Thursday, 26 November 2009

When is a hip not a hip? - When it's a koshi!

Every martial artist comes to understand the importance of 'hips' in the execution of punches, kicks and throws. It is drilled into us virtually every training session: 'rotate the hips!', or 'make your belt swing!'.

However, when I 'rotate' my 'hips' I do not experience the required effects. I do not 'transmit' the power from my legs to my upper body. In fact 'rotating' my 'hips' seems to have a negative effect on my technique - it seems to cut my body in two, severing the connection between my legs and my upper body? It often unbalances me, particularly when I turn direction during a kata. I have been told that my torso sometimes looks 'wobbly' and that I sometimes 'over rotate' the hips.

This may just be a coordination problem - but on the whole I am well coordinated so I'm not sure that's the problem. It may be that I lack strength in the hip region - that's a possibility. The other possibility is that I have misinterpreted what is meant by a 'hip twist'.

When I watch others execute techniques with 'hip twist' I am sometimes a little puzzled by what exactly it is they are twisting - they may be turning or thrusting the lower torso region, but 'twisting' or 'rotating' the hips? Not in my interpretation of 'twisting the hips'. However, they are doing it correctly and I am doing it wrong - so my interpretation must be wrong. Watch this video of Kagawa sensei executing a gyaku zuki:

The movement he generates in his torso involves a unified rotation of his body from just below the chest to the middle of his thighs - this was not what I interpret as hips!

Then I read something in a book called Traditions by David Lowry. In this book there is a short chapter called 'Move from the hips'. He recounts an incident in his class one day when he was encouraging his students to 'move from your hips'. After the class a group of female students approached and told him that his concept of 'hips' was not only a Japanese-influenced one but also a male one!

Women generally consider the hips to specifically be the area right around the widest part of the buttocks. Whereas for men the hips include all the buttocks and the waist as well. However, for the Japanese hips (koshi) means a wider area still, one that includes every part of the trunk from the bottom of the buttocks right up into the abdomen.

After I read this a light turned on! I have been considering my hips from a female perspective, rather than a male or Japanese perspective. I've been twisting my hips like I'm dancing to Chubby Checker! No wonder I am unstable and not transmitting power correctly. I might have guessed I'd need to think like a man on this one.

David Lowry puts forwards 2 maxims for how the koshi should be used in martial arts:

1. All movement must originate with the hips, i.e the hips must precede all action. The koshi must be kept firm and tight whereas the limbs can be left relaxed. Maintaining a firm koshi takes the 'slack' out of the stance and permits movement without a wasted 'wind up' first. Moving the hips first unifies the body allowing all other muscles to work in harmony.

2. Power must be delivered through the hips directly to the target. For example, when doing an oi-zuki (stepping through punch), from the starting stance, right through the step to the punch, the koshi should be exactly the same height from the floor. The hips move in a straight, horizontal line so that no power is lost or misdirected.

Now that I know that my hips is not just my hips and that this whole koshi region should be kept tense; that movement should precede all action and deliver power directly to the target, the above video of Kagawa sensei makes a lot more sense to me now.

I think I now have enough understanding of this hip twist thing to start training in a different way , then, may be I will stop wobbling and unbalancing myself!

If you are an instructor and you are teaching your students about hip rotation please make sure they know exactly what you mean by 'hips' - it could save a lot of confusion!

Reference: Traditions, Essays on the Japanese Martial Arts and Ways, Dave Lowry 2002. Tuttle publishing.

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Anonymous said...

It might be helpful to remember the belly-button should be pointed 45° away from the target when you're punching straight. A good exercise for getting the hiptwist right is to pretend you're skiing: basically you're twisting your whole hip while changing lead. Another good exercise is to have your partner hold up focus-mitts for you but a fair distance away from his/her head, this forces you to really twist your hip to be able to reach the target. Of course your punches should always cross when using focus-mitts (meaning right hand to right hand and vice versa) to prevent you accidentely hitting their face. In boxing it is said you should always aim with the shoulder (pointing it at his face) when doing a cross (this gives you maximum reach and power and ensures you twist your whole body into the punch) but since you're doing karate the shoulders should be straight. A funny way to strike since you're basically bracing yourself instead of twisting the whole body but then again it's tradition.

Hope this has been helpful,


PS: I seriously doubt you lack strengh in the hip-region (if that's even possible), punching has fairly little to do with strength but with bodymechanics and the use of the whole body to strike. Legstrength is of the highest importance, it doesn't hurt to train the abs to be able to punch a little harder but I've never heard of specific exercises for the hips except rotations but that's merely for warm-up and flexibility not for strength. In any case don't rotate the hips past 45° beside the target or you will overextend and lose power and coordination.

Sue C said...

Hi Zara, thanks for all the tips. I think that anything that makes me concentrate on how my hip region is moving will help me to coordinate my movements better. I think I need to unlearn the way I was rotating my hips before and relearn it in a new way!

Michele said...

Hi Sue,

Excellent post. We also drill the importance of hip rotation. The next time a student asks about hip rotation, I will remember to identify what exactly we mean when we say 'hips'.

I agree with Zara about using the whole body to punch. When we teach a student how to punch, we tell them to punch with the whole body...from the ground, through the leg and hip and out the arm. I can feel the difference between punching with the whole body and punching with an arm.

Best of luck this weekend!

Sue C said...

Hi Michele

Nice to see you back in the blogosphere!

It's one thing to know in theory what to do - quite another to do it in practice but I'm sure you've been there in the past!

Thanks for commenting.


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