practical) despite the resistance from our training partner. The exercise taught us the importance of a strong stance, reminded us just how strong our stances can be, and gave the legs a workout too 🙂

For me, these exercises were a bit on the tricky side, especially going backwards doing koukutsu-dashi. Whilst moving using my real leg as my primary leg driving my body forward/backward, I didn’t have too much trouble overall – it hurt the muscles sometimes because it was great resistance training, but overall I was happy with how I was doing. When I was moving and it was meant to be the left leg propelling the body forward, this obviously got tricky since there isn’t a lot I can do with it in this case 😉 When doing zenkutsu-dachi I had to resort to using my right leg to propel me forwards (which, tbh is how I do it normally), and my training partner eased off on the resistance since there wasn’t a lot that could be done. However, when doing koukutsu-dachi, I surprised myself with using my brain for a change!

I’ve previously discussed some of my techniques for performing a good mawashi when pivoting on your fake leg, so I took those same principles of utilising the upper body and your torso to make up for leg movement and applied it to this scenario… and it worked! In fact, it worked so well that I threw my training partner off balance each time I performed the technique!!

So yeah, I was very chuffed with the outcome 🙂

Beyond the drills though, I’ve decided to spend more of my workouts/training between classes covering kata and my basics I’ll need to demonstrate for my next grading. While I have some of my combinations reasonably sorted, there are some that I am not happy with at all. I’m going to speak to Sensei next week to see what I need to work on in particular in the lead-up to the December grading, and will request for a bit more ippon kumite in class so I can work on a few more advanced techniques. I’ll also be demonstrating bunkai for my next grading, so I’ll need to spend time on that. Not that I’m expected to deliver an overtly complex explanation at this level, but that doesn’t mean I want to go at it half-arsed, I intend to put in dedicated effort as always.

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Hard training

Just wanted to add a quick post on this week’s training – in addition to the iron stomach conditioning, we also did some general arm conditioning as well, and some cool 2-person drills that eventually evolved into a continuous flow of blocks and strikes, with both sides playing the part of aggressor/defender with relative equality. The combination seemed like it would make for good application during sparring as well, which is ace.

What was interesting was how we started the lesson – after doing our warm-up routine, Sensei had us stand in a low kibadachi and practice standing continuous oitsuki (reverse punches). After doing this for a while, we then walked along the line, standing in front of each of us with a pad placed against his abdomen, which we were to strike with as much power as we could a certain number of times. After this, he then demonstrated the importance of the use of hips, thighs, knees and feet in executing an extremely powerful oitsuki in order to get us to improve our technique. From here’s where it gets interesting – to encourage better kibadachi, we all had to stand in a line, but so that the sides of our feet were pressed up against out neighbours to either side. This actually helped reinforce my stance, but overall it helped encourage all of us to dig lower in our stance and find greater strength, kept our feet straight and knees solid – the techniques that followed were apparently greatly improved, and I know I felt the difference as well.

We also went through kata (by the end of the session I’d gotten the basic pattern down reasonably well, so now it’s time to work on refining my technique, and I’m hoping that by the time we get to the end of the year I’ll be ready to grade again), some groundwork (which was a bit of light BJJ) and some other two-person drills/techniques.

It was a really exhausting session, half-way through I was already starting to feel it, but I dug deeper when I needed to in order to push forward. The end result was an extremely good workout for the mind and body!

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