Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stance considerations: Understanding outside and inside tension stances.

We have 2 type of stance: kime stance and kamae stance.

Here I discuss some elements of kime stance, the stance at moment of impact, which is most prevalent in the kata.

We have 2 types of kime stance: outside tension and inside tension.

Outside tension stances are most common in shotokan (zenkutsu dachi, kokutsu dachi, kiba dachi and sochin dachi) even though we use inside tension stances (Hangetsu dachi, sanchin dachi and neko ashi dachi) quite often.

In an outside tension stance, at kime the muscles of the hips and thighs are contracting from the outside in and toward the centerline of the body.

In an inside tension stance the muscles of the hips and thighs are contracting inwardly toward the front and the midline of the body.

The purpose of this contraction is to make a strong base in order to fully deliver the technique’s power through target, and avoid recoil, bounce of energy as reaction from impact. The contraction of the legs and hips allow for strong connection and transfer of energy from legs through the body center. Of course there are some other reasons such as contraction is potential energy, kime should be best condition to starting next action.

Important points:

Bones not moving

The bones of the thighs are not moving; rather the muscles are contracting around the thighbones and pelvis.

If the bones are moving, the thighbones will be out of optimal alignment with the hip sockets, and as result, transfer of energy at the hip joint will not be complete, and there will be undue stress on the hip joint, which over time can result in injury.

Contraction must have direction

The contraction of the legs and hips muscles is not static, since power needs direction. The contraction is either from the outside or inside toward the centerline of the body and in a spiral to the line of technique.

In a case of a punch for example the contraction of the legs and hips is in a spiral from the ground up to the technique line.

In a case of pull, or sweeping block, the contraction of the legs is in a spiral toward the ground, this is what we call reverse transmission of energy.

Stance contraction allows for total body contraction

We know that at kime we need total body musculature contraction in shortest time to line of technique. If the legs contraction is insufficient than the rest of the body contraction will lack, since the stance is the foundation.

When practice kata, try to move at full speed and at kime legs don’t move, not any wobble. Remember that when the outside stop, the inside energy don’t stop.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Learning and knowledge

Sensei Nishiyama used to tell me: “once you think you know, you are finished, you don’t learn anymore”.

This is the problem of knowledge, once we “know” something it feels old, even dead.

The fact that we can look at every day’s miracles around us, and not be constantly amazed is death.

“Not knowing” is different than ignorance, how do we go about increasing in learning while still maintaining the freshness and sense of wonder?

One idea is to treat each thing we learn as a piece in a larger puzzle that still has missing pieces.

Instead of each thing we learn become another thing we know let it be a reminder of how little we know.

Sensei Nishiyama used to constantly say that in karate “we seek the beauty of one finishing blow technique”, he never stressed doing more techniques and memorizing more combinations, but rather going deeper into each technique. Each technique has limitless levels. Aiko San used to say “treat each technique as a jewel”.

I remember going with Sensei to on of his international seminars, and he was teaching very basic techniques but very deeply, and some students looked very board, and I wanted to scream, please pay attention, you cannot get this information anywhere, don't miss out. Even now she I look at a picture of sensei doing simple reverse punch, I get the feel of how deep his technique was.

If we look at each technique and concept freshly, with amazement, we can keep finding out deeper levels.

With Sensei Nishiyama there was not one week that I did not learn something new or at least get a deeper understanding of things.

I heard this example of a mother and a baby traveling to far places, from the baby point of view they were always at same place, he was in his mother’s arms.

There were many times that Sensei Nishiyama said things that did not make sense to me, but with the years as he kept teaching us in all different ways, I understood where he was taking me.

There are times we need to accept our teacher experience and trust the direction he leads us, but we must be constantly questioning, curious and amazed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mokuso – make best mental/psychological condition for fighting. And for anything you want to be at your peak.

We start and end every class with a period of mokuso (meditation, concentration), yet most of us think of it as routine and just wait for it to be over so we can start training.

Truth is even we have the best technique, we will not be successful in competition or self defense, or any sport if we don’t have stable emotions and a quiet mind.

Mokuso is meant to create this condition, or a mind that is fresh, quiet and therefore aware of itself and everything around, that is a mind that is present and is responsive. A mind that have total focus without losing the awareness of the whole.

When we face an opponent and have such short time to make decision and react, if we analyze and our mind is not quiet, is over informed, we start having doubt, hesitate, lose stable emotions, then we cannot perceive the opponent, especially not the subtleties, the information that is there but is not obvious.

When we analyze we either confirm and wait or lose patience and rush, we are also easy to be manipulated and controlled by the opponent.

When our mind is quiet we perceive more information, so we are not only better fighters but also better students. Not just karate students, in the same way that we perceive the opponent as is, without judgment, so we can listen without our previous knowledge and with a mind that is beyond thought, thought is limited to what we know and is interfering and preventing us from true listening and learning.

Aiko San told me to take meditation very seriously. There are many ways for Mokuso, sensei Nishiyama used to tell us to half close the eyes and look softly down to a point 2,3 feet in front of us and with the exhalation push down any negative thoughts and emotions through the body center and to that spot.

Also, our karate is meditative, if we do the kata with full intention, and the intention, breath, muscles and technique match, than without effort our mind becomes very quiet.

I used to have a zen monk at my dojo whose famous master told him to go to karatein order to practice do-zen-moving meditation.

Of course you can meditate all day long and have a calm mind and strong spirit, yet you will die in a fight if you don’t have the technique.

Sensei Nishiyama constantly said, “Hard training makes confidence, confidence allows for stable emotions”. If you know you have strong finish technique and good timing, which will surely help stay calm and confidant.

So train hard and once in a while let’s remember that Mokuso is not just some ritual, but it allows us to have the right mind, and our body will move and respond only as well as the mind that controls it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is “Traditional” in traditional karate?

I have the feeling that to some people “traditional” implies old, out of date, stagnant, something or someone who refuses to change and adapt.

When I think of traditional karate, I think just the opposite, I think of karate that is alive and evolving, I think of principles of budo that were learnt through many generations of trial and error and those principles allow us to evolve, we do not have to rediscover, we are lucky to have a gift handed down to us.

I think of old masters seeking for ways to transfer what they discovered through combat, realizing that words can be misinterpreted and are not enough, therefore created a kata as a symbol of principle, as a mean to transmit those principles. The kata with oral transmission is how we pass on the collective wisdom of many generations.

And our job is to build upon them.

I think that if we just imitate the kata and focus on the outside form, we miss the point, we become rigid traditionalists, and than we have dead karate.

If we look at the kata as a mean to understand the principles, than the application of those principles is limitless and we can keep evolving.

Principles are laws, rules, and truths of movement, of combat. As we seek deeper and further beyond our limits, those principles are like guidelines, so we don’t deviate from the right path.

Even the most genius person could not have created airplane or I phone 10,000 years ago. Using the advancements of science that are handed from one generation to next allow an innovative person to create and go beyond the known limits.

I believe that we in karate have to embrace the old, deeply understand what was passed to us and with that knowledge and with an unconditioned mind, with a mind that dies to itself every day, look into newest information from sport research, from other people and arts discoveries and with our own experience keep on seeking beyond the known.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

About Intention

In karate we say that the source of power are body dynamics and internal muscle action (contraction/expansion) but most important source of power is mental, the mind. Without strong intention those physical power sources are limited no matter how correct and pretty the form is.

Bt precise form is important, because our image and actual movement must be matching; we have to have the correct image of ourselves for the intention to be effective. Later, when we advance, we do not need form anywhere the intention goes or whole body will instantly cooperate to that direction.

We say that the stronger and more pure the intention is the more muscle motor units will be recruited and cooperating for the intended purpose.

Research shows that if for example a person performs biceps curls and have strong intention, he will be able to lift 30% more than if he was joking while doing it.

Intention, imagination has to be used correctly, we say that the body center is the intention center and movement center, which will allow for maximal and proper recruitment sequence.

If I try harder and harder with my brain, I will probably get stiffer, use more top power and be less effective.

Sensei Nishiyama used to say “put your brain in your low stomach”, “intention first, than breath, than muscles and technique”.

Outside form is easier to fix, one can see and adjust their form, it is tangible.

Sequencing body movement and muscles recruitment is more difficult to correct than external form because it is training the nervous system and developing patterns of recruitment.

Intention is most difficult, because it is least tangible, but once we put the intention in the right place, form, sequencing and maximizing recruitment all take place naturally.

Form, sequencing and intention are interlinked.

In karate we start by learning the external form, which gives us the base, structure and tools to adjust and tune the recruitment sequence. For example, if the form is lacking and the back foot angle out too much it will be difficult to use the legs, and rotation of the hips will be limited, that will force us to compensate with the shoulders. A faulty pattern will be digested into the nervous system.

If intention is pure and from center without judgment and brain interference, we will likely to have the proper sequence and form. When judging and wanting results we are likely to move the top technique first and use more effort than necessary in the extremities and technique will be lacking.

When our intention is strong and from the center and is pure, without brain effort, we can project more energy and sense the opponent’s energy and intention. I am sure that everyone faced someone, who, before any movement you feel a lot of pressure, being controlled, that is how I felt when facing Sensei Nishiyama.

Once we develop the proper form and recruitment sequence, and we have intention from the body center (not from brain) more muscles motor unit will be recruited and body segments will cooperate and sequence more powerfully.

When we say “give direction from body center to opponent” or “inside, technique already finished, than technique start”, we mean that there is a strong image first, and the muscle though not moving yet, already have direction. That mean that the sequence is already determined, from inside out, and strong but optimal recruitment will follow.

At the highest level there is only intention and breath, no conscious of technique at all.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to relax?

In the last article I tried to explain what is relaxation, and now I will try to explain some of the steps to how to achieve relaxation or optimal amount of contraction in technique.

When I tell people to relax their shoulders or elbows or face, many will ask how do I relax?

There are few answers to that:
1. First, apply the principles of karate technique with the form as a mean, the better one follow basic principles the more likely to be able to relax and be effective.

Principles such as:

a. Technique always initiates from ground reaction, is indirect, the technique itself is only an expression, like using a tool or weapon, the weapon is not making independent effort but is handled by the person using it. If ground reaction is not being used there is no other choice but using the arms and legs, which make for top power technique. Also think of hikite (pulling hand) rather than technique because hikite increases body action speed and range and in turn increase energy to technique. Thinking hikite will also help stay mentally centered and relax the technique limb, allow it to be a tool ann expression.

b. Timing of technique, from feet to top, each segment increases maximum energy before next segment move, so maximum energy is accumulated. Simply put, body action first than technique, so the technique itself just makes direction, serves as contact area, and is additional force to the main power from the body.

If timing is off and the full body dynamics is not utilized, there will be tendency to make up for it by muscling the technique.

c. Joint as action center, if a joint is not stable, energy will not transfer fully through that joint and again there will be tendency to make up for it with top power technique.

d. Breathing matching muscle action and dynamics, if the breath is not synchronized with muscle action and dynamics, full rate of contraction/relaxation cannot be used, ground reaction cannot be maximized and the optimal use of muscles, the right amount in the right time cannot be achieved resulting in stiff technique.

e. Stable emotions and relaxed focus, if one is not stable emotions in kumite/fight there will be tendency to be protective and tight or overly aggressive and tight forcing technique.

f. Ho Shin - Give everything, when we are able to give everything, have no mind in the technique, as if each technique is last in our life, than there is no conflict mentally, and the physical follow without contradictory and extraneous tension.

g. Limitation in a range of motion along the kinetic chain will cause compensation and overuse in other segment. For example limitation in ankle dorsiflexion, or hip internal rotation, will cause over use of the muscles around lumbar spine or shoulder or both.

2. Awareness of self – we get comfortable with our postures and movement patterns that we are not aware of tensions we carry in certain parts of our body, those tensions feel normal to us, the wrong feels right.

For that reason, I like to sometimes use the dead body position of yoga in order to develop sensitivity to tensions in different areas and by noticing them I can let go of them, using breath and consciousness.

But one just need to listen to his Sensei’s correction and be sensitive.

3. It is not enough to understand those principles, one has to truly accept, believe and digest them into the nervous system, otherwise in a moment of truth one come back to habitual patterns and try to use force and stiff technique.

Therefore karate training is very wise, use the kata which is low stimuli to learn to use optimal form and strength and digest movement principles and gradually increase the stimuli, hitting the pads, doing basic timing when elements of reaction and distance are added, and than free sparring where anything can happen and nothing can be expected.

Using the pad is particularly important to get feedback and realized and internalize the concept that soft technique is way more powerful than stiff technique, that indirect power is way more effective than direct means.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Few thoughts about relaxation

Relax is not a letting go or collapse, relax is the due amount of tension for the activity.

Think of Usain Bolt, it was measured that with each step he produces reaction from ground equal to 1000lb, that is a lot of power, yet his face appears totally relaxed, he put all the tension where it should be.

I picture sensei Nishiyama’s punch and it is always seem effortless, that is for the same reason, no tension is used that is not contributing for the purpose.

For me the best way to describe it is the right amount (of muscle activation) in the right time in in the right segment.

Sensei Nishiyama used to say “keep your very center and contact area strong and everything in between soft”, and that is also tricky, because he spent a lot of time trying to explain what strong means, it is not tight, it is firm, sometimes Sensei will say “put ki energy in center and contact area and that is it”.

The wrong tension is like pushing the brakes while you are driving, it kills speed; it will create contradictory and extraneous energy.

Bud Winter was at one time the coach of all sprinting events world record holders, he coached his athletes not to extend a 100-percent effort. He claimed and proved that far more can be achieved with a four-fifths effort.

He encouraged athletes to use four-fifths effort and get timed. You will find it faster than 100 percent, even though it will not feel as fast.

How much contraction is necessary? How do we become more relax? In the next article.

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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back heel up or down in gyaku Zuki (reverse punch) at kime? (in kumite)

I am being asked that question by many people so here is the point of view of budo karate, Nishiyama system.

The answer is not so simple and requires understanding the priniples of stance and delivery of force. Basically the answer is heel down, heel firm on the floor, but this is the ideal, the kata and basics show us the optimal.
In basics (kihon) and kata there is no compromise, the heel should strictly be firmly down (unless one is injured), and if one has stiff ankles, the stance should adjusted, shortened so the back heel and outer edge of the foot are firm on the floor.
Now, in kumite (applications), one can violate the form as long as the underlying principles of the kata are not violated.

Lets get into it:
Heel on the floor allows for stronger driving from the back leg and supporting the technique at kime, engaging the back leg fully, back heel down make stronger connection of the back leg to body center, it allows at kime for breath pressure to front foot and reaction of this pressure to back foot, which makes for a cycle of energy, unbroken wheel of energy if you will. This allows for more power transmission, and keeping potential energy, and therefore smooth transition without gaps and initiating even the smallest action from the feet and ground reaction.
Don’t forget that kime should also be best condition to start next technique.
When the back foot is firm on the floor, at kime when we make pressure to floor, there will be no escape, dissipation of energy, and the reaction from this pressure will be absorbed through the kinetic chain and fully delivered to line of technique, whilst if the heel is up some of the pressure will escape.
This might not be important for a boxer or kick boxer since they don’t use the concept of pressure to floor at kime but rely on momentum.
Maybe not even for a sport karate practitioner where the fist or foot reaching the target is considered a scoring point and Todome is not the goal.
When someone throws a baseball, the heel coming off the ground is necessary since it is additional power of the ankle, but there is not reaction force at contact.
For us in karate, pressure is main energy; especially in short space where the luxury of big momentum is not available, and we need to avoid recoil, bouncing at impact.
Sensei Nishiyama had us punching the pads and at impact confirming the back foot receiving pressure back, before transition to kamae.

In reality, sensei Nishiyama was the only person I knew who could keep his foot always firm on the floor even when while shifting. I try very hard, but I admit that sometimes my heel still comes off the floor.

Here is the answer:
We should strive to keep as close to the optimal as possible, but what really important is that we don’t lift the heel so much to the point that the weight and body center shift over to the front foot, since that will make us floating, we will lose the interaction between the feet, and between the feet and the body center, we will lose potential energy and the ability to make pressure to floor.
So even if the back heel comes off the floor slightly, one must make sure to keep the back leg engaged, keep the cycle of energy, pressure from back foot through center to front foot and reaction to back foot which in turn delivers the energy to line of technique. Keep the ability to make pressure to floor with least leaking of energy.
One should make sure to avoid pronation of the back foot (rolling toward the inner edge and lifting the outer edge), avoid over stretch of the back leg, since it will become like an anchor that contradict energy direction rather than support it.
Those faults can also create injury over time.
Keep optimal space between the feet.

Similarly, when talking about posture in basics we want to be upright as possible, but in reality we are not mummies, and sometimes applications require that we lean in certain way, yet, we must keep as close to optimal posture as possible, and even when leaning, we want to keep neutral spine as possible, connection through the kinetic chain, and optimal length for function of all torso musculature.
So once more, the form can be violated as long as its underlying principles are kept.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Observations of AAKF nationals 2011 (Atlanta)

Karate competition is different than other sports, it is based on Shiai –testing each other for future development rather than winning trophies, it is based on one chance win or lose rather than accumulating points and it is only one aspect of karate, a mean and not an end.

The true winner in competition is the one who reflects and take lesson into future training.

If I won any competition, the following day Sensei Nishiyama would never tell me how well I did, but rather point at the many areas that needs work, and he will use the Shinai to help (not so gently) correcting me more than any other day.

It was partially to keep me humble and mainly since competition will magnify your weaknesses and habits so it is a learning opportunity we should not miss.

In the past nationals in Atlanta, some athletes did very well, but karate is limitless and there is always plenty of space for improvements.

I was very proud of the Power brothers who performed beautifully, and even when Barry and Brian had to fight each other they gave it all but with love as brothers.

Shiri, Taichiro, Kamil, marcus, salma and everyone did great and gave it all.

Of course each person has different weak and strong points, but here are some general points that I felt need work:

On the attack, move foot first, body center second and than technique. A lot of times I saw shifting the body center too soon, which makes the initiation slow and expose space for counter. Also it makes it difficult to make pressure and causes floating at kime.

On the Amashi Waza (shifting back using distance and than counter) footwork, the switch from back shifting to forward counter is too slow, and that is for 2 reasons: first, over using the legs, the body center should suspend the legs (ukimi), and move the legs, the legs should be soft and the feet light.
At same token, some people over shift the center, jump back, and create a lot of space between.

Zanshin – most dangerous moment is after kime since we are at optimal distance for our kime, which is usually optimal for opponent if we miss. Many people let go mentally and physically after kime.
In kime as one delivers energy they should also be recharged physically, and have the mental awareness, monitoring.

4. Kime –mainly in the kata kime should be complete, pressure to floor and contraction of total body musculature, to the point that next technique just happens without a choice, effortlessly, as reaction.

Many people transit from one technique to next before completing kime.
Of course, to say that at kime we give all breath, maximum pressure and contraction is general since every kime is different depending on purpose.

5Kumite stategy – many competitors need to think more of making strategy to create chance rather than rush to attack and be faster.
Using the space and distance effectively should be considered more as important part of strategy.
To make strategy and set up, one has to accept the opponent’s attack and be comfortable and confident with the attack and anticipate and capitalize on it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A budo story about the importance of breath

The following story was one of Sensei Nishiyama (and mine) favorite stories and he told it to us at least every 4,5 months, usually when the focus of training was on breath and timing.

An old sword master had to choose a successor between his 2 top students.

He decided to test them, and the test would be how many times they can cut a falling water drop.

They had a week to prepare, and they both train very hard, all day.

The first student practiced over and over, actually cutting a falling water drop.

The second student did not touch the sword; he practiced “cutting” the falling water drop with his breath and imagination.

Guess who won the test…you are right! At the day of the test the student who practiced cutting with the breath won and became the successor.

On the one hand we say that breath initiates the technique, and on the other breath catches the opponent’s rhythm and reaction is by breath, so reaction and action are one.

It is not as simple as that since breath is at top of the pyramid, and to get to the level that we can initiate and control all aspects of technique with breath and intention, there are lots of skills that have to be acquired.

The breath has to match and control internal muscle action and external body action and technique, it has to initiate action as chain reaction from the ground up, using optimal stance and posture and all parts of kinetic chain are linked. It has to use the right amount of motion and muscle action in the right time, from start to kime.

And only when all those skills are digested we can talk about breath reaction, which means, by passing the brain, not over analyzing and judging, which cause over information, than doubt, hesitation, unstable emotion.

Only when we allow breath reaction we can see the information that is available before the opponent even moves, we can catch his intention, allowing the natural breath reflex to work for us will also heightened our sensitivity, and ultimately bring us to level of “not knowing – yet knowing”. Seeing the opponent action is too late.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


This is one of the most important, difficult and misunderstood aspects of kime, focus of mental and physical energies at impact.

Many understand the idea of pressure and contraction, but somehow many people stop the breath and momentum at kime which stops the energy rather than impart it to opponent, and at same time create qio (chance).

Sensei Nishiyama used to constantly scold us: "Don't stop the momentum".

At kime we talk about pressure to floor and sharp contraction of total body musculature, and we say that for a moment nothing moves.

Of course, one cannot make pressure to floor and move at the same time, one need a firm base, stance, in order to apply pressure to floor.

We talk about all parts of the body peaking and stopping at once, so all parts peak and achieve maximum speed and momentum at the instant of impact. Sensei Nishiyama used to say that at kime even the eyes don’t blink, no wobble, any wobble means leak of energy.

At the same token, the whole purpose is maximize shocking power, moment of impact is when energy starts transferring to opponent, and sensei Nishiyama used to give us images such as a car driving at full speed, you put the breaks on but do not stop the engine, engine is at full power, or imagine you push a wall, you obviously are not moving but all muscles are contracting to direction of the push.

Or Sensei Nishiyama used to stand in front of me and Aiko San stood behind him, and he told me to punch at him and my body stops in front of him yet inside my body continue to hit Aiko San.

Or Aiko San used to stand in front of me and she wanted me to punch toward her, and she could easily tell if my momentum stopped or the energy went pass through her.

There are many elements involved in not stopping the energy, first, the intention and breath should be to infinity, focus at contact but not stop.

Than try to imagine that your body center hits the target, and your arm or foot are merely an extension, making direction and being tools of contact.

This is important because in many cases the momentum of the body does not match that of the technique, and in other cases there is a lot of isolated tension in the technique arm and leg, which limit the technique to top power, and in other cases someone tries to control the distance by the contraction of the arm or leg which stops and chokes the energy.

The control of distance at kime should be from the body center using the breath, breath makes kime, than stopping is not stopping the momentum and energy. A punch could be a once inch punch yet the mental extension is to infinity.

Harvey Panick, the golf master said the one should pour the energy of the swing into the ball, this is a great image for karate technique.

Without going to details, I like to mention that what was said about breathing will not be applicable if the stance is not used properly, for example, in a Gyaku Zuki, front stance at kime, pressure by breath is applied toward the front foot, and the reaction of this pressure comes back to the back foot, and from the back foot through the center energy transferred to the technique, so the more pressure toward front foot the stronger the back foot becomes, and more energy is transmitted to line of technique, a wheel of energy is being created.

Of course, this has to become reflexive, so all one has to think is intention and breath.

So the interaction between breathing, body center and both feet is essential for maximum transfer of energy and momentum.

I would also like to add an important drill that Aiko San used to do with me, she used to stand in front of me and without technique, only by using kiai, she demanded that I would go thorough her, and the breath had to come from the lower abdominals, we would do this for hours.

She kept on demanding that the throat will be like pipe without effort, otherwise top muscles will contract in access, and energy cannot flow through, the body has to be like a clear tunnel so energy can flow in the needed line and in the right amount.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

St. Louis Seminar

The seminar was held on May 21, 22 at the Mo Karate dojo, which is run by the Power Brothers.

This is passionate, family like dojo thanks to the Power brothers who are doing amazing job, always improving their own karate and lighting the fire at their students.

We worked on Kogo kumite, which is a great way to develop strategic kumite, one side is offense, making strategy, trying to create a chance, and the other response (defense).

The offense side learns to be purposeful, but without rush, with the objective of creating a chance rather than attack.

The response side learns not to be defensive, waiting, but take advantage of the opponent’s attack, or any space.

We worked on Kite kata, which was created by sensei Nishiyama with other masters of Goju and Shito-ryu.

This kata has elements from both shurei te and Naha te systems, and used in fukugo, kata/kumite mixed division. We worked on the small details of this kata, the way Sensei Nishiyama originally taught it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I was teaching the Poland seminar on Saturday and Sunday, May 7 &8.

This is an annual seminar that was regularly taught by Sensei Nishiyama till his passing at 2008, and now I teach it annually.

300 instructors and black belts participated last weekend in beautiful Stara Wiez, from Poland, Czech, Lithuania, Russia and Great Britain.

Stara Wiez is an amazing place, a karate village in the midst of beautiful forest and mountains, a place that can only be born out of burning passion to karate, and all my appreciation for Vodek and the Polish traditional karate for bringing a dream to reality.

The atmosphere was amazing; true learning atmosphere and true love for karate.

I was teaching Hangetsu and Tekki San dan, and through those katas showing movement and combat principles, which we than applied to kumite.

In hangetsu we stressed using the breath and maximizing muscle action, and than in Tekki sandan, we demonstrated how same principles are used in smaller action space, where muscle action becomes more important, connection, sequencing, and tranfer of energy through the kinetic chain are crucial to making big power in smaller action space.

Than in kumite we went through Oji waza (response timing) and Shikake waza (set up and strategy).

At the end of the first day the final tournament of the Polish league was held, and the level was great, real fun to watch how this athletes are getting better every year.

The top 2 men and women will participate in the World Cup in June.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Inner pliable force vs. outer rigid force

The power of karate

Inner pliable force vs. outer rigid force.

When one begins karate training the focus is on the outer form, at this level when one wants to make strong technique there is normally a lot of tension and strength involves.

As we progress we realize that through the outside form we should learn to move from the inside out, the outside form gives us the means, the position of mechanical advantage and it contains the principles that when internalized allow us to move from the inside and make power effortlessly.

At advanced level one should realize that when the body is tense it is very hard if not nearly impossible to connect and transfer energy from feet to legs to torso to top technique.

You see, the external form gives us the mechanical advantage where minimum effort can be used to achieve maximum force, but it is not a given, one has to understand the underlying principles. In fact, Kata is symbol of principle, the external form is a mean to understand and digest the underlying principles of movement and combat.

Only when one is soft and elastic we can make total connection and transfer of energy, when soft and properly aligned and moving in proper sequence we can make clear tunnels and the energy will transfer without interference or discontinuity, and energy increases at each segment.

That is why good form is only the first step in learning, next, when good form is natural, we learn to move from the inside out and from the ground up; from around the spine musculature and than energy increases in a ripple effect to the outer big muscles and to the extremities, and we do this by using the breath.

We must learn to put the intention, ki energy and breath in the Tan Den, center of energy, located 3 fingers below the navel and toward the spine.

When we move from the center, or the small diameter of the spine around the sacrum, energy increases in ripple effect.

We learn to use the breath to store energy internally, by interaction of the abdomen and back, and than to release energy from the back using the breath as trigger.

Than we have no back motion, the preparation is internal, and therefore the opponent does not know my timing, and has very little space to react to my technique, and we can react quickly to any space and generate force to any direction at an instant.

When we reach this level, when the body is soft and connected, energy is stored and released from inside, the technique is sequenced correctly, and every segment move in the right time and in the right amount, the body follows the intention, breath and ki energy.

At this level there is no hand, the whole body is a hand and there is no foot, the whole body is a foot, the power of technique is tremendous and there are no gaps or holes for the opponent to attack, and yet we can utilize any space.

Back to moving from the centerline of the body, you see when the muscles around the spine activate first, and the spine is stable and aligned optimally, the bigger outer muscles, will be in optimal length and will have a stable platform to move from and therefore they can be soft or contracted in the right amount and time, they can be used to the full rate of contraction.

If you ever see Sensei Nishiyama punch it seem soft and effortless, but I felt it many times, and it feels like a heavy hammer hitting you. On the other hand, some athletic people look strong but the effect is minimal, when one move from the outside it is impossible to be soft, and utilize the full range of muscles contraction/relaxation.

To reach this level we need good guideless, teacher, but even with the best teacher one can be stagnant in training, understand intellectually but not digest internally, unless one develops awareness of self and increase sensitivity, and one must constantly reflect on self.

This is the beauty of traditional karate.

Thursday, April 21, 2011



Seminar in Czech Republic was held April 15-17; there were 110 participants from Czech, Poland, Germany, Lithuania and Chile, many of them are regular students of Sensei Nishiyama who used to come to LA dojo. I really enjoyed teaching, it was such a great group of karateka, eager to learn, curious, working hard and asking great questions, in this kind of environment, it is like a karate laboratory, there is mutual learning. And, to the credit of karate, in the same class there were some tough athletic young guys, middle age people, women and kids, all can enjoy karate working according to their abilities and reaping benefits according to their interests.

I always try in my seminars to give a whole picture of how karate principles interlink, seeing the reasoning and wisdom in our system, rather than do a bunch of techniques and applications.

This way I believe people can take with them knowledge for future training.



We described what is a good posture and how a good or bad posture affects the technique and the Psyche.

I also try to give tools and drills to make good posture tangible and get feedback as to having a good posture or not because what we feel is right is not always accurate.

Stance, ground reaction

2 types of stance, kamae stance and kime stance, principles of functional stance, and understanding that every action is reaction from floor, even one finger move, it is from the feet, breath activates the feet.
And again, giving tools to get feedback if one is really using the floor in each techniques.

Main power is from body center using ground reaction.

Power from center by body dynamics and muscles action.

Body center connection to elbow and to knee.

Technique is always from body center to elbow to contact area or from body center to knee to contact area, and that includes sequence of movement; body action first technique is result.


Breathing from floor initiate technique, breath make muscles direction of movement, either from the center out or from the outside to the center (reverse transmission), breath make kime and type of kime.

Hiding the inhalation in order to expose chance.

Speed and power

Initiate technique quickest without back motion.

Muchimi – body like whip, total body snap, acceleration.

Kime – pressure to floor for acceleration and mean of transfer momentum to target.

Sharp total body musculature contraction for maximizing shocking power.

Kumite, Applications

I always like to relate the principles taught in the basics to kumite because that is what basics are ultimately for. The beauty in Nishiyama karate is that every technical detail has reasons both in regard to effectiveness of technique and applications. High level kumite depends on internalizing principles of technique.

We practiced Unsoku (footwork) and using Ukimi (suspension of legs from body center.

Rhythm, we did drills using breath and footwork to catch (and ideally conduct) opponent’s rhythm and keeping the maai.

Reaction by breath bypassing the brain, using Sen timing.

Zanshin – not giving mental or physical space after kime, we did some important drills to develop zanshin.

Stressing that the more we give everything in the technique the more physical and mental preparedness we have, and Zanshin is effortless.

Oji Waza (response techniques)

Sen, to anticipate, we practiced progression of Sen timing drills and variations of sen.

Go no Sen (hitting the opponent after first technique or between techniques)

Uke Waza (blocking) block is attack opponent technique on the way to attack his body, foot moves first than body center.

Amashi Waza - using space to avoid attack and counter in the off rhythm.

Understand Mikiru (estimate opponent range).

Mawashi Waza – foot circle, avoiding the opponent’s line of attack and counterattack breaking, switching the rhythm.

Shikake Waza – set up, creating a chance, strategy

Yomu – read opponent intentions, first step before forming strategy

Types of Shikake

Sasoi Waza – invite, using fake, considering the distance, making the fake in the right moment, the right amount of fake depending on the opponent eagerness to attack.

Tsume – press the opponent, infinitely and smoothly coming into his space forcing him to attack, and anticipating him.

Give bait - when detecting the opponent waits for counter, give the opponent a technique to block, and use the space between his block to counter, switching techniques sharply.

Combinations – when the opponent retreat and we can initiate in between his rhythm with small techniques to close the space while staying mentally/physically ahead, finishing with big technique.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


When facing bigger opponent or skillful opponent, good timing is as important as strong technique, good timing is at the instant the opponent cannot apply his/her power

In karate we spend many hours of training to develop Todome Waza (finish technique), we spend endless hours to develop the body system that can cooperate the whole body into one direction, and deliver maximum power in the shortest instant through different parts of the body.

But even the best techniques are useless if not used properly, in proper timing and distance, and with the right strategy to create the chance for attack.

It is much easier to kill with sword than with empty hand, but even Japanese sword practitioners spend a lot of time understanding timing and distance.

Here we go into understanding the right time to apply our technique.

We must be able to distinguish between Jitsu and Kyo.

Jitsu is when the opponent is in good posture, good stance (able to change position quick and smooth without back motion), when he is has stable emotions and strong spirit. This is not the right time to attack.

Kyo is when any of the above conditions has changed, when there is mental or physical movement and as result the opponent cannot apply is technique and power instantly.

For example, when the opponent loses stable emotions, he/she is excited, afraid, angry, stiff mind, loses spirit or physically, when opponent loses balance, when he/ she initiate or even mentally commit to attack, or in between techniques, at the change from action to another, or in between footwork, or at the inhalation.

“Kyo itself is too late, when the no Kyo becomes kyo, you must hit the opponent”.

Aiko San told me this sentence and it was enlightening for me, it changed my karate.

It is not enough to see the Kyo, and actually seeing the Kyo is too late, by the time we realize Kyo it is gone. We have to observe the Kyo and be there, apply the technique as the no kyo becomes Kyo.

That is why Sensei Nishiyama kept insisting: “don’t use eyes”, “by pass the brain”, “reaction by breathing”, “reaction from spinal level” or “feeling reaction”.

We cannot have space between reaction and action, the normal processing of receive information, analyze, decide and than order from brain is too late for us, when we have less than tenth of a second of a window to apply a technique.

That is why we don’t look to opponent’s outside body, legs and arms, but look to opponent heart, feeling.

We must catch the intention, the decision, and maybe as a first step catch the opponent breath and rhythm, and moreover, be the conductor and make the opponent into our orchestra; we make the music for him.

“Don’t self dance”

Sensei Nishiyama used to scold people who were too aggressive, and only thought of their techniques, not considering the opponent’s rhythm, distance and timing.

Digesting the fundamentals is essential in order to apply the theory presented above.

Kata and kumite are like a hand and a glove, kata is for kumite and if the relationships and underlying principles of kata are not digested the timing ideas I explained can never materialized..

It is through the kata and kihon that one learns to match and synchronize, breath, muscle action, body dynamics and technique, one learn to move as a chain reaction from the floor to legs, torso to technique in proper sequence and harmony.

Breathing initiates technique by activating the feet and muscle action, body action and technique, than I can react to opponent’s move with the breath, and breath reaction is technique, without space of analyzing and judgment.

Than reaction and action is one, without a gap or space.

And than we can say breathing, kiai is the trigger that starts technique, because the breath set the pathway for technique, breathing makes technique.

Timing methods will be explained in another article.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Sensei Nishiyama explained Maai as distance including timing, or as effective distance.

A big part of our training with sensei Nishiyama was dedicated to understanding opponent’s distance, one’s own distance (Issoku –ito, one foot one technique), and according to those distances, using the relationships between those distances, making strategy.

Also, understanding the different distances:

Standard distance, where I can hit my opponent in one technique, but also be able to go out of his range, being able to give him danger, and motivate his attack if needed.

To –ma, (long distance), and Chikama (short distance), and when and how to use either.

Depending on my opponent size, tendencies, quickness, explosiveness and depending on my abilities, I will choose what kind of strategy and distance to adapt.

In karate we spend a lot of time polishing our basics, but while we develop a good weapon, make our body into a weapon, through basics and kata training, we also need to understand how to use those techniques effectively, which means understanding distance and timing.

This is the difference and advantage of karate over most fighting systems, very few use distance, timing and strategy as profoundly as karate does.

Aiko San was a tiny, gentle and fragile woman, but boy, she knew fighting, she knew strategy, she would not hesitate to tell sensei Nishiyama if she felt that he taught something insufficiently and he would listen. He knew that if she said something there is truth in it.

Aiko San was the one who really made me understand distance, and understand what sensei really meant in his very few words.

She told me that once I found that distance, my distance, no one will be able to get closed to me, she insisted that I must make my territory and than nobody can get pass that space. She made me realize that I was relying on beating the opponent’s speed and power, fighting with him.

With her help I was trying to figure out how not to brawl, not to randomly attack, but using the space and rhythm to create chances, accept the opponent’s attack, and use my technique in the moment that success is most likely, and than at that moment, live or die, give everything.

It is the wrong kind of spirit to give everything and spend your energy all the time, to use power against power, to be suicidal, to brawl, this is not budo way.

A skilful person should have awareness of the situation all the time, read the opponent, use the space and rhythm to make chance, and just in the right moment give everything, hold back nothing, mentally and physically.

Don’t forget that to use distance effectively one has to have good footwork, to make smooth or quick change of space as necessary, and of course perfect timing to utilize any Kyo (space) in the opponent without Gap.

You see, most people are too busy thinking of attacking, but if one can be patient, understand the opponent’s sphere of power (the limit of his range), and than create the right moment, when the opponent is OFF, disconnected mentally/physically, and at that moment instantly break into the opponent’s space and without contradiction of power, make Todome, this is Budo.