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.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Learning, knowledge and habits

Why we bow?

Sensei Nishiyama used to tell me “when you think you know, you are finished, you stop developing”.

You have to die to what you discover the moment you have discovered it, than you can flow and develop infinitely.

And he used to tell me about early senior instructors that at first were good but than got sloppy and lazy in their sparring, they took being better for granted and that make them stagnant and sloppy.

Sensei told me: “you can learn even from baby”, Aiko San told me to watch the rhythm of my kids which is unexpected because they are not habitual and patterned yet, and she told me to spar with a dog for same reasons.

At first when I wrote articles Sensei resisted and said that we are only experimenting ideas and concepts, it is always in progress, while what is written stays on paper forever.

He thought that at any moment we should be searching and learning and never hold on to what we know.

Later, he agreed that writing is important, since people should have information and direction, even if what we write is incomplete and will never be.


Sensei Nishiyama always insisted that we bow properly and with intention, it seem a little strange at first, but I really appreciated the importance of the bow later.

Bowing to your partner is like we tell each other “thank you for being my teacher”, even if a master faces a beginner, he still has to humble himself, to empty himself from what he knows, so he can learn something by facing the beginner.

So bow is helping us to have optimal state of mind for learning.