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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Body Dynamics used in Traditional Karate.

By Sensei Arijit Chakraborty,

(Senior Instructor, WSKF-India)



In traditional karate, body dynamics plays a vital role in the execution of techniques. The study of the human body dynamics is called- kinesiology, a branch of Physics. It is interesting to note that the principles of body mechanics as laid down by traditional masters from the Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Wado and Goju schools of karate are in line with modern scientific analysis. It speaks in length about the concepts, analysis, and technical knowledge which old Masters had.

 Let us examine a few principles of body dynamics used in Traditional karate-do.


Shifting (tai-sabaki)

Shifting is the movement of the entire body from one point to another in a straight line. Shifting includes both stepping, ie stance, i.e. linear movement or displacement, as called in Physics, and sliding the feet. Shifting body weight by stepping into the technique allows the karate-ka to develop the greatest amount of power and force. This is possible because these techniques utilize the maximum amount of body mass (momentum of the body) by using the legs driving against the floor to push forward against the hips. This allows one to move the body weight very fast. The disadvantage of stepping to shift the body is that it takes a relatively long time to get the technique up to full speed and takes a lot of room to develop that speed. In other words, acceleration rate is slower.

Sliding is also a very powerful method for shifting the body weight. Sliding also uses the drive with the legs against the floor to propel the hips forward but it is generally used at a little closer range than stepping. It is a technique learnt in Kata and applied very much in Kumite. Because a shorter distance is used sliding avoids to a certain extent the some of the disadvantages of stepping actions.


Rotation & spinning

Rotation is developed by the circular motion of the body mass around the central axis. Control of rotation is cantered on the use of the hips. In power-centric styles like Shotokan, shito-ryu, wado & goju, to name a few, hip rotation is crucial for executing offensive and defensive techniques which are fast, powerful, reliable and devastating. The hip- rotation uses the principle of TORQUE and ANGULAR MOMENTUM.   The centrifugal force generated by hip-rotation and spinning techniques is truly capable of generating powerful techniques. Through the use of hip rotation it is possible to create very powerful techniques in a small space. The force generated by hip rotation is nearly as powerful as that developed by shifting the body weight. Hip rotation is most effective at close range, usually about an arms length away from an opponent. Because of this one of the most common uses of hip rotation is with blocking and counter-attacking combinations.

Specially Shotokan Masters often say, -‘Block with the hips, punch, strike and kick with the hips.’ Hip rotation can be used from almost any stance but is most commonly used in the front stance, back stance and the side stance. When the end position of the hips is over-rotated in relation to the front leg it is said to have a "reverse hip rotation". Hip rotation can be used in the same direction as the force of the technique or the hips can be rotated in the opposite direction from the arm action.  Understanding these principles will help in use of hip rotation more effectively.



The Tekki ( Naihanchi) kata series are specialized forms of training in hip vibration.
Hip vibration consists of a short sharp back and forth action of the hips while in a stationary position. This type of body action is generally used for in-close situations where the physical movement of the body weight is restricted and the use of a larger body action such as shifting or rotation is not practical. Hip vibration develops the least amount of momentum of the body actions but it develops that momentum in the shortest period of time. While Hip vibration does not provide a lot of body mass to the technique it does create a very strong shock at the initiation and it allows one to use maximum potential force in situations with very limited manoeuvrability.


Lifting and Dropping

The two types of body actions which we will look at here are lifting and dropping the body weight. With either lifting or dropping it is relatively easy to put your entire body weight into a technique. Because of this lifting and dropping actions are very powerful, however, in order to make practical use of either of these body actions the opponent must be very close. In the case of lifting actions the target must be at a higher point from the start of the technique making lifting an ideal way for a shorter person to defend against a taller person in close situations. Dropping the body weight can be useful for a taller person defending against a shorter person when close but it is especially useful when used for a follow through technique after your opponent has been knocked down.


Karate is, about minimum effort and maximum effect. This can be achieved by use of body dynamics, principles of torque, techniques which are scientific and generate linear and angular momentum.

About the author- Arijit Chakraborty, 4th Dan, is a Chartered Accountant, MBA, and Information Systems Auditor. He is Senior Instructor and Publicity Manager of WSKF-India. A Shotokan karateka with 25 years of experience with JKA, JKS, SKI and WSKF, he is based in Kolkata.