Tsuki (punching), uchi (striking), keri (kicking), and uke
(blocking), are the fundamental karate techniques. They are at once the beginning and the
final goal of karate. Students can easily learn to perform these basic movements in little
more than two months, but perfection in their performance may be impossible. Therefore,
students must practice regularly and employ maximum concentration and effort in the
performance of each movement. However, practice will not achieve its object if it is
undertaken incorrectly. Unless students learn techniques on a scientific basis, under an
instructor employing a systematic and properly scheduled training system, their efforts
will be in vain. Karate training can be considered scientific only when it is conducted on
the basis of correct physical and physiological principles.
Surprisingly, an examination of the karate techniques which our
predecessors created and refined through continuous study and practice reveals that these
techniques accord with modern scientific principles. However, further refinement is always
possible. We must try to analyze our techniques in an unceasing effort to improve.
The following points are of primary importance in the study of
Form, Balance and Center of Gravity
Karate is not the only sport that concentrates on the optimum
utilization of the human body or embraces principles taught in physics and physiology. All
the martial arts and most other sports depend on correct form for the effectiveness of
their techniques. In baseball, good batting form is necessary to attain a high batting
average. A fencer spends years perfecting movements which, to the layman, look easy. Such
practice results in body movement, or form, which is physically and physiologically
correct. Correct form is especially important in karate. All parts of the body must
harmonize to provide the stability necessary to sustain the shock of delivering a kick or
The karate student must often stand on one foot to attack or defend.
Thus, balance is of prime importance. If the feet are placed far apart, with a consequent
lowering of the center of gravity, a kick or punch will be stronger. However, it is easier
to move if the center of gravity is somewhat higher and the feet closer together rather
than spread to the maximum possible extent. Therefore, although stability is important,
there is a point beyond which it is not worth going. If the student is overly concerned
with stability, he will lose elasticity. If he bends his knees too much to maintain
balance, his kick will not be effective. Thus, the position of the body and, consequently,
the center of gravity, depends upon the circumstances.
The center of gravity is always shifting. Sometimes body weight is
evenly distributed between both feet, and sometimes there is more on one foot than on the
other. When performing yoko-geri (side kick), the weight is completely shifted to one
foot. In this case, the student must stand firmly on one leg, otherwise the shock of
delivering the kick will upset his balance.
However, if he stand on one foot for too long, his opponent can
easily attack. Therefore, his balance must be shifted constantly from one foot to the
other. His center of gravity must shift quickly from right to left and back again to avoid
giving the opponent an opportunity to attack. At the same time, the student must
constantly look for an opening in his opponents defense.
Power and Speed
The possession of muscular strength alone will not enable one to
excel in the martial arts or, for that matter, in any sport. The effective use of strength
is important. The application of power to any movement depends on a number of factors. One
of the most important of these is speed.
The basic punching and kicking techniques of karate achieve their
power by the concentration of maximum force at the moment of impact. This concentration of
force depends greatly upon the speed will result in increased power. The punch of an
advanced karateka can travel at a speed of 43 feet per second, and generate power to
destroy equal to 1,500 pounds.
Speed is an important element in the application of power, but speed
cannot achieve its greatest affect without good control.
The kind of movement needed in fundamental karate techniques is not
one which will move a heavy object slowly, but one which will move a light object with
maximum speed. Thus, the strong but slow exercise of power necessary to lift a barbell is
not as effective in karate as the power developed by hitting the punching board (makiwara)
with great speed.
Another principle to remember is that greater speed can be generated
if power travels a longer route to its target. For example, in kicking, the knee of the
kicking leg should be bent as much as possible and the body so placed in relation to the
target that the leg will be fully stretched at the moment o impact. The longer the course
the leg travels to the target, the stronger the kick will be.
In order to increase power and speed, it is necessary to practice
responding to sudden and unrehearsed attacks. Such practice, together with an
understanding and application of the dynamics of movement, will help shorten reaction
Concentration of Power
A punch or kick will be weak if applied with the arm or leg alone.
To achieve maximum power it is necessary to use the strength of all parts of the body
simultaneously. When punching or kicking, power moves from the center of the body, the
major muscles, to the extremities, ending in the hand or foot. This power moves from one
part of the body to the next at a speed of 1/100 of a second. The whole movement from
beginning to end takes only .15 to .18 of a second if the momentum possible in this action
is correctly exploited. Training should be conducted so that all available strength is
focused in the foot when kicking or in the hand when punching.
It is important that the various muscles and tendons are kept loose
and relaxed to permit instant response to changing circumstances. If the muscles are
already tense, they cannot be further tensed at the moment of focus.
Power concentrated at the time of focus must be instantly released
to prepare for the succeeding action. Constant training in alternately tensing and
relaxing the body is very important to acquire proficiency in the application of karate
Role of Muscular Power
Power to the body is supplied by the muscles. Well-trained,
powerful, and elastic muscles are mandatory in karate. Even if the student is well-versed
in karate theory and knows the principles of the dynamics of movement, his technique will
be weak if his muscles are not strong enough. Therefore, constant training is necessary to
strengthen the muscles of the body.
If karate training is to be conducted scientifically, it is also
necessary to know which muscles are employed in the execution of a particular technique.
When practicing a new technique, students sometimes use unnecessary muscles or muscles
which actually hinder the performance of the technique. Therefore, beginners must
carefully follow the advice of their teachers. When the proper muscles operate fully and
harmoniously, the technique will be strong and effective. On the other hand, if
unnecessary muscles operate there will result, at the very least, a loss of energy, and at
worst an ineffective technique.
Finally, the speed of muscular contraction is important, because the
faster a muscle is tensed the greater will be the power produced.
An essential element in the performance of techniques in the martial
arts and other sports is rhythm. The proper execution of a series of movement in any
sports is impossible without rhythm. Also, the rhythm evident in the movements of athletes
is more complicated than, and cannot be expressed in terms of, musical rhythm. It is
essential for the karate student to learn correct rhythm in both the basic techniques and
in the more advanced sparring (kumite).
Rhythm is especially necessary in the performance of formal exercise
(kata). We have been taught since early times that the three most important elements in
kata performance are the application of strength at the correct time, the control of speed
in techniques and from technique to technique, and the smooth transition of the body from
one technique to the next. These requirements cannot be fulfilled without rhythm. The kata
performance of the person advanced in karate is powerful, rhythmical, and consequently,
Correct timing is of utmost importance in applying techniques. If
timing is faulty, the technique will fail. A kick or punch which is directed at the target
either too early or too late is often fruitless.
The start of a technique is of first importance in any consideration
of timing. To start their particular movements more effectively, baseball players and
golfers condition their swings with practice swings. However, there is not opportunity for
anything like a practice swing in karate, where the outcome can be decided in an instant.
A failure in timing could be disastrous.
The attack in karate must be launched with the hands and feet in the
usual position of readiness or defense. Obviously, the hands and feet must always be
positioned so that techniques can be easily and quickly applied. Immediately after the
application of a technique, they must be returned to their former position, ready for the
following movement. Moreover, during the course of these movements the body must be kept
relaxed, but alert, with the muscles full of energy and ready for any eventuality.
Lower Abdomen and Hips
Coaches of modern sports constantly stress the role of the hips in
furnishing maximum power to any movement. For example, they say, "Hit with your
hips," or "Throw with your hips," or "Get your hips into it."
In Japan the importance of the tanden has been taught from early
times. Teachers of the martial arts, and those of other arts and disciplines, have
constantly emphasized the importance of the tanden in achieving competence. This region
was emphasized because it was felt that here was centered the human spirit, and that this
area provided the basis of power and balance.
The tanden actually is that area behind the navel, in the center of
the body. When standing erect, the bodys center of gravity is located here. If the
stance is correct in karate, the center of gravity will be found in the tanden. A correct
stance will enable the student to maintain the balance of both the upper and lower parts
of his body, resulting in harmonious interplay of the muscles and a minimum loss of
If the power concentrated in the tanden is brought into play in
executing karate techniques, the pelvic and hip bones will be firmly supported by the
thighs, and the trunk by the spine. This interlocking will produce strong techniques.
The center of the body, i.e., the lower abdominal area and the hips,
plays a great part in our various movements. Therefore, try to punch with the hips, kick
with the hips, and block with the hips.
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