Karate throws & grapples: Where did they go?

Karate throws & grapples

When Kentsu Yabe went to Hawaii he was asked what the difference was between karate and Ju Jitsu his reply was remarkable.  He said that Ju Jitsu was only 10% of Karate.  This is not so farfetched to understand as pre introduction to public schooling in Okinawa Karate had a comprehensive grappling element, commonly called Tegumi or Tuite.  There are many other combative ranges, strategies and techniques modern Karate styles have dropped or sidelined.  Two reasons for this could be:


Competition sparring rules narrowed the focus towards stand up ‘one strike one kill’ format popularly associated at that time with the other native Japanese martial arts such as Kendo/Ken-justu.  This narrowing then backfilled to the modern Okinawan styles.  Kumite went from being a training aide to improve accuracy to vital point strikes, to be considered the core fighting discipline of Karate fighters.  Most other martial arts experienced the same pruning, within Judo Kata you can see aspects of striking not used within competition format and hence discarded from common application, and boxing where the first recorded fight allowed grappling and sword fighting.  When the rule set changed, so did the art.

Teaching in large groups

Before Karate was taught in schools & universities it was taught mainly by one master to one student/oldest son one to one.  They taught primarily by using the Kata, telling the student to move one hand there, and one somewhere else, and then applying the movements to their application.  Movements within the Kata had no names.  Only when Karate was introduced into the Okinawan school system over a hundred years ago did they have to name each movement of the Kata to allow the teacher to shout the movement to multiple students.  Kenwa Mabuni in “Seipai no Kenkyu Goshin Jutsu Hiden Karate Kenpo” states “From long ago, all karate styles and systems had names for their Kata, however for uke-waza (techniques within kata) there were none which in fact is quite foolish. Therefore for the purpose of instruction and explanation of the various uke-waza to my students, and for convenience, I devised the following names” he goes onto describe many terms we use today including “Tsuki uke = Punch block”, which demonstrates the issue we face now understanding movements and their contradictory descriptions.

We can still see clues to much of that variety of technique in many of the stances and movements we use in Kata through comparing them to other martial arts that have also specialised around different rule sets.  Watch wrestlers squat onto their haunches with their stronger right side angled towards an opponent and it reminds you of Karate’s Kiba-dachi (horse stance), we can even see in Kata most movements associated with Kiba-dachi are led off the right side.  Watch a boxer and it’s very similar to Sanchin Dachi (Three Battles stance) and a fencer will lunge into Zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) all day long.  In all of these martial arts stances are described & trained through the outcome, where as Karate we tend to focus in detail, almost too much, on the transition rather than the outcome.

The following video shows a demonstration of thows & grappling in Karate including all of Funakoshis 9 throws and others.  From watching this you can clearly link these back to various obscure or unloved blocking or striking movements in the Heian/Pinan series of ‘basic’ Kata and other more advanced Kata, no longer associated to throwing or grappling, and gives you someting to think about next time you execute one of the turn and Gedan Barai (lower block) in Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan.


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