The following are technical aspects of Bassai-dai that serve to equip a student for self-defence.
a) Take time to ensure that you have solid and uncompromising stances.
We can assume in most cases of self-defence that our opponent will be bigger than us. Therefore it’s essential that we generate every ounce of power possible. Half of all our power comes from our stance, so just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a powerful technique will be weakened by a poor stance.
b) Take time to ensure you are properly exercising your hip rotation.
c) Ensure you stay the same height throughout the kata. Moving up and down in height not only slows you down, it weakens your centre of gravity, meaning you are vulnerable to be taken down by a grabbing opponent.
d) Ensure the hands follow their true path, not only in the final product, but in the preparation. It’s very common for people to short cut their preparations during bassai-dai.
e) Keep our shoulders down and relaxed. A common habit among students new to Bassai-dai is to over-tense their shoulders and hold them too high. Again, this greatly detracts from your power. This is because this habit shows a person is using their shoulders as the major muscle in the punch. Instead, they should keep their shoulders down, and focus on deriving their power from the muscles in their torso, which are bigger and stronger.
Beyond this, the shoulder is an external muscle, which means there will be reverb when we hit something. In simple terms, much of the energy bounces back. Torso muscles in contrast are internal muscles, so there is no reverb. Upon striking something, all energy travels into the target with very little coming back.
f) Quality ibuki (breathing). Lower grades often hold their breathe when performing multiple techniques. Another error is that they breathe out excessively on each technique but fail to breathe in effectively. Having 38 counts, Bassai-dai will leave a student who breathes poorly completely exhausted. As student should aim to develop a rhythm for their breathing throughout the kata whereby the breathe in just as much as they breathe out.
Each of these are important habits for self-defence. Once we have these technical aspects down, we should then seek to make our body (our weapon) more explosive. Previously in ‘The Journey’ we likened becoming a great karate-ka to a Formula 1 racing team. To win a Formula 1 Grand Prix a Race Team needed two things:
i) A great driver. It doesn’t matter how good a car is if the driver cannot handle it with control.
ii) A great engine. Having a great driver is a start, but a great driver behind a slow engine will not win any races. You want that great driver behind the most powerful engine possible.
In terms of Bassai-dai, it means you must first develop your driver. Learn to handle the various curbs and hairpin changes of direction with great control and accuracy. Once you are happy with your ability to drive the kata, you then need to start developing your engine. Each technique should be powerful, dynamic and explosive.
All of this of course takes time, which is why Bassai-dai is the grade kata from blue belt to red belt, and then again from red belt to brown belt.