Ways to generate power in Karate – by Mario Kalli

Sensei Mario

There are many schools of thought regarding the practice of karate and although some are different in styles, all are concerned with applying the ultimate power of technique.

Generating power in martial arts has evolved over the years from its Okinawan roots to the modern day style of karate.

Several years ago, I had the honour of training under Master Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama, he demonstrated technique perfectly and made it look effortless, he appeared very graceful and balletic in his movement, with a calming mental attitude, he seemed to glide along the dojo, with perfect posture and alignment. Although in many ways, karate transcends language, as do many great sporting activities, he was able to communicate in detail the underlying principles of body movement required for the particular action, and the correct way to perform the technique in question. He went onto discuss why one does a technique in a certain way, he also explained the importance of mental energy together with total concentration, which would result in making your chosen technique effective, however, it occurred to me that mental or spiritual (Ki Energy) is not enough, it must be applied physically through your technique, mind, body and spirit both working together using your imagination or master impression (or in many sports analogy would be described as artistic interpretation).

One lasting impression that Sensei Nishiyama left on me, was that he used his body in the most natural of ways in order to create energy and power, it seemed to be with the minimum amount of effort; rather than using brute strength, too much tension or overt muscular actions, however to attain this concept you have to train very hard and practice constantly over a long period of time, in fact, training should be for life, I believe, a Budo way of life. By repeating movements the body and mind assimilates and digests the feelings of correctness, therefore every action eventually becomes a natural action, as long as the form, posture and technique is applied correctly in the first place, otherwise bad habits are formed.

At times we all find ourselves having difficulty, regardless of skill, striking a balance between just how much tension we use when executing techniques. Sometimes I think we all try to hard to create a false energy instead of just letting our techniques flow as nature intended, for years Karateka have trained hard, so intent on making Kime that they are using all their muscles at the same time, straining the technique, facial muscles are tensed and breathing is heavy or erratic, to the untrained eye it would appear that the students are generating strong techniques, however this is not so, I realise this, now that I have experienced the true feeling of how good and true delivery of efficient technique should be; “Have you ever noticed when executing an action where everything just clicks into place?

Your reaction is that of surprise, and when you analyse what just occurred, you come to the conclusion that the action seemed effortless and that use did not use any power in order to successfully execute technique, just like a professional golfer when swinging and striking the sweet spot of the ball, resulting in the ball travelling the furthest distance. Every action needs to come from connecting with your center mass (Tanden or Hara) and to ensure that we don’t stop our techniques short of the end of the full range of motion, remember, its what is happening to your body on the inside that matters, not what appears to be on the outside. For example of Choku-Zuki (straight punch) when delivering the punch through the full range of motion, the arm should travel towards the target without suddenly being stopped before it has fully completed its trajectory. The point at which the punch stops, is when the muscles fully stop the punch’s momentum and not until the action has completed it’s course; and even then mental energy does not stop, it continues beyond your target, until your next action, many use this analogy: the body is an engine, never stopping after every technique, but running internally ready for the next action, far more power is generated and transferred through correct body alignment, whipping the joints, using momentum and kinetic energy from the ground, transferring energy into the target. There are so many basic fundamental subjects we need to examine and study; they are all connected, so therefore it’s hard to discuss one without the other.

When delivering an efficient technique, we have to prepare our body as a weapon and apply body dynamics which is; the use of your muscles tension and expansion, also using vibration, rotation, contra-rotation and lifting.

We must firstly use our breath to initiate action with stable emotion, without stability we cannot control our breath or the timing of our muscle contraction or expansion, in order to transmit energy through to the joints and then release the momentum of action, or reaction towards the target. All throughout this process, which is referred to as transition; the body applies pressure from the floor, the stronger the pressure the more increased energy to the body and technique. It’s important to remember to use the body as a spring in order to create potential energy, this spring is great for absorbing energy, when you push or pull force to stretch a spring, you are using a force over a distance so, in physics terms your body is working hard to store the energy before you decide to release it, for example, when using form; in the case of a bow and arrow, when the archer does work on the bow, drawing the bow string back, the energy is transformed into elastic potential energy into the bent limb of the bow, when the string is released, the force between the string and the arrow is increased thus releasing the kinetic energy allowing the arrow to take flight.

In my opinion sports science has evolved and continues to grow and develop in this ever changing technological age. Far more people today have access to a wealth of information, which is available at the click of a button. I am always searching for ways to acquire the relevant knowledge through tried and tested sources, in order to apply the principles in a theoretical and practical way. This is why Karate is a life long study. From a personal perspective, training time and experience itself has enabled me to tap into the critic within me, I have realised that making mistakes is good, as long as I examine the reasons for my failure and rectify them, and by doing so, learn by those mistakes. If I can give any advice, it would be; to encourage and motivate yourself to train regularly, ask yourself one question ‘How can I expect my body to do the things that my mind wants me to achieve, if I don’t put the work in?’ the answer is simple; I supplement my dojo training with a daily routine of exercise (where ever you find yourself, you can always train, you don’t need to visit a gym.)

I do forms of exercise like Calisthenics; which is a form of gross motor movements for example, running, pushing, balancing etc. I find I am able to increase my strength, fitness and flexibility through movements such as pulling, pushing, bending, jumping or swinging, using my own body weight for resistance.

The benefits to this type of training, is muscular and aerobic conditioning, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and co-ordination.

Examples of exercises that I use are as follows: push ups, pull ups, chin ups, squats, back lever, handstand/headstand, dips on parallel bars or climbing frame, leg raises, planks, shuttle runs, battle ropes, resistance bands and a full range of burpees. All of the above are subject to my own difficulty levels, which means; if I find a certain exercise to easy, I then raise the difficulty level by adding an action, which in turn makes it harder for me to achieve, by doing this, I increase my overall strength and stamina, I am trying to break through my mental (psychological) and physical pain barrier, therefore always developing never plateauing which means a remaining in a state of no change following a period of activity or progress. Finally I often video some training sessions because it is useful to view and debrief in order to analyse my techniques, my use of tactics and strategies, and finally, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of rest/sleep in order to allow for recovery.

Examples of producing power by remaining relaxed and soft are Muchimi and Chinkuchi (Authentic Okinawan concept of transferring power.)

Muchimi should feel heavy and sticky (Japanese rice cake) this is one of the ways to generate power when the body creates a motion to transfer momentum that increases in rapid succession, from the ground up into the desired target, generating a whip like motion. When executing this action, you need to remain relaxed and with a feeling of heaviness and softness, maintaining a firm strong core center, your limbs are soft, whilst keeping a firm rock like fist, from this position energy and motion is made from an internal vibration and rotation from the hips, in order to deliver a whipping action.

When holding a whip, the arm is rapidly flicked causing the velocity of the whip to increase, if you can imagine this motion, it begins from pressure from the ground, up through the legs into the trunk, as the abdominal muscles are tense, as the momentum travels through the body and via the arm forming a kinetic chain, the result is that the velocity of the hand has been maximised, while at the moment of impact the entire body mass is being transferred through the technique.

When the technique reaches the intended target the whip stops, which creates natural inertia energy, a simple explanation of inertia is when a car makes a sudden emergency stop, like a ball rolling down a hill, the force continues to roll unless friction or another force stops it, the invention of the seat belt mechanism was designed for this purpose. It is difficult to perform such an action if your body is already tense at the initiation of the technique, by achieving a state of relaxation, you are then able to control the alternate relaxing or contracting of your muscle’s which is essential to having fluidity in movement.

Chinkuchi is tension or stability of the joints in the body from a firm stance, block or punch. When punching or blocking, the joints are momentarily locked for an instant, whilst concentration is focused on the point of contact, the stance is made firm by gripping the floor with the feet, tension is released immediately for the next movement. A basic understanding on Muchimi and Chinkuchi is that both are used together as acceleration through the action itself, to think of a whiplash will help you understand the concept of this technique, in order to crack a whip you need to swing your hand very quickly from the back to the front, and then stop the motion quickly. It depends on the technique that one is using as to whether the force created is in the form of a snap or thrust, for example the difference between executing Yoko-geri Keagi (side snap kick) or Yoko-geri Kekomi (side thrust kick.)

Power is produced, transmitted or delivered through one’s body dynamics, for example:
Rotation – used at medium distance due to space between opponents about to engage, known in traditional terms as Maai, also means the time (interval) it will take to cross the distance, angle and rhythm of technique.
Body Vibration: used for short distances, good for a snap action from the hips, small screw/turn motion returning back to it’s original starting position.
Pendulum: Used in kicking techniques, by using leverage from the hip action in any direction.
Body shifting: Used to cover distance creating momentum and energy to the technique, examples would be Tsugi ashi (shuffling) Yori ashi (sliding) or Fumi ashi (stepping)
Body dropping: used for techniques from up to down such as throwing an opponent or a dropping block for example Otoshi uke as in Hein Shodan.
Body Lifting: Body weight rising in line with the technique for instance an upward punch in Hein Godan. If any part of the kinetic chain is out of physical alignment or synchronisation with the rest of the chain, the potential to transmit momentum is lost, if the whip is stopped prematurely or interrupted then the potential energy cannot reach its maximum force.

All techniques attempted depend on staying relaxed for instance in order to execute a punch, firstly from a stable position/stance, rotate or vibrate the hips and then allow the momentum travel up through the Tanden (center of body) to the shoulder, where it then travels down to the elbow into the hand.

There is a difference between using hip rotation as opposed to vibration, because hip rotation takes longer to send energy than that of vibration, it all depends on what the desired action is and technique you want to apply, for example the beginning of the Kata Hungetsu; where hip rotation is key in order to deliver Gyaku zuki or vibration from the hip when using Uraken in Kata Hein Sandan.

It’s important to try to start the wave of energy through your actions with a strong heavy feeling a rapid muscular spasm. In order to carry out any karate technique is not solely reliant on your physical strength, but your ability to remain relaxed with stable emotions, synchronising your muscle’s contractions at the moment of impact to enable maximum transfer of momentum by utilizing your center and body weight behind your chosen technique.

Practicing your techniques against resistance is vital, so that you are able to appreciate the fundamental principles and physical feeling you get from striking a heavy weight bag, punch pads or Makiwara, only then will you determine for yourself which method is more powerful. It’s important to note that our outer limbs are just extensions of our center body mass, in a nutshell, using your body like a giant whip and using your internal dynamics rather external elements which can disrupt the flow of your technique, this theory can be demonstrated by performing Manji gamae (dropping your weight into your opponent)

In conclusion I have found that priorities should be given to correct form, posture in Kihon and Kata, stable transition and good applications of technique.

Important points to remember:
I try to maintain good posture, having no stress in my face, having a feeling of my eyes back (not staring on one fixed point, view the whole picture) keeping a soft look, keeping my emotions calm, concentrating my spirit through Kami Tanden (between my eyes) projecting my energy of thought towards my opponent, keeping my chin back (I’m not trying to judge) maintaining a firm abdomen, keeping my lower stomach forward and my sacrum (tailbone, lower part of spine) down straight to the floor, keeping the curvature of my spine natural (no arching of back) and keep my pelvis and sacrum aligned properly. Certain Yoga exercises are extremely beneficial for Karate practitioners.

Most important of all is to remain relaxed, being smooth and fluid, maintaining a perfectly controlled center of gravity, emphasis should be made on the power coming from the lower abdomen, pelvis and backbone, after being initiated from the floor via the legs. And above all, express yourself fully, without fear or trepidation, and finally don’t be afraid of taking risks and having fun.

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