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What is Okuri-tsuki? And How To Do it Correctly?

Okuri-tsuki is the most prominent unknown technique of Shotokan karate. Many karateka have seen or applied it. But they do not know its name or to describe it in technical terms. That is why we going to describe what it is and how to do it in this article. By Derick Kirkham

What is Okuri-tsuki? Hopefully this article will unravel any misconceptions that surround this neglected and under-used technique. The word Okuri in this application referred to as a meaning for “to slide”. But it is also probably the main reason why it is still occasionally mistaken for a form of Nagashi-tsuki (flowing punch).

Where Does it Come From?

Many of the Japanese instructors in the early days came to Karate after studying other oriental arts such as Judo and Kendo. Here they learnt the foundational concept of Okuri. For instance, Judo has a technique called Okuri-ashi-barai, which is the sliding leg sweep. Also in Kendo a specialized footwork technique named Okuri-ashi (sliding leg)Fig 1 exists and is a key part of Kendo’s tactical armory. 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”. Therefore,one should bear it in mind as a pertinent concept. To understanding the essence of Okuri-tsuki one needs to understand this concept.

The foundation of Okuri-tsuki is Okuri ashi.
The foundation of Okuri-tsuki is Okuri ashi.

The confusion about this technique has therefore several roots:

  • influences from other Japanese martial arts, which most Westerners did not learn;
  • 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 meaning of every technique.

However, today our sources of information are better. Therefore, we want to explain how Okuri-tsuki works.

How Does Okuri-tsuki Work?

Okuri-tsuki means a punching technique that is delivered and reaches its target between the firm placements of ones launching and landing stances. The fist hits the desired target area whilst one’s body mass is still on the move. Therefore, its transit nature of the technique makes it difficult for some people to identify, classify, and perform. On the other hand it also 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 and is often 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 with the target area. Thus, some observers have difficulties to identify it, as its characteristic delivery speed masks the technique.

In this fantastic video Toshihito Kokubun executes Okuri-tsuki twice.

The Important Aspects of Okuri-tsuki

Its runaway freight train effect depends upon a couple of things:

  • timing of the launch of the punch,
  • forward projection of ones opponent, and
  • proficiency of the performer.

It’s neither a new technique nor a neglected one. By many it simply has been overlooked for many reasons. In my experience many neglect it in Kihon because it doesn’t appear in kata nor as a grading syllabus requirement. Due to its more agricultural and practical functionality it has also been over-looked in the modern sporting arena as it is believed to be too brutal and it lends itself more for use in Jissen and Jiyu-Kumite. Therefore, it poses the question: does it actually exist? Or is it just a quirky variation of another tsuki?

Does it really exist?

While the overall technique is somewhat Kamikaze 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 for delivery, ones timing, line and direction are all key. The technique can be delivered using a permutation of various tactics. However, the most commonly used and most devastating effects result by using a combination mind set of Ikken Hisatsu, Sen no Sen and Irimi. Therefore, the delivery of the technique in the following examples focuses directly in the forward direction.

Among the accomplished exponents of Okuri -tsuki, was the late Steve Cattle. Others worthy of note are the late Taiji Kase and Keinosuke Enoeda. In the new generation of Japanese Instructors people such as Tatsuya Naka and Takahashi Yamaguchi use it. 

In this video Keinosuke Enoeda shows Okuri-tsuki in combination with a Deashibarai.

The execution of the technicques marks the most important aspect in its distinction from other techniques. While it appears somewhat Kamikaze-like, the underlying tactics employed accounts for its success as the mechanics of the technique itself. The tactics involved:

  • selecting the correct mind-set prior for delivery,
  • ones timing,
  • ones line and
  • direction.

Mind-set and Strategy Behind Okuri-tsuki

When it comes to the right mind-set a combination of Ikken Hisatsu, Sen no Sen and Irimi works best. The karateka in the follinwing examples deliver the technique straight forward with 100% commitment to and belief in the success of the technique.

However, the technique can also be delivered using the strategy of Go no Sen: “seizing the initiative later”. This requires blocking and then countering after the attack of the opponent. But commonly Okuri-tsuki becomes utilized in Sen no Se: “seizing the initiative early”. That does not mean that one necessarily makes the first move. More often it involves one intending to counter precisely at the same time that your opponents attacks.

Sliding in

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. The Okuri name occurs after Kamae-te and refers to the essential preparatory footwork of Okuri-ashi. Fig 1 Its usage lies in the gain of territorial advantage and to ensure the correct launching distance the long range Tsuki technique. Therefore, Okuri -tsuki describes the tactical footwork 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 it comes as a payoff. The increased speed and reduced “dead time” leads to a loss in stability upon impact with the target.Especially during the mid-flight section the karateka stands only on one leg. This loss in stability, however, is due to the body’s full commitment and its follow through motion.

How to Execute Okuri-tsuki?

So, with the tactics firmly in place and the correct distance to launch one Okuri-tsuki gained by using Okuri-ashi, then let’s go through the execution of the technique itself.  As we are using “Ikken-Hsatsu”, “Sen no Sen” and “Irimi” we will be stepping forward to deliver the technique.

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

The First Steps

The execution of Okuri-tsuki.
The execution of Okuri-tsuki.

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 through 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 extent of the hip rotation, the distance the stance travels and the bending of the knee of the front leg. Whereas in Okuri-tsuki, one achieves forward projection 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.

The Further Steps

4. Fig 2 C Shows a side view just prior to impact. This is the phase where the left leg (Do-Kyaku) starts to catch up by driving towards ones over stretched center 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 in the basic form of the technique one should snap back the left hand and firmly place down the left leg (Do-Kyaku). Variants of the snap back are employed if the use of a follow on technique requires it Fig 2 E

7. The snap back of the left hand is in readiness. Assume a left leg forward Kamae-te.

Some Picture Studies

Photo Group A 1-8 demonstrates Okuri-Tsuki with the follow up technique of a highly destructive leg sweep performed with Ikken-Hisatsu in mind, as always by K.Enoeda. Note how much the front left foot moves forward in photos 1-2 gaining distance prior to the launching of the punch. Also consider how at the impact point in photo 3 his right foot lifts off the ground and on the move forward in photo 4. In this case the right foot not lands. But it delivers a leg bar to execute a powerful double leg sweep followed up with Otoshi-Tsuki.

Keinosku Enoeda shows how to execute the Okuri-tsuki.
Photo Group A: Keinosku Enoeda shows how to execute the Okuri-tsuki.

Although the fighting art differs in Photo Group B 1-3 the physics, the theory and the end result remains exactly the same. Photo 1 shows the total commitment of the body to the techniques delivery as it approaches the impact point and notice that the arm is already at full extension, Photo 2 shows the impact point and by the way this particular punch was responsible for breaking the jaw of the durable and very tough competitor Ken Norton, Photo 3 shows that there is very little pull back of the technique after impact and the back leg of Muhammad Ali has still not caught up the forward projection of the attacker’s committed technique.

 Okuri-tsuki by Muhammad Ali.
Photo Group B: Okuri-tsuki by Muhammad Ali.

Conclusion and A Simple Test

Hope this article has introduced Okuri-tski to some and stimulated the interest in trying out Okuri-tsuki in your training regime to all. Although the objective of the article was to clear up the mysteries and misconceptions surrounding Okuri-tsuki, I invite you to conduct this simple experiment. I first saw it demonstrated by Masahiko Tanaka. As I firmly believe that it may help you as it did help me, to fully appreciate the advantages that “a moving mass” impact technique such as Okuri-tsuki can add to the overall effectiveness of your technique.

So then if you are in the game, then try this simple test:

1. Stand in a left leg forward Zenkutsu-Dachi 

2. Position yourself close to a wall and extend the right arm out so that the fist of your right hand is firmly making contact with the wall.

3. Then push with the right arm into the wall constantly and experience what it feels like (in other words do not put on and ease off the pressure you are putting through the arm and fist during the experiment).

4. Next, without moving from the previous position, just lift the foot of the left leg and feel how your mass is being pulled further into the wall, i.e. into the would be target.

This is simply because the bodies mass is now unsupported and is subject to gravitational pull. Thus it simulates being on the move, whilst making contact with the target. This happens just a fraction of a second prior to landing your mass through the foot of the moving leg (Do-Kyaku) and just as you would experience it with a correctly delivered Okuri-Tsuki.  Good Luck and Good Practice.

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Women of Shotokan: Mirjam Widmer

Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Mirjam Widmer

  • Age:                                  48
  • Karate since:                   13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
  • Origin and residence:    Zurich, Switzerland
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank:            3rd Dan
  • Dojo:                                 Seikukan Karate Do Zurich

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
  • I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.

The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!

I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.

However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.

However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!

Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri
Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!

Why gave Karate you a difficult time?

In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.

For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.

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Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.

A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.

I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.