Welcome back to our series on Pinan. Today, we’re discussing the primary lesson from Pinan/Heian Sandan, the third kata in the Pinan system. So far, we’ve seen not only how Master Itosu codified and condensed key fighting principles with these kata, but we’ve also explored how each lesson should be layered over the previous to create a complete fighting matrix. Let’s expand this matrix by looking at the next principle: Rotation.

Let's Review

 Heian Sandan - Borrowed from jka.uchicago.edu

Heian Sandan - Borrowed from jka.uchicago.edu

1) Forward Motion is Preferable to Backwards Motion – Move Forward to the extent possible

2) Straight Motion is Faster than Circular Motion – Drive directly to your opponent’s center along a straight line

3) When Confronted with Direct, Overwhelming Force, Rotate - Rotation in any vector will dissipate and redirect oppositional energy.

Despite the apparent complexity of human movement, we can break down martial techniques into just two types of energetic expressions. Linear and circular. Itosu knew this, and prioritized linear motion in his system for reasons mentioned earlier. However, he also placed the lesson on rotation right at the crux of the Pinan system. It is not to be taken as the primary method to use in a combative encounter, but it does serve as a key principle that develops real martial proficiency. Without understanding rotational energy, and how it relates to linear energy, the first two lessons of pinan are incomplete. To properly develop an understanding of human combative motion, rotation must be discussed. Importantly, the Pinan sandan kata applies rotation in a forward direction. It does not encourage rotation during retreat, which would violate the first principle of the system.

How Rotation fits into Pinan

 Ippon Seoi Nage - A Classiic Judo Technique

Ippon Seoi Nage - A Classiic Judo Technique

Rotation is a powerful tool in martial arts and in self-defense. It can be used to generate tremendous power, and it can be used to redirect strong attacks. Some fighting systems are based almost entirely on the correct application of rotational energy, ie. Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu, and many other “soft” styles. Many of the most spectacular martial techniques rely on rotation, including some high flying kicks, and devastating throws. So, if rotation is so powerful, why is it third in Itosu’s fighting matrix?

Rotation is third for a handful of reasons:

 1) The fighting philosophy expressed in Itosu’s karate is one of rapid incapacitation of the attacker through aggressive percussion and debasing. While rotational energy is powerful, it does not, in and of itself, accomplish the objective. Principles 1 and 2 MORE efficiently achieve this fighting objective, and so they come first. Rotation, in this context then, should be used when the first principles fail (ie. when blocked, when overpowered, when attacked too directly). So, once the rotation is applied and the oppositional force is dissipated, Pinan shows us to move back to the first two principles as soon as we can.

2) Rotational motion is more difficult to learn to apply effectively. This is not because rotational techniques are inherently more complex, but rather because rotational motion is MOST effective when applied with a consistent radius and constant speed. The most effective rotations, those that minimally disrupt the oppositional force and allow the defender to overextend the attacker, require the ability to blend, or to match oncoming energy. This can take many years to learn to do well. Developing the ability to achieve these two parameters during any combative rotation is a higher level skill. Itosu wanted a system that prioritized practicality and that developed martial competency quickly.       

Exploring Rotation

There are three kinds of rotation that we should be aware of in self-defense:

  • Primary rotation, or whole body rotation (one hip passing the other, rotating at least 180 degrees along the center axis of the body)
  • Secondary rotations, or rotations that occur towards extended techniques, through a joint ( typically “blocking” motions, or small redirections. Can also be done with the feet and knees for trapping and sweeping)
  • Internal rotation, or Torsion (This is the most complex of the rotational energies. Typically seen as “internal” or “coiling” mechanics)

 

 

Primary Rotation

Systems like Aikido and Judo typically utilize this kind of rotational energy to power their techniques. Primary rotation can be extremely powerful because it generates massive centrifugal forces at technique extension, when properly applied. Think of flying spinning kicks, or a big Aikido projection, for example. Being the largest expression of rotational energy, whole body rotation is the most obvious kind of rotation to observe. Learning primary rotation helps to develop the crucial skill of maintaining consistent radius and constant acceleration throughout the technique. Here, is easier to see mistakes because the expression is “blown up” to a macro scale. Over time, the student develops a feeling for balanced rotational motion that can then be shrunk down. Learning whole body rotation also is the primer to look for smaller rotations that may also occur during any technique. It is a sort of illustrative practice that can be returned to when the defender needs to apply tremendous amounts of power. Locating and maximizing use of the smaller rotations in a combat scenario is crucial to becoming highly proficient in any system of fighting.

Secondary Rotations

 Chudan Uchi Uke - Inner Middle Block

Chudan Uchi Uke - Inner Middle Block

These rotations become more obvious once an understanding of whole body rotation is developed. They are rotations that occur towards extended techniques, through a joint. Extended techniques are the expressions of power that manifest close to the limits of our natural physical range, typically in the arms and legs. Most blocking type motions fit into this category. For example, an inner middle block, or chudan uke, expresses rotational energy through the elbow joint. Think back on the strategic application of rotation that we discussed above: "When Confronted with Direct, Overwhelming Force, Rotate. - Rotation in any vector will dissipate and redirect oppositional energy.” By understanding our “blocks” this way, we come back to a more correct interpretation of the Japanese, “uke,” meaning “receiver, or to receive.” Chudan uke is therefore a method, or tactic, to receive and dissipate direct force at the mid-level. This is a crucial idea to grasp about all of karate and about martial systems in general. Blocks are simply a way to express this rotational concept further away from our center of mass, thereby enabling a faster and more efficient response. We can also find these secondary rotations in kicks and sweeps. For a more in depth discussion of strategy vs tactics as related to kata analysis, see: "What forms are for, and why you should study them."

Internal Rotation

 Sanchin Kata - Borrowed from KaratebyJesse.com

Sanchin Kata - Borrowed from KaratebyJesse.com

This is the third, and most complex type of rotation. It is present in all techniques, and by developing the necessary internal mechanics to apply torque forces along a linear path, truly impressive amounts of power can be demonstrated. There are entire martial styles that work on internal torsion mechanics, so we will not get deep into that discussion here. Suffice it to say that the most powerful types of internal rotations are developed by torque generated in the feet and legs, transferred up through the trunk, and out into the limbs. For illustration purposes of this type of rotation, we will look at a classic karate technique, the twisting punch. During the twisting punch, the arm is rapidly accelerated linearly along a given path towards its intended target. The twisting action amplifies the linear weight transfer of the arm by applying torque forces that will be expressed when the arm reaches its terminal extension. Torsion, or internal rotation, is an advanced method used to amplify power through torque generation.

So here’s the recap of our fighting strategy so far:

1) Forward Motion is Preferable to Backwards Motion – Move Forward to the extent possible

2) Straight Motion is Faster than Circular Motion – Drive directly to your opponent’s center along a straight line

3) When Confronted with Direct, Overwhelming Force, Rotate - Rotation in any vector will dissipate and redirect oppositional energy.

Remember that once principle 3 is completed, we are to return to one and two as quickly as possible. We can be certain of this as the order due to the techniques chosen for the pinan sandan kata, which shows rotation as a powerful tool amidst familiar linear paths from earlier kata.

What's Next?

We’ve examined rotation as a strategy, and we’ve looked at some of its particular expressions in motion. By identifying the rotational energy present in all techniques, we can take our martial efficiency to an even higher level. In the next article, we will explore how Pinan 4 addresses this newfound insight, and takes us further on our quest to become martially competent.  

 Eric and Kenny Laughing During a Partner Drill

Eric and Kenny Laughing During a Partner Drill

-By Brandon Torrellas