Today, I wanted to talk about seven key points to good execution of your karate. Each one by itself will not achieve a high level of execution for your techniques. These are Balance, Speed, Power, Distance, Timing, Relaxation, and Coordination. Now one of my instructors in the past, Tadashi Yamashita, lists their order differently than I do, really, the only difference is where I place coordination, I have it last, and I will explain why later.
In Isshinryu, we have a code: A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight. Depending on who you ask, this could be referring to you or your opponent, or both. If your weight is evenly distributed, you should have the mobility to move in any direction at any time. Remember, we also have the code: The body should be able to change direction at any time. It is important to maintain your balance. But the code does not mention that unbalance for your opponent is desired.
When you work on techniques or bunkai from your kata, keep in mind that you are not only looking at your balance but what about your opponents. If you can get your opponent’s head off-balance, they are more likely to move in the direction you want them too.
But how can we check your balance? Does momentum take you off a stable stance? Do you have to make many micro-adjustments to your stances while performing kata? If the answer is yes, then we have to work on your balance. How do we work on that, for now, practice more, but in a future post, we will dive into it in more detail?
The ability to hit your opponent before they can hit you is obvious. Also, we have physics to back us up in the importance of speed: Force = mass x acceleration. The faster you strike, the more force you will be able to generate.
How do you build up speed? With drills, and remember emptying your tank from the previous post? (One-Two-Three) When we are doing line drills, throw your punches as fast as you can for every count, do not let up.
What kills speed? What are things you could be doing that actually hinders your ability to generate speed? First, being tense, but we will cover this in a bit. Second, is trying too hard to generate power, the next key area.
Power is generated by your hip rotations. We mentioned the formula: F = m x a, but power is not just about force (although it is a key factor). We can also generate power through balance. For example, if you can get a person’s head to come forward, while you are raising your knee to meet it.
Your fist is only so big (mass), and you can only generate so much speed. We do have to rely on technique to help generate power. Hips are a big part of that technique.
Again, drills are where we get a chance to execute and practice getting our hips involved to generate power. The one thing to remember, do not tense up. A common mistake, and I remember having trouble with this myself, is tensing up. It is most obvious in your shoulders, by scrunching them up. Back to relaxation, you must relax and only tense up at the point of impact.
Knowing your distance to your target is important. If we take the top key points already discussed, being able to move into range, strike with power, and escape without being hurt would be ideal. But don’t forget, you also need to have a good understanding of what your opponents’ optimum range is. You should never underestimate what distance or how quick your opponent is. But after a few seconds, you want to be able to identify what their range is.
We talk about, the optimum point of impact that happens when your arm is extended at 90%, and the last 10% is to go “through” the target.
We can practice distance with drills. “Closing the distance” or “cover more ground” are phrases used during class to help improve our distance understanding. Obviously, kumite is another tool used, since there is no better way to judge distance than getting hit.
Timing is critical for being able to strike your opponent, without getting hit. Great counter fighters have the ability to strike after the opponent has already extended their punch, and is in the process of recoiling the strike. Timing is also critical to blocking or avoiding strikes.
And remember, one of the codes for Isshinryu reads, “The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself.”
This is a critical part of martial arts, remaining relaxed until moment of impact. Being relaxed while throwing strikes will allow you to generate more speed and power. But not only in throwing techniques, but just standing in front of someone, it takes more energy to remain stiff, then it does to stay relaxed. Conserve your energy as much as possible.
How can we practice this? Back in the day, a sensei would stand behind you during your drills and smack shoulders that started to rise up with a shinai (bamboo sword). It would hurt so much that you eventually just had to give in and relax unless you are really stubborn. I prefer to tire a person out. Once the arms are so tired from punching and blocking, this will force someone to relax, as they have emptied that tank we talked about.
If you don’t “empty the tank” during drills, it is going to take a long time for you to learn how to relax.
The ability to put the other six points together is coordination. Putting these together will be critical for any karateka to achieve lighting fast strikes and kicks.
Below is a link to a YouTube Video (very poor quality) of Sensei Tashashi Yamashita discussing these 7 points. It starts at about the 4:30 minute mark and goes until about 13:45. I own an original copy this was taken from (way better quality), so maybe one day in class, we might watch it??
So now you know the seven key points to good karate, how will you try to improve yours?