Sunday, December 6, 2009


This is true in the physical and mental realms, we cannot separate the mental from the physical but here I will focus on the mental side.
The mind has to be still, still does not imply dead or stuck, it is not a forced stillness either, which comes from discipline and will power, if I force the mind to be here and not to be there, there is a conflict, energy is wasted. So we want to just observe, without thought, judgment, it means not being taken by any particular idea, action of the opponent, emotion, and the mind is free to be anywhere it needs to be. To be still is to observe, to monitor, without any effort, without interference of thought, it is to have a fresh mind, to look at the opponent without previous knowledge, than you become the opponent, see the opponent as is. We use the breath as a mean to become the opponent, “by passing” the brain as my teacher, sensei Nishiyama used to say, you look at the opponent directly without the screen, interference, noise of your thought and judgment, than how can the opponent surprise you? Whatever he does, you are already ahead. Thought is time, it is movement, and we want direct perception, or perception - action, rather than perception- thought – action. In this stillness, there is space, since the mind is not over informed, the mind is free and flowing and can be wherever it needs to be instantly, without a gap of thought, decision. In karate and budo the mind should be nowhere in particular but everywhere it needs to be.
My teacher used to say “don’t look to the opponent’s outside, look to his heart”, or he constantly said: “eyes way back, monitoring, having a total view”Zen master Takuan in his letters to famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi said that the mind should be immovable, meaning not taken by any particular thing, so it can be anywhere it needs without space of time, as there is no gap between the stones hitting each other and the fire.We are looking for attentive mind rather than concentration, in concentration, one focuses on one thing excluding others, and there is effort, energy spent on concentrating, in attention one see the whole, effortlessly so all the energy is there to do what is necessary.
That is very important because it allows us for total action, as my teacher repeatedly used to say: “ho Shin, give everything, once you go you must give everything, there is no mind in the technique”.
In Budo we say “no mind” or “empty mind” which should be explained carefully, because it does not imply being stupid but rather “mind of no mind” when the mind is empty, there is no conflict or choices, the mind is free and can be applied fully, and so the body can follow, and can be applied without holding back.
In concentration thought is involved and the body becomes easily rigid, in attention there is no thought and the body is soft, yet it is more intense state, you see the situation with your whole being, the whole body sees the opponent, as sensei Nishiyama used to say: “put your eyes in your stomach”.The eyes is only part of how we pervieve things, and our thinking is only part of our intelligence, we have to know when thought is proper and when it is interfering.
In karate we learn to have an attentive mind through simple physical directions that are mental as well:
Eyes back
Low stomach forward and perceive the opponent
Breath reactionBreathing initiating muscle action and technique from the ground up
Feet like tap dance with the opponent
Breath tuning to opponent and ultimately conducting the opponent’s rhythm.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Federer Exerts His Power From the Ground Up

Comparison to karate

I found this beautiful article in the NY times about Federer efficient and artful footwork and his ability to produce power from the ground up, which make him one of the best players in tennis history.
To me it is beautiful to see that whenever athletes reach a level of art, you will hear the same description, effortless power, effortless focus, smooth, pure, without extra motion.In karate more than in other sports those qualities are taught, they are not just left for the practitioner to find or maybe not to find out, but of course one has to work at it, one cannot be fed and injected with those qualities. There is a system that allows anyone to reach this artful quality of movement. Maybe it is because of the long history of karate, I saw some similar teachings in dance and in Gymnastics.
I will take some of the points in the article and compare them to the teachings of karate and specifically my teacher’s.
In karate for many generations training always starts with posture and stance, one who is able to maximize ground reaction forces and transfer them effectively through the body center and to the arms and legs can produce much greater force than bigger and more athletic person.Only from a good posture one can have truly masterful footwork, since the legs and feet are expressions of the spine and body center.These concepts are acknowledged more and more in other sports and even in just being effective in everyday activities.

NY Times: This is how Roger Federer transcends tennis before taking a single swing. He moves with feet that whisper when most squeak…his head held still, as if balancing a book on top.

Aiko San (my teacher’s secretary)used to constantly remind me to keep the feet soft and quiet, and to keep the head still, she used to make me practice footwork with a book balanced on my head, or she told me to imagine that my head was just balancing on my shoulders and if my head was to fall, it should fall between my legs and not to either side.
Nishiyama Sensei did not like to explain too much, he would just hit me with the stick to remind me of posture.

NY Times: The argument for Federer as the greatest player in men’s tennis history starts from the ground up

That is how you can tell the level of karate person, the more power is generated from the ground and body center, the higher the quality, the more power from the arms and legs the poorer.

NY Times: “When Roger is in full flight, he looks like he’s gliding,” the former No. 1 Jim Courier said. “Almost like he’s floating above the court.”

In Japanese Budo (Japanese martial arts) the term Ukimi means floating and refers to the suspension of the legs from the body center, which allows the body center to handle the footwork, and the feet appear as gliding.Sensei Nishiyama used to say “feet are one sheet paper from floor” or “as if walking on thin ice” or “walking on shoji screen (rice paper)”.

NY Times: Everything else that separates Federer from his peers — the wizardry behind his shot selection, the ferocity of his forehand, the success on varied surfaces — starts with an artful dance that someone like Kathryn Bennetts can appreciate.
Bennetts runs the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium, when she became a professional dancer, she noticed the correlation of movement between both passions. Dancers grace stems from their awareness of their feet and the way movement flows from there. They move easily, in balance, made to appear that way through thousands of hours of repetition. In Federer, Bennetts found the Mikail Baryshnikov of tennis.
Aiko San was a professional dancer, 40 years ago she came from Japan to study dance at UCLA, (very uncommon at that time) and many people are not aware that many of Sensei Nishiyama’s teachings are influenced by Aiko San deep knowledge of dance and movement. When she worked with me, she compared many times dance and karate principles, a good karate person should move smoothly and effortlessly as a dancers from the ground up and from inside out.She made fun of Sensei Nishiyama’s dance, she said it looks like kata.
NY Times: Federer’s 6-foot-1 build — leaner on the top, thicker and stronger on the bottom — is balanced. When he runs, he keeps his upper body almost level. He moves laterally, not vertically, around the court.
In karate one must keep upright to be effective and not move up and down in order to be smooth.
NY Times: “Like out of a Miss Manners class,” Courier said. “He does most, if not all, of his movement with his legs. That’s part of his genius.”
A good karate person initiate and control every action from the feet, sensei Nishiyama will say “even if one finger moves, it is controlled from the feet, feet like remote control”.
NY Times: Federer’s footwork is most evident, though, when he is playing poorly. Only then does he lunge or lean, looking uncomfortable or off-balance.

Good footwork allow one to be in the right moment in the right space, move smoothly, quickly as necessary without back motion, unnecessary motions are removed, and than one has more time to apply effective technique from a firm base and make his opponent at lose, behind.When one has poor footwork he is rushing, uncomfortable, losing his posture, leaning and moving from the top.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Posture and performance
In previous articles we discussed how postural distortions can increase the chances of cumulative injury.Here we will discuss posture and it relationship with performance.Optimum posture and alignment provides optimum structural and functional efficiency to the kinetic chain. If one component of the kinetic chain is out of alignment it creates patterns of tissue overload and dysfunction which leads to decreased neuromuscular control, and decreased performance.Optimum posture and alignment provide optimal shock absorption, weight acceptance and transfer of force during functional movements.In optimum posture least amount of energy is spent statically and during functional tasks.
Ideal functional posture maintains the structural integrity of the kinetic chain and optimum alignment of each component. This promotes optimum length-tension relationships, force-couple relationships, and joints kinematics. There is an optimal length at which a muscle can develop maximal tension.If the muscles are shortened or lengthened beyond the optimum length, the amount of force that can be generated decreases.The central nervous system is designed to optimize the selection of muscle synergies to produce movement.Muscles work as force couples to produce force, dynamically stabilize, and reduce force.Joint arthrokinematics refers to the optimal movement at the joint, roll, slide, glide and translation. Optimum length-tension relationships and force-couple relationship ensure normal efficient joint kinematics.
For example, if one muscle is tight (altered length-tension relationships), the force couple around that joint are altered, normal movement at this joint is altered. This will alter proprioceptive input to the central nervous system.Proprioception is the cumulative neural input to the central nervous system from all mechanoreceptors of the entire kinetic chain.Mechanoreceptors are highly specialized neural structures that convert mechanical information into electrical information, which is than relayed to the central nervous system.
When the muscular, articular and neural systems are activated during function, the cumulative information from all the structures is sorted out by central nervous system.
This process allows the appropriate motor program to be chosen to perform an activity.This ensures that the right muscle contracts at the right joint, the right amount of force, and at the right time.
If any component of the kinetic chain is dysfunctional, (tight muscle, weak muscle. Joint dysfunction) than neuromuscular control is altered, which decreases force production, force reduction and stabilization.Reciprocal inhibition is a process where a tight muscle causes decreased neural drive to its antagonist. For example, a tight psoas (hip flexor) will decrease the neural drive to the gluteus maximus (buttocks), this alters normal force-couple relationships. The activation and force production in hip extension of the prime mover (gluteus maximus) is decreased, leading to compensation by the synergists (hamstrings) and stabilizers (erector spinae).This process is called synergistic dominance, where a synergist compensates for a prime mover to maintain force production.This alters joint alignment, which further alters the normal length-tension relationships around the joint that the muscles attach to.
Optimum posture enables the development of high levels of functional strength and neuromuscular efficiency.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reaction and action are one

Using the eyes make us late, we tune and react to the opponent with the breath
If you see the attack, you are too late, when he attacks you must already be in motion. The reaction should be directly from the spine, by the breath, just as when you walk in the street and something happens, you breath reacts, haaaa..., and only than your brain realizes what happened, this is a a reflex. In karate we say that we "by pass" the brain, confirming and deciding in the brain will make you behind. It is more than just reflex, by not judging, by keeping wide attention, we perceive the opponent, we allow our intuitive mind to receive the opponent, there is a lot of information we can receive from the opponent about his intentions if we are tuned to him.
If we look too hard, judge, confirm, we will interfere with breath reaction, and the technique will have a different cycle, pattern, it will be an order from the brain to the arm, which makes us late but also makes us isolate the arms and legs.

The breath initiates the technique
Reacting with the breath and perceiving the opponent is only half the picture.
Breath reflex is innate but if it does not translate into action and technique it is useless.
In the basic training we learn to coordinate between intention, breath, muscles and technique, we learn to control the spinal muscles by using lower abdominal breath.

From previous articles, we know that the first muscles to fire in any movement are those around the spine, and we also know that the legs and arms movement are function of the spine.

As we advanced and go beyond the external form, the breath will initiate the body center and control the feet and the technique. The breath is the "trigger" that initiates the technique, and therefore when we react with the breath, feet action and technique are resulting.

Now, put the two together, breath makes reaction, breath makes action, reaction and action are one without space.
So when the opponent attacks us, the breath and the feet are the first to move, moreover, when the opponent move, your feet should already be in motion.
Reaction and action are one, initiated from the center which is controlled by the breath, so at advanced level, one does not think of arms and legs, neither of the opponent's arms and leg, only intention and breath and the rest will do itself, now the mind is free, and has space to make strategy.
Remember, the mind has to be free so the technique can be expressed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Maximizing impact in karate technique

Karate technique is based on the concept of Todome-finishing blow technique, executed in perfect timing, this is fighting by skill rather than exchange of techniques and brawling, which is to rely on strength and size.
Therefore, we need to study each technique, deeply rather than learn many techniques superficially. We need to understand many details and through understanding the complexity achieve simplicity. The technique has to become reflexive, we say that "there is no mind in the technique".

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

We also need to consider other factors beside achieving maximum impact power, such as we have to initiate a technique quickest and without back motion for it to be applicable, and the end of a technique has to be best condition for next, to eliminate space or readjustment between actions, we also have to remember that in most cases only small space is available, so we have to remove unnecessery action and our goal is to produce more force in less movement.

The following principles have to be applied to any kime technique, using any body action, from any stance:

Quickest start without back motion

This is achieved by two means:
Sharp turning from the spine, or spinal muscles, using ground reaction, therefore breath from the lower abdominal trigger the technique by controlling the spinal muscles while applying pressure and twisting to the feet. (turning from the big diameter of the hips is too slow).
Using inside muscle reaction, "reverse" exhale to draw the stomach toward the back, to apply pressure to the back and the floor as a base by changing the exhalation direction sharply, we release the loaded muscles and technique.
The breath is the trigger.

Muchimi, body like whip, total nody snap
This is most important acceleration, speed increases sharply as the body snaps like a whip from the center out, with the Sacrum as the base or the handle of the whip, and the expression at the contact area, via the twist of the forearm at the elbow joint or at the wrist.

Kime, at contact maximum pressure to floor and total bady contraction to technique line of energy
At contact using the breath and proper body alignment we apply maximum pressure to floor as a mean to deliver the total accumulated energy through the target, the pressure to the floor is also acceleration of the vody weight up to 2 to 3 times, which is very important force production especially in short space where momentum is limited. (we cannot change the body weight but can accelerate it using ground reaction0.
As we make pressure we make sharp contraction of the whole body, the body should be like steel for an instant, the purpose is to deliver the total energy in shortest time to make maximum shocking power.
To achieve total contraction we think of the torso muscles contracting like a tube to the spine and from the spine chain reaction to technique line, it is important that the contraction has the proper direction, since power with no direction is useless.

After technique keep mind, or mental and physical prearedness, when we make a technique we give everything without holding back, physically the more pressure to floor and the sharper contraction the more potential, so next technique starts as reaction, effortlessly, also mentally when we give everything the mind is free, it has no ressistance or contradiction, and can smoothly flow with the situation without gap, or space of decision and confirmation.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Foundattions of karate techniques

Foundations of karate technique
We discuss pre requirements to karate technique, conditions that have to be understood and digested before we can talk about speed, snap, and kime.

Condense ki energy to body center (using breath and intention), body center is intention center, intention from center to opponent's center. Intention, imagination first, than breath, than spinal muscles, and in ripple effect energy, force increases to extremities and technique.

best body alignment from where body movement can be initiated quickest, smoothest and with least effort. The postural direction have important influence on our mental and emotional state.

Using ground reaction, stance
We cannot increase energy and change the center of mass without external force, all karate technique is initiated from external force, indirectly.Stance in karate is for the purpose of maximizing ground reaction forces to initiate a technique, quickest, without back motion.
Also, the purpose of stance is to provide strongest base to deliver force fully to the target at impact (kime).

Zui Ban, accompanying movement, action from body center
When the body center, about 3 fingers under the belly button toward the spine, at the sacrum, moves to certain direction, all parts of the body tend to cooperate to same direction.
Therefore, our intention center and action center is at the Tan Den.

Breath control technique
Breathing from floor to initiate the technique from ground reaction, and to activate the muscles as chain reaction from the feet up. We use "reverse" exhale to produce force from outside inward, such as pulling, sweeping technique. The breath controls muscles contraction/expansion, and the type of contraction we want at kime.

Sequence, timing within technique
To accumulate maximum energy, each body segment increases energy fully and than next segment starts. Simply we say, body action first than technique starts naturally.
Or, we say, in hand techniques: stomach to elbow to contact area, in foot techniques: stomach to knee to contact area.

Joint as action center
Energy transfer from one body segment to another at the joint, the more stable the joint is, the more transfer of energy. For example, if the knee is wobbly during hips rotation, ground reaction energy will dissipate.

Knowledge vs. Free mind

When we start learning karate, we must learn technique and kata first, we must have the knowledge of details of technique. This knowledge can become a hindrance when we hang to it, when we let it shape and condition the mind in a particular way. Than this knowledge prevents us from new investigation and discovery.

This is true with knowledge in general, we accumulate knowledge and memory which is important, without it we could not fly airplane, practice medicine and do essential things for our lives, but it can become a hindrance, set us in patterns, and prevent us from having a fresh, free mind that can discover.

In learning karate and learning in general we should not allow accumulation of knowledge top make us mechanical.
So we should distinguish between when knowledge is essential and when it becomes a hindrance.
The difficulty is to free the mind from the known so it can discover what is new all the time.

Great mathematicians can get stuck on a problem when they try hard to solve it but when the mind is quiet and have space the problem itself will reveal the answer.
We must have information about a problem but one must be free of that information to find an answer.
Similarly, in karate, one must have good technique, learned from the best teacher, but must be free of this technique to apply it successfully.

We acquire information, knowledge and technique, but we do not learn how to quiet the mind, how to keep the mind free, so we become a slave to a system which really means no creativity.
To have technique is meaningless without creative mind.
There must be first freedom of the mind for creativeness to take place, and than technique can express this creativeness.
We must teach technique first to introduce a person to karate or any knowledge, and at the same time have the awareness that we do not become dull, mechanical by this technique.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The mind and technique

In karate one must die every day to what he knows, so the mind is fresh.
We make no conclusions we are just there to find out.
Good technique should be an expression of spontanous, free mind, if we hold on to the technique, make it a safeguard, the mind will deteriorate.
Technique is only our vehicle to discover and internalize karate principles, at the same time we have to keep our mind pure, free.