by Geoff Crouse
I had the good fortune of doing a Zoom workout with Aaron Willette (3rd dan; Vancouver, BC) this morning and he asked me which aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku are unique to Sensei Nakamatsu’s (9th dan; Kitanakagusuku-son, Okinawa) system of Uechi-Ryu training besides the hip training and the block. I found his question to be an interesting one, in that it sent us both down the path of discussing other technical aspects that are somewhat “unique” to the way Sensei Nakamatsu teaches Uechi-Ryu karate beyond the hip and the block. I explained other technical aspects of the training that are unique such as the use of the legs and especially the back leg for the generation of power. I talked about wrenching the shoulders back and focusing on the structural position of the shoulder as a source of power that connects the entire technique to the back heal being grounded 2 inches into the floor. I talked about the timing of the punch being released only after the hip has been totally torqued into the target. I began discussing the unique nature of the kick.
Frankly, I could have gone on for hours discussing various “unique” aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku training accept I ran into a problem.
I explained the speed of lifting the heel and torquing it as close to the hip while bending the supporting leg and how to torque the hip prior to releasing the kick. For those of you who have trained with me, you can imagine that I discussed the power driving from the supporting leg, the speed of the release, the all-important “hajike” return of the kick, and posting a strong finish.
So what is the problem?
Well, as I broke down the elements that make a powerful shomen-geri (front kick), I realized that Sensei Nakamatsu never taught me that. His training method on the shomen-geri, at least as I learned it from him in the 90s, was more traditional. I had actually taken the mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) technique that the late and truly great, Nobuhiro Higa, had taught me in Okinawa in the late 90s. Through my individual practice I had incorporated the techniques that Nobuhiro had shown me into my shomen-geri throughout the 2000s. I remember training with him in 2012 and he complimented me on the speed and power of my shomen-geri and said he had trouble blocking it because he kept expecting a mawashi-geri. When I told him I learned it from him, he looked perplexed. I must say it was a highlight of my karate practice to show Nobuhiro how I had taken his mawashi-geri technique and adapted it to the shomen-geri. The best part was when he started practicing it and adopted it too.
That fun Nobuhiro story aside, I realized in my conversation with Aaron that the technical differences in the techniques, many of them slight and nuanced, and all of them interpretations and teaching methods, were not the essence of what makes Jiteki-Jyuku unique.
The only true difference between Jiteki-Jyuku and other training methods of Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do is in the name: self-reliance. Jiteki-Jyuku can be translated as self-reliance, but the meaning of the Kanji is deeper in that it means having the confidence to find one’s own path.
When I lived and trained in Okinawa, it was a very common occurrence to enter Mr. Nakamatsu’s dojo on Monday or Friday night prior to formal class and find Sensei training on his own with the lights out as he broke down his movements and explored his technique for new findings and deeper understanding of his technique.
I am aware of the fact that many, perhaps most, Uechi-Ryu practitioners disagree with my interpretation of the shomen-geri. Many practitioners disagree with Sensei Nakamatsu’s hip technique or his block technique. These are perhaps the most common visible differences in the way Sensei teaches Uechi-Ryu. However, the discussion of technique actually misses the point. The brilliance of Sensei Nakamatu and the beauty of Jiteki-Jyuku is not the technique, but rather the path to learning it. Sensei Nakamatsu’s gift to all of us is that by breaking down the technique and the process to learn good technique, he is teaching us to explore for ourselves. He hasn’t developed a new form of Uechi-Ryu at all. What he has given us is a much more powerful methodology to learn and enjoy our practice. He has shown us that karate-do is not a technique; it is an art. As with all art, it starts with many years of practice and evolves into a powerful form of self-expression.
The essence of Jiteki-Jyuku is self-exploration. Karate-do is an art form that we explore together, yes, but perhaps more importantly one must explore alone also to find self-expression. Relying on one’s self and indulging in self-exploration: that is the essence of self-reliance, that is Jiteki-Jyuku.
Jiteki-Jyuku is art in its purest form. It is the path to self-expression.