Another essential element of Tensoku Ryu training is keeping your guard in an effective position to afford you the best self-protection possible. Many traditional martial arts styles, including most Karate systems, place their hands in what is often called “Set Position”. A hand in Set Position is formed into a fist (usually, but not always), placed palm up and then pulled back to rest against the side ribs (and always above the Obi). This position might be used as a place to keep a hand that is not otherwise engaged, or as a way of staging the hand and body in preparation for a powerful strike.
We recognize that this approach has merit and we will employ Set Position where we feel it is appropriate. However, we think that in most situations the hands should be up, in guard position, and protecting the face and vital organs wherever possible. One of the common phrases you will hear in class is “Keep your guard up!” We mean it. If your guard is down you are just one strike away from losing. Or put another way, if your guard is down you are already losing.
Most traditional Kata place a great deal of emphasis on using Set Position. None of our native Tensoku Ryu Kata do. We put great emphasis in our Kata on having the hands in an effective guard position. It is the way these Kata are structured.
Even when practicing traditional Kata such as the Pinan series we allow our practitioners to do the Kata using Set Position, or by maintaining an effective guard position. We caution our practitioners that if they plan to do the Kata at an outside tournament they would do well to practice it with hands in Set Position as this is the norm most tournament judges expect or have been trained to see. But within Tensoku Ryu practitioners can use either form of hand placement.
So what is an effective guard position? Simply stated it is having your hands in a position that makes it difficult for an opponent to strike you. Where you have your hands positioned is determined in part by the opponent’s location, his or her relative size, consistent propensities exhibited by an opponent (they really do need to be consistent and not simply a ploy to get you to drop your guard), any injuries you may have incurred, and the nature of an incoming strike (if any).
In most cases your hands are raised up until they are at roughly forehead height. Having them slightly lower so you can look over the top of your hands will provide you with better vision. The hands are positioned somewhat apart but not far enough apart to allow an opponent’s fist to easily slip between your hands. Elbows are typically bent to allow the hands to be located within your center triangle. You might think of this as the ideal placement.
If you face your opponent directly then both hands will be up and in front of the face. If you have one leg back then usually your front hand will be positioned further forward than your back hand. This puts the front hand in position to jab quickly and allows it to function as a potential lead block. The back hand protects against strikes coming to its side of body and head and can also function as a block of last resort when a strike has made it past your front guard.
You will want to ensure that your elbows are down so that an opponent cannot kick or strike under your arms while attacking your ribs. This can also provide protection against frontal strikes into your torso. Your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and torso should be generally relaxed. This will increase the amount of time you can keep your guard up without becoming tired. When a person tires one of the first things that happens is he or she lowers their guard. An experienced fighter will plan for this eventuality.
From the very first lesson in Tensoku Ryu we put great emphasis on maintaining an effective guard position. As mentioned earlier we extend this practice to our Kata. But we also extend it to nearly every area of training. If you do not have your guard up during a conflict you are not thinking properly. We will remind you of these oversights quite often.
You will often hear practitioners who make use of the Set Position suggest that this technique allows them to focus energy during a movement, or chamber the hand so it can be delivered in a subsequent movement with greater speed and intensity. Practitioners also often note that when one hand is returned briskly to set position it can help aid with the speed and power of delivery of the opposite hand. They often claim that additional power can be derived from hip and torso movements if one or both hands are placed at or moved into this position.
We do not wish to argue with these points. We think they all have merit and we might well use these skills at times ourselves. Every skill in the martial arts is useful and can be employed as an effective application at various moments in a conflict. Where we differ with some other martial arts styles is that we feel, in most cases, the benefits of have your hands set are far outweighed by the risks of being struck in the exposed head, neck and torso areas. This is, fundamentally, why we insist our practitioners learn to keep an effective guard at all times.