Saturday, March 26, 2011


Make good ‘body system’ so when anything happen, your body and mind know what to do.

I heard this quotation a few days ago from a basketball coach, and loved it : “first you make habits than habits make you”, it applies to all of life and to karate in particular.

Many of us are being controlled by our habits and those habits will dictate how we live our lives, how we move, how we react to all kind of stimuli. Even if we learn something new we do it with our old habits. We have contradictions between our mind and our heart. It take some will and awareness, mindfulness to acquire good habits, may it be in the realm of emotions, movement or how we react to what life put in front of us.

In karate kata is symbol of principle, our job is to break the code of the kata, understand the underlying principles it symbolizes, and through kata training acquire good habits, which include how our nervous system is wired, developing good posture, efficient movement patterns, and also to keep our brain and heart in balance, how we react to threat, how we respond to stress, how we keep our composure in competition or fight.

Now, this is not a given, just doing repetition, just doing the technique as hard as one can, is not going to develop good habits, on the contrary, it will magnify bad habits, which will be harder to change later, and over time limit ones performance.

What we need is to understand the principles that are contracted into the kata, and than we need awareness, reflecting on how we do things, allow ourselves to feel wrong in the short run so we can be successful in long term since the habitual feels right.

When good habits are installed into our nervous system, a good ‘body system’ is created, and that is who we are, we don’t try to make good technique, it happens by itself.

The same concept applies when facing an opponent, when one have success doing certain techniques in certain way, he will stick to doing it, even if it is not according to correct principles.

I remember sensei Nishiyama telling me over and over during kumite : “don’t do technique the convenient way, do the right way”, and at first I did not get it, I’m getting my opponent, what does he want? And than I understood and that was one of the most enlightening moments in my karate, he wanted me not just to win, maybe even to lose for a while, so I can develop and engrain movement according to the principles he taught us, so there is success in the long term.

I remember in some competition, sensei told me on some competitor: “look, he is stiff, because he is a champion, he is holding on to what he is used to and made him successful”.

Don’t just try hard and force your way, monitor the situation, each opponent is different, with different tendencies, each moment is new, fresh, be aware of yourself while interacting with the opponent, your posture, breath, be aware of using the space, creating a chance, and at the right moment (Ho Shin) give everything, not having any mind in the technique, and yet because of this, there is still awareness, mindfulness, the mind is empty yet full.

Many times in class I will tell a student to relax during kumite, and they are not aware of being tense, of holding the breath, and how can one use the breath to tune to opponent to control their technique, when they don’t breath? Sensitivity and awareness of ourselves with understanding of what principles are passed through the generations will allow us to achieve more with less effort.

Once we develop a good ‘body system’, we can “think by mind (heart), act by ki” and the right action will take place effortlessly, all by themselves.

This is what our training is for, way beyond just a physical workout.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Posture -pelvic alignment- anterior tilt

Sensei Nishiyama used to start every class with checking our posture, he knew that all other elements of our technique depend on posture and our potential can be maximize by good posture or limited by bad posture.

A bad posture not only will limit our performance but will shorten our training life and increase risk of injury.

In karate when we talk about posture most important is the head relationship to the neck and torso and the alignment of the center or the sacrum and pelvic.

In regards to the center we say "Upper stomach (at belly button) back, low stomach forward and sacrum straight to floor".

Sacrum straight to floor is more of a feel and prevention of forward tilt since the sacrum should be at about 30 degrees.

Belly button back help activate the inner unit muscles to stabilize the spine and prevent over extension of the lumbar.

Low stomach forward is not an actual movement but direction, and prevention of forward tilt and lumbar over extension, it allows the muscles to be at optimal length for function.

We constantly talk about moving and making power from the center, but if our pelvic and sacrum are not aligned properly, all the hard training and repetitions will take us in the wrong directions.

Some of the most common postural faults has to do with pelvic that is not in neutral position, which causes the powerful muscles of the core to be out of optimal length, it causes compensatory movement, reduced performance and eventually low back and hip pain.

Looking at it from another angle, the sacrum, the feet and the cervical spine are the richest areas in proprioceptors, which give us feedback as we move and interact with gravity, momentum and ground reactions. If the muscles in those areas are out of balance, proprioceptive feedback will not be accurate, which will reduce performance and cause injuries.

Here I examine some of the causes for the very typical anterior pelvic tilt.

This is when the lumbar lordosis is exaggerated, lower back is arched and butt stick out.

Hip flexion while standing erect can be the result of weak or over lengthened external oblique or lower rectus abdominis muscles and or short and stiff hip flexor muscles.

When the hip flexor is short relative to the abdominal muscles, instead of compensation in hip motion, there may be exaggerated anterior pelvic tilt and increased lumbar extension.

In most exercise programs more attention is given to stretching the hamstring muscles and little attention to maintaining the length of the hip flexor muscles or keeping the strength and optimal length of the abdominal muscles that prevent anterior pelvic tilt.

In gait in every step require maximum excursion of the hip flexors but minimal excursion of the hamstring muscles.

Maintaining optimal hip flexors length and optimal performance of the abdominal muscles is important in preventing increased lumbar lordosis and excessive anterior pelvic tilt, particularly under dynamic conditions such as walking, running or karate.

Because of the above, I believe that in our karate training we always have to include corrective exercises so we don’t keep on getting stronger in an imbalanced way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Economy of movement in karate - Eliminating back motion in technique

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]

Methodology – Toward eliminating Back Motion in technique

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.

To conclude I would like to emphasis the importance of mental direction – Always have strong and clear mental image and direction before executing technique. Without it, even the best internal spring will not transfer to technique and potential energy will have no direction and will not travel in the desired line. Proper mental image is essential to form a constricted line in which technique and energy will travel in synch. Clear and strong mental direction should simulate the feeling of ‘inside body already moving’ or ‘inside movement already finished’ before technique start. In this way technique will have only narrow line to move in.

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.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to train, condition for performance and injury prevention?

Although the predominant focus of this blog is Budo Karate, I am going to post some articles about proper movement and conditioning of the body. You may wonder why I would post such articles on this blog, but before you question, allow me to explain. While karate to me is primarily about Budo, a martial art, I believe that the better we can understand how the body is designed, the more effective our karate can be. Moreover, one must concede that for many people, karate is a means of remaining healthy and functional through old age; therefore, we want to train karate according to the principles of functional biomechanics in order to perform better and free of injury. As a result of the aforementioned reasons, I have studied the science of functional movement for the past years. I have discovered and continued to discover that sports science findings run in accordance with orally transmitted karate principles.

How to effectively train and condition, rehabilitate and prehabilitate (prevent injury) the whole and the part

First we must understand how the part functions, it’s relationships to other parts of the body, how it influence its friends and how its friends influence it, and according to this understanding we make strategy for training and conditioning for performance or rehabilitation.

Lets take the hamstrings as example, the anatomy text book says that the hamstring is knee flexor and therefore most traditional training programs will train the hamstrings in leg curl machine in saggital (forward and back) plane of motion.

In reality the hamstrings are knee flexors only when we take gravity and momentum out of the picture.

In upright function the hamstrings not only do not flex the knee but doing exactly the opposite, it decelerates knee flexion and it does it in 3 planes of motion.

The 3 hamstrings are responsible for decelerating the knee as we rotate and change directions; the hamstrings also control the torso and are driven by the torso.

As the hamstrings decelerate the knee in 3 planes they receive prorioceptive feedback from the golgi ligament endings in the collateral ligaments and in our training and conditioning we need to develop and make more accurate this sensory feedback. If sensory feedback is not accurate the hamstrings will react to gravity, momentum and the movement of other parts of the body late and not accurate.

Flexion of the knee in function is given by gravity as we walk or squat or prepare for a jump.

If range of motion in the foot and ankle or hip are lacking the hamstrings will likely become overactive.

Even a head forward posture can cause the hamstring to become overactive because it constantly have to support a body with a center of gravity too much to the front.

When we train or rehabilitate on leg curl machine we are saying that proprioception is not important, the butt and the foot interaction with the hamstrings is not important, we do not consider the hamstrings interaction with its friends.. We do not consider that there are 3 hamstrings that function in the very important transverse and frontal planes as well.

Bad hamstrings are a result of something causing the hamstrings to become bad.

That is why we have to look at the whole and train the whole.

Training and conditioning need to concurrently deal with stability, mobility and proprioceptive reaction.

I f you do functional training the hamstrings will perform functionally, and sometimes even if one does not identify the cause functional training will solve the problem.

When you functionally train the hamstrings you automatically train the whole body functionally.

Functional training prepares one for the demands of functional activities.

Comparison of two rehabilitaion programs in the treatment of acute hamstrings strains, a traditional one plane, isolation vs. 3 planes, prorioceptive training.

In the traditional program return to activity was on average 37 days, in the functional 22 days.

Re-injury rate within first 2 weeks of activity in traditional program 50% versus 0% in functional.

Re-injury within one year 50% versus 5%.