Angles of Attack
Angles in Karate give us a tangible way to test and evaluate techniques. We probably don’t go a full class without haring ‘That should be at 90 degrees’, or ‘This should be at a 45.’ We see angles illustrated in stance diagrams, and angles emphasized in Kata Embusen like the ones pictured here.
How much is your elbow bent (the angle) on your hikite? How much is your front knee bent in Zenkutsu dachi?
What is the angle of your striking arm in a shuto strike: 30 degrees is too little, and 160 is too much.
Practitioners who do techniques too close to their bodies are restricted, while those who do them too far away lose body connection. Angles in karate are a matter of sweet spot.
Recently in our Dojo Sensei Power has been focusing on angles as they relate to power in techniques – particularly ankle and knee angles as a means to generate power.
A simple teaching method with the kids in class is to ask them to keep their legs straight while trying to jump. This is probably better than just telling them that when they bend their legs, they are compressing muscles and tendons which store potential energy.
It seems (sometimes) that no amount of pontificating that ‘your karate is only as good as your stance’ gets through. As a traditionalist, it troubles me to see karateka doing kihon, kumite, or kata with straight – or nearly straight - legs. A straight (locked) leg is dangerous, and void of potential energy. If this weren’t true, the Pogo stick wouldn’t need a spring. Of course, like the 30 degree/160 degree analogy above, there is a balance to be found: too deep a stance is no better than a very high one because, in either case, you lack the ability to move freely.
In karate, especially at a higher level, you can’t deliver an attack, or receive one, if you aren’t in a leg position to do so. Bent ankles and knees – even slightly – act as shock absorbers as well as for propulsion. The amount of energy you generate from the floor depends on how you use your angles. A cheetah crouches before it pounces. In Shotokan, our ‘ready’ state means ready to pounce.
As Sensei Power Sr. says, “If you have to get ready, you’re not ready!”
Years ago I trained with a gentleman (Senpai Howse) who had an uncanny ability to cover distance without an enormous effort. If you were sparring with him, you’d feel like he was a safe distance away, and then he was on top of you! Senpai Howse knew his angles.
Recently we had Sensei Barry Power visit our Dojo. He is the brother of our local Sensei, Brian Power Jr. It soon became clear that his thinking when it came to power generation was to bend your legs and tap into the power you are naturally generating. He rolled up the legs of his Gi and exaggerated the angles of his ankles and knees to get us thinking about driving off the mark for an attack, as well as recoiling energy when receiving an attack.
This week in class, we had Sensei Darrell Power, the third of the Power brothers, in the Dojo. Sensei Darrell did
some practical drills based on Heian Nidan. Basically, he reiterated the difference between doing a Kata for competition or grading, as opposed to breaking it down for its fighting applications. Throughout the lesson, he physically demonstrated the use of power generation through bent ankles and knees. His ‘heels slightly off the floor’ commands got the class thinking about rising and dropping power which ultimately comes from leg and ankle bending and straightening.
Interestingly enough, all of the Power Sensei preach that you have to find the balance in your fighting stance: a balance where you are set to attack (or defend) without any tell-tale adjustments or movements beforehand. A cat is successful in trapping a bird because the bird never sees the crouch happen before the attack.
No Sensei is going to tell you how much to bend your legs in kumite kamae position, but if you want to get both strong and fast, you have to figure it out.
Another example of having to do it to figure it out - and something that can’t be realized if you are a paper tiger (a Sensei Jan Knobel phrase that I will address in another blog article).