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How can Sport Karate Become Respected Again?

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

Sport Karate has lost the respect of the global budo karate and combat fighter community. The reasons for this has been the sanitizing of karate to make it more attractive for the Olympic Games. But this project has failed. Now it is time to consider reforms of Sport Karate, to make it respected again. A proposal of reforms in the column Shotokan Essence by T.D. McKinnon

A Proposal of Reforms

Olympic Karate has been talked about, at least, since my heyday as a fighter in Scotland in the 1970s. The tournament organizers have been sanitizing competition Karate ever since, to present a more visually attractive event to the Olympic committee.

But has the whole sanitizing exercise been worth it?

With France leaving Karate off the agenda for the 2024 Paris Olympics, in favor of breakdancing, it appears that the Olympic dream might begin and end at the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics.

Therefore, the answer must be: No, it has not been worth it.

With the sensitization, sport karate has also lost a lot of respect within the Budo Karate and combat fighter communities. Yahara Mikio Sensei, when asked for his opinion of today’s sport Karate, is reported to have said, “No… no, this is not sport Karate… this maybe ‘sport fighting’, but this is not Karate.” I myself call modern sport karate ‘martial ping pong’ rather than a Martial Art.

Therefore, since the Olympic dream is over, let us start to envision how sport karate could regain its credibility. To do so, I will review a few elements in the WKF rule system and consider how they could be changed for the better. With a focus on Kumite, I will finish with a proposal of how future sport karate could and should look.

Sport Karate and World Karate Federation Rules

Within WKF point scoring competition, a score is awarded when a technique is performed according to the following criteria:

  • Good form,
  • sporting attitude,
  • vigorous application,
  • awareness,
  • good timing and
  • correct distancing.

Once these criteria have been met it depends on the technique how many points a fighter receives. I give you a brief overview here:

Ippon (3 points) is awarded for:

  • Jodan kicks
  • Any scoring technique delivered on a thrown or fallen opponent.

Waza-ari (2 points) is awarded for:

  • Chudan kicks.

Yuko (1 point) is awarded for:

  • Chudan or Jodan Tsuki
  • Jodan or Chudan Uchi.

Shortcomings of Sport Karate: WKF Rules and 4 Areas for Reform

So, where are the shortcomings of the WKF rule system? Following I discuss 4 areas of reform which are fundamental to karate. However, willfully or not, the WKF has neglected them.

1) The Lack of Kime

The first area stands at the center of karate: the concept of Kime. In the WKF rules, Kime is mentioned in the ‘Kata points to be considered’. However, it is yet not mentioned in the ‘Kumite points to be considered’. Why is that? There seems to be a lack of understanding of exactly what Kime is. And although Zanshin is not mentioned in the criteria it is mentioned in the latest rule changes (page 13 article VI) as a criterion often missing in a scoring technique. However, while I agree in regard to Zanshin, in my observation, Kime is the element most often missing from WKF competition scoring techniques.

Because Lack of Kime = lack of intent, that the controlled technique would indeed do the damage it represents. A technique can be ‘delivered vigorously’ (WKF criteria) and have no ‘Kime’. More acceptable, from a Budo standpoint, would be ‘delivered vigorously with Kime!’

2) The Role of Referees in WKF Competitions

In WKF competition, the referee conducts the competition but doesn’t seem to make any decisions concerning the actual scoring. Unless a corner judge shows a flag the referee cannot award a score. At the latest Australian Karate Federation (Australian national level of WKF) Championships, I observed missed flag calls on several occasions. No wonder. It is difficult enough to control a bout, let alone, simultaneously, watch for flag calls. Conversely, I did see referees, having recognized a scoring technique, stopping the bout; however, with no flag support, the referee was forced to restart the bout without awarding a point.

The picture shows that the Olympic Dream of the WKF is over. That is the reason why reforms of sport karate should be considered.
The Olympic Dream of the WKF is over!

3) Yuko is Unnecessary

In my competition days (and still in Shobu Ippon and Shobu Sanbon), an Ippon was a decisive strike leaving the opponent with no chance of defending against it. It had to be delivered with Kime, while balanced and in a state of Zanshin. A slightly less decisive technique would score a Waza-ari; two Waza-ari equaled one Ippon. Cleanly delivered kicks to the head and strikes to a downed opponent generally scored Ippon. However, any technique, regardless of its nature, delivered with all the scoring criteria in place could score an Ippon, if it was considered a decisive technique.

Many years ago, I watched (the legendary tournament fighter) Frank Brennan Sensei, subtly, encourage his opponent to attack with mawashi geri. Mid-kick, Frank executed a gyaku tsuki that knock him to the floor. Frank scored an Ippon, and his opponent received a Mubobi (unprotected while attacking recklessly). The epitome of timing!

With WKF criteria in today’s competition rules, a Yuko might be awarded for the gyaku tsuki; if indeed a warning isn’t given for excessive contact.

As mentioned in the WKF Rule Book – affective from 1.01.2019 – page 13 article X:

‘A worthless technique is a worthless technique – regardless of where and how it is delivered. A bad technique, which is badly deficient in good form, or lacking power, will score nothing.’

Quite right, it should score nothing. From a Budo standpoint: a technique that has not managed to touch enough bases to score a Waza-ari and has no potential to cause damage should score nothing. So where is the point of a Yuko?

And yet, technically, one Yuko can win a match. Indeed, one Yuko could win an Olympic Gold Medal. From a Budo standpoint, that is just wrong. Only a karateka, who really prevails, should win a fight.

4) Senshu Rule and Hikiwaki

Senshu rule: in the event of a draw, the fighter to have scored the first point in the match wins. This rule is questionable. In my competition days, I liked to claim a psychological edge by getting the first score. However, from a fighter’s viewpoint, the Senshu rule is nonsense. This rule creates the incentive to get the first point, which is usually a yuko, under any circumstances.

Even worse is the Hantei rule, whereupon a drawn match cannot be decided by Senshu, i.e. no score given. An arbitrary vote is taken. Hantei is another rule that, from a fighter’s perspective is nonsense. What if a fighter focuses on a counter-strategy? Hantei fosters hyper-active fighters instead of fighters with Zanshin.

In the event of Hikiwaki (a draw) we had Enchousen, a one-minute extension rule. If, at the end of that time, it was still a tie the ‘sudden death’ rule was applied (first score wins). Those rules worked well. They were quick, simple and easy for competitors, officials and audiences to understand.

Reforms of the WKF rules are necessary

Sport is generally considered good for an individual, especially the young: teaching many of life’s lessons. But sport is not for everyone. Not everyone benefits from the kind of stress that accompanies competition with others. Nevertheless, even for those who don’t wish to compete, seeing your art performed, realistically, at an elite level is enlivening.

However, flash and showmanship have replaced Budo and practicality in sport Karate. Not only has this trend lost the respect of the martial arts world, traditionalists and the martial combat fighters alike, but also the wider community. To reform the four mentioned areas would be at least a first step to a more acceptable approach of sport karate.

True Karate-Do Spirit is missing

I have felt for some time that the true spirit of Karate-Do is missing from sport Karate, particularly the WKF. It’s a shame, because competition on such a wide, varied, multi styled level could be a positive, developmental element in Karate-Do. It was for me. However, the tendency for the sport to take precedence, as in many purely sport orientated organizations, diminishes the understanding of the larger picture: Karate-Do.

Karate-Do is far more than sport, more than Budo even. Karate-Do is a way of life, a competition with one’s self: ‘to be better today than you were yesterday.’ Rather than

merely honing and perfecting a few athletic techniques, the goal is being better in an expansive, holistic way.

Shobu Sanbon as Alternative

As for the sport: for what it’s worth, to close the ever-widening gap between the sport and the art; I, a life-long karateka, would recommend to the WKF: If the Shobu Ippon format is too restricting, the Shobu Sanbon format could be implemented. It forces the karateka to focus on a few decisive and vigorous techniques but still offers enough time and space for spectacular action. Of course, if the WKF did that they would need to teach competitors and referees alike the difference between ‘Delivering Vigorously’ and ‘Delivering with Kime’!

This legendary fight between Toshihito Kokubun and Johan Johan LaGrange in Tokyo at the Shoto World Cup 2000 shows how intense and exciting Shobu Sanbon fights can be.
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Karate and Fascia: A Fascinating Approach about Kime

Recently, scientist explored and proved the immense importance of the body’s fascia network for fitness and health of athletes. A well-trained and well-integrated fascial network optimizes both maximum performance and coordination. By including fascial consciousness in the Karate training it lifts performance limits. Fascial preloading and Catapult-like discharge allow extremely fast and effortless movements. The fascial system is loaded and discharged to the point of the highest tension, the kime. By Punito Michael Aisenpreis

The Fascinating Organ

Fascia (lat. fascia  for “band”, “bandage”) refers to the soft tissue components of the connective tissue that penetrates the whole body as an enveloping and connecting tensional network. These include all collagen fibrous connective tissues, in particular

  • joint- and organ capsules,
  • tendon plates,
  • muscle septa,
  • ligaments,
  • tendons, as well as the
  • “actual” fascia in the form of “muscle skins” that enwrap the whole body stocking-like.

Numerous manual therapeutic procedures aim to trigger a lasting change in fascia. These include, for instance, the connective tissue massage, osteopathy, Rolfing, or Myofascial Release.

The picture shows the fascia system within a muscle.
Figure Above: Septa: courtesy Dr. Robert Schleip

A Brief History of Fascia Research

Karate originated about 130 years ago in Okinawa with Chinese influence in secret from the “Tode” (Itosu, Asato). Gichin Funakoshi refined it in Japan from the 1920s. Around the same time, osteopathy emerged in the United States. Andrew Taylor developed the manual healing art in the “wild west”, where there was no medical care. In osteopathy, the importance of fascia as the all-connecting and nourishing tissue was emphasized from the beginning of the art.

Western medicine, on the other hand, perceived fascia mostly as mere packaging organs and ignored its meaning. In practical anatomy, medical students around the world learned to prepare away the enveloping fascia as comprehensively as possible, so that “you could see something”. However, German medical Prof. Dr. Alfred Pischinger discovered in the 1970s the immune and protective functions that take place in the fascial connective tissue, as a system of basic regulation.

The picture shows fascia of the back: Fascia thoraco-lumbalis Septa: courtesy Dr. Robert Schleip.
Fascia of the back: Fascia thoraco-lumbalis Septa – courtesy Dr. Robert Schleip

Fascia: The Internet of the Body

Fascia works like an internet within the body. Due to its features we are able to perceive and control our bodies. Research on myofascial power transmission made a significant contribution to the new understanding of fascia. Most muscles transfer a considerable part of their traction force not directly to the associated tendons, but to parallel neighboring muscles.

This is mainly done via cross-connections between adjacent muscle shells. That neighboring muscles are coworker, supporter or enabler muscles is not surprising. However, as we have now found out, this also happens between functional antagonistic muscles. Even in a healthy human being, muscles influencing membranous fascial tensions instead of directly acting on the skeleton, so like ropes that span a sail.

The picture shows a microscopic fascia structure. Courtesy Dr. Robert Schleip
Microscopic fascia structure. Courtesy Dr. Robert Schleip

Kime: the Art of Controlled Locking

The Karate of the old master shows movements that explode without effort or intent. In Karate, Kime refers transmitted energy at the moment of greatest tension during a stroke or kick. Practitioners should carry out movements quickly and relaxed. At the moment of the meeting of the technique the body discharges the energy.

Kime is an essential part of karate. Viewed from the outside, Kime appears as a sudden controlled locking (“snapping”) of the technique-carrying arm or leg a few centimeters (Sun-dome) in front of the target, or in an emergency exactly at the target. Mastery of the Kime allows both fast, and at the same time powerful techniques. I addition, it protects the fighter from getting tired due to permanent muscle tension. This explosion and snapping uses the charged and preloaded fascial system.

The picture shows hikite: Drawing back the hand preloads the fascia: Photo Punito M. Aisenpreis
Hikite: Drawing back the hand preloads the fascia: Photo Punito M. Aisenpreis

Kime is not a Muscle Cramp: Pre-loading versus Tightening

Karate beginners sometimes misunderstand Kime as pure muscular tension. This makes their techniques slow and this costs a lot of energy. In the long run, this permanent muscle tension makes the muscles hard and short, the fascia matted and immobile and destroys the joints, often hips or knees. When a Japanese Sensei says “tightening,” he probably means “pre-loading” and then letting go. At the end of the explosive movement, the fascial tension of one movement locks the arm or leg and thus builds up new fascial tension for the next movement. Thus, a catapult-like motion dynamic is created. This acts much faster and from the center of the body than would be possible with pure muscle contraction.

The picture shows an illustration: By Onno - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Illustration: By Onno – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Double-Directed Bow: Pre-charging, Letting go, Pre-charging!

At the end of every movement the catapult charges itself (Kime) for the next catapult movement. The follow-up technique receives the energy from the Kime of the previous technique. It behaves like a pre-charged bow, which preloads after the release of an arrow. Then it loads up again and shots the next arrow. This pre-loading does not take place primarily in the muscles, but in the fascia. Thus, even small and less muscular athletes can perform lightning-like and strong techniques if they rely on the advantages of their fascia system. (see, for example: Sensei Andre Bertel and Sensei Naka Tatsuya).

The picture shows a double bow. The mechanics behind the fascia pre-loading can be understood like a double-bow.
The mechanics behind the fascia pre-loading can be understood like a double-bow. Source: Wikipedia

Fascial trains, breathing, and Kime: “San ten riki ho”

A strong Gyaku-zuki executed on the heel, and the internal tension of the adductor fascia in Zenkutsu dachi gives us a stable position. This becomes obvious when we look at Karate stances and techniques from a fascial system point of view. Consider the compression of the fascial chains from foot to hip together with a hip rotation and the discharge of these compressed joints along the fascial trains with weight shifting in the direction of the technique.

Breathing in the lower abdomen allows us to stimulate the vegetative nervous system by compressing the fascia of the trunk and thus “collecting Ki”. The trunk fascia transfers this through hip rotation into the shoulder, elbow and fist.

The picture shows the myofascial trains. Courtesy of Tom Myers.
Myofascial Trains courtesy of Tom Myers

When the stance is combined with fascia compression on the ankle, hip rotation, and power transfers along the fascia trains with Kokyu (breathing power) and weight shifting, a powerful technique is effortlessly created that explodes with Kime. So we have “San” (three) “ten” (places) of “riki” (power) transferred through the fascial system. Good examples of the pre-loading of the fascia before the explosive unloading are also the Hikite (drawing back hand to hip) and the Hikiashi (drawing back of the foot).

Fascia Injury and Fascial Damage

Most overload damage in the sports sector does not affect the red muscle flesh, but the white-colored collagen fiber network of the body, what we call fascial tissue. We also know today that this network is one of our most important sensory organs. It is the basis of our coordinate body perception. In addition, fascia can bond, matte, scar and lose its spring force and mobility. The fascia network can also change to the detriment of a wrong diet, permanent stress and permanent physical tension. It can become rigid and immobile, and become a source of pain, burden and dysfunction.

The picture shows a fascia of a 6-year-old (left) and a 90-year-old (right)
Fascia of a 6-year-old (left) and a 90-year-old (right)

Fascia Training and Therapy

A well-trained and integrated fascia network optimizes both maximum performance and the coordination of detailed movements. There are many receptors in the fascia that give information about how the body behaves in motion. Thus, it is not the skin that is our largest sensory organ, but the fascia. A well-trained connective tissue is elastic and stretchy, at the same time tear-resistant and strong and forms the basis for vital strength and physical performance. These are important resources for a long-term healthy Karate training.

The picture shows a 3D digital render of a human figure with muscle maps in a shuto-uke martial arts position isolated on white background. Muscles and tendons with the fascia lata of the thigh: Photo: iStock.
3D digital render of a human figure with muscle maps in a shuto-uke martial arts position isolated on white background

Make Fascia Fit Again

The fascial system is highly innervated and can be acting as a pain generator. This is one of the most important new findings in fascia research. Micro-cracks in the back fascia often seem to act as pain generators. As new studies have shown, the intervertebral disc often has nothing to do with the cause of pain. To wear off of the intervertebral disc is a natural process like graying of the hair. But it does not automatically cause pain   – even with a clearly visible herniated disc.

From now on, we can and must argue body and exercise therapists in a completely different way in terms of training and stress. Some traditional back school methods, for example, have spared the fascia in everyday life, instead of strengthening their elasticity and tear resistance through a well-dosed training.

The result may come suddenly: If you make an unjointed movement with a crooked back, the fascia is not trained and tears. Research has shown that that backfascia play an crucial role in cases of acute back pain. Therefore, it is sometimes essential to consult a specialists on this fascia. Targeted fascia therapy solves adhesion and bonding. The fascial layers can slide again on top of each other and regain mobility and flexibility. This therapy frees the patient from acute and chronic pain. It increases mobility and well-being in the body. This often leads to a feeling of vitality, joy and lightness, and to effortless and lightning-fast Karate techniques.

Fascia-friendly Diet

At birth, our body and connective tissue consist of almost 75% water. This liquid content decreases to about 55% with age. Sufficient fluid supply is essential for a functioning fascia system. However, it should not be an alcoholic or sugary drink, but water with possibly some electrolytes. Alcohol causes the fascia system to swell and mattify. Too little water forces it it to dry out. The “few beers” after the workout are poison for our fascia system. Acidified and greased fascia is the location for many metabolic toxins that our bodies can no longer dispose. Long-chain fiber-rich carbohydrates such as quinoa, millet or natural rice provide our fascia with a continuous source of energy.

The picture shows sensei Tatsuya Naka in action (on the right).
Sensei Tatsuya Naka in action (on the right).

Collagen and elastin, the components of the fascia, are made of proteins, so it is important to supply the body with these substances sufficiently to renew the fascia system. “Light” proteins such as soy products, chicken or fish are recommended. Unsaturated fatty acids (omega3) are just as important for our fascia system, which we can source from olive oil, linseed oil or fish.

Important vitamins for connective tissue are vitamin C, D, K and all B vitamins. Calcium, the micronutrients magnesium, potassium and sodium must be well balanced to keep our fascia system in good shape. Some other trace elements such as selenium, zinc, molybdenum and manganese. We can eat all these substances with a natural and unrefined diet using mainly vegetables and fruit.

Kihon, Kata, Kumite – Practice Karate in the fascia!

Each training component of the fascia training in Karate focuses on one of the outstanding properties of the collagen network with the aim of increasing the resilience (spring force) of the connective tissue. In this sense, each Karate training should contain the following fascia components:

  1. Spring action. Catapult Training (elastic spring): spring action movements for strengthening the tissue flexibility. Rotational movements of the torso as well as opening and closing of the shoulder belt with chest and back tension can increase the ability to catapult-like movements. In addition, the warm-up can contain springy movements. Roller backwards, forwards and fall exercises also improve spring force.
  2. Stretching. Agility Training (Fascial Stretching): Stretching exercises to increase flexibility. At the end of training with a warmed-up body improves mobility. Individual segments with shoulder belts or hips as well as the whole body can be stretched alone or as a partner exercise.
  3. Invigorating. Myofascial Release (Fascial Release): techniques for dissolving, rehydration and regeneration, metabolic training. This is where targeted nutrition, fascia roll and partner treatment come into play.
  4. Refining. Sensory Refinement: promoting the quality of movement and body feeling. Pause during a movement, isolation of a body side, performing kata “Ura” and practice with closed eyes are effective here. Balance exercises on one leg, partner strength tests and the often so underrated meditation before and after the workout refine our perception.
The picture shows the master of fascial snap and fascial elasticity: Sensei Andre Bertel (left
Master of fascial snap and fascial elasticity: Sensei Andre Bertel (left)

Fascia Consciousness: The Solar Sails of the Soul

In regard to extended perception skills the fascia forms a system from toes to head of an elastic fiber network. This network can be experienced for example in meditation and slow motion Karate practice as a kind of elastic dome tent structure within. When this structure is functioning properly, the sense of free flowing energy is experienced: Ki is flowing through the body from toes to head and vice versa. Then in Karate, empty hand and empty mind are filled with universal energy. Deep fulfillment is happening in that very moment beyond the wining of competitions, championships and trophies! The solar sails of the soul are charged with energy, when fascia is working properly.

“Tradition does not mean worshiping the ashes, but passing on the fire”. Gustav Mahler

Author: Punito Michael Aisenpreis, Coach, Therapist and Trainer in Munich and Murnau, Martial Arts and Meditation Teacher. Shotokan Karate since 1975, currently 4. Dan JKA and DJKB Trainer. Ki Aikido with Koichi Tohei, 3 years living in an Ashram in India. Regular Karate training in Japan with Andre Bertel and the JKA. Fascia therapy since 1981. Founding of the German Society for Myofascial Release e.V. in 1994.

The picture shows Punito Michael Aisenpreis.
Punito Michael Aisenpreis

Bodhidharma Karate Dojo Murnau, teaches Karate and fascia seminars.

Literature with the author. E-Mail;

This article was first published in Germany in the DJKB magazine.

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Shinji Akita in Malta: A Seminar Report

Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinki Akita hold a seminar in Malta. The focus of the course laid on efficient technique and mindful bodywork. A seminar report by Luke Rocco

Between October 18 and 20, 2019, Shotokan Karate-do Association Malta hosted world-renowned Shinji Akita Sensei, 6th Dan, to lead a training seminar for the first time in Malta. Amongst the 100 Maltese participants, were also international guests from Belgium and Scotland. All came to Malta specifically to join us for this special event.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Focus of the Seminar

The three-day seminar focused on intriguing concepts in Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It emphasized especially on using body bio-mechanics to enhance the effectiveness of technique regardless of age or gender. Akita Sensei’s passion for deep technical knowledge was effortlessly conveyed to all students. He utilized simple, practical exercises that lead to

  • immediate improvement in effectiveness of technique,
  • a gradual progression in mindful bodywork,
  • integrating proper posture, shime and spirit to produce an even more powerful technique.
  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Shinji Akita

Shinji Akita Sensei started his karate journey at the age of 12 under Matsuda sensei and Aragane sensei. Then he joined the famous Takudai Karate Club at Takushoku University, Japan. Here he trained under Katsunori Tsuyama Sensei. He later moved to Europe, founding the Shotokan Karate-Do Association International (SKAI). His ultimate vision for the SKAI was to create a platform for high standard, traditional karate regardless of gender, age, race and politics.

  • Shinji Akita in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

About SKA Malta

SKA Malta always strives to seek further knowledge and promotion of true traditional Budo-Karate. We give this opportunity to all who want to grow within their martial art journey, irrespective of any political backgrounds. We would like to thank Akita Sensei for sharing his exceptional knowledge throughout the seminar. His dedication and genuine approach towards teaching traditional Karate made it a truly memorable event for all.

We also wish to thank: The Shotokan Times, ST Hotels, Media-Link, Union-Print and Chamar D Owl Photography for their outstanding support at Sponsoring this Event.

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Shoshin?! The State of Mind for Studying Anything

Shoshin belongs to the basic concepts of budo. But most students of Shotokan karate do do not know what it is and how to achieve it. By Thomas D. McKinnon

‘Shoshin’, (初心), translates to ‘Beginner’s mind’.  To quote the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki:

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  A true beginner’s mind is open and willing to consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time.’

Shoshin: The Quintessential Mindset for Learning

Shoshin, simply the best way to approach any learning experience: an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconception. Even when studying at an advanced level just do it as a beginner would.  Listen without commenting, regardless of how much you think you know of the subject.  Observe as if you know nothing, learn as a child learns, and get excited about a new discovery.  Shoshin, like all of the concepts you discover on your journey of Karate-do, will help you to lead a more rewarding life.  Shoshin is the quintessential mindset for learning.  

One of the things that we (karateka) do, prior to and on completion of training, is the ritual mokusoMokuso means to “silent thinking”. However, in the dojo it has further connotations: to meditate or contemplate quietly, thus separating your karate training from the outside world.  I give this guiding instruction to beginners for mokuso:

‘Empty your mind… Concentrate on your breathing, think of nothing but slowly filling and emptying your lungs (using diaphragmatic breathing) whilst emptying your mind.’

The picture shows mokuso, which is a vital step towards Shoshin.
Mokuso is a vital step towards Shoshin

Shoshin: Make Room for Learning

By emptying your mind you are making room for learning, or absorbing, like a child or a complete beginner.  Shoshin is a concept far less literal than it is metaphorical, not to be confused with simply forgetting everything.  As we develop knowledge and expertise the tendency is to narrow our focus, filtering out the things we think we already know, concentrating on details we consider we don’t know.  The danger here is that we may block out information that disagrees with what, we consider, we already know. Unconsciously we sifting out any conflicting ideas in favor of information which confirms our previous experience or philosophical standpoint. 

Entering the dojo for the very first time students, from varying demographics – age, sex, socio-economic, body composition, up-bringing, life skills and experience – begin with shoshin… more or less. 

Female beginners learn quicker than their male counterparts

I know that, in these enlightened times, it is considered politically incorrect to mention the difference between the sexes in regard to anything.  However, for the purpose of clarifying the concept of shoshin, please excuse this political faux pas.  Firstly, I will clarify the statement: ‘Every student begins with shoshin… more or less.’  I will generalize here when I say, male beginner karateka and female beginner karateka start at slightly varying states of shoshin because of their differing life-experiences. 

In my experience, the male beginner generally already has some set, physical responses when hearing the words punch and kick. Fighting is a concept to which they are more likely to have had a modicum of experience.  I’m not saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing, just that it amounts to a difference in the natural state of shoshin of the male and female karateka as they begin training.

Having taught and observed the martial arts for the best part of half a century, I feel qualified in making that last sweeping statement. In addition to that, the following broad avowal: Female beginner karateka, generally, learn quicker to execute techniques more accurately than their male counterparts.  I believe this occurrence to be due to the degree of shoshin they begin with.  The male’s prior familiarity usually means that they have some incorrect habits to first unlearn.  

The picture shows shoshin, which can be trained. Meditation helps to get rid of prejudices and preconceptions.
Shoshin can be trained. Meditation helps to get rid of prejudices and preconceptions.

Shohin Is a Treasured State of Mind

However, swings and roundabouts…  Arguably, one of the single most important concepts to grasp in Shotokan Karate is kime!  The following paragraph is one of the descriptive explanations I use when introducing kime!

‘I believe that kime, like ki, is akin to tapping into the universal energy in little bite sized pieces.  If you have never accessed kime… I have found that, at the point where it is appropriate to punctuate your technique with kime, you should explosively inflict your intent.  And I describe that feeling as, almost, like getting angry for a nanosecond at that point of intended impact.’

In my experience, the male beginner karateka gets his head around that concept quicker. That, I believe, may have something to do with hormones.  However, all that being said, by the time that Shodan is achieved we largely have a level playing field. As adults we may have a tendency to allow our prior knowledge to block us from seeing things anew.  Shoshin, like all those esoteric concepts we utilize in Karate-do, is a state of being that is difficult to articulate to anyone who has not taken this path of Karate-do.  Once understood, however, shoshin is a treasured state of mind for studying anything.

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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.