Monday, 5 April 2010
Karate: hard not tense
Karate is often described as a hard style. It is generally characterised by fast linear movements where power is generated through speed and attention to biomechanical principles. However, ‘hard’ does not mean stiff or tense. In fact it is essential for good power generation to be relaxed as possible only tensing the muscles at the last second. This is one of the hardest things for the student karateka to understand and to learn to do.
We’ve all been there! Shoulders raised, biceps contracted hard to try and force through the punch, teeth clenched, movements clunky and stiff. So much energy is expended, so much effort made and yet your punches and kicks still seem slow and weak. Sensei shouts ‘relax, you’re too tense’. You know this but seem powerless to change. It is hard to turn muscle contractions on and off like a light switch.
When you look around the dojo at your seniors – the ones that move well, hit hard and are quick and light on their feet, you realise it’s generally the ones without the big hulking muscles The leaner, lighter people often move better and pack the hardest punches. Good technique will always conquer physical strength in karate, well at least in the shurite styles. One of the key features of good technique is being relaxed.
So how do you become more relaxed when your natural propensity is be stiff and tense? Well one suggestion that is working for me involves looking at how they do it in the softer martial arts. Like I have mentioned before, my kobudo training is done in a jujitsu club and much of it is based on the principles of jujitsu, which is a soft martial art. Movements are generally slower and circular rather than fast and linear. To move in a more circular way requires you to be more relaxed and to understand how push/pull and rotational movements affect uke’s responses.
However, for me, the biggest aid to learning to be more relaxed is through my sword training. When one has a three foot extension on the end of your arm that you are trying to control with fluidity and precision then it must almost become part of your arm. To move it swiftly and precisely you need to be relaxed more than with any other weapon. By repeatedly practising the various drawing, cutting and stance katas my movements are gradually becoming more relaxed and fluid.
I am discovering that I can move my body around much more quickly when I stay relaxed. I’m starting to understand what it feels like to not have my muscles in a state of tension when it is not necessary for them to be like that. Though the sword seems to lack that requirement for a sudden tensing of muscles at the last second it is never the less teaching me some skills that are valuable for karate.
My kobudo sensei often says ‘let the sword to the cutting, not your arm’. I think the same principle can be applied to karate – ‘let your fist do the punching, not your arm’.
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