Nukite – A Relatively Useless Technique?

Why do most Shotokan practitioners practice basic kumite using only a few techniques repeatedly? While repetition can be a very good way to ensure a technique is recalled in an emergency situation, that one technique or variation may not be ideal for every situation. I advocate varying the techniques trained during kumite training. However, I believe the variations should be practiced in a controlled manner, limiting techniques to only the most basic until at least the intermediate level (brown belt).

Some dojo/organizations now require participants to perform different counterattacks when doing kihon kumite (basic sparring) during exams and tournaments. Failure to do this results in failure/disqualification. While I agree with encouraging people to use different techniques, they must be properly applicable, or it is pointless. If only one technique would suffice, there is no need to do any others. But those performing exactly the same technique every time should realize that this can be unrealistic.

I was once (perhaps more than once, now that I think about it) posed with the question of why we do not use more kokutsudachi/shutouke (knife-hand block in back-stance) and nukite (spear-hand strike), specifically, during normal kumite practice. As these moves are used often in kata, the student thought that we should want to use these techniques more often in sparring. In addition to their abundance in kata, most Shotokan dojo often include basic training exercises (kihon) that include a combination of those two techniques. So why not add these techniques to kumite training?

Most of us rarely use back stance (or other stances than front stance) when doing kumite. I believe in using different stances for kumite training, as well as different blocks and attacks. We must not rush to make variations, however, understanding what is to be accomplished in kumite training. We are working on the most fundamental techniques. Only after many years of training in these basic techniques should we expect to be able to expand our technical arsenal considerably. In many other martial arts and even other Karate styles the approach may be different. But in Shotokan the theory is that we should practice just a few basic techniques over and over until they become part of our subconscious or unconscious, so we can use them without having to think. That we almost always only use front stance in kumite is, in my opinion, a bit odd. But that we use only a few attacks, for at least the first year or so, seems completely logical. For more on kumite training/variations, please see article here and here.

We practice a wide range of different techniques (grappling, etc.) in our kata, which we almost never practice with a partner in class. (For more on kata application, please see my article on that subject.) Some of these techniques are not given much training time outside of kata because they are very limited in their applicability (e.g. only if someone grabs you in a certain way). Other techniques are included more as a training tool than anything else.

For example, the original application of the technique we now refer to as nukite is most likely much different from how it is described these days. It is really much more a training tool today than an easily applied self-defense technique (which it may have been 100 years ago, when the application was different). Do you really think your fingers would hurt any less than your opponent’s abdominal muscles if you tried to apply such a technique? It is silly to expect to be able to use such a technique in a realistic encounter.

But think about all the related techniques; a vertical punch is not that much different, shuto-uchi, haito-uchi…It is a very believable theory that supposes the originally intended application for what is now nukite was a choking strike to the neck, used quite often even today in Sumo competition. By working on the principles involved in this technique (use of hip rotation/vibration, timing of various body parts, etc.), we are training many techniques simultaneously. This is the core of Shotokan training. Work on the basics (a few techniques) until they are solid and natural. Then, move on to apply the same principles to new, related techniques. Nonetheless, nukite is generally not a very good technique for self-defense application, directly applied.

There are reasons for the way we practice Karate. Some are obvious. Some are not. We should strive to discover what is directly applicable to a realistic encounter, what is a training tool, and what is simply for show. By understanding the purpose of a given training exercise, more can be gained from it.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published September 2000)