Below is an article by Assaf Dekel, this is his thesis for 4th dan which he passed successfully, Assaf study very deeply and train daily, both at Sensei Nishiyama's dojo (till his passing) and at mine.
Economy of Movement in Karate – Eliminating Back Motion in Technique
Karate movement may seem quite complex to the novice or the untrained observer. The more we practice we realize that in its essence Karate technique is rather simple and direct therefore highly effective. Walking the Karate way is like removing layer after layer of burdens. These burdens, physical or mental, at first are quite obvious as we have to let go of our wrong movement patterns acquired through life in order to make room for new and improved ones. The more we practice technique becomes more internal in nature and these layers become more subtle. Through constant refinement we polish our movement in order to take away all unnecessary actions thus revealing movement at its purest form.
Economy of movement is the way to perform the task in hand using optimal energy\muscular tension involved in order to get maximum effect. In Karate terminology - We strive to perform any technique with the optimal muscular tension in order to create maximum impact with the least chance for exposure - Kyo.
In this paper I will suggest that the pursuit of excellence in Karate training lies at the ever evolving effort in seeking economy within one’s movement as demonstrated in the case of Back-Motion. By taking a closer look at the various possible causes for Back-Motion and how to prevent it I will try to show how proper preparation and mental direction can be practiced towards Back-Motion free movement.
Back Motion in Executing technique
Back-Motion can be described as the dynamic loading of the moving part in opposite direction of technique trajectory. In karate, any deviation from the shortest trajectory of technique (such as in elbows out) or any type of outside preparation will result in reduced acceleration and lack of connection. In addition, the smallest, unconscious back-motion will let your opponent sense the coming attack earlier and allow him more space to intercept it. Back motion then is a physical Kyo. Causes for Back-Motion can be divided to:
Physiological – Insufficient stability at the lumbar spine and weak connection between legs and trunk can result in the need to wind-back before executing technique (as in weight shifting or kicking technique).
The human brain and central nervous system that control motor functions distinguish between actively contracting prime movers (as in arms and shoulders) and the postural slower muscles. Brain activity is more prevalent in the prime movers. As a result most people tend to move the arm without thinking of the rest of their body. In pitching a baseball or swinging a golf club this has a positive effect but in Karate it is an unwanted Kyo.
Mental –A wrong state of mind during movement can be reflected in Back-Motion in movement. Mental rush, hesitation or the desire to generate force in movement are all very common states of mind that can cause mental division or excessive muscular tension which leads to pre motion. Most importantly, weak mental image and direction or lack of it more often than not is translated into physical space as in back motion before movement.
Understanding Elbow – Body loading
The brain and the nervous system must be retrained to remove their hold of the moving limb and focus on preparation for movement instead. The purpose is to first realize and later on maximize the elbow-body loading effect. The trajectory of an arm movement is derived from the movement of the elbow joint (similarly, the trajectory of the whole body is derived from the movement of the body’s center of gravity). The interaction between the focal moving parts (in arms technique – the elbows) to the main muscle groups of the torso has a major role in creating internal load in and around the body center (Without the arms it is almost impossible to fully contract the core muscles).Using the abdominal wall, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor we create a static-elastic spring in the abdominal cave. This load must be reinforced by the back and the pelvis muscles that form a wall against which the abdominals are loaded. This is similar to increasing the Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP) by using the main core muscles in an eccentric/isometric contraction. Breathing should be used in this stage of eccentric contraction and is of major importance in switching from loading to unloading instantly and spontaneously. By focus on elbows and body interaction and letting breath control the minded is distracted from the punch itself. In addition to squeezing back we also rotate the forearms outwards (supination) in order to enhance the loading effect. While preparing by squeezing elbows towards the back we must have clear mental direction of technique trajectory and energy line. The amount of muscular contraction is a matter of experience but it was shown that a muscle is best prepared for action if it is stretched about 1/3 beyond its resting length to create instant release. It is important to maintain optimal muscle tone that is increasing potential energy and not just stiffening your abdominals. [In a very similar mechanism Chameleon’s tongue shoots out to catch insects with extremely high acceleration of 500 Meter/Sec2 to as much as one and a half of its body size. In preparation for the tongue discharge the muscles contract radially towards the center cartilage and becoming longer in length. This follows by a series of slingshot effect expansions and contractions that result in a very fast and accurate catapult]
Karate methodology is very organized and well structured. Kata and Kihon teach us the basics body dynamics with various stances, techniques and directions of energy. Basic Katas stress the full range of motion in every technique to develop good synch between all body parts and instill the proper sequence in movement – from the ground up. Later on, we understand that in sparring or self-defense situation we don’t have the space or extra time for a full range Gedan Barai, or a full hip Rotation in reverse punch. This is when we start using the same basic Katas and techniques to find ways to produce the same effect in technique with less movement space. Only after gaining good base for movement and basic understanding of body mechanics and limb connection can we start developing internal preparation to enhance and eventually replace the physical one.
In other words, we begin to use the full range of motion as means to eliminate Back-Motion by first realizing and then actually creating the same motion on a smaller scale internally.
Here are few training methods and drills that can be useful in realizing and developing static-elastic load instead of dynamic load.
1. When practicing basic Kata – one should try and use the full range of motion to first create the same imaginary motion internally and capture this feeling. Slow motion practice is very important to realize first the connection between the full range motion and creating an internal load. The outside motion helps to understand the internal mechanics that underline it (examples). Step by step, our mind is removed from our arms so the actual back-motion is done only to illustrate and activate the internal one.
Full range technique is the first step to eliminate Back-Motion only if practiced with awareness of it’s purpose as such. Start from the most basic techniques in which elbows are closer to body. After getting the right feeling, it is possible to capture the same feeling with more advanced techniques (such as short range techniques or techniques where elbows are further away from body center). Starting from Yoi establish interaction between elbows to body center.
2. When practicing techniques from Kamae – it is useful to add a conscious, small back motion in slow motion to further develop awareness for the elbows-body interaction in creating internal load. Use different direction techniques while focusing on elbows squeeze to the opposite direction of technique and creating a wall like base utilizing your backside muscles from which technique is driven. At first, focus on continuous squeeze until there is no more left – then instantly switch breathing to release or unload. At this point any tension or dis-coordination will interfere with the smooth transition and result in deceleration and loss of momentum. Breathing control is essential to prevent this. Step by step experiment with shorter squeeze time so technique is bouncing of the backside and the spring created inside your body.
3. Resistance training - Using partner’s resistance against technique direction in the preparation stage. Let resistance help creating internal load. Let your backside muscles be fully engaged. If all is fully charged and mental direction is clear, the moment partner lets go of resistance by surprise tsuki or uke waza will be initiated spontaneously without any space.
4. Target training – Mitts or Bag training can be very effective way to illustrate how back motion occurs unconsciously. When facing a target the mind immediately wants to hit it powerfully. No matter how good is one’s technique, target training can expose the smallest gaps and flaws in it.
When applying all of this in timing drills and sparring at first it might have a stiffening effect on our body and movement (what sports psychology refers to as ‘paralysis by analysis’ – when too much information and details has a negative effect on performance). Eventually, after it becomes part of our nervous system, when facing an opponent there is always internal spring producing potential for movement and reaction. This potential is available for us to use in any direction, thus eliminating back-motion.