Meotode & Tachugwa: Posturing in martial arts

A topic that has been recurring this week is the use of meotode and tachugwa.

Meotode refers to the concept of a mutually supportive partnership of the hands. The lead arm is held forward with the rear hand connected or hovering at the elbow. The move appears in Naihanchi, but also in many Shorin kata. It has a striking semblance to the old ‘Queensbury rules’ boxing pose.

In Shuri-te It’s a concept; a very practical way of using the hands.

Some people say that the front hand should strike and the rear hand deal with defence but this limits the technique’s potential. Both hands can switch it about as the situation needs.

When we relax the pose then it’s easy to adopt a less confrontational posture. Such as a contemplative one with a hand cupping the chin and the other folded across the chest.

Tachugwa relates more to the feet but includes the overall posture.

“Te means ‘hand’ but the real technique is in the feet.”

Physiology plays such a huge part in martial arts and defence. When people ‘square up’ to fight (of course many attacks do not unfold this way too) there is a lot to gain about their fighting style from their posture. You can also gain a lot from the way they hold their hands.

Tachugwa implies the notion of ‘rising to the peak’. In the early stages of training the heels are lifted and the posture is an upright one to the crown of the head. Later, the heels can come down a little so that it is almost imperceptible.

The posture evolves out of Onna-dachi, or ‘women’s stance’, and it relates to the soft, yielding principles of Te. Onna-dachi is the ‘rooted’ meditative version of tachugwa.

Both rooted and unrooted footwork have a purpose in martial arts.

Typical karate kata teach rooted footwork methods. Before a trainee can become ‘free’ they will need to have sense of feeling grounded. Some trainees arrive at the dojo having first studied elsewhere and may already be grounded. For this reason not everyone is introduced to kata training.

Am I saying we could do away with kata? Yes. If you want to. It’s certainly not necessary to learn kata in order to gain confidence in defence. Nor will studying kata too deeply lead to effective defence techniques in themselves. Kata are to be transcended.

Te proper has no kata. It uses a different way of rooting in the basic training.

[As a side note, the reason I teach some kata is because not everyone is ready to transcend form when they first come to learn Te. I teach Tachimura-ha Shuri-te for this reason.]

“form is one thing, combat is another”
Funakoshi

If we look at the posture of these early sketches from the first Europeans in Okinawa it is possible to see the prevalence of Te amongst the middle and upper-classes. It’s so subtle that it led to the art being out of the ‘public eye’ for so long that it was considered an extinct fighting art. All of them are standing in the Te stance (also referenced in Funakoshi’s early works as T-stance and later Choji-dachi).

Each image depicts the subject with a potential weapon in the lead hand and the posture presents a profile or ‘side on’ approach. (The kiseru smoking pipe, parasol, fan and Ryukyuan hairpin were all discreet weapons of defence in a time when carrying swords in public was prohibited).

The bottom left image is of someone from the peasant class. What’s relevant is in each example the artists clearly was recognising a distinction in the way people of different classes held themselves.

These dancers preserved the footwork and hara driven hand gestures of at the core of the art perfectly. Kumiodori performances were, until recent times, reserved exclusively for the eyes of visiting envoys and those inside the environment of Shuri palace.

The liberated footwork of Te often appears too light to be effective against someone trained in a more grounded approach but actually the opposite is true. Grounded stances are referred to as ‘dead stances’ in Te. Their purpose is to ‘ground’ the trainee in the early stages; physically, mentally, emotionally – but once a trainee gains this rootedness the power is elevated and extended from the hara to the fingertips.

With Tachugwa, and the means of entering, we look to disrupt and interrupt the opponent’s advance, often appearing inside their technique before it can reach full potential.

One of the most advanced techniques in Te is to be able to simply ‘walk’ with a continuous flowing step and dispatch attacks from any direction. The video below show’s the late Uehara Seikichi doing this. Some criticise such demonstrations claiming that the trainees are ‘falling’ over or complying, but to do so is to miss the subtlety of Te. Uehara’s distancing and timing is impeccable and he disrupts the advances  of each attack.

“The way of the court instructors is unusual becoming, like women, more dance-like as adherents mature”
Bushi Matsumura

My footwork is not where I want it to be yet but I know I’m going in the right direction with a study of classical Ryukyuan dance. Something I intend to continue.

It is this practise that has helped me to get closer to the movement dynamics I’ve seen and felt from the older masters in Okinawa. The other day someone asked me “how do you know you are improving in martial arts?”

“I remember playing badminton once with an older player. He had me running forward, back and side to side to exhaustion and yet he seemed to barely move about the court in return. Nowadays I start to feel a bit more like that when sparring with others. Unhurried, calm and relaxed. I’ve still a way to go but it feels good.