How To Create More Impact In Your Martial Arts Technique?

It is often said that generating impact is mainly about applying your body-weight and moving it into the technique.  I personally think that this explaination is a bit simplified and that there is a bit more to it than that.  So some of what I am going say here goes against conventional wisdom, so please bear with me to end before accusing me of sacrilege!

Ok, so what is the main factor that generate impact in a technique? Continue reading “How To Create More Impact In Your Martial Arts Technique?” »

Correct Elbow Position For Punching

Following on from the last post on spinal alignment, here’s another video on the correct elbow position for punching and how it affects the shoulder alignment and fist position.  It’s a small detail that it often overlooked, especially as the elbow is often hidden by the gi/dobok (uniform).

This is something that I’ve written about before back in 2011, but I think sometimes it’s easier with a video.

So enjoy and please leave your comments or questions below.

Technique: Spinal Alignment

In most traditional martial arts the spinal alignment is maintained in a straight upright position.  But despite telling students over and over again, many of them still tend to lean forward.  In the video below, I hope to provide a demonstration of why keeping the back straight and upright helps techniques to flow more easily, fluidly and efficiently!  If you’re an instructor, it could be a good way to teach your own students.

Is Stretching Important For Martial Arts?

There has been some debate over the years about stretching before training in martial arts and also for exercise in general.
I’ve heard some martial artists say that they don’t stretch before training as they’d rather train with the body that they have than the body they’d like to have!  Meaning, if you were to get involved in a physical altercation, you won’t have chance to warm up and stretch; so your body will not be in the same state for that altercation as it is when you’re training and you’ve had chance to conveniently warm up and stretch out!  They continue that if you want to stretch to improve your flexibility, do it when you get up in the morning, so that your body gets used to being like it all day.

To quote the UK National Health Service website: Continue reading “Is Stretching Important For Martial Arts?” »

The Different Levels Of Traditional Martial Arts Training

Training in traditional martial arts simultaneously trains you on several different levels.  Not properly understanding this can lead to confusion and trying to apply a given technique in an inappropriate manner.  So first of all, lets look at the different levels at which any technique actually trains you:

Self Defence Application:
Obviously each and every technique was at some point created for a some form of strike, block, deflection, throw/take-down, release, restraint; or (quite commonly) it can used for several purposes. Continue reading “The Different Levels Of Traditional Martial Arts Training” »

Techniques As A “Shorthand” For Learning Principles

Some of the newer and more reality based martial arts which emphasise real self protection (as opposed to sport) such as Krav Maga and Systema argue that the strength of their system is that they emphasise principles of movement rather than techniques.  They argue that most of the older Oriental martial arts by contrast put the emphasis the other way round, on techniques more than principles.  They argue that this makes their arts better for learning self defence more quickly and effectively. Continue reading “Techniques As A “Shorthand” For Learning Principles” »

Reverse Punch With Sliding Step

I have done a very similar video to this before about maximising the thrust in the reverse punch (gyaka zuki).  This time however, I wanted to take it a bit further by adding a sliding step, which is a very useful and powerful technique from both competition and self protection points of views.  It moves the body weight forward further and even more rapidly giving a lot of acceleration, impact and covers distance in a very deceptive maner.

In the video, I look at some of the details of the technique to achieve this sliding step more easily and efficiently.  It’s nothing new, it just goes a bit more into detail which I personally feel not people explain in much depth.  If you find it useful, please “like” it and leave a comment below.

 

Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 2)

Following on from (and inter-related with) Part 1, we are now going to look at body alignments, in particular with legs and stance.


Mechanics Of Normal Walking

Normal walking is a continuous fluid motion with one step merging into another step.  When we walk normally, our body weight moves directly over our knees and feet.  When viewed from the front, our ankle, knee and hip joints all in complete alignment and our feet pass each other no further apart than our hip joints.  That is where the femur locates into the pelvis, (not the outer surfaces of the hips).

This is logical as when we walk our weight is supported on just one single structure (one leg) then transferred onto another single structure (our other leg).  To support a weight on a single structure, physics dictates that the most efficient way is for the supporting structure to be directly below the main weight (in this case – our body).

Physics also dictates that the weight is most easily supported when the supporting structure is straight (which our leg is as the weight passes over it).  To test this, try standing on one leg for a minute.  Then try it again with a bent leg.  You can do it with a bent leg, but you’ll tire much more quickly.


How The Karate Step Differs From Normal Walking

Taking Forward Stance (Zenkutsu Dachi) as an example, our feet are shoulder width apart when viewed from the front (rather than hip joint distance as in normal walking).  This extra width of stance gives much more stability and “root” from which to deliver our technique and to absorb and rebound the reaction forces from the impact of that technique.

As mentioned above, when supporting a weight with a single support then the support should be directly below the weight.  However, if you can have multiple supports (using both legs in a stance at completion of a step) then the most stable structure is a pyramid shape (broad base, small on top).  We can’t really make our torso smaller, but the broader stance (feet shoulder width apart) does form a shallow pyramid structure, giving us maximum stability for that split second of impact.


Putting Natural Alignments Into Your Stance

In my early days of training we were taught to push the knees outwards.  In Forward Stance the front knee would be pushed outward, in Back Stance (Kokutsu Dachi) the back knee would be pushed backwards and in Horse Stance (Keba Dachi) both knees would be pushed outwards.  I realise that many teachers and associations have moved on from this practice, but it is still worth mentioning.  Pushing the knees outwards puts unnecessary pressure on the outside of the knee joints and will damage them over time.  Many senior instructors have had to have knee and hip replacements.  Many others have just had to give up their training.

Pushing the knee(s) outward is like bowing the leg and distorts the natural pyramid shape structure, thus weakening it.  This not only damages the knee over time, but it creates extra tension as your muscles around the knee tighten slightly in order to try and keep the knee joint in place (so as to prevent the damage).  Tension of course just slows us down, so it is bad from a self defence point of view as well as for our health.

When looking at the front of the leg the ankle, knee and hip joints should all be in alignment (as with normal walking above).  For this purpose I would like to define the front of the leg as being viewed from the direction that the foot is pointing in, as the legs can rotate at the hip joint (hence in back stance the feet point at about 90 degrees to each other).

It may not be the same for everybody, but I find this alignment is most easily achieved when the weight is balanced on the base of the big toe, rather then spread over the whole foot (as per Part 1).

Again, if you know anybody who suffers from hip/knee problems, please forward this post to them.

 

Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 1)

Having suffered with joint injuries myself, especially to the knee, I know how frustrating it can be and the limiting impact it can have on your training.

I have found some very minor adjustments in training which have helped me to cope with the knee problems that I have suffered with.  I don’t claim that this will work for everybody or that it will be a wonder-cure, I just want to share what has helped me and hope that it will help others too.  Fact is, it is not a cure at all, but a coping mechanism to minimize the pain/discomfort to the joints.

The following is based on a conversation that I had with my podiatrist when I was being examined to have orthotics to cope with fallen arches in my feet.  Although it primarily referring to Karate (as that is the art I practice) it will also apply to many other arts too.

Mechanics Of Normal Walking

Put left foot in front of right.
Put right foot in front of left.
Keep repeating the above.

OK there’s a bit more to it than that.  The way we step in Karate (and many other marital arts) is obviously different to the way that we step when walking normally.  However, the more that we can put our natural method of walking into our Karate step, then the easier and more fluid it becomes.  To do this it helps to have a look at the mechanics of normal walking in a bit more detail.

If you ask most people how the foot works during walking, they’ll often say something like “heel toes, heel toes”.  A slightly more detailed version would be “heel, ball of the foot, toes”.  However, it’s a bit more involved than that.

As we walk the heel obviously comes down first and then roles over to the ball of the foot.  However, the weight comes down primarily onto the base of the big toe (the inside portion of the ball of the foot).  It is important to note that our weight does not come down evenly on the whole ball of the foot.  The big toe lands first, then fractionally afterwards the little toes come down to give us balance.

As we continue the step, we raise our heel and push our weight back onto the base of the big toe.  Again the little toes and the outside portion of the ball of the foot are still on the ground, but are primarily for balance.  Our body weight and the power to push forward are directed through the base of the bit toe (rather than the whole ball of the foot).  If you look at the photograph of the footsteps in the sand, you can see that the indentation in the sand is larger at the base of the big toe then it is at the outside of the ball of the foot as that is the part that is pushed into the sand hardest.

How The Karate Step Differs From Normal Walking

In Karate basics and kata, multiple steps are usually NOT continuous and fluid.  Each individual step should be a very fluid movement, but there is usually a very tiny pause between one step and the next.  This is because on completion of your Karate step, you are looking to very momentarily form a stable platform from which to deliver your technique for maximum effect.  I have written before about how the skeletal structure is very important for the maximum transfer of power into your opponent.  Part of that skeletal structure includes having a good “root” to the ground that will not move or give way when your body is subjected to the reaction forces caused by the impact of your own technique.

Putting Natural Movement Into Your Step

Many people in martial arts do what they think they should be doing (or what they’ve been told to do) rather than necessarily doing what comes naturally.

Most instructors teach that you push off with the ball of the foot.  However, I would respectfully suggest that you should specifically be aiming to push off with the base of the big toe (as in natural walking).

Now many people (possibly most) will be doing this naturally without realising it.  But when you do realise it, then it becomes easier to focus on and develop.  Also, if you are an instructor, it becomes easier to explain and teach the movement to your own students.

Other people however, will be taking the instruction literally and will try to push off from the whole ball of the foot.

Try this little exercise.  Stand upright, with your feet at about shoulder width apart, parallel and pointing forward.  Lift the heel of one foot off the floor and move it directly forward, so that your knee moves forward too.  Now feel where the weight is centred on that foot?  It will be on the base of the big toe.

Now try again, but this time as you raise you heel, make sure that the whole ball of the foot stays on the floor with the weight evenly distributed over the whole ball.  If you’re doing it properly, you’ll notice that your heel and knee go very slightly to the outside.

If you are looking for forward movement, then the transferring weight onto the base of the big toe rather than the whole ball of the foot is obviously advantageous (as well as more natural).

Now picture yourself in a Forward Stance, ready to take that step forward.  Your back foot is pointing slightly outwards (as we can never get it facing completely forward).  If you try to push off from the whole ball of the foot, then as your foot is pointing slightly outward, your whole rear leg will be facing slightly outward as you start your step.  Hence the direction of thrust will be more or less in the outward direction that the foot is pointing.  It will however be quickly adjusted as you begin your step forward.

However, if you start by pushing off from the base of the big toe, then the load is taken away from the little toes (hence taking away unnecessary effort) that fraction earlier.  In turn the leg begins to naturally rotate forward just that fraction more quickly, giving you thrust that is completely facing forward that little fraction earlier.  You get extra leverage to start your movement making the step easier and more fluid for fractionally less effort.

As previously mentioned, many people will be doing this naturally without realising and I do not claim to be proclaiming something new.  However, we are normally told to “push off with the ball of the foot” and there are many people who will take that literally, even if it means overriding the more natural way of doing things.

Putting This Natural Alignment Into Your Stance

When we stand naturally and comfortably (maybe in a social setting), our feet are normally just below us.  Because of differences in the pelvis, women tend to stand with feet quite close together, whilst men tend to stand with feet at about shoulder width apart.

In this comfortable and natural posture, the bottoms of our feet are more or less, squarely on the floor.  However, if we spread our legs further, (as if going towards the splits position), then the further we spread our legs, the more that we tend to come onto the inside edge of our feet.  Eventually at full splits, the flats of our feet come right off the ground and only the side of our feet make contact.

Horse Stance (Keba Dachi) is the stance where we separate the legs sideways the most.  As we do this, the natural tendency is to start putting the weight more onto the inside edge of the feet (heel and base of big toe).

However, many people fight this and struggle to flatten the foot out as much as they can, so that the weight is evenly distributed about the whole of the bottom of the foot.

Why?

What is the benefit of struggling to flatten the bottom of the foot evenly on the ground?  As we have seen above, the power generated through the leg when stepping is released at the base of the big toe which is on the inside of the foot.

Keep the knees in line with the ankle and hips (when viewed from the front) and allow most of the weight to primarily rest on the inner part of the bottom of your foot.  More specifically, focus the weight primarily on the base of the big toe.  The heel and small toes must also be in contact with the floor, but (as with walking) the little toes and the outside portion of the ball of the foot are more there for balance than for supporting the weight.

Try getting into a Horse Stance and alternating between supporting the weight evenly over the whole bottom of the foot and then transferring the weight primarily onto the base of the big toe.  As you move the weight onto the base of the big toe, you should find that your ankles and knees relax just a slight fraction more, because this is a more natural alignment.  The only way to really flatten out the foot evenly is to flex the ankles outward, which takes it out of natural alignment and creates tension.

Have we not always told that relaxation is extremely important?  Why then do so many people try to maintain a stance that creates tension as a by-product?

Note:  Although I’ve used Horse Stance as an example, the same principle applies to other stances too.  It is just easier to highlight in Horse Stance.

Whilst practicing basics and kata, we sometimes have to hold a stance for a moment.  However, for real fighting stances are usually only transitory so we should be able to move in and out of them very quickly so that we can move on to the next technique (or next opponent).  In order to move out of these transitory stances quickly, focusing the weight on the base of the big toe (as in normal walking) makes a great deal of sense on a practical combat level as well as being healthier for our joints.

“Beginners must master low stance and posture; natural body positions are for the advanced”.From Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts

Most of us know or train with somebody who suffers from joint problems.  If you have found this useful and think it might help somebody that you know, please forward this post on to them.