FightingArts Home Connect to the FightingArts Forums! Explore the FightingArts Knowledge Base in the Reading Room Shop the FightingArts Estore
Free Newsletter
Estore Martial Arts Products

Martial Mania

Shutô uke vs. shutô uchi

By George Donahue

The Japanese word “shutô” means “hand sword,” but it’s called “knife hand” by most of the American practitioners I know. I’m not sure whether this slightly different rendering of the meaning adversely affects the understanding of the technique, but I suspect it does.

Shutô is not actually the name of any technique. It’s merely the basic hand formation used to execute either of two techniques and their variations. Those techniques are shutô uchi and shutô uke. The former is properly translated “hand-sword strike” and it comprises strikes, thrusts, and other blows. The latter is properly translated “hand-sword reception,” but instead of “reception” we usually say “block.” When we say “block,” however, we have to be careful not to forget that uke is more than blocking. It comprises blocks, parries, traps, even grabs. It’s the much the same term that is used for the receiving partner in two-person drills.

You might consider this mere quibbling, but I think that the lack of understanding of this difference between uke and uchi has led to an unnecessary loss of skill.

In the kata that I know, there are some movements that could be executed as either shutô uchi or shutô uke, or sometimes both simultaneously. There are other movements that are clearly meant to be shutô uchi, and yet other movements that are clearly meant to be shutô uke. The visible difference between the two is subtle, perhaps too subtle for a beginner to differentiate, but it is serious.

The problem is that too many of us, at these points in kata, execute merely a shutô, and neither uchi nor uke. That means that we are just posturing and not really doing anything that useful. I think this is where the mistranslation comes into play. If we believe we’re wielding a “knife hand” then we may subconsciously assume that our hand takes on the aspects of a real knife. That is, it’s got a sharp edge and a sharp point and prudent people will be wary of it. We see this in movies and on television, where the hero assumes a pose like a constipated giraffe, with great show presents his awesome knife hands, and sends a ripple of fear up the spine of his enemy. That’s acting, and poor acting at that.

If we merely hold out a real knife between ourselves and someone who is trying to move in on us to harm us, when they meet the knife they will be sliced or stabbed. Merely holding it out might be enough. Fortunately (because we don’t need the curse of Edward Scissorhands), our hands are neither sharp nor pointed. Merely holding them out doesn’t do a whole lot of good. In fact, most often what we’re doing is offering our attacker a handle to better control us.

So, instead of thinking that we’re executing a “knife hand” whatever, we should concentrate in our training on executing a real technique. When we analyze the opportunities for “shutô+ something” in our kata, we should remember that we are using a figurative hand sword to do something, that we don’t wield a real knife but a flesh and bone weapon that has it’s own good points and “edges.” Most of all, we have to do something, anything—other than pose dramatically—with it. A poseur is a good target.

Copyright © 2008 George Donahue & All rights reserved.

Rate This Article

Select your Rating

Your Comments:

(Please add your name or initials)

Your email address:

(Check here if you would like to
receive our newsletter)

About The Author:

George Donahue has been on the board of since its inception. He is a freelance writer and editor, providing literary and consulting services to writers, literary agents, and publishers, as well to advertising agencies. He has worked in publishing for more than three decades, beginning as a journal and legal editor. Among his positions have been editorial stints at Random House; Tuttle Publishing, where he was the executive editor, martial arts editor, and Asian Studies editor; and Lyons Press, where he was the senior acquisitions editor and where he established a martial arts publishing program. He is a 6th dan student of karate and kobujutsu—as well as Yamane Ryu Bojutsu—of Shinzato Katsuhiko in Okinawa Karatedo Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku. He was also a student of Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi until their deaths. He teaches Kishaba Juku in New York and Connecticut, as well as traveling to provide seminars and special training in karate, weapons, and self-defense. His early training was in judo and jujutsu, primarily with Ando Shunnosuke in Tokyo. He also studied kyujutsu (archery), sojutsu (spear), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship) in Japan as a youth. Following his move to the US, he continued to practice judo and jujutsu, as well as marksmanship with bow and gun, and began the study of Matsubayashi Ryu karate in his late teens. Subsequently, he has studied aikido and taiji and cross trained in ying jow pai kung fu.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

shuto uke,shuto uchi, shuto,karate,karate kata

Read more articles by George Donahue

Return to Karate

Return to the Main Reading Room



Advertising InformationFeedback
Home Forums Reading Room Estore About Us

Copyright 2017 - 2030 a division of eCommunities LLC.
All rights reserved. Use of this website is governed by the Terms of Use .

Privacy Statement

Action Ads
1.5 Million Plus Page Views
Only $89

Fight Videos
Night club fight footage and street fights captured with the world's first bouncer spy cam

How to Matrix!
Learn ten times faster with new training method. Learn entire arts for as little as $10 per disk.

Self Defense
Stun guns, pepper spray, Mace and self defense products. Alarms for personal and home use.

Stop An Urban Gorilla: Get 2 FREE TASER M26C Replacement Air Cartridges With Each New TASER M26C!


Unbreakable Unbrella