Time for 'Reality Check'
In this introduction I am addressing those of you who, for the past five years, have been following my ‘Karate Essence’ articles, columns and Blogs pertaining to the philosophical aspects of Karate and the martial arts.
For some time now, while being totally involved in the research and dissemination of the philosophical elements of the martial arts… I have listened, without comment, to statements and opinions, of praise or derision, concerning any number of ideals or techniques championed by particular styles or systems. I intend now to dissect one technique or concept each month with a view to discussing its validity in ‘real life’ situations.
These ‘Karate Essence’ Blogs will be subtitled, ‘Reality Check’.
This month, September 2023, the ‘Reality Check’, the first investigation, is Uraken.
So often I have heard ‘Uraken’ maligned, especially by the sport combat competitors. “It doesn’t work… and it’s a waste of time and effort learning and practicing a technique that has little or no practicality,” or, “It’s impossible to generate power with Uraken.”
Table of Contents
· Misunderstood concept.
· Conventional teaching.
· Street fighter.
· Traditional, dojo, sport, and ’Reality Check’.
· Whip-like action of a ball and chain.
· Uraken, the importance of speed and accuracy.
· Why Uraken is not generally used in combat sports.
· It’s not all about the concussive effect of brute force.
Tight fingers and loose wrist gives Uraken, when properly delivered, a different striking surface to that which you might expect. Different in fact than most karateka actually utilise or capitalise on. In this regard the term ‘backfist’ is somewhat of a misnomer, backfist being more the direction it travels from than the surface it strikes with. You don't or shouldn’t, I maintain, use the back of the fist at all. You can of course use the back of the two leading knuckles, but the most effective, primary striking surface should be the same area of the two, large, leading knuckles used in almost any punch.
This will probably surprise many readers as it is contrary to ‘conventional teaching’. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the back of your hand is not a particularly strong or resilient striking surface. The knuckles can take a lot of pressure from the front, but from behind they are comparatively vulnerable, featuring tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue that is quite intricate and delicate. Subjecting vulnerable aspects to danger seems to me counterproductive when you consider that the snapping wrist movement at the very end of the Uraken can easily bring the front of the two large punching knuckles into play.
In my early Karate training days in Scotland, almost all of the visiting Japanese Sensei directed us to strike with the back of the two large knuckles while executing Uraken. And don’t get me wrong, Enoeda Sensei’s Uraken, I’m quite sure, would have done immeasurable damage.
One of my first instructors, Danny Bryceland Sensei, a former Scottish, British and European Karate champion, back when we fought Ippon and Sanbon ‘controlled contact’ kumite (rather than ‘non-contact’) with bare fists, was also somewhat of a veteran street fighter. On one occasion, he was on the front page of the ‘Daily Record’ newspaper; he stepped in to stop a gang of young hoodlums from beating up one young guy, and managed to successfully fight them off until the police arrived.
Traditional, dojo, sporting competition, and ’Reality Check’:
Bryceland Sensei made it quite clear to me that there were traditional techniques, with tournament and dojo versions of those techniques (making them a little less dangerous) and then there were ‘reality’ versions making them more dangerous, more effective; Uraken was one of those.
Whip-like action of a ball and chain:
Bryceland Sensei described Uraken, “Like a ball and chain!” he would say, demonstrating how loose and flexible the arm remains (the chain), while the hand remains loose until the final flick when the fingers tighten (forming the ball) while the wrist remains loose and flexible, presenting the front of the knuckles on the final flick of the wrist.
Uraken is a whip-like weapon that utilises the front of your main punching knuckles, for maximum efficiency (the back of those knuckles can also be used). This whipping action, at the very least, will shock your opponent/assailant; enabling you to set-up another, more concussive, technique, or facilitate an escape.
The practicalities of Uraken and the importance of speed and accuracy:
I first learned the practicalities of Uraken in the early 1970s, working as a bouncer at the local discothèque/nightclub. In very close-quarter encounters – crowd control situations – Uraken is explosive. Requiring little or no set up, Uraken can buy you precious fractions of a second. It can also switch, whipping down to the family jewels and then rattle back to break the nose in the blink of an eye. Many times, in the chess game of those crowd control situations (which, in Scotland at the time, could very quickly turn into a full-on brawl) Uraken served me well.
Working for more than 25 years in high-risk security, because of its speed and with the accuracy I acquired, Uraken was one of my go-to techniques to end a physical conflict situation quickly… more often than not a temple shot will drop an antagonist; and the chances are they won’t even see it coming.
Why Uraken is not generally used in combat sports:
So, why is Uraken not used in combat sports? Very simply, Uraken (executed in the manner that I suggest) relies on the final snap of the hard striking surface of those two large knuckles; a shocking, almost cutting action. It needs pinpoint accuracy, and even the lightest combat sports gloves soften this shocking action. I also doubt that many MMA fighters are versed in the subtleties of the ‘whip-like’ (tight fist, loose wrist) kinaesthetic action required to make it work. So I'm not at all surprised that it rarely, if ever, appears in combat sports. As with many other traditional techniques it has been severely diluted over time, through misunderstanding and copy error.
It’s not all about the concussive effect of brute force:
In conclusion, it is unwise to disregard techniques simply on the basis of ‘power’ as this is only one foundation upon which usefulness can be determined. Uraken might not be powerful, as such, but it comes into its own as a shock technique. Springing out of nowhere, it can be launched with blinding speed, generating an impressive amount of force with relatively little movement. Personally, I would give Uraken 9 out of 10 for practicality.