Article by Emanuel Giordano

This week’s article is dedicated to my friend Nicolás Pérez, who left a great void in our hearts. May he rest in peace, and may his smile be always remembered.
The junbi undo, that is the set of preparatory exercises, is (unfortunately) often underestimated in the practice of Karate. Sometimes relegated to mere warm-up exercises, it is actually fundamental for the practice of Karate, and it was also essential for the great masters of the past, as pointed out for example by masters Kyan and Miyagi in their articles. These exercises are essential for developing close range combat skills, such as muchimi-di (sticky hands. keeping contact with the opponent to control him), increasing tactile ability (through the sense of touch, being in contact with the opponent, it is possible to feel some of his movements before seeing them, perceive the variations of his center of gravity, etc.), the tai-sabaki (the ability to dodge with the body over a short distance), the meoto-de (the use joint and / or coordinated of both hands during the techniques), etc; they are also necessary to train the use of the body typical of one's style, the use of kinetic chains, the transfer of force through our body to that of the opponent (pushing or hitting), the chinkunchi (joint alignment, structure of the body and techniques), the muchimi (flexibility, elasticity), the correct use of the center of gravity and coordination of the body, etc., etc. All this, as well as a series of specific warm-up exercises for the use of the body of one's own style, is what is needed to then be able to apply the techniques and strategies learned with the study of kata (form, bunkai, applications, etc). A complete guide to all of this can be found in this video (https://bujin.tv/program/723 to view it for free, you can use the OKKITALY registration code, which gives you one month of free viewing).
Much of modern Karate has lost or replaced many traditional practices, which has led to a countertrend on the part of some Western teachers in recent years. Some of these people, whether they belong to Japanese Karate, Okinawan, or Western methods, have focused a lot on the bunkai of kata, proposing both real techniques and imaginative (but very scenic) techniques at the same time, enjoying some success among the practitioners of modern styles where these practices had almost disappeared. However, this differs greatly from real applications and the traditional Okinawan method, as well as suffers from several problems, including a serious shortcoming: kata and bunkai are based on application and use principles of the body that can only be learned through junbi undo. Not surprisingly, often, some practitioners are unable to replicate techniques seen by others, then labeling them as useless, impossible or ineffective. They fail because of their own shortcomings, the lack of the practice of junbi undo in the first place.
To make the speech simple, I will use a nice simile that I have been using for several years to explain all this: imagine a drill with its bits and accessories. There are bits for piercing wood, others for metal, still others for walls, there are circular blades for making very large holes, etc. Each tool has a different function, and can be cheap or of good quality. These tools, whether excellent or not, are totally useless without having a drill to use them. Here, the bits and tools are the techniques and strategies that are learned with the study of kata (bunkai and applications included), while the drill is the set of skills developed through junbi undo. Also, the more you have also practiced hojo undo, the more powerful the drill motor (your strength) will be. In a nutshell, you can't pierce anything if you are missing even just one of the following: the tools (techniques / strategies learned from kata), the drill motor (strength developed through hojo undo) and the drill itself (skills developed with the junbi undo). Studying only kata and bunkai, and thinking that you can use them, is like trying to pierce a wall by manually rubbing a drill bit against the bricks. Someone will laugh at this simile, but even the masters of the past used similar ones to make themselves understood by everyone. On the other hand, if you really know a topic, you need to be able to explain it to a child too.
However, junbi undo is not the same for everyone. As already mentioned, the different styles of Karate, and sometimes the different schools of the same style, adopt different strategies, uses of the body and techniques. The principles, although similar, are sometimes exploited in different ways. An ad hoc and not casual preparation is therefore necessary. The Okinawan Traditional Karate schools continue to pass on these exercises internally, and it makes little sense to try to copy them if you don't practice that type of Karate. Exercises of Shorin-ryu or Goju-ryu do not suit other styles. It goes without saying that adding exercises from other martial arts (often Chinese) makes even less sense, since they are based on different methods and techniques. It is true that Kakie-di and Tui-shou have similar purposes, but they are different exercises, just like Kaki-di (now also cataloged in Okinawa among the exercises of Kakie-di) and Chi-sao. Undoubtedly knowing the exercises of other martial arts enriches culturally, but this does not mean that you have to include in your practice exercises that are alien to your style.
Yes, sports Karate also has its own junbi undo, although it is clearly different from that of traditional Karate. The two disciplines, one sport, the other martial art, have in fact different purposes and, therefore, different methods. Although even today there are masters of sport Karate who deny the difference between Karate and sport Karate, it is evident to anyone with a minimum of experience and intellectual honesty! In any case, the junbi undo of sport Karate is nothing more than a part of what we now call athletic training, a practice that includes preparatory exercises (junbi undo), and strengthening exercises (hojo undo).
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)