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Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit

Sensei Harry Cook, and his family and students visited our Hikari Dojo last night. We enjoyed learning from him and meeting his students. They are returning to England tonight.

One of the concepts he mentioned was that of "float, sink, swallow, and spit," which come from the Chinese martial arts, particularly the White Crane system. While I have seen these terms used in Chinese martial arts and mentioned by various Karate instructors, I must admit that my own sensei have never used these terms.

To demonstrate "float," Cook Sensei had my second son, Charles, grab his neck and attempt a choke. Cook Sensei blocked my son's hands upward. This "floating" motion countered the choke.

To counter a grab, he slapped my son's hands down -- sink.

When pushed, he absorbed and redirected the attack -- swallow.

Finally, when striking my son, he demonstrated the concept of "spit".

Float, sink, swallow, spit -- many Karate movements can be categorized using these terms.

That said, it seems to me that much of Karate is "spit, spit, spit, spit." We tend to hit a lot.

It is good to study concepts from other martial arts to better understand Karate. However, we have to be careful as each art has its own emphasis, strengths, and weaknesses. In Judo, the saying is "maximum efficiency with minium effort." This also applies to Karate, but the emphasis of Judo and Karate differ.

When generating power using the koshi, it is possible to compare the feeling to wringing a towel. This will make sense to someone who understands koshi from physical experience, but could confuse a person who has not personally experienced it. In the Japanese tea ceremony, I understand that there is a part where a hand cloth is wrung. This is sometimes referred to in Kendo, as a comparison to how the shinai (bamboo sword) is held. If we describe koshi mechanics by comparison to the tea ceremony, it might make sense to some people but not to others.

I wonder if a similar situation exisits with "float, sink, swallow, spit." Do these terms have deeper meanings? Are they shorthand for concepts that are taught and explained in depth in the Chinese systems?

I think this way about many of the concepts we see applied to Karate. In Cook Sensei's case, his physical demonstration of the concepts made them much clearer to me and my students.

The next time I see Sifu Andrew Lum (a well known Tai Chi and Kung Fu instructor here in Hawaii), I think I will ask him about "float, sink, swallow, and spit."


Charles C. Goodin