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What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation. By Michael Ehrenreich

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not?

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich during a fight with Shiina. Both show incredible fighting spirit.

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

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The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

6 Different Elements of Fighting Spirit

Self-confidence

But what are the different elements of the puzzle? The first element is our self-confidence. Self-confidence is a central part of fighting spirit. It is a positive feeling, it increases our self-esteem. Self-confidence is based on our skills and our positive experiences with challenges. That means, we have self-confidence in a certain area, whereas in others we might lack self-confidence.

Think, for example, that you as a Karate expert teaches a Karate class. You have the skills, the experience, and hence the self-confidence to teach a successful and exciting class. But than you need to talk about Karate. In front of strangers, hundreds of them. This is still the same topic, but a different setting. As a result, your confidence might  be low. That is why, it is so important, to always implement specific training impulses for specific goals. You cannot increase your self-confidence for a self-defense situation by signing-up for  a kata seminar.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich in situation full of fighting spirit.

Persistence

The second elements persistence. With persistence I understand the virtue of standing your ground when under pressure from outside. Pressure from outside can come in all different forms: a strong opponent in a fight, a mean boss, an important test, but also pain. While we don’t have much influence on the things that hit us from the outside, we can consider the way we look at them. We can change our perspective and look for weaknesses in an opponent. We can take lessons from peers who went through the same challenge. Over time, we will get used to all kinds of pain. In doing so, we will reduce the pressure and the stress that comes with it. We will be able to deal with a challenge or threat.

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Determination

The third element  is determination. It is the skill to set a goal and then motivating oneself to reachit. No matter what is being thrown at us. Somebody determined will always be first in class or practice and the last one to leave. She focuses on the possibilities and not on the problems. If she is not satisfied with a situation, she will change it.

Control

Control is the next element of the fighting spirit puzzle. With control I allude to the control over our feelings. The understanding that showing ones’ emotions is a sign of weakness and will not help us reaching our goals. Keeping our emotions under control in times of pressure, stress, and anxiety is an important aspect of a grown-up Karateka and of fighting spirit.

Risk-Taking

Taking risk is another element of the puzzle. We live in a society where taking risks is considered something to be avoided. But in order to progress as fighters and as human beings we need to take risks. As Karateka, if we go into a Kumite class and we do not feel butterflies in our stomach, we probably will not progress much as a fighter.

Competitiveness

Competitiveness is the last element of our fighting spirit puzzle. It is closely related to risk taking. But as Karateka it includes an opponent. It makes a challenge more dynamic. For instance, if we want to increase our fighting skills, we need to fight in class. The less rules we implement the more dynamic a situation will get. It becomes more realistic. Every interaction will be different, always changing. Every interaction will be a challenge. If we find the strength to always seek out stronger opponents, we will eventually get stronger, mentally and physically.

The picture shows true fighting spirit during a JKA tournament.

How to Train Fighting Spirit?

How do we train these elements? Let us assume that we are Karate teachers and there are two young fighters particularly promising. But both do not get the results everybody is expecting from them. Both are in their early 20s. One of them has been cruising through the junior divisions, winning tournament after tournament. He was a talent from the start, picked up techniques and concepts easily, never needed much practice. Even older Karateka respected his talent.

When he was entering the senior division (over the age of 21) though, things did not go quite as smoothly anymore. He started losing, often losing against obviously less talented fighters. Eventually, he was often injured or sick, especially before competitions. The other fighter has also been successful, but not quite as impressive. He never actually won a tournament but placed second or third a few times. When he is in regular class things look very different though. There is almost nobody who can keep up with him in the Dojo. Nobody practices harder and more often than he does. Everybody is wondering, why is he not fighting in competitions the way he is in practice?

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Two Practical Examples

So, we have two young Karateka who do not show the results they could. The causes for that differ . That also means that the way to deal with those fighters needs to be different. The traditional way of treating them the same way, often by simply increasing the number of repetitions, will help neither of them.

The First: Talent Yes, Determination No

The first Karateka draws his confidence from the fact that he is talented, genetically superior. But when he enters the grown-up division, talent becomes secondary. Now quantity becomes a force to reckon with. As a result, we need to explain our student that he will have to step up the number of weekly training hours he puts into Karate. He needs to understand the relation between training hours and competition results. We will need to help him motivating himself by pointing out the benefits of a life as a competitor, fame, trophies, maybe even money. Once he is ready, we will have to teach him about the really important things in life and how success in competition can help to achieve them. This Karateka needs to work on his determination.

The Second: Low Stress Management

The second Karateka does not need to practice more often. He already practices enough. With him we need to work on stress management. We need to help him understand why he is not delivering. If he is showing world class skills in the dojo but keeps on losing the important bouts, then there is something putting too much pressure on him. This pressure results into too much stress. Stress he is not able to cope with.

So, we need to find the stressor, the coach, the parents, peers, audience, or a combination of the above. The first step is to accept the fact that it is this stressor and his inability to deal with it that is holding him back. Then we need to set-up a training program to help managing his anxiety. For instance, with meditation, with visualization, with writing about his anxiety, or/and with practices where he will progressively face his daemons. This Karateka needs to work on his persistence.

The picture shows Thomas Prediger, chair of The Shotokan Times advisory board and organizer of the kumite boot camp. He also shows a lot of fighting spirit.

Conclusion: The Complex Concept of Fighting Spirit

Fighting spirit is a very complex concept. By breaking it down into different elements, the whole issue becomes  understandable and manageable. As a result, we are now able to set-up a specific program for a specific problem or goal. Just as we do with fitness. If we don’t set specific training goals and address those with specific training measures, then Karate training is no more than a lottery. A hit and miss situation. As Karateka we are surely aiming for more.

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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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Oi-Zuki: How to do it correctly?!

In the last two weeks, our friends from WaKu Dojo in Tokyo showed us their approach how to move in Zenkutsu-Dachi and how to execute a Choku-Zuki. Their Zenkutsu-approach caused some controversy. For some it was to sporty.

Today, they combine both motions (stand/move and punch) in one technique: Oi-Zuki. We are very curious whether it causes the same controversy like the Zenkutsu-video. Do not hesitate and leave us a comment with your thoughts. Oss!