The Trilogy of ‘E’
Effectiveness, Efficiency, Economy
A few months ago, I purchased a new car, a Toyota in fact. It sparkled in white, had alloy wheels, was of plush design, and was a very smooth drive. The feature that caught my attention most vivaciously however, was the inbuilt Sat Nav.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have been the proud owner of many Sat Navs since their release, believing I ‘over-used’ them – through travelling with karate - when they broke. On some, perhaps nerdy, level, I was often thrilled when I learned I’d over-worked a Sat Nav, as it indicated I’d ‘been about the place’ on my nomadic travels.
So it wasn’t necessarily the Sat Nav that excited me, but instead the fact it was built into the car. Who would have thought it?
Excitement ended however when ‘this’ stupid Sat Nav thought it more economical – in time and mileage – to take me a much longer route home on its virginal journey. I was so annoyed. These devices are purchased – yes, to help us find our way home – but to also find the quickest and shortest route; saving fuel, money and time.
We all lead busy lives. Work, family, partners, and a vast array of other pressure building, stress inspiring demands, all push us to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes, like you all, I get home in the evening ready to crash – with only hunger (from not having enough time to eat during the day) demanding my consciousness.
Life is hard, so why make our karate harder than it needs to be?
In many ways, perfecting kihon for the purpose of simply refining, can often be thankless and unrewarding. To alter this position to another, for the sake of simply making it ‘more correct’ according to someone’s textbook or set of ideals, can be tiring. To make alterations however with a very specific goal in mind is a whole different matter.
Kihon is to co-ordinate the body, refine movement, develop muscle connections and strength, and to be able to create sufficient energy to stop an opponent. Kihon has been repeatedly described as the ‘foundation’ of Shotokan, and rightly so, as it is the pulse from which everything else we practice responds. Kihon is the scaffolding upon which our kata and kumite (including close proximity conflict) are supported; so refinement is vital.
We want to make our techniques: - As fast and instantaneous as possible.
- As powerful as possible
The purpose of this article is to explore the ‘economy’ of karate technique and training, and develop ways and ideas to improve and refine it to make our karate more economical.
The concept and ultimate goal is relatively simple, achieve more with less effort. Sensei T. Kase once said that he wanted to achieve 0-100 in the shortest amount of time possible. When we buy a car, many experienced motor lovers, will want a vehicle that can shift from 0-70mph in the shortest amount of time possible, and cars are often judged by their ability to do so.
In a language us karateka can understand, we want our punch, kick, strike, block or body movement to be as fast as possible. Now don’t get me wrong, there are extreme factors that will influence this – none of which are the purpose or core of this article – an example being the fast-twitch reflex, the types of karate and auxiliary training we practice, and a shelf of other influencing factors. But the core of this article is the economy of movement – it’s about getting from A-B in the shortest time possible.
I tell my karate students – ‘If you are going from Cardiff to London, would you go via Scotland?’
Now before I progress any further – it is essential that I note that the shortest route may not be the most effective. The economy of movement is, in many ways, dictated by the effectiveness of the movement. The shortest may not be the best route. I’ll give an example.
Uchi-uke: The fastest route in this instance would be to simply bring the hand across the body and then shoot it forward during kihon technique. Try blocking a ferocious attack, and you will understand why this shortest route – whilst more economical in time and energy – does not work. Instead, the blocking arm’s elbow must come to the centre and the hand consequently therefore crosses the body further. Centring the elbow in this way is a primary concern when using blocks such as gedan-barai, uchi-uke and shuto-uke. This however is not the most economical route, but without this specific route, the block will fail.
Generally speaking however, we are trying to get a balanced cocktail of effectiveness and economy. Any trajectory that our body parts follow that will not lead to a more effective outcome could be deemed as uneconomical. Attempting to make all of our movements more economical, in any given circumstance, will take a lifetime to achieve, so is therefore worth starting sooner, rather than later. Moving more economically could have a number of positive outcomes:
When I teach at my dojo, I give the example of an ice sculptor. They start with a block of ice – that has no form or shape – that resembles nothing but a transparent, solid mass. Over time however, by chipping away here and there, taking away small, un-needed parts, the sculptor reveals his intentions. Without trimming these unnecessary parts, the slab of ice remains useless.
Our karate technique is no different. Once we have achieved basic form, we then need to refine; chipping and skimming away the unnecessary parts until the most effective, efficient and economical features remain. Chip too much, and the ice loses its desired features and becomes as useless as it was in the first place. Similarly, we should be cautious to ensure our movement does its job.
I will give an example to help illustrate my point:
Example ~ Gedan-barai
It is all too common, when executing gedan-barai, to execute a vast array of un-needed movements in the delivery, often fulfilling the misconception that more effort in this way creates bigger and greater results. Ironically however, this destroys the effectiveness of the block.
I shall use an example even 9th Kyu can relate to. You are in zenkutsu-dachi (Right leg in front) and you have punched gyaku-zuki (Left hand). From this position you then want to execute gedan-barai using the right hand.
Now, in my opinion, the preparation phase of the block is the most important. My teacher ~ Sensei Dave Hazard ~ has always been emphatic about the fact that a block’s success or failure lies in the preparation (for a vast array of reasons I don’t have time to discuss within this article – for reasons of economy). Therefore, achieving the preparation in the most economical and efficient way possible is vital.
From the gyaku-zuki’s hikite position, it is so common for the karateka to create a big loop with the hand that is travelling to the ear for the preparation. This big, circular action is travelling a path that has no positive influence on the consequential downward sweep of the arm. Therefore, it is uneconomical.
Instead, from the hikite position, it is far more effective for the hand to travel along the surface of the body (almost using the lapel of the gi as its yellow brick road), a direct, economical route to the preparation position. In fact, most specifically, keeping the flexion of the arm (to the degree it’s in, when in hikite), and think about moving the elbow across and upward until it comes to the centre of the body. This therefore makes the elbow the action, and the hand arrives at its position above the shoulder as a consequence.
This is just one example of many within gedan-barai, let alone all the other techniques in the Shotokan syllabus.
Achieving E, E, E.
Within my daily study of karate, economy and efficiency of movement is extremely high on the agenda. In fact, I would say it is paramount, for the functionality of our techniques relies – in many instances – solely on it.
Therefore when I teach, this issue naturally becomes a huge focal point.
I was so inspired in April, when I watched Sensei Hazard mentor Emma on the kata Gojushiho Sho. She performed the kata, technique by technique, and he provided his awe-inspiring analysis that I have had the honour of having myself many times in the past. From the second kake-wake-uke at the beginning of the kata, Emma then went to deliver the tate-shuto, incorporating the first touch with the right hand, but in doing so dropped her left hand slightly, only to then have to elevate it back up to push out. Sensei Hazard explained that the left hand needn’t move, as it was in an appropriate place to be sent out, but instead had created more work for herself, and reduced the efficiency of the movement.
It is this close attention to detail that I thrive on, and keeps me inspired. Here are some of the ways I trim, skim and chip away at my bad, uneconomical habits:
- Slow motion practice – Slow everything down, identify errors and fix.
- Located emphasis – Break a movement down into small, manageable elements, and critically analyse each small section of the movement and its path. Practice each section slow, medium and full speed. Then build up the movement by repeating small elements in the same way until the entire movement is being practiced.
- Mirror analysis – Use mirrors to identify and erase un-needed movements.
- Pairing exercises – Find an appropriate partner/instructor to give constructive analysis.
- Video taping – Use of cameras and mobile phones for self-criticism.
Above is just a small list of ways that I use, both myself and with my pupils in order to have a concentrated focus within my training, in order to achieve effective, efficient and economical movement.
Without wanting to teach anyone how to suck eggs, I have – truth be told – satisfied my own interest by documenting my thoughts on this issue within this article. Being economical and efficient is of paramount importance in my training, as it is with all of us. With lives that are busy, why make life harder for ourselves; especially should our lives depend on it.