Saturday, July 23, 2011


This is not a pure karate article but I believe that is directly related, the more we understand human motion and the latest research of functional movement, the more we can enhance how we move in karate, and also we can condition the body to perform better in karate, and in addition prevent and rehabilitate injuries.

Functional science is based on how the body is designed to move, it is derived from principles of functional bio mechanics, its purpose is to balance the body musculature and posture, to teach the nervous system to recruit muscles in proper sequenced, to improve effective range of motion and strength through these ranges, in short, the purpose is to enhance one’s ability to perform in sports or to enjoy life, and to make the body more resilient to injuries.

Functional conditioning exercises are derived from principles of function:

Principle: Movement is 3 dimensional.

In textbooks Joints are described as uni-axial, bi-axial or tri-axial, this is based on independent motions during nonfunctional movement such as when lying on the therapist bed not considering the influence of gravity, ground reaction and momentum.

All joints move in 3 planes and are 3-D.
In textbooks the knee is described as bi-axial, with saggital (flexion, extension) and transverse (rotational) movement.

In reality as example, during weight bearing function the chain reaction created by gravity and ground reaction when landing creates frontal plane movement at the knee, adduction and abduction or side to side.

This motion of the knee activates the hip muscles, which protects the knee.

This concept is very important to how we create and tweak exercises for improve performance, injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Limitation in one plane of motion in one joint will create compensations usually elsewhere along the kinetic chain.
For example, if hip internal rotation is limited in a golf swing the lumbar spine will have to do more of the rotation and is likely to be strained.

Principle: Movement is driven.

Total body movement is created by forces = drivers.

Physical drivers – gravity, ground reaction force, momentum

Physiological drivers – muscles, ligaments, fascia

Behavioral drivers – pain, fear, guilt

Principle: Movement is chain reaction.

The body is made up of connected parts; a driver affects the entire body.
Example, when your hand moves the ankle will respond, when your eyes move the rest of the kinetic chain will be influenced and follow.

Principle: Movement is subconscious.

The chain reaction occurs in a subconscious level.

Conscious of the task, but not bones, joints, muscles.

The goal is to give a person a task based on the principles of functional science in order to create the desired chain reaction.

Strategies based upon the principles suggest the task to use.

Principle: LOAD and EXPLODE

In order to accomplish any task the body needs to load, movement is required to load the system; the body knows it needs to move opposite the desired movement, you create tasks to produce the desired load.

Failure to accomplish the goal (explode) often is caused by failure to load effectively.

Limitation of motion at one link of the kinematic chain will inhibit the loading chain reaction.

Example: motion blocked at one plane will inhibit motion in 3 planes at multiple joints. Loss of right ankle dorsiflexion will alter the way a squat is performed, knee can’t move forward due to ankle limitation, so the butt must move back to lower the body. Lack of motion to load creates great deficits in spite of good muscle strength.

Principle: optimal posture is where all movement should start

Total body movement is made of multiple segments movement, not isolated movement. Out of optimal posture force can be transfer smoothly through the kinetic chain, muscles will function optimally and joints will have least stress.

For example in the common head forward posture the thoracic spine is hunched , the upper back muscles are over lengthened and the shoulders migrate forward and are out of optimal axis of rotation. Forces cannot transfer smoothly through the thoracic spine to scapula to the shoulder, the shoulder will have to compensate, and it is already out of its axis of rotation.
We must do extension exercises and corrective postural exercise to strengthen the posterior chain muscles, ideally not isolating but zooming on those muscles within total body movement.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hikite - Pulling hand

Hikite – pulling hand

Hikite is one of the most important yet neglected aspects of the technique.

Most of us concentrate on the result, which is the technique itself, this is what we see and we are end gaining and want results.

Therefore, most people focus on technique side and ignore the hikite side.

When Sensei Nishiyama was testing people we used to joke that for sure one of his comments will be weak hikite".

If you ever tested for 3rd dan by sensei nishiyama and he asked you to correct another student, you would have a sure right answer if you said "weak hikite", 99% of the time.

Hikite is more important than technique hand since the technique hand does not increase speed and range of the body action and is only a result, an expression.

It is the hikite that directly increase the speed and range of motion of the body action and in turn increases energy to technique arm.

The hikite also help increase the contraction of the torso at kime, the technique arm also does so to a lesser degree. Just try for yourself and make body contraction without hikite and see how difficult it is. Therefore, at kime hikite twist and glued to the body.
Notice how the hikite can help you engage the back muscles, if you are in a good posture.
Strong hikite is making a strong base side, where energy is being delivered from.

Attention to the hikite also will center mentally and physically make us more centered, while attention to technique will make us uncentered.

Sensei used to repeatedly scold us, “more strong hikite, hikite, hikite is more important than technique” and usually it followed with the shinai hitting my hand, even if my hand was taped and was obviously injured, sensei would still hit my hand, and believe I can feel the pain till today, so I don’t forget about hikite.

Aiko San told me constantly “both sides of the body have to b used through the center”.

Hikite will balance both side of the body and of course will make for cyclical action, when one technique ends the hikite side helps loading the body for next action.

Aiko San used to stress how the hikite elbow should travel in shortest line, if hikite make circle and travel through a long course, the body action and technique will be slow.
Aiko San also used to stress that the elbow of the hikite side should heavy as if a dumbbell is attached to it to help firm base side.
Generally, try to think of the hikite as the active arm, and the technique side as the passive, receiver.

Be aware of the placement of the hikite, when you place the arm to your side, where the elbow is, that is where your hikite fist should be, for reasons of connecting the body to elbow which is important in any sport, think of tennis, shut put.

Hikite is a learning tool, helping us to learn to connect body to elbow and use both sides of the body through the center, but in reality, and in advanced level, karate technique starts from anywhere, no hikite is needed.

Does it seem that I am contradicting myself? Well when you digest the principles of hikite, you can forget the form yet you will never violate its principles.

Try to play with those points and let me know how it works for you, I hope it will be useful for you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tune to opponent, accept the attack, anticipate and hit as he/she moves

Tune to opponent

When facing an opponent, the eyes should be drawn back, see yet not look, monitor don’t judge, be aware of the whole, one idea is to look at the opponent as a shadow, so you don’t get caught in details. The way to perceive the opponent is using the breath to catch the opponent rhythm, or lead the rhythm as one strategizes. The same breath that catches the opponent’s rhythm also creates potential energy in my footwork, which means that the breath and footwork has to match, and that should not be too difficult if one has good basics, since the breath should control the body center, should control the legs and footwork, that should be developed through the kata and basics, so it should be a given.

If one has difficulty following with the breath and you feel that you are behind rhythm, or the legs get heavy and stuck (Itsku), than try to tap dance with your partner, so your feet are catching his rhythm, try to make it as internal as possible, don’t show it on the outside.

I do it whenever I feel. That I am looking too much, over using the eyes, which makes me behind, or when I face small, quick opponent, and have hard time to follow with the breath. Make sure that at any instant you are ready to apply pressure to floor, using breath, center, and feet interaction to initiate technique. Feel as if your feet are one paper space from the floor, which indicates floating (ukimi) and allow for making pressure at any moment.

Accept opponent’s attack

This is one of the most enlightening guidance I received from Aiko San who was second to none in her budo understanding; it changed my view of kumite. When you are tune to the opponent, accept his attack, look at it as your opportunity, because whatever attack he/she will do, the in between space is bigger than when just moving around, a space is open and that is a chance, qio, and you must take advantage of it.

In order to take advantage of the attack one must be comfortable with the opponent attacking, have the feel of “come, come”. Most people are not comfortable with being attacked at full speed, and in that they separate themselves from the opponent, conflicting with opponent, and therefore they either rush to attack themselves, or being confirming, recalculating when being attacked, and therefore behind on the response and counter.

If you accept the opponent’s attack you should be totally relaxed, yet loaded, not sloppy.

Hit the opponent as he move

That is easy if you follow and internalize the first 2 steps described, when opponent move, react with your breath, don’t look and than move, if you see the attack you are too late, when opponent moves your breath and feet are already in motion, as if you are his shadow. We either hit the opponent as he commit or in between techniques, never in same rhythm. We catch the rhythm in order to break the rhythm.