Okuri-tsuki, deadly technique? 

or does it even exist?

 by D Kirkham
Article first Published (May 2012) Issue # 47

What is okuri-tsuki? Hopefully this article will unravel any misconceptions that surround this under used technique. The word okuri in this application was initially referred to as meaning (to slide) and is probably the main reason why it is still occasionally, yet wrongly confused with and mistaken for as being a form of nagashi tsuki (flowing punch). Many of the instructors in the early days came to Karate after having had a period of study in and attaining rankings in other oriental arts such as Judo and Kendo. Judo have a technique called okuri ashi barai, which is (the sliding leg sweep), while Kendo have a specialised footwork technique named okuri ashi (sliding leg)Fig 1 which is a key part of Kendo's tactical armoury. This shizen tai footwork technique is important in Kendo because it permits the Kendo-ka to move extremely quickly forwards and backwards with only the minimum of "dead time", which is a highly pertinent concept to bear in mind as it is very relevant to understanding the essence of the okuri tsuki technique.

Combining the previous influences from other art forms that the instructors had, with the complexity and too often ambiguity of the Japanese language, the reluctance of some, not all of the Japanese instructors to give detailed explanations to their gaijin students, of the names, concepts and meanings of every technique that they displayed and taught us; which in their defence was due in the main to their limitations in speaking the English language in their early pioneering days. These factors could go a long way in explaining the controversy and confusion that surrounds this very useful and powerful technique.

Okuri-tsuki is a punching technique that is delivered and reaches its target between the firm placements of ones launching and landing stances, connecting with its target whilst ones body weight is still on the move. The in transit nature of the technique is what makes it difficult for some people to identify, classify, and perform; equally it is that in transit nature, the maximising of ones accelerated forward moving momentum which makes it such a powerful hard hitting technique. It's not a variation of oi tsuki, kizami tsuki, nagashi tsuki nor gyaku tsuki, but understandably it can be easily mistaken for these techniques, because it does resemble a poorly coordinated oi tsuki, or an over stretched gyaku tsuki where the rear foot isn't firmly rooted upon impact; therefore, identifying it for some is often difficult as its characteristic delivery speed masks what is actually going on. Its runaway freight train effect is dependent upon a couple of things; the timing of the launch of the punch, if there is any assistance from the forward projection of ones opponent to factor in, and of course, the proficiency of its performer. It's not a new technique more than it is a neglected and over looked technique for many of the reasons that were explained above. In my experience its kihon practice is neglected because it doesn't obviously appear in kata nor as a grading syllabus requirement, due to its more agricultural and practical functionality for use in jissen and jiyu kumite; therefore, it is easy to mistake it for an abbreviated or quirky variation of some other tsuki. That's why this rendering of the George Berkeley philosophical question is raised, "if a technique isn't practiced often and nobody observes it, then does it exist?"

Among the accomplished exponents of okuri tsuki, was the late Steve Cattle, who was by the way, instrumental in my introduction to its benefits; others worthy of note are the late Mr Kase and Mr Enoeda, T.Naka and T.Yamaguchi.

While the overall technique is somewhat Kamakaze looking in appearance, the underlying tactics employed are of equal importance to its success as the mechanics of the technique itself. The tactics involved are; selecting the correct mind set prior to delivery, timing, line and direction. Whilst the technique can be delivered using a permutation of various tactics, the most commonly used and most devastating results can be achieved by using a combination of "ikken hisatsu", "sen no sen" and "irimi", therefore delivery of the technique in this example is done directly in the forwards direction.

Ikken hisatsu (to kill with one blow), this mind set concept is yet another area that is misunderstood and overplayed due to the nature of and the delusional wholesale acceptance of its alluring translation. It does not have to and in reality rarely does end in the death of the opponent with one blow as the common translation would misleadingly suggest. Therefore, for the purpose of this article and for brevity, if one accepts that in this instance "to kill with one blow" actually means "to make the technique that you are about to deliver the decisive technique that will end the conflict". By using this definition for the mind set concept of "ikken hisatsu" then one is actually asking the performer to have 100% commitment to the success of the technique that they are about to deliver and for them to hold onto that thought as paramount in their thinking throughout the techniques performance. Earlier Steve Cattle was mentioned as an accomplished exponent of this technique; and if you were around during his best competitive years then you would have seen exactly what 100% commitment in delivery and in the belief of the success of the technique looked like. The technique can be delivered using the Go no sen concept which is "seizing the initiative later" by blocking then countering after the attack has been thrown. But commonly okuri tsuki is seen as in this example using Sen no sen, "seizing the initiative early". Which is not necessarily where one makes the first move but more often involves one intending to counter precisely at the same time that your opponents attack is being launched; however, in actuality that means as soon as your reflex action allows you to respond once you register that their attack has been initiated.  In other oriental fighting arts there are various lines taken by the attacker and the defender and in Aikido in particular there  are a couple of approaches that are worthy of note, they are Tenkan which is to convert, or divert either your or your opponents projected momentum, this is more complex than, but almost similar in nature to karates' tai sabaki; and then there is the very potent Irimi which is the entering straight into a technique approach, where one can strike at an opponent effectively with great force, by combining their attacking momentum with one's own forward momentum, as is the intention in this example. Where does the sliding in take place, in okuri tsuki? After one observes the technique, one could never describe it as being of a sliding motion, as it loudly screams out that it is more of a high octane, high speed and powerful driving collision of a movement. The okuri name occurs after kamae-te and refers to the essential preparatory footwork of okuri ashi, Fig 1 that is used to gain territorial advantage and to ensure that the correct launching distance is obtained for this long range tsuki technique. Therefore, okuri tsuki is a name that doesn't just describe the stand alone punch, but it describes the tactical footwork that is used, footwork which is taken from another fighting art, the tactic of using the sliding leg (okuri ashi). What makes okuri tsuki so effective? Is it the unusual nature of its timing and delivery, which generates high speed with the minimum amount of "dead time"?  Probably! But as in every walk of life there is a pay off to be made for every gain, in this example the pay off for increased speed and reduced "dead time" is a loss in stability upon impact with the target, as it generally occurs when one is stood on one leg whilst in mid flight. This loss in stability is due to the body's full commitment and its follow through motion; when compared to that of say a conventional oi tsuki or gyaku tsuki.

With the tactics firmly in place and the correct distance gained using okuri ashi, then let's take a stage by stage approach as to describing the execution of the technique itself.

As we are using "ikken hisatsu", "sen no sen" and "irimi" therefore, we will be stepping forwards to deliver the technique.

 1. Assume a right foot forward kamae-te. Fig 2

2. Use okuri ashi to gain advantage to ensure that the correct launching distance is obtained. Fig 1

3. Quickly rotate the hips from hanmi to sokumen and begin to punch jodan tsuki with the left hand, slightly before you start to move the left leg (do-kyaku) forwards. Fig 2 A 

So far you can see why initially it may look like a static gyaku tsuki, however, where in gyaku tsuki one is expected to keep the body perpendicular throughout the hip rotation, and any forward projection and extension is achieved by the distance the stance travels and the bending of the knee of the front leg; whereas in okuri tsuki, ones forward projection is achieved by leaning slightly forward into the target. Fig 2 B

Note unlike gyaku tsuki, the coordinated hikite and the firmly planted back foot is not present throughout.

4. Fig 2 C Shows a side view just prior to impact; this is the phase where the left leg (do-kyaku) starts driving towards ones over stretched centre of gravity point.

5. The left leg (do-kyaku) has now reached the body's balanced centre of gravity point and the body is perpendicular, it is at this point when the explosive collision impact of the punch occurs. Fig 2 D  

Note how the left leg (do-kyaku) is still moving and not on the floor.

6. After the impact one should snap back the left hand and firmly place down the left leg (do-kyaku) Fig 2 E

7. In readiness assume a left leg forward kamae-te.

  okuri ashi Shotokan Karate Union www.dklsltd.com/SKU 

       Fig 1


okuri tsuki Shotokan Karate Union www.dklsltd.com/SKU

    Fig 2


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