From Jack Daniels to Kiai
Like many/most eighteen year olds, turning the legal age for
alcohol consumption opened new realms of mischief. I’m not advocating alcohol
consumption of course, but turning eighteen meant I could legally enjoy the
dumbing down of senses…and boy did I get dumb. In developing a keen
relationship with Jack Daniels, I learned many things about myself – some good
and some BAAAAD!!!!
One thing alcohol taught me however was that I had the
capacity for an extraordinary level of muscular relaxation, which of course is
natural (which is why many fall asleep
after a heavy drinking session). I remember – on one miserable New Year’s
Eve - practicing gyaku-zuki after one too many Jack Daniels, and finding I
could move incredibly fast. Now – one of two things happened. Either my muscles
were so relaxed I was moving faster, OR, I was so drunk I thought I was moving faster. I prefer to belief the former, which
is why I subsequently spent the next two years trying to achieve the ‘feeling’ of that muscular relaxation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have never really carried excessive levels of
muscular tension, but this was a new level
I teach my advanced karate students that they should try to
learn the ‘feeling’ of a technique or
position, rather than its geometry. Naturally, the two are often inextricably
linked, but achieving the ‘feeling’
leads to us recognising the difference between right and wrong. This is the
exact reason that black belts can ‘feel’
the difference between a correct and incorrect zenkutsu-dachi. They ultimately
develop an internal understanding and sensitivity of the difference between
correct and incorrect.
My reason for writing this article is quite simple…this
right now is very much where my thinking is at. In my own personal study, and
training, and extended further into my teaching at my dojo in South Wales, this
is the key focus of my attention (to the
right audience of course). I therefore felt, since it is so important to
me, that I should document my current thoughts on the issue as a way of
sharing, but also to solidify my ideas in an intellectual (I hope) format.
In this edition of TSW, I published with Y. Osaka (Please refer to the interview section) I
discussed my experience with him a few years ago, where he spent an
extraordinary amount of time trying to get the students to ‘feel’ the movement, rather than just ‘perform’ it. This has since become a top priority in my teaching
over the last 3 years since that weekend course. But how do you get someone else
I suppose the challenge posed by trying to get people to ‘feel’ a technique is - how do you know
what they are feeling? Naturally, I use descriptions and I often physically
adjust them to enhance their position in order to get the ‘feeling’, and then I ask them to ‘get to know the feeling’. I do this by having them achieve the
accurate ‘feeling’ and keeping them
in that place for a few seconds. Then I ask them to fractionally alter their
position or geometry (angles of body
parts) – so they lose the feeling – in order to recognise the difference. I
then ask them to re-achieve the feeling.
This sensation sandwich of feeling – unfeeling – re-feeling
helps the students develop an internal
terminology for movement.
Becoming internally attentive in this way, paying close attention
to what is squeezing, what is relaxing, what is moving, what is locking down
etc…we are able to fine tune it further to enhance and maximise its potential.
The only way I can describe it, is to use the analogy of driving a car…
When you first drive a car you will have an immediate
reaction – Yes it drives well, or no it drives like a tank. That immediate
response is often justified as it’s new, you don’t know your way around it too
well, and it takes a bit of adjusting to.
Over time however, you get to know the car better. Soon, you
will be able to recognise the difference between the car on a cold day, and the
car on a hot day, as it will run better one day and perhaps worse another.
But this goes even deeper, you will get to the point where
you know the feeling of the car so well that soon you will know when the engine
isn’t firing in the way it should, or when there’s a delay in acceleration. You
almost become (forgive for the accidental
philosophy) ‘one’ with the car.
Therefore, there is a clear progression in you getting to
know your car. Your karate is no different. Try a technique for the first time
and it will be like that first day you drive your car…therefore in car terms,
this article is aimed at those who have owned said car for a good while, and is
not aimed at the new owner.
Now, on said day when you realise there is a slight delay in
acceleration when you hit the pedal, a list of possible mechanical errors can
be compiled. Exploration into each reveals the weak link. This process is the same
Now, in my karate career, I have been incredibly fortunate
to train under some of the most wonderful, experienced and insightful
instructors. Equally, I have also taught many, karateka (at my dojo and on open courses) that are completely out of touch
with their body. They are jumping into that car on daily basis without paying
attention to the ‘drive’, thinking ‘as long as it gets me there, who cares?’…but
for those of you that do care (the fact
you are reading a karate article means you probably do) I suppose my point
is that you should really get to know your karate. What I will cover now is for
the high end, experienced karateka, and should not be of major concern for
lower grades as this may over complicate things for you.
Now so far, I have waxed poetically about feelings and
sensitivity without actually sharing anything concrete that is of use…so I am
now going to share just two examples:
Here the feeling is of pushing backwards. You aren’t just
sat at the 70:30 weight distribution, your front foot is actively pushing you
backwards, exerting pressure through the front ball of the foot. The front hip
is squeezed, creating a relationship between the lead ball of foot and the lead
hip through that lead leg. Consequently the lead buttock of Kokutsu-dachi
becomes engaged. This is the ‘feeling’ of kokutsu-dachi. Without achieving this
squeeze, the lead hip can protrude, the front knee can collapse inward, the
centre of gravity can drop at 50:50 and the stance can be incredibly vulnerable
to external pressures.
Here your front knee is static and is the anchor point. Your
rear leg is actively driving the front hip to almost squeeze ‘into’ the front knee. Therefore the hips
aren’t in position because the hips simply moved, but because the rear leg is
driving the hip forward.
Under these intense circumstances, the force could overthrow
the body, therefore the front knee must be solid and static. Connected to this
drive, the buttock on the punching side fully engages to help empower the hip
drive. The punching arm’s shoulder protrudes slightly, and the side muscles
engage, connecting upper body to lower body. The hikite is pulled tight, and
the side muscles here are engaged too, to offer a balance to the striking side.
This is the feeling of gyaku-zuki, at a high level, it’s not just about
rotating the hips. Instead it’s about squeezing, releasing and engaging the
right areas at the time.
Here are a few exercises, for example, that I use to help
get my black belts to learn about the feeling of a Gyaku-zuki:
Rear held Resistance
Resistance Bands are useful tools in karate. Over the years,
I have trained with many instructors that advocate their use. At my own dojo in
South Wales, I make regular use of them as they effectively highlight the
emphasis on accurate squeezing in the right places. I use a range of methods
when using the resistance bands, here are just a few examples:
High resistance –
Slow punching – Slowly deliver the
punch, thinking about where should be squeezing and contracting. The punch, at
full extension, can then be given more resistance from the partner. At full
extension, and when more resistance is applied, get the puncher to hold the position
for a few seconds to locate the ‘feeling’.
Focus here is on maintaining the position of the front knee in the stance (so it doesn’t move forward or back, or side
to side). The drive of the rear heel into the ground should also be
highlighted and the internal squeeze of the moving hip and the front knee so
they at (impact phase) unite.
– Fast punching. Here the partner
applies medium levels of resistance, and the puncher has to punch fast against
High resistance –
Fast punching to work the first third (1/3) of the punch (The acceleration phase). Here maximum resistance is applied by the
partner. The puncher can only expect to extend the punching arm 1/3 of its
maximum extension. This maximum resistance helps increase the explosiveness of
the first phase of the punch. Focus is on driving the elbow forward, rather
than thinking about the punching hand, as the trajectory of the elbow will
ultimately dictate where the punch travels.
This form of resistance I developed in order to get my
students to further understand how to ‘USE’ the front knee, rather than simply
hold is still during the rotation. It is important, I have learned, to use the
front leg during the rotation as an ‘anchor’ of sorts from which the rear leg’s
drive can unite.
Here the rope is held by the partner and resistance is
applied solely at the full extension. Here the increasing levels of resistance
from the partner forces the karateka to stabalise and strengthen the front leg
and its squeeze with the opposite hip.
The karateka does nothing with their arm, this is a lower body exercise.
The karateka has to keep a straight arm, and make the legs and their squeezing
do all of the work to stabalise the stance.
Rear held knee test
Here the partner’s belt is firmly looped around the
karateka’s lead knee, and the held parallel to the ground behind. Then, as the
karateka rotates from hanmi-shomen etc, the partner holding the belt behind can
give feedback to the partner as to whether the knee is moving forward, back,
and/or side to side as the partner will be able to feel the movement via the
Now, becoming familiar with the feeling of the movement is
important as you are able to recognise what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore,
the body responds to known feelings, so once familiar, and practiced with
frequency, this can help make the movement a part of ‘muscle memory’, and instinctively natural without a thought
It may seem so ‘common
sense’ that you should familiarise yourself with the feeling of a
technique, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t. Key to my own
development has been the tapping into this ‘feeling’.
I will relay a story…
A few months back, Emma felt she had hit a brick wall. She
was incredibly powerful, but in many ways relied on this power, which in her
own words was ‘forced’ and subsequently slowed her down. I then asked her to
start training without trying to be powerful, shake loose the feelings of power
and tension and approach things, paradoxically, with less effort. She then
started to train in this way, changing her perception of the accurate ‘feeling’
and replacing it with another, more efficient feeling. Consequently, she
started to hit the pads harder and the following month went on to take Gold in
Kata and Kumite at a National event that had tough competition.
The point I make here is that you must ensure that the
feeling you are getting to know is the accurate one, and only someone
experienced can guide you in that direction. Furthermore, this is why I
suggested this article was more geared towards seasoned karateka rather than
junior grades, as they can often be duped into misunderstanding the ‘feeling’
of power, when they are in fact feeling ‘false feedback’ (A term used by my teacher, Dave Hazard 7th Dan to refer to
the negative feeling experienced when a technique is executed incorrectly – a
feeling that can be falsely interpreted as power)
I hope this article is in some way interesting in shedding
light into my current planes of thinking. I am always eager to improve and
develop, and at this point, getting to know my internal feelings is central to
my study…and when that gets exhausting, difficult or challenging, there’s
always good old Jack.