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.

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