Monday, December 27, 2010

Kime part 2: sharp contraction of total body to technique line

· 2 components of kime: pressure and contraction.

· Contraction of total body musculature to line of technique at impact.

· Purpose is to allow delivery of total force in shortest amount of time, to achieve maximum shocking power, Todome.

· Muscles contraction is controlled by breath, Kiai.

· Contraction is from the ground up and from the center out.

· Contraction to midline, than chain reaction to technique line.

· Legs contraction in a spiral to midline and to technique line.

· Body like steel for a moment.

· Elastic steel, which has flexibility and potential energy.

· Power needs direction therefore contraction to line of technique.

· During contraction no move on the outside, not any wobble, but inside does not stop.

· Sensei Nishiyama used to “at kime don’t even blink, kime from eyes (in a sense)”, when blinking breath muscles synchronization is lacking.

Force equal mass by acceleration, and force delivered in shortest amount of time is impulse or shocking power.

In karate the goal is to achieve Todome – finishing blow technique, and therefore shocking power is a must.

Our body is soft since it is made of 70% water, and we have many joints, and each joint is like a cushion where there is a “give” and energy can easily dissipate.

Test shows that when we drop a 5kg (12lb) steel ball from a height of 40 cm (16inches) on a brick, the brick will break every time, and this is because steel is dense, and the energy will transfer to the brick in 1/1000 of a second. On the other hand if we drop a many times heavier pillow on the brick nothing will happen because of the “give” of energy.

In movement we want to be elastic and soft to achieve maximum speed and momentum but at contact we want to be as dense as possible, like steel.

How do we achieve this density at contact and become like steel?

We need contraction of total body musculature to line of technique.

We cannot think of individual muscles, since the brain does not know muscles but movement patterns, also we don’t want to simply brace the muscles, because the contraction will be from the outside, and will be limited.

Our method is very special and effective, and based on lots of trial and error. We use the breath and intention to control the muscles, and think of contraction toward the spine, the midline, and than from the midline chain reaction to line of technique.

How does it works?

When making contraction to midline, the inner unit muscles, smaller muscles around the spine are activated, stabilizing the spine, and providing an anchor, working foundation for the bigger, more powerful, outer muscles to contract more fully and effectively to line of technique.

So, even though we say contraction to centerline, the purpose is not contraction inwardly, where energy is being “choked”, but rather contraction from the inside outward.

The contraction starts as we make pressure to floor, and as reaction of this pressure, therefore the contraction is from the floor and upward through the kinetic chain to line of technique. Likewise, when a person jumps and lands, as he hits the floor, there will be contraction against gravity, which is lengthening contraction, also called eccentric contraction.

During contraction continue pressure to floor and breath does not stop.

Only out of optimal posture contraction can be total and complete, since in optimal posture all muscles are at optimal length for function.

The muscles of the upper back, the gluts and adductors have tendency not to engage in contraction, the hip flexors and upper abdominals tend to be over active.

The pulling hand is very important in helping to use both side of the body through the center, in activating the back and gluts muscles.

The feet, big toe, heel and arch are very important in maximizing the activation of the legs, especially gluts and inner thighs.

Saying that we use all air to make total body contraction in shortest time is general, since different techniques require different types of energy, so the optimal amount of force should be applied.

Also, giving all air is more of a feel, that allows to give everything both mentally and physically, the breath is the link between mental and physical.

A block is not finish technique, and only meant to deflect an attack, kime is very short, a tsuki (punch) is finish technique, yet attack face require short delivery since the head tend to give and energy escape unless power delivery is sharp, Tsuki to the body needs to be deeper and more penetrating, therefore different types of breath is used to produce different types of kime.

The general exclamation that we need sharpest contraction is true, and we need to teach the nervous system to recruit as many muscles motor units in shortest time. This is a different kind of muscle activation lets say than a person who bench press and have as much time as needed to press, we need as much power applied in shortest amount of time, which is a skill that require proper training.

That is why sensei Nishiyama used to say that you don’t need to be Popai to be skillful in karate but you need to use what you have well.

He also used to say that there is no points of having 8 cylinders if one can use only 2. It is important to develop base strength, so one has more potential and is also safer.

Both pressure to floor and contraction are potential energy that can be released by exhalation to direction of next technique.

Kime or end of one technique is best condition for start of next technique.

As we release energy we also recharge energy for next technique.

This is a subject for another article.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pressure to floor at kime

Sensei Nishiyama always stressed that at impact one should apply maximum pressure to floor. Pressure to floor is actually one of the most important components of kime, and is a special point to karate technique. Another very important component is the sharp contraction of total body musculature to technique line, which I will explain at another time.

Sensei Nishiyama went so far and many times would say: “kime is pressure”.

Let me try to explain pressure, I will start by saying that mass by acceleration equal force, and pressure is acceleration and therefore most important for force production.

When one apply pressure to floor properly, the reaction from floor can equal 2 to 3 times body weight, that is huge acceleration, and especially important in short range when we cannot create big momentum.

Pressure to floor is also a mean of energy delivery, for example, we can compare it to a long jump, a person runs and creates momentum, but for this momentum to transfer into a jump, to become a jump, one has to hit the ground as sharp as possible.

Likewise, from start of technique till contact can be compared to the run up, and than to transfer the energy into the target fully, one has to apply pressure to the floor, the pressure is additional acceleration and at he same time allows for full transfer of the momentum.

Now, a jump is different than karate technique, since in a jump the purpose is to lift the body as high or far as possible using the momentum and ground reaction, in karate technique on the other hand the purpose is to transfer the energy to the opponent, the body is the vehicle for transferring the energy.

Therefore, unlike in a jump, in karate technique at pressure the body should not bounce up, since any bounce, any wobble, means escape or leak of energy.

In karate technique at pressure the whole body is still for a moment, yet the momentum continues through the target, we say “outside stops, inside don’t stop”.

This outside stop is only for a short instant, enough to transfer the full momentum and energy.

How to make pressure at impact?

We use the breath to apply maximum pressure to floor with the intention of reaction from floor being absorbed through the body and delivered to technique line.

One must avoid thinking of hitting with the fist, because that will nullify the effect of pressure and will cause undue tension in the top body, remember that power is indirect, a reaction.

Other important points to remember are that one should not slam the floor or “muscle” the pressure, but just use the breath.

If one “slams” the floor with the legs and feet, energy escapes, and there will be stress on the joints.

Also, the body should not rise and drop, does not change level, the pressure happens internally, without external change, it might be useful to have the feel of dropping internally.

For the pressure to be effective, posture has to be optimal, since if any joint is out of line, pressure will escape, and the reaction from the ground up will not be complete, we must have clear channels to transfer the reaction of the pressure from the ground up to technique line.

Breathing does not stop-

Breath make pressure to floor but does not stop, rather the breath passes through target, if one cuts the breath, pressure stops and the momentum stops.

Pressure to floor has other benefits besides acceleration and force delivery, when we make pressure, we create a spring internally, which is potential energy, which can be released into next technique with next exhalation. Pressure also help maintaining balance.

There are different methods to help the student understand how to make pressure, but those have to be demonstrated and hard to explain in writing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

UKE Waza (blocking technques) part 2, principles of applications

There are three main types of Uke Waza: Hooking (kake uke), sweeping block (nagashi Uke) and hitting blocks.

Hitting block is the most common in our karate, first to be taught to beginners, and is the main subject of this article.

I personally like sweeping block as much and use equally hitting and sweeping

blocks. It is a matter of preference, and also one should be able to use sweeping or hitting block at the proper situation and time. Sweeping blocks requires less power and more smoothness, in general when slightly late for hitting use sweeping block. I will go through principles of sweeping block in another article.

Here I will describe the most important technical points that make uke waza effective and useful in free application and against unknown attack, and not only in basic training.

I will also explain the necessary mental preparation that is necessary to apply hitting block successfully no matter what attack comes at you and at what speed.

Mental preparation is very important to enable us to use Uke Waza instinctively against any unexpected attack:

When in kamae facing the opponent “give direction to your technique”, this mean that from tanden, (center of energy, 3 fingers below the navel toward the spine), and from kami tanden, (upper center of energy, the point between the eye brows) ki energy is “shooting”, projecting to opponent, the muscles already have direction, decision is already made, now the breath is really the trigger that initiates the reaction/action.

To go a little further on this point, my hands are mentally touching opponent’s hand, on the way to the attack. Physically not touching but mentally touching.
This mental preparation, “give direction to technique”, is critical for success of uke waza for 2 reasons:

1. When danger we reflexively lift the hands to protect the brain and throat, and this is a back motion, which is not acceptable in application.
We cannot change this reflex but we can redirect it with our intention, and the reaction will be to direction of opponent

2. When something happens we cannot analyze, decide and than move, that is too late, when the muscles already have direction, the breath is the trigger, “bypassing the brain”, and allow us to move as the opponent initiates action, without a gap.

Another preparation, the hands have slight but constant move, side to side, as extension of the body center/lower spine, this movement should be barely noticed, but inside at body center movement should always be present, the engine is already working, since it is easy to initiate movement from being in motion, rather than from stillness.This is called: “the bird tail is moving yet the body is seem not to move”

Keep in mind block is not defense, think that when late for Sen, you attack opponent's technique on the way to attack his body. Uke Waza is a technique of Go no Sen.

Technical considerations:

1. Breath and spine reaction, allow us to catch the attack as early as possible.

Don’t use eyes, since if we look we will have to confirm and than move and that is too late. If we look we will be over informed since the opponent has many options and than we are likely to doubt and hesitate, you should observe but not look.

2. Within the block we must take leadership

And be ahead of the rhythm, be able to break the opponent rhythm and counter between his rhythm and not in the same rhythm. This means that we hit the opponent’s attack before kime, when he still has some momentum left, and this left momentum is our space for counterattack.
If we cannot hit the attack before kime we must switch to Amashi Waza, use space by shifting back, and when to apply Uke Waza or Amashi waza is not a conscious choice, it is not in the brain, it is result of experience and facing certain situations many times.

3. When blocking foot moves first, than weight, the body center shifts very little, since uke waza, is not “todome” - finish technique, and the purpose is only to deflect the attack, full use of the body weight is not necessary. Moving the foot first is faster, and we can never move the body weight as fast as the punch coming at us.

Also moving the foot first allows us to keep the head back while advancing which is safer, and enable us to monitor.
Using back stance is effective because it allows us to move the foot to adjust the distance without shifting the weight, we cannot do this in front stance.
Look at how many examples the kata gives us of using back stance with uke waza and in most cases moving forward, since uke waza should be used moving in, if we move back we use space to avoid the attack, and block is not needed.
When we switch from block to counter, we need to fully use the weight into the attack, since this is todome waza, so we change from back stance to front stance.

4. Arm move in straight line rather than circle.
This is important, the blocking hand move in shortest line to attack the opponent’s attack, we describe this motion as a straight line with a slight curve at end, since we need to create force in a sideline.
The reasons for that are two, first, a straight line is faster than a circle, and so if we block in circle we are in disadvantage.
Second, we avoid selection reaction, brain interference, when being attacked first my breath reacts and the arm extends straight to opponent, and as I move I choose left or right, jodan or chudan, this choice is not in my brain, it is in my back memo, drawn from my experience (like a computer back memo).
Few important details regarding this point are, first the block is as big as possible without over extending and loss of unity, connection between body center and arm, and that is because I want to catch the opponent as early as possible, before he accumulate energy, and in his territory.
Second the elbow moves as little as possible, to keep connection between body to elbow, to avoid exposing our body center, and also the moment the elbow moves unnecessarily, we are starting to move the arm in isolation, which mean the brain has to order the movement of the arm, and there is no more breath reaction and reaction from spine, and we are likely to be late.

5. Use wrist or near wrist area as contact area and attack opponent fist wrist area.
In the area near the wrist we can produce most power because we have most leverage, it is like the “sweet spot” in a baseball bat. It also allows us to “tsukome”, catch the opponent hand after block if necessary, especially if he has weapon, or if we want to throw him.
Attack the opponent fist, wrist area, also gives us most leverage at contact and it is faster to get to the fist than to forearm or upper arm.

6. Your own block protects your center, and inline for counterattack.
At end position of block, your body center should be protected, your arms should draw a triangle in front of your center, and you should not lose the midline, so you don’t have to readjust your arms for counterattack, in the block position, you should be in perfect centered line for counter attack.

7. In the block use sharp Muchimi (total body snap)

This is important since many times we have very short action space for block and need to accelerate sharply to produce force in short space.
Also sharp snap action allows us to switch quick from block to counter, using the potential energy that is in the snapping muscles.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Misconceptions of Abdominal Training

Abdominal strength exercises such all types of crunches are popular both in the general public and with those involve in rehabilitation.

The reasons for this popularity is appearance of a flat stomach and the assumption that a strong abdomen protects the spine.

However, many people with strong abdominal muscles develop back pain.

Often, programs designed to strengthen abdominal muscles will contribute to muscle imbalances and pain syndromes.

The most important aspect of abdominal muscles performance is obtaining the control that is necessary to appropriately stabilize the spine, maintain optimal alignment and movement relationships between the pelvis and spine, and prevent excessive stress and compensatory motions of the pelvis during movement of the extremities.

In fact, Cholewicki and others report that only 2% to 3% of maximum voluntary activity of the abdominal muscles is necessary for stabilizing the spine during upright unloaded tasks. In sport performance the abdominal muscles are also helping us explode while decelerate and prevent unwanted movement and leaks of energy. At the same time some muscles contract concentrically to produce force while others contract eccentrically to decelerate and stabilize and prevent unneeded movement.

From this we understand that the selection and instruction of abdominal exercises has to be based not only on strength but the control that is needed and in the case of back pain the type of stresses that contribute to pain.

The most important factors that need attention are sequence of activation, with the deeper, smaller, stabilizing muscles firing before the big prime movers and maintaining balance development between abdominal and back muscles, flexors and extensors.

Because of misunderstanding many people perform various forms of crunches which cause the rectus abdominis to become dominant over the oblique’s external and internal.

Study shows that there is greater rectus activation during sit up (68%) comparing to external oblique (19%) and internal oblique (14%).

The disadvantage of this is that the rectus abdominis cannot produce or decelerate rotation which is most important in most life tasks and sports and shortness or stiffness contribute to thoracic kyphosis.

Also during sit up there is strong activity of the iliopsoas, and in the case of a person with back pain when the source is compression and anterior shear, which is what the iliopsoas are causing, the activation of this muscle should be minimized.

The best way to train the abdominal muscles is through functional whole body movements, strengthening the abdominals while it cooperate with the whole kinetic chain.

Some isolation exercises are useful when certain muscles are dormant or delayed in recruitment, in particular the inner unit, the deeper stabilizing muscles, closer to the spine.

Also in the common case of slouched posture, strengthening the back extensors is necessary.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Uke Waza (blocking technques) part 1


Our karate distinct advantage and superiority is the precise and very advanced use of body mechanics to achieve Todome (finishing blow), and the use of precise timing and distance so one does not meet the opponent’s strength.

Those elements allow a karate person to use less power to over come big power; the small and week can overcome the big and strong.

Understanding those elements intellectually is not enough one has to digest and internalize to the point that it is no more in our brain, but in the nervous system, the way your nervous system is wired, or in sensei Nishiyama’s wards “body system”.

But mere repetition is not enough, there is a certain order in when and how one should practice timing, and each step should make you ripe and ready to digest and step to next level, and than of course it is like a spiral, we return and repeat certain drills with the emphasize depending on the needs, this is quality rather than quantity training.

The first and most basic timing we learn and repeat the most is Sen (ahead), which is to anticipate the opponent’s action, ideally to hit him at his mental commitment (Kake no Sen)and at the latest during the physical action (Tai No Sen). When doing Sen, our offense is our defense.

Sen teaches us to react with the breath and directly from the nervous system (not brain), to make the reaction and action as one, without space of judgment, and mentally/physically to give everything once we go (Ho Shin).

In Sen we are doing single reaction, we don’t have to select between opponent’s techniques, we trust our feeling and shoot like a bullet, yet with awareness, monitoring.

Uke Waza is similar, when we are slightly late for sen, we attack the opponent’s technique on the way to attacking his body, therefore Uke Waza, is not defensive. In Uke Waza like any other timing the reaction is with the breath, but unlike in Sen timing there is selection reaction, because choice has to be made to what technique is coming at you, of course we developed methods to minimize this selection.

Uke Waza is very important first of all because it is very effective and useful in application.

Second and very important benefit of Uke Waza is that when you get good at it, all other timing and footwork become easy to apply.

When you are comfortable in front of any attack that might come at you, which seem very difficult initially because when you block you do have to select between many options that the opponent has and you move into it. You have to select not with your eyes and brain, but with your intuition, with the wisdom of the body, you have to see without your eyes.

Sensei Nishiyama used to say that if properly trained anyone could use Uke Waza within short time, one needs to repeat over and over.

When you can stay relax and calm and tune to the opponent, no matter what speed or technique he will use, when you can be comfortable to see the attack coming at you and move into it with confidence, than it is easy to apply all other kinds of Oji Waza (response techniques) and footwork, such as Amashi Waza, using space to avoid opponent and than counter, or Mawashi Ashi, (foot circle) to avoid the line of attack, or Hiraki Ashi, (to open the foot) in order to move out of attack line.

When you are comfortable with Uke Waza, all of the sudden all other timing options become easier and natural to use, because you are relax and confident and therefore can perceive the opponent and see what is not there yet, and can easily capitalize on any attack.

When you are expert in Uke Waza, you accept the opponent’s attack, you welcome it, and take advantage of it, which also allows one to set the opponent up without rush, since you have to be confident to set the opponent up and allow him to attack first yet be ahead of him.

In general you initiate Uke Waza as quick and early as possible but it is not always the case, Aiko San used to point out to me to watch Sensei Nishiyama blocks, and he does not move until the attack is almost there, he receive the attack when it starts but actually moves to it late and without rush. This is, of course, mastery.

The Kinetic Chain



Sensei Nishiyama used to say: “ what is the point of having 8 cylinders if we use only 2”.

He also used to joke: “we don’t need muscles like Popai, we need to learn how to use what we have”.

In a karate hand technique, but also in overhead throwing motion and other functional movements, force is summated through the kinetic chain via force production at the various joints, from the lower body to the hand.

Any change in timing or force generation may result in poor performance and or eventual injury at another level within the chain.

The kinetic chain is only as strong as it weakest link.

Functional movement is never isolated, because it is produced by several muscles acting as prime movers, synergists or stabilizers that coordinate together.

Functional strength does not require maximal activation, rather optimal activation in precise timing is more important.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Alignment, motor patterns, ultimate health and performance.

Maintaining or restoring precise movement of all segments is the key to preventing or correcting musculoskeletal pain or injury, and first, most important step to maximize one’s potentials and performance.
The biomechanics of the movement systems are similar to the mechanics of other systems.In Mechanical systems, the longevity of the components and the efficiency of performance require the maintenance of precise movement of the rotating segments.
In contrast to machinery, in human motion stress on the components is necessary for optimal health and stress; load in the right amount can actually strengthen the involved tissues.
Loss of precise movement can begin a cycle of overload to certain tissues and eventually cause overload injury.
As with any mechanical system alignment is important. Ideal alignment facilitates optimal movement.
If alignment is faulty before movement is initiated, correction is necessary to achieve the ideal configuration that must be retained throughout the motion. Posture and alignment are dynamic and should be at optimal throughout the movement.
The more ideal the alignment of the skeletal segments the more optimal the performance of muscles and nervous system.If alignment is ideal, there is less chance of causing microtrauma to joints and supporting structures.
Take as analogy the wheels of an automobile, for optimal rotation, the wheels must be aligned and in balance, than the tires wear evenly and last for much longer.
Optimal muscular performance and joint health are achieved through subtle adjustments of muscular length and strength, as well as through the patterns of recruitment.
In Karate therefore first we teach posture, and a teach techniques as precise postures with precise directions, and then we teach sequencing, or precise motor patterns, which are easier to learn from precise alignment and posture.
Only ones posture and motor patterns are precise we add speed and power, quick start, snap action and kime (focus), delivery and force production by pressure to floor and sharp, total musculature contraction.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Budo Story "the harder you try the longer it takes"

Commentary by Eyal Nir
“Eyes on the Sword”
Long ago in Japan, a young man was an eager student of the sword. He roamed the land seeking instruction from any master who would
teach him. As he traveled, he heard rumors about a great sword teacher who had grown weary of fighting and had retired to the mountains to meditate. After months of searching, the young man finally discovered the teacher’s hut high in the mountains. Finding the teacher at home, the young man begged him to instruct him in the Way of the sword. The teacher agreed to take the young man on as a student.
"How long will it take for me to master the sword?” the young man inquired. “Five years,” the teacher replied.
"Five years!” exclaimed the young man. “That is FAR too long! I promise to practice every day as hard as I can. How long will it take me then?” “Ten years,” said the master.
“Ten years!” exclaimed the young man, “what if I agree to study and practice night and day – how long then?” “Fifteen years,” said the old man softly.
“I do not understand!” said the young man. “Why is it that the harder I say I will work, the longer you say it will take me to master the sword?”
“Because,” the wise teacher responded, “the more you seek to master the sword, the less I will be able to teach you. I cannot teach you to have two eyes on the sword if you have one eye on your goal.”
With that, the young man bowed deeply.
1. End results are important but often to get there one should forget
about the final goal and focus on the way (Do).
2. An easy to understand example is in mastering a technique:
· Often we tell students to give up power as in their desire
for an end result (e.g. punching harder) they "do more of the
same" within their current habits domain becoming more
stiff, isolating limbs rather than learning "center-driven
connection" short not allowing themselves to walk the
way (passing thru a discomfort zone) of abandoning old
habits for new and better ones adopting and digesting new
· While allowing ourselves to walk the way putting aside end
results is a necessary phase in acquiring new skills once the
"new info" is well digested into our system and for actual
application it is often useful to actually forget about all technique
details and focus on end results using "imagination training"
envisioning the desired result as this employs an unconscious \
automatic mechanism in our brain which is more efficient in
executing already acquired skill.
3. In summary - there are 2 phases:
1. Acquiring motor skill
2. Putting it to use in actual application.
The nice story above in more relevant to the 1st phase while in actual application we do not want to keep 2 eyes or even 1 eye on our sword (technique) as we should forget about technique, let the skill express itself automatically while we focus on intention and breath which make strategy.