ISSUE 56 FEATURES
OSAMU OZAWA 'IN MEMORIAM'. By Randall G. Hassell.
The Legend of a True Spirit.
The Legacy continues: By Chris Sterian.
Delivering 'SHOCK' and not 'PUSH'. By John Cheetham.
Letters to the Editor.
KATSUNORI TSUYAMA 8th Dan JKA.
Interview By Phil Dutton.
Shotokan News and Reports.
By Steve Ashby & Steve Mason.
A question of balance. By Mike Clarke.
The Vital Points Theory - 'Kata Centred Karate'.
By Bill Burgar.
YOKO GERI KE- KOMI - 'A Biomechanical Analysis'.
By Mike Hildyard.
By John Cheetham
If you have ever been hit, (in the body for instance) by someone who truly understands (and can deliver) the principles of a karate punch, then you will know from the feeling and experience that you are not 'pushed' away but you feel what can only be described as a 'shock' to the body. A jolting, sickening feeling through the whole system that can't really be explained, you simply have to feel it to know. It does not have to be a partIcularly hard, fast punch to experience it either, which is why it can be practiced slowly and safely to understand and transmit this feeling. This then is the fundamental difference (please note that word 'difference') between a proper karate blow and other types of blows. A proper karate blow delivers shock to the target and not push.
Now, please let me make something very clear at this point. This article is not about what's 'best' because there is no 'best' in the martial arts, there are only exceptional individuals. You can get someone who has never done Karate, Kung Fu, Boxing or whatever and they (the individual) could have an awesome punch just from natural speed and power. So this is not about comparisons, it's simply about the technique which is peculiar to karate. Great masters like Nishiyama and Kase stress this idea constantly, that the karate blow delivers or should deliver 'shock' to the target and not 'push'. So, how do we students of this particular martial art system develop this technique?
We just recently (at our dojo) had Kawasoe sensei for a marvellous two and a half hour mid-week evening session. He spent a very long time explaining about the importance of the back leg when punching. The reason being because instructors like him are trying to maintain the traditional methods and techniques within the art. If you are six feet tall and 200lbs and you train really hard, then obviously you are going to have one hell of a punch! No question about it. You won't particularly need good technique. But it might not be a correct karate punch, that is the point. If you are practicing and studying a particular art then a major part of that is to try and perfect the techniques of the art. Otherwise do something else! It's almost like saying why practice Archery when you can buy a gun which is much more reliable! So, people like Kawasoe, Kase, Nishiyama and all the other great instructors are trying hard to pass on the principles and techniques of the art of traditional karate. Kawasoe sensei would be the first to say that there is nothing wrong with other methods but he's teaching and practicing traditional karate and so are we.
It does not matter at all (and this point must be stressed) whether you are in kokutsu dachi (back stance), zenkutsu dachi (forward stance), fudo dachi (rooted stance) or no stance at all. The 'BACK LEG' will play a major role in delivering shock to the target. Once we understand that, we are well on the way to developing the right feeling. Probably the single most important factor in producing 'shock' and not 'push' to the target, is KIME.
Especially the physical, total muscular body contraction for one split second of time on impact. However, many students (especially western students) have good contraction but mostly in the 'upper body'. From the waist down there is often not enough connection, and not enough body pressure pushing down into the floor, via the legs and stance. That's why this article is dealing mostly with the back leg. Vertical shock from the front leg is very subtle and would require an article on its own. Here we are just focussing on the 'back leg'.
That is why Kawasoe sensei spent so much time on showing us the importance of the back leg. He could have shown us a million different combinations, applications, sparring drills or whatever but he and other instructors like him want to pass on true karate and try and make students understand what karate technique really entails.
If that back leg is not rooted to the ground/floor on impact then you will not deliver shock to the target, it will be a speeded-up push! Before the Japan Karate Association further refined and developed 'hip-rotation', karate relied solely on delivering shock by using stances such as fudo/sanchin dachi where both feet are rooted to the ground. Some people say that the JKA looked at sports like Baseball and Golf during the mid-1950's and realised the tremendous power that could be generated by twisting and turning the hips. However, even today, Kase sensei's students who study the older techniques and forms of Yoshitaka Funakoshi don't place too much emphasis on hip rotation but they are tremendously powerful and incredibly effective. So, there are different methods even within traditional Shotokan karate but the underlying basic principle of using the back leg to drive back into the floor is the same whichever method is used, and it is most certainly based on scientific principles - reaction force.
If you put someone who has never done karate in front of a punch-bag and observe them hit it, you can guarantee that they will throw all their body weight into the punch and take most of their weight onto their front leg, the back leg will be up on the toes. More than likely if you moved the bag at the crucial (impact) moment they would go flying forward, throwing themselves off balance. However, if that same punch connected with your chin, they could do some serious damage, maybe knock you out! So, there's nothing wrong with throwing your weight into a punch in terms of actual effect but that is not the type of punch Nishiyama or Kase would teach, it's not a karate punch. They are trying to pass on the art of karate! (I personally think that nowadays it's not a bad idea to be able to do both a good boxing type punch and a correct traditional karate type punch, but that's only my own opinion).
If you do bag-work yourself then you will know that once you get tired, you start throwing yourself at the bag to try and make power! That's natural. The karate punch is scientifically brilliant but it's not 'natural' which is why the majority of students never really develop it, because it's a much harder technique to master.
Kawasoe sensei said that what most students do is in fact throw their weight into the punch by coming up on the back foot and taking too much weight on the front leg, which will have a pushing effect and not create 'shock' on impact, as good as it may be. If you watch someone like that, (Kawasoe) what they do is sort of sit -back on the back leg but the hips drive forward. So in effect, there are two opposite actions. The hips push forward and the back leg pushes back into the floor. You then become an extension of the floor on impact which creates 'shock'. That's if you were doing gyaku zuki in forward stance. If you were doing gyaku zuki in fudo dachi with no hip twist you would just push back with the back leg without so much hip rotation.
It all sounds very simple but how can the average student develop this? Firstly you have to understand the feeling of the back-leg. Look at the photograph using a wall to try and aid in developing this feeling. You hold the wall with your front hand and in either forward stance, back stance or rooted stance, it doesn't matter which, you lift your front leg and push forward into the wall with your back leg driving back into the floor. Don't lean the upper-body forward, try and push and drive the hips (the centre of mass of the body) forward. Try and capture the feeling of the back leg and the hard pressure against the ground, and memorise it. If you can capture that feeling when you put your front foot down then you are definitely getting there! If you could punch something and get that feeling then you will probably be delivering shock on impact. However, when you put your front foot down that also should push back with the same feeling as your hand against the wall. This is 'outside tension' stance in operation. Another method of practicing trying to capture this feeling, is to literally sit-back on your back leg in a stance for a while, (see photo of Tsuyama page 19) then correct your stance (technically) but maintain the feeling of sitting back on the back leg. It's definitely a 'feeling' and not how it looks!
Karate was probably originally developed by very light (in weight) people so they didn't have too much body-weight to throw at opponents. So maybe this technique and principle of using the floor (via the back-leg) is definitely an advantage to lighter people. You have possibly read in various karate books about the scientific basis behind this principle. I could quote from several books but basically in layman's terms it means that if you punch something and your back foot is rooted to the floor on impact, the shock travels back down your arm, body and leg into the floor and then back up the very same route, to deliver shock to the target (all in a split second of course). In Mr. Nishiyama's book 'Karate - The Art of Empty Hand Fighting' he said..."An important feature in karate is where, for example, in punching, the rear leg is pressed hard against the floor, and the resulting reaction force is passed through the body and arm to the striking hand, adding force to the punch. In even more complex fashion, when the hand actually strikes the target, the shock of the blow is passed through the body to the legs and floor and then reversed back to the punching hand, adding further force to the blow."
That is the bottom line but it's often been neglected as you can see, a good example being at competitions. Most punching points are scored when the person is up on the ball of the back foot and reaching like hell for the target, (see Tanaka photo). Again, there's nothing wrong in that. But it's not really a karate punch in a true technical sense. However, it's certainly a more natural punch!
Interestingly, you have probably heard boxing people say that a fighter delivered a tremendous punch when both feet were firmly planted on the ground. As a more than keen boxing fan myself, my mind springs back and I can just picture the young Mike Tyson doing an awesome uppercut in such a position, delivering one of his close-range deadly uppercuts, both feet planted and knees deeply bent and a tremendous hip drive into the punch! I think at this point it's worth mentioning again as at the beginning that if you have experienced a karate blow (however light) you will know the 'feeling'. 'Shock' is about the best way to describe the sensation.
Many karate people I have spoken to say that it's actually quite difficult to do a correct karate punch on a punch-bag but far easier on a makiwara? This is maybe to do with the whole of the fist sinking into a bag as opposed to the first two knuckles (seiken) striking a makiwara. But many people feel that it has something to do with a natural action as opposed to correct technique. But if you concentrate on that back leg, even when hitting a bag, it doesn't make any difference with regard to the whole of the fist or the first two knuckles! You will deliver shock and not push.
However, under real pressure in the chaos and incredibly fast and violent seconds of a real confrontation, technique usually goes completely out of the window and you would more than likely throw the weight orientated punch! The photo of Tanaka under pressure, proves the point.
I reiterate what I said at the beginning of the article, that there are many different methods, karate being one, and at the end of the day it's down to the ability of the individual which determines the effect of any type of blow! However, I can't see the point of practicing an art like traditional karate and not trying your very best to understand and develop the principles and techniques. Think about that back-leg and using the floor. It may even be the answer if you still can't quite capture that feeling of delivering 'shock' to the target and not 'push'.
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