How To Improve A Karate Front Snap Kick (The Devil In The Detail)

Anybody who has followed my blog for any length of time will know that I like looking at the “devil in the detail”.  Those small adjustments to a technique (in other words – adjustment to a principle of movement) can over time as you internalise that adjustment, yield significant improvement to the speed and power of the technique.

One such detail, is the position of the foot as you prepare for a front snap kick (Mae Geri) as is common in Karate, Taekwondo and many styles of Kung Fu.  To many readers this will seem obvious, but there are many teachers who emphasis the lifting of the knee, but don’t always pay so much attention to the position of the foot, which can actually make a significant difference.

As you lift your knee high, you stretch your quadriceps (front thigh muscles).  As I’ve said before, muscles act like elastic bands, the more you stretch them the faster they release when you engage that muscle to create movement.  But if you don’t pay attention to the foot position, then it naturally goes to a relaxed position, dangling down.  However, if you raise the toes/ball of the foot as high as you can at the same time as you raise your knee, then you stretch out the calf muscle (back of lower leg).  So going back to the elastic effect in muscles, when you actually unleash the kick from the knee high position, you are more fully engaging both the quadriceps and the calf muscles.  

It also puts the foot in the right position right from the start.  If you allow the foot to dangle, then there is a risk of damaging the toes on impact.  But with the toes/ball of foot lifted as far as you can right from the beginning, then the foot is in the right position with toes pulled safely back out of harms way.

The video below is short, but demonstrates the points raised above.

If you found this useful, please leave your feedback below.  Also, if you feel that your kicks need improving, then we have the ideal download for you.  It’s called 10 Kicking Tips.  Please  check it out. 

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Was Being “Formless” Really Bruce Lee’s Idea? And What Does It Really Mean?

This post builds on last weeks post, How To Train For Reality In Your Martial Art.

Bruce Lee famously said:

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water.  When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle.  When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Water can drip and it can crash.  Become like water my friend”.

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee

This is often quoted by those who follow his teachings as a criticism of traditional Oriental martial arts who from their perspective, place too much emphasis on the form of techniques (precise body mechanics & structures) with little to no emphasis on how to apply those movements under pressure.  It is argued that the fluid and chaotic nature of real fighting does not lend itself to trying to perform techniques with such correctness and precision, we need to be much more free flowing.  Read more

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How To Train For Reality In Your Martial Art

A Question Of Reality Martial Arts

I have received an interesting question from a reader to the site.  The name is I believe in Arabic, so my apologies, I am unable to read it.  The gentleman concerned apparently lives in Algeria and as I’ve never had any correspondence from that part of the world before I am very delighted to hear from him.

I like it when I get interesting questions, as firstly it helps me to get good content on the site and secondly, it’s nice to know what people actually want me to write about rather than me just guessing (and just writing about what I want)!   🙂

Anyway, the question I received was:-

“A true system of reality based must also present realistic training that enables the student to deal a wide range of criminal situations.  These fields also encompass the techniques and training methods employed by criminals since they are the very enemies that practitioners of reality based study and fight against.  Without understanding the enemy, reality based would be nothing more than learning how to fight against other martial artists (as is the case with traditional martial arts)”.

Basically, many martial artists train how to fight other martial artists; NOT how to fight real criminals!

It is a good and valid point and one which many reality based martial arts teachers often raise.  Criminals and thugs have no sense of fair play and will use any deception to gain an advantage.  We might regard this as “cheating”, but as the old saying goes, “all is fair in love and war”.  Especially war!

Most modern martial arts have a sporting side.  The 2 opponents stand several meters apart, bow, take up the fighting stances, then move into range to start hitting each other or grab each other to grapple.  In the more physical sports such as grappling, full contact Karate/Kickboxing or MMA; combatants are separated by gender and weight classes.  All very fair and sporting!  But how does this compare with somebody walking home, possibly after a few drinks with their mates, being set about by multiple opponents who are all bigger and stronger then he/she is, with the element of surprise, possibly an attack from behind and maybe they’ve got weapons.

There is nothing fair about that is there?  So simply training for a fair fight and/or training to fight somebody of the same style is lacking when training for real world self protection.  Martial arts today are in the main quite different to how they originally used to be and a lot have been dumbed down for many social and political reasons.  One of the biggest influences being to make them into a sport.  Hence training for a fair fight in an unfair world.

Also, a large emphasis in many cases of on self development.  I’m not against self development, in fact I’m all for it.  I just don’t see that real world martial capability has to be sacrificed for it, but it often is.

Another major factor is money!  As many instructors make their living from teaching, hence class sizes become larger; so does the requirement for a simplified system to teach to the masses.  This has lead to the rise of the McDojo’s.  This is especially true when it was realised that most money was to be made teaching children.

Now that’s not to say that today’s martial arts training is useless.  Somebody who trains for competition will still be fast, have good timing and in most cases still be a powerful exponent.  But the techniques and strategies employed will be optimised for the ring, not the street.

A Historical Perspective

So lets take a historical perspective.  Up until the American fleet forced it’s way into Tokyo in 1853 setting in motion a chain of events leading to the downfall of the last Shogun; Japan was literally feudal in every sense of the word.  In terms of warfare, they were still fighting with swords, bows and arrows and spears.  They may have refined their methods, but they were akin to Europe’s middle ages.

So to be clear, they would not have been fighting for competition points.  They would not have been focusing on aesthetic beauty.  They would not have been focusing on how much money they could make by filling classes with as many children as possible (knowing that most of them would give it up in under a year).

They would have been focusing on life and death.  They would be considering all scenarios.  If your clan lost, the women and children might well be butchered too so some of the woman would learn to fight as well.  I doubt they would be facing a fully trained Samurai there to kill her kids and bowing 3 meters apart first.  It was about survival on every level.

In Okinawa, much of Karate was developed by the bodyguards to the King of Okinawa.  The Japanese overlords would not allow the Okinawans to carry weapons, not even the King’s bodyguards.  So these bodyguards had to find strategies to defend their King from fully armed Samurai, or even armed angry crews from Western whaling boats who wanted to trade but were being turned away, again by Japanese command.

Do you think that their martial arts focused on perfection of character and pretty kata when they could be outnumber by men with weapons when they had none?

When the Shaolin monasteries were being raided by local warlords during more turbulent times, do you think that the monks focused on health and developing their “chi”?

These arts were developed to be brutal and effective.  They were designed to incapacitate, injure, cripple and if necessary – kill!  The watered down combat effectiveness in mainstream martial arts today is not how they were designed, it’s how they’ve been adapted to a peacetime society with laws, and for teaching to children that you don’t want using dangerous applications in the playground.

Putting The Reality Back Into Today’s Martial Arts

Now martial arts are different things to different people and that is how it should be.  Some people want a sport.  Some just want to keep fit.  Some just enjoy the art and aesthetics of it.  That’s great, nothing wrong with that – as long as they are aware and acknowledge that and don’t pretend that they are all about self protection when they are not.  That leads to a false sense of security and a very dangerous situation when the practitioner is challenged.

If you are more interested in self-protection, then the way traditional martial arts should work is that you learn the body mechanics and correct structures first, then you learn how to apply them in a realistic manner.  The problem is, in many martial arts today (and my primary style of Shotokan Karate is often an offender) is that they don’t properly get past the body mechanics and correct structures stage.  Emphasis is put on good technique and good kata to the detriment of all else and practical application part is sometimes sacrificed.  I have seen so many things taught as bunkai (applications) that simply would not work under pressure.  This is why modern reality based styles like Krav Maga and MMA criticise (and sometimes rightly so) traditional arts as being ineffective.

I have written before a number of times on how many of todays traditional martial have become dumbed down, so I won’t cover it again in this post.  Instead I’ll look more on how to put it right.

Firstly, you need to study how to actually apply your art correctly under pressure, not just under cooperative conditions.  Many applications taught today in mainstream martial arts would not work in real life under pressure.  I’ve seen kata movements described as blocking 2 attackers simultaneously from opposite sides.  Sorry, but that’s impossible.  First off, you can’t even see them both properly.  Then you can’t guarantee that they’ll attack at exactly the same time, plus you don’t know how or where they are going to attack you.  It would make much more sense to step sideways so that you are not in the middle and can see them both.  Not wishing to offend anybody, but often the big single style organisations are the worst offenders, as they often don’t train outside their own association or invite others from outside to teach them.  So things can become cast in stone with nobody wishing to rock the boat as it might appear rude and pretentious.

Karate man puts another man in headlock
John Johnston, one of the best applied Karate teachers

However, there are many good teachers around who do teach practical workable applications that do work under pressure.  If you look the Bunkai Category on this website you’ll find a number of videos giving various ideas on how to apply moves from both the basics and the kata (forms/patterns) in ways that would actually work under pressure.

Secondly, you really need to learn about the different types of violence, the different motivations for violence, which risk category your demographic fits into, the potential effects of adrenaline and the psychological changes that may occur to you under pressure.  These subjects are often seen as add-ons and not really part of the actual martial art.  I disagree.  I think they are an integral part of the arts that was always there in the beginning, but got filtered out as emphasis changed to sport, self development and simplifying to teach large groups ($$$’s).  Again, there is a lot of information on this website in the Self Protection/Reality Based Martial Arts Category.

You will also find various books and DVD’s on the Resources page that will help you to go deeper into the applied side of martial as well as the reality based side.  This is not about radically changing our arts or adding something foreign to them.  This is about taking them back to how they originally started!

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Karate Kime: Not Something You Do – But Something That Occurs With Good Technique

This post has come about as a result of a discussion that I had with somebody on my Youtube channel talking about Kime (pronounced “kim-a”).  Kime is roughly translated in Karate as “focus” at the end of a technique and is considered as the principle of generating power.  Very simply put, most mainstream Karate (and other martial arts) describe it as suddenly contracting and tensing the whole body at the very end of the technique.

Anybody who has followed my blog regularly will know that I don’t subscribe to that point of view at all.  If you want to check out the video to see what I was talking about, then I’ve added it below.

I do apologise for the poor video quality, it was filmed in 2014 with a lower quality camera.  Furthermore Youtube have the unfortunate habit of compressing the digital files to save server space on all but the largest of channels.  This makes the quality even worse.

Rather than tensing up, I often talk about techniques being “whip” like.  Some people call this principle a “waveform”.  It’s the same thing really.  A whip is created by a wave moving along something.  If for example you snap a towel, you put all the energy in one end where you are actually holding it and that energy transfers rapidly along the length of the towel until the other end snaps (like a whip).  If you apply this principle to say a reverse punch, the handle is at the hips/waist which rotate vigorously about the front hip, moving the bodyweight forward.  This energy is transformed rapidly up the torso, through the shoulder and then down the arm to the hand.

If we truly relax as we’re so often told we should, then there is a very slight delay between the hip/waist moving and the shoulders following.  This is because you’re putting all the emphasis on the hips/waist moving and not on the shoulders.  However, many people move hips/waist and shoulders together, which can only really be done is there is tension in the torso linking them together.

It’s a subtle difference.  When truly relaxed, the slight delay in the shoulders moving causes a torque (rotational stretch) to develop in the torso.  Whenever any part of the body is stretched, it naturally wants to return to it’s relaxed position.  Therefore, as a result of this torque being created by the bottom of the torso rapidly rotating, the top of the torso want to release this torque and return to it’s normal relaxed position.  It does this very rapidly resulting in the feeling that the top of torso is “throwing” the arm forward, rather than thrusting it forward.  The arm extends until it it is taut (NOT tense), just like the towel at the point of snapping.

One Japanese Sensei cleverly compares it to a car crash.  As the car crashes and stops abruptly, anything/anybody inside is thrown forward.  Likewise, as the rotation and forward momentum of the body abruptly stops, so the arm is throw forward!

When you snap the towel, at that tiny moment that it actually snaps, the whole towel goes taut (stretched out).  This is described in more detail in the video above and in the free ebooks that you can download, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

So as I said at the start that this post, it has come about from a comment and discussion from the video above.  The guy was talking about applying kime at the end of the technique.  As mentioned above, most mainstream Karate schools talk about tensing at the end of a technique as a way of producing kime.  But as with the example of snapping the towel, the towel is taut at the point of impact, not tense.  If the towel was tense, it could not snap, hence could not give us the whip like impact.

So with all due respect to how other people teach, you don’t get that high impact whip like feeling by tensing at the end.  Therefore, the idea of kime being a result of tensing at the end is (in my humble opinion) flawed.  Following on from the rationale that kime does not come from tensing up at the end of the technique, the idea that it is something you apply or add at the end of a technique must also be flawed.

The whip-like impact comes from a high level of relaxation allowing the power generated by rotating the hips/waist forward to be transferred like a wave of energy moving through the body.  This culminates in tautness (especially in the arm), rather than tension.

Therefore kime is a result of how the sequential acceleration and abrupt climax (whip) of the whole technique; rather than something that is you apply or add to the end of a technique.

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How To Correctly Align Hand & Forearm For Knife Hand Block/Strike

Anybody who regularly visits my website, will know that I believe techniques are not so important as a stand alone item, but are more important for the principles that they teach us.  Those principles teach us better body mechanics and structures to make our martial art more functional for real world self protection.  It’s not just about having a technique looking pretty or sounding good when we get a nice satisfying snap of our uniform.

Ultimately it should be about functionality or there is not much point.  Very often it’s just a small adjustment in alignment or positioning that can yield big differences in the effectiveness of the principles learnt from practicing a given technique.  So in this video we look at the correct alignment of the hand forearm when performing knife hand block/strike, known as Shuto Uke/Uchi in Karate.

All too often hand and forearm are completely straight, which means that when it actually strikes the target there is a chance that the wrist may buckle slightly, hence losing some power.  It might only be a very small bit, but hey, if you’re going to practice it you may as well practice to obtain the optimum efficiency.

By just pulling the hand back a bit in the direction of the thumb, the little finger side then aligns more with the forearm.  There is not much movement before this locks out.  This makes the whole hand and wrist structure considerably more stable when striking the target as there is nothing to give way.

You can see this demonstrated in the video below, please leave your comments and feedback.

 

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Why You Really Shouldn’t Tense Everything At The End Of A Karate Technique

When I first started Karate, back in the late 70’s (yes, I’m that old) we were taught by our Japanese masters to tense everything, the whole body, at the end of a technique.  I’ve spoken many times about relaxing the body as much as possible and I’ve also talked about how our limbs should be taut at the end of a technique not tense.

Some muscle groups are very central to a given technique, whilst other muscles are not. Read more

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