Friday, July 4, 2014

Body Mechanics, but First a Little bit of Physics: By David Schames

(David Schames is my student for the last 10 years, since he was 16, very smart and also powerful, we have had  interesting discusiions about karate principles, so I asked him to put his thoughts in writing, and here is part 1)  
Nature often follows predictable paterns.  Here is a formula that describes “The Big One”:  F=ma
The equation “Force equals mass times acceleration” is useful because of a key pattern in nature.
There is no such thing as a force in nature and it cannot be measured directly with any tool.  Force is an extremely useful manmade concept to keep track of what is happening in the natural world we live in. There is a pattern in nature that when two objects interact and one changes velocity the other object changes velocity in a predictable way.  If object 1 interacts with object 2 and experiences a change in velocity, (delta V1), then object 2 will change velocity in an opposite direction proportional to the ratio of the mass of object 1 to the mass of object 2.  The change in velocity is known as acceleration, and the equation is M1 x A1 = -M2 x A2. Because of this pattern in nature, we call mass times acceleration a force to better keep track of what is happening when objects interact with each other.
The human body is designed to function in the natural world and our bodies are designed to move, and change the things around us.  The better a man’s posture is, the more able he is to move efficiently and change the world around him.  In general, our legs interact with the floor and move our body, and our hands grab things we want to move and apply force moving our center as we move the object we are grabbing.  The bigger a man is, the more he can accelerate an object he is grabbing before the object and the body is at a distance not ideal for applying force using muscles.
In karate we position our body position so that when the striking fist decelerates during a striking technique; our hands will decelerate our whole body and therefore resist decelerating itself.  We can apply force from the ground to our center pushing the center in the direction that we intend on striking. When the strike connects with a vital target on the opponent, our fist decelerates relative to the rest of our body and our muscle transfer the forces in a safe way.   
Meanwhile from the opponents perspective, the vital organ that was struck accelerates relative to the rest of the opponents body and the vital organ transfers the forces through to the rest of the body in an unsafe way causing damage.  
If the force pushing the center forward equals the force pushing the center back, the center does not change velocity and the body can stay in an ideal distance to apply force. This position is also the ideal starting position for the next move. This is what we strive for during kime.
The energy needed to stop a moving mass equals  ½ M x V^2 so if the center is moving fast, and is completely decelerated to zero velocity when the fist hits a target, then the energy delivered into the target is proportional to the mass of the center and proportional to the square of the velocity of the center.  The fist hits the target and slows down the body center over the time of the collision.  At this same time, the feet can push the floor and accelerate the body center adding more energy that is delivered into the target.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Form is limitation, a necessary limitation, therefore ultimately we should be free of form. Being free of form mentally and physically will allow us to flow, adopt, and apply our techniques within any space, angle or instant in time, and from any starting position.
With that said, if a beginner starts training without form, they will not likely learn to use the body effectively or develop good timing.
Form is a vehicle to achieve no form, but with the principles and skills that allow one to be effective.
Ultimately, we want to be like a child who's mind and body are free from patterns, habits and preconceived idea, yet with the skills that make our techniques and timing effective.
It is true with other knowledge as well, a child mind is free and unpatterned, but once the child learn and accumulate knowledge, they grow up to becomes less flexible and more dogmatic. The engineer that is creative and able to innovate, is the one who is able to have balance between knowledge and a mind that is free and formless like a child.
I heard about interesting experiment, when preschoolers were asked to find as many uses as possible to paper clips, 98% of them perform at a level of genius, the same kids 2 years later, as they became more schooled and knowledgeble, became less creative and 2 years later even worst. 
The highest level martial artist is the one that digested the principles but keep a mind of a beginner or a child. 

Strict Form
In karate we are very strict about precise form, especially at the novice level.
The natural question arises, why are we so stubborn about precise form if it restricts you, a strict form cannot be adopted to changing spaces and time?
Of course, in reality, in real application one must be adaptable, and be able to apply techniques effectively in different ranges and angles, adapting to unexpected circumstances.
No one can use Age Uke or Gedan Barai in real sparring in the same way that we learn it in the basics, in fact, some beginner black belts with very good kata, will have hard time doing kumite, because they try to apply the techniques in a rigid way, like in the basic and kata.

What is basic form?
Best condition for the purpose, including stance, posture, technique trajectory, and line of energy which is included in the final form.
For example, we say “attack from own center to opponent center, and in between movement do not show your center”.
For blocking we say “protect your own center (don’t go after opponent’s technique)”, “minimize circle, think of a straight line with a curve, to create side line energy”.
We also have a clear standard for certain technique. For example, in Age Uke, center of the wrist should be in line with center of head, and one fist forward and up from the forehead; the elbow should be at ear level and inside the body line. In Shuto Uke, the hand travels from the shoulder to the opposite shoulder line, elbow movement is minimal and elbow points down, when elbow stops it serves as a center of action to elbow extension, and forearm snap at the elbow.

Why is precise form so important?
Remember that the purpose of karate technique, is to produce maximum force with least effort, and the whole body must cooperate to one purpose.
If Age Uke is different every time in the basics, if our imagination, mental picture of what our body is doing, or our techniques are not matching, and if the purpose of what we are doing is not clear, it will be very hard to learn to use the whole body effectively for one purpose.

The basic form is configured to give best condition of mechanical advantage, where it is easiest to learn and internalize principles such as proper sequencing, body dynamics, connection between all body segments, moving from optimal posture, breathing controls and matches technique.

In basic form we perform techniques in biggest functional range, which improves our resilience to injuries and allow us to develop control of power through the full range, and from there we can more easily develop power in shorter ranges.

The ultimate, No Form, not sloppy, do not violate the principles learned from form.
Once we digest the principles, and we “own” the technique, our nervous system is wired to move from the center out and from the ground up, and produce maximal force to many directions, we can and should break away from form and apply techniques freely according to changing circumstances, as long as we don’t violate the underlying principles that we were supposed to learn by training the basic form and techniques.
In application the same technique will be applied differently every time.
Both your mind and movement should be formless and flowing, so one can become the opponent, and apply techniques without fighting the opponent’s power.
At this level, whatever direction your intention is directed, the whole body will produce power effectively to that line.
There is no thought of form, just breathing hits target and the muscles follow.
But there are stages to get to this level.
Form is necessary as it is a mean to learn movement and combat principles transmitted through many generations, while at the same time it is a limitation if one try to use the form as is.
Be precise when you do kata, and be free and flowing when you do kumite (but without getting sloppy), the principles the kata teach us should be applied fully  in kumite.
Sensei Nishiyama told me that at the begining one should perform the kata precisely and rigidly, (rigidly does not mean stiff, but exact, without deviations). He compared it to a figure of clay that its shape cannot be changed, and as one master the underlying principles of the kata, he can make the kata his/her own, he can be free with the kata, and Sensei Nishiyama compared this to a lively, flexible doll, whose shape can be changed freely.
And then again, when one teaches the kata to a beginner, teach it in the original, strict form as has been transmitted through many generations. 

Notice in pictures below:
Techniques are as big as possible without exposing the center line of the body or disconnect body segments.
Elbow moves minimally in Uke Waza.
When elbow reaches full range, snap action starts (elbow extension and forearm twist) with elbow being action center.
Protect center line and attack from center to center of opponent.

Gedan Barai fist starts from shoulder and travels to opposite hip level, elbow moves minimally, and ends inside hip line.

Gyagu Zuki from own center to opponent's center, and in between do not show your center.
Uchi Uke - fist travels from hip to opposite shoulder, at end, knuckles at shoulder level, elbow inside hip line.
Area near the wrist is contact area.

Shuto Uchi - Hand travel from ears, than elbow through the body, elbow stops in front of the body and serves as action center to the hand which travels in a curve to make side line energy, without over exposing the body center, or lose of unity.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Body, Mind and Brain in Harmony

In Karate through many generations, the wisdom and the tools were developed and transmitted to achieve harmony in oneself and with opponent.
Those are not beautiful theories only, in karate harmony within oneself and than with the opponent is a necessity. You will get an immediate feedback when facing a good opponent, if you are not "present", and not in harmony.
This harmony has to be there not only when you lie down on the beach, but when you are on the edge, at extreme situations.
Mind in karate refers to as heart, feeling, intuitive mind.
Harmony in your body means that your body coordinates and integrates, moves in optimal sequences to produce maximum force with least effort, and it instantly follows your intentions.
Achieving this level is a long, unending journey, I will describe some of the tools we use.
My teacher, Sensei Nishiyama, used to shout at me "don't use eyes", "bypass the brain", and he did not mean that in karate we learn to be stupid and do not use our brains.
It means that in karate we strive to achieve balance between brain and mind (heart), conscious and intuition.
We make strategies with our brain, we have to be smarter than the opponent, but when the interaction with opponent began there is too much information and too little time for the conscious brain to handle, and then our knowledge, decisions and actions have to come from somewhere else, we have to tap into a different kind of knowledge. 
Our intuitive mind and breath with our previous experiences together have to perceive the opponent, and carry out our actions. 
How do we do that?
We start by teaching the body to be most effective, moving out of optimal posture, from the ground up, with the the body center as action center and intention center, we don't have arm or leg movement in isolation, even if one finger moves the whole body cooperates.
Step by step we learn to control all phases  of technique with the breath to the point that there is no thought of details, there is only intention and breath, the breath is the "trigger" that initiates our action, and also controls the the type of energy in each action, smooth, continuous, sharp shock.
At the next level, we learn to "catch" the opponent's rhythm and action with our breath, our breathing tunes to the opponent's breath while our eyes observe, monitor, but we do not judge, do not interfere.
We say "eyes way back" as if looking at a far mountain so the brain will not interfere, and than we can start seeing the cues and information that are beyond the external movement. We are looking to opponent's breathing, and moreover looking to opponent's heart (feeling, intention).
Now our breath controls our body action, and interacts, harmonizes with opponent's breath and rhythm, our breath initiate our action and our breath make the reaction, there is no need for judgement, confirming, which is delaying our movement and cause hesitation, doubt and unstable emotion, it also causes us to get stuck in what we see, in this or other detail, and it blocks are intuitive "antennas".
Breath reaction is a way to avoid over using the brain, allowing intuitive mind to turn on, and it allows us to give everything without interference of the conscious brain once we move.
being intuitive means to be sensitive and see all the cues and information that the opponent gives us without getting stuck on one detail or another. It is not some guess nor it is magic, it is being tuned and allows us to use tools that all of us have.
Breath reaction is not enough, it has to work with the previous experiences we accumulated, since with time we face many circumstances and know all the possibilities the opponent has, and also our nervous system is wired properly and we have the skills to handle any attack with ease.
So we have step by step tools to allow our mind, brain and body to work in unison, but , it is not a math formula, and takes a lot of trial and error, making mistakes and adjusting.
Wayne Gretzki, the hockey great, had it, that is why he could be the best hockey player ever without being the most athletic. But only in karate we have systematic method that allow any person to achieve those levels.
In karate we say "think by mind (heart), act by ki (mental energy from body center)", we say "you don't see (with eyes) yet you see (with heart), you don't hear yet you hear, you don't know (with brain) yet you know (with subconscious mind)". and everyone can achieve this level of awareness and intuition with proper training and dedication.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Posture actually changes your physiology.

In karate we know how important posture is for effective movement, and that posture has psychological effect as well.
When In good posture, it is easy to control body dynamics, transfer ground reaction forces through body center to technique, all muscles are in optimal length for function, and have full potential for contraction/expansion.
In good posture one can be more relaxed, perceived the whole picture rather than being stuck in details and be more mentally responsive and flexible.
A good or bad posture influences how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.
We know that a posture shows many things about a person, but does it work the other way? can improving posture affect your personality?

A new study demonstrates that a good posture, which is expansive rather than contractive, cause physiological and hormonal beneficial changes as well.
Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. But can these postures actually cause power? The results of this study confirmed the prediction that being in postures that are expansive and open would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, which increases confidence and dominance, decreases in cortisol (stress hormone) and therefore response to stress more calmly, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; people who had contractive postures exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. The study shows that being in open, power postures for even 2 minutes, embody power and instantly cause one to be more powerful, it causes real-world, actionable implications.
Power determines greater access to resources (de Waal, 1998; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003); higher levels of control over a person’s own body, mind, and positive feelings (Keltner et al., 2003); and enhanced cognitive function (Smith, Jostmann, Galinsky, & van Dijk, 2008). Powerful individuals (compared with powerless individuals) demonstrate greater willingness to engage in action (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003; Keltner et al., 2003) and often show increased risk-taking behavior. (e.g., Anderson & Galinsky, 2006).
The neuroendocrine profiles of the powerful differentiate them from the powerless, on two key hormones—testosterone and cortisol. In humans and other animals, testosterone levels both reflect and reinforce dispositional and situational status and dominance; internal and external cues cause testosterone to rise, increasing dominant behaviors, and these behaviors can elevate testosterone even further (Archer, 2006; Mazur &

Next time you go to karate class, treat your posture even more carefully.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

ISKA Masters seminar in San Francisco Nov 9, 10.

That was a great seminar with great people, why do I say that it was great? because when I teach and feel that I can go through the small details of Sensei Nishiyama's teachings, and people are attentive and interested, people are absorbed and absorbing the details, than it is a great sign, than we are really learning and not just working out.
When the details and principles are digested, the flashy stuff is easy, and when we push and work hard training is effective, but if the focus is on the flashy, than we are limited to the external and to athletic ability and we are likely to develop bad habits as well.
Thank you guys for such great effort and feedback.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Austria Annual Seminar last weekend November 8-10

Austria seminar took place last weekend, November 8-10, this is the 19th year that I am teaching in Austria.
By now, the town of Vienna Neustadt feels like coming home, same cozy hotel and the same person who receives me each year, there is a barber shop by the hotel, where I go to get a haircut every year.

And most important dedicated karate people that keep searching and improving their karate day by day, it is not their profession but it is their passion.

We had participants from Germany, Czech Republic, Russia and of course Austria.
We spend significant time practicing details of Kanku Dai as Sensei Nishiyama was teaching it, it was my kata as a brown belt and i used to practice Kanku Dai at least 2 hours a day.
I used Kanku Dai to explain body dynamics, body snap, pressure to floor at kime, and how to make proper contraction at kime and many other fundamentals.
Than we explained footwork of Oji Waza (response timing) and Shikake Waza (set up timing), with focus  on Sasoi (invite), Koroshi Waza (cut, kill opponent potential action) and combinations.

I had a lot of fun sharing karate and good time with my friends.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sensei Nishiyama the practical and the philosopher

Next week, on November 8, it will be 5 years to the passing of my teacher, Sensei Nishiyama. He was like a second father to me since we spent most of our days together.
Sensei Nishiyama was very pragmatic and a philosopher at same time.
His greatness was that he merged the old wisdom of Okinawa karate, with the old traditions of Japanese Budo (martial arts) and with latest sport science.
In his teaching he was very methodical and scientific, and every detail had a reason and had to work and be part of the whole picture.
His karate was no nonsense, everything was for application, and every detail meant for more efficiency.
Over the years he created a clear system that meant to bring the full mental and physical potential of the karateka.

When I first came to LA at 1981, I expected hard training, but I also expected karate to be spiritual, and I remember that after my first class, it was the Friday noon class, Sensei told me "put white belt on, step by step, understand?" Only that I did not understand any of that. Sensei "understand" sounded to me like "Zen" and I was walking around all day wondering what words of wisdom did I miss.
Later I realized, that the philosophy that Sensei was taught was in the action, in doing, not in words.
As realistic as he was, he understood that just because we cannot see or prove something it does not mean it is not true, and as much as science proves many karate concepts, there are concepts that we know to be true from experience, and science cannot yet prove. He taught concepts that were intangible such as "don't use eyes", "think by heart, act by ki", "condense ki energy to body center and than give ki energy from center through contact area".
Sensei Nishiyama did not spend a lot of time talking philosophy, for him it was through action that one applies philosophy, he summed his philosophy in few words such as "keep trying", "only dead no come to training", "always do your best", "target is self", "best fight is no fight".
If someone talked and didn't do, Sensei would call it "kuchi Waza" (mouth technique), or he would tell me: "when the body does not move, dreams move".
 He cared about how you bow, because doing it right meant dignity and thanking your partner for being your teacher, being humble, doing it sloppy meant every thing you do follows the manners and will be sloppy.
One night he made bow for 15 minutes till he was satisfied.
He cared that you always respect your opponent in kumite, and never be sloppy "Karate is fighting with dignity, like a samurai, not like Yakuza".
He appeared rigid at times, but in a long run he was usually correct, and had reasons, for example one day he came to my dojo, and in the kids class one of the students dropped the belt on the floor. Sensei Nishiyama was upset at that and kept reminding me of the incident for few months, at first I did not understand why he was so stubborn about that belt, but later I understood the importance of that.
It is the small details and the way you manage yourself outside of class that will influence how precise and attentive to details you will be in training.
Sometimes after 5 hours training I was exhausted and slouched and he used to sneak behind me in the hallway and hit my back really hard explaining that I must keep good posture all the time, he said training is only few hours a day, but rest of life is much longer and therefore have much more influence on developing good or bad habits.
When I was sparring it was not the results that mattered to him, sometimes when I felt that I was doing good, he was not pleased at all "don't do it the convenient way, do it the right way", and that was one of the great lessons in my life, don't look at the results, but rather did you use the right means to achieve the desired result.
It is easy to fall into habits, especially when you are advanced and things work for you the way you do them over a long time, but don't be satisfied with that, keep reflecting on yourself and do not lose the fundamental principles to achieve temperory results.
It is better to lose in the short term and develop in the right direction than to win and create bad habits along the way.
I hear his voice every day in my training, and I actually miss the strictness and the shinai chasing me.
Sensei Nishiyama taught me much more than how to fight and be a technician, but he gave me guidelines of how to live my life according to karate principles.