During your 3rd kyu you spent a good deal of time on Seiunchin. Seiunchin, like Saifa, originated from the Naha-te system (where Goju came from) in Okinawa where the focus is largely on fluent movements and deriving power from circular techniques.
Having arrived at 2nd kyu you will be introduced to kata Empi. Empi sees the return to Shuri-te and Tomari-te styled kata. Kata originating from the Okinawa cities of Shuri and Tomari focus on explosive movements and derive their power from rapid hip rotation, long stances and straight line techniques. Being well-versed in the Taigyoku kata and Bassai-dai (other kata hailing from these cities) means your body will be, in many ways, well prepared for kata Empi. While it’s similar to Bassai-dai in that it is agility focused, uses rapid hip movements and derives its power through explosive straight-line speed, it hosts a completely different set of senjutsu (combat strategies) and its practice equips a student with an entirely different set of skill sets. Many of these will be added to GKR’s website over the coming months. For the moment, the following is a very brief summary:
Bassai-dai focused on defending from a deep rooted stance. The defender stood strong in the face of an attack and executes ren uke (two blocks with alternate arms) to turn the attacker on their axis before counter-striking to the vulnerable areas found down the side of the body. Bassai-dai was commonly trained by Okinawa guard who were physically strong men.
Empi by contrast defends using light evasive movements and stances. The defender will move their feet and/or body to either absorb much of the power of a technique or evade completely clear, then come back with a powerful counter strike. This requires a greater level of agility but is very useful against a larger opponent.
Empi also defends by moving forwards with an attacking block (taking the strike before it builds momentum) and quickly counter striking with multiple techniques.
There is another fundamental difference between Empi and Bassai-dai. While Bassai-dai focused on staying the same height throughout the kata, during empi, the student will make abrupt changes in height on a regular basis. This serves to be evasive in defence and to make it harder for an opponent to grab or seize us when we are counter attacking.
Stances In Empi:
Empi commonly uses three basic stances, zenkutsu dachi (long forward stance), kiba dachi (horse riding stance) and kokutsu dachi (back leaning stance).
Empi also commonly uses kosa dachi (reverse cat stance – where all the weight is on the front foot and the heel of the back foot is raised off the ground). You may recall that kosa dachi was also used in the second last moves in kata Saifa and Seiunchin. However in Empi, the kosa dachi is held much lower.
Empi also introduces the student to Tsuru ashi dachi (crane stance). This is similar to the sagi ashi dachi (heron stance) used in kata Saifa, however the raised foot is tucked in behind the knee of the base leg.