Letters: Why use hubud drills?

 18 June 2005

I was wondering what value you see in Filipino hubud drills. You show them in your “stick and knife” tape, but they do not appear in your NHB videos. Is that because they are not useful for empty hand fighting, just for weapons? In terms of empty hand training, I imagine they could help develop the attributes of learning to synchronize so that one can learn to syncopate, learning to get in several movements in one beat, learning to “climb up” the man in order to enter, points you make in the “stick and knife” tape. On the other hand, maybe these attributes can be better drilled by the use of the pummelling and tie drills you show in the NHB videos, which provide more realistic scenarios? I would be grateful for your current thoughts on the role of hubud in both empty hand and weapon training. 

— Zoltan Dienes

The Kali hubud drill is one similar to that used within Tiger systems and Uechi-ryu. It’s a way of making offensive, defensive or counteroffensive contact on the outside or inside of the man’s arm, and on the basis of that contact and his reaction to it, initiating your next move and so on and so forth. It is a good way of interpreting closing with a man from the open phase, and then progressing from there to a breakdown and a finish. And within which, strikes, controls, locks, chokes, etc. can take place. Indeed, if you take this entry/breakdown/finish approach then kata is very easily explained, because after all the kata is defining the fight, and all fights are essentially based upon entry/breakdown/finish.

The problem is that this approach has to take into account the possibility of multiple opponents. In other words, you can’t spend a lot of time dealing with the man you’ve got because it’s not a one-on-one as in MMA.

And that’s really why in the early 1990s I was teaching not the katas, but the principles and concepts that are contained within them. In other words, how to cross an arm, cross the body, cross a leg, cross the head—taking control points and twisting the man rather like uprooting a tree. The problem with karate is that it’s eliminated the transitional moves in order to fulfill a military beat, but it’s the moves within the moves that help you facilitate this entry/breakdown/finish. Those moves have been eliminated, but they can be put back in once you understand what the kata’s intention is. These movements also contain tactical and dynamic components, and they’re working within a very short time frame (there’s no less than three moves within every step, unlike karate where there’s only one move per step). And the outside or inside insertion of a step and the subsequent ‘stance’ is also an attack in itself upon the structure. It isn’t just a step. You are attacking every part of the man with every part. The kata’s approach is meant to be multiple; that’s why it’s very effective. That’s what I mean on one of the films about ‘Octopus Mentality’.

Equally, in karate the rhythm of the performance of a kata has been removed. If we take the kata as being representative of a fight, then one would assume that the rhythms of the performance would be reflective of the synchronized and syncopated rhythms taking place within a fight, having an underlying ‘beat’ of synchronization with the syncopated insertion of your pattern against his (clearly reflected within Indonesian silat) riding upon that beat. That’s clearly reflected in the music of Southeast Asia.

I suppose the problem is, with karate, it’s removed itself from the influence of the fighting traditions of South East Asia and Fujien Province Southern China, from which Kempo Toudi Jutsu (the source of karate) was derived.

What I was doing in the late 1980s and 1990s was an attempt to provide some meaning for those within karate as to the origins of their traditions and the implications within the katas for more realistic fighting, either with or without weapons. That’s why I was doing the stick and knife work and the hubud drills, specifically.

Beyond that, what you see with the stick/knife etc. is that if you understand the underlying principle of say, a drill, you can adapt it to anything and extend it into other areas. It grows. Everything is about experimentation, but having underlying concepts and principles to guide you. You’ll see things like kakie in Goju-ryu, which reflects the idea of initiating or reacting to a contact point at close range, but it has been limited by ‘tradition’ to being performed in a stereotypical way. It has the possibility of becoming a hubud drill, but it hasn’t been extended. It’s got locked up in its tradition. And although privately, Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu practitioners might practice hubud types of drills, those drills don’t find their way into their traditions.

From the open phase to the closed phase of fighting, you have to offensively, defensively or counteroffensively ‘bridge the gap’ (as Bruce Lee put it) and that can be done in numerous ways. Systems will favour establishing/controlling contact points with one hand, or with two, but the truth is you have to be able to exploit both approaches. It’s like driving a car; you can drive it with one hand or two.

The reason I really abandoned systems is because they tend to lead you in a preformulated way. On the stick/knife film you see how I take a drill and with the underlying principles and concepts in mind, apply it in many ways. Foundation means something to stand on, something to work off, and I’m giving you that foundation. And it isn’t solid rock, it’s a dynamic foundation that is reality-based.

I was trying to show how the combative implications within the Kobujutsu/Kobudo kata of Okinawa could be more realistically brought out. Rather than learning an application in a prescribed manner, by understanding the underlying principles, you can just run with it. As you see on the film. Mark Perry didn’t even know what way round to hold the tonfa, but within five minutes he was using it effectively (and probably better than the average master demonstrating tonfa) against a stick or sword. They’re flow drills, give and take, first conditional, but then they become freer. But the same flow of exchange takes place.

If you watch me demonstrating the knife with Ben, you’ll clearly see that I’ve learnt to anticipate what will possibly come next, and Ben simply can’t penetrate that defense whilst I have every opportunity to penetrate his. But, as I always say, the most important thing is sense of time. And the drills, if they’re done realistically, provide you with that opportunity to sense the interval of time within a movement pattern and between movement patterns. Nobody can get in on you, and nobody can get away. You’ve got every angle covered. This sense of time, from my experience, karate people find very difficult to develop because of their performances at regimented beats. So in a sense, hubud is a good remedial drill. It’s being performed in broken time.

Also very important is the fact that the hubud drill is stimulus-driven, taking place within a very short time period. You haven’t got time to think. Just time to act. There’s no opportunity for a thought-out, motor-oriented response, which is what often leads to the robotics of karate. And that’s very important for someone coming from karate who needs to shed that motor-orientation. It’s more important what you have to do than how you’re going to do it. The principles and concepts are absorbed at an unconscious level. They solve the problem for you.

Equally, in a remedial sense, it forces you to work with your hands out in front of you, not cocked or ‘chambered’ as in a karate. They become antennae, looking for contact and learning to interpret and act upon cues of touch. At that range, you can’t use your eyes. Your working range is from elbow to hand, so it’s not only half-beat but half-range working range. That’s why the emphasis within the southern systems is on short-range strikes.

You can still see this even within the oversimplified forms of the Japanese and Okinawan katas, but unfortunately their interpretation of it is wrong. The bunkai are wrong; they don’t take into account this progressive flow of entry/breakdown/takedown. But even worse is the kumite, which in no way, shape, or form represents what is supposed to be the ‘soul’ of karate. The kumite in karate has every potential, through the implication within the kata, of becoming something that is equivalent to MMA. It’s just that the will isn’t there to change what they believe to be their traditions. But that’s another story.

And the hubud explains the Sanchin form beautifully. Most people don’t see Sanchin’s combative implications. Karate has just got it wrong, and they don’t want to put it right.

So, to answer your question it really was trying to get people not only to perform kata in a different way, but see the implications within that kata, and that they were no different in many ways to MMA. The kata in itself is a multidimensional form, not unlike MMA. The kata is a representation of the possible scenarios within a fight, armed or unarmed, but more importantly it reflects that basic concept of entry, breakdown, finish. And it’s these fundamentals that are more important than necessarily the interpretations placed upon a particular move, because the kata can’t cover all combative scenarios, but the fundamentals can.

What I was doing with the stick drills was distilling it all down. That’s how I get my pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know how they’re all going to come together in a given situation, but they’re there. And this process is very very clear on the weapons film.

It’s not so much about the drill, it’s about what sensibility about the fight is the drill giving you? And the truth is, I have absorbed that, just as I absorbed chi sau in Wing Chun and kakie in Goju, arm-knocking in Five Ancestor, etc. They’re not there to be made sacrosanct and practiced for the rest of your life. You got the principle? Great. Use it. Fight. The hubud is a good drill, and like lots of good drills, you should suck them and see.

The reason I tend to favour the hand, head and leg-fighting for positional control and pummelling drills that I’m using for MMA is that they are more direct. They contain the same principle of developing sensitivity and reacting to one’s opponent at close range, without being stylized. But they are reflective of the same entry, breakdown, and finish, and that’s the objective. You measure every combative by that simple criterion: does it include entry/breakdown/finish? And how is that being interpreted within the drilling, conditional fighting, and shadow fighting? That’s a simple way you can say, “That is a combative,” or “That ain’t.”