Chinkuchi and Muchimi
By Jason S.D. Perry
Okinawa Shorin ryu Karate Kobudo Kensankai
There are two complementary concepts of Okinawan Karate that are often confusing to Japanese and foreigners alike. Understanding of these concepts is only attained through countless repetition, which results in the body “learning” the concepts through experience. The following essay offers an explanation of and relationship between the concepts of Chinkuchi and Muchimi. Mastery of these concepts is for the reader to seek through rigorous training and self-discovery. Read More
Chinkuchi: Chinkuchi is an Okinawan word – it is not Japanese. In a word chinkuchi may be referred to as tension. But this single word is inadequate to articulate the real meaning of the word as it applies to Okinawan Karate. To add a few more qualifiers to the tension concept we might add some words like 1) relaxed tension, 2) focused energy, 3) the complementary actions of tension and relaxation to create power in a small space.
An analysis of the Chinese characters that represent the word chinkuchi helps provide insight into what chinkuchi is and what it is not. chinkuchi is made up of three characters. The first is the character for “one” or 一. The second character means the distance of an inch. It is literally one tenth of a Shaku (as in Roku Shaku Bo). In Japanese these two characters together are pronounced chotto meaning a little bit. Chotto can be used to mean a small amount, as in, “Chotto dake onegai shimasu,” or “Please give me just a little bit.” Or it can refer to time as in, “Chotto matte kudasai,” or “Wait just a second.” The third character is the word for power or chikara. In the Okinawan language this is pronounce Chi as in Chishi (the word for the stone with the handle we use for hojo undo literally meaning power stone). So the word chinkuchi comprises three characters that mean one, inch and power or the ability to generate power in a short amount of time and space.
The famous Goju Ryu teacher Higaonna Morio sensei describes chinkuchi as the moment when the muscles and tendons around the joints tense “momentarily lock” during a punch or block. Energy is focused on a single point of contact for an instant. The body roots, the joints and muscles in unison freeze momentarily creating force.
If you have ever watched a Uechi or Goju karateka perform shime you will get a sense of what chinkuchi is. Shime is when a sensei “checks” a karateka during a kata performance to confirm the muscles, joints, tendons and bones are all working in unison to create power. Shime is the technique of striking various parts of the body such as shoulders, latissimus dorsi, or abdomen as the person doing the kata maintains proper posture. (Note: This Shime is not to be confused with Shimewaza which are choking techniques.)The person receiving the beating must maintain his or her breathing, posture, tension and relaxation despite the seemingly severe beating. This teaches the body to maintain a relaxed tension while creating a platform from which to deliver devastating force against an opponent.
The idea that the muscles, joints, and tendons would all tense in a momentary locking action is predicated on the ability of those same muscles, joints and tendons to be relaxed before and immediately after the locking of the body occurs. Indeed, the laws of nature teach us there is no tension without relaxation. The art of Goju Ryu (Go meaning hard and Ju meaning soft) embraces this concept in its very name.
So the art of chinkuchi cannot be limited to tension. In order for chinkuchi to exist, other concepts and techniques must also exist in a complementary manner. Several examples come to mind. Gambaku is the rapid torqueing of the hips to create energy. Muchimi can mean whipping body or sticky (heavy or supple) body (more on this later). We learn about the role of the seika tanden (lower abdomen) or the hara in generating power. Are we able to engage the seika tanden while employing gambaku? Sometimes we emphasize the hips or koshi. These are all elements of power generation and therefore chinkuchi.
Other intangible concepts also come to mind. Kime is often translated as focus. Zanshin, remaining mind and mushin meaning no mind are central to creating the dynamic intersection of relaxation and tension to create force. The idea of Ki or energy may also be considered an integral part of chinkuchi in that ki brings the mental and physical energy of one’s whole self into concert (kiai). The list goes on but I will stop there and let the reader begin to connect these various dots.
When all of these physical and mental elements work in unison a person develops the ability to generate power in a single inch using all of the potential energy we have stored internally. And that energy can be summoned on command. In other words, chinkuchi is the idea that power can be generated and projected from within (in a single inch). It is natural for humans to generate power through gross motion such as a slap or a haymaker style punch. Watch any video of a school brawl and you will see plenty of that. These large sweeping motions generate legitimate power through momentum and speed. But through training we can learn to generate that same power at a single point in time and space. Unfortunately, having read this short description will not help you get any closer to developing chinkuchi. So next time you are in the dojo wondering why you have to throw another thousand punches on top of the five thousand you have already thrown ask yourself if you have mastered the concept of chinkuchi and then keep throwing.
Muchimi is a companion concept to chinkuchi. Once again, let’s look at the characters while keeping in mind the differences in the Okinawan language (Uchinaguchi) and Japanese. I will discuss two separate concepts in relation to muchimi. As we discuss these terms keep in mind we are dealing with three separate and distinct languages – Okinawan, Japanese and English. So these terms need be understood in their native context in order to understand it in either of the non-native settings. First is the Japanese word, Mochi. Mochi is pounded glutinous rice that is a popular treat during the New Year celebration in Japan. Mochi is made by taking rice and pounding it repeatedly with a wooden mallet. Mochitsuki (Mochi pounding) is a time-honored tradition across Japan. For those who are paying attention, yes the tsuki in mochitsuki is the same word we use for punch in the dojo. The result of the pounding process is a sticky ball of dough-like rice paste that is delicious when roasted and lightly brushed with a little soy sauce and brown sugar. Mochi has a distinctly soft, glutinous, elastic texture so it is not surprising that in Japan something that is described as mochi mochi means something that is sticky or doughy.
The second character in the word muchimi is mi which means body. It is found in words like hanmi (half facing body) or sashimi (raw slices of fish). The word means body, flesh or meat (as opposed to skin or bones).
Now, muchi is the Okinawan pronunciation for the Japanese word mochi. So when we combine these two characters we get sticky / doughy / supple body. Sometimes the word Ti (hand) is added to Muchimi – muchimidi – often translated as sticky hands.
This is where it may start to get confusing so stick (no pun intended) with me. In some contexts, muchimi may refer to the concept that once you have gained contact with your opponent you want to maintain that contact. By gaining contact we can use pressure and the release thereof to create opportunities to attack or defend. The image of Chinese techniques of sticky hands training comes to mind and is likely a source of the kakie or kakidi training we see often in Okinawan Naha Te traditions. These training techniques teach tactile sensation or the ability to sense and respond to an opponent’s movements by feel (sticking to them).
Another applicable concept is the idea of relaxation. Perry sensei often teaches us to avoid “muscling through” our kata. Relaxation is the key to generating power. When I was a kid, Perry sensei drilled it into my head that a tense muscle is a slow muscle and “speed builds power.” So the combination of relaxation combined with tremendous tension needed to launch an attack are the keys to generating power. Here we begin to see the nexus or cycle of chinkuchi and muchimi. Relaxation – momentary intense tension (gambaku for example) to propel our weapons (hands, feet, elbows) through the air – relaxation to maintain speed – tension (chinkuchi) at the moment of impact to create a solid platform to efficiently deliver the kinetic energy into the target – finally, relaxation to follow up with another attack or respond to the next situation.
We also see this concept in Taika Oyata’s tradition. Ryute practitioners teach a very relaxed yet devastating punching method that produces a surprising amount of penetration when applied to vital targets. Those who tense up in the application of this striking technique often fail to create the kind of painful response skilled Ryute practitioners solicit.
Another way often used to describe this concept of relaxation is “heavy hands.” Heavy hands are not tight; they are relaxed but very heavy. When applied to vital points of the body they can debilitate an opponent very quickly.
There is a second way of interpreting the concept of muchimi we should consider next. The Japanese word Muchi means whip – as in Indiana Jones or the Man From Snowy River. The phrase, “Muchi o ireru,” for example means to “put the whip to it” or to urge something along (such as horse racing which is very popular in Japan). In Motobu Choki’s book Watashi no Karatejutsu, Motobu sensei uses this character when he discusses the concept of muchimi.
The character for mi in this instance is the same as for the previous concept – body.
Therefore, when we combine these two characters the word muchimi takes on the different, yet just as valuable, meaning of “whipping body.” When a whip travels through the air it generates a tremendous amount of speed as motion is extended down the length of the whip until at the end of whip the action is so violent it causes the whip to break the speed of sound resulting in a cracking sound. Similarly, our bodies can generate power very quickly by effective use of our legs, hips, torso and arms to create a violent result at the end of our strikes. This whipping action is seen in kata such as the uraken in naihanchi, the haito uchi in passai or in any of the age tsuki in our pinan or kusanku kata. If you watch Nakazato sensei do his performance of Kusanku dai at the Shuri Castle dedication you will see his punches rise in a subtle but sharp whipping action vice coming straight from the chamber at a 90 degree angle to the target.
In application this concept of muchimi is very effective as it allows us to generate power from postures other than a traditional kamae where we are ready to attack. We can attack as we move to defend. It also allows us to immediately transition into multiple sequential attacks that can overwhelm our opponent’s ability to respond by presenting him with unexpected and difficult to detect angles of attack.
I hope the next time you train with a partner or work on kata you will experiment with some of these principles. Chibana sensei called Okinawan karate Churati or Beautiful Hand. He said that strong Ti is effective and effective Ti is beautiful. When we are able to apply the concepts of chinkuchi and muchimi you will notice a considerable increase in your ability to generate power efficiently and your karate will feel stronger, more beautiful and devastatingly more effective.
A Perspective on Bunkai
By: Kyoshi Jason Perry
June 22, 2017
“Even after many years, kata practice is never finished, for there is always something new to be learned about executing a movement”
We often talk about Bunkai. Many traditionalists will boast about doing bunkai in the dojo and not merely going through the motions of kata. And this is good. Kata is nothing without bunkai. But I would like to offer a slightly different perspective on bunkai that I hope will give the reader something to think about and hopefully experiment with in personal training. Read More
Most traditional karateka translate bunkai to mean “application” or “analysis.” But these two terms in English do not seem close in meaning. This creates misconceptions about what bunkai is and what it means. This brief explanation is meant to clarify the meaning of the word in the Japanese language and then to take that meaning and apply it to kata as we understand it.
I find it useful to look at the Chinese characters first to determine what words actually mean. First it is important to understand that each character (kanji) in the Japanese language has multiple pronunciations. One pronunciation is referred to as the “Chinese pronunciation” or Onyomi. The Onyomi is normally used when two or more kanji are used to create a single word. Each kanji will also have a Kunyomi or “Japanese Reading.” The Kunyomi is normally used when the word is found as a stand-alone word. The meaning of the character itself does not change. This is a difficult concept but important to understand when analyzing Japanese words. Now back to the topic of this article.
Bunkai is a word made up of two Chinese characters. The first is Bun (分). The second is Kai (解). The two characters together create the noun bunkai (分解). If we add the verb “to do” after these characters we get the verb bunkai suru (literally to do bunkai). Let’s look at the characters individually and see what we can learn.
The Kunyomi for bun is wakaru or wakeru. The kanji means “part” or “to separate.” It is also the character used to mean “to understand.” This is a very commonly used word in Japanese. I understand: Wakarimashita. Or a peice of something is 部分 “bubun.” A part of an hour is a bun or a minute. To break up or go separate ways is wakareru (分かれる). So the image that comes to mind with the first character is to separate, divide or understand.
The second character is Kai. The Kunyomi for 解 is Toku. Toku means to unravel, loosen, untie, unpack or pull apart. In Japan I would often go fishing with several of my Japanese friends. We would rent a boat and catch saba, isaki, matai and other fish. When our fishing lines would get tangled up, we would have to Toku (untangle) the lines. The same character is used in the word Kaishaku “interpretation” (literally unravel and explain), Kaiho means to “liberate” (literally unravel or loosen and let go), Kaiketsu means to “resolve” (literally unravel and decide).
So the Japanese to English dictionary will tell you the word bunkai means “analyze” or “disassemble.” In my experience in Japan I have heard the word in a variety of contexts. As a member of the U.S. military working with the Japanese military, I heard the word bunkai often used to mean taking apart weapons. Ju wo bunkai suru. To disassemble a gun, for example. As a student in Japan my professors would often use the word to mean “to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of (www.dictionary.com).” So the image that comes to mind when we use the word bunkai is to break something down into its parts. To unravel something into is distinct parts. This is consistent with the English definition of Analyze which is, according to www.dictionary.com, “to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or elements; determine the elements or essential features of.”
Given this explanation, when we talk about the Bunkai of Kata, what we are really saying is the breaking down of a complex series of movements into its parts and analyzing them individually. Another way to think about it is that when we analyze kata, we take it and disassemble it in time (ie, we count) and space (we separate individual movements from each other) to make the kata understandable. Lets look at the analogy of disassembling a gun. (If the gun analogy is uncomfortable for you then simply replace it with engine and the analogy still works.) When we learn how to operate a gun safely, we want to understand how the various parts work together to make the bullet hit a target some distance away. To do this we will take the gun and separate the barrel from the receiver. We will disassemble the trigger housing group and in doing so get a better understanding of how the gun functions. However, in its disassembled state, the gun is of no use. It cannot actually send a bullet down range. But the act of disassembling (bunkai) the gun is critical to our total understanding of marksmanship.
Needless to say, to use the gun after we have disassembled it, we must reassemble it. The same is true if we use the more scientific translation of the word Bunkai, to analyze. In the scientific method, researchers first analyze (break down) a problem into its parts. They isolate variables and test them. But this process is not complete, or is at least not valuable to the body of science) until the researcher synthesizes the parts to solve the problem. Again, www.dictionary.com tells us the definition of synthesize is to “form (a material or abstract entity) by combining parts or elements.” The Japanese word for synthesis is Togo but it is rarely used in Martial Arts settings. Instead we often hear the word Oyo 応用 or “Application.” The application of techniques that have been broken down is the process of putting these techniques back together in a meaningful way. In our case in a way that has martial application under realistic circumstances.
Now let’s turn our attention to how we learn kata and why we learn kata the way we do. In Naihanchi Shodan, for example, we are taught first to bring our hands in front of us, palms toward our chest and then to bring the hands down in front of us. That is the first count. We are then taught to look to our right – count number 2 or the second move. The next step is to assume a kosa dachi with our left leg in front of the right – move number three. This sequencing of techniques continues until the entire routine is mastered. Even the names of our kata suggest a predetermined count – Gojushiho, for example means 50 steps. Generally, a teacher stands at the front of the class and provides commands (or a count) that indicate to the students when to move. The beginning and end of each discrete move is predetermined. The count itself is only a teaching tool to introduce the untrained to the fundamentals of martial techniques that are within kata. Essentially, the teacher has necessarily broken apart (bunkai) the kata in time (count) and space (predetermined beginning and end of a technique). This is a necessity because otherwise we could not begin to comprehend how kata works as a whole if we did not have it broken down in this way. But this is an artificial representation of the kata. The so-called techniques we see in the kata are simply artificial starts and stops that help us learn the kata. The separation of hand and foot movements are only there to allow us to understand the constituent parts of the kata. But it is only through the orchestration, integration and coordination of these artificially disaggregated movements that we begin to understand the applications of the techniques.
Often, I believe, we forget the latter half of “Analysis,” which is “Synthesis.” Truly advanced kata is a reflection of a careful analysis (bunkai) AND the ability to synthesize the movements back into applicable (oyo) technique. To carry it one step further, application is only validated against an opposing will – an unwilling opponent. I am often bewildered to see senior karateka who perform kata with no count and yet they still fail to synthesize movements into an orchestrated set of simultaneous motions that have valid martial application. While there is no audible cadence for them to follow they are still following a count in their mind as if they were doing a dance recital. It begs the question, “what is the difference between a 5 dan version of naihanchi shodan and a sankyu version of the same?” Both are certainly well-rehearsed in the movements. Both can execute with speed, power, balance, and control. But fundamentally, there is no manifestation of a greater understanding of the bunkai or the oyo in the senior karateka’s performance. Further, there is a general lack of understanding of how the discrete movements relate to each other to defeat an opponent. I would argue at some point, we must wean ourselves of counting and look between the parts of the kata (which are often separated from each other when we learn the basic form) by shedding a count-based sequence. It inhibits synthesis of the kata. Another way to say it is that the count makes it difficult to make the kata our own.
Bill Hayes sensei describes a profound personal moment he had with his teacher Shimabuku Eizo sensei that I believe illustrates this idea. “Without a bow, from no fixed stance, with none of the opening formalities associated with kata, Osensei went into a blizzard of movements which were impossibly fast. His hands appeared to be redirecting and striking at the same time… There was a constant sense of deadly anger surrounding him. He was dangerous now and I dared not move!” He continues, “As OSensei literally zoomed around the “sky dojo” it became apparent that a true life or death struggle was taking place. This was not a mere high-power performance for my benefit.” I believe, this was Osensei revealing to Hayes sensei not bunkai but synthesis of the kata he was teaching his student.
Now that is not to say yudansha should never do kata with a count. I am not suggesting classes be changed to kata free-for-alls. But I do believe we must make time in our personal training to really internalize our kata and then work with partners to understand how techniques are applied in fluid, chaotic and violent situations.
Lessons Relearned: A Few Thoughts on Karate Principles
By Kyoshi Jason Perry:
July 4, 2012 Musa Qala District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
For my karate friends, I thought I would share some thoughts I have had recently on karate principles. I am not able to go to a dojo but I still train and think about karate. It is a little long and somewhat random so forgive the lack of structure and coherence. A few things that have been on my mind follow. I hope you find this enjoyable and maybe even helpful. I also hope you will recognize my intended sincerity and humility and will forgive anything that smacks arrogant or judgmental. Read More
I began Okinawan Karate training before my powers of recollection begin. My father tells me I was three – or two depending on who you talk to. Suffice it to say, I don’t recall ever starting to take Karate lessons. I don’t recall ever thinking of Karate in terms of lessons or classes at all; Karate was and is just the natural state of things in my life. As I got older I became interested in many different sports and activities. In college I ran every day and became a decent runner. I joined the military and as an infantryman conduct physical training and combat conditioning on a regular basis. In 1998 I became interested in running marathons and ran eight marathons over the next 10 years. I was in great running shape but my fitness became very one dimensional as a runner. My marathon experience culminated in Boston where I ran the storied Boston Marathon. By the time I got to Boston I was plagued with injuries. Nothing debilitating, just nagging injuries that I continue to deal with. It could be the hundreds of miles of hiking under heavy loads; it could be the endless hours of sitting at a desk writing policy or fitness reports. My inability to run the way I used to compelled me to vary my work out routines. I became interested in CrossFit and while deployed to Iraq did the Workout of the Day religiously. During my first deployment to Afghanistan I teamed up with a buddy and did the 6 week Insanity work out and then bounced around between CrossFit and Sparta workouts along with regular running of up to 6 miles or so. During my second tour in Afghanistan (where I currently hang my cover) I teamed up with the battalion Operations Chief and we started the deployment doing the TRX work outs together.
These exercise formats depart from traditional thinking about effective exercise. Instead of isolating and fatiguing a muscle to get results like weight lifters, these formats emphasize multidimensional movement and muscle group coordination. They emphasize full range of motion and energy transfer between large muscle groups. Unlike distance running they emphasize core strength and an assortment of omni-directional movements. As I have dabbled in each of these formats I have realized there is nothing new under the sun. We are only rediscovering what I learned in the dojo (or the backyard or the garage) from the beginning. The principles of Karate are found in all of these workout formats. I would like to highlight some of those principles. I do not seek to convince anyone to change what works for them or to do anything different only to consider the wisdom in how we are taught to train in the dojo. It seems I am rediscovering what I always knew. Growing up in the dojo, I just never recognized it until now.
Kutsu o nuide keiko (Remove your shoes and train). When we enter the dojo we remove our shoes and train without their support. Interestingly, it seems the running and athletic fitness world is discovering the value of going sans shoes also. In the book “Born to Run,” Christopher McDougall talks about the Tarahumara people in Mexico who are known to run races that go on for days. While their endurance is noteworthy what is amazing is they run hundreds of miles barefoot. By and large they run injury free. The book has spurred a whole barefoot running movement. Even shod runners espouse an occasional barefoot work out consisting of strides and speed work on the infield of the track. CrossFitters are increasingly using the Vibram Five Fingers to maintain proper balance and stabilizer muscle fitness. One trip to Joshua Tree National Park and you will see barefoot (Five Finger shod) hikers all over the place. Nike came out with its Nike Free line of running shoes that are supposed to get out of the way of your foot’s natural motion when you run. Over the last few years as I have seen runners and hikers and CrossFitters (including me) latch onto this “new” fad, it occurred to me that I rarely ever worked out in shoes until I began running and wearing combat boots. There is nothing new here at all. It was only after multiple marathons in the cushioniest shoe with good arch support I could find for my medium arched, biomechanically efficient feet and a little bit of age that I began to feel leg and back pain. The only pain I ever experienced in the dojo was due to frozen feet on the concrete deck at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point dojo, or the occasional stubbed toe, cut lip or unintentional kinteki geri. OK, there was that time when Moose broke my ribs during some “light” kumite only weeks before one of my marathons (I ran 18 miles the next morning) but I forgot about that long ago – that was painful and apparently not forgotten. Working out barefoot strengthens muscles that are critical for martial arts. It teaches us how to balance properly. Shoes, by their design cast us forward and off balance us by lifting the heel of the foot. Kutsu o nuide keiko.
The Core. It is hard to open an exercise or running magazine without seeing something that involves core strengthening. These articles convince us to get in all sorts of plank positions and strengthen the muscles that stabilize our center. In the Insanity work out, much of the core strengthening is done by lifting the knees high, often while doing jumping exercises. Imagine that, core-specific training. From day one in the dojo we learn about hara. Tuck your hips in, shoulders down, rotate your hips and drive power from your hara. Lift the knee high with the foot of the kicking leg coiled back before driving with the hips. When I was young, my father would have me walk up and down the dojo in zenkutsu dachi with my back straight, hips forward under my shoulders. He would admonish me to move from my hara. He would have me punch a bag with an imaginary pole running through my head to the deck locking my hips and torso at the end of the punch to generate power through my hand. Using a shinai he would check to see if I was maintaining a tight torso by tapping me (OK that might be a little understated but I don’t want CPS showing up and arresting the 75 year old) on the torso. Everything worked the core and if a technique was not executed from the core it was weak. If your core was weak your karate would be weak. As a runner, I realized that running does nothing for the core. Your body will rely on larger muscle groups to generate speed but your core muscles will weaken. Your hips will begin to destabilize and injury will set in. Thus the steady diet of core exercises for runners now found in Runners’ World magazine. Crossfit, Sparta, Insanity, PX90 all emphasize core strengthening through posture and core-specific exercises.
Explosive movements and the transfer of energy. If you do Crossfit you will notice there is not a lot of isolating muscles and fatiguing them like you see with weight lifters. The movements are powerful, full-range-of-motion movements that require the transfer of power from one muscle group to another and incorporate timing, balance, and coordination. The kipping pull up is a prime example. While kipping pull ups are easier to do than strict or dead hang pull ups they require a level of coordination, timing and energy transfer you do not get from strict pull ups. Every technique in karate is just that – a transfer of power from one place to another until eventually that power is delivered at the point of impact with all the energy of one’s body behind it. To generate that kind of power requires our feet to grip the deck, our legs to drive our hips forward, our shoulders to rotate but not enough to lose control and eventually to transfer all that moving energy in the form of a strike through the hand into the target area on our opponent. If the timing and coordination of all the disparate muscle groups is off, the strike will be less effective. Like a speed bump in the road the forward energy is interrupted and power is lost. Just like the kipping pull up, the less we get in the way of that power the easier and more efficient our techniques will be. The value of the exercise is not in how hard we can make it but how efficiently we can coordinate the movement of the body.
Weight distribution. The barefoot runners talk about running on the toes and allowing our feet to work naturally to absorb shock. They also talk about keeping the feet under the body’s center of gravity instead of landing on the heel which reduces efficiency by interrupting forward motion. Crossfitters advocate driving through the heels when doing squats, wall ball shots or kettlebell swings and keeping your feet underneath your body and tucking the hips at the end of the motion. Both of these techniques are consistent with karate principles. As I learned the techniques taught in these exercise formats they all rang true to me.
As I said earlier, I spent a lot of time just walking up and down the dojo in zenkutsu dachi. When I graduated from zenkutsu dachi, dad would let me do neko ashi dachi. What a treat that was (the reader should sense a great deal of sarcasm here). I would literally go to the dojo and walk up and down the dojo until class was over, bow out and go home and eat cheese and crackers with dad while watching baseball games until past my bedtime. But in just walking up and down the floor I learned the very principles we now view as revolutionary. In moving from one stance to another we glide along the deck keeping the hips traveling on an even plane. The ball of the foot is in contact with the floor as we transfer weight. We keep our center of gravity over our feet. This echos much of what the barefoot runners talk about. But we drive with power off the heel. If a shiko dachi is too wide, it is not effective because our center is not supported properly. When we turn around in the dojo we pivot on the heel to generate power. When we punch we pivot on our heel to generate forward motion in our hips and create a solid surface (bone supported by the deck). When power is needed the Crossfitters and Sparta fans will tell you to drive through your heels. Your weight should not be forward when doing kettlebell swings or squat thrusts. Drive through the heels in a powerful motion, tuck the hips at the end as you transfer energy to lift the prescribed weight. I remember a camp I attended with Kevin Roberts. Ridgley Abele sensei taught us these same principles during a class about generating power. He also took us on runs in our gi and taght us about how to run efficiently. I thought it strange at the time but now realize he was teaching us to apply karate principles into all of our activities. Kevin has a picture of he and I on his website standing under a waterfall during that camp.
All this sounded very familiar. Think about Kusanku dai when you drive from the shiko dachi to shizentai (hachiji) dachi at the beginning of the kata. The power that drives the hips up comes straight through the heels. If your knees, hips or shoulders are forward of the heels the strength of the technique is lost. If you are up on your toes, your shoulders lurch forward and your hips back; you have no power because you are off balance and the muscles are not able to transfer power efficiently so there is a loss of power in each transition. To get the power needed to execute the technique properly you must explode through your heels keeping everything aligned and sequenced for power.
Short intense work outs. A good number of Crossfit workouts only take about 20 minutes. They are intense, high energy workouts that will leave you puking your guts out before you can say, “Fifty Wall Ball Shots.” The Crossfit mascot is Pukey the Clown for crying out loud. The Insanity work out is basically 30-45 minutes of interval training turned on its head with sustained high intensity periods of work with very short breaks followed by subsequent sets of high intensity work. The warm up alone had me in the fetal position in a puddle of my own sweat during week one. Kata, if done with speed and power, can have a similar effect. Try doing all of the kata full power and full speed with a 30 second break between them. Starting at Naihanchi shodan allows you to start with moderate intervals and build to longer more demanding periods of work through Gojuushiho. Then make your way back down from Gojuushiho back to Naihanchi Shodan. Give yourself 30 seconds between kata. Throw Tsuken sunakake, Kubo no kon and Saijutsu dai whatever in there and prepare to get broke off. Intense bursts of effort with short periods of rest will quickly increase stamina, speed and power. Most fights are short and intense so make your kata that way sometimes.
Dynamic stretching. In the last few years I have seen an increasing number of articles about the value of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves active movements of the muscle that bring forth a stretch but are not held in the end position. It loosens the muscles and joints through motion. If you attend a class with Eizo Shimabukuro sensei at his Ginoza, Okinawa dojo you will see this technique but I don’t think it comes from the latest Men’s Health magazine. He’s been doing the same warm up routine since Bill Hayes sensei was a Private. While in the 1980s static stretching (holding a stretch at the end of the movement) was all the rage (think the stretching racks we used to have in the dojo), now in some arenas static stretching is a hiss and a byword. The most effective way to stretch is probably somewhere in between. Since I was a kid we always warmed up lightly then moved the joints by rotating them and swinging them back and forth (dynamic stretching). We would do some bouncing as we stretched and in some cases we would hold the static stretch. I remember Perry sensei counting to 10 as we would dynamically stretch and then hold the last count for a few seconds as in static stretching. These principles are still seen in most of our classes in the dojo today. You will see a mix of static and dynamic stretching which convinces me that karate principles are timeless.
I have recently begun to create my own workouts that incorporate what I enjoy about all of these workouts. In Five Fingers I will do 4-5 rounds of 1 KM run followed by 20 kettlebell swings or wall ball shots, followed by a 3 minute round on the heavy bag, then some incline sit ups, elbows to knees, or planks followed by a kata. I will mix in strict pull ups, squat thrusts, switch kicks, burpees or other horrible exercise to keep things interesting. At the end of the workout I feel like I have worked hard and have applied karate principles I have known my whole life. In the desert of Twentynine Palms I would often go on a 6 mile run that consisted of 3 miles then 4 to 6 kata at full speed with a 30 second break between then a 3 mile run back. It was like doing a standard speed day with a warm up, sprints and then a cool down. It is also develops the mind and body to accept hard work when you are tired. I don’t have that luxury here in Afghanistan so I stick to my circuits.
So why put these thoughts on paper – uhhh interspace? I am not trying to change the way anyone trains or alter what aspect of karate you find attractive. Most of you probably already understand these principles because you had gym memberships and were doing the Nautilus workouts or Arnold’s get huge now workouts that just weren’t giving you the results you seek and discovered the wholeness of a traditional martial work out. The very thing I am just now internalizing. I never transitioned from that experience to karate. I never appreciated the uniqueness of karate as a workout system. I am probably handicapped by the fact that I knew nothing but karate from the time I could walk. Now that I am a little older and more prone to injury and soft midriff syndrome, I need to work out for my physical, spiritual and emotional health. I am reminded after doing all kinds of exercise programs that karate principles are enduring. And therein lies the purpose of this essay.
This doesn’t mean I am no longer going to run (with or without shoes), or knock out “Cindy” or “Fight Gone Bad,” or “Dig Deeper!” with Shawn T every once in a while but I do appreciate the martial principles in all the workouts I do. I also work kata into my workouts much more than I used to. Instead of doing kata as a separate part of my regimen, I incorporate kata into my normal routine. We often talk about bunkai and oyo bunkai and find ourselves with our hands on our hips engaged in lively discussions about the intricacies of the techniques embedded in our kata. While this helps us understand the meaning of our art it does not condition our bodies or minds for the combat we so energetically discuss. Occasionally, we should put those important discussions aside and just go fight our way through kata. When I say fight I mean just that – make kata a combative event. Forget the meaning of the technique. The meaning is inherent in the movements themselves. Case in point, just walk up to someone and execute the first technique in Kihon kata. The meaning of the technique will become apparent very quickly whether you were taught the bunkai or not. It is an inherently combative movement. Learn to move with combative intent and commitment and you will learn a skill most of your potential opponents do not possess – and one that is often the decisive factor in an altercation. Dismiss the count and just go fight. Not only will the kata become meaningful in a combative context it will also become a challenging workout that incorporates all the principles that seem to be re-emerging in mainstream fitness. Karatedo ni Hissho.
Okinawa’s Bushi: Karate Gentlemen Article:
by Charles C. Goodin
Courtesy of Kyoshi Chris Estes
Recently, I was conducting a search of Yoen Jiho Sha /1 issues when I came across an article entitled A Small Talk on Karate – Kinjo, a Benefactor of Karate-Do in Hawaii, by Sosen Toyohira. November 16, 1961. /2 One section of the article in particular caught my attention: Read More
“In Okinawa, an expert of Karate was called a “Bushi,” which meant a true gentleman or a noble character. In feudal times in Japan, in contrast, “Bushi” referred to “warriors” or “samurai.” Karate is a defensive art only – it is never used for offense. It is a self-defense art that should be mastered to conquer oneself and learn to behave modestly. For that reason, a well trained Karateman was looked upon as a “Bushi” – a noble Karateman.”
This discussion made me start thinking – how did the Okinawan and Japanese concepts of “Bushi” differ and what does this mean for students of Karate? I started to review literature and websites and quickly found that many people associate Karate “Bushi” with the Japanese concept of warrior or samurai. If Karate people are this type of “Bushi” it is natural to think that they should follow the Code of “Bushido”, literally, the way of the “Bushi.” While at it, why not throw in Zen training for good measure?
Now wait a moment – at the time of the formation of Karate, Okinawa was not part of Japan. The Ryukyu or Loo Choo Kingdom, of which Okinawa was the largest island, was independent (albeit dominated by its much larger neighbors). It traded with Japan, China and many other countries. It had its own king, political and social structure, language, religion, arts and culture (don’t get me going on this). Okinawans were not Japanese. So why should their martial artists follow the Japanese Code of Bushido, which was only applicable to the Japanese warrior class?
Was the problem with the word “Bushi” itself? Fortunately, my sensei, Katsuhiko Shinzato, is a professor of linguistics at the Okinawa International University. /3 I emailed a series of questions to him about this subject.
He explained that although “Bushi” uses the same kanji and is pronounced the same in Okinawa and Japan, it means different things. In Japan, a “Bushi” was a member of the warrior class. In Okinawa, the term “Bushi” was honorific. It was used to refer to a Karate practitioner who was respected and revered not only for of his superior martial arts skill, but for being a civilized, principled gentleman as well. “Bushi” did not mean the Japanese “samurai.” As evidence of this, even the Okinawan King’s official guards, who were referred to as “samurai” in Okinawa, were not referred to as “Bushi.”
As it turns out, different types of “Bushi” are recognized in Okinawa.
A “Kakure Bushi” is a “hidden Bushi”, one who never tries to let himself be known as a Karate practitioner. Occasionally we hear about Karate hermits, experts who live in caves, tombs, or the mountains, and have completely withdrawn from society.
On the other extreme is a “Tijikun Bushi” or “knuckle or fist Bushi.” This type of Karate practitioner has large, grotesque knuckles and is known for fighting skill only. He lacks the culture and principles of a gentleman. A reference to this type of “Bushi” can be found in Noma of Japan: An Autobiography of a Japanese Publisher, by Seiji Noma assisted by Shunkichi Akimoto, The Vanguard Press, 1934. Mr. Noma, a kendo expert, was stationed in Okinawa as a schoolteacher in 1904. Okinawa used to be referred to as Loo Choo (or Luchu) and Okinawans were called Luchuans. Tijikun is a Hogen (Okinawan dialect) term. Noma uses the Japanese term “teko” (knuckle):
“My unruly behaviour was not confined to drinking and courtesans. I fought with roughs and thrashed men for imagined insults. The Luchuans are a pacific people, but like all those given to strong drink and leading a primitive life, they would commit acts of nameless cruelty if their blood was stirred. The Luchuans had developed through centuries of practice the peculiar art of self-defence and aggression, known as tekobushi, which consists in making incredibly deft and powerful thrusts of the fist after the fashion of jujitsu or even boxing. This was the only possible mode of self-defence for the Luchuans, who had been prohibited the use of weapons by their double rulers of China and Japan. A Luchuan expert in the deadly art could smash every bone in his victim’s body with the thrusts of his arms, as if he had struck with a giant hammer. Not infrequently poor victims were found dead by the road-side bearing marks of terrible blows from naked fists. Near Tsuji at night there were always gangs of roughs supposed to be skilled in tekobushi, who were ready to pick quarrels with unwary strangers.”
A “Tijikun Bushi” is the worst type, since he is the most likely to harm others, and in the process, impugn the reputation of all other Karate practitioners. Morio Higaonna, /4 who visited me at the Hawaii Karate Museum in August, 2004, explained to me that such a person is also referred to as a “Bushi Gwa,” or “small Bushi.” “Gwa” is the Hogen word for “small.” /5 A “Bushi Gwa” grasps only a small aspect of Karate.
Another negative example of a Karate practitioner is a “Kuchi Buchi,” or “Mouth Bushi,” one who pretends to be well trained by bluffing. While a “Tijikun Bushi” might have callused, wart-like knuckles, a “Kuchi Bushi” has a silvery tongue – he can talk the talk but not walk the walk. He lacks or only has a low level of martial skill. Such a person spends more time reading about Karate than training and tends to dwell on and exaggerate the exploits of famous fighters. In doing so, he misleads young students who are easily impressed and distracted.
Higaonna Sensei also mentioned that there is an “Uhu Bushi” or “Greatest Bushi.” He recalled hearing Kanryo Higaonna (an outstanding proponent of Naha-Te) referred to as “Uhu Bushi Higaonna No Tanme.” “Tanme” is Hogen for “respected elder.”
Shinzato Sensei further explained that “Uhu Bushi” is an honorific term for one who was the greatest among certain schools or styles of Karate. Kanryo Higaonna was considered to be the originator of present Goju-Ryu and thus deserved the title “Uhu Bushi.” Likewise, in the genealogy of Shorin-Ryu, Sokon Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora would be referred to as “Uhu Bushi” as they are regarded as the restorers of Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te respectively.
Now before anyone runs off to change their email address to “Bushi” or “Uhu Bushi,” these terms are honorific: titles or phrases conveying respect. They are only used by others. I’m sure that Sokon Matsumura never introduced himself as “Bushi,” nor has any sensei I have ever trained with referred to himself as “Sensei.” Perhaps the only person who would do so is a “Kuchi Bushi” or “Bushi Gwa.”
These terms also seem to be more or less reserved for the leading Karate experts of the 19th century or earlier. Anko Itosu was certainly a “Bushi” by any standard, but I have never heard him referred to as such. The same applies to Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Chojun Miyagi, Choshin Chibana, and others noted Karate practitioners.
The case of Sokon Matsumura deserves special attention because it both highlights some of the confusion surrounding the term “Bushi” and provides an example of what a “Bushi” truly is. Born in Shuri in 1809, Matsumura practiced the fighting traditions of both Okinawa and China, and also studied Jigen-ryu Kenjutsu (swordsmanship) while in Kagoshima (Satsuma). Due to his prowess in both Karate (which then was referred to as “China Hand”) and intellectual studies, such as calligraphy, he ultimately served three Kings. There can be no doubt that Matsumura was an outstanding martial artist, one of the finest ever. However, he was not called “Bushi” simply because of his martial skills, nor was the title given in recognition of the fact that he was a “samurai” (or bodyguard) for kings, or trained in swordsmanship in mainland Japan.
Instead, Matsumura was given the title of “Bushi” by retired King Shoko-O (then called Boji-Ushu) for something he did not have to do. By now, I’m sure that you know I am referring to the episode of Matsumura defeating a wild bull. This story has been told in many books, but in a nutshell, Boji-Ushu asked Matsumura to fight a bull that had become a nuisance. In those days in Okinawa, bullfights were staged between two bulls. Knowing of Matsumura’s Karate skills, the King wondered how Matsumura would fare.
When the time came for the fight, Matsumura entered the arena. He was either wearing a certain colored robe or carrying a small wooden club (depending on who tells the story). Upon seeing Matsumura, the bull cowered and ran away. It was terrified.
Before the stunned crowd, the ex-King promptly pronounced that Matsumura was to be known thereafter as “Bushi Matsumura. As we all know, Matsumura had sneaked into the bull’s pen at night for the week preceding the match and beat it fiercely on the nose with a club. No wonder it was terrified when it saw him! What we don’t know is whether the ex-King ever found out about Matsumura’s strategy.
Now, if Matsumura had been a Tijikun Bushi, he might have killed the bull or it might have killed him. Perhaps he might have succeeded in breaking of its horns. But at best he would have been considered to be a “Bushi Gwa”. Had Matsumura been a “Kuchi Bushi,” he could have lectured the bull, boasted about his exploits, or shouted at it, but the outcome would have been certain – he would have been gored and probably killed. But because Matsumura was a true “Bushi,” an “Uhu Bushi” at that, both he and the bull lived to see another day.
In a letter to his student Ryosei Kuwae, Matsumura described three forms of martial arts: gakushi no bugei, meimoku no bugei, and budo no bugei. The first two categories roughly equate to “Kuchi Bushi” (mouth Bushi) and “Tijikun Bushi” (fist Bushi). Only the third category is worthy of study. As he writes:
“[B]udo no bugei, [are] the genuine methods which are never practiced without a conviction, and through which participants cultivate a serene wisdom which knows not contention or vice. With virtue, participants foster loyalty among family, friends and country, and a natural decorum encourages a dauntless character. With the fierceness of a tiger and the swiftness of a bird, an indomitable calmness makes subjugating any adversary effortless. Yet budo no bugei forbids willful violence, governs the warrior, fortifies people, fosters virtue, appeases the community, and brings about a general sense of harmony and prosperity. These are the “Seven Virtues of Bu.”
Yakusoku Kumite – a discussion:
Courtesy of Kyoshi Jason Perry
Yakusoku (約束) means appointment or promise. Kumite (組み手) means to pair hands or spar. Yakusoku kumite, therefore, is a prearranged set of movements done by two people. One is a defender and the other the attacker. Yakusoku kumite offers karateka the opportunity to execute kata-like offensive and defensive movements in a controlled environment. Read More
Unlike Jiyu kumite or in actual combat, each individual executes his / her technique with a complete understanding of what his aite (相手) or partner is going to do in response. Practicing Yakusokukumite has several merits but it also potentially teaches bad habits that if carried over to actual fighting may have unwanted results.
If we accept that we fight the way we train, one must understand the demerits of yakusoku kumite and be careful not to allow those practices to become habits in our fighting philosophy or style. Such is the case with any training tool to include kata, makiwara, jiyu kumite or other drills and exercises. Each has its purpose and training objectives but each also falls short of replicating actual combat. I would like to limit my thoughts to yakusoku kumite and offer a few merits and demerits each karateka should consider when training.
No training can completely replicate combat, therefore we train different aspects of fighting by means of various methods that stress certain, albeit limited, concepts of fighting. Kata teaches balance, breathing, body mechanics and the fundamentals of combative movement. But to be proficient in kata will not make one a skilled fighter in and of itself. Kata must be applied in the context of the nature of combat such as fluidity, confusion, fear, fatigue, environment, etc.
Similarly, yakusoku kumite teaches valuable combat principles. I will offer a few of them here:
1) Maai (間合い): Ma (間) means between or interval and ai (合い) means to meet or merge. Maai is the meeting distance between two combatants. Maai changes based on the individual, the techniques involved, and the intent of the combatant. When properly done, yakusokukumite can teach karateka how to manage this distance. As the attacker closes the distance to execute a technique the uke or defender (literally receiver) must adjust the distance and direction between the karateka and the aite. Both partners must attempt to adjust the maai to best achieve his/her intent (defend or attack). Maai is a component of combat that can only be learned with a partner. Kata offers ways to close or open distance but has little value in terms of managing maai in a fluid environment with an opposing will.
2) Initiative and timing: Kata can be executed in accordance with the karateka’s own understanding of the timing of the “fight.” One look at modern Japanese shitei kata makes it clear kata timing is not realistic with its slow motion and long pauses for effect. This results in pure theatrics vice applicable combative motion – performing a kata vice fighting through a kata. Yakusoku kumite, on the other hand, compels a defender to react in response to the attacker’s timing and distance. This is fairly easily done when the defender knows the method of attack. Nevertheless, it is a lesson arguably best learned in the confines of prearranged movement before or as a supplement to progressing to free flowing attacks. Because initiative is with the attacker, the uke must learn to relax and execute the response in an efficient manner. Wasted movement will result in a successful attack even when the defender knows what is coming. The value of this training lies with the integrity of the partners not to overly choreograph distance and timing.
3) Kansetsu and Kyusho jutsu: Yakusoku kumite offers a controlled environment in which to experiment with how to attack joints and vital points without the danger of a free flowing sparring session.
4) Fundamentals: Yakusoku kumite is a great method of confirming the soundness of one’s fundamentals of karate principles. Instability in one’s stances comes into clear focus when done with a partner, for example. How many of us have thrown a punch at a partner and realized our stance was not nearly as stable as we thought? The fundamentals of tai sabaki are also tested to a limited degree when performing yakusoku kumite.
There are no doubt other merits but I will stop there. More important than what yakusoku kumite teaches us are the lessons we must not take away from the exercise. Here are a few salient “Lessons to Avoid” when training.
1) Maai: I have put maai as both a merit and a demerit. Generally, attacks in yakusoku kumite are straight attacks. The defense normally involves the defender moving back in the opposite direction of the attack to defend. In most of the dojo practice I have seen, the attacker is rarely ever close enough to actually execute an effective technique. Similarly, the defender never does anything to gain a tactical advantage by either opening, closing or changing the distance or angle of attack. The result is normally that the status quo comparative tactical advantage is maintained between the two combatants. In other words, neither aite gains or looses advantage. In a fight, we must always seek to gain positional, psychological and physical advantage. Doing so requires us to change the timing, distance and direction before our opponent can observe, orient, decide and react to our action. If the wrong lessons are taken away from yakusoku kumite we will only be skilled at not loosing advantage. We will fail to lean how to gain advantage and initiative.
Another lesson to avoid within the category of maai is that of appropriate combative distance. Whether we are aware of it or not, kata applications often teach us to close with our opponent even as our opponent is attacking us. By closing with (or entering) we change the status quo in terms of distance, timing and by creating a psychological effect on our opponent. Karate is, despite its reputation otherwise, a close in fighting method. Anyone who has experienced a fight or seen a fight will agree most fights involve opponents grabbing, pushing, pulling, swinging, and or wrestling each other at close quarters. If we train ourselves to move away from an attack (as yakusoku kumite often does) instead of using it as an opportunity to gain positional advantage we fail to train ourselves to seize tactical initiative and change the status quo to our favor. One of the most difficult things to do in a fight is to effectively close distance and gain kuzushi (off-balancing) over an opponent. Judo players spend countless hours doing uchikomi (entering) practice for the various throws. Getting inside the opponent’s defense in a way that establishes an advantage is difficult and must be practiced. Yakusoku kumite can be used to teach us to seek opportunities to close but often those lessons are lost in application and training. I have even had students talk about finding a good yakusoku partner because they move well together. In reality we should seek partners with a variety of body types, timing, reach, and speed otherwise we are only seeking a dance partner not trying to close the gap between form and reality.
2) Focus on individual position vice opponent’s position: One of the drawbacks to kata is that it teaches us to focus on our own posture but because there is no aite it fails to teach us to place importance on what we are doing to break down our aite’s posture. Thus we often see karateka who are hyper aware of their own body mechanics (what angle should my foot be? What is my elbow doing during this technique? for example). These are important elements but meaningless if there is no effect on the opponent. Many of the mechanics / bunkai of kata are meant to teach us to break an opponent’s posture down and create vulnerabilities that we can then exploit. The focus must be on how our aite reacts and how that reaction creates opportunity. We may execute a technique with perfect form but if it does not physically or psychologically damage our opponent or create a window of opportunity to do so it is meaningless. As karate ka we should be skilled at placing our opponent’s body in an unbalanced, weak and vulnerable position while maintaining our own center of balance and power. In all but the final technique of the Yakusoku Kumite of Shorin Ryu Shorin Kan (and by extension Shorin Ryu Kensankai) does either aite attempt to upset the other’s balance, momentum, or power other than by rudimentary blocks and some taisabaki. The focus is generally on ensuring both partners remain in a strong, balanced and powerful position until the culminating technique. I recognize fully that this is by design but we must recognize that in executing yakusokukumite we are allowing our brains to identify weaknesses, create openings and establish kuzushi and exploit opportunity to damage our opponent. By understanding this shortfall we then see the need to use other training tools to develop our ability to create, recognize and exploit opportunity.
3) Ukekata (受け方): Ukekata in Japanese means “way of receiving.” Ukeru means to receive. Kata means way or direction (this is a different character than what we all know as kata 型). Most karate glossaries translate uke as block. This is not necessarily incorrect but it does limit the meaning compared to the Japanese nuances behind the word. Thus in English, a middle block is chuudanuke and an upper level block is joudanuke. The English interpretation suggests the aim of chuudanuke is to prevent your opponent from hitting you with a strike against your midsection – say from waist to shoulders. Similarly a joudan uke would suggest the action you take when someone attacks your head. The Japanese term uke, however, suggests more than just prevention. It implies receiving or reacting to or dealing with an attack. In other words, it implies a complete response.
Yakusoku kumite tends to limit the application of technique to its most basic form. Generally, if an opponent attacks with a middle level punch, the uke steps back and executes a chuudan uke. At that point the technique or response is complete and the next movement begins.
At a more advanced level, chuudan uke is a complete technique with multiple potential applications that involve strikes, kansetsu waza, kyuushojutsu and taisabaki. A chuudan uke applied only as a block is quite inefficient and ineffective when looked at in its most basic application, which is generally the application we see executed in yakusoku kumite.
One other thought on blocks not necessarily related to yakusoku specifically: For the most part karateka understand that a middle block (chuudanuke) is an appropriate response to a middle level attack such as chuudantsuki. While this is not incorrect, I offer a slightly different way of thinking about uke. I am of the opinion the uke has more to do with how the defender intends to respond to the attack than it does with the location or intended target of the attack itself.
When attacked we are generally unaware of the intended target of the attack (except in yakusokukumite). This means the defender must 1) recognize or observe the attack, 2) orient on the attack, 3) decide how to respond and 4) execute the response. This decision making cycle is called the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). All of these steps must take place between the moment the attack is initiated and the moment it culminates. The defender has very little time to react. It follows then that a response to an attack must account for and defend against as many potential targets as possible.
Executed properly the basic ukewaza do this. But because we have limited our application of chuudanuke to chuudankogeki we have a tendency to execute improper technique.
I prefer to think of ukewaza in terms of how I intend to respond to an attack regardless of what my opponent’s intended target is. Even if my opponent’s intended target is a low, I may respond with chuudanuke. It is a middle level response to a low level attack. A middle level attack (a punch to the mid-section) may be received with a low level response (gedanuke). With this way of thinking, it is no longer incumbent upon me to first determine my opponent’s intended target to respond. I only need to execute proper technique to cover as many potential openings as possible and then complete the technique. In this way, I seek to gain the initiative, impose my will on my opponent and not merely react to his attack.
4) Gorei (語例): Combat is fluid. Combat is continuous motion, which generates a tempo that overwhelms your opponent’s ability to observe, orient, decide and act. When we teach kata, we artificially break up what would otherwise be a continuous motion so we can teach basic principles. Itosu Anko sensei simplified kata from their original form so they could be incorporated into school curriculum. We teach kata at the basic level by artificially disconnecting what would otherwise be simultaneous techniques and break continuous movement up in time and space so we can break the kata down into “bite sized” movements. Where one movement begins and ends is largely immaterial in terms of application. Yet even after we get to more advanced levels we tend to execute kata and by extension yakusokukumite the same way we did the first time we learned the kata – with a count. I have often heard of groups going to Okinawa to learn new knowledge. They come back with nothing more to announce, “the count for this kata has changed.” The count itself is an artificiality of kata, yet we seem to be tied to it. I often hear in class, “we will now do kata X or Y goreinashi,” meaning without a count. Yet when the command “hajime” is given the class executes the kata in perfect synchronicity as if someone were at the head of the class calling for the execution of each technique. There may not be an audible count but each student is following a count in his or her head.
This practice is often carried over into the execution of yakusokukumite. People seek out a good yakusoku partner who knows the count so the kumite can be done smoothly with little disruption. To make yakusoku more effective the idea of count should be dismissed after the routine is mastered. This will provide greater training value. Otherwise yakusokukumite becomes a dance with a partner just as kata without bunkai is little more than a dance. Is looses true martial meaning.
There are many great benefits of practicing yakusokukumite. I do not want to suggest we should not practice yakusokukumite, however I believe we must do it in the proper spirit and with a clear understanding of the training opportunities and pitfalls of the drills. Here are a few suggestions to make yakusokukumite a more effective training tool:
1. Get close to attack. Stay close when defending. Learn to be comfortable inside your opponents reach. Unlike in sport karate the safest place to be in a fight is either well outside attacking range or will inside your opponent’s optimal power generating range. In karate we train to generate power through short violent movements – the nexus of chinkuchi and muchimi (maybe the topic of my next essay).
2. Get comfortable visualizing each technique as a complete technique. For example, when executing a chuudanuke, use the “non-blocking hand” to parry and use the “blocking hand to attack a vital point or a joint. Get the feel of how to bridge an attack between both hands/arms.
3. The kogeki has the initiative and should execute on his/her own timing. The uke must manage the maai to best disrupt the attack and create opportunities to gain kuzushi and positional advantage. This must all be done within the stylistic constraints of the routine.
4. Stop synchronizing movements based on an artificial count. Avoid having a designated yakusoku partner.
5. Tai sabaki can be practiced in yakusokukumite even when the movements are straight forward and back. Yakusoku can be a great opportunity to learn the basics of the use of hanmi (half facing) to create off-balancing momentum and power for follow on strikes.
6. Occasionally, work with a partner using the same techniques in the correct order of yakusoku drills but do it from more natural fighting positions and timing. Move with a partner and try to effectively off balance your partner using tai sabaki and more realistic ukekata or uke waza.
7. Supplement yakusokukumite with other training drills. Types of kumite include but are not limited to kakie, renzoku kumite, iri or jiyu kumite, contact sparring or body sparring and/or randori kumite. These various training tools can help fill in gaps left by other training tools. These tools together can help karateka learn how to create, recognize and exploit opportunities when they are presented.
Now if you are reading this and your first thought is, “Congratulations, you are a master of the obvious,” then I apologize for wasting your time. Nothing here should be overly revealing. But in my observation, yakusoku kumite is often executed absent a clear understanding of the training value and limitations involved. Yakusoku performance becomes an end – not a means to an end. I am not suggesting we should not do yakusoku kumite. It is a good learning tool. Use it but be careful what you learn from it.
Okinawan Symbols and History of the Hidari-Gomon
Courtesy of Kyoshi Estes
When one thinks of Okinawa there are a few common symbols that may come to mind. I didn’t really give it a second thought when I first saw them and simply believed that they stood for Okinawa the way a state symbol represents a state in the USA. I guess I never really gave it a thought what the various things portrayed in the state symbol for Wisconsin were either. Anyway, these symbols do have meaning and I will attempt here to explain the meaning of some very common symbols you may see when in Okinawa or any of the other Ryukyu Islands. Read More
Let’s begin with the Prefectural Symbol of Okinawa. This symbol was adopted as the official government symbol to Okinawa Prefecture in 1972 when reversion gave Okinawa back to the country of Japan. The outer circle of the symbol represents the ocean which plays such a large part in Okinawa’s identity. The white circle symbolizes a peace-loving Okinawa and the inner circle symbolizes a globally developing Okinawa. In short, the mark symbolizes “Ocean” “Peace” and “Development” all primary concerns to the people of Okinawa.
Official Prefectual Government Symbol of Okinawa
Training principles for fascial connective tissues: Scientific foundation and suggested practical applications
Robert Schleip, PhD, MA a,*, Divo Gitta MUller, HP b
a Fascia Research Group, Division of Neurophysiology, Ulm University, Albert·Einstein·AIIee 11, 89081 Ulm, Germany
b Somatics Academy GbR, Munich, Germany
DOWNLOAD PDF FILE
Courtesy of Kyoshi Chris Estes
Summary Conventional sports training emphasizes adequate training of muscle fibres, of cardiovascular conditioning and / or neuromuscular coordination. Most sports-associated over load injuries however occur within elements of the body wide fascialnet, which are then loaded beyond their prepared capacity. This tensional network of fibrous tissues includes dense sheets such as muscle envelopes, aponeuroses, as well as specific local adaptations, such as ligaments or tendons. Read More
Fibroblasts continually but slowly adapt the morphology of these tissues to repeatedly applied challenging loading stimulations. Principles of a fascia oriented training approach are introduced. These include utilization of elastic recoil, preparatory counter movement, slow and dynamic stretching,as well as rehydration practices and propri· oceptive refinement. Such training should be practiced once or twice a week in order to yield in a more resilient fascialbody suit within a time frame of 6-24 months.Some practicalexam· ples of fascia oriented exercises are presented.
© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Whenever a football player is not able to take the field because of a recurrent knee pain, a tennis star gives up early on a match due to shoulder problems, or a sprinter limps across the finish line with a torn Achilles tendon, the problem is most often neither in the musculature nor the skeleton Instead, it is the structure of the connective tissue – ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, etc. – that may have been loaded beyond its prepared capacity
Fascia has been described as a body wide tensional network, which consists of all fibrous collagenous soft connective tissues, whose fibrous architecture is domi· nantly shaped by tensional strain rather than compression. This continuous network envelops and connects all muscles and organs. Elements of this fibrous network include muscle envelopes, joint capsules, septi, intramuscular connective tissues, retinaculae, aponeuroses, as well as more dense localspecifications such as ligaments and tendons. While at some areas a local distinction of different tissue elements (such as aponeuroses, ligaments, etc.) is possible, many areas such as those in proximity to major joints consist of gradual transitions between different tissue architectures in which a clear distinction often appears as arbitrary and misleading (Schleip et al., 2012b).
Previous anatomical terminology often restricted the term fascia to dense sheets of connective tissues with lattice-like or seemingly irregular fibre architecture. In contrast, the more comprehensive and novel terminology proposed by the series of international fascia research congresses continues to honour that usage by referring to such tissues as ‘proper fascia’, but at the same time allows for a perceptual orientation in which also the other fibrous connective tissues mentioned above are included as elements of a body wide ‘fascial net’ for multi-articular tensional strain transmission (Findley et al., 2007; Huijing et al., 2009; Chaitow et al., 2012) (Fig. 1). It is important to understand, that the local architecture of this network adapts to the specific history of previous strain loading demands (Blechschmidt, 1978; Chaitow, 1988).
A focused training of this fascial network could be of great importance for athletes, dancers and other move- ment advocates. If one’s fascial body is well trained, that is to say optimally elastic and resilient, then it may be relied on to perform effectively and at the same time to offer a high degree of injury prevention (Kjaer et al., 2009). Until recently, most of the emphasis in sports has been focused on the classic triad of muscular strength, cardiovascular conditioning, and neuromuscular coordination (Jenkins, 2005).
Figure 1 Different connective tissues considered here as fascial tissues. Fascial tissues differ in terms of their density and directional alignment of collagen fibers. E.g. superficial fascia is characterized by a loose density and mostly multidi- rectional or irregular fibre alignment; whereas in the denser tendons or ligaments the fibres are mostly unidirectional. Note that the intramuscular fasciae e septi, perimysium and endo- mysium e may express varying degrees of directionality and density. The same is true e although to a much larger degree e for the visceral fasciae (including soft tissues like the omentum majus and tougher sheets like the pericardium). Depending on local loading history, proper fasciae can express a two- directional or multi-directional arrangement. As indicated, there are substantial overlaps areas in which a clear tissue category will be difficult or arbitrary. Not shown here are retinaculae and joint capsules, whose local properties may vary between those of ligaments, aponeuroses and proper fasciae.
Some alternative physical training activities e such as Pilates, yoga, Continuum Movement, and martial arts e are already taking the connective tissue network into account. Here the importance of the fasciae is often specifically discussed, though modern insights in the field of fascia research have often not been specifically included. It is therefore suggested that in order to build up an injury- resistant and elastic fascial body network it is essential to translate current insights from the dynamically developing field of fascia research into practical training programs. The intention is to encourage physical therapists, sports trainers and other movement teachers to incorporate the principles presented here and to apply them to their specific context.
The following presents some basic biomechanical and neurophysiological foundations for a fascia oriented training approach, followed by suggestions for some prac- tical applications.
A recognized characteristic of connective tissue is its impressive adaptability: when regularly put under increasing yet physiological strain, the inherent fibroblasts adjust their matrix remodelling activity such that the tissue architecture better meets demand. For example, through our everyday biped locomotion the fascia on the lateral side of the thigh develops a more palpable firmness than on the medial side. This difference in tissue stiffness is hardly found in wheel chair patients. If we were instead to spend the majority of our locomotion with our legs straddling a horse, then the opposite would happen, i.e., after a few months the fascia on the inner side of the legs would become more developed and strong (El-Labban et al.,1993).
The varied capacities of fibrous collagenous connective tissues make it possible for these materials to continuously adapt to the most challenging regular strains, particularly in relation to changes in length, strength and ability to shear. Not only the density of bone changes, for example, as happens with astronauts who spend time in zero gravity wherein the bones become more porous (Ingber, 2008); fascial tissues also react to their dominant loading patterns. With the help of the fibroblasts, they slowly but constantly react to everyday strain as well as to specific training, steadily remodelling the arrangement of their collagenous fibre network (Kjaer et al., 2009). For example, with each passing year half the collagen fibrils are replaced in a healthy body (Neuberger and Slack, 1953). Extrapola- tion of these roughly exponential renewal dynamics predicts an expected replacement of 30% of collagen fibres within 6 months and of 75% in two years.
Interestingly, the fascial tissues of young people show stronger undulations e called crimp -within their collagen fibres, reminiscent of elastic springs, whereas in older people the fibres appear as rather flattened (Staubesand et al., 1997). Research has confirmed the previously opti- mistic assumption that proper exercise loading e if applied regularly e can induce a more youthful collagen architec- ture, which shows a more wavy fibre arrangement (Wood et al., 1988; Jarniven et al., 2002) and which also expresses a significant increased elastic storage capacity (Fig. 2) (Reeves et al., 2006; Witvrouw et al., 2007).
However, it seems to matter which kind of exercise movements are applied: a controlled exercise study with a group of senior women using slow-velocity and low-load contractions only demonstrated an increase in muscular strength and volume; however, it failed to yield any change in the elastic storage capacity of the collagenous structures (Kubo et al., 2003). While the latter response could possibly be also related to age differences, more recent studies by Arampatzis et al. (2010) have confirmed that in order to yield adaptation effects in human tendons, the strain magnitude applied should exceed the value that occurs during habitual activities. These studies provide evidence of the existence of a threshold or set point at the applied strain magnitude at which the transduction of the mechanical stimulus influences the tensional homeostasis of the tendons (Arampatzis et al., 2007).
The catapult mechanism: elastic recoil of fascial tissues
Kangaroos can jump much farther than can be explained by the force of the contraction of their leg muscles. Under closer scrutiny, scientists discovered that a spring-like action is behind the unique ability: the so-called ‘catapult mechanism’ (Kram and Dawson, 1998). Here, the tendons and the fascia of the legs are tensioned like elastic rubber bands. The release of this stored energy is what makes the amazing jumps possible. The discovery soon thereafter that gazelles also utilize the same mechanism was hardly surprising. These animals are also capable of impressive leaping as well as running, though their musculature is not especially powerful. On the contrary, gazelles are generally considered to be rather delicate, making the springy ease of their incredible jumps all the more interesting.
Figure 2 Increased elastic storage capacity. Regular oscil- latory exercise, such as daily rapid running, induces a higher storage capacity in the tendinous tissues of rats, compared with their non-running peers. This is expressed in a more spring-like recoil movement as shown on the left. The area between the respective loading versus unloading curves represents the amount of ‘hysteresis’: the smaller hysteresis of the trained animals (yellow) reveals their more ‘elastic’ tissue storage capacity; whereas the larger hysteresis of their peers signifies their more ‘visco-elastic’ tissue properties, also called inertia. Illustration modified after Reeves et al., 2006. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
The possibility of high-resolution ultrasound examina- tion made it possible to discover similar orchestration of loading between muscle and fascia in human movement. Surprisingly, it has been found that the fasciae of humans have a similar kinetic storage capacity to that of kangaroos and gazelles (Sawicki et al., 2009). This is not only made use of when we jump or run but also with simple walking, as a significant part of the energy of the movement comes from the same springiness described above. This new discovery has led to an active revision of long-accepted principles in the field of movement science.
In the past, it was assumed that in a muscular joint movement, the skeletal muscles involved shorten and this energy passes through passive tendons, which results in the movement of the joint. This classic form of energy transfer is still true e according to these recent measurements e for steady movements such as bicycling. Here, the muscle fibres actively change in length, while the tendons and aponeuroses scarcely grow longer. The fascial elements remain quite passive. This is in contrast to oscillatory movement with an elastic spring quality, in which the length of the muscle fibres changes little. Here, the muscle fibres contract in an almost isometric fashion (they stiffen temporarily without any significant change of their length) while the fascial elements function in an elastic way with a movement similar to that of a swinging yoeyo (Fig. 3). It is this lengthening and shortening of the fascial elements that mostly ‘produces’ the actual movement (Fukunaga et al., 2002; Kawakami et al., 2002).
It is of interest that the elastic movement quality in young people is associated with a typical two-directional lattice arrangement of their fasciae, similar to a woman’s stocking (Staubesand et al., 1997). In contrast, as we age and usually lose the springiness in our gait, the fascial architecture takes on a more haphazard and multidirec- tional fibre arrangement. Animal experiments have also shown that lack of movement quickly fosters the develop- ment of additional cross-links in fascial tissues. The fibres lose their elasticity and do not glide against one another as they once did; instead, they become stuck together and form tissue adhesions, and in the worst cases they actually become matted together (Fig. 4) (Jarvinen et al., 2002). The goal of the proposed fascia fascial training is therefore to stimulate fascial fibroblasts to lay down more youthful fibre architecture with a gazelle-like elastic storage capacity. This is done through movements that load the fascial tissues over multiple extension ranges while utilizing their elastic springiness (Fukashiro et al., 2006).
Stretching variations for myofascial health
Usually slow static stretching methods are distinguished from rapid dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching may be familiar to many people as it was part of physical training in beginning and middle of the last century. During the last two or three decades, this ‘bouncing’ stretch was then assumed by most educators to be less beneficial, but the method’s merits have been confirmed in recent research. Although stretching immediately before competition can be counterproductive, it seems that long-term and regular use of such dynamic stretching can positively influence the architecture of the connective tissue in that it becomes more elastic when correctly performed (Decoster et al., 2005).
Figure 3 Length changes of fascial elements and muscle fibres in conventional muscle training (A) and in oscillatory movement with elastic recoil properties (B). The elastic tendinous (or fascial) elements are shown as springs, the myofibres as straight lines above. Note that during a conventional movement (A) the fascial elements do not change their length significantly while the muscle fibres clearly change their length. During movements like hopping or jumping however the muscle fibres contract almost isometrically while the fascial elements lengthen and shorten like an elastic yoyo-spring. Illustration adapted from Kawakami et al. (2002). Indeed, when practiced regularly, static as well as dynamic stretching have shown to yield long term improvements in force, jump height, and speed (Shrier, 2004).
Different stretching styles seem to reach different fascial tissue components. Fig. 5 illustrates some of these different target tissues affected by various loading regi- mens. Classic weight training loads the muscle in its normal range of motion, thereby strengthening the fascial tissues, which are arranged in series with the active muscle fibres. In addition, the transverse fibres across the muscular envelope are stretched and stimulated as well. However, little effect can be expected on extramuscular fasciae as well as on those intramuscular fascial fibres that are arranged in parallel to the active muscle fibres (Huijing, 1999).
Figure 4 Collagen architecture responds to loading. Fasciae of young people (left image) express more often a clear two- directional (lattice) orientation of their collagen fibre network. In addition the individual collagen fibres show a stronger crimp formation. As evidenced by animal studies, application of proper exercise can induce an altered architecture with increased crimp- formation. Lack of exercise on the other hand, has been shown to induce a multidirectional fibre network and a decreased crimp formation (right image).
Figure 5 Loading of different fascial components. A) Relaxed position: The myofibers are relaxed and the muscle is at normal length. None of the fascial elements is being stretched. B) Usual muscle work: Myofibers contracted and muscle at normal length range. Fascial tissues are loaded which are either arranged in series with the myofibers or transverse to them. C) Classic stretching: Myofibers relaxed and muscle elongated. Fascial tissues are being stretched which are oriented parallel to the myofibers, as well as extramuscular connection. However, fascial tissues oriented in series with the myofibers are not sufficiently loaded, since most of the elongation in that serially arranged force chain is taken up by the relaxed myofibers. D) Actively loaded stretch: Muscle active and loaded at long end range. Most of the fascial components are being stretched and stimulated in that loading pattern. Note that various mixtures and combinations between the four different fascial components exist. This simplified abstraction therefore serves as a basic orientation only. On the other hand, classic Hatha yoga stretches, in which the extended muscle fibres are relaxed, will show little effect on those fascial tissues, which are arranged in series with the muscle fibres. The reason is that since the relaxed myofibers are much softer than their serially arranged tendinous extensions, they will ‘swallow’ most of the elongation (Jami, 1992). However, such slow and melting stretching promises to provide good stimulation for fascial tissues, which are hardly reached by classic muscle training, such as the extramuscular fasciae and the intra- muscular fasciae oriented in parallel to the myofibers.
Finally, a dynamic muscular loading pattern in which the muscle is briefly activated in its lengthened position promises the most comprehensive stimulation of fascial tissues.
According to recent examinations of the collagen synthesis in cyclically loaded tendons, the resultant increase in collagen production tends to be largely inde- pendent of exercise volume (repetitions); meaning that only few repetitions are necessary to yield an optimum effect (Magnusson et al., 2010). The proposed fascia training therefore recommends soft elastic bounces in the end ranges of available motion.
In addition variation among different stretching styles is recommended, including slow passive stretches at different angles as well as more dynamic stretches, in order to foster easy shearing ability between physiologically distinct fascial layers and to prevent the tendency for limited movement range that usually goes along with aging (Beam et al., 2003). The reader is cordially invited to review the excellent study by Bertolucci (2011) of ‘pandiculation’-like stretch behav- iour in the animal kingdom, including his proposed practical recommendations for myofascial body self care of humans. While dynamic stretching may be a more effective warm-up practice before sports (McMillian et al., 2006), recent examinations suggests that slow static stretching can induce anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic effects in inflamma- tory tissue conditions (Corey at al., 2012).
Hydration and renewal
It is essential to realize that approximately two thirds of the volume of fascial tissues is made up by water. During application of mechanical load – whether in a stretching manner or via local compression – a significant amount of water is pushed out of the more stressed zones, similar to squeezing a sponge (Schleip et al., 2012a). With the release that follows, this area is again filled with new fluid, which comes from surrounding tissue as well as the local vascular network. The sponge-like connective tissue can lack adequate hydration at neglected places. Application of external loading to fascial tissues can result in a refreshed hydration of such places in the body (Chaitow, 2009). In healthy fascia, a large percentage of the extracellular water is in a state of bound water (as opposed to bulk water) where its behaviour can be characterized as that of a liquid crystal (Pollack, 2001). Much pathology – such as inflammatory conditions, edemae, or the increased accu- mulation of free radicals and other waste products e tends to go along with a shift towards a higher percentage of bulk water within the ground substance. Recent indications by Sommer and Zhu (2008) suggest that when local connective tissue gets squeezed like a sponge and subsequently rehy- drated, some of the previous bulk water zones may then be replaced by bound water molecules, which could lead to a more healthy water constitution within the ground substance.
Fascia as a sensory organ
Fascia contains a rich supply of sensory nerves, including proprioceptive receptors, multimodal receptors and noci- ceptive nerve endings. Some fascial tissues such as the retinaculae contain a richer sensory innervation than other ones. Those tissues that have been found to contain a richer supply seem to be able detect slight angular direction changes in mechanical loading, whereas the less densely innervated tissues, such as the lacertus fibrosus (bicipital aponeurosis), seem to be specialized for a more unidirec- tional passive biomechanical force transmissions only (Stecco et al., 2007, 2008). When including intramuscular connective tissues, periosteum and superficial fascia as part of the body wide fascial net as outlined above, fascia can then be seen as one of our richest sensory organs. It is certainly our most important organ for proprioception (Schleip, 2003).
It is interesting to note that during the last decade the classic ‘joint receptors’ e located in joint capsules and associated ligaments e have been shown to be of lesser importance for normal proprioception, since they are usually stimulated at extreme joint ranges only, and not during physiological motions (Lu et al., 2005; Proske and Gandevia, 2009; Ianuzzi et al., 2011). On the contrary, proprioceptive nerve endings located in the more superficial layers are more optimally situated, as here even small angular joint move- ments lead to relatively distinct stretch or shearing motions. Recent findings indicate that the superficial fascial layers of the body are, in fact, much more densely populated with sensory nerve endings than connective tissues situated more internally (Benetazzo et al., 2011; Tesarz et al., 2011). In particular the transition zone between the fascia profunda and the subdermal loose connective tissue seems to have the highest sensorial innervation (Tesarz et al. 2011). This seems to be also the zone at which large sliding or shearing motions between fascial layers seem to occur during multi-articular extensional movements, provided that no pathological adhesions are present within this transitional zone (Goats and Keir, 1991).
A mutually antagonistic relationship between myofascial pain and proprioception has frequently been described. Expressions of that are the significantly diminished local proprioception in low back pain (Taimela et al., 1999) or the decreased pain threshold when the proprioceptive nerves are experimentally blocked (Lambertz et al., 2006). In addition it has been shown by Moseley et al. (2008) that an increase in local proprioception can significantly lower myofascial pain. Most likely the mutually inhibiting rela- tionship between soft tissue pain and fascial proprioception is facilitated through the wide-dynamic-pain (WDR) neurons in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord (Sandkuehler et al.,1997). Interestingly the research by Moseley et al. (2008) also indicated, that therapeutically induced peripheral afferent input needs to be accompanied by a conscious attention of the patient in order to yield a long term anti- nociceptive effect.
The following practical guidelines are suggested applica- tions based on these general biomechanical and neurophysiological considerations. Note that given basic limitations of human anatomy and the long and diverse history of human movement explorations, none of the suggested movements will be completely ‘new’. In fact, it was found that many aspects of known movement practices – like rhythmic gymnastic, modern dance, plyometrics, gyrokinesis, chi running, yoga or martial arts, just to name a few e contain elements which are very congruent with the following suggestions. However, these practices have often been inspired by an intuitive search for elegance, pleasure and beauty, and/or they were often linked with non-fascia related theoretical explanation concepts. The novel aspect of the proposed approach is therefore to selectively develop training suggestions, which specifically target an optimal renewal of the fascial net (rather than e.g. muscular tissues or cardiovascular conditioning) and which are directly linked with the above outlined specific insights from the rapidly growing field of fascia research.
Preparatory counter movement
This movement principle utilizes the catapult effect of fascial tissues. Before the actual movement is performed, one starts with a slight pre-tensioning in the opposite direction. This is comparable with using a bow to shoot an arrow; just as the bow has to have sufficient tension in order for the arrow to reach its goal, the fascia becomes actively pre-tensioned in the opposite direction. In a sample exercise called ‘the flying sword’, the pre- tensioning is achieved as the body’s axis is slightly tilted backward for a brief moment, while at the same time there is an upward lengthening (Fig. 6). This increases the elastic tension in the fascial body suit and as a result allows the upper body and the arms to spring forward and down like a catapult as the weight is shifted in this direction.
The opposite is true for straightening up e one activates the catapult capacity of the fascia through an active pre- tensioning of the fascia of the back. When swinging back- wards and up from a forward bending position, the flexor muscles on the front of the body are first briefly activated. This momentarily pulls the body even further forward and down and at the same time the fascia on the posterior fascia is loaded with greater tension. The kinetic energy which is stored on the posterior side of the fascial net is dynamically released via a passive recoil effect as the upper body swings back to the original position. To be sure that the individual is not relying on muscle work of their back muscles, but rather on dynamic recoil action of the fascia, requires a focus on timing e much the same as when playing with a yoeyo or a swinging elastic pendulum. It is necessary to determine the ideal swing, which is apparent when the action is perceived as fluid and pleasurable.
The Ninja principle
The legendary Japanese warriors who reputedly moved as silently as cats and left no trace inspire this principle. When performing bouncy movements such as hopping, running and dancing, special attention needs to be paid to executing the movement as smoothly and softly as possible. A change in direction is preceded by a gradual deceleration of the movement before the turn and a gradual accelera- tion afterwards, each movement flowing from the last; any extraneous or jerky movements should therefore be avoi- ded (Fig. 7). This goes along with the perception of a smooth and ‘elegant’ quality of movement. As an inspirational analogy for the more embodied’ patient, one can refer to the way a cat moves as it prepares to jump. The feline first sends a condensed impulse down through its paws in order to accelerate softly and quietly landing with precision (Fig. 8).
Figure 6 Training example: The Flying Sword A) Tension the bow: The preparatory countermovement (pre-stretch) initiates the elastic-dynamic spring in an anterior and inferior direction. Free weights can also be used. B) To return to an upright position, the
‘catapulting back fascia’ is loaded as the upper body is briefly bounced dynamically downwards followed by an elastic swing back up. The attention of the person doing the exercise should be on the optimal timing and calibration of the movement in order to create the smoothest movement possible.
Figure 7 Movement shapes during jerky versus elegant direction turns. When directional turns (like moving a limb forward and back) are performed without proprioceptive refinement, they tend to include sudden turns at which tissues are frequently prone to injury due to the abrupt loading pattern (above). In contrast, when the same movements are conducted with an internal search for elegance, then a more sinusoidal movement change can be observed, characterized by gradual deceleration before the turning point and a subse- quent gradual acceleration. In this pattern the loaded tissues are less prone to injuries, the movements appear as more graceful, and also less acoustic noise is created (e.g. during bouncing movements). For more technically oriented patients future develop- ment of small accelerometer based feedback devices may be useful. Direction changes which are based on the Ninja principle will then be characterized by a more sinusoidal movement shape, rather than the sudden and jerky direc- tion changes in a person who moves with less fluid elegance and who will be more likely to induce overload strain injuries during these exercises (Fig. 7).
Normal stairs become training equipment when they are used appropriately, employing gentle stepping. The sug- gested production of ‘as little noise as possible’ provides the most useful feedback e the more the fascial spring effect is utilized, the quieter and gentler the process will be. Of course use of barefoot or barefoot-like plantar foot contact with the ground will be of advantage for this kind of ‘stair dancing’.
Figure 8 Training example: Elastic Wall Bounces. Imitating the elastic bounces of a gazelle’s soft bouncing movements is explored in standing and bouncing off a wall. Proper preten- sion in the whole body will avoid any collapsing into a ‘banana posture’. It’s imperative to make the least amount of sound and avoid any abrupt movement. A progression into further load increases can occur only with the mastery of these qualities. Stronger individuals can eventually explore e.g. bouncing off a table or windowsill instead of a wall. The person shown should not yet be permitted to progress to higher loads, as his neck and shoulder region already show slight compression.
Slow and dynamic stretching
Rather than a motionless waiting in a static stretch posi- tion, a more flowing stretch is suggested. It is recom- mended that both fast as well as more rapid but fluid stretching modalities be utilized. Before any rapid move- ments are used, the myofascial tissues should first be warmed up, and jerking or abrupt movements should be avoided.
The long myofascial chains are the preferred focus when doing slow dynamic stretches. Instead of stretching isolated muscle groups, the aim is finding body movements that engage the longest possible myofascial chains (Myers, 1997). This is not done by passively waiting, as in a length- ening classic Hatha yoga pose, or in a conventional isolated muscle stretch. Multidirectional movements, with slight changes in angle are utilized; this might include sideways or diagonal movement variations as well as spiralling rotations. With this method, large areas of the fascial network are simultaneously involved (Fig. 9).
In order to stimulate the more serially arranged tendi- nous and aponeurotic tissues, more dynamically swinging stretch movements are recommended, similar to the elegant and fluid extensional movements of rhythmic gymnasts. The same tissues can also be targeted by muscular activation (e.g. against resistance) in a length- ened position, similar to how a cat sometimes enjoys pulling his front claws towards the trunk when stretching. And finally so-called ‘mini-bounces’ can be employed as soft and playful explorations in the lengthened stretch position.
Figure 9 Training example: The Big Cat Stretch. A) This is a slow stretching movement of the long posterior chain, from the finger tips to the sit bones, from the coccyx to the top of the head and to the heels. The movement goes in opposing directions at the same time e think of a cat stretching its long body. By changing the angle slightly, different aspects of the fascial web are addressed with slow and steady movements. B) In the next step one rotates and lengthens the pelvis or chest towards one side (here shown with the pelvis starting to rotate to the right). The intensity of the feeling of stretch on that entire side of the body is then gently reversed. Afterwards, note the feeling of increased length.
Dynamic, fast stretching can be combined with a prepa- ratory countermovement, as was previously described. For example, when stretching the hip flexors, a brief backward movement could be introduced before dynamically lengthening and stretching forwards.
It is essential that the importance of fascial proprioception is clearly explained and repeatedly emphasized during the training process. For proper motivation both rational explanations as well as limbic-affective components should be utilized. As an example the case of Ian Waterman can be used, a man repeatedly mentioned in scientific literature. This impressive man contracted a viral infection at the age of 19, which resulted in a so-called ‘sensory neuropathy’ below his neck. In this rare pathology, the sensory periph- eral nerves, which provide the somatomotor cortex with information about the movements of the body, are destroyed, while the motor nerves remain completely intact. This meant that Mr. Waterman could move, but he could not ‘feel’ his movements. After some time he became virtually lifeless. Only with an iron will and years of prac- tice did he finally succeed in making up for these normal physical sensations, a capacity that is commonly taken for granted. He did so with conscious control that primarily relies on visual feedback. He is currently the only person known with this affliction, which is able to stand unaided, as well as being able to walk (Cole, 1995).
The way Waterman moves is similar to the way patients with chronic back pain move. When in a public place, if the lights unexpectedly go out, he clumsily falls to the ground. Springy, swinging movements are possible for him only with obvious and jerky changes in direction.
If doing a ‘classic’ stretching program with static or active stretches, he would appear normal. As for the dynamic stretching that is part of our fascial training, he is clearly not capable, as he lacks the proprioception needed for fine coordination.
Congruently, in the proposed fascia training a percep- tual refinement of shear, gliding, and tensioning motions in superficial fascial membranes is encouraged. In doing this, it is important to limit the filtering function of the reticular formation, as it can markedly restrict the cortical transfer of sensations from movements which are repetitive and which the cerebellum can predict via feed-forward antici- pation (Schleip, 2003). To prevent such a sensorial damp- ening, the idea of varied and creative experiencing becomes important. In addition to the slow and fast dynamic stretches noted above, as well as utilizing elastic recoil properties, the inclusion of ‘fascial refinement’ elements are recommended, in which varying qualities of movement are experimented with, e.g., extreme slow- motion and very quick micro-movements which may not even be visible to an observer, as well as large macro- movements involving the whole body. To this end, it may then be not uncommon to place the body into unfamiliar positions while working with the awareness of gravity, or possibly through exploring the weight of a training partner.
Exploratory ‘micro-movements’ with an amplitude below an inch (w2.5 cms.) can be incorporated as described in the Continuum Movement work of Conrad (2007). Using interoceptive stretch sensations as a guide- line, it may be possible that postoperative or other fascial adhesions could be partly loosened by the careful utiliza- tion of such micro-movements when performed close to the available end-range positions (Bove and Chapelle, 2012). In addition, such tiny and specific local movements can be used to bring proprioceptive attention and refinement to perceptually neglected areas of the body whose condition Hanna (1998) had described with the term ‘sensory-motor amnesia’ (Fig. 10).
Squeezing and rehydrating the sponge
The use of special foam rollers or similar materials can be useful for inducing localized sponge-like temporary tissue dehydration with resultant renewed hydration. However, the firmness of the roller and application of the body weight needs to be individually monitored. If properly applied and including very slow and finely tuned directional changes only, the tissue forces and potential benefits could be similar to those of manual myofascial release treatments (Chaudhry et al., 2008). In addition, the localized tissue stimulation can serve to stimulate and fine-tune possibly inhibited or desensitized fascial proprioceptors in more hidden tissue locations (Fig. 11).
For motivational and explanatory purposes the excellent video material of Guimbertau et al. (2010) has proven helpful for fostering an understanding of the viscous plas- ticity and adaptive elasticity of the water-filled fascia. The resulting perception of the liquid architecture of the fascial net has proven to be especially effective when incorpo- rated into the slow dynamic stretching and fascial refine- ment work.
Figure 10 Training example: Octopus Tentacle. With the image of an octopus tentacle in mind, a multitude of exten- sional movements through the whole leg are explored in slow motion. The tensional fascial proprioception is activated through creative changes in muscular activations patterns. This function goes along with a deep myofascial stimulation that aims to reach not only the fascial envelopes but also into the septa between muscles. While avoiding any jerky movement quality, the action of these tentacle-like micro-movements leads to a feeling of flowing strength in the leg.
Figure 11 Training example: Fascial Release. The use of particular foam rollers may allow the application of localized tissue stimulations with similar forces and possibly similar benefits as in a manual myofascial release session. However the stiffness of the roller and application of the body weight needs to be adjusted and monitored for each person. To foster sponge-like tissue dehydration with subsequent renewed local hydration, only slow motion like subtle changes in the applied forces and vectors are recommended.
Proper timing of the duration of individual loading and release phases is very important. As part of modern running training, it is now often recommended to frequently interrupt the running with short walking intervals (Galloway, 2002). There is good reason for this: under strain, the fluid is pressed out of the fascial tissues and these begin to function less optimally and their elastic and springy resilience slowly decreases. Short walking pauses e with a recommended duration between one and 3 min – then serve to partly rehydrate the tissue, as it is given a chance to take up nourishing fluid. For an average beginning runner such rehydration breaks may be best every 10 min, while more advanced runners with a more developed body awareness can adjust the optimal timing and duration of those breaks based on the presence (or lack) of that youthful and dynamic rebound: if the running movement begins to feel and look more dampened and less springy, it is likely time for a short pause. Similarly, if after a brief walking break there is a noticeable return of that gazelle-like rebound, then the rest period was adequate. For well trained runners with a less refined sensuous kin- aesthetic proprioception the additional use of accelerom- eter driven feedback devices (as described in the first section of this paper) may be useful indicators for the appropriate timing of such walking breaks.
This cyclic training, with periods of more intense effort interspersed with purposeful breaks, can subsequently be recommended in all facets of fascia training. The person training then learns to pay attention to the dynamic prop- erties of their fascial ‘bodysuit’ while exercising, and to adjust the exercises based on this new body awareness. The resulting understanding of fascial renewal dynamics together with the refined proprioception should then carry over to an increased ‘fascial embodiment’ in everyday life.
Sustainability: the power of a thousand tiny steps
An additional and important aspect that needs to be under- stood by the trainee is the concept of the slow and long-term renewal of the fascial network. It is explained that in contrast to muscular strength training (in which big gains occur early on and then a plateau is quickly reached wherein only very small gains are possible) fascia changes more slowly and the results are more lasting. It is therefore possible to work without a great deal of strain e so that consistent and regular training pays off. When training the fascia, improvements in the first few weeks may be small and less obvious on the outside. However, improvements have a lasting cumulative effect which, after years, can be expected to result in marked improvements in the strength and elasticity of the global fascial net (Fig. 12) (Kjaer et al., 2009).
The intention of the proposed fascia oriented training is to influence the matrix renewal via specific training activ- ities which may, after 6e24 months, result in a more injury- resistant and resilient ‘silk-like body suit’ which is not only strong but also allows for a smoothly gliding joint mobility over wide angular ranges. Proper nutrition and life style that fosters an anti-inflammatory matrix milieu with sufficient presence of growth hormones e such as are expressed during deep sleep and after appropriately challenging muscular or cardiovascular exercise are additional factors that influence the positive matrix renewal in response to.
Figure 12 Collagen turnover after exercise. The upper curve shows collagen synthesis in tendons is increasing after exer- cise. However, the stimulated fibroblasts also increase their rate of collagen degradation. Interestingly, during the first 1e2 days following exercise, collagen degradation over- weights the collagen synthesis; whereas afterwards this situation is reversed. To increase tendon strength, the proposed fascial fitness training therefore suggests appropriate tissue stimula- tion 1e2 times per week only. Illustration modified after Magnusson et al., 2010.
It is suggested that training should be consistent, and that only a few minutes of appropriate exercises, per- formed once or twice per week, is sufficient for collagen remodelling. The related renewal process will take between 6 months and 2 years and will yield a lithe, flexible and resilient collagenous matrix. For those who do yoga or martial arts, such a focus on a long-term goal is nothing new. For the person who is new to physical training, such knowledge of fascial properties can go a long way in convincing them to train their connective tissues.
Of course, these fascia oriented training suggestions should not replace muscular strength work, cardiovascular training and coordination exercises; instead, they should be thought of as useful addition to a comprehensive training program.
Conflicts of interest
There were no identified conflicts of interest.
The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support given by the Ida P. Rolf Research Foundation and by the Vladimir Janda Award for Musculoskeletal Medicine.
Arampatzis, A., Karamanidis, K., Albracht, K., 2007. Adaptational
responses of the human Achilles tendon by modulation of the
Figure 12 Collagen turnover after exercise. The upper curve
shows collagen synthesis in tendons is increasing after exercise.
However, the stimulated fibroblasts also increase their
rate of collagen degradation. Interestingly, during the first 1e2
days following exercise, collagen degradation over- weights
the collagen synthesis; whereas afterwards this situation is
reversed. To increase tendon strength, the proposed fascial
fitness training therefore suggests appropriate tissue stimulation
1e2 times per week only. Illustration modified after
Magnusson et al., 2010.
Training principles for fascial connective tissues 11
applied cyclic strain magnitude. The Journal of Experimental
Biology 210, 2743e2753.
Arampatzis, A., Peper, A., Bierbaum, S., Albracht, K., 2010. Plasticity
of human Achilles tendon mechanical and morphological
properties in response to cyclic strain. Journal of Biomechanics
Beam, L., DeLany, J., Haynes, W., Lardner, R., Liebenson, C.,
Martin, S., Rowland, P., Schleip, R., Sharkey, J., Vaughn, B.,
Herbert, R., Gabriel, M., 2003. The stretching debate. Journal
of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 7, 80e98.
Benetazzo, L., Bizzego, A., De Caro, R., Frigo, G., Guidolin, D.,
Stecco, C., 2011. 3D reconstruction of the crural and thoracolumbar
fasciae. Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy 33,
Bertolucci, L.F., 2011. Pandiculation: nature’s way of maintaining
the functional integrity of the myofascial system? Journal of
Bodywork & Movement Therapies 5, 268e280.
Blechschmidt, E., 1978. In: Charles, C. (Ed.), Biokinetics and
Biodynamics of Human Differentiation: Principles and Applications.
Thomas Pub Ltd, Springfield, Illinois.
Bove, G.M., Chapelle, S.L., 2012. Visceral mobilization can lyse and
prevent peritoneal adhesions in a rat model. Journal of Bodywork
and Movement Therapies 16, 76e82.
Chaitow, L., 1988. Soft-tissue Manipulation: A Practitioner’s Guide
to the Diagnosis and Treatment of Soft-tissue Dysfunction and
Reflex Activity. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.
Chaitow, L., 2009. Research in water and fascia. Micro-tornadoes,
hydrogenated diamonds & nanocrystals. Massage Today 09 (6),
Chaitow, L., Findley, T.W., Schleip, R. (Eds.), 2012. Fascia
Research III e Basic Science and Implications for Conventional
and Complementary Health Care. Kiener Press, Munich.
Chaudhry, H., Schleip, R., Ji, Z., Bukiet, B., Maney, M., Findley, T.,
2008. Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation
of human fasciae in manual therapy. Journal of the American
Osteopathic Association 108, 379e390.
Cole, J., 1995. Pride and a Daily Marathon. MIT Press, London.
Conrad, E., 2007. Life on Land. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.
Corey, S.M., Vizzard, M.A., Bouffard, N.A., Badger, G.J.,
Langevin, H.M., 2012. Stretching of the back improves gait,
mechanical sensitivity and connective tissue inflammation in
a rodent model. PLoS One 7, e29831.
Counsel, P., Breidahl, W., 2010. Muscle injuries of the lower leg.
Seminars in Musculoskeletal Radiology 14, 162e175.
Decoster, L.C., Cleland, J., Altieri, C., Russell, P., 2005. The
effects of hamstring stretching on range of motion: a systematic
literature review. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports
Physical Therapy 35, 377e387.
EI-Labban, N.G., Hopper, C., Barber, P., 1993. Ultrastructural
finding of vascular degeneration in myositis ossificans circumscripta
(fibrodysplasia ossificans). Journal of Oral Pathology &
Medicine 22, 428e431.
Findley, T.W., Schleip, R. (Eds.), 2007. Fascia Research e Basic
Science and Implications for Conventional and Complementary
Health Care. Elsevier Urban & Fischer, Munich.
Fukashiro, S., Hay, D.C., Nagano, A., 2006. Biomechanical behavior
of muscle-tendon complex during dynamic human movements.
Journal of Applied Biomechanics 22, 131e147.
Fukunaga, T., Kawakami, Y., Kubo, K., Kanehisa, H., 2002. Muscle
and tendon interaction during human movements. Exercise and
Sport Sciences Reviews 30, 106e110.
Galloway, J., 2002. Galloway’s Book on Running. Shelter Publications,
Bolinas, CA, USA.
Goats, G.C., Keir, K.A.I., 1991. Connective tissue massage. British
Journal of Sports Medicine 25, 131e133.
Guimberteau, J.C., Delage, J.P.,McGrouther, D.A.,Wong, J.K., 2010.
The microvacuolar system: how connective tissue sliding works.
The Journal of Hand Surgery, European Volume 35, 614e622.
Hanna, T., 1998. Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of
Movement, Flexibility, and Health. Da Capo Press, Cambridge
Huijing, P.A., 1999. Muscle as a collagen fiber reinforced
composite: a review of force transmission in muscle and whole
limb. Journal of Biomechanics 32, 329e345.
Huijing, P.A., Findley, T.W., Schleip, R. (Eds.), 2009. Fascia
Research II e Basic Science and Implications for Conventional
and Complementary Health Care. Elsevier Urban & Fischer,
Hyman, J., Rodeo, S.A., 2000. Injury and repair of tendons and
ligaments. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North
America 11, 267e288.
Ianuzzi, A., Pickar, J.G., Khalsa, P.S., 2011. Relationships between
joint motion and facet joint capsule strain during cat and
human lumbar spinal motions. Journal of Manipulative and
Physiological Therapies 34, 420e431.
Ingber, D.E., 2008. Tensegrity and mechanotransduction. Journal
of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 12, 198e200.
Jami, A., 1992. Golgi tendon organs in mammalian skeletal
muscles: functional properties and central actions. Physiological
Reviews 72, 623e666.
Jarvinen, T.A., Jozsa, L., Kannus, P., Jarvinen, T.L., Jarvinen, M.,
2002. Organization and distribution of intramuscular connective
tissue in normal and immobilized skeletal muscles. An immunohisto
chemical, polarization and scanning electron microscopic
study. Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility 23,
Jenkins, S., 2005. Sports Science Handbook. In: The Essential Guide
to Kinesiology, Sport & Exercise Science, vol. 1. Multi-science
Publishing Co. Ltd., Essex, UK.
Kawakami, Y., Muraoka, T., Ito, S., Kanehisa, H., Fukunaga, T.,
2002. In vivo muscle fibre behaviour during countermovement
exercise in humans reveals a significant role for tendon elasticity.
Journal of Physiology 540, 635e646.
Kjaer, M., Langberg, H., Heinemeier, K., Bayer, M.L., Hansen, M.,
Holm, L., Doessing, S., Kongsgaard, M., Krogsgaard, M.R.,
Magnusson, S.P., 2009. From mechanical loading to collagen
synthesis, structural changes and function in human tendon.
Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 19,
Kram, R., Dawson, T.J., 1998. Energetics and bio mechanics of
locomotion by red kangaroos (Macropus rufus). Comparative
Biochemistry and Physiology B120, 41e49.
Kubo, K., Kanehisa, H., Miyatani, M., Tachi, M., Fukunaga, T., 2003.
Effect of low-load resistance training on the tendon properties
in middle-aged and elderly women. Acta Physiologica Scandindavia
Lambertz, D., Hoheisel, U., Mense, S., 2006. Distribution of
synaptic field potentials induced by TTX-resistant skin and
muscle afferents in rat spinal segments L4 and L5. Neuroscience
Letters 409, 14e18.
Lu, Y., Chen, C., Kallakuri, S., Patwardhan, A., Cavanaugh, J.M.,
2005. Neural response of cervical facet joint capsule to stretch:
a study of whiplash pain mechanism. Stapp Car Crash Journal
Magnusson, S.P., Langberg, H., Kjaer, M., 2010. The pathogenesis
of tendinopathy: balancing the response to loading. Nature
Reviews Rheumatology 6, 262e268.
McMillian, D., Moore, J.H., Hatler, B.S., Taylor, D.C., 2006.
Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and
agility performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research 20, 492e499.
Moseley, G.L., Zalucki, N.M., Wiech, K., 2008. Tactile discrimination,
but not tactile stimulation alone, reduces chronic limb
pain. Pain 137, 600e608.
Myers, T.W., 1997. The ‘anatomy trains’. Journal of Bodywork and
Movement Therapies 1, 91e101.
12 R. Schleip, D.G. Mu¨ller
Neuberger, A., Slack, H., 1953. The metabolism of collagen
from liver, bones, skin and tendon in normal rats. The
Biochemical Journal 53, 47e52.
Pollack, G.H., 2001. Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life. A New,
Unifying Approach to Cell Function. Ebner and Sons Publishers,
Proske, U., Gandevia, S.C., 2009. The kinaesthetic senses. Journal
of Physiology 587, 4139e4146.
Reeves, N.D., Narici, M.V., Maganaris, C.N., 2006. Myotendinous
plasticity to ageing and resistance exercise in humans. Experimental
Physiology 91, 483e498.
Renstro¨m, P., Johnson, R.J., 1985. Overuse injuries in sports. A
review. Sports Medicine 2, 316e333.
Sandkuehler, J., Chen, J.G., Cheng, G., Randic, M., 1997. Lowfrequency
stimulation of afferent A-delta-fibers induces longterm
depression at primary afferent synapses with substantia
gelatinosa neurons in the rat. The Journal of Neuroscience 17,
Sawicki, G.S., Lewis, C.L., Ferris, D.P., 2009. It pays to have a spring
in your step. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 37, 130e138.
Schleip, R., 2003. Fascial plasticity- a new neurobiological explanation.
Part 1. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 7,
Schleip, R., Findley, T.W., Chaitow, L., Huijing, P. (Eds.), 2012a.
Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body. The Science
and Clinical Applications in Manual and Movement Therapies.
Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.
Schleip, R., Duerselen, L., Vleeming, A., Naylor, I.L., Lehmann-
Horn, F., Zorn, A., Jaeger, H., Klingler, W., 2012b. Strain
hardening of fascia: static stretching of dense fibrous connective
tissues can induce a temporary stiffness increase
accompanied by enhanced matrix hydration. Journal of Bodywork
and Movement Therapies 16, 94e100.
Shrier, I., 2004. Does stretching improve performance? A systematic
and critical review of the literature. Clinical Journal of Sport
Medicine 14, 267e273.
Sommer, A.P., Zhu, D., 2008. From microtornadoes to facial rejuvenation:
implication of interfacial water layers. Crystal
Growth and Design 8, 3889e3892.
Staubesand, J., Baumbach, K.U.K., Li, Y., 1997. La structure find
de l‘apone´vrose jambie´re. Phlebologie 50, 105e113.
Stecco, C., Gagey, O., Bellonic, A., Pozzuolia, A., Porzionatoc, A.,
Macchic, V., Aldegheria, R., De Caroc, R., Delmas, V., 2007.
Anatomy of the deep fascia of the upper limb. Second part:
study of innervation. Morphologie 91, 38e43.
Stecco, C., Porzionato, A., Lancerotto, L., Stecco, A., Macchi, V.,
Day, J.A., De Caro, R., 2008. Histological study of the deep
fasciae of the limbs. Journal of Bodywork and Movement
Therapies 12, 225e230.
Taimela, S., Kankaanpa¨a¨, M., Luoto, S., 1999. The effect of lumbar
fatigue on the ability to sense a change in lumbar position. A
controlled study. Spine 24, 1322e1327.
Tesarz, J., Hoheisel, U., Wiedenhofer, B., Mense, S., 2011. Sensory
innervation of the thoracolumbar fascia in rats and humans.
Neuroscience 194, 302e308.
Witvrouw, E., Mahieu, N., Roosen, P., McNair, P., 2007. The role of
stretching in tendon injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine
Wood, T.O., Cooke, P.H., Goodship, A.E., 1988. The effect of
exercise and anabolic steroids on the mechanical properties and
crimp morphology of the rat tendon. American Journal of Sports
Medicine 16, 153e158.
Training principles for fascial connective tissues 13 + MODEL
By R. Christian Estes, M.D.
Hachidan, Shorin Ryu Kensankai Karate Kobudo
In Okinawan Karate the objective is to avoid a fight, but if it cannot be avoided then do not loose. You train to fight so you do not have to fight, sounds like a long run for a short slide, but to the Okinawans courtesy is an essential characteristic of a human being. You must remember, Okinawa has never had a standing army, only guards for the King and police for the public. Read More
This concept of not fighting can be seen in the famous writings of Sun Tzu, where he states the highest form of generalship is defeating your opponent without fighting. Well that is great in concept, but in reality might not be possible, so a martial artist must be prepared to deal with aggression and survive. In Shurite karate, movement has always been emphasized. My Sensei, Hanshi Perry, stresses to move and hit in order to defeat an attack. According to Chosin Chibana, Matsumura had once said to Itosu: ‘With your strong punch you can knock anything down, but you can’t so much as touch me.’ I am physically at a disadvantage to the younger, stronger and bigger opponent, so I developed my ability to move and hit in order to survive.
Tai sabaki means to ‘change body’ or place yourself in the best position to defeat your opponent’s attack. It is much easier to move yourself in the position you want to be at than to move your opponent. Having said that, in some instances you will not be able to move and thus you will have to make your opponent change body. Situations that I can imagine are in a close space whereby you cannot move your feet at all. Perry Sensei profoundly stated once, tai sabaki does not always mean that you have to move your feet.
There a limited number of directions that one can move in a fight. The octagon pattern contains the essential choices. As one knows that the Koryu or old kata are based on that pattern. It is interesting to note that the angles that are being utilized are 45 degrees and multiples of each. The 45 degree angle is of particular interest in the reception of light or sound waves. In stealth technology, 45 degree angles are utilized to disperse radio waves and when one looks in a mirror straight on you see your reflection, but as you tilt the mirror the image gets less until at 45 degrees you see the ceiling. I do not believe in coincidences and believe that these angles contribute to ones ability to move and not be seen as well by your opponent. Of course these angles also contribute to better leverage and application of technique to vital structures to incapacitate the aggressor(s).
There are basically three distances of fighting, 9, 6, and 3 feet. For simplification, I will deal with the most common ma-ai or combative distances. In three foot fighting, you can touch your opponent and vice versa. In this instance you usually will not have time to move back or forward or even to the side, so this is where the usage of ashi sabaki (foot change) is essential for tai sabaki. This concept is exhibited in Nahanchi Kata, where you will pivot on the ball of the foot to move away from the attack. This is as quick of a tai sabaki as I can perform.
Now in 6 foot fighting, I cannot touch my opponent. Now I have the time to move in response to an attack. This application of tai sabaki is the most common and understood.
Here one can move forward or back on a 45 degree angle or to the side on a straight line. The choice will depend on what the opponent is doing. If he/she moves forward you can receive the attack by going back off the line since they are going to where you were. If he only extends a weapon (hand/foot) without moving forward, you have the option of moving to the side on a straight line, which puts their attack further from you while you move closer to them.
I personally like to move so I end up in their blind spot behind their elbow/shoulder area. From there I can get behind them, a good place to be for a smaller person against a larger opponent. This requires the correct timing and commitment to go towards your opponent instead of away.
I mentioned earlier that in some situations you cannot move so you have to make your opponent change body. As with much of the martial arts, you need to know both sides of the coin. If you know how to change your own body, you will know how to change others. In our dojo we practice a series of two man drills called Keiko Kumite that practices this concept.
Of course this is just a part of fighting an opponent. I believe if you understand and can apply this concept of Tai Sabaki using Ashi Sabaki and of course Te Sabaki (change hand) you can survive the initial onslaught of an attack.
Do not be where you were!
A Performance Theory Analysis of the Practice of Kata in Karate Do:
Self Resolving Contradictions of Ritual, Spontaneity, Violence, and Morality
copyright © 2006 Meron Langsner, all rights reserved
Originally published in The Brandeis Graduate Review, Volume 1, Issue 1, 2003
Courtesy of Kyoshi Chris Estes
At the heart of Karate is the performance of kata, pre-choreographed self-contained ritual sequences of fighting techniques. Kata is all at once the primary means of training, a library of technique, a cultural heritage, a form of moving meditation, and a graceful expression of the art itself. This study will focus specifically on the performance of kata within the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu system of Okinawan Karate. Read More
Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu is a designation of a specific Karate tradition. “Shorin-Ryu,” means “small pine forest style” and is also a Japanese language rendering of Shaolin, the name of the Chinese temple to which many of Asia’s fighting forms trace their lineage. Shorin-Ryu is an umbrella term used to describe one of the two main branches of Okinawan Karate, the other being called Goju-Ryu. “Matsubayashi” is the name chosen by the systems founder, Shoshin Nagamine, to pay tribute to Bushi Matsumora Sokon Okina and Matsumora Kosaku Okina, two legendary masters and teachers to which the system traces its lineage. This is the short version of the context of the art in Okinawa. 
Karate-Do translates literally into “Way of the Empty Hand.” The suffix “Do,” translating as “Way,” or “path,” marks it as a spiritual discipline rather than as a purely fighting form, though its historical roots are far less spiritual and more violent than its current incarnation. The metaphor of the path is apt, as the practice of Karate is a process as much as it is anything else, and (at least in the Matsubayashi tradition) is closely tied with the practice of Zen. Karate-Do, as a process, is a means of shaping the bodies and minds of students. This occurs on several planes simultaneously; physically, mentally, and spiritually. To examine a process, especially a living tradition, one must understand that the object of examination is a living thing in a state of constant flux. So it is with Karate. In his study of Kalarippayattu, Philip Zarrilli points out the circumstances of studying a practice,
Because practices are not things, but an active, embodied doing, they are intersections where personal, social, and cosmological experiences and realities are negotiated. To examine a practice is to examine these multiple sets of relationships and experiences. A practice is not a history, but practices always exist within and simultaneously create histories. Likewise, a practice is not a discourse, but implicit in any practice are one or more discourses and perhaps paradigms through which the experience of practice might be reflected upon and possibly explained.
Martial arts, like other overt techniques of disciplining the body including aerobics, weight training, contact improvisation, etc. are “incorporating practices” through which the body, and therefore experience and meaning are “culturally shaped in its actual practices and behaviors” (Connerton 1989: 104). These are “technologies” [of the body] in Foucault’s sense, i.e. practices through which “humans develop knowledge about themselves” (1988:18). Psycho physiological techniques are practiced in order for the practitioner to be transformed to attain a certain normative and idealized relationship between the “self,” “agency,” ”power,” and behavior. (5)
This study will to a certain degree place Karate in Zarrilli’s definition of a “practice.” In doing so I hope to clarify the practice of kata as a transformative tool and examine it as a performative practice.
Karate was first brought to the United States by soldiers who served in the Pacific during WWII. Later, in the interest of spreading their art and representing their culture, several Okinawans were sent to the United States with the task of being missionaries of Karate-Do. There was a feeling that the Westerners who brought back martial arts misrepresented the forms, Sensei Omine states in a letter to the Mayor and Town Zoning Board of East Northport, NY dated April 25, 1973,
Those foreigners who carried bits and pieces of the art out of Okinawa spread idea that Karate was a fighting art for the purpose of violence; at worst street fighting, at best sport like competition and tournaments. Karate is neither.
Inherent in our art is an ancient traditional wisdom. The Karate student is one who ardently searches and strives to build his character into the finest example of human morality at the same time as he trains his body.
In an effort to bring this true tradition of Karate to Western culture, I was sent here by the All-Okinawa Karate-do Association in 1968. Mine is a missionary’s task. (Budokan Karate Dojo, 1989)
Omine Sensei was my teacher’s teacher. To some degree I was brought up on stories about him, just as when I teach, my students are told stories of my teacher. In this way, history and lineage are an informal but essential part of the pedagogy; students are expected to have not just technical proficiency, but knowledge of the tradition from which they draw their physical prowess. Teachers of Karate, as repositories of the orature, exist through their pedagogic work as the continuation of physical and spiritual traditions.
The root of the pedagogic process is the practice of kata. There is a fair amount of work by the masters themselves in print and in translation on the nature and purpose of kata, none of which I can hope to equal in this study. What I intend to do however, is to focus the lens of performance theory on this particular behavioral phenomenon. Kata is an exemplary case of what Richard Schechner terms “restored behavior.” Schechner writes,
Restored behavior is living behavior treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behavior can be rearranged or reconstructed; they are independent of the causal systems (social, psychological, technological) that brought them into existence. They have a life of their own. The original “truth” or “source” of the behavior may be lost, ignored, or contradicted – even while this truth or source is apparently being honored and observed. How the strip of behavior was made, found, or developed may be unknown or concealed; elaborated, distorted by myth and tradition. Originating as a process, used in the process of rehearsal to make a new process, a performance, the strips of behavior are not themselves process but things, items, “material.” Restored behavior can be of long duration as in some dramas and rituals or of short duration as in some gestures, dances, and mantras. (Between Theatre & Anthropology, 35).
Each kata is a self-contained ritual that is transmitted from the body of the teacher and restored into the body of the student. No detail is ignored. There is no room for personal interpretation. Every aspect from rhythm and timing to physical placement of the body in space within fractions of an inch to use of breath is preset by the tradition.
By repetition, the forms of the various kata are inscribed on the psychophysical apparatus of the student. Once form is developed, speed and power will follow. In the case of a punch for instance, the sequence of movements is: first the foot moves and is placed on the ground, then the hip is activated, and the power generated from the center is unleashed to the fist itself. During any solo exercise, the exact ending points of any given technique are measured to the dimensions of the practitioner’s own body; therefore, a chest punch is aimed at where one’s own chest would be if it were in front of oneself and so on. Once students are capable of being precise within their own physical dimensions, the next task is to adapt the techniques outside those dimensions.
Beginning students often cannot even walk naturally when they begin training, let alone target accurately. It is common for them to try to move their hands and feet simultaneously while hunching their shoulders, very bad form. If they should make contact with anything with such a strike, they would most likely knock themselves over. As only one foot is on the ground and their center of gravity is far from stable; the “equal and opposite reaction” of Newtonian mechanics would knock their center backwards and the rest of the body would follow. Since the movements are essentially based on natural walking, this stage must pass before fine-tuning begins.
Fine-tuning is an essential part of the training. Sensei Carbonara would tell students, “talk to your body,” in an effort to develop body awareness. The fine-tuning process gets more extreme as students move up in ability; not long before my black belt examination, I was once corrected from across a room because my punch was a fraction of an inch away from where it should have been. The correction was silent; Sensei looked down the line, made eye contact with me, looked at my fist, and gestured with his fingers that I should move my hand slightly to the left. I made the correction that untrained eyes would not even notice and he nodded and counted the next movement.
The explanation of the importance of such precision was both informal and mathematical. To paraphrase Sensei Carbonara, “You say that’s only half an inch, but if you’re trying to hit the moon and you’re half an inch off, you miss by a thousand miles.” The same fine-tuning is applied to all movements, and exemplified in kata training.
Students usually begin their training in kata within the first month of study, after they have sufficient skill in the basic techniques to begin stringing them together. New kata are introduced as the student progresses, while the previously learned kata are constantly refined. All kata begin and end in the same spatial position. The patterns are designed to always close themselves. Each kata or sequence of kata have their own “attention” position with which the beginning and end is marked. The practice of kata is detailed down to the position of the eyes.
The ritual embodies violence, the actions within the ritual mimic and condense behavior that create, along with the rest of the training, what Eugenio Barba refers to as a “decided body” (17-18). A decided body is one which has the extra-daily movements of a performance system inscribed so as to become second nature. This acculturation is visible in all types of performers from ballet dancers to sumo wrestlers.
In Matsubayashi Ryu, the acculturation of the body is achieved through very specific restored behavior, the kata. Kata are practiced in a way not only to shape the body but to affect the mind as well. The link between mind and body is of primary importance in the acquisition of knowledge. It is not just by learning the various kata, but by repeatedly experiencing oneself performing them that a student advances in skill and understanding. Karl F. Friday offers an explanation of the effectiveness of kata,
In emphasizing ritualized pattern practice and minimalizing analytical explanation, bugei masters blend ideas and techniques from the two educational models most familiar to medieval and early modern Japanese warriors, Confucianism and Zen.
Associating the bugei and samurai culture in general with Zen has been a time honored habit among both Japanese and Western authors. And to be sure, kata training shares elements in common with the Zen traditions of ishin-denshin or “mind-to-mind-transmission” and what Victor Hori terms “teaching without teaching.” The former stresses the importance of a student’s own immediate experience over explicit verbal or written explanation, engaging the deeper layers of a student’s mind and by-passing intellect; the latter describes a learning tool applied in Rinzai monasteries whereby students are assigned jobs and tasks that they are expected to learn and perform expertly with little or no formal explanation. Both force the student to fully invoke his powers of observation, analysis, and imagination in order to comprehend where he is being steered. Both lead to a level of understanding beyond cognition of the specific task or lesson presented. (104-105)
The basic dualities inherent in Zen are present in kata practice. Though any kata is to be practiced so often as to be entirely automatic, each time the kata is performed, it is to be as if it were the first time. The practitioner should relax into the pattern to such a degree that psychological spontaneity becomes part of the film strip of the restored behavior. To do this one must invoke a state of “flow,” as described by Victor Turner in From Ritual to Theatre.
Turner’s description of flow involves;
1) The experience of merging action and awareness.
2) Centering of attention
3) Loss of Ego
4) The experience of being in control of one’s actions and environment
5) Non-contradictory demands for action
6) Flow is autotelic, it needs no goals or rewards outside itself
One does not perform the kata, one becomes the kata. When at the age of 15 I was once asked by my sensei the purpose of kata, I was told, after giving several wrong answers, that kata was for “purifying the mind.” The Zen aspect of Karate explains my sensei’s answer.
From spirituality, it is a small step to invoking morality. Of course, the concept of a ritual that symbolizes violent acts being a tool for moral development seems contradictory on the surface. But the moral development of the Karate practitioner is not based on the “thou shalt not” of Western religious thought. In The Future of Ritual, Schechner theorizes that rituals are a means of catharsis, and furthermore, that their rhythmic actions release endorphins in the body. He further states that all rituals somehow involve violence. Schechner writes,
In both animals and humans rituals arise or are devised around disruptive, turbulent, and ambivalent interactions where faulty communication can lead to violent or even fatal encounters. Rituals, and the behavior arts associated with them, are overdetermined, full of redundancy, repetition, and exaggeration. This metamessage of “You get the message, don’t you!?!” (a question surrounded by emphasis) says that what a ritual communicates is very important yet problematic. The interactions that rituals surround, contain, and mediate almost always contain hierarchy, territory, and sexuality/mating (an interdependent quadruple). If these interactions are the “real events” rituals enfold, then what are the rituals themselves? They are ambivalent symbolic actions pointing at the real transactions even as they help avoid too direct a confrontation with these events. Thus rituals are also bridges – reliable doings carrying people across dangerous waters. It is no accident that many rituals are “rites of passage.” (230)
Schechner goes on to cite Rene Girard,
Girard believes (and I agree) that ritual sublimates violence: “The function of ritual is to ‘purify violence’ violence; that is to ‘trick’ violence into spending itself on victims whose death will provoke no reprisals” (1977:36). All this sounds very much like theatre – especially a theatre that “redirects” violent and erotic energies. (234)
Taking this into account, let us return to kata and the development of character. Rather than, “thou shalt not,” in kata, “thou shalt” until the desire to commit any act of violence is cathartically and ritually expelled.
It is through the kata that violence is ritualized and expelled by cathartic release. It is through strenuous ritual enactment of techniques designed to cause serious damage to another human being that desire to perform actual violence is expelled. Perhaps this is why progress in learning the applications is equated with moral growth. By understanding the ways in which the body can be damaged, there is an added dimension to the catharsis.
It is through harnessing such behavior in the form of ritual that it is controlled and banished in the practitioner. The violence of the actions is ritualized in the kata, which are open to several interpretations (bunkai), which become progressively more advanced and therefore more dangerous. At the same time, practitioners learn more advanced kata as they progress in the system, which again ritualize further aspects of violence.
Kata compress and systematize patterns of violence. The more advanced the student, the more advanced the kata in their personal repertoire, and, the deeper the understanding of all the kata in said repertoire. Progressing logically from there, the more advanced the kata, the more potentially violent the application of the movements within it. The greater the potential violence, the greater the catharsis. Through kata, violence is controlled, expressed, and released. The greater the catharsis, the more content and “at peace” the practitioner. Rather than invoking “thou shalt not,” Karate raises its practitioners above unnecessary acts of aggression through enacting violence in the performance of kata.
 My teacher in Karate was Sensei Joseph Carbonara, 9th Dan, Hanshi, under the late Shoshin Nagamine, 10th Dan, Hanshi, and first disciple to the late Chotoku Omine, 8th Dan, Kyoshi. I could not in good faith document the traditions of Karate without acknowledging my teacher and my teacher’s teachers. Since this study is one of dual perspective, both from within as a practitioner and from without as a scholar, I must call attention to and analyze the traditions and courtesies even as I observe them.
- Barba, Eugenio, and Savarese, Nicola – The Secret Art of the Performer; A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology, Routledge, London and New York, 1991
- Budokan Karate Dojo, E. Northport, NY, – 20th Anniversary Book, 1989
- _________________________________, – 25th Anniversary Book, 1994
- _________________________________, Brochure, circa 1992
- Friday, Karl, F. with Humitake, Seki – Legacies of the Sword; The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1997
- Funakoshi Gichin – Karate-Do, My Way of Life, Kodansha International, New York, London, Tokyo, 1975
- McCarthy, Patrick – Bubishi, translation and commentary, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1995
- Nagamine, Shoshin – The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, Japan, 1976
- _______________, – Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters, Trans. Patrick McCarthy, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Boston, Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, 2000
- Schechner, Richard – Between Theater & Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1985
- _______________ – The Future of Ritual, Routledge, London and New York, 1995
- Turner, Victor – From Ritual to Theatre, The Human Seriousness of Play, Performing Arts Journal Publications, New York, 1982
- ____________ – The Anthropology of Performance, Performing Arts Journal Publications, New York, 1988
- Zarrilli, Phillip B. – When the Body Becomes All Eyes; Paradigms, Discourses and Practices of Power in Kalarippayattu, A South Indian Martial Art, Oxford University Press, 1998
- Meron Langsner is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Drama & Dance, Tufts University, Medford, MA