Head, Feet, Hands

In Shurite Kempo, one of our principles of movement in kata is to first move our head, or our gaze, then our feet, then our hands. This movement priority is so important for what we do that it is included in our 36 Principles, which guide our practice.

First, let me share with you what the opposite of the above principle looks like. In my original discipline, I was taught to move my whole body together at one time to execute each technique. For example, when executing a low block, I would coil up my body when chambering my fist by my ear, and then release the low block with my torso actively and visibly twisting to pull the block down into place. My feet would land at the same instant the hand reaches its low block position. The rationale for this was often straight out of the mouth of Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor: More Power!

To note, there is nothing necessarily wrong with moving this way. It is just a different type of body coordination. Lots of martial arts do it, especially the internal ones.

But some inter-related problems may arise when you are syncing up your limbs to perform a single technique.

  • The first is what we call hardwiring. No matter what you do, what you are trying to perform, you will not be able to move your arm independently from your leg, because over and over again you have practiced moving them both together to perform a low block. The hands and feet are tied together.

  • This hardwiring further causes a timing problem. You will never be able to perform simultaneous blocks, strikes and grabs. You will only ever be able to perform one thing at a time.

  • The last problem is practicing whole body momentum and sacrificing the power of individual limbs. When a hand, for instance, lags behind and lacks intent and power because it is being pulled along by the feet and body, we call that a whoopee cushion hand. It isn’t able to do a job on its own.

Due to the nature of our method of self-defense in Shurite Kempo, we must avoid these problems. The first way of doing that is what we might describe as orthodox, basic level timing kata (more on this in future posts). We separate the movements of our head, feet and hands so that they are each doing their own job. Let’s take the example from above and show how it would differ. In the first movement of a kata, I look in the direction I am going (most styles do teach this, actually). I push and pull hard into my stance using my feet. That is their job. When my stance is set, I snap into a chamber and back down into a low block. That is the job of my hands.

This culminates in our method of life protection. In a self-defense situation, we assign different limbs different jobs to do. For example, a leg may kick the attacker’s leg, while the hands ward off an incoming punch. We are able to do this because we already train it in our kata practice.

By giving the priority of movement to our head/gaze first, our feet second, and hands third, each body part learns to do its job as best as it possibly can, and paves the way for advanced timing in kata practice and bunkai.


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