Monthly Archives: March 2015

Breath out, Belly In

Plenty of Karate instruction resources will tell you to exhale on impact, suggesting that forcing the air out of your lungs at the moment of contact with your opponent (or the Makiwara) increases force.

True, but if not done properly it will simply leave you soft and out of breath.

Enter Ibuki Breathing.

KanazawaUsing your abdominal muscles, you force air out – not all of it – while tightening your core region on impact. This doesn’t come easily or perhaps even naturally, but it gives you two things: power from the core and a sense of connection on impact, as well as protection from a counter from your opponent. After all, getting caught with a soft core after delivering a blow won’t work in your favor.

According to Nishiyama Sensei, breathing in karate is everything : the beginning, the middle and the end.

As Kanazawa Hirokazu (Kancho) shows in the picture, a solid body core after delivering a technique is paramount, and learning to relax partially after Kime (technique fixation) is just as important.

Good breathing, good karate.

Karate in…Neutral?

I’ve blogged before about Sensei Lee’s adage of ‘head back, weapons close’ as he referred to keeping your head back and out of danger while in a fight, and keeping your hands toward your opponent to conduct the fight and maintain control.

Last night he took this a little further: “Stay in neutral!”

What? There’s neutral in Karate?

Sensei Lee explained that having your hands out in front, directed at the opponent, in neutral position, is critical for one primary reason: it’s where you have the most options. Jab, block, deflect, turn, reverse punch, open hand strike, grab or jam. Similar, of course to neutral in a vehicle, you have option to go back or forward.

Nishiyama Shotokan Jeff Hutchings KarateWhile maintaining the connection between the body and the arms -your core tense to allow fast delivery of an attack – or to respond to one form your opponent, in neutral you’re prepared.

Also, having your weapons out means there is little room for your opponent to get inside on you. With your arms up and forward, you’re protecting your center line.

Here is a great picture of Nishiyama Sensei circa 1999 with both hands out, taking the action space from his opponent.

So, yes, there is neutral in karate…prepared with your engine running.

Chikara no Kyōjaku

In my relentless reading on Karate and all of its facets, I find that Kata is very often compared to many other Arts, and the main analogy is the Yin and Yang, soft and strong, calm and powerful, similar to that of a great musical composition. Robust and exuding intense energy at points, and then tranquil and fluid in others.

Shotokan Kata Mas Oyama Jeff Hutchings Karate KataIn my own kata I make the mistake of leaning on the power side of the Kata, often making it look abrupt and stiff – lacking the spaces of fluid, calmer transitions and movements after points of high intensity.

Mas Oyama, in his three principles of Kata, referred to this as 力の強弱  Chikara no Kyōjaku:  The Relative Force of Power, where he suggested  the power of a technique derives from the proper balance between strength and relaxation. Try to keep up the strength component (as I often do) and your kata becomes one dimensional, your tempo is off and your energy quickly drains.

Consider this thought on Kata performance by Kasuya Hitoshi Sensei: “During Kata performance do not put out too much power, do not be too relaxed. Even though your actions may be violent, your mind should be controlled, full of spirit (TSUSHIN). Your mind should be enriched, without any idle thoughts (ZANSHIN).

Now consider this line by J James from the Shotokan Way regarding Jion Kata: “Jion is a Kata of calm power and smooth transitions.”

If we consider kata a performance such as a musical composition rather than a set of techniques, we have to pay as much attention to the spaces between the notes as much as the notes themselves. The points of Kiai are to exhibit the intense culmination of Mind, Body and Spirit, while the other components are crisp and yet fluid. Transitions from the subtle notes (techniques) to the crescendos (Kiai) really tell the tale.

A strong punch is important, but how you get there is paramount.

FHS and Aggressive Defense

Don’t you love a Karate class when the light goes on?

Last night a bunch of us were training and Sensei Lee was relating karate to street violence as he often does. He was talking about the fact that real confrontations are Fast, Hard and Strong, and then he talked about something called aggressive defense: using your own body not simply to block attacks, but to make the attacker wish he hadn’t delivered them.

After all, if the aggressor punches the point of your elbow, or lands a kick on the strongest part of your knee, He is the one who gets the worst of it. In essence, you can strategically handle your attacker by doing very little. He inflicts damage on himself by hitting parts of you that he isn’t going to hurt – all you have to do is position your limbs correctly – and aggressively.

In thinking about this strategy of aggressive defense I started looking at Kata, and as I did I could see that right there in front of us (the light went on!) are a ton of techniques that not only look good in the Dojo, but are effective anywhere, against any opponent. Interestingly, I found that many of these fighting strategies are found in the transition moves in the Kata:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10After all, thinking real confrontations are won with an out-of-the-box classical technique is a bit unrealistic. The fighting system that is our Kata, though, has everything we need if we look closely enough…but we have to be open-minded and look very very closely.

God, Shotokan is good!