Jodan / Chudan / Gedan
As a practically orientated martial artist, who trains always with a degree of contact in partner work, I am used to realistic reactions after an impact.
I originally trained with my teacher, Ludwig Binder, in a full-contact-based form of Shotokan Karate; since he had his roots in Yushinkai-full-contact-karate. Years later, I found friends in New-York-City. Shihan Michelle Gay’s Dojo, KEN-WA-KAN Karate Do, is an offshoot from world-Oyama-full-contact-karate. Last but not least, I became friends with Jürgen Höller, a practitioner of Ashihara-full contact karate for around fifty-years. These training experiences have been very influential on the way I view the different levels or areas in karate: jodan, chudan and gedan.
Virtually every karateka has heard of these classifications, and most are aware what they mean. Typically, we think of jodan for neck and head, chudan for shoulders to pubic-bone, and gedan for the legs and groin. Let’s now take a closer look at these three terms. When exploring these terms, I asked myself several questions.
• Are we really talking about heights?
• Why were these areas created and why do we use them?
• Should we view them from defensive or offensive point of view?
• Are they traditionally or do they originate is modern sport karate?
• Where are the demarcations between them?
• Can we better describe and use these classifications?
Examining the sources, I found two main ways of looking at the levels. Firstly, there are pictures with lines on a standing body to divide the heights. Secondly, there are texts to explain which part of the anatomy are included in each level. Beyond that, we don’t have a great deal to go off, so it initially seems that definitive answers may be hard to come by. However, I think we need to look beyond the surface and examine things more deeply.
Jodan (上段) means “high-level”, chudan (中段) means “middle-level” and gedan (下段) means “low-level”. This would seem obvious when applied to a standing body, but they can also be applied to a falling or prone body. These classifications are therefore best seen, not as heights from the floor, but as designated areas on the body. We can view these designations from both an offensive and defensive perspective.
From an offensive perspective, the terminology around the three levels can make things easier for everyone; students and teacher. We can simply say “jodan elbow” instead of “elbow strike to the head”. We can say, “strike chudan” instead of “deliver a strike to the stomach”. We can say, “kick gedan” instead of “deliver an attack a leg”. However, such instructions lack precision and don’t communicate the specific anatomical targets or how to best attack them. This is important information and hence the vague nature of the terms is potentially problematic.
From a defensive perspective, the vague nature of the terms can be seen as a positive. You don’t necessarily need to have knowledge of the precise technique coming at you in order to stop it. It can be enough to defend a certain area. It would therefore seem the terms have more value defensively. However, it seems odd to me that the terms are still applied to offensive techniques. Surely, their widespread use that way would suggest they must have some value offensively; beyond simple convenience in training.
From a modern competitive perspective, the levels are used prohibit certain attacks and to designate the number of points awarded for others. This is of little concern with regards to this article, because we are considering things from a traditional and combative perspective.
As a practical martial artist, who has always trained with a degree of contact, I have been able to observe how the enemy’s body reacts after any given strike. Those like me will be aware that after contact the partner usually leans backward, forwards or sideways. I think the three levels can be very helpful in determining what the most likely reaction will be; and hence what the most appropriate follow up attack will be. This is where we find their offensive value.
I believe there is an important line, which isn’t include on the drawings that typically show the three levels. This the line from elbow to elbow; just above the solar plexus. This line divides the body in such a way we can predict the enemy’s reaction after impact. If one was hit above this line, his body will lean backwards. As a result, the abdominal muscles will be stretched, and the genitals will be vulnerable to attack. If one is hit below this line, his head will come forward and his arms will be positioned in front of his stomach and chest. Additionally, he will bend at the waist such that his backside will move backward.
When we have considered this, practical karateka can best define the levels as:
Jodan is above the elbow-line.
Chudan is the lower torso.
Gedan is the genitals and lower.
To make use of the levels offensively, we know that if we want the enemy to lean backward, then strike jodan. Conversely, if you want the enemy’s head to come forward, then attack chudan. The terms therefore have offensive combative value in determining the enemy’s reaction to impact.
Defensively, there are also advantages to dividing the body this way:
Jodan is this area you can protect with your arms alone.
Chudan is the area you can protect with your legs and arms
Gedan is the area you protect with your legs alone.
By moving the jodan line down from the neck to the elbows, the three levels have both offensive and defensive value. I therefore suggest that all practical karateka join us in defining the levels in this way.
Special thanks to Iain Abernethy for tweaking my english !
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