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Relaxation: Kime and Ki Revisited

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki. But today, relaxation must become the focal point of Shotokan.

Relaxation has long been underestimated in Shotokan Karate. Kime, understood as muscle tension, was the major aim. However, recent developments call to revisit Kime and Ki in the light of relaxation. Relaxation before and after a technique should be the focal point of Shotokan Karate. By Dr. Wolf Herbert

When you have learnt Shotokan Karate at its beginnings in Europe, the 1960´s up to the 1980´s , the word you most likely have heard most often in the Dojo was: “kime”. It was mainly understood as a contraction of the whole body’s musculature at the end of a technique. It was (and is?) the hallmark of the powerful and dynamic way Karate was/is practiced and spread by the JKA (Japan Karate Association). However, Funakoshi Gichin mentioned “kime” nowhere in his books. So where does the notion come from?

John Cheetham explored this question amidst an ongoing discussion in some insightful articles in his “Shotokan Karate Magazine” (Cheetham 2019 a/b).

Early Definitions of Kime

Nakayama Masatoshi

He claims that Nakayama Masatoshi never used the term “kime” in his first book. I leafed through the Japanese original (Nakayama 1965) and found that he does not in fact use “kime” as a noun anywhere, however as a verb (kimeru) it appears on p. 116. It corresponds to the following passage in his book Dynamic Karate (Nakayama 1966: 102). My literal translation from the Japanese original would be:

“Generally ‘waza (technique) o kimeru’ means to let a well-controlled power explode instantaneously on a chosen target.”

In the English version (where there is no mention of kime or kimeru) the translation reads: “Remember that an effective technique in karate is produced by a concentrated blast of power at the moment of impact.”

Nakayama repeatedly writes about “kimewaza” in the sense of “decisive technique”, however not of “kime” as an isolated notion. It almost seems that kime as a word/noun and concept has been taken out of its context and reduced to its physical/muscular aspect.

Nishiyama Hidetaka

The word “kime”, however, is explicitly used by Nishiyama Hidetaka in his book Karate. The art of empty hand fighting and he calls it “focus”:

“Briefly, ‘focus’ in karate refers to the concentration of all the energy of the body in an instant on a specific target.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960: 21).

This definition notably resembles the one we have seen in Nakayamas use of it as a verb. Nakayama and Nishiyama obviously shared the same idea about kime and its application. John Cheetham quotes further from Nishiyamas book (Cheetham 2019a: 10; 2019b: 30):

“As the fist nears the target its speed is increased to its maximum point, and at the moment of impact the muscles of the entire body are tensed. … This, in essence, is what ‘focus’ in karate means.”

Now, if you read on, you find the following:

“It should not be forgotten that this maximum exertion of energy is instantaneous and in the next instant is withdrawn in preparation for the next movement, i.e., the muscles are relaxed, the breath inhaled, and a position appropriate for the next technique assumed.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960:21)

Relaxation!

I would argue that exactly this (“relax”) was forgotten by many practitioners (and teachers!) back in the early days of Shotokan in the West. “More kime, more kime!” was the battle cry or mantra of the day and lead to hypertensed, stiff, and awkward Karate-moves.

We all know the term waza no kankyu as being one of the principles that should be observed when executing a Kata. It relates to the slowness and quickness of technique. The term kankyu (緩急) is written with two characters, of which the first means: “to loosen, relax” and the second: “swift, rapid”.

Nakayama Takatsugu, a karateka and physiotherapist, gives this an interesting interpretation in regard to “kime”. He describes “kime” as a flow from “loose” (kan) to “rapid” (kyu) to “loose” (kan). The body goes from very loose to strong for an instant, only to loosen up again (Nakayama 2013: 92). It is a snapping move like the one of a spring, which is compressed, then releases its power and immediately returns to its original state. The bigger the amplitude is between relaxation and tension, the bigger the power unleashed. It can also be likened to a wave hitting the shore and pulling back.

Muchimi and the Loosening of the Hip

Muchimi

This reminds me of muchimi, one of the Okinawan principles, which defines a powerful technique. Kime is not emphasized in Okinawan styles. It really seems to be an invention by Nakayama and Nishiyama based on the assumption that tension as such produces power, a (mis)conception imported from Western sports science. John Cheetham (2019a: 11) actually asked Kanazawa Hirokazu after a course in 2004:

“’Where did this ‘physical kime’ concept originate and who developed it?’

He replied without hesitation:

‘It was Nakayama sensei’s idea.’”

Muchimi is interpreted in two ways: Mi (身) can either stand for “body” or differently written (味) for “taste” (metaphorically: “feeling, quality”). “Muchi” is the Okinawan pronunciation of the Japanese “mochi”. This is a sticky, glutinous cake made of pounded steamed rice. In this sense muchimi describes a tough, but supple body and also technically to stick flexibly to your opponent in an altercation. One more meaning derives from the Japanese word “muchi” (鞭 whip), thus implying one should use ones body like a whip. A whip lashed out causes as much damage by its initial impact as it does by the laceration due to the pullback movement.

Whip-lash Hip

Now, the whip hip or double hip, which has been revived in Shotokan by Naka Tatsuya Sensei, is applied mostly and widely in short range techniques in Okinawan Karate. Kagi zuki (鉤突, hook punch) in Tekki Shodan can serve as a good example. Executed in “whip hip style” means, that a slight pulling back of the hips before the punch, initiates relaxation, and is followed by the speed of the thrust and throwing in of the hips in the direction of the tsuki. On impact the hip snaps back and again a full body relaxation is achieved. This is the perfect cycle between relaxation – momentary tension – relaxation.

Naka Tatsuya using the “whip hip” during Tekki Shodan. This is the foundation for relaxed motions in Shotokan.

This corresponds to John Cheethams bow and arrow analogy. The orthodox understanding of kime looks at the end of the technique, whereas it is equally important how the action starts.

“If you forget about the completion, and focus on the start, the drive from the legs followed by the rotation of the hips and trunk in conjunction with the breath – as long as you have a good, strong fist position, (which is vital) the arm should just fly out like a missile with unimpeded speed which ends with the fist doing the damage at whatever point or distance it lands. … It’s the speed and release of the rotation of the body which fires the punch (arm and fist). The Archer will focus on the target with calmness, relaxation, before releasing the arrow. We should apply that same principle to our karate!” (Cheetham 2019b: 30-1).

It is again the cycle of “loose-taut-loose”. You cannot deliver a fast punch, when you are tightened up at the inception of the thrust.

Dr. Wolf Herbert showing how the whip hip and kagi zuki work. Relaxation is the key.

Relaxation and the Flow of Ki

Therefore the interesting points are the start (relaxation), the target/impact/”end” and to me even more so: what happens after the “end”: the implosion or total relaxation. This is known in Taijiquan as “opening/releasing” and “closing/receiving”. “Opening” means that the ki (“internal/vital energy”) is sent out into the extremities of the body and beyond while executing a technique (an attack). When “closing” one lets the ki flow back and accumulate again in the lower abdomen. This is harmonized with breathing, exhalation when “opening” and inhalation during “closing”.

A Shotokan-Karateka in Osaka displaying an exemplary whip hip (muchimi 鞭身) and nimble alternation between tension and relaxation:

While the ki-flow is mentally guided in Taijiquan and the movements are soft and of uniform tempo (andante) in an uninterrupted flow, in Karate they are swift, forceful, abruptly stopped and explosive. The velocity with which the ki is transported is different, but the effect is the same in the end. From a health-exercise view the flow of the ki is harmonized, and blockages are removed. Ki is virtually sent through the whole body from head to toe, thus one feels refreshed after a good Karate training session, even if one is physically exhausted.

Kime and Ki

Kanazawa Hirokazu makes a connection between Kime and Ki in his autobiography Karate – My life (2003: 266):

“There are three kinds of ki, which manifest in the tanden, or lower abdomen, which serves as the central powerhouse of our bodies. Tai-ki is the energy drawn from the atmosphere, chi-ki from the ground, and nai-ki resides within the body. This flows through our spine and explodes out of our fists, and this instant is termed kime, or focus.” 

It may be noted that kime (or “kimeru” as a verb) can actually be written with two different characters. The one denoting “to decide, determine” (kimeru 決める) is often used and well known. The other character (kime 極め) means: “to go to the end, to go to extremes, the apex”. In the Japanese original Kanazawa prefers the latter for “climax” rather than the former in the sense of “decisive point”. Written with 極 kime has a strong psychological connotation with the nuances of “sharp, one-pointed concentration” or “maximal single-mindedness”.

One more linguistic remark: the ki in kime (it is just the first syllable) has nothing to do with the ki in the Chinese meaning of “universal energy”, which is a word in itself and written with a completely different character (氣 simplified 気). The term “ki” has an esoteric tang in the West, but it can be understood quite rationally. Allow me to give a brief explanation. I shall concentrate on the aspect called nai-ki by Kanazawa and pick up an attempt to describe it from a former article on the fore fist (seiken).

What can Qi/ki mean? An approximation

Qi (Chn.)/ki (Jpn.) is a psychosomatic holistic concept. In Western anatomy one tends to dissect and separate everything according to function, whereas in eastern thinking the interconnection and homeostasis of the whole body/mind/spirit is central. A mind/matter or soul/body-dualism is not dominant.

Thus, ki has material and immaterial aspects. It is and flows in the bones, the marrow, the muscles, the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic and the nervous system, the organs, glands, spine and brain and the meridians which connect everything. Ki pervades the totality of physical functions and the mind, which is the conductor in this orchestra. Ki is the regulator or monitor of a fluid balance and the harmonious interplay of all the above mentioned elements.

It has to be stated that Qi/ki has historically never been defined consistently. The concept changed over the centuries from a cosmological/metaphysical one to a more “anthropological” and recently, even a materialistic one. There is a lot of research conducted in the West and in China (under the influence of Western science) to pinpoint what ki might be, or even to find methods to measure it.

Research into bioelectromagnetic fields has shown some correlation with the nervous system and mental states. Others concentrate on mitochondrial function and heart rate variability. But these attempts can only highlight and pick out aspects of ki rather than “measure” it in its totality. No single instrument might ever be able to gauge it, not least because of its immaterial aspects.

Because ki acts as a psychosomatic regulatory feedback system it is so encompassing, its definition is pliable and can easily be recalibrated or adapted to beliefs or research interests. We can nevertheless operate with ki as a phenomenon, a sensation or hypothesis, empirically corroborated by a legion of practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and martial arts throughout the ages.

The Regulation of Ki and Health

Health in the Chinese understanding means that ki can flow freely and without blockages or occlusions. Latter occurrences lead to sickness and indisposition. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, gymnastics and meditation (visualization) were developed from time immemorial to guarantee an unimpeded ki-flow. The martial arts were practiced in this context.

Good martial art practice is said to open the energy channels, eliminate blockages and harmonize the flow of ki. Ki can be mobilized, directed and circulated by conscious mental activity. The standard formulas are: “Where the thinking/mind (意 Jpn. i, Chn. yi) is, there is ki.” “Guiding the ki with the thinking/mind”.

Another term widely used in internal martial arts (e.g. Taijiquan, Qigong) is inen (意念) (Matsuda 2013: 176). As so often, the characters in this term have various meanings and can hardly be translated by just one word: 意  “I” means “mind, heart, thought, idea, intention, care”; 念 “nen” means “idea, feeling, concern, attention, caution”. In a Buddhist context nen is used as the translation of the Sanskrit term smriti (Pali: sati), which means “mindfulness”.

Nowadays, this defines a whole method of meditation. Inen thus signifies “consciousness, intention, attentiveness”. “Inen guides the ki” implies, that every mindful physical exercise leads the ki to flow into the parts of the body, on which one concentrates. “If you do not use strength but will, wherever your will directs chi will arrive.” (Wong 2002:37; chi = ki 気) Thus if one concentrates on the fist, when one focusses (kime) a punch, this will stimulate a surge of ki.

John Cheetham (2019a:11) wrote:

“Some people say that kime is like putting the brakes on, which makes the energy stay ‘inside the body’ and not transfer to the target.”

If you understand kime in the context of ki, the exact opposite is the case!

Kanazawa Hirokazu was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of four or five without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. He describes it in his autobiography, which I have translated into German. During the translation process, I spoke to him directly about this, because it has always intrigued me. He told me that everything is connected on a molecular level in the sense that everything is vibrating energy in the end. He described it as visualizing the indicated board vividly and projecting his consciousness into it, becoming one with it, and thus being able to pulverize it.

He added with a laugh:

“People usually wanted me to break the second or third board, hardly the last one and never the first one. But to stop the ki at the first board and not break the others would have been the hardest task to fulfill.”

Kanazawa also used to say that a punch does not end at the fist, but goes way beyond, because the ki shoots out far on and yonder. It is quite clear that ki in this context is connected to an intense mental focus rather than a mere somatic one. Thus, kime is coupled with the mobilization of ki. In good combination with relaxation it makes the technique strong on more than a physical level and leads to a balanced, hence healthy ki-flux.

Ki as a Psychosomatic Concept. Again: relaxation!

When we look at other Southeast Asian martial arts, namely many soft Kung Fu styles, Pentjak Silat or Kalaripayattu, they are very fluid and do not apply kime. Even in Shotokan, its first offspring, the Shotokai, headed by Egami Shigeru (1912-1981), who deemed himself to be totally loyal to Funakoshi Gichin and his Karate, suppleness and relaxation are emphasized. Kata in Shotokai are performed in a continuous flow, almost tensionless. The fixation on kime in the sense of a physical tightening up of the body seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the wide world of bare hand fighting arts. Therefore it is worth revisiting.  

John Cheetham (2019a: 12) states:

“30/40 years ago, kime to me was a totally muscular concept, now it’s changed: now a ‘decisive’ blow is a combination of power generated from relaxation, speed, breath, intention and mental focus!”

This is a wonderful, comprehensive definition! As we have seen, intention and mental focus are exactly the elements, which mobilize ki. I say this with tongue in cheek: but when the Japanese instructors back in the days exhorted us to put more kime into our techniques, they might just have meant that we concentrate more, focus our mind, and put our heart and soul into every single movement.

To do something with total commitment and dedication is deemed a great virtue in Japan. This pertains to minor tasks like sweeping a garden or cleaning the floor of the dojo – you ought to give it your full attention. So the Japanese instructors might have meant the mental aspect of “kime”, while we Westerners misunderstood it in the way that we should display physical power and strength.

From the Chinese perspective, ki can flow best, when one is totally relaxed. Actually too much or extended tension impedes the ki-circulation. As a Karateka of a certain age, what happens after the technical kime is much more interesting and important for the physique than what happens during tension. The alternation between tension and relaxation characterizes the physical discipline of Karate. Now when we put the focus (kime) more on the latter, it might be good for our health and well-being – and our performance of Karate too!

References

Cheetham, John: “Kime-Focus: the concept revisited”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 141/Sept. 19 (2019a), 10-12

Cheetham, John: “The Bow & Arrow Analogy”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 142/Dec. 19 (2019b), 30-31

Kanazawa, Hirokazu: Karate – My life. Transl. by Alex Bennett, 2012.

Matsuda, Ryûchi: Shôrin Kenjutsu. Rakanken. Kihon kara sentô gijutsu made. Shinsôban. Tsuchiya shoten 2013

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Karate-dô. Shin Kyôtei. Tokyo: Tsuru shobô 1965

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Dynamic Karate. Tokyo: Kodansha 1966

Nakayama, Takatsugu: Dakara, Karate wa tsuyoi! Himeta pawâ o dasu, dentô no shintai gihô. BAB Japan 2013

Nishiyama, Hidetaka und Richard C. Brown: Karate. The Art of “Empty Hand” Fighting. Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo: Tuttle 1960

Wong, Kiew Kit: The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan. A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice. Tokyo, Rutland, Vermont, Singapore: Tuttle 2002

About the Author

Dr. Wolfgang Herbert, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Tokushima, 5th Dan Shôtôkan Karate, practices Yang-style Taijiquan. He can be contacted via his Dôjô-homepage: https://skiftokushima.wordpress.com

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Seiken: About the Karate Fist and Ki

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki. But today, relaxation must become the focal point of Shotokan.

Seiken is the “standard” way of making a fist in Karate. However, most karate practitioners consider it less relevant than it actually is. The way of rolling the hand to a fist has a huge effect on the power of a Tsuki and on the Ki flow within the body. Both are interconnected and also influence ones health. An analysis by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Herbert

Karate is popularly associated with open hand techniques or knife hand strikes. However, the signature technique in modern Karate undoubtedly is the straight punch with a “regular” or “standard” fist called seiken (正拳) in Japanese. When Karate was introduced as a pre-military and physical education into the elementary and middle schools in Okinawa at the beginning of the 20th century by Itosu Anko (1831-1915), “dangerous” techniques were eliminated from the curriculum. The regular fore fist, the seiken, replaced, for instance, the one-knuckle-fists, stabbing with the fingers, and other open hand techniques.

Seiken: The Standard Way of Making a Fist

Seiken can also mean the “correct” fist. This shows that the karate community perceives it as the standard and orthodox way of forming a fist nowadays. One knuckle-fists or finger poking have a more hazardous effect than a seiken. They can penetrate far deeper into vital points and thus inflict more harm. These ways to strike are preserved in higher Kata (Chinte, Hangetsu, both Gojushiho a.o.), but not trained as basics anymore. The fist with the middle finger sticking out (Nakadaka ippon ken 中高一本拳) might have been the preferred fist of Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957) rather than the so called “Okinawan” fist (see discussion below).

The fore fist is one of the first things we learn, when we start with Karate-do. It is so basic that many long time practitioners hardly think of it anymore. But due to its basic nature it is important to close the fist in the correct way. In every textbook of Karate you might find instructions like the following.

The following picture is about seiken and shows an explanation from Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Black Belt Karate.
This picture explanation how to close a fist is from Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Black Belt Karate from 2006. One can find it on page 30.

The Thumb in Seiken and the “Okinawa” Fist

How far the thumb is bent depends on individual preferences and slight differences among styles: it should not stick out, but cover the index and middle finger. Covering one and a half finger seems to be most common. Some schools bend the thumb slightly outwards, which gives the fist a different tension. There is also a discussion pertaining to the “Okinawan” fist and if it would not have been the preferred way for Funakoshi Gichin to make a clenched hand. You can find the discussion in Iain Abernethey´s forum.

Actually the “Okinawan Fist” (the tip of the index finger is held straight) is pictured in the book Dynamic Karate (1966) by Nakayama Masatoshi on page 75 (see below). In the comment it says:

“This method of making a fist was widely used until about 30 years ago, but few karateka employ it today. It declined in popularity because, although the index and middle fingers form a tight ball, the little finger tends to be quite loose.”

The picture shows a seiken by Masatoshi Nakayama.

Seiken and Ki

Let me take the seiken as an example to highlight some aspects in regard to traditional Chinese medicine. In acupuncture it is thought that a “life force” or “vital energy” (気Chines. qi, Jap. ki) circulates within the body in lines called meridians. Modern Western medicine relates the concept of Ki to “subtle energy” (Rosch 2009), which belongs to the research field of bioelectric medicine. The fingertips are the endpoints of meridians connecting them with inner organs. The little finger is connected to the small intestine and the heart, the index finger with the large intestine and the thumb with the lungs.

The picture shows a crucial aspects of seiken: the meridian system and energy flow.


This picture can be found in Nakayama Takatsugu 2013.

If these three fingers are vigorously rolled in and are closed strongly while executing a technique, it is said to have positive effects on ones inner organs and thus on ones health. Nakayama Takatsugu, a Karateka and physiotherapist, insists on the importance of strongly curling the three fingers mentioned above. Below is an illustration (Nakayama 2013: 80) from his book. The Japanese caption reads:

The “seiken” is almost synonymous with Karate and when at the moment of “kime” the thumb and the little finger are firmly clenched, the power will not dissipate (be particularly conscious of the little finger).

This picture shows another illustration about seiken.
This picture can be found in Nakayama Takatsugu 2013.

The two meridians which lead off from the tip of the little finger end at the shoulder blade and under the armpit. Both of these parts play an important role in focusing a straight punch and also connect the fist to the lower body. Furthermore the meridians run along the arm and have an effect on how the elbow is tensed. Everyone can self experiment with thrusting a punch with a loose little finger and with a firmly clenched one. The difference one feels, should be evident.

Seiken, Ki, and Tanden

The little fingers relation to the small intestine has one more implication: it connects a strong fist to the lower abdomen (臍下丹田seika tanden). This is where ki is accumulated and from where it can be sent out. The relation to the heart can also be figuratively understood. When one punches with ones “heart”, i. e. a strong intention and will, this will mobilize a strong ki.

Ki in Chinese Medicine: A Holistic Approach

Qi/ki (気) in traditional Chinese medicine is a psychosomatic holistic concept. In Western anatomy one tends to dissect and separate everything according to function, whereas in eastern thinking the interconnections and homeostasis of the whole body/mind/spirit is central. A mind/matter or soul/body-dualism is not dominant.

Thus ki has material and immaterial aspects. It is and flows in the bones, the marrow, the muscles, the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic and the nervous system, the organs, glands, spine and brain and the meridians which connect everything. Ki pervades the totality of physical functions and the mind, which is the conductor in this orchestra. Ki is the regulator or monitor of a fluid balance and the harmonious interplay of all the above mentioned elements.

Ki must Flow

Health in the Chinese understanding means that qi/ki can flow freely and without blockages or occlusions. Latter occurrences lead to sickness and indisposition. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, gymnastics and meditation (visualization) were developed from time immemorial to guarantee an unimpeded ki-flow (Kohn 1989). The martial arts were practiced in this context. Good martial art practice is said to open the energy channels, eliminate blockages and harmonize the flow of ki. Ki can be mobilized, directed and circulated by conscious mental activity. The standard formulas are: “Where the thinking/mind (意 Jap. i, Chines. yi) is, there is ki.” “Guiding the ki with the thinking/mind”.

Inen: The Concentration of Ki

Another term widely used in internal martial arts (e.g. Taijiquan, Qigong) is inen 意念 (Matsuda 2013:176). As so often the characters in this term have various meanings and can hardly be translated by just one word: 意 I means “mind, heart, thought, idea, intention, care”; 念  nen means “idea, feeling, concern, attention, caution” and in a Buddhist context nen is used as the translation of the Sanskrit term smriti (Pali: sati), which means “mindfulness”. Inen 意念 thus signifies “consciousness, intention, attentiveness”. “Inen guides the ki” implies, that every mindful physical exercise leads the ki to flow into the parts of the body one concentrates on.

The Benefits of the Right Seiken

Therefore it is beneficial to concentrate on the taut closing of the fist when one focuses (kime) a technique (notably a punch), because this will stimulate a surge of ki. A simple move like clenching a fist can have multiple positive effects if executed with mindfulness and the knowledge of the impact it can have on the whole body/mind-system.

Everybody who works with impact training, be it the Makiwara, sandbag or pads, knows how important it is to close the fist properly and align it straightly with the wrist. Hence, a firm seiken is indispensable for practicing good Karate. It can be observed that due to the use of protective gear in Sports Karate, many athletes do not close their fists properly anymore. But in order to make full use of the potential of Karate, notably its effects on good health (ki-circulation), it is advisable to clench the fists strongly when focusing and then relax the grip. Eventually, Karate as a martial art belongs to the family of “boxing” or  kenpo 拳法, which means in Chinese quanfa: Fist Method.   

Naka Tatsuya-sensei on seiken-zuki: please watch from 1:43 to 4:15

References

Kanazawa, Hirokazu: Black Belt Karate. The Intensive Course. Foreword by Masatoshi Nakayama. Transl. by Richard Berger. Tokyo, New York  & London: Kodansha Intl. 2006.

Kohn, Livia (ed.) and Yoshinobu Sakade (coop.): Taoist Meditation and Longevity Techniques. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies/The University of Michigan 1989 (Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies 61).

Matsuda Ryûchi: Shôrin Kenjutsu. Rakanken. Kihon kara sentô gijutsu made. Shinsôban. Tsuchiya shoten 2013.

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Dynamic Karate. Instruction by the Master. Transl. by Herman Kauz. Tokyo, New York & London: Kodansha Intl 1966.

Nakayama, Takatsugu: Dakara, Karate wa tsuyoi! Himeta pawâ o dasu, dentô no shintai gihô. BAB Japan 2013.

Rosch, Paul J.: Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine. The Interface between Mind and Matter. In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009.

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Rei to Love: Etiquette is Healthy and Good for Fighting

Shotokan Karate

Rei has a special ceremonial meaning in Shotokan karate. It makes the transition from a casual mind into the state of budo. Most karateka, however, do not know that it is also good for ones health and for fighting. By Florian Wiessmann

Karate Dō begins and ends with rei.
Gichin Funakoshi

Every Karateka is familiar with the first precept of Gichin Funakoshi – Karate Dō begins and ends with ‘rei’. Also probably nearly every Karateka agrees about the importance of this precept, putting rei at the very centre of their Karate practice. Yet many seem to forget, that rei is not only describing a mental attitude, but also a very concrete physical practice. Paradoxically, while rei as a mental attribute is emphasized, the physical manifestation of rei is often shunned upon by the very same Karate practitioners. They see seiza and bowing as something unpleasant and antiquated, only done to fulfill some kind of Asian tradition but with no real usefulness to Karate practice, let alone fighting proficiency.

This lack of appreciation often shows in sloppy reihō. Even advanced belts are struggling while getting up from seiza, glad that the unwanted part is over and the ‘real’ Karate practice begins. But why not staying true to Funakoshis precept and starting Karate practice (yes, I mean the actual physical training) with rei and not after it? You might ask why? Seiza and bowing have no real relevance in the western world, they don’t apply to your everyday life, let alone to physical Karate practice. Guess what: you’re wrong.

Bowing in Rei

Did you ever drop something? Did you have to pick it up from the floor? Happens all the time, right? This is essentially bowing! The question is, did you pick it up correctly in a back sparing way? Or did you struggle somewhat, picking it up in an awkward position? Unfortunately many people tend to hurt their backs while picking up stuff.

We all look like really folded cashews.

Jean Couch

This is were we can learn from other cultures. Use your hips! Ever heard about using your hips in Karate training? Do it properly while bowing, too. Bending at the hips engages the hamstring muscles and takes the pressure off the back muscles, sparing your spine and possibly preventing back pain.[1]

A correct bowing will change your body!

Tatsuya Naka

Seiza in Rei

Ok, so now you might agree to the relevance of bowing. But seiza certainly doesn’t relate to your everyday life and it hurts your knees. So more modern- and practical oriented martial arts are better of without seiza practice? Sorry, you’re wrong again.

Tastsuya Naka shows how to get up from seiza correctly.

The 2012 IFA Report (Institute for Work Safety of the German Social Accident Insurance) about work-related knee-strains mentions seiza and kiza as a common posture within certain crafts while working on the knees (e.g. tilers, plumbers and painters). Laboratory screening shows, that the knee is exposed to less straining forces while sitting on the heels compared to other forms of kneeling and crouching. Seiza and hiza are identified as a recovery posture for the lumbar spine and knees, especially the knee caps. The erected upper body, a relieve of the patella exterior and the contact with soft tissue furthermore reduces the forces on thighs and knee joints.[2]

Seiza and MMA

And regarding ‘modern’ martial arts, actually most BJJ- and MMA practitioners will find themselves in seiza in nearly every training. Working from inside closed guard, a very common grappling posture, will most certainly lead to a seiza position. Therefore you often read about problems with sitting on the heels in MMA and Grappling related internet groups. So if you deem traditional seiza to be not relevant for you, think again.[3]

Seiza and bowing in MMA training

Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training
Rei: Seiza and bowing in MMA training

While longer periods of seiza sitting can have a negative effect on postural control after standing up because of occluding the blood flow of the lower limbs[4]and seiza at first can be very uncomfortable, especially on individuals not used to it. Seiza per se is deemed to be innocuous for the knees.[5] Of course regular training of seiza will reduce the negative effects so you can use the practice of seiza to it’s full potential.

Getting up

And there is more to seiza than to just sit on the floor. You have of course to transition from standing to the floor and get up again. While this is happening on a regular basis in every grappling- and throwing related art and is also still very present in middle east- and east asian cultures with a more floor-living lifestyle, this transitional movements are sadly very underrepresented in regular Karate practice. Transition into- and from seiza is your chance to experience this very important movement patterns.

Sitting/kneeling on the ground and transitioning to and from standing are a fundamental movement macronutrient, many are missing in their life and their natural movement training.

Ben Medder[6]

Measures

The osteopath Phillip Beach lists three common sense and clinically practical approaches to prevent musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction:

  • spending more time on the floor in archetypal positions (e.g. squatting[7], kneeling and seiza, cross legged sitting – ‘sitting on the floor in comfort is a developmental birthright’)
  • paying attention on the feet (our feet play a crucial role in our biomechanical well being and the rehabilitating of our feet is essential for reducing musculoskeletal distress)
  • revisiting the processes involved in rising from the floor to upright (‘the effort to erect oneself from the floor to standing are a way of finetuning the many muscles we use in life’) [8]

To love your reihō is to love your body! Make yourself familiar with correct bowing, squatting, seiza and corresponding transitional movements. This will improve your health, posture and after all your martial arts proficiency.

Florian Wiessmann: Practising Karate since the mid 1990s, I am currently a Nidan at the Nihon Karate-dō Shūshūkan, which is headed by Sugimori Kichinosuke (9.Dan) and its german branch is lead by Stephan Yamamoto (6.Dan). https://shushukan.com/

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines

[2] https://www.dguv.de/ifa/publikationen/reports-download/reports-2012/ifa-report-2-2012/index.jsp, p.70

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGeB7oS_Qa4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfH9JP8GDdk

[4] http://www.humanergology.com/old/jhe2005p/p13~23-Demura2.pdf

[5] http://drbillsclinic.com/seiza_position.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1bPbLyr8I

[7] s. also https://www.shushukan.de/squatting-as-a-general-karate-skill/

[8] Beach, Phillip: Muscles and Meridians – The manipulation of shape, Elsevier Ltd. 2010, p. 3-4 and Foreword

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How to do a Choku-Zuki? Use your Hip and Pelvis!

Our friends from Karate Dojo WaKu in Tokyo allowed us to share the following video. This time, they explain how to do a choku-zuki.

How does it work?

A choku-zuki is a punch in an upright stance called heiko dachi. Although, it belongs to the most basic punches, it poses many difficulties for beginners to execute it with a maximum of power and speed. No forward body-movement supports the punch. Therefore, the secret to the choku-zuki lies in the utilization of the hip and pelvis rotation. Both have to move slightly back and forth in order to initiate the movement and to create a whiplash-effect. Without the hip and pelvis rotation only the shoulders and arms generate power. That limits the efficiency and effectiveness of the punch.

Basic Posture of Choku-Zuki

The starting position comprises the front hand in a zuki position while the back hand rest in hikite position between the hip and the rips. Do not forget to pull the hikite hand as much back as position. As a result the arm muscles create some tension. That makes it possible to release the arm like the arrow from a bow. When the fist reaches it target, the arm will have accelerated to maximum speed and thus power.

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki.
Hirokazu Kanazawa doing a choku-zuki.

Basic Movement of Choku-Zuki

When you move your fist an arm forward focus on a straight motion. Your arm should not rotate towards the target. Keep it straight without tensing up. Therefore, the elbows must stay inside. If the move outside you lose a lot of energy and disrupt your joints. During the whole motion stay relaxed. Only a few millimeters before your arm has fully extended use kime for a split of a second.

What to Consider

Do not forget to use a slight hip-rotation in order to initiate the punch. However, do not leave your hip at the front. Create a tiny counter motion by pulling it back before your fist reaches the target. Once you have mastered this you will experience the so called “whip-lash-effect“. You then create power and tension without using to much of your muscle power. Thus, your punch will become way more efficient.

You must also focus on you knuckles (seiken). Only the inner two (index and middle finger) should hit the target. The physical idea behind that is to maximize energy on a very small spot. The effect of the impact will then much stronger.

How do you do your choku-zuki? Critical comments are welcome!

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What is Okuri-tsuki? And How To Do it Correctly?

Okuri-tsuki is the most prominent unknown technique of Shotokan karate. Many karateka have seen or applied it. But they do not know its name or to describe it in technical terms. That is why we going to describe what it is and how to do it in this article. By Derick Kirkham

What is Okuri-tsuki? Hopefully this article will unravel any misconceptions that surround this neglected and under-used technique. The word Okuri in this application referred to as a meaning for “to slide”. But it is also probably the main reason why it is still occasionally mistaken for a form of Nagashi-tsuki (flowing punch).

Where Does it Come From?

Many of the Japanese instructors in the early days came to Karate after studying other oriental arts such as Judo and Kendo. Here they learnt the foundational concept of Okuri. For instance, Judo has a technique called Okuri-ashi-barai, which is the sliding leg sweep. Also in Kendo a specialized footwork technique named Okuri-ashi (sliding leg)Fig 1 exists and is a key part of Kendo’s tactical armory. This Shizen-tai footwork technique is important in Kendo. Because it permits the Kendo-ka to move extremely quickly forwards and backwards with only the minimum of “dead time”. Therefore,one should bear it in mind as a pertinent concept. To understanding the essence of Okuri-tsuki one needs to understand this concept.

The foundation of Okuri-tsuki is Okuri ashi.
The foundation of Okuri-tsuki is Okuri ashi.

The confusion about this technique has therefore several roots:

  • influences from other Japanese martial arts, which most Westerners did not learn;
  • complexity and too often ambiguity of the Japanese language;
  • the reluctance of some, not all of the Japanese instructors to give detailed explanations to their Gaijin students, of the names, concepts and meaning of every technique.

However, today our sources of information are better. Therefore, we want to explain how Okuri-tsuki works.

How Does Okuri-tsuki Work?

Okuri-tsuki means a punching technique that is delivered and reaches its target between the firm placements of ones launching and landing stances. The fist hits the desired target area whilst one’s body mass is still on the move. Therefore, its transit nature of the technique makes it difficult for some people to identify, classify, and perform. On the other hand it also makes it such a powerful hard hitting technique.

It’s not a variation of Oi-tsuki, Kizami-tsuki, Nagashi-tsuki nor Gyaku-tsuki. But understandably it can and is often mistaken for these techniques. Because it does resemble a poorly coordinated Oi-tsuki, or an over stretched Gyaku-tsuki, where the rear foot isn’t firmly rooted upon impact with the target area. Thus, some observers have difficulties to identify it, as its characteristic delivery speed masks the technique.

In this fantastic video Toshihito Kokubun executes Okuri-tsuki twice.

The Important Aspects of Okuri-tsuki

Its runaway freight train effect depends upon a couple of things:

  • timing of the launch of the punch,
  • forward projection of ones opponent, and
  • proficiency of the performer.

It’s neither a new technique nor a neglected one. By many it simply has been overlooked for many reasons. In my experience many neglect it in Kihon because it doesn’t appear in kata nor as a grading syllabus requirement. Due to its more agricultural and practical functionality it has also been over-looked in the modern sporting arena as it is believed to be too brutal and it lends itself more for use in Jissen and Jiyu-Kumite. Therefore, it poses the question: does it actually exist? Or is it just a quirky variation of another tsuki?

Does it really exist?

While the overall technique is somewhat Kamikaze looking in appearance, the underlying tactics employed are of equal importance to its success as the mechanics of the technique itself. The tactics involved are; selecting the correct mind set prior for delivery, ones timing, line and direction are all key. The technique can be delivered using a permutation of various tactics. However, the most commonly used and most devastating effects result by using a combination mind set of Ikken Hisatsu, Sen no Sen and Irimi. Therefore, the delivery of the technique in the following examples focuses directly in the forward direction.

Among the accomplished exponents of Okuri -tsuki, was the late Steve Cattle. Others worthy of note are the late Taiji Kase and Keinosuke Enoeda. In the new generation of Japanese Instructors people such as Tatsuya Naka and Takahashi Yamaguchi use it. 

In this video Keinosuke Enoeda shows Okuri-tsuki in combination with a Deashibarai.

The execution of the technicques marks the most important aspect in its distinction from other techniques. While it appears somewhat Kamikaze-like, the underlying tactics employed accounts for its success as the mechanics of the technique itself. The tactics involved:

  • selecting the correct mind-set prior for delivery,
  • ones timing,
  • ones line and
  • direction.

Mind-set and Strategy Behind Okuri-tsuki

When it comes to the right mind-set a combination of Ikken Hisatsu, Sen no Sen and Irimi works best. The karateka in the follinwing examples deliver the technique straight forward with 100% commitment to and belief in the success of the technique.

However, the technique can also be delivered using the strategy of Go no Sen: “seizing the initiative later”. This requires blocking and then countering after the attack of the opponent. But commonly Okuri-tsuki becomes utilized in Sen no Se: “seizing the initiative early”. That does not mean that one necessarily makes the first move. More often it involves one intending to counter precisely at the same time that your opponents attacks.

Sliding in

Where does the sliding in take place in Okuri-tsuki? After one observes the technique, one could never describe it as being of a sliding motion. The Okuri name occurs after Kamae-te and refers to the essential preparatory footwork of Okuri-ashi. Fig 1 Its usage lies in the gain of territorial advantage and to ensure the correct launching distance the long range Tsuki technique. Therefore, Okuri -tsuki describes the tactical footwork of using the sliding leg (Okuri-ashi). 

What makes Okuri-tsuki so effective?

Is it the unusual nature of its timing and delivery, which generates high speed with the minimum amount of “dead time”?  Probably! But it comes as a payoff. The increased speed and reduced “dead time” leads to a loss in stability upon impact with the target.Especially during the mid-flight section the karateka stands only on one leg. This loss in stability, however, is due to the body’s full commitment and its follow through motion.

How to Execute Okuri-tsuki?

So, with the tactics firmly in place and the correct distance to launch one Okuri-tsuki gained by using Okuri-ashi, then let’s go through the execution of the technique itself.  As we are using “Ikken-Hsatsu”, “Sen no Sen” and “Irimi” we will be stepping forward to deliver the technique.

1. Assume a right foot forward Kamae-te. Fig 2

The First Steps

The execution of Okuri-tsuki.
The execution of Okuri-tsuki.

2. Use Okuri-ashi to gain advantage to ensure that the correct launching distance is obtained. Fig 1

3. Quickly rotate the hips from Hanmi through to Sokumen and begin to punch Jodan-tsuki with the left hand, slightly before you start to move the left leg (Do-Kyaku) forwards. Fig 2 A 

So far you can see why initially it may look like a static Gyaku-tsuki. However, where in Gyaku-tsuki one is expected to keep the body perpendicular throughout the hip rotation, and any forward projection and extension is achieved by the extent of the hip rotation, the distance the stance travels and the bending of the knee of the front leg. Whereas in Okuri-tsuki, one achieves forward projection by leaning slightly forward into the target. Fig 2 B

Note: unlike Gyaku-tsuki, the coordinated Hikite and the firmly planted back foot is not present throughout.

The Further Steps

4. Fig 2 C Shows a side view just prior to impact. This is the phase where the left leg (Do-Kyaku) starts to catch up by driving towards ones over stretched center of gravity point.

5. The left leg (Do-Kyaku) has now reached the body’s balanced centre of gravity point and the body is perpendicular, it is at this point when the explosive collision impact of the punch occurs. Fig 2 D  Note how the left leg (Do-Kyaku) is still moving and not on the floor.

6. After the impact in the basic form of the technique one should snap back the left hand and firmly place down the left leg (Do-Kyaku). Variants of the snap back are employed if the use of a follow on technique requires it Fig 2 E

7. The snap back of the left hand is in readiness. Assume a left leg forward Kamae-te.

Some Picture Studies

Photo Group A 1-8 demonstrates Okuri-Tsuki with the follow up technique of a highly destructive leg sweep performed with Ikken-Hisatsu in mind, as always by K.Enoeda. Note how much the front left foot moves forward in photos 1-2 gaining distance prior to the launching of the punch. Also consider how at the impact point in photo 3 his right foot lifts off the ground and on the move forward in photo 4. In this case the right foot not lands. But it delivers a leg bar to execute a powerful double leg sweep followed up with Otoshi-Tsuki.

Keinosku Enoeda shows how to execute the Okuri-tsuki.
Photo Group A: Keinosku Enoeda shows how to execute the Okuri-tsuki.

Although the fighting art differs in Photo Group B 1-3 the physics, the theory and the end result remains exactly the same. Photo 1 shows the total commitment of the body to the techniques delivery as it approaches the impact point and notice that the arm is already at full extension, Photo 2 shows the impact point and by the way this particular punch was responsible for breaking the jaw of the durable and very tough competitor Ken Norton, Photo 3 shows that there is very little pull back of the technique after impact and the back leg of Muhammad Ali has still not caught up the forward projection of the attacker’s committed technique.

 Okuri-tsuki by Muhammad Ali.
Photo Group B: Okuri-tsuki by Muhammad Ali.

Conclusion and A Simple Test

Hope this article has introduced Okuri-tski to some and stimulated the interest in trying out Okuri-tsuki in your training regime to all. Although the objective of the article was to clear up the mysteries and misconceptions surrounding Okuri-tsuki, I invite you to conduct this simple experiment. I first saw it demonstrated by Masahiko Tanaka. As I firmly believe that it may help you as it did help me, to fully appreciate the advantages that “a moving mass” impact technique such as Okuri-tsuki can add to the overall effectiveness of your technique.

So then if you are in the game, then try this simple test:

1. Stand in a left leg forward Zenkutsu-Dachi 

2. Position yourself close to a wall and extend the right arm out so that the fist of your right hand is firmly making contact with the wall.

3. Then push with the right arm into the wall constantly and experience what it feels like (in other words do not put on and ease off the pressure you are putting through the arm and fist during the experiment).

4. Next, without moving from the previous position, just lift the foot of the left leg and feel how your mass is being pulled further into the wall, i.e. into the would be target.

This is simply because the bodies mass is now unsupported and is subject to gravitational pull. Thus it simulates being on the move, whilst making contact with the target. This happens just a fraction of a second prior to landing your mass through the foot of the moving leg (Do-Kyaku) and just as you would experience it with a correctly delivered Okuri-Tsuki.  Good Luck and Good Practice.

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How to move forward in Zenkutsu Dachi? Two Approaches Compared

Zenkutsu dachi belongs to the most basic stances, or tachi-waza in Shotokan karate. In fact, it distinguishes Shotokan from other karate styles because most of them do not put so much emphasize on at. However, most karateka have a very static approach to the stance. Although new and dynamic approaches how to move in zenkutsu dachi have been developed in recent years. We are going to present them in this article. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

In recent years, a new way of moving forward in zenkutsu dachi has been established. For some commentators it is way too “sporty”. Others criticizes it for its exaggerated focus on leaning forward. We are going to present you the “sporty” version and contrast it with the modern approach to move forward in zenkutsu dachi taught by masters like Tatsuya Naka.

The Sporty Approach of Zenkutsu Dachi

The classical approach of moving forward in zenkutsu dachi has always focused on pull the back leg as close as possible to the front leg and from there to move it forward to the front. Several master like Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa had taught it this way.

In the new approach, on the other hand, not the legs initiate the motion but the body center. The body shall be moved to the front in order to reach a tipping point. Behind this idea stands the conviction to let the own weight pull the rest of the body over the tipping point. This would save power and still create more speed.

The concept works best by bending the front knee through relaxation. Trough the relaxation the body enters a forward motion. This initiation works without utilizing power of the body. After the body center has crossed the tipping point the muscles in the legs become applied and generate extra speed and power.

Our friends from the Karate Dojo WaKu in Tokyo created an excellent explanatory video about this approach.

The Modern Approach

While the sporty approach indeed offers an efficient way of acceleration it also leads to an instable motion. It comes pretty close to “falling” forward. It sacrifices control for speed because the upper body leans too much to the front.

The classical approach, as far as taught by masters like Tatsuya Naka, combines the concept of relaxation with a strong focus of pulling the thighs together. Our advisory board member, Keigo Shimizu Sensei, explains this approach in the folling video. sent us the below video. Due to the fact, that he speaks Japanese in the video, we have here a brief translation for you:

“It is important to have the feeling that the thighs close during the step at all times. Not the feet execute the step but the thighs close and pass each other and accelerate together. Do not bring your feet together. If one masters this step it is possible to accelerate very fast and cross long-distances. To move fast and clean, the weight should not only lie on the front leg. The back leg has to be pulled to the front leg.”

The zenkutsu dachi step focuses more on pulling than on pushing. Due to that, both legs are engaged in the motion and the energy is directed to the front. This approach is a synergy of the classical and “sporty” step. It utilizes the energy that emerges through a relaxed front knee. But it combines it with a strong focus on an active back leg and a stable and coordinating body center. Through that it creates power and speed but also stability and security. Because for Keigo Sensei counts: “Kihon must work in Kumite. Kihon only for Kihon reasons is like a beauty contest.

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Hikite: More than just the pulling hand

Addison and Eleanor with a strong focus on Hikite!

Hikite has been criticized in the last few years to be ineffective and actually solely for the purpose of pulling an opponent. I will show in this article its actually bio-mechanical purpose as a counter-motion for the creation of speed and power. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The Hikite Critics

I have heard many so called experts criticizing the hikite as a pointless exercise. It makes no sense, they say, that pulling one hand in the opposite direction, to the one that is punching, will generate power to the punching hand. They usually go on to say that the original purpose of hikite is easily seen in the older, Okinawan forms of karate. They operated at a closer range between the attacker and the defender. Karate was originally, purely for self-defense. It was used when attacked by an adversary, and not for sport, where two karateka are facing off.

So, in those experts’ opinion, the hikite – originally meant for destabilising the opponent, grabbing limbs, clothing or hair, to assist in a throw or takedown – is a waste of time unless used for those reasons. In fact the free hand would be put to better use as a cover, for the face say, while the opposite hand is punching et cetera.

A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.
A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.

What is Hikite about?

Hikite is another of those Japanese terms that means more than it says. Hikite: the pulling hand. Firstly, the hand that is the counter-piece of any given hand technique is not just pulled back per se. But we’ll get back to that. The difference between karate and let’s say boxing is simple. Karate doesn’t use a shoulder and or a lean in or a swing to generate power in the technique. Power generated in that manner makes the weight of the initiator a major part of that power generation. The (switched on) Shotokan karateka uses the rotation around the central pivot, or Hara (the core), of the body. Utilising the whole body, not just the side that is punching, the karateka is in fact employing more mass.

Furthermore, the slingshot effect generates more explosive speed. And, as everyone knows, this is instrumental in both power output and payload delivery: Force = Mass x Velocity (Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion). In the David and Goliath scenario: do you think that David would have slain Goliath if he’d simply thrown the stone?

Counter Pivot Around the Core for Maximum Speed and Power

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It "works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home."
Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It “works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home.”

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

What The Experts get Wrong

I do not disagree in regard to those other uses for the hikite. However, in my humble opinion, those so called experts don’t see the whole concept. They totally miss or misunderstand, the other side of the equation. To talk about pulling and pushing is somewhat redundant. Pulling one hand back is not going to power up the pushing or punching side… that’s obvious. That is where most of the power generation naysayers get their nickers in a twist. At the risk of repeating myself: the hikite is not pulling back, it is pulling the opposite side of the body into the equation by powering it through the central pivot or center axis. This action enables the karateka to utilise the power of the entire body. And not just the side that is delivering the strike.

Hikite Creates Physical Force

There is an equation for this power generation. Centripetal force (defined as, “The component of force acting on a body in curvilinear motion that is directed toward the center of curvature or axis of rotation”) is equal and opposite to the Centrifugal force. Centrifugal force (defined as, “The force, equal and opposite to the Centripetal force, drawing a rotating body away from the center of rotation, caused by the inertia of the body.”) then adds to the Mass and the Velocity already in motion. Again, we have a measurable: Force = Mass x Velocity.

Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both focus a lot on Hikite!
Our Two young ladies of the opener picture: Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both have a strong focus on Hikite!

All the other possible constituents of the hikite – destabilising the opponent, grabbing, pulling and assisting a throw or takedown et cetera – actually become even more relevant. Power generation, on its own, is a very real component of hikite. However, in addition, the supplementary power element makes all the other mechanisms of hikite even more practicable.

Hikite: more than just the pulling hand.

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How to Move Forward in Kokutsu Dachi?!

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa doing a Kokutsu dachi.

Today, we present you another video if our friends from waKu Karate in Tokyo. They show in detail how to move forward in kokutsu dachi. Due to the backwards orientation of the stance it can become a little bit tricky to move forward. So, let yourself become inspired by the video.

We would also like to know your approach. How do you move forward in kokutsu dachi? Do you use a specific technique? Let us know!

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What is Kime? Some Remarks About an Often Misunderstood Concept

Kime is the central concept of Shotokan Karate

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:

Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki.
Thomas McKinnon training kime with Gyaku-Zuki

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.

The picture shows the master of kime Hirokazu Kanazawa.
Master of kime doing an Oi-Zuki: Hirokazu Kanazawa

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.

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Power and Speed in Karate: Use Your Shoulder Blade

Do you want more power and speed in your karate? Focus in your kihon more on utilizing your shoulder blades and you will gain it. Our friends from WaKu Karate in Tokyo allowed us to share another of their tutorial videos which explains and shows the relationship between shoulder blades and your performance. What do you think? Do they use there shoulder blades correctly?