“Junzuki hidari gamae….. ich!”
The smell of freshly starched karategi’s filled the Dojo, mixed with the incense from the joss sticks that Sensei had burned that morning at the Kamiza (shrine) during his shinto ritual, it made a heady odour that added to the flavour of our Sunday morning training.
Sunlight flashed on the highly polished wooden floor, sensei’s Japanese pronunciation powered from his seiki tanden as he counted and gave commands and drove his ki to add to the mixture and invigorate the students.
“Mawatte…(turn)… ich!” Everyone turned and kiai’d together. There is something inherently tribal about moving and shouting together, a bit like watching the New Zealand rugby team doing thehaka.
“Sonabade ippontoru (one punch on the spot) … ich”! We all changed to gyakuzuki by punching without stepping, but also taking the front foot across as we turned the body to allow the power of the punch to be transmitted.
“Gyakuzuki…. ich.. ni… san.. shi.. go…” We all stepped and punched in unison. The heady smell, the energy in the air, the communal movement and shouting, all overlooked by the Dojo shrine and it’s resident deity Fudo Miyoo, made it feel very oriental and zen like. The Japanese manner of counting ‘lifts’ the word at the end, making each count like a kiai and giving the students an adrenaline release to initiate each movement.
“Mawatte gedan barai, (turn and low block) ich! Yamee…” (stop). We all settled, some wiping their brow with their sleeve and some stretching a bit. “Come around.” We all gathered…
“Who here thinks that they had their weight in their forward leg?” We all put our hand up
“Okay, let’s have a look… Jon…. make a gyakuzuki …” Jon snapped out a sharp punch. Sensei pushed the arm back to the contact point and left the palm of his hand on the fist, making no particular stance himself.
“Now push my hand away with your punch..” Every time Jon pushed, he pushed himself backwards. “You see, you are unable to access the front foot to drive the punch.” Sensei then placed his forefinger on Jons chest and Jon was unable to move forward.
“Think how much power you are loosing by not transmitting your bodyweight into the punch.” Now everyone try.
We all tried the same experiment and no one could get their weight into the front foot – it was intensely frustrating!
“Why can’t we do it Sensei?”
“I have to be fair and say that I’ve never met a karateka yet that can make a proper front stance.” Sensei then got us all up in front of the others and showed how we all had our weight on the back leg when we thought we were in a front stance. As we developed the eye for looking at postural alignment we could see that we were in fact throwing the weight out of the front leg every time we made the stance.
“How can we stop this from happening Sensei?” We were finding it impossible prevent ourselves from going backwards as we took the stance.
“Firstly, you have to soften down through the psoas muscle so that your weight goes into the quadriceps, then fix the angle of the knee so that the weight goes directly to the foot. If you can’t soften the psoas, you will always bounce back out of your leg.”
“I can’t do that sensei…”
“That’s because you have practice until you can. Real skill is never ‘instant’ – I give you the idea and training method and then you work on it. This particular skill to gain a ‘root’ can be improved over a lifetime, it depends on your level of sensitivity.”
“I seem to lose it as I go from one leg to the other…”
“As you transfer your weight from one leg to the other it’s important to transfer directly from one muscle to the other. If there’s any ‘dead’ time you will have thrown yourself out of your ‘root’ and there will also be a corresponding power vacuum.”
“Is that the same idea as maintaining the same height all through the movement?”
“Only if you’ve accessed the thighs and feet in the first place.” Sensei grinned.
“Okay, so remember that the head not only goes forwards and backwards, but also from side to side, whichever side is punching press the lung 1 point just below the shoulder on the same side into the foot, as you do that, move the head until you get the strongest transmission of weight into the foot and therefore into the punch. Test this on the pads.”
As we hit the pads we could feel the difference as the weight went into the forward foot.
“If your front knee wobbles when you hit, it means that your weight has not transferred down to the foot but is still in the knee. The knee should be empty and the weight should travel through the thigh, bypass the knee and go directly down to the foot.”
As we did this we could feel the weight go into the punch, increasing power by as much as 5 times!
“Remember all 8 principles need to be in place. To use the feet properly, you need good postural alignment to be good, your mindset needs to be strong, your breathing correct, your internal system functioning properly to the codes we set, proper power sourcing, strike on the wedge point and spiral the power through the body.”
“Is that all…….?”
“No… there’s much, much more, but we don’t want to rush things do we?” Sensei grinned.
Also remember to hit with sensitivity.”
“I’m serious, it’s not how hard you hit…” Sensei called up Jon, lightly touched him and sent him crashing to the floor with an OOOOFFFFF…. sound.
“It’s all about sensitivity… but maybe we’ll wait until you have some mastery over these skills first eh? Sensei winked.
It made me realise how long the path in true martial arts really is. There are ‘techniques’ that you can ‘monkey see, monkey do’ these are the ones that students want to learn on the ‘seminar circuit’, techniques that they can learn in a day and then teach the same night in class – and then there are those skills that take time and the development of sensitivity over a period of time. This is the much longer path that takes a life time of study and a road that has no end. It also made me realise that this is a dying art – in danger of passing away forever because of the current ‘marketing’ culture.
I went home feeling sad at the passing of much of the true ‘deeper’ martial arts, but happy that at least I was on the right road and there will be a future, albeit a smaller and more concealed one all the time that clubs like mine existed.