Friday, December 28, 2012

Breath reveals quality of technique.

I wrote in the previous article that Aiko San could correct my technique without looking at me, just by listening to the breath.
Why is that important? because while at the beginning levels we focus on external form, and mechanics of technique, at the higher levels the breath controls the techniques, all aspects of it, and the mechanics and form should be forgotten, or not consciously attained.
For example breath initiate the technique, is like the trigger that controls the timing of the technique.
If we cannot apply the concept of “breath triggers technique”, we cannot talk about breath reaction (rather than conscious, analyze than decision reaction), since action and reaction must be one, without space, and that is only possible if the breath makes reaction and initiate technique. Also, the concept of breath tune to opponent rhythm while creates potential energy in our foot work, is not possible to apply if breath does not make and match our footwork and technique.
Or, as Sensei Nishiyama used to say “kiai destroy opponent”, since the breath controls the muscles activation at kime, it controls pressure to the floor and the total muscles contraction in shortest time to line of technique in case of “todome” or continuous contraction in case of push and pull technique, in other words breath make kime and also controls type of kime and type of energy appropriate to purpose.
When we say “kiai destroy opponent”, it includes intention, since if intention is “to destroy opponent with kiai” the muscles will be recruited more sharply, more fully and to the right direction and according to purpose.

Now this is not an easy subject, proper breath is not simply blowing the air out, I would not be able to understand the breath without countless demonstrations and feedback by Sensei Nishiyama and Aiko San. With this being said anyone can attain those levels, if you are athletic or not.
We must study deeply and diligently, be patient. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Aiko San always surprised me with her depth of understanding, intuition and wisdom.
One evening about 10 years ago, I was doing kata and Aiko San was standing with her back to me, and all of the sudden she turned around and said: “you are using too much top power”, and I felt it was true but asked her how could she tell, since she did not look at me, and she replied that she knew by the sound of my breath.
Since than she surprised me over and over, without looking at me she told me if my elbows were disconnected or my pelvis was misaligned, or I did not use the stance well, she was always right, and only by listening to my breath.
It should not be such a surprise since the breath should activate the muscles in the right sequence and in the right amount according to the purpose, the breath should match the muscles action and timing of the technique.
Now, I constantly listen to my student breath, and try to know their movement by the breath, and by doing so I get more tune to my own breath, muscle action and technique synchronization. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Body Shifting - understand to use effectively.

In karate body dynamics and inside muscle action are the main sources of power (of course, controlled my the mind, so we could say the mind is the main source of energy).
Body shifting is one of the 6 body dynamics. Shifting is used to produce force as well as to adjust distance, and it is generally used to apply techniques in longer distance.
We use straight shifting, such as in case of Oi Zuki, or side shifting, such as in Yoko Enpi Ate (side elbow smash), and kizami Zuki in longer space.
Yori Ashi, Tsugi Ashi, Fumi Ashi can be used as means of shifting.
In the case of Oi Zuki for example, pure straight shifting should be used, introducing any rotation cause energy to split, since we want straight energy line. 
In some cases shifting and rotation are combined, and shifting is mainly for purpose of distance, such as when stepping with Soto Uke or Age Uke, shifting does not produce force to the side or upward, therefore rotation is main energy.
Or when executing Mae Geri with back leg (stepping forward), main body action is pendulum action (which is rotation around an axis parallel to floor), shifting is not optimal for the direction of the kick, therefore is secondary, and used to allow transfer of momentum forward and setting optimal angle of support leg to body center to kick for energy transfer.
Or think of Yori Ashi (sliding) with Gyaku Zuki, first we shift and at last moment, as the front foot enter the floor, use rotation which is the main power.
In the above case, straight line energy is changing and adding into rotational energy, but shifting is secondary, since shifting needs big space to produce sufficient force.
If rotation starts as we start shifting, rotation will take place over long period and will be slow and ineffective, and in addition, our body center will be exposed too soon.
An exception is when gyaku zuki is executed in short space, than shifting and rotation starts together.
Shifting needs more space to produce big force, think of trying to break through a door, you need big distance to be able to increase enough force to break a door, it can’t be done from little space.
Or think of hitting a baseball or golf ball, no one shifts (runs sideways) in order to hit the ball, but rather rotation is being used.
In shorter space rotation is much more powerful.
It is a common problem to see someone shifts too much and having no space for rotation while executing gyaku zuki, which results in weak technique, but also exposing chance since shifting is slower than rotation.
Attention need to be placed on correct application of body shifting principles such as keeping the weight in between feet, and foot first, body center second and than technique, in order to effectively apply the points discussed above.
I leave that for another discussion.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kihon - basics, an amazing gift handed to us (use it right).

I always gave my heart in every training and every move, but there were times I questioned why do I have to do kihon isuch a restricted way, unlike the way I fight. I thought that I don’t fight the way I do Kihon, why not do it in a more “applications like” way.
But I had total thrust in Sensei Nishiyama and I knew there is more to kihon than what meets the eye, as the years passed I learnt to appreciate kihon, I saw beyond the external, Kihon teaches us to cooperate the whole body to one line of energy, from stance to body dynamics to technique, and do that in variety of directions, using different parts of the body as contact area.
It conditions us and teaches us to be coordinated and connected through the full range of motion, and from there eventually we can produce force in any range that is within the bigger range that we practice in kihon.
In kumite, generally, most techniques we use are to smaller ranges than in the basics, so we need the basics in order to prepare us to be able to produce forces through full ranges.
And you see, most injuries happen in the outer ranges, not usually in mid ranges, so we must develop our elasticity, stability, coordination and resiliency in outer ranges and kihon is an excellent way to do it.
The big includes the small and not the other way, so when you practice to the full range, you develop the strength, stability and coordination to the full range while if you practice shorter range you are limited to those shorter range.
Kata of course follows the same concepts, and some of the basic kata such as heian and tekki are also called kihon kata, but when we practice kata, we produce force to one direction and than another, while when practicing kihon we have the chance to purposefully repeat, to reflect and correct over rand over.
There are many levels to the same kihon, until black belt roughly, the focus is on proper body dynamics, and synchronization between stance to body action to technique, including timing of technique, connection between all body segments, moving out of optimal posture.
After black belt one must gradually learn to use more inside power or muscles contraction/expansion in addition, which means that the outside and inside have to match, breathing has to be used properly to control muscles action, dynamics and ground reaction forces.
At this level our goal is to learn to make more power in less action, and remove unneeded action, we can do it only by relying more on inside muscles action.

I must clarify, kihon can also instill some rigidity in us, I see some people that do a lot of kihon and kata but not so much kumite, and when they spar, they look too robotic trying to apply kihon in kumite.
We must digest the principles of good movement through kihon, but be free from the form itself at some point, we must be able to instantly start our technique from anywhere, and punch or kick in limitless trajectories and directions, free from the restriction of kihon but according to its principles, and still in whatever we do the whole body will cooperate to any direction, without unneeded movement, to make maximum shocking power - todome.
This has to be understood in theory so we can and more importantly, get the feel of it in our bodies, nervous systems and in our bones.
Kihon is an amazing gift that was handed down to us.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Austria seminar

Seminar in Austria this past weekend was great, it was fun to see all my friends from Austria, Germany, Czech and Russia.
There was great enthusiasm which make me feel better about the future of Sensei Nishiyama's karate.
We worked on katas Kitei and Jion (the way Sensei was teaching them), and through the kata we explored fundamental principles: posture, feet make top technique, breath activate the feet, body action and inside muscle action, how to start a technique quickest without back motion, muchimi (body like whip) and kime (different aspects of pressure and contraction).
We cover Oji Waza (response timing techniques) in the first 2 days, and in the last day we spend a lot of time on setting up and creating a chance.
We practiced Sasoi Waza (inviting the opponent's attack), and we spent a lot of time doing combinations attack, learning how to stay mentally and physically ahead of the opponent, not allowing opponent to recover from backward momentum, always reacting to his/her reaction to us, while closing the distance for Todome (finish technique), we spent time understanding the start up timing for combinations, initiating between opponent's rhythm, reacting to the chance with the breath and feet rather than looking and judging.
Thank you for great spirit.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Protect your back and improve function by improving posture and firing sequence of muscles.

If you asked Sensei Nishiyama what is the best training for yoko geri, he would say “do yoko geri”, and this is totally true.
Most of the training for a karate person should be karate technique and timing, but at the same token, some supplemental training can help.
We talk about moving from the center and out of optimal posture.
If we don’t have a strong and stable center we cannot move effectively from the center and might also hurt our spine, especially when producing big forces.
If we don’t move out of optimal posture we won’t fulfill our potentials and have the potential of “repetitive pattern overload” injury, and if our muscles are not balanced we cannot keep good posture even if we understand what it should be.

Strong abdominals will not necessarily protect your back, people with strong abdominals  still have back pain.

We must learn to activate the core in proper sequence, smaller, inner muscles should fire before the bigger outer muscles.
The smaller, inner muscles, stabilize the spine and protect it while providing an anchor for the bigger, outer muscles, so those bigger muscles can function more optimally.
In most of our training, the core should be strengthen while integrated with the rest of the body, not in isolation.
Stretch the tight muscles to prevent imbalance and strain on the spine, such as the hip flexors, the huge iliopsoas muscles are attached to the femur bone and to all five lumbar vertebras, and if tight will create constant strain on the lumbar spine.
Tight hamstrings are also a reason for strain on the spine.
We must constantly improve our posture, with specific postural corrective exercises, a head forward posture create strain on the lumbar spine, and also interfere with force transfer from the body center to the arms.
There are specific exercises for postural correction and learning proper muscles activation sequence that I like to use as part of a warmup.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Karate journey is like climbing a mountain

When you climb a mountain and you see a peak, you think “oh, this is the mountain top, let’s push and get there to the end of the journey”, when you get there, you realize that there is another peak you could not see until you got to where you are, and than you keep going and keep finding out as long as we live.
When we learn a technique, we can only receive so much information, and as we train and gain experience we have tools to get more details, and than we realize that the simple techniques have infinite levels.
Sensei Nishiyama used to teach some details of a technique, let me struggle with them, digest them, and than a year or two or five later he would tell me another small point that changed the way I looked at that technique, and I used to think “why didn’t he tell me those details right away?”
Later I realized that until that moment I was not ready for those new details, and when Sensei Nishiyama felt that I was ready he would go deeper into the technique.
We cannot do techniques mechanically, practice, digest than contemplate and the potentials for development is unlimited.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kime is from eye.

Sensei Nishiyama used to repeat “eye, face guiding (the) body (when changing direction), Eyes, face setting the body at kime, when eye(s) stop this is kime”, “kime is from eye” or “at kime nothing moves, even eye(s) don’t blink”.
We all know that at kime we make pressure to floor and sharp total body contraction, but we cannot forget that in a sense kime is from eyes.
If eyes are blinking at kime, coordination between breathing and muscle action is lacking, also if eyes moving at kime intention cannot be strong, and the stronger the intention the more the muscles can cooperate to one direction.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Karate technique starts from the center and energy increases in a ripple effect.

Imagine a stone falling into a still pond of water, at the point of which the stone enters, there will be an explosive splash, followed by powerful ripples traveling away from this point.
Sensei Nishiyama used to say: “karate technique starts from the center and increase energy in a ripple effect, from the muscles around the spine, to bigger, outer core muscles and to the extremities”.
The outer core muscles, (buttocks, obliques and hips) are the most powerful in our body, the inner core muscles are not as powerful and mostly responsible for stability and providing a base for the outer, bigger muscles to move from effectively.
(latest research shows that the inner muscles are also important for movement, especially at high intensities of movement)
The further away we go from the center the less powerful the muscles are, core to shoulders to arms to hands or hips to upper legs to lower legs to feet.
Also while the outer core muscles are more powerful, the arms and legs have higher percentage of fast twitch muscles fibers, and are faster than the more powerful core.
Therefore, effective movement in most sports start from the center, and increases energy in a ripple effect with maximum energy being accumulated at impact.
In the case of the water pond the further away from the center the weaker the ripples are, just like in the body, the strongest muscles are around the center and not as strong as we go away from the center.
In karate technique the further you go from the center the more energy increases and more power. 
This and other principles are meant to be understood in order to to be applied and not just as theory.
Understanding is needed in order to make training effective, but by itself will not help in digesting the principles into one’s body, even with hard training.
We have developed specific drills to give one feedback and help internalize this and other principles.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lithuania Seminar

The seminar was held in beautiful Vilnius last weekend (Sep 28-30) and we had great training and fun.
Participants came from Germany, Austria, Czech, Russia and of course, Lithuania.
We worked on fundamentals, and stressed that the deeper we go into fundamentals the better the development in the future.
Develop one or two technique that you have confident with rather than many techniques  you are not sure about, and than expand.
A great thing about working on fundamentals is that we can have in the same class yellow belts and world champions or top instructors, and they can work on same subject at totally different levels, each person can take what he or she are ready for.
We worked on posture and show how optimal posture allow one to use the full potential and bad posture hinders it.
Stance, being functional rather than esthetics, adopting the principles of stance to one’s own body, finding own stance, do not copy.
Breath in technique and its relationship to reaction, rhythm and timing.
We clarified body dynamics and how to use body dynamics effectively according to line of energy and space.
We spend long time digging into kime and how to make shocking power.
And of course, we practice a lot of timing, focusing on Oji waza (response techniques) and footwork.

I am really happy that we spent time after classes to discuss how to keep the purity of Sensei Nishiyama’s teachings, since we can see that in the future it could easily be diluted and misunderstood, because of the many interpretations and misinterpretations.
We must take steps to keep the knowledge Sensei gave to us available to whoever is interested.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Firm not rigid.

Firm and soft/fluid are complimentary not contradictory. 

Firm to allow energy transfer.
We have to be firm for the energy to transfer smoothly through the kinetic chain.
Rigidity will block the flow, being too loose will cause us to be disconnected and also interfere with the flow of energy from segment to segment.
We are not only firm at kime but throughout the technique, even though the muscles activation is different at moving and at kime.
Aiko San and sensei Nishiyama constantly told me “keep the very inside (around the sacrum) strong and the outside soft and flexible." Of course, to be able to apply and get the feel of this we need proper training methods and good feedback.
Sport research confirms this, for force transfer between the legs to torso to arms and vice versa (through the sacrum), the smaller, local muscles around the sacrum have to activate and stabilize the sacrum.

Connection and disassociation.
We have to connect all segments of the body, but if we brace and over tense we cannot disassociate.
For example, to increase energy between the sacrum to the thoracic spine, the thoracic spine has to move slightly more the the sacrum and lumbar, this is disassociation. If we brace, they will move as one peace, if we are too loose they are not connected and energy will not transfer.
When someone is too rigid and brace at the shoulder or hip, we cannot disassociate and energy will not transfer smoothly at that joint.
Also, disassociation allows us for subtle adjustment at the hip (or shoulder) that are so important for smooth weight shifting and footwork as well as force production in technique.
Also, firmness allows for relaxation, for example, if the lower spine is not stabilized by the smaller, inner unit muscles, the bigger, global, movement muscles, have no working foundation and will tend to be to stiff.
When the inner unit muscles activate optimally to stabilize the spine, the bigger muscles  can be used to their full rate and potential, contraction/expansion.

Our body is the most complex machine ever created, so we must understand the complexity in order to achieve simplicity, at the end one does not think of any of these, when I face my opponent, I just want to make chance for finish technique, every thing else should just happen because you train hard and correctly.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Requirements for "whole body cooperating to one line of energy".

Whenever Sensei was teaching a seminar he used to describe karate technique: “the whole body must cooperate to one direction”, or “even (if) one finger moves, feet make top technique.”, than he used to say “total energy must be delivered in shortest amount of time”, or else he used to say: “karate is not arms and legs training but whole body training.”

What are the conditions required for the whole body to cooperate effectively to one line of energy in order to make Todome (finishing blow)?

Optimal posture - moving from optimal posture and keeping optimal posture dynamically.
An optimal posture can be defined as the neuro-muculo-skeletal relationships which optimize joint motion and muscular action, trigger automatic stabilizing activity and minimize structural stress on the body.

Body center on top of base of support
Efficiency of using ground reaction forces, which means optimal stance and its use.
All action is reaction, indirect power.

Main power is from body center (using ground reaction).
Body center is intention and action center.
Intention and breath control power from body center by means of body dynamics and muscles action.

Sequence and timing of body segments.
Each segment achieve maximum velocity and than next distal segment moves to achieve maximal total amount of energy.
If a segment moves too soon, such as arm before body action, than body action energy is lost. If each segment is not used to its full range, than total amount of energy is smaller. In basic technique we would like to move through the full range, but in application we must make best use within available space.

Joint as action center 
Each joint serve as a fix point to allow maximum transfer of energy, and to allow optimal use of the muscles in next segment (muscles need stable base for optimal contraction).

Linkage between body segments
Connection between all body segments to avoid leak of energy.

Rate of muscles contraction
Maximum muscles contraction at shortest time to technique line of energy (the necessary muscles for the purpose) at kime and total relaxation (due amount of tension) in between action.
What said above gives us the right image, but to be more precise “the right amount of activation at the right time”.

Functional range and mobility
Restricted motion in one joint will cause compensation and over use in another. 

This has few implications, we must have balance between stability and fluidity, stability is not rigidity but rather firmness and mobility is not collapse or motion without direction. Firmness allows for fluent movement and transition and transfer of energy.
The small muscles around the sacrum and lumbar spine have to activate reflexively and subconsciously before any kick or punch to stabilize the low spine so it can provide a base from which we deliver energy from, and also to allow force transfer through the sacrum from the legs to the arms and vice versa. This stability also reduces stresses on the spine. We cannot talk about moving from the body center if the sacrum and lumbar are not stable.
Also, at the right moment each joint has to be stabilized to allow transfer of energy between segments and to allow optimal muscles activation as well as to protect the joint. (see above joint as action center).
Optimal stability help us avoid introducing other movement directions than the intended direction.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The power of karate is in the brain, not in the muscles, says recent Oxford university research.

Group of healthy controls was compared with a group of karate black belts, who are able to perform rapid, complex movements that require years of training.
Researchers chose to investigate karate experts’ ability to generate extremely high impact forces as this ability is not replicable by novices, and the mechanism used to achieve this feat not fully understood.

The research investigated weather the ability to control ballistic movement is associated with difference in white matter microstructure in the brain.

Early studies found that although karate experts were able to generate higher impact forces than controls, isometric muscle force and velocity measurements of individual joints were not significantly different.
Karate experts demonstrated higher peak acceleration in ballistic elbow extensions, but this was not related to activity in the biceps or triceps as measured by electromyography.
Karate experts are better able than novices to coordinate the timing of inter-segmental joint velocities.
Further research demonstrated that these individuals are also better able to maintain body stability by reducing the amount of backward replacement during punching to produce higher impact forces.

It was interesting to the researchers because karate punching is rapid, ballistic movement, yet performance was not determined by muscular strength, but rather by timing and coordination, specifically, the relative timing of different joint velocities.

There was significant differences between groups in the microstructure of white matter in the superior cerebellar peduncles (SCPs) and primary motor cortex – brain regions that are critical to the voluntary control of movement.
These findings suggest a role of the white matter pathways of the PCPs in motor expertise.

This study examined the behavioral and brain basis of expert motor control in karate experts. It was found that these individuals are able to repeatedly coordinate certain actions with a level of skill that novices are unable to reproduce. We argue that these abilities may be due primarily to changes to white matter structure in the SCPs, allowing the synchronization of movements of the upper limbs and trunk with a high degree of accuracy. This is the first example of a link between human cerebellar white matter and motor control measures in an elite sporting group. This has implications for our understanding of the role of white matter connectivity in motor coordination, the relationship between measures of white matter microstructure and elite performance, and how brain changes may be related to the stage of development in which learning begins.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Budo aspect of karate requires todome which requires optimal movement patterns and postures which keeps musculoskeletal health.

When you think of karate as budo, each time you fight or spar, you have one chance, no second, you must develop a technique that is finishing blow, where the whole body integrate to produce maximum force in shortest amount of time, at one direction.
Through the generations we in karate, developed systematic methods, not found in any sport to such details, and all as result of experience and necessity, without sophisticated high tech.
If you think of reaching and touching, or making a point, than you develop as Sensei Nishiyama used to call it “picking oranges technique), where it is sufficient to touch the opponent with the hand or foot. If the goal is for the hand to reach the target as quick as possible, than the systematic method we develop in Budo karate to use the body as a whole is counter productive.
Sensei Nishiyama used to scold us “no scratching techniques” and “if you do scratching techniques, you just make it more dangerous for yourself”, “best fight is no fight” but “if you fight you must finish”
Totally different kind of training is required for Budo and sport karates, even though same karate form is being used.

If we look at the budo technique and the sport karate technique from a point of view of physical therapy and movement to prevent injuries or to rehabilitate, it is well recognized  today that the most important factor in keeping the body functioning effectively and healthy is sequence of activation of muscles or proper nervous system patterns.

The top physical therapist will confirm that every action should be a chain reaction from the ground up, and in addition in every action the deeper stabilizers muscles should fire first and than the outer prime movers.

proper sequence of activation is only possible out of balance musculature, balance between flexors and extensors, in other words optimal posture.

Sequence of activation and optimal posture are closely related and affect each other.
If I throw a ball or execute a reverse punch, both movements require rotation and arm extension. In optimal sequence of movement, the feet will fire first using ground reaction, force will transfer through the legs, through the sacrum (body center), through the thoracic spine through the scapula and than shoulder joint and arm extension.
In a head forward posture, thoracic spine rotation might be limited which will cause access motion in the scapula and shoulder joint.
Even if one has good posture, but have bad habit due to wrong coaching, or image of the movement, one might move at the shoulder independently from the scapula, thoracic spine and ground reaction, and will eventually create bad posture.
In both cases wrong patterns will create inefficient movement, bad postures, and wear and tear at the shoulder.
This scenario can be seen anywhere along the kinetic chain.
Limitation in foot pronation can create compensation along the kinetic chain, such as in the lumbar spine or shoulder.

It is just one example how the benefits of karate lies in its budo aspect. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Distance - principles are simple applications endless

We work hard to develop good, effective weapons in basics and kata training, but it is equally important to learn how to use those weapons, and it is through using timing and distance properly that can make effective use of our techniques.
Try to be at a distance that you can give threat to opponent, yet if opponent attacks, you can move slightly back to be out of attack’s range. This is basic Toma (long distance).
This distance is changing with each opponent, some opponent have good reactions so I can give them less, some are harder to break the rhythm, I might need to take more risk.
Some opponent might be tall or short, explosive or not, sensitive to your rhythm or not.
After training with many different opponents you can feel an opponent even before any move.
Fighting in To ma (long distance) requires excellent footwork to be effective at, that is why Sensei Nishiyama pushed me always to train at outside ranges.
Develop bigger range first, than get good at short space, just how we practice technique from big to small, but for different reasons.

Chikama (short distance) is less demanding as far as athleticism in footwork, but on the other hand the margin of error is smaller. Short distance requires excellent footwork skill, but not the same exploding power needed. Short range fighting requires more smoothness, and clearly reaction and action from floor even if the feet move very little. Sensei Nishiyama was outstanding at short distance, I never stood a chance.

If you feel confident and have difficult time creating chance in Toma, than close the distance and fight inside.
We use different ways to get into opponent’s distance, but in all of them we must be careful how we close the distance, not to show to much space, or maybe to give as much space as we choose to.
Problem is that in many cases people are drifted into short distance not being aware of it.
In short distance you cannot give as much, your fake must be smaller, always use your breath and feet and mental pressure to fake and setup, it will have more effect, and will keep potential energy in your movement, so defense is within your offense. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Increase sensitivity and awareness to reduce effort

Ruven Sharf told me another great analogy that he heard from his Alexander technique teacher, Meir.
In a military Bunker there were 10 soldiers and they were always exhausted because they were almost always on guard around the bunker.
A new commander came, and he put a high observation post, so one soldier was in the post, and 4 around the bunker, and now the other five soldiers could sleep, and they kept rotation, so everyone was fresh and functional all the time.
We can notice that many people in kumite tend to be too tense all the time, they are in protective mode, the muscles become overworked, tired, unresponsive,cannot use full rate of contraction/expansion and injury is more likely.
From my experience, the more sensitive one is, the less tension and effort is needed, because I know my opponent cannot surprise me, I can see it before its coming and have enough time to respond.
What we need to do is increase our sensitivity, our awareness to self and surroundings, be present, we need to develop our intuitive perception, and than our body will relax, does not have to be in protective mode constantly, and it will be more responsive.
Using our eyes, looking harder, does not make us more sensitive, it actually separates us from what we see, it narrows the awareness it make us not present, behind, in the past.
How to become more sensitive, increase the awareness is not for this article, but the method is engrained in our physical training, in the directions we give students while timing drills and even in the basics.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Practice (Keiko) and training

Sensei Nishiyama once told me that we refer to training karate as Keiko rather than training as in other sports.
The word Keiko is comprised of two characters that mean ‘to think’ and ‘the past’, and together they mean to train and study the teaching of the past. this is profound in meaning, we need to deliberate and develop reflecting on our training according to Budo theory and principles.

For the beginner too much thinking is not a good thing, a beginner might copy the teacher and do repetition without much question, over thinking will cause restricted technique, but once the form is natural and fluent, we must use our training and form as mean to understand and digest principles that were passed to us a result deep experience, we must contemplate to bring further and deeper progress and to make the technique one’s own.
If we continue training without thinking of the principles we are likely to become mechanical and not much progress is likely.

Keiko is mental and physical. Thinking alone will not do, one must think and train hard and than reflect again. The goal is to bring theory and practice together, and therefore one must understand the theory.
In Keiko one can experiment, make mistakes, the outcome is not of much concern, but ultimately the it is essential to win in Shiai (match, testing each other for future development).
Shiai can be compared to the final piece of writing, while Keiko is the draft, when one can develop technique, strong spirit and correct bad habits.
Keiko is for the sake of Shiai. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What does F-16 has to do with karate?

Ruven Sharf who is European and US Champion and trained and taught at my dojo for 10 years is visiting from Israel to train here. Ruven told me this great analogy between F-16, karate and high level movement, that he heard from his Alexander technique teacher (Meir Amit) who I took a lot of lessons from and is a wise man.
The F-16 is the first fighter jet aircraft that was intentionally designed to be inherently unstable, also known as “relaxed static stability”, in order to improve its maneuverability and nimbleness.The F-16 is being stabilized by a flight control system which without, it will be unstable.
Most aircrafts are designed to be stable, which means that the aircraft has to overcome its inherent stability in order to maneuver, which makes its slower and less nimble.
This made me think a lot, it is an amazing concept that applies for us karate people, the softer we keep our torso and less controlled (that does not mean sloppy posture), the easier and faster it will be to “lose” our balance and change positions and direction, and in order to keep our balance we use our “flight control system” which is our feet, feet positioning and footwork, this allows us to keep our center over our base of support. This is done without bracing, tightening, just keeping a firm center (around the sacrum) and the big muscles of the core and torso are soft and flexible in best condition for movement.
Our breath,  body center and feet interact with ground reaction forces and momentum to be nimble and maneuverable and at the same time have potential to be firm and strong at necessary instant.
When we try to have control all the time, we become rigid and imobile.
Aiko San always told me: “Give up control, to have control” 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


People practice karate for different reasons, there are those who like to master it as a martial art, others for fitness, or sport, some like the character cultivation aspect of it and some simply enjoy it. All these reasons are true and of great value.
The original role of karate was to destroy opponent’s offense power and to protect oneself.
Nowadays, fortunately, we are not likely to use karate in life and death situation.
In order to gain the mental/spiritual understanding and value of karate, we cannot bypass the original function of karate as budo “to destroy opponent’s offense power to protect self”.
It is only through being at the edge, training as if “one chance live or die”,  that one can truly experience the mental/spiritual understanding through karate.
Through this Budo aspect one can internalize higher principles and wisdom and live life in accord with this wisdom.
To classify karate as another form of physical exercise is to view it as sport and it misses the point completely.
I appreciate the excellent attributes that sports have to offer, physically and mentally, but Budo was devised and used where one’s life was at risk, for this reason it differ from sports, and it is here that the true value of budo karate lies.
If we ignore the original function of karate as budo, where life and death are held in the balance, than one dismisses the value of karate.
Karate has great value as physical exercise and character cultivation, but if we forget the role of karate as budo, we will not be able to comprehend the true meaning of karate.
That is why we must train as if our life is on the line, with utmost seriousness, being totally present, doing our best in each training and technique. That is why Sensei Nishiyama hated sloppiness, demanded dignity and good manners, wanted us to be sincere and pure in our training and actions, and asked us to be disciplined and do each technique as it was our only chance.
Than we can understand life principles through karate, have a clear mind, confidence, and will be able to cope with any life situation, and to apply karate principles in a self defense, in business,  and in any area of life.
Ultimately, through karate we can make this world a better place.
This will not happen through theory alone, only when theory and practice came together real changes can happen.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Aiko San used to often tell me: "when you find your own distance no one can touch you".
I ponder a lot on this, I knew that if Aiko san repeats it so much it must be crucial, when she talked about karate even Sensei Nishiyama knew there was always substance there.

Many people are not considering the distance and rush into engaging with the opponent, in karate but even more so in MMA fights,. When one does not consider maai (effective distance) the fight depends on speed, power and luck, and sometimes you randomly will get hit even if you are faster and stronger.
If you control the distance and rhythm there should be no randomness, you will be able to avoid the opponent range and hit them in the proper timing.

In some Tai Chi book I read something that influence my outlook on distance a lot: "always make the opponent feel as if he is too far to attack, yet too close to escape".
That is beautiful but need a lot of practice, we must bring those important concepts to life, through training and self reflection, otherwise the concepts will stay theory.

Always try to understand your own technique distance, your opponent distance and use the interaction of these distances as base of your strategy.
In basic distance I make my own territory, where I know that I can hit the opponent with one foot action and I can avoid his/her attack if I move slightly out.
Than we, of course, can change strategy and distance, depend on my skill level comparing to opponent, opponent tall or short, how explosive he is, and how I read opponent's intentions.

The idea again is to never fight by power, catch the opponent at the time and space they cannot use their power.
Any strong technique is useless if maai is not used effectively.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Sensei Nishiyama used to tell us that often when we spar: "Once you go, give everything, don't stop till finish".
I think that because we focus so much on finishing technique (todome), karate people have tendency to stop after one technique, but it is not always possible to catch the opponent with one action.
Sometimes I will do one technique to close the distance without giving space for counter, in order to make the right distance for finish technique, and sometimes I will execute the first technique to create reaction from the opponent, and to open the door for finish technique using his reaction to my first attack.
Here I am mostly referring to the case that you have the intention to make todome (finish technique), you give everything and either miss or the opponent blocks or shift. The fact that you give everything, should not limit your ability to transition smoothly and powerfully to next technique, on the contrary, because you give everything mentally, your mind should be empty and therefore free to smoothly, without delay, without recalculation, make next action as reaction to the opponent’s reaction to you.
Because you give everything physically, you have more pressure to floor, and the reaction of this pressure plus the momentum from previous technique, should be used to next technique, that is if you don’t cut the breath and momentum.

Point is don’t recalculate between techniques, you will miss the chance; use your breath to make adjustments once you start your attack, not your brain.

Many times we miss the first attack and the opponent is still behind rhythm, if we stop, or make extra action between, or recalculate, the opponent will recover and maybe even have space for counterattack.

We should know to distinguish between times that we must continue attack, or if the chance is not big enough, keep the pressure on the opponent to create chance, or if we are in same rhythm with opponent just keep Zanshin to not give chance for opponent counter.

Once you go, give everything (Ho shin), don’t stop until finish.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

karate competition and judging

Look inside and not to the outside, of course, the outside form should be correct, but people have different body types, and the point is not to judge how fancy and beautiful but rather how effectively one uses their bodies, how the whole body cooperates into one purpose, using ground reaction, proper body action and muscle action, and transferring this energy to the technique.
Judges should learn to see how well ones uses whole body snap, make strong and proper kime, pressure to floor and sharp total body contraction to line of technique.

In kata, one should project strong feeling and intention, but not make a show out of it, the purpose is knock down technique, so tensing the face and make all kind of expressions is not productive, keep the intention coming from your center.

Sensei Nishiyama warned me against over motion in technique, which is common in sport karate and is the opposite of budo principles. Kata should be like kumite, without spaces for the opponent to attack, without disconnections, which make the technique weak. Actually, our goal is to remove unnecessary movement, make more pure efficient technique.

Sensei Nishiyama told me that some people are great actors; they have good sense of movement and can imitate very well, but don’t have the inside.
Sometimes I will see a kata that look pretty, the person is busy thinking of what he looks like rather than have feeling of application. This kind of kata usually gets high score in our competition, it should not.
Sensei Nishiyama always told me: “don’t look inside, look outside to opponent” (when doing kata).

If you put a mask on Master Funakoshi or Master Nishiyama and put them in competition, they will probably receive the lowest score, since their movement is very simple, yet the quality of their movement is close to perfection.

I remember that once a sport scientist attached all kinds of wires to Sensei Nishiyama, and measured his efficiency in movement with some specialized software that is used to give feedback to athletes, he could not find any flows in Sensei Nishiyama’s techniques.

I wonder if it is possible to train judges to see deep as it is possible to train gymnastics judges. I believe that judges have to train properly first, they have to be there first, therefore every judges seminar should be accompanied by actual training digesting principles of technique, and also some discussions and constructive reflection on how one make decisions.

Scoring Ippon techniques should have 3 components, must be todome waza (finish technique), proper timing and proper distance, and if any of those elements is lacking slightly it can be wazari.
For todome waza total momentum has to go through target, must be pressure to floor at impact and must be zanshin, keeping mind, awareness of the opponent and situation, not giving chance after kime.
Snap back technique cannot score since energy is divided in two directions and it is qio. If no pressure no score, since only momentum is used, and no acceleration by reaction from floor.

Judges must be trained to see when the momentum stops, when the distance is controlled by technique arm or leg, which stops the momentum. The breath and feet should control the distance.
This can only be understood by actual training, and than one can judge.
Learning the procedures and all the signals is the easy part, but what really important is to train to see.

Judging karate competition is not easy, but if we want karate competition to be in line with budo karate and to be a mean of developing budo karate, we must make the effort. Other wise, competition will cause the opposite it will deteriorate karate and make it shallow.
We also owe it to the athletes who train hard and deserve good judging where there is common standard.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thoughts about traditional karate.

Embracing the old as a foundation from which to seek unlimited, infinite growth and development.
This is what traditional is to me, the word “traditional” might imply to some people stagnation, sticking rigidly to some meaningless rituals and kata, so maybe I don’t love the word traditional but I don’t have any other.
But to me traditional karate is using the kata as a vehicle to understand timeless principles that were discovered through many generations, and building on top of that.
Sensei Nishiyama used to stress that kata gives us many examples and through those examples we must find out the underlying principles, kata is symbol of principles.  
We want to take advantage of wisdom accumulated through generations of experience, trial and error, as a launching pad. Traditional karate people are always asking questions, not just accepting, they are seekers. We don’t just come to karate class to get a workout and to spar a little and have fun, even though we do work out hard and have fun, we constantly seeking to understand the many physical and mental aspects of karate deeper, and through that expand our limitation as human beings.

I think of my own experience, before I came to Sensei Nishiyama, I trained hard 3 hours a day, I made 300 repetition a day of at least 4 to 5 basic techniques, I sparred a lot, and than when I arrived at Sensei Nishiyama I am thankful to him that after the first class he handed me a white belt and told me “step by step, understand”. I realized that all this hard training acquired me lots of bad habits. In the first year at Sensei’s dojo, I trained 5,6 hours a day only to undo my bad habits. Now I understand that without Sensei Nishiyama guidance I would not discover karate principles even in 5 life times.
We are lucky that each generation can be fed with the experience of previous generations and build upon it to further levels. We must be willing and patience and open up to receive.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Poland Instructors and Black belts seminar

Last Saturday and Sunday (12, 13 of May), I was teaching the annual black belts and instructors seminar in Dojo Stara Wiez, Poland, there were over 300 participants, it was  an amazing spirit and energy.
I had a real joy teaching this group, imagine 300 people working and putting their energy for the same purpose, really trying to understand the subtleties of Nishiyama’s karate. In this group there were all levels, from world champions to young coming up athletes to long time practitioners who just want to keep bettering themselves.
It is thanks to Vodek who for 20 years share the passion and vision of karate with the Polish people, Vodek works tirelessly to inspire and motivate the Polish karate people with great results.

We were working on Posture and its affects on optimizing karate technique, understanding stance and its principles, and we cover many fundamentals but mainly we went deep into Kime and its many angles.

As far as kumite, we worked on Oji Waza (response technique) in the first day, understanding the footwork, the breath and the mental state.
In the second day we focused on Shikake Waza (set up techniques), estimating the opponent, making optimal distance for our strategy, we talked about reacting to the opponent reaction to your set up, rather than mechanically doing the footwork, and doing so with your breath rather than with your brain.

And we always reflect from kumite to kata and vice versa, recognizing how the kata gives us the tools for effective kumite, and it is through the kata that we digest kumite principles into our nervous system, so when we do kumite we are free to apply our strategy and timing and our bodies know what and how to do.

Thank you all for the spirit and great enthusiasm, I felt elevated, it was fun.

Friday, May 11, 2012


At high level when 2 people are facing each other, there is no random movement, everything is purposeful.
Not only there are no random techniques but there is no unnecessary movement in the interaction.
When we are advanced it is not only that the technique is stronger and one can produce more force with less action, but that we become more sensitive to the opponent’s movement and intention.
Our ki energy can be projected to the opponent so we need less movement to give threat and break the opponent’s rhythm and the same ki energy serves as our antenna, perceiving the opponent’s energy. At this level we fake or project our energy at the right moment when the opponent has to react, or we can remove, not show our energy, to create emptiness at the opponent and than attack.

I use to spend a lot of time sparring with sensei Nishiyama and sometimes Aiko San without technique, only breathing and feet. This kind of sparring might seem strange at first, but it has amazing benefits. If you wonder, I could never beat neither sensei Nishiyama nor Aiko San, not even one out of ten, but I learned a lot.

One learns to close the gaps and remove spaces in one’s own movement, while learning to detect and anticipate even smallest spaces.
Kumite becomes subtler, and one learns to appreciate the importance of breath in reacting, initiating technique, make fake or set up, and seal spaces in our movement.

One learns that to truly be able to use the breath to do all of what mentioned above, we have to go back to the basics and kata and polish the interaction, of breath muscles and technique.

This kind of training also eliminate end gaining, since there is no technique and you don’t really get each other, it teaches one to be in the moment, and in addition not to rely on quick arm or leg but rather on perfect time and than speed is addition.

Keep in mind, the goal in karate is to remove unnecessary action, make movement more pure, this is true as far as technique and as far  as moving with an opponent, therefore learn to move from the inside, fight from the inside.