Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
June 17, 2016

Kakushi waza

In the practice of kihon and kata, there is a tendency to focus on a single action one is taking be it a punch, a strike, a kick, or a block.  But, within the taking of any action, there are opportunities for additional actions to be taken at the same time. In modern martial arts, people refer to these additional actions as minor moves or bonus moves or “three-handed” techniques. Traditional Japanese martial arts refer to these moves as kakushi waza which means, “hidden techniques.”  In this article, we will examine the concept of hidden techniques and how training with these techniques in mind can significantly enhance one’s effectiveness as a martial artist.

Before we proceed, it is important to note that, with regard to kakushi waza, hidden does not mean “secret”.  Once one becomes aware of this aspect of engaging in kihon and kata, the presence of kakushi waza will be plain.  These techniques are not found only in some well-guarded tome or only passed from a master to a select apprentice. Kakushi waza are available to anyone once that person is aware that such techniques are possible.  It is the fact that one has to be made aware of kakushi waza that makes these techniques hidden; they are not obvious or easily perceived by the naive observer.  They are “incidental” to the primary method of the technique in that they occur in the conduct of the primary method and thus can go unnoticed.  One could say that kakushi waza is the martial arts equivalent of a magician’s “sleight of hand.”

The first type of kakushi waza will be referred to here as “off-hand” techniques.  These are the hidden techniques performed by the hand or foot not currently engaged as the primary focus of the technique. Off-hand techniques can take the form of an additional strike. They could be a grab to increase the likelihood of the primary technique’s effectiveness.  For example, consider the end of Chinto kata.  One has just executed a hammer strike with the right hand into the open-handed mid-level block of the left hand; one will soon perform a right front snap kick before kneeling and punching with the left hand.  At this point, most people focus on the left hand as the primary focus. Certainly the delivery of the right front snap kick is still an issue, but it is not a hidden technique.  But, what about that right hand?

Many karateka will simply move the right hand from its hammer strike to chamber it on the right hip. It is within that movement from the hammer strike to the chamber that we can find at least two hidden moves.  First, consider the possible outcome of that right front snap kick.  The opponent could end up doubling forward and presenting the neck and or head as a target.  The right hand could be used to execute a knife hand strike to the side of the neck or, if at greater range, a tiger hand rake to the face or fingers glancing across the eyes.  Second, a hand chambering on the hip is usually a clue to the opportunity to capture some part of the opponent and holding on to it in order to maximize the impact of a follow-up strike. Thus, the right hand, after executing that open-handed attack, could grab on to the opponent’s neck, shoulder, sleeve or a lapel and then pull the person into that final left hand punch.

A large portion of off-hand technique opportunities exist when one is stepping.  Each time one advances, consider how that movement of the foot could be more than simply taking a step forward.  One could use the knee, as it rises to take that step, as a knee strike.  One could turn that step into a low crescent kick.  As one plants one’s foot, the placing of the foot could be a rake down the shin or a strike on the instep of the opponent’s foot.  And, one’s foot could be imagined as fixing the opponent’s foot in place so they cannot retreat or fall away from the primary technique that is about to arrive.  Another application, as one plants one’s foot, could be to it set it down between an opponent’s feet, close to one of the opponent’s legs, so as to cause pressure to the inside of the opponent’s leg and destabilize the opponent’s stance or execute something of a joint attack on the opponent’s knee.

Whether using hands or feet, off-hand techniques are hidden moves that are built into the movement associated with a specific move.  But an off-hand technique is performed by a hand or foot that is not executing what is considered to be the primary technique.

The second type of kakushi waza will be referred to here as “obscured” techniques.  Obscured techniques are performed by the same hand or foot that is to perform the primary technique.  As they are performed by the same hand or foot, they are often not easily observed unless one is looking for them.  For example, let’s consider the sequence after the third kusanku block in Kusanku kata when one has executed a left hand upper cut while moving into a crane-on-the-rock stance; one will soon perform a descending back fist strike with the right hand.  When last focused upon, the right hand had performed a low block.  The right hand then moves through an arc to move from the low block to the back fist.  Whenever a hand moves through an arc, be aware that the hand could have the opportunity to strike at least one other target in the course of that arc.  As one possibility, close to the apex of the arc in Kusanku kata, the right hand could perform a hammer strike or be part of an inner forearm strike to the head or neck of the opponent.

Another version of obscured techniques does not use the same hand or foot but instead uses the elbow or knee on that same limb.  A favorite combo of mine that illustrates this involves a basic self-defense when attacked with a bear hug from behind. The primary element is a hammer fist to the groin.  One then turns around and executes a descending back fist with the same hand.  In between these two moves is an obscured technique of a rising elbow.  Picture it.  A person attempts a bear hug from behind and you apply a hammer fist to their groin with your right hand.  This not only should negate the bear hug but also cause the attacker to double forward somewhat.  As one turns, one can bring the right arm up, elbow bent, so as to execute an obscured rising elbow into the opponent’s face that is now facing somewhat downward.  This should cause their head and upper body to rise back up again away from that blow as one turns around.  Now, facing one’s opponent, either the attacker’s face or their upper chest will be in a more vulnerable position when you execute the back fist than if you had not used an obscured elbow strike.  Another obscured technique that one could use after that same initial hammer fist to the groin is to then use that same hand to pinch whatever is available. And then perhaps still put in the obscured elbow before turning around to back fist the attacker.

We train to strike an attacker multiple times.  We do so knowing that some techniques will fail.  Some will only be partially effective.  The more strikes we execute, the more likely we will neutralize the attack if not the attacker entirely.  Applying kakushi waza, whether off-hand or obscured techniques, will at least double the potential strikes one can deliver in a single technique.  Thus, not only doubling one’s chances of success but likely also bringing an end to a threat that much faster.