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.