For Karate movements, whenever we execute punches, kicks, blocks, strikes or even simply moving forward or backwards, if we know how the body operates as a fulcrum and which pivot point (or in some cases multiple points) to use, we can execute each technique with optimal trajectory, utilizing maximum speed and power.  For instance, in moving from one zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) to another zenkutsu dachi, beginners must create a fulcrum with the front leg usually placing the pivot point at the front knee with the body weight transferring to the front hip.  Once their weight is transferred they will push the opposite side of the hip forward in order to take a step.  This then becomes a conventional step forward.  A more advance way of moving forward utilizing proper WAZA (skill), would be to create an additional pivot point internal to your body and lift the opposite hip making that side “weightless” in the process.  This will allow you to move forward with a quicker movement as your weight is not transferred from one side of the body to the other.  Using this internal pivot point and lifting the opposite side of the body internally allows a more natural body movement that minimizes the use of physical strength giving rise to a smoother and faster step.  This is more difficult to perform and takes practice to execute smoothly.

There is a pervasive misconstrued belief about “traditional karate”. Some practitioners (students AND teachers) learn a technique and then somehow create a very ridged idea in their mind that “this is the traditional way of performing this technique”. They will hold on to that idea very tightly. Even when they see the technique performed with more skill right in front of them, their eyes are blind because their mind is so stiff. Ordinary people will practice some basics and once performed adequately will believe that the movement is complete and no further development is needed. But masters or SHOKUNIN (artisans) are always looking for a better way of performing a technique, even after they “master the move”.  We (MONONOHU), martial artists, are always looking for the pinnacle.  But there is no pinnacle as there will always be a way to subtly improve any technique.  There are basic principles about practicing any technique, but those principles should not limit us and cause us to believe that this is the only way.  Think about it. Look at the world around us; the cars, televisions, cameras, phones, etc.  Each item has its foundation, but every year we see improvements.  The research departments are always looking for a better way, trying to be the best, trying to reach the pinnacle of their product.  The best companies do not limit themselves to established technologies, they are always looking for improvements.  If the world is always looking to improve upon itself, then why, when we practice karate, are we satisfied with doing same thing over and over again?  Aren’t we supposed to improve each day? Where are you going be next year, in five years from now, andten years from now?  Karate will be boring if you continue to practice the same thing over and over, staying at the same level, without improving.  Sooner or later your body won’t be able to perform particular movements, because you were depending on muscle and physical strength that declined with age.  In order to avoid this, you must do your research to learn how to use your body effectively and efficiently at any age.

Karate is not like Latin, a dead language that no longer evolves. Karate is alive! With each generation it can evolve and improve. There is lots of tradition and wisdom in karate. This knowledge is passed on from teacher to student over time. It is the teacher’s wish that their student will take the research that has been shared with them and IMPROVE upon it, not simply accept it as is! Appreciate and your teacher for sharing their knowledge. Always be respectful of what you have been taught. When the day comes that you discover something beyond your teacher’s knowledge, be humble and remember that your teacher laid the path to your discovery. Furthermore, never be satisfied with what you discover. Always try to think, “Okay, this is one way to do this. How else can I improve this more?” We must use our wisdom and mind and think about what we are trying to accomplish and not be satisfied in having “reached a goal”. A black belt certificate has very little meaning if the earnest heart that earned it becomes lazy. Isn’t it called the Martial Arts?  We are “Artisans” and our craft is to research and develop fighting movements; physically, mentally and spiritually. 

-Akio Minakami


Karate Stances

Karate stances have differences when compared to other martial art such as kendo, judo, aikijutsu, etc.  These other martial arts tend to place emphasis on how to use the upper body for completing actions such as bumping, throwing, swinging the sword, etc. They do not focus on which stances must be taken to swing the sword or to throw the opponent in the most effective way, instead placing emphasis on upper body execution with the lower body following accordingly.

These martial arts simply perform the upper body technique and let the lower body follow its movement without losing balance (center of gravity), transferring energy from the feet, through the lower body, to the upper body.  It is not important which stance is taken, instead what is important is how those stances will fit together with their upper body techniques.

Contrary to this way of moving most of karate emphasizes executing a proper stance first then performing the upper body technique. With this emphasis on first executing a proper stance, the karate practitioner neglects to focus on how to transfer energy from the lower body.  This emphasis on stances makes it difficult to coordinate the upper and lower body movements. This results in the individual being in a static karate stance with the upper body movement performed separately without a connection to the lower body.

Another effect of taking the karate stance first is difficulty in performing techniques with upper body power since the lower body is static.  To compensate, muscle strength is then used to make up for this lost power.  The consequence is strenuous and stiff movement rather than using the body like a fulcrum connecting the upper and lower body. 

How can we practice this way to get a more natural, smooth whip-like motion in the punches and blocks?  In order to do perform movements with a more whip-like motion, first one must relax the muscles, then throw punch or blocks from the feet, using gravity and your body weight.  If you use too much muscle strength/power rather than body power, the “whip” will move stiffly and not smoothly.  It will not be flexible and cannot send your energy smoothly through the execution of the technique.

Basic Kihon Posture | HEIKODACHI | parallel stance

Keep your back straight with your scapula taut, drop your chest, and think of pushing the sky up with the top of your head. Drop your center of gravity just  about 6” in front of your navel toward the ground; the knees must be flexed and never locked; hips and below the knees are taut and stable. Keep yourself relaxed but never slouch. Always feel proud and alert, but never impertinent nor sneaky. There are many kinds of warriors; we strive to be the warrior who is sincere.

-Akio Minakami

-to be continued