Kime is the central concept of Shotokan karate do. However, many practitioners misinterpret it with a esoteric force. But what is it really? By Thomas D. McKinnon
Kime (jap. 決め): where mind, body and spirit meet with intent, from the core of your being to the point of delivery.Definition by Thomas McKinnon
Depending on the dictionary, it may be defined as decide, focus of power, or finish. Literal translation is a ‘decision’ or ‘commitment’; also, concentration of spirit, mind and physical body at an intended, particular point.
It’s not unusual to find that a word can mean many things, and it is even less unusual to find that a term in Japanese doesn’t translate smoothly into English. Outside of the martial arts, the word kime is ambiguous at best. However, within that esteemed enclave, the meaning of it becomes even more abstruse.
How Westerners Try to Explain Kime
I have heard various instructors (usually westerners) trying to explain the concept:
1. “Accelerating into your target, where your kime focuses the energy.”
2. “is the ability to rapidly deliver power into the target.”
3. “a destructive force that, once mastered, transforms the student into a master.”
4. Even the almighty Wikipedia says kime means “power, and/or focus.”
These are but a few of the many I’ve heard. I’ve also heard those who would debunk kime:
5. It “is merely a physical contraction that happens when, in traditional karate in particular (because most of its practice is done against an imaginary target), the antagonist muscles (that is the opposing muscles to those used to initiate whichever technique) are used to stop a technique; denoted by the snapping of the gi.”
Those who subscribe to 1, 2, 3 or 4 are merely trying to verbalize a feeling that is so elusive it escapes purely physical, logical explanation. And those who subscribe to number 5 simply don’t grasp the concept and never actually feel kime. I find that some of the sport karate or freestyle orientated styles, with no traditional roots, those who, instead of the Japanese term, use words like fixate, or phrases like, ‘Deliver vigorously, and pull the punch,’ fall into this category.
Frank Nowak´s view on the Concept
One of my favourite metaphors, concerning the term, I heard from Frank Nowak Sensei, sadly now deceased. Originally from Germany, after completing the legendary Nakayama Sensei’s JKA Instructors Course, Nowak Sensei immigrated to Australia in 1971. Nowak Sensei was the very first recipient of the “Best Referee Award” by WUKO, at the World Championships in Taiwan in 1982:
“Imagine an antitank weapon firing, first of all, a missile without a warhead at a tank; the missile would surely rock that tank but would probably not stop or incapacitate it. Now picture that missile, fitted with an explosive warhead, hitting that same tank… That is the difference between hitting with and without kime!”
Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa
Shotokan legend, the late Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei, founder of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, and Chief Instructor of the JKA until his passing in 1987, said:
“The essence of karate technique is kime. Kime may result from striking, punching or kicking, but also from blocking. A technique lacking kime is never true karate. “
Shotokan legend, Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei, founder of the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) in 1977, is still Chief Instructor of SKIF. As a younger man, while traveling the world, an emissary for the JKA, he would demonstrate how it can work by taking a stack of four or five boards and – after asking which of the boards the observers wanted him to break – striking the stack, breaking only the required board.
My Experience with Kime
While in the army I was a useful boxer; I was fast but not heavily muscled, with no concept of kime. No matter how hard I tried, and I stopped several opponents with my ferocious onslaughts, I could never manage that one punch knock-out. That changed after beginning my Shotokan training and, thanks to kime, half a century later I’m still renowned for my knock-out blow capacity.
Everyone has their own special relationship with, and understanding of, kime; regardless of opinions to the contrary, kime is a very real phenomenon. Kime is fundamentally an essential, qualitative part of any martial art. Without kime, any technique in any art – a boxing punch, Jujitsu throw, Muay Thai elbow, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan ‒ lacks the necessary quality to give said technique its full potential.
For the martial arts fraternity, Shotokan Karateka in particular, kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it.
About the Author
Writer and author Thomas D. McKinnon is a lifelong karateka, a multi-accredited international Martial Arts Specialist in Boxing, Karate, Kung Fu, Bushido, Muay Thai and military Close Quarter Combat with combined experience of more than 55 years’. He is also a former British Parachute Regiment soldier and international Close Personal Protection Specialist (Bodyguard), and was a tactical and self-defence instructor for the Australian security industry for a period of twenty-five years. He is Chief Instructor of Torakan, Shotokan Karate-Do, and Technical Advisor to the Karate Union of Australia.