Sukui

As I mentioned a while back, I very rarely post anything on actual technique. I don’t think that this format is a good way to approach it. There is a saying in some Chinese arts: the teacher puts the art in the student with his hands. It is only through tactile communication that a martial art can actually be taught. Video or audio, spoken or written, no other source is able to transmit the practical details of any martial art. That doesn’t mean however that other media are never useful. If nothing else, they give folks a place to share thoughts and thought experiments. This is one of those.

In our Goju Ryu, as well as other Okinawan arts, there is a technique often referred to as sukui uke, usually translated as scooping block. (Terminology is an issue in karate. The same term is also used for a low sweeping block, often used against a kick, and probably other things…) It is an open hand technique, rising from low to high, palm first. In the classical Goju kata it is almost always accompanied by the other hand moving from high to low, palm or wrist first, both hands moving at the same time and the body square to the front, most often with a step forward with the rising hand side. Like this:

I would draw a distinction between a sukui uke, with a vertical rise, and a kake uke (or high ura uke) with the back of the wrist or hand, like this:

The hand position is the same but in the latter the hand moves into and then out from the center line, almost like a standard chudan uke. The point is not the hand position but the way it moves.

In the Goju kata, depending on the teacher, the sukui uke is in saifa, sesan, kururunfa, suparinpe, and possibly seiunchin. (Depending on the teacher again, the same spot in kata may be a sukui uke or a kake/ura uke.)

I remember Oshiro Yuzuru sensei of the Shodokan, a student of Higa Seiko’s who recently passed away, checking my basics and remarking that it was really important to have a good sukui uke. He said it was “an essential part of Goju Ryu”. (Mine needed work…) But in general people’s applications for it are absurd. Many start with a punch attack and end looking something like this:

Intercepting an attack with the palm of your hand and lifting it upwards? Seems unlikely. I what is probably a response to this improbability people then create other applications using it to deflect or hook attacks. But if it is supposed to be an angled deflection across the center line, like a nagashi uke, it certainly doesn’t move like that in kata. And if you are hooking the block to deflect or trap an attack to the outside like a kake or ura uke it is no longer a sukui uke. And it isn’t accompanied by an angled or side body shift away from the block in any of the kata (saifa even moves sideways towards it) so it isn’t that you evade and lift. So if you are lifting, how can it be an essential part of anything, except getting yourself hit?

I posted a while back about using a mawashi geri in the clinch. This is similar. At punching or dueling range this technique is really hard to use. I bet that is one reason it is often switched for a kake or ura uke- they can be used against an incoming punch or push. But training habits have rendered the sukui uke, an “essential” technique, not only useless, but also rather mysterious.

By training applications of the kata movements primarily against ballistic attacks starting from out of contact range you get a very different set of options than you do working from contact. As I said in the earlier post, one major similarity between Goju and many southern Chinese systems is the tight range at which they work. And by maintaining that range in training, for example from a pushing hands type platform, an array of standing grappling techniques in the kata become much more obvious.

So, from a punch or push coming from outside contact range the sukui uke is either rather silly or has to be re-engineered to be useful. But from a clinch or similar two handed contact position it gets a lot more useful as is. For example, start from a two handed neutral position (the “attacker’s” right forearm under the defender’s left, the attacker’s left forearm on top of the defender’s right) like this:

Keeping it simple, from this position do a 2 handed sukui uke movement- the sukui uke is done with the right hand: it stays under the elbow or upper arm and lifts; the left hand stays on top of the other arm and pulls in and down at the elbow. Like most of the Goju kata versions, at the same time you can step forward with the right foot, making sure the left foot remains rooted. Like this:

So instead of an improbable upward catch of a ballistic attack or a variant of a kake or ura uke, the sukui uke as done in kata acts to uproot and control the opponent. There are other applications (an arm break is one of my favorites) but the idea of splitting and uprooting, essentially using float, sink, spit, and swallow together in this technique, is much clearer at contact range. If you do this kind of training, it starts to look a lot more like an “essential” technique.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s