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According to this video, Tekki Shodan starts from a guard position pronounced "kamai". I'm not sure what the actual spelling is, but a google search shows that "kamae" means posture. To me, it sounds too general to mean specifically guard position, and even more specifically, Tekki Shodan's opening posture (hands open, palms down, left on top of right).

What is the actual name for this specific position, and how is it spelt in English? What is this position meant to train?

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    "Kamae" does indeed refer to a generic stance or posture, and is often used to describe a "ready state" rather than an actual posture. In the video, the guy also mentions that this specific kamae starts in the "heisoku dachi" stance, but where you thrust your hands in front of you to ward off and/or intercept attacks. – Dungarth May 16 at 19:36
  • @Dungarth: Thanks for clarifying. I was thinking that the specific kamae has a very specific purpose. If one were simply trying to be ready for a front kick or a low punch, it would be far from ideal for those attacks. – user2153235 May 16 at 21:07
  • @user2153235 I've changed my answer to fit your clarification on your question. – Steve Weigand May 16 at 22:53
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The question is: What is the purpose of the hand salutation at the beginning of Tekki 1 (Naihanchi 1)?

Here's a video showing the whole form:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAkA5zAosC4

One possible answer is: It's a bear hug defense.

There are other interpretations (bunkai) for this movement, but that one makes the most sense to me.

If you're new to kata bunkai, you should look at some of my other answers to explain what bunkai is in general, and why Shotokan might not teach it as it was taught in Okinawan karate:

Why is more time dedicated to exercises and very less for sparring? Is it for the fee?

Name and meaning of stance where you stand with fists on hips?

Styles of Karate

Getting back to the first position of Tekki 1:

How is this a bear hug defense?

Imagine someone is behind you giving you a bear hug. He has pinned your arms to your body. What do you do?

The first movement of the kata is the "salute" position where you have both hands open, palms facing down, one on top of the other. You're holding your hands out on a diagonal angle away from your body here. That's the first position.

In styles of karate that derive from Tomari-te lineages, such as Wado-ryu, you can see an extra flourish on this salute:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mps0gJ8w8iE

In that version, you'll see there's a lot more going on here. There's a big circle you complete with your arms. And you perform the hands together motion (the salute) not just low but high first before going low.

Furthermore, notice how his elbows go upwards in the next movement after that, shrugging as he's stepping out.

These movements imply this bear hug defense a lot more strongly than Tekki 1 does.

The motion you make with your hands pressing down in Tekki 1 is the end of a motion that's used to break the bear hug hold, or at least in order to free your arms from being pinned. It has been simplified in Tekki 1 to the point where it's completely hidden.

I'll explain...

Imagine you're being held in a bear hug. Your arms are pinned tightly to your body. What do you do? Bring your hands together and slide them up your belly, under his grip. Breathe out. You're trying to move your hands upwards along your center line, wedging them under his arms. Once you get your hands above his arms, you can push down on his grip at his wrists.

By pushing your elbows outwards and upwards (shrugging), you are applying leverage against his hold, making it harder for him to maintain it.

At this point, your hands go back down. They will land on top of his wrists, your left hand on the top of his left wrist. Your right hand on top of his right wrist. Now, push straight down. It is designed to break his hold and open up his arms, thereby releasing you.

In some versions of this kata, your butt shoves backwards as you do this, and you lean slightly forwards. That is done to give you even more leverage against his bear hug grip.

I didn't describe what that big circle motion was at the beginning of Wado-ryu's kata version. It's not in most other styles of karate. I think it was added on to the tomari-te version only, but I could be wrong. And my opinion is that it is also concerned with bear hug defense, but clearly your arms aren't pinned here, because they can make that sweeping circle motion. That means it was probably done to prevent the bear hug in the first place, when you first start to feel him reaching around you. And then you grab onto his wrists and bring them down low. Either that or the bear hug was done without pinning your arms, and then you're going to take your hands and place them on top of his wrists, which gives you the same starting position as before.

So getting back to Tekki 1, that opening salute is really an encoded technique for dealing with a bear hug. You're pushing down on his wrists after getting your hands up and out of being pinned against your body. That will break his grip, opening up his arms. From there, you step out to the side. That frees you from the bear hug.

So you've used leverage to break his grip at its weakest point. Then you've created an opening. Then you're stepping through the opening to avoid his bear hug.

Now, Tekki and Naihanchi are all done on a line with the horse stance. That doesn't mean your applications will all be in a line just like that. Your opponent is not always to the side of you. But in order to get to an opponent, it's just assumed you will turn to face them and then do the technique that's shown in the kata. The kata isn't doing that for you. It was designed to teach, not to be a perfect representation of reality. It shows you the bare technique and nothing more. Then a good teacher would tell you how to interpret it and apply it in the real world.

And so when you step out to the side in the first step you take in the kata, the guy is still behind you. So you're going to pivot and turn around to face him as you do this.

Now you are facing him and have your right forearm checking (pressing against) his right forearm. That allows you to sense what he's doing and to prevent him from attacking you with his right arm. Your next technique is an elbow strike with your left arm, slapping it into your right hand.

Where does that elbow strike hit? Whenever you slap a strike into a hand, it typically means that the open hand is grabbing something and holding it there for you to hit with the other hand. In this case, you're reaching up to grab his head. Then you're slamming it with your elbow. Ouch!

Where you target on the head is up to you. Pretty much anywhere is going to hurt. Think about the nose, the temple, the jaw, or the base of the spine.

This is one of the most highly revered kata in shorin-ryu. It contains one nasty move after another. Almost everything here is designed for maximal impact. Bone breaking is a central theme. There are stories of karate masters who only practiced Naihanchi and nothing else, for decades. To them, these kata encapsulate the essence of karate.

Hope that helps.

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  • I was wondering if insight can be shed on the particular position at the very start of Tekki Shodan, before movement begins. It's a guard against something, but not an ideal position for receiving a low kick or low punch. My interest is so that I can do more than go through the motions, but to do so with intent. I just don't know what the intent is. – user2153235 May 16 at 21:09
  • @user2153235 Done. – Steve Weigand May 16 at 22:53
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    @user2153235 Yes, the amount of noise on this subject is high. And a beginner can't tell who knows it for real. I often do start with the idea that there's some self-defense thing going on here, and so what could it possibly be? And I rely on my knowledge of classical jujitsu to guide me. Because there's only so many ways the body can move and a finite number of self-defense situations. Sometimes it's pretty obvious what's going on. Sometimes it's not. And when you think you have something, go out and watch videos of others' bunkai. Take away whatever makes the most sense. My advice. – Steve Weigand May 17 at 4:45
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    One of the most frequent explanations I see out there for this opening salute, especially the variations where you're first moving your hands together up high and then going low in this salute, is: "I'm showing you my empty hands. I come in peace." Another one I've seen is: "I am hiding my true power." These kinds of explanations are kind of hilarious to me. :) – Steve Weigand May 17 at 16:10
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    @SteveWeigand - one of my late instructors (in an offshoot of Shorin-Ryu) basically spent his last 20 years studying the Naihanchi series. He felt that the common interpretation of the opening move as a bear hug defense was flawed, and most likely a modern "retcon". The series rely heavily on trapping and stand up grappling, and he felt that this interpretation basically helped your opponent turn the bear hug into a rear naked choke or hadaka-jime by sliding his arms upwards toward your neck (this is especially evident in Naihanchi nidan). He felt that a trained grappler wouldn't want this. – Dungarth May 17 at 17:58
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I'd like to broadly endorse Steve's answer, but also add some possible context.

The kata actually starts at what the instructor calls "the oi", which is the ready posture referred to by Dungarth in the comments.

So, what is this a guard against? To give a somewhat zen answer: everything and nothing. Or in other words, nothing specific. In this position you are ready to move into any position that is necessary to counter the incoming attack. I think this really helps to emphasise the point that:

  • a kata is simply a set of predetermined moves that maps out a series of individual attacks/defenses (with the defence actually being an attack)
  • any part of a kata should be able to be used in isolation

Many other traditional kata start from the attention position - this helps emphasize their opening move. I'd also suggest that the reason why this kata doesn't start from that position is because it's origins are older.

not an ideal position for receiving a low kick or low punch.

You are right, but keep in mind that you would never stay in that position as the attack comes in - you would shift into and use one of the moves from the kata. From an historical perspective, when that kata was invented there was little evidence that high kicks were used, you could argue that the practitioners only ever encountered low kicks - yet they still started in that position.

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  • Thanks for the context. I think the genericness of the movements (everything and nothing) is one of the big challenges for trainees. In order to practice with the right intent and nuanced emphasis, I believe that most people require concrete visualization (if that term isn't too much of a contradiction). – user2153235 May 17 at 0:41
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    @user2153235 What you term "study the intent" is actually known as bunkai - the meaning/intent/purpose of the individual moves within a kata or pattern. – slugster May 17 at 1:57
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    Yes, every so often, I binge on bunkai videos. Some of them see quite far from the kata motion itself, and it is hard to reconcile the movement with the demonstrated bunkai when performing the kata itself. I do try to put the emphasis on power/speed depending on the intended function of a move -- not in bunkai, but in the kata. I haven't had the opportunity to practice bunkai for decades now, so my options are limited. Even when I was with a club, though, the opportunities for bunkai (much less being the person in the middle) were much less than practicing kata. – user2153235 May 17 at 2:39
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    The instructor would be calling it "the yooi". Predictive text might have bitten you here! :) – Graham May 17 at 13:02

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