Thursday, January 27, 2011

Other methods to develop kime

Other methods to develop pressure and contraction at kime

Previously I wrote about hitting the pads as important method to develop kime, there are other important methods we use that can give you feedback, help you asses your kime and are great exercise at the same time, the assessment is the exercise and vice versa.


At the moment the partner makes kime, let’s say in gyaku zuki, I check his contraction, and for areas that are contracting insufficiently, by tapping on the partner by doing so bringing his/her awareness to those muscles. Some muscles typically are hyperactive and have low threshold such as the hip flexors, hamstrings, lumbar erectors and chest muscles, other muscles have high threshold and tend to be underactive and even dormant, such as the gluts, lower abdominals and scapula adductors.

First, I will push against his fist to see that total contraction is to technique direction, than I will tap the connecting muscles, such as under the armpit (chest and back), if the shoulders are raised because of upper trapezius dominance than the lattisimus will be over lengthened and hard to engage. Than the areas that are most commonly lazy and underactive, such as the back around the thoracic spine, between the scapulas, this area is underactive in people with forward head posture in particular. I will point the relationship between posture and muscles that don’t fire properly, for example in a head forward posture, thoracic kyposis is exaggerated and the back extensors and scapula adductors are over lengthened and not in optimal length for function, also the muscles around the shoulder joint are not in optimal length and movement at the shoulder is altered. We need to fix the posture and bring the attention to those areas. I will also point out the relationship between weak hikite (pulling hand), and under active back, when the hikite is firm, glued to the body and the elbow is heavy, the back muscles will likely fire and engage, the arm feeds the back.

Than I will check the buttocks and inner thighs and abdomen. The gluts tend to be under active when its antagonists hip flexors, or its postural synergists, hamstrings and/or the lumbar erectors are tight and the pelvis anteriorily tilts.

Touching your partner can be a great feedback to the partner, bring the awareness and also adjust the alignment that allows for optimal muscles length for contraction.

Making kime without action space

Put your fist on your partner stomach in gyaku zuki position and use sharp pressure to floor and contraction from the inside out to drive your partner back, do not push or over extend. The pressure to floor and contraction are controlled by the breath. Your partner should strongly tighten the abdomen and core.

A skillful person can produce sufficient shocking power without or with very little external motion.

We have to teach the nervous system to recruit as many motor units as possible in shortest time and in proper sequence.

Similar exercise but with added reaction component is to face an opponent with hands touching, and as the opponent punch block sharply and without external action, snap his attack away using sharp pressure and contraction from around the spine muscles. Both the reaction and action are initiated by the breath. Make sure that the blocking arm barely moves, the whole body from the ground integrate to snap the opponent attack away, don’t push, and be relax to allow space for contraction.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Hitting the bag, the mitts or the makiwara, should be done at least few times a week for 10-20 minutes, it is a great and necessary way to develop your kime and impact power and to get feedback on your quality of movement.

There are few things to consider:

First, when you start hitting at the warm-up phase don’t concern with hitting hard, but rather with following the basic principles, move your foot first, let your body action drive your technique, snap with the whole body, pressure to floor at contact rather than muscling the technique, keep the elbow and shoulder soft, find your range and distance for each technique, don't over extend yourself, than gradually increase the speed without loss of coordination and sequence of muscles and joint activation.

Second, be careful of being tense too soon before impact, that will kill your speed, kind of like driving with the brakes on.

We need maximum speed and momentum and than pressure/contraction at impact. When I hit the bag or makiwara I let the contraction happen as I hit the bag, otherwise you might slow down before impact.

And if you tense while moving there is less potential contraction for kime, we need the contrast, the softer in between, the more contraction is available for impact.

Third, Sensei Nishiyama gave me very useful tip when hitting the makiwara, at impact I want to feel the reaction power coming back to my center (low stomach), rather than to the elbow or shoulders. That is a good feedback, that will tell me if I am aligned properly and/or if the contraction sequence is optimal, and if the technique was initiated properly from the body center. It also tells me that the whole body momentum is meeting the target.

Fourth, I like to think of “pouring” the energy from my body through the fist to the bag or mitt. This is helpful, because some people tense in a way that braces and “chokes” the energy, and energy is absorbed into our own body, this should be avoided.

Fifth, don’t push, it is not about muscular power, push is power delivered over long period and is ineffective.

Use total body snap, your body should be like a whip from the center out.

We need to teach the nervous system to recruit more motor units in shortest time.

Sixth, when you hit, nothing moves externally for a moment, yet inside momentum does not stop, kind of like a car crash, the sharper and more at once the car stops, the more momentum will the passengers inside will receive. Use the mitt or bag to understand how long does it take to transfer the full momentum to target, because kime should not be any longer or shorter than that, once energy is transferred the reaction should be Zanshin with the next breath.

Seventh, at contact have a strong stance, to deliver the energy from.

Remember, you cannot shoot a cannon from a canoe.

At the same token, you should also be able to deliver power of off one leg, even though it is not optimal, it is sometimes necessary so I spend some time hitting from one leg stance, especially during combination techniques.

Eighth, develop single techniques power first and than combination, you should be able to make 2,3 or 4 techniques with full speed and kime and completely relax in between. If one does not relax instantly from kime, the following action is likely to be stiff, pushing and lacking snap. Use your exhalation to relax and use the energy from one kime to next action.

Avoid the temptation to use top heavy power, don’t go after end results and muscle the techniques, make sure each action is from feet and ground reaction, if you cannot do it at first, slow down, coordination is more important than power at first. When moving from the feet it will be easier to relax the top muscles.

Powerful technique should appear relax, give up power at first to be powerful in the long run.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kime part 3: breathing (kiai) makes kime

Breathing make Kime

Breath (Kiai) make type of kime

This is extremely important but very tough to explain, I can probably demonstrate better than explain, but will try my best.

Aiko San and Sensei Nishiyama could correct my technique without looking at me, just by listening to the kiai. I will give some examples of how they taught me to use Kiai and breath to control my kime (and every phase of the technique, but that is not for this article) and than I will summarize what it all means. This is a subject that is harder to explain than technique mechanics, it is not tangible and require sensitivity, one has to get the feel of it, and this is where karate is more of an art.

Aiko San and sensei Nishiyama used to face me for a long periods of time and as I had to punch toward their face or stomach, they will tell me if the energy extended through or if I stopped the momentum at kime, or if my breath was such that the energy spread and did not focus, or if it did not come from lower abdomen, so muscles were recruited from the top body.

And it took hours to fine tune and to apply a simple reverse punch decently.

Sometimes Aiko San will stand in front of me and Sensei was standing behind her, and I had to punch at Aiko San, but sensei wanted the kiai and energy to hit him, and it was very hard to satisfy them.

Sometimes, Aiko San would ask to apply the kiai sharply as if cutting through water, as if not to spread but focus the energy, and at first that was very hard to grasp and see to what she wanted, but when it became clear it was beautiful, we spend sometimes a whole Sunday, maybe five hours of just doing that.

For training Aiko San will bring the Los Angeles Times, and hold the paper at the top, and I had to break the paper with Tsuki using sharp kiai, my homework was to finish the LA Times on Sunday.

Sensei Nishiyama will often say :Kiai destroy opponent”, this is very important, because first it implies that by giving all the breath, one gives all of his spirit and self, holding nothing, back into the technique, and it also means physically maximizing the use of all of our resources.

In karate you can see a lot of people trying to control the distance by consciously, from the brain, stopping the punch or kick, and stopping the energy, in this case the brain controls the arm, and the energy is not being delivered, the muscles will contract in wrong direction.

There should be no control of the arm, no mind in the technique, the intention center is in the Tan Den, 3 fingers under the belly button toward the spine, and the breath controls the muscles and energy from this center.

Many times Sensei Nishiyama will insist that the Kiai will peak at the impact point (not stop there), this is not easy, most people kiai will peak before kime and weaken at impact, in other wards the breathing, muscle action and technique are not matching.

Other times Sensei Nishiyama will tell me to do the Kiai as if there is no echo, the kiai does not come back, it all goes to one direction, and if one can do that, there will be no recoil, no bounce of energy.

Many times Sensei will say “one period of breath is total energy”, “give all breath in shortest time”. Of course we cannot give all the air out, but that is a feel, and the breath connects the mental and physical, it allows us first to mentally give everything, and to physically use total body musculature contraction, and when we say that we mean all muscles that contribute to the purpose.

Paradoxically, the more we give all air, and give the mind away, the more full we are, meaning, we are fully aware and ready for any necessary action, no mind is full mind, and that is natural Zanshin.

And physically, the more we give everything, the more pressure and contraction, the more potential for next action we have, next action will start as reaction of breath, Zanshin. Kime and Zanshin are very connected.

Regarding Types of kime, every technique require different application of power, different muscle activation, a block is sharp, a punch to the body needs more penetration, a strike is sharper than a punch, and sweeping block is smooth, a push require continuous contraction, all these type of kime are controlled by different Kiai which we call: Ei, Ya and To.

I’ll explain this in more detail in another article.


At first we understand that kime (focus) is mainly depends on 2 elements, pressure to floor at impact to create acceleration and deliver force and momentum accumulated in the technique, and second, contraction, to make the body dense, to maximize shocking power and make elastic collision at contact.

Both pressure and contraction are controlled by the breath, and with repetition, as we advance we do not need to think of details, the details become engrained in the nervous system, and becomes what Sensei Nishiyama called “body system” or in motor learning “motor engram”.

At this point the breath will make the focus, the timing of pressure and the when and where (at what distance) and how much, contraction will happen. I put my intention at a point and the breath will follow and set pathways for the muscles, the peak of the kiai is where contraction will maximize, but the breath does not stop, it rather extends through target.

By using the breath and forget about muscles I find that there is no access tension in the kime, just the due amount in the right time and direction.

And that does not contradict the fact that we want maximum and total body contraction, since we want optimal contraction, and not to activate muscles that will hold the energy and contradict the direction and purpose of a technique.