One Unique Technique

There are two foot and leg techniques in naihanchi kata. They have distinct functions. 

When stepping side to side we snap our knee up. It is used as a knee strike when the opponent is in close contact range. At a slightly longer range it might be used as a blocking technique, as it is in Rohai and elsewhere. It can also be used to avoid a sweep. These applications exist in many kata.

The one unique technique that appears only in naihanchi is the foot sweep, used when we are stationary. We use it to target the inside or outside near the attacker’s knee, nerve points, and other leg targets.

This foot sweep is used to destabilize the opponent, break his balance and disorient him, creating a momentary opportunity for a decisive follow up technique. This is built in to the design of the kata. It is a key component of the tactical skill that naihanchi teaches. 

These two techniques – the knee lift while traveling and the foot sweep while in place – have two distinct modes of execution as well. The first is clear cut and familiar. The mode of execution of the knee strike when traveling in naihanchi is similar to any kicking or knee strike technique in any other kata: snap the waist forward on the same side as the knee you are launching, and lift the foot without weight transfer or pause. Nothing unusual. Very quick and strong.

But the way we launch the second naihanchi leg technique, the foot sweep in place, is unique. We have no other technique that works the same way. The mode of execution occurs nowhere else in any of our kata. 

Because it is unique its unique properties are often not recognized, and so are not used. This reduces the effectiveness of the technique, and of naihanchi training in general.

Here is how to get the most out of it:

The energy generation principle in the foot sweep technique is similar to the one used when firing a catapult, or triggering a steel trap. It is a release of pre-loaded potential energy.

The mechanism – in our case the leg – is held under full power before the technique is launched. This is unlike all our other techniques – blocks, punches, kicks, throws, seizing, etc. – where we instantly generate a pulse of power to initiate the technique.  The naihanchi foot sweep technique is already under its full load of potential energy. It is ready to fire. 

This depends on doing the naihanchi posture with the whole body from head to toe, unified under isometric tension, with proper alignment. It especially relies on the unique naihanchi architecture of the legs. 

If the feet are placed on top of the floor or ground, passively, the technique will not work as designed. In fact, the naihanchi stance itself will not serve its function. Even if the legs are tight and the feet are drawn toward each other over the surface of the floor or ground – it still won’t work well. 

What is necessary is to form a fully “arched” integrated body structure, which will include as its base a fully arched, unified leg structure.  Without moving them the legs are pulled toward each other, using the inner leg muscles to create a pincer. The feet are pulled into the ground and rotated so that the pressure on the heels will push the heels toward each other, and the pressure on the front of the foot would rotate the toes outward, away from each other, if they were free to move. The legs create a circle of energy that feels like it is reaching under the ground.

The characters that form the word “nai han chi” mean clawing the earth from within. That is what a good naihanchi stance should feel like.

The isometric tension created by the foot rotation and the gluteus and adductor tension makes a strong, coherent structure. It’s stability enhanced by using the pelvis as the keystone of the arch, connecting the legs; by keeping the pelvis in a neutral position front to back; and by forming a barrel shape with the lower abdominal muscles, centered at the dan tien, rather than pulling the abdomen in, or swelling it out, to harden it. 

These are some of the key components of an optimal naihanchi lower body structure.

This structure is testable in a number of ways. It can be checked with strikes or pressure to the legs in all directions, and with other applications of shime and waza. 

The definitive test of a sound naihanchi stance is to check if the body is well-rooted front to back. That is: see if when, under pressure to the front of the body, you can maintain the naihanchi posture without either tipping back or buckling at the center, or leaning forward into the pressure. If you are doing it well your stance will remain stable and firm under direct or angled pressure from the front.

Naihanchi stance is easy to make stable side to side. That can be done with muscle strength. To make naihanchi – a wide, shallow stance – stable from front to back, takes good technique. 

The tactical utility of stability under pressure from the front is this: if we are struck or grabbed from the front, or if we seize or strike an opponent in front of us, we can remain stable long enough to take the power and respond, move laterally to the follow up position, or strike. Under bunkai analysis it is clear that is how the naihanchi kata combative tactics are designed. No modifications of the kata pattern are necessary to get these interpretations to work.

Without this front to back stability under dynamic pressure you have to interpret naihanchi tactics to involve body shifting and repositioning – similar to all the other katas we do. There is a little of that in naihanchi.

In naihanchi techniques, as the kata is done, body shifting and stepping in and out do not appear, and will not work: you will fall backwards or forwards when pressure is exchanged between you and your opponent.

If you interpret naihanchi as teaching a way of responding when you cannot retreat, for example if your back is to a wall, the principle is even more important. Getting pinned to a wall, off balance, is bad, and is hard to instantly recover from, when your opponent is alert, energized and aggressing.

Front to back stability while maintaining side to side stability – what we do in naihanchi – gives us the rootedness to respond to these combative dynamics, and enables us to move side to side, without a loss of balance or root.

Because of the dynamic tension built into the architecture of the body in naihanchi the foot sweep in place technique gives us a valuable defensive weapon. We will not make the most of this body weapon if we have to take the time to shift our balance and body weight over to the opposite leg, in order to swing our other leg up.

This is an unusual and valuable tactical skill. It is featured only in naihanchi.


Post and Photo Copyright © 2019-2021 Jeffrey Brooks, author of 

The Good Fight – The Virtues and Values of the Martial Arts – available on Amazon.

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