Me: “You need to keep your abs tight. Grab the floor with your toes and tighten your legs. The only part of your body that should be loose are your arms.”
Student: “Mrs. Music, how did you know his abs weren’t tight? I don’t get it. How did you see that?”
This was a conversation that went on last night in karate class. I was watching a karate student perform Naihanchi Shodan as he practiced for his test and as I do with all my students who are eligible to test.
How could I see the lack of tightness in the abs and know he wasn’t rooting or having tension in his legs? I practice Shurite Kempo, which is a hard style method of self-protection. The principles we practice are the same as strength training. Allow me to explain.
First, I want to define a word I will use throughout this article. The word is maximal. The definition, according to Merriman-Webster dictionary is “most complete or effective.” In other words, applying just the right amount.
Practicing Naihanchi Shodan requires full body maximal tension achieved instantly for brief moments of time. Utilizing the concept of Go-ju, the hard complements the soft and the soft amplifies the hard with power and speed. The lower body needs to remain tight and feet rooting, (Naihanchi means to grip the ground). But the upper body must remain loose to execute proper hard style punches. The abdominal area remains in the maximal tension until the punch is executed, then the hips must push forward, slightly relaxing the abs, but only for a brief moment, then return to maximal tension. The maximal tension that is present in Naihanchi Shodan is comparable to the lockout position of the swing.
“Tighten your abs, grab the floor with your toes, zip up your knees, squeeze your glutes. Tense your body at the top just like a plank position.”
This is the top position of a hard style kettlebell swing—or is it the top position of a deadlift, back squat, clean, snatch, jerk, or push press? It is interesting that the beginning of both descriptions is similar. Both are hard style. Hard style is a method that is practiced to strength train as well as train in karate-do.
The most important aspect of hard style I have not mentioned is breathing. The breath in a hard style swing is executed at the hip snap. The breath in Shurite Kempo is associated with the punch. It can occur before, during, or after the punch, but it occurs with the maximal tension of the body.
Kime is a moment of focus. There is nothing else on the mind except what is happening at that moment. The apex of a swing or the impact of a punch is a perfect description of kime.
The principles and methods that are studied in strength training and in karate-do are parallel to each other. Many times in my karate training, I heard my Sensei repeat to me the words I read in our manual such as: lower your shoulders, grip the ground and move fast with tension and relaxation.
“When you train, you should train as if on the battlefield. Make your eyes glare, lower your shoulders and harden your body. If you train with the same intensity and spirit as though you are striking and blocking against an actual opponent, you will naturally develop the same attitude as on a battlefield…” — Ankō Itosu, Okinawan karate master
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