Author Archives: Jeff Hutchings

And the Kime continues…

(See below this Blog entry for some interesting feedback regarding the Punch)

It sounds good to hear the snap of the Gi when a karateka is doing an Oi Zuki or Gyaku Zuki. It’s as if there is a sharp focus and impact point. Kinda like when you roll out a wet towel and snap it back.

Sounds good but is it effective?

Last night we had some of our kids in the Dojo doing jab, reverse punch. We had them shifting in towards punching pads that another kid was holding. I noticed a few times that the punches were thrown and retracted in an effort to increase speed but impact on the pads was more a brief touch than an effective strike. Kime was being lost in an effort to be quick.

(Granted, some kids were shifting in and laying some excellent techniques onto the pads, projecting their energy past the target.)

Perhaps from a lifetime of punching air and stopping techniques abruptly has cost some of us some effectiveness. Muscular, choppy techniques, I believe, create openings and in an actual combat situation may prevent us from delivering the technique for all its worth. I’ve seen Dan ranks doing sanbon zuki and if you look closely the hands are partly open on the first two punches – lots of speed but zero effectiveness. I’ve been guilty of this ‘quick looks good’ karate myself.

Sensei Brian Power

Sensei Power discusses Power and Intention at a grading in 2017.

Sensei Power often reminds us that your energy, driven by your intention, has to extend way beyond the target. He tells us to hit with your body and your breath. Sensei Shimoji speaks about Breath Energy and how you need to project it past the object of impact. He does a great illustration of this when he is teaching the Spiral Punch. His reverse punch leaves his opponent’s Gi with a counterclockwise twist in it at the point of impact, illustrating that the rifling or spiraling action of the punch doesn’t stop short, and doesn’t stop on impact. Kime happens but energy keeps moving forward – as does the breath, just like the bullet fired from a rifled gun barrel.

The trick is finding the balance: Kime without chopping off energy momentum, or as Sensei Shimoji says: “The Kime means to confirm or to decide. It does not mean to focus or stop your movement. “

That’s something I’ll be working on for a while!



Feedback from Sensei Don Owens, WJKA & WJKA Canada:

“Jeff… Shotokai (Shigeru Egami Sensei) used a different approach to develop power without using focus. He considered using focus was to pull back the power. He compared his idea of punching like that of a battering ram i.e. a big log with a rope on each end swinging into a gate (my analogy, not his) I have tried his ideas and it is effective, however I still prefer the focused punch.” Sensei Don Owens

I found Sensei Owens feedback intriguing. I knew that Sensei Egami had invited people from a variety of walks of life to punch him in the stomach to try and determine if a punch was actually effective. This led to extensive research on his part. See below for some of Sensei Egami’s Observations:

“While researching I understood one thing. Until that moment, I had practiced karate with an illusion: I confused contraction with strength and tried to contract the body searching for strength, without thinking that contracting the body actually is equivalent to blocking the movement. This was a fundamental mistake. I forced myself to massage and relax a body that for so many years I had worked so much to harden.

To obtain this we must try to project our strength to the infinite. A mortal blow is one that concentrates all its energy in one point. In other words, we must project all our being into the body of the opponent. A tsuki must be natural.” Sensei Shigeru Egami

Thank you, Sensei Owens.

When Salmon Do Kata

“That inner feeling of total, full commitment to the moment – that is Kiai.” Iain Abernethy

And the moment after…

Volumes have been written about Kiai, about its nature, and about its proper placement in Kata. It’s been addressed in various ways by practitioners such as Musashi in The Book of Five Rings (the Warrior Cry), as well by Sensei Avi Rokah (Kiai as Breath). In fact, Sensei Rokah said that Aiko San and Sensei Nishiyama could correct his technique without looking at him, just by listening to his Kiai.

Kiai, I believe, is something that we have to work on in perpetuity, truly trying to understand that our connection to the floor and our body contraction (kime) have to be in unison in order to deliver an effective blow. This ‘inner feeling of total, full commitment’ is actually what should create the Kiai, and as Sensei Abernethy also says, the explosion is what creates the bang.

But, what about after the Kiai in Kata?

If we are to look at old kata diagrams that denote speed and focus such as this:

sochin Kiai.gif

It seems that during a Kata, the focus/length of the techniques associated with Kiai are no different than other ‘full’ techniques in the kata sequence (32, 33 & 36b (Kiai)). But, it seems there is a caution in that if we increase Kime to force the Kiai we are in danger of breaking the Kata’s tempo and, more importantly, leaving an opening (Kyo).

Last night Sensei Power was teaching transition from a Kiai technique to the next one. The illustration was that there has to be a natural flow: energy cannot drop after the Kiai, it has to be unceasing and strong. It’s as if the Kime used to generate the Kiai serves as the propulsion to get to the next move, I believe.

Sensei Toru Shimoji: “Typically, the air expelled is about 60-80%, meaning the reserve is used for the continuation of the technique, tying the energy to the next movement. “ and “When associated with the stance pressure, the sound [Kiai] will represent the energy movement of the technique.” ‘Tying the energy to the next movement’ – you can’t say it any better than that!

If a Kata performance is likened to a Salmon swimming up a river, the technique with Kiai is a small rapids. The fish simply garners a brief burst of energy to get through, and then shoots smoothly out the other side. Nowhere does it stop. If a Kata performance is to be ‘continuous and strong’ (Sensei Nishiyama), there will be peaks, but no troughs.

Granted, I don’t write about this stuff because I know it – I do so to pull information from those who do know, as well as to try and understand it myself.

One thing’s for sure, to conquer the rapids, you gotta spend a lot of time in the river.

To Catch a Ghost

Some years ago in chatting with a young Karate enthusiast who seemed eager to try out his karate for real, I made the usual comment about winning fights: the best way to never lose a fight is to not have one – don’t be there.

The ‘not be there’ part came back to me this past week when we were in intensive Dan-level training. But this time it was related to an analogy the Sensei Power uses a lot: “Be the ghost on the end of your opponents technique.”

Not being there in a fight can take on a number of connotations including physically removing yourself from a potentially violent situation, or, like the ghost, staying just outside your opponent’s range of effectiveness. It’s a great analogy as we imagine stereotypical ghosts as having no barriers to movement – they shift effortlessly, floating even.

Sensei Power teaches Go no Sen as a basic method to understand the concept of staying on the end of, or just outside of, your opponent’s movements and subsequent attack.  An aggressor can’t hit what they can’t reach.  They move, you move – in unison, maintaining the correct distance in between.

Issoku-itto-no-maai 1This correct distance (Maai) is key in shifting back from an opponent, you do so systematically, always staying in range to deliver your own offensive. The ghost doesn’t leave the room, he simply floats back (in Zanshin), ready to perceive an opening and explode back into the opponents space.

The weightless ghost here understands Maai, or engagement distance, which isn’t as simple for us as we attempt to move or ‘float’ a large body mass (in my case a rather large body mass!) in coordination with our opponent’s intentions.

It’s Ghost Tai Sabaki at its finest, I believe: a well-timed game of evasion or approach.

Like many things in karate, the analogy makes sense, but reality takes a lot of sweat.

Bam! The Perfect Storm

In Dan-level training sessions, one thing becomes painfully clear: you’d better learn to move, and movement can’t be latent, chunky or telegraphed. We get stuck in the mindset that movement is a step, a shift or a parry that we do before a defense or attack, an entity separate in our training from our strikes. Step…punch is full of dead time (Kyo).

It’s becoming clear that an offensive move (or defensive) isn’t a move and strike or move and block. It’s not step…punch, or shift…block. It’s a single entity. It’s a timed, single waza. Bam! You’ve shifted and delivered – a perfect storm of mind, body and spirit.

lunge.jpgLike a stone in a slingshot, it’s recoiled and released. The energy in the elastic bands carries the stone to target, this energy stays with the stone, and the opponent feels like he’s getting hot by the entire mechanism.

In elevated karate, we don’t get hit by a punch, we get his by an entire body that is drenched in forward-moving energy.

Where it gets tricky is when you attempt to deliver a double technique during this single burst that is delivered in a full, half or quarter beat (dear god, a quarter beat is less than a blink).

Bam!—–Bam!   Bam!—Bam!      or Bam!Bam!

In my training, sometimes the technique gets lost in the attempt at speed. If I try an overzealous jab/punch combination my jab sometimes looks like I’m darting the leading hand out and following with a reverse punch, making the sequence useless. Speed is a moot point if the technique isn’t correct. Nishiyama Sensei would say 10 times slow, one time fast. You have to walk before you yori-ashi! Repetition is the only cure.

So, intention forward but posture neutral, sacrum engaged (hips more shomen), hands up, feet gripping the floor (not too much outside-inside pressure), hamstrings taut, inner energy boiling up to 99 degrees, and…Bam!

Easy, eh?

Water and Stone: The Harrison Project

“In the struggle between the stone and water, in time, the water wins”
Japanese Proverb

There are proponents of Karate who feel that karate is best served when everything besides karate moves is kept out of the Dojo; that in order to preserve karate and pass on anything of real value we need to practice and sweat endlessly (without questioning) through the Katas, Kihon and Kumite: the stone.

According to them, all else is fluff.

Having said that, if I were to look back on my karate life, the things that have served me best are the confidence and self-security karate gave me – not the blocks and kicks.

Granted, I love the traditional karate I have learned (and continue to learn). It has kept me healthy and it has taught me to persevere to become better.

But it has also taught me to self-explore and refine the softer skills like energy control, attention to attitude, intention and breathe management: the water.

Picture1This week in our dojo, a young guy in the junior class named Harrison Luff stepped up and impressed us with his demonstration on using breathing to control stress. It was in response to an activity that our Dojo started to try to get kids to tell us how karate inspires them. Harrison did a presentation using several different liquids to demonstrate how our minds can become busy and congested, and he then added more solution to show how breathing can help us become calm and clear our minds again. It was an excellent demonstration and Harrison’s Dojo-mates loved it. It was inspiring to say the least.

A number of kids in the class submitted various kinds of art, videos and letters to describe what Karate means to them, as well as to talk about their understanding about what Sensei Power’s ‘Just Breathe’ teachings meant to them.

It became clear that these kids were learning that the water and stone of good karate aren’t separate from one another. As one girl put it, “I do kata outdoors and concentrate on my breathing when I am feeling stressed – and it really helps me feel better!”

The old Japanese proverb quoted above suggests that the water is stronger than the stone. In its patience and persistence, water wears the stone away. The power of water is formidable.

A good Dojo, I believe, is teaching good, traditionally-rooted Karate and it is also teaching higher level concepts that relate to life in society. A balanced mind and a positive attitude – when backed with strong Karate – are two side of the same priceless coin.

Thank you, Harrison, for a very visual demonstration on a concept that every one of us can learn something from. Don’t ever stop questioning, exploring and learning.

Merry Christmas, all. I wish you all the best for the Holidays and Health and Happiness for the New Year!

mmmmPA!!!

So, whats in a Karate move? Energy. And according to Sensei Power its ‘mmmPA!!!!’

One thing is the control and flow of energy: where and when to expend it while always keeping it churning. I used to do Kata like every move was a Kiai, exhausting myself after a single Kata during a grading. Inside I  knew it didnt make much sense – not much point in all the good karate in the world if after a few moves you’re exhausted. But the old thinking was that good karate was exemplified by physical strength.

Kata, I now believe is a series of energy flares on a continuum or a timeline. At YOI it is elevated (the ‘mmmmmmm’ gutteral feeling) and then it is maintained throughtout the sequences, with more emphasis of energy on technuiques ( the ‘PA!!!’ explosion).

Energy has to be maintained during transitions and slower waza (energy as in intention eleveated and forward moving). Dropping your energy opens you up.

The continuum I believe is Zanshin – ‘remaining mind’ or continued awareness.

I’m still working my way through all of this and to help I came up with a visual:

Energy Wave

We’re fortunate that we have Sensei who understand this stuff and can pass it on…

 

 

The Karate Tree

The “Tree of Life,” a symbol of immortality; a tree grows old, yet it bears seeds that contain its very essence and in this way, the tree becomes immortal. Seeds pass on the genetic makeup of the tree itself. It remains ‘rooted in the earth, reaching for the stars.’

A mature tree grows in such a way as to not waste energy, it grows in humility, although at specific times its colors are brilliant.  Strong against the storm, it is steadfast in simply living.

Enter karate.

Tree of LifeMy daughter, Claire, made me this Tree of Life, and in thinking about it, it raises important questions. What’s in my tree of life? Am I passing on anything of value? Am I still growing?

I feel I am still growing and Karate is a vehicle for that.

Karate is a mind, body and spirit methodology. Physically it keeps us strong, and helps us learn to move with fluidity. It helps us learn to project our very character into our living (good and bad). I’m not certain karate always actually builds character, but it certainly helps one explore it.

It helps us develop a way of maintaining a clear mind and focused concentration. This, I think, is a substantial part of my Tree of Life – part of a fascinating journey.

Karate, like Claire’s tree, reminds us that although we need to stay rooted, we need to keep growing. In the Dojo we need to keep at it until that kata is ‘just right for me,’ or until we get our breath and movement working together like wind and wings.

In life, no matter the age, I believe we need to just keep moving, staying mindful on the journey.

Karate ‘Tight Lines’

May be a bit of a stretch, but karate can be a bit like fishing: hesitation or unaware time can cost you.

It took me a while to get the knack of setting the hook on a trout that hit my bait, especial

Dad

At 82, my father understands how being alert catches fish!

ly when trolling the big lakes and pond for bigger fish. You have to be alert, always in the zone – ready to react. With a relatively long line out behind the boat there can be no hesitation before or after the nibble or strike. Hesitate after the fish hits the line and you miss it, hesitate or give him slack line after you hook it and it’s gone: it’s all about being aware and being alert.

Karate is no different. The first one is obvious, hesitate in combat and you miss your opportunity to defend or to attack. As the Samurai understood, hesitation is death.

Similar to hesitating, or giving a fish slack line after you hook it, if there is any sort of indecision or even a micro-pause after a technique, you are creating an opening for your opponent.

Through video scrutiny with Sensei Power, my slack line sometimes comes in the form of a slight outward front foot turn when moving forward, or a very slight foot drag after moving. Either way, there is a break in the flow of the technique, detracting from its effectiveness and its strength.

To take the analogy further, awareness in karate is like your line when fishing, slightly taut but not tight, with no interruption in you physical or mental attentiveness.

As my father reminds me when I get a salmon on my line: “Easy and Steady…Soft hands, now…”

You have to find your own zone, I believe…

Intention to the front, please

Intention: A thing intended, an aim, plan or goal. Of course, a goal or a plan always denotes a destination, somewhere you intend to get – somewhere your focus is.

In the Martial Arts this is a vital concept. How do we turn out intention physiological? How do we reach a place in Kata and in Kumite where intention is the horse before the cart, the catalyst for the technique?

My initial understanding of intention was over simplified: I intend to destroy my opponent; I intend to throw an oi-zuki/gyaku-tsuki combination; I intend to do a sharp and fast Jitte. This is more of a plan, and having a mental plan in karate often costs you time and restricts your defenses, i.e., you think too much.

IntentionIntention I now believe, is giving constant direction to your energy (how many times did Nishiyama Sensei state that!), and that overall energy is forward – always. As Sensei Power puts it, even at the end of a technique in Kata or Kumite, there is a ‘pressure’ forward, an overall feeling of Zanshin or continued awareness, which is the fire in your belly and the alertness in your body for the next move. All the while your center (Hara) dissecting your opponent like a laser beam.

Yesterday in the dojo we looked at intention and Go No Sen, and Sensei Power reminded me that even while shifting back to receive the attack, your intention is going forward. The energy is recycled through your body and physically sent forward again in the counter.

Maintaining intention eliminates dead time in Kumite and quells subtle stops and starts in Kata.

Sounds easy enough, but doing it…well, that’s a different thing!

Mokuso: “A Moment of Presence”

Frequently lately I am blessed with the opportunity to play music with a gentleman named Adrian (as well as a number of other extremely talented friends). I primarily play stringed instruments like guitar and mandolin while Adrian plays whatever is within his reach: guitar, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, and the list goes on.

Listening carefully to Adrian (I often do, even as I’m playing along with him), I admire that not only does he play an amazing arrangement of notes in a song, he hits the notes with precise timing.

The space between his notes is musical beauty.

Recently, on the Karate front, I’ve been pondering Mokuso, roughly translated as ‘meditation’, but much more than that I’ve found. As I often do, I posed my thoughts and an inquiry about Mokuso to a karate Sensei that I consider a very learned resource and one always willing to share his thoughts on a topic.

On Mokuso, this is part of the superb exchange I had with Sensei Toru Shimoji:

Most of us, including me (!) suffer from busy and chatty mind that runs like a hamster on a wheel. I’ve been working hard to take time throughout the day to simply breathe and enjoy the space between my thoughts. It was fleeting at first, if not accidental, that I would find myself there. Typically, thoughts are closely hooked to the past and future, pulling and projecting, as you argue, judge, plan, worry, etc. and etc. It becomes a routine, a pattern. Mokuso can help you break this habit, with deep silent breath opening a space between the thoughts. Once there, the moment of presence is blissful. Like a child, you will repeat pleasurable experience, so the idea of Mokuso is not work, but rather returning to a state we once had.

Mokuso then is using the breath – breathing deeply – as a means to clear the mind without trying to do so, to get to a place where we enjoy the “space between our thoughts” – stillness. A conscious attempt to try and clear your mind simply creates more mind traffic, but sitting quietly and doing nothing but breathing reaps the benefit of a clear mind. Simply breathing and perceiving the stillness allows you to have an open mind to experience the class and absorb the instruction.

One day I’d like to get Adrian and my musical friends as well as Sensei Shimoji in the same room: two seemingly different authorities on the very significant concept of the space between – both of whom have a lot to teach me!