Kamae In Karate

Chris Rowen 08 020

Kamae In Karate


A great kata, with a long history, Wanshu is one of the most popular forms amongst Okinawan karate systems.  We were about to study the Wado Ryu version.

The kata is said to have been named after a Chinese envoy to Okinawa who was a martial artist. It is believed that it originated in China around 1690, making it one of the oldest forms. Wanshu was primarily used around the village of Tomari and therefore, part of the Tomari-Te karate system.

The forms other Chinese name, Empi translates as ‘flying swallow’. The quick striking, grasping and pulling movements resemble the rapid change of direction in the flight of a swallow hunting.

With the throwing technique at the end of the form it has been called the ‘dumping form’, with striking it’s been referred to as the ‘strong arm’ form and movements have also been likened to the whip of a dragon’s tail.

With a history like that how could you not enjoy it!  It begins with the yin yang fist position down at the hip, making it different to all the other kata in the style.

We all took the yin yang fist position.


Trying to combine power with the rapid changes of direction is difficult, but the kata has a very strong rhythm that helps you develop power alongside the quick movements.  The techniques are ingeniously designed to complement each other and this produces a natural fluidity that makes Wanshu a pleasure to practice.

It was like skiing down a slalom slope, once you’ve started at the right pace – you can’t stop moving, it’s like one portion of energy keeps you moving right up to the end of the kata.


We stopped and I looked around at all the other happy, sweaty faces waiting on Sensei’s further instruction or advice.

“The movement was fluid and sharp – but it lacked intention.”

“If it was fluid and sharp, how can you tell it lacked intention?”

“By your kamae.”

Kamae? That’s a soap ennit?”

“No – it’s often translated as ‘posture’ or ‘pose’ of the whole body, but it also encompasses our martial mind and attitude.  The English word ‘attitude’ is probably a good translation as it includes both mind and body.”

“What was lacking in our ‘attitude’ or kamae?”

“The right kind of intention.  We use the term ‘hunters mindset’, watch the tiger or any predatory animal on the hunt, its mind is focused on one thing – dinner.”

“When I think about my dinner during kata – it distracts me!”

“That’s because you don’t have to hunt it.  However we do have the capacity for a predatory mindset.  The point is that an animal on the hunt is not thinking about how it looks – it’s not thinking about what others think of it, it’s not moving mindlessly, it’s focused on one thing – and that’s the kill.  If you look at the kamae of an animal on the hunt there’s no excessive tension, the mind is focused on the prey in an alive and responsive way.  It’s dispassionate.  If you could look in its eyes you would see the intent – the eyes guide the intention and draw the energy from the spine over the head to help create the kamae.”

“But this kata is about a swallow!”

“Some of the ‘darting’ type of movements reflect those of a swallow, thus the name, but the martial arts always reflect all the major animals all of time.”

“How so?”

“For instance the head, neck and eyes are like the tiger reflecting the way he hunts, the torso and arms like the crane in the way the torso moves to ‘flap’ the wings (arms) defensively and the relationship of the hips parallel to the floor winds along like a snake.

This is not exclusive, as these and many of the other animals crop up everywhere in the martial arts to teach us how to use a technique and more importantly the mind and attitude with which to work.”

“Like the swallow in Wanshu?”

“Exactly!  As we have a natural empathy with animals it’s easier to create their mindset and attitude than it is to try and explain and create it from a scientific standpoint. As we have developed from reptile to mammal to human, we can still access these parts of our nature.”

“Might this turn us into cold blooded killers?”

“No, because we’re human and able to reflect on our actions.  We also study the way of the pen (philosophy) along with the sword, this means that we are able to use our imagination, focus our mind and access these parts of our nature and cultivate them that would otherwise surprise us at exactly the wrong time.

We have to decide to be the hunter and not the victim and train that part of ourselves until it becomes second nature.  Adrenaline then becomes our friend instead of our enemy and provides the necessary energy in an emergency rather than freezing our body.”

“How are we going to train that?”

“In everything we do. These ‘ideas’ should be permeating every thought and action we make until they become a part of us.  We need to transfer the idea from understanding it in our mind to owning it with our

Kata reveals your innermost self to one who knows what they are looking at.  When you start moving, you cannot hide what’s going on inside.”

“Guess we’ll just have to ‘swallow’ and do it again then sensei?”

“I guess you will you little monkey…..”

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