Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Think of being in this scenario: you are in a crowded room in which a lot of people are grabbing at you. In order to get away, you have to cross the room. The exit is at the opposite end. Standing there assessing the situation, you suddenly get grabbed.

In the opening movement of Empi you're standing with your hands at the left hip, right fist on top of left. I've seen several openings from here. The first question is, though, why are the hands in that position? I originally had it explained to me that it was holding a sword in guard position. I never believed that explanation.

I've always interpreted that as a joint lock, in that you've grasped a person - maybe by their head in a headlock, or perhaps you have someone in a wrist grab or joint lock. At any rate, the real meaning is lost to antiquity and forever open to interpretation.

Let's suppose, in the opening movement, and I want you to try this (but make sure your partner knows how to do a front roll, otherwise you might, and I mean this very seriously, break their neck) that your opponent has grabbed you in a rear overarm bear hug, or in a muggers hold (they are behind you and have one arm around your neck). You do the first movement - twist and drop to one knee, quickly. Make sure you keep your back straight. I guarantee you that your opponent will fly over your shoulder. If you interpret the hand movement as a grasp (of them), when they fly over your shoulder and you are holding on to them, you can direct how they fall, plus you can add to their distress. When you practice this with another person don't grab on to them. Be very, very sure they know to tuck their chin and do a forward roll. I almost broke a black belt’s neck while demonstrating this opening movement on him. Tuck the chin.

So you've thrown the opponent who grabbed you from behind and perhaps snapped their neck. You come back up and down block a person's strike coming from the side. Your down block turns into a grasp and, as you shift into horse stance, you pull them into your quick jab punch to their ribs, aiming for and breaking the floating rib.

You next face an opponent from the front and strike at their face. They grab your wrist and pull you in. You go with the pull to fool them, since they think you're going to pull away, and knock them off balance. Using a sliding down block, you knock their grasp from your wrist. If you strike them on the notch of their wrist, you can temporarily paralyze their hand, or you might just break their wrist.

I don't do a stomping kick as I move forward in the movement. If you do, then the stomping kick would be coming down on their thigh, shin or instep. This would make it easier to get out of the wrist grab.

In the kata you repeat this set of techniques in different directions, meaning, I think, that people are grabbing at you from different directions and so you're getting them off you. Then you come to block in front stance, put your arm up and, with your right forearm hit your left palm.

I interpret this movement to mean that after getting people off your wrists you grab a person by the back of their head and smash their face with your forearm. Your leg movement is a stomping kick to the side against their thigh, knee, shin, and/or instep and so the kick serves to set up the forearm strike to the face. The movement of coming onto one leg helps to deliver more strength (putting your body in) to the blow.

You face another opponent to the front and deliver two quick strikes. Then you turn to the side and do a sequence of moves striking and moving in back stance. I have come to the conclusion that back stance knife hand strike is incredibly multi-purpose.

If you step into a person in back stance and have your front leg on the back side of their leg, the knife hand strike will serve to topple them over backward. If your stance is to their front, then your knife hand strike is to their back to knock them over onto their face. Work this with your partner. Do it to both sides. If, for example, you step into them with your right foot forward and to their back side, your right hand strikes them in the chest and they fall backwards over your leg. You have to be in close, so step in.

The series continues with the down blocks serving to knock the opponents grasp off your wrist.

You then come to the sequence of being in front stance and using upward and downward pushing movements with your hands. I was told this was to block a bo staff. And it does. I suspect, given the times, the movements did block long sticks. It's also the same movements I learned to strip a rifle from someone. You push up on the barrel, shoving it into their face while you pull down and in, toward you, on the stock, stripping them of the rifle.

The kata ends with a throw. You down block to check their forward momentum, grabbing their lower body at the waist, the crotch or wherever you can, and also grabbing their upper body with your other hand at their chest, lapels, shoulder, or hair and, using their still moving forward off-balance momentum, throw them past you.

I've read where the jump is actually you stepping over a fallen body. If you think of the jump in the kata as simulating the torque developed by the action of quickly turning your body while throwing them past you, you can readily realize just how far you can toss a person. You might be able to chuck him well into the room, knocking down others.

You step backwards, in back stance, safely out the door at the opposite side of the room.

Tell me what you think - after you've practiced with a partner. Be careful not to hurt each other. If you don't know how to do forward rolls, learn how before practicing the opening movement. Don’t hurt anyone practicing this.