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Pinpoint or Ballpark

Hitting a golf ball 350 yards won’t make you a good golfer. Cutting down trees with an axe won’t make you a wood carver. Casting a fly line further than anyone else on the river won’t make you a good angler. Granted, all of these require skill, and even some strength, but in order to round out the titles of golfer, carver or angler, there has to be attention to detail – to precision.

Tiger is a superior golfer because he uses his immense strength, but he also continuously refines his movements – to a micro level. Alex Ovechkin is similar. On skates he is a veritable tank, but he has hands that snipe goals like rifle shots.

The key is to marry finesse and force and master them in that order.

Gross motor development is a matter of repetition and conditioning. Fine motor development is also these, but it includes a more cerebral approach. Precision is accomplished by repetition yes, but analysis of your technique is crucial; every movement in Karate is a process: intention, breath, body, technique (A premise of the Powers Sensei in NL). Accuracy and precision are difficult in Karate if you don’t internalize this four-part process.

To back up a bit, why does accuracy matter? If I punch someone in the gut or the jaw, it will hurt them anyway, right?

Karate at its core has very little to do with punching someone in the jaw.

Firstly, if you aren’t striving for exactness in your Karate training, you are leaving out an essential piece. Traditional Karate is an Art where stopping an opponent as fast and efficiently possible is the goal: the finishing blow. This isn’t possible without training to deliver the right attack to an exact target. No, you will probably never be in a position to have to deliver a critical blow to an opponent, but Karate practitioners train as if they might. Training Karate for perfection has a slew of benefits that extend beyond Karate, beyond the dojo, and beyond your training.

Secondly, the very concept of Budo (the mothership of Martial Arts) is the striving for perfection. It is a ‘Martial’ path, with historical connotations of life or death. The DO in Budo, as most readers already know is the path, the journey. It is a commitment to become better – and not just in your Art. Of course, a lackadaisical approach to Karate is one-dimensional and leads to mediocre Karate alone.

INTENTION: Is not “I intend to do a kick.” Intention in this sense is an instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. It is your internal attitude: a determination to do something. Intention in Karate should be palpable in that your opponent should sense that your fortitude is one directional: forward, past any obstacle or defense. Something as simple as the first move in Heian Shodan should be deliberate, focused, and articulate: your intention should be clear. Precision in a technique is difficult without understanding intention.

When a professional dart player holds up his dart and faces the board, you can see his purpose. His eyes aren’t wandering, his hands aren’t shaking, his breath is controlled, and his posture is correct for the throw. His intention to deliver a smooth shot with pinpoint accuracy helps manifest the goal.

Another benefit of intention is that it clears your mind. As mentioned, intention isn’t mind-noise: “I’m going to deliver a strong, fast front kick!” It’s the opposite. It is the commitment to the task at hand and there’s no thinking about it.

BREATH: If your intention is the mental preparation for a movement or technique, then breath is the accelerator. Tiger was once asked for one of the most vital components of a great golf swing and his response was “breathing.” The type, timing, and control of your breathing in a technique (or set of techniques) is key to its delivery. As Sensei, we watch countless Kata demonstrations during gradings, and the presence or absence of adequate and correct breathing makes or breaks the demonstration. Inhaling and exhaling at the appropriate times during a technique is vital. Breathing, and contraction and expansion, are intrinsically tied together, and understanding these - and utilizing them properly - are essential to precise and efficient movements. Kime is a product of timing of the breath and a reaction from the body combined.

In essence, the flow of your breath through Kata, for example, is critical for fluid delivery. In terms of accuracy then, proper in and out breath allow for uninterrupted, flowing techniques, and this type of technique is consistently more accurate. Proper techniques should be delivered direct to the opponent “threading the needle”, as Sensei Brian Power says.

A primary reason that most punches and kicks in a street fight never hit the right target is because adrenalin has taken control: erratic breathing dramatically influences how you move. Imagine running form a polar bear, and then stopping to try to hit the bullseye on a dartboard.

BODY: As a matter of nature, as we age, the gap between what our minds think we can do and what our bodies can do, widens: we can’t seem to do what we would like to. Of course, another component of this is our physical ability (regardless of age) in faculties like flexibility, strength, and stamina. Either way, age-related physical issues or ability, our bodies immensely affect accuracy and precision in all martial arts.

From simply lunging forward with an OI Zuki, to a Ushiro Geri, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves must start and execute a technique. Sensei Toru Shimoji talks about fast twitch muscles, small muscles, and big muscles, as well as inner and outer pressure in stances - all things directly related to how well the body functions. If you are inflexible – not supple – for example, the ushiro geri will be mechanical at best, and mechanical movements aren’t accurate, let alone exact. So, does this mean I drop the back kick from my Karate if I have physical challenges? No. In my opinion you don’t concede defeat in Karate – you imporvise. You simply listen to your body and train in a manner that pushes your limits without causing injury. Likewise, instead of saying ‘I’m too stiff to do the jump in Empi,’ perhaps you do a spin and step that is just as clean and effective.

Sometimes becoming more accurate with a particular kick or punch means stopping what you’ve been doing for years and analyzing it. “Clean the table” and start again as Shimoji Sensei says. If you’re engaging too much upper body muscle in your punch, you’ll ‘pull’ or ‘push’ the technique right or left. Slowing down the technique and analyzing it, right from the back foot pushing into the floor, to the point where your fist hits the target – and all points in between – will give you an idea of where your energy is leaking, or the technique is going offline.

There’s muscle memory and mental memory. You must ‘tell’ you body how a move works in karate. Anyone who has ever been in the presence of Nishiyama Sensei would know the adage: “Ten times slow! One time fast!” Training this will help your brain adopt proper movement.

“Get good and then get fast” is critical for improving accuracy.

You truly have to think about what body parts are engaging, and when, to get to the point where you can strike your opponent’s solar plexus (a somewhat tine spot) with the ball of your foot, for example. Secondly, you have to train and exercise those body parts to work fluidly and effectively. Everyone can work on flexibility and strengthening to one extent or another.

TECHNIQUE: Fading a golf shot is a technique like age uke is a technique, and if a technique is a way of carrying out a particular task (like a brush stroke in painting) you have to know it before you can do it. No matter the task at hand, we have to understand the mechanics and then practice the movement.

In the martial arts, techniques such as mawashi geri or the yama-zuki each have details that need to be internalized: the way you lift and position your leg before kicking, or the way you use momentum when doing the double punch, as examples.

Basically, if you’re not using analyzing the technique and attempting to understand how it works, and where the power comes from, you can’t be accurate with it. A yama-zuki that has one fist too high and the other too low, or is using the arms to generate the power, is a moot attack.


Yes, sticky notes. My antagonists will ask what Karate practitioner in their right mind is going to use sticky notes in karate?

Well, anyone who understands that finding the essence of Karate requires intellect as well as brawn will use various means to get there.

Putting sticky notes on a wall (at about chudan level), spaced apart at various intervals, is a good place to see where your accuracy is. You can throw a few kizami zuki and a few guaku zuki to see what you’re hitting - while in a static front stance at first. Now, do some shifting and see if you can hit various sticky notes.

The bottom of the sticky note usually sticks off an inch or so from the wall, and if you’re hitting the wall occasionally, there is another problem: Accuracy involves controlling your technique’s distance forward just as much as it does right, left, up, and down. Your technique has to be in the correct linear position in order to do the right damage. Making impact too soon or not soon enough during the strike mitigate its effectiveness.

It’s a rudimentary exercise, but shifting around punching at sticky note (from various angles) will soon tell you about your accuracy.

I guess all of this comes down to a couple of things: to what level do you want to take your Karate training, and, are you willing to repeatedly take things apart and study them in order to really know them.

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