Lately, I've been working on the principle of circularity and how specific shapes prescribed through the fundamental technique in karate can have a great effect on their functional potential...
A key principle of motion that I'd like to write about here is that of 'circularity' and the difference between square and curved movement paths when executing tenshin, tsuki, uchi, uke and keri. One of the best ways to imagine this principle in action would be to think about how one would drive a car around a bend in the road ahead. If the bend happens to have a gentle curve then you'll easily be able to make small adjustments to the steering wheel with hardly any use of the brake. In contrast, if the bend happens to be sharp (such as a right angle or hair pin), then employing the brake would be more of a certainty and in some cases, the car may have to come to a complete halt before changing course in order to safely negotiate the manoeuvre.
In traditional karate practice, we aim to smooth out any sharp corners so that the fundamental movement patterns become more 'spherical' and 'natural'. Think of the difference between a square and a circle. For instance, drawing a square on a piece of paper requires four separate stop/starts as the angle changes sharply. Every stop/start requires energy to be re-generated and issued in a different direction. However, drawing a circle can be achieved in one continuous and efficient path by making small adjustments with the pen and utilising the same perpetual energy throughout the entire shape.
Just like the whip, as the elbow is smaller than the shoulder and the wrist is smaller than the elbow, the transmission of energy increases in acceleration though a progressively decreasing cross sectional area. The koshi is snapped back towards the end of the motion to generate the 'crack' of the whip and subsequent focus/release of energy.
Of course, a circle is not the only shape that can be prescribed through a single motion and the koshi does not simply rotate, but instead, a sophisticated three dimensional movement pattern may be produced that precedes the associated upper body techniques through the correct application of sequential delay. That, which occurs above the waist should always be a direct consequence of that, which occurs below it. generally speaking, the koshi can rotate clockwise and anti-clockwise, lift to the left and right or rock forward and back. It is the integrated combination of these fundamental dynamics with accurate timing and fluid motion that provides karate with true and life-long, away from mere physical strength that of course declines naturally with age.
In traditional karate (as in many other martial arts), energy is sourced from the ground, gathered up through the legs, amplified by the koshi, accelerated by the upper limbs and then transferred through the fist into the target. It became clear during my last trip to Okinawa that if one is not becoming faster, stronger and more powerful with age and experience, then that person is not practising true karate and instead, is simply performing a physical exercise that's reliant solely on muscular contraction. Indeed, you don't need to travel very far in Naha to find an ageing karate teacher who is a living example of this principle in practice and to personally witness one of these individuals in action is inspiring to say the least!
For karate to be a lifelong art, emphasis needs to be placed on natural movement, plus the preservation/development of health. After all, I suppose that our vitality is the ultimate factor in all aspects of personal protection - for without it, everything else becomes insignificant!
Thanks for reading and keep training deep,