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Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

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Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達
Blog We all know
Spanish breathing is important. It is probably most important for
Blog our survival. Water and food are also important but we can
Persian survive for a week without food and maybe one or two
Blog days without water. On the other hand, most of us will not
Macedoniansurvive if there was no air for us to breath for more than
Blog two minutes. Many of us cannot hold our breath or stay
Turkish under the water even for one minute.
Ukrainian I suspect that all the readers will agree; breathing is
Blog considered extremely important in martial arts training, of
简 course including karate. We all know that proper
体 breathing is necessary to make a kime. By not being able
中 to keep the good breathing we get tired very quickly in
文 our training. The senior practitioners also know that it is
Simplified important to hide our breathing from their opponents. By
Chinese doing this they can keep their intention and techniques
Members undetected.
Benefits of Breathing Training:
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

But do you know the full extent of the benefits from breathing exercise? Here is
a good article that you should read, “9 Benefits of Breath Training” written by
Chad Schwab of South Africa who is a serious athlete specializing in surfing and


Here are the nine benefits listed by Schwab.

1. Have the lung capacity of a whale

2. Increase your cardio strength
3. Perform better, recover faster
4. The mental game: increase mental strength and confidence
5. Decrease stress
6. Increase your anaerobic threshold
7. Handle higher levels of Carbon Dioxide
8. Increase Oxygen in the body
9. Increase your immune system

After knowing these benefits, I bet you would wonder why you had not trained
seriously in breathing exercise before.

In fact, there are many different ways of breathing. They teach this in yoga, Tai
chi chuan and zen meditation. On the other hand, sadly, I have not seen much
teaching on this important subject in the karate dojo I have visited so far.
Despite such importance of the subject, only a few sensei seem to know how to
teach this subject. Apparently, their teachers did not teach them how to train,
exercise or control the breathing. It is a shame so I wish to contribute my
knowledge and hopefully shed a light on this “ignored” or “forgotten” subject.
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Hino kokyu (火の呼吸):

As I have mentioned earlier that there are many different ways to breathe as
well as exercise methods. In other words, you control your breathing by three
different actions. Most of the readers know that they are inhalation and
exhalation. However, only a few are aware of the importance of holding the
breath as part of a breathing exercise. Of course, there are several breathing
methods without holding breath. One of them is Hino kokyu (火の呼吸, breathing
of fire), found in yoga and Shugendo (修験道).

According to Encyclopeida of Shinto, Shugendo is explained as “Shugendo is a

form of Japanese folk religion, based on primitive mountain worship, and
formed under the influence of Buddhism, Daoism, Onmyōdō, and other
religions. The name shugen is derived from the term genriki, which refers to
special powers acquired as the result of religious practice (shugyō) performed
within the mountains. In the past, such persons were frequently referred to by
such terms as sanga (one who beds in the mountains) or the more common
yamabushi (one who retreats to the mountains). While Shugendō provides
abstract theories regarding the meaning of such terms, they are generally used
to refer to those who possess supranormal magico-religious capabilities by
sheltering in the mountains, in other words by retreating to the mountains and
engaging in concourse with mountain spirits. Shugen practitioners are also
called yama no hijiri (holy-men of the mountains), genja (men of power), or
gyōja (ascetic practitioners).”

If you are interested in the history and the full explanation, here is the link to
the encyclopedia. http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Hi no kokyu became famous, at least in Japan, Rickson Gracie (photo right)

revealed his training menu more than ten years ago and this rapid breathing
method (hi no kokyu) was one of them. Here is a short video of his yoga training
including the breathing exercise: https://www.youtube.com

However, we will not go into Hi no kokyu or any other sophisticated breathing

method today. Today I wish to share one very simple exercise method that
anyone can do to improve his breathing. You will find out how by reading this
essay, but you need to train just as you do with the karate training almost daily
for many months. I cannot over emphasize that it will require consistent (almost
daily) training to acquire the new breathing technique or skill.

Even if you do not or cannot continue for many months, I am pretty confident
that there are many useful hints in this essay that will improve your breathing
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Nose Breathing:

Let me give you a few improvement ideas that you can acquire right away. One
is to inhale (almost always) through your nose during your breathing training.
Of course, you want to do this in your daily life as well. Breathing through
mouth is highly discouraged due, mainly for the health reasons. You want to
limit breathing through your mouth if your nose is congested or during the
strenuous training.

According to Breathing.com (founded by Michael Grant White: California State

Certified Nutrition Consultant; N. Carolina Licensed Massage and Bodywork
Therapist), nose breathing does the following:

Helps fight infections

Ensures better blood flow and lung volumes
Helps to maintaining body temperature
Helps in better brain functions
Helps during your workouts

On the other hand, here are the things that can happen when you breathe
through your mouth.

Deadly bacteria have a free entry through your mouth

Weakens your lungs, heart, etc.
An open invitation to snoring or sleep apnea
Causes constriction of blood vessels
Restricts your enjoyment of smelling
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Can affect your appearance

You can read the entire explanation of those symptoms and benefits at the
following URL: https://breathing.com/pages/nose-breathing


Next, let’s study that there are three functions or stages of breathing. One is
inhalation or breathing in, and the second one is exhalation or breathing out.
These two functions are familiar to you. Then, what is the third one? Did you
know that it is holding your breath? Believe it or not, holding process is as
important if not more as the other two.

Here is an interesting article by Stig

Severinsen (photo right), the founder of Breatheology. Severinsen is not only
MSc Biology & PhD Medicine but also 4 time free diving world champion and a
holder of Guinness World Record. He is also the author of “Breatheology – The
Art of Conscious Breathing.

Develop Mental Power with Breath Holding

Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

In this article Severinsen claims that holding breath provides

more energy
resilience to stress, mental stability
a greater focus on priorities and goals
a closer connection to the body and more attention to the moment

He also claims the following:

On the long run meditation and breath holds seem to develop your nervous
system and brain. Scientific studies have revealed that people who practice
meditation and/or freediving show marked changes in their brain and nervous
system. One area in the nervous system that undergo changes lies in the brain
stem and is connected to the vagus nerve. This is part of the calming
parasympathetic pathway which counteracts stress.

Breathe Long:

Now you have learned the basic ideas about breathing and I believe that we can
jump in to the breathing method. But before that, do you know how many times
you breathe in a period of one minute? It is your respiratory rate. This is such a
simple thing to find our rate, thus it seems all of us should know. However, as
far as I know not too many people bother to measure it or test our breathing
cycle. If you do not know the exact data on your breathing, please take a few
minutes and find out on average how many breathing cycles you have per

According to Cleveland Clinic an adult breathes average of 12 to 20 times per

minute.  If you are an athlete or a karate black belt you probably breathe less
than those numbers. By doing breathing training you train to have fewer
breathing cycles which means you breathe longer in the breathing process.
 Breathing quickly and shortly is not a sign of good health.  You have seen the
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

sick people and obese people doing that type of breathing.  Zen meditation goes
with slow breathing and it is for both mental and physical health improvement.
 If you have been in a zen meditation or yoga class I am sure you learned how to
breathe slower and longer.  Here you do not need to do the meditation. You sit
casually either in a chair or on the floor.

Cleveland Clinic has a very interesting article on Vital Signs including

Respiratory Rate. I will share the URL here: https://my.clevelandclinic.org

Breathing Training Steps:

Here are the simple steps I suggest to improve or extend your breathing.

Step 1
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

You have checked your breathing cycles and now you know how many times you
normally breathe per minute. If you are breathing 2 times or less per minute
you can jump to Step 5. However, most of the readers will find that they breathe
ten times or more per minute. You want to reduce the number down but we
must do it gradually.

Step 2

What you need to do is to cut your breathing cycle down to 8 times per minute,
unless you are already at that level. Eight cycle means you take 7 to 8 seconds
per one breathing cycle. To make it easier to calculate let’s take 8 seconds for
one cycle. What you need to do is to allocate the same time for inhalation and
exhalation. In other words, you need to breathe in for 4 seconds and exhale for
4 seconds as well. This should not be too difficult to do. At this level, you do not

need to introduce holding breath period.

What is difficult is to make this cycle a permanent one. Unless you train your
breathing habit regularly and teach your body the proper breathing time, it
shortens or you will return to breathing faster. This is why it is a good idea to
combine the breathing exercise with meditation. By closing your eyes, (though
optional) and trying to think less, you can focus on your breathing much easier.
I suggest you will do this every day if possible, for one month. This is like karate
training so the minimum time of breathing exercise should be 3 to 4 times per
week and no less. If you do not have much free time during the day time, you
can do this while you are in bed right after you wake up or right before you go
to sleep.
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Step 3

If you become comfortable with eight times per minute, extend your breathing
and try 4 times per minute.  You will use about 15 seconds for one breathing
cycle in which you will not only spend the same amount of time for inhalation
and exhalation, but you may want to introduce a breath holding period. The
desirable amount of time for each section of the breathing cycle (inhalation,
exhalation, and holding) is 5 seconds each. Initially however, you may find it
difficult to hold the breath that long. In that case, you can reduce the amount of
holding time, say down to 3 seconds. The time for inhalation and exhalation, of
course, will be extended to 6 seconds each to keep the total cycle time at 15
seconds.  When you become comfortable doing this breathing at those intervals
for one hour or longer then you can increase the holding time to 5 seconds or
even longer.

Just as you did in step 2, you need to train your breathing technique as often as
possible for at least one month or until you feel comfortable doing the breathing
cycle as described above. Of course, if reducing down to 4 times per minute is
too challenging you can reduce to 6 times from 8 times. This is much more
gradual and will be easier to adopt. However, the time to reach the ultimate
goal will be further out and you will need more commitment and patience as
you will have to take more steps.

Step 4

If you are successful with 4 times per minute, you are ready to reduce to 3
times per minute. Though cutting down to 3 from 4 seems to be easy, you will
find out the degree of difficulty increases exponentially.

In 3 cycle breathing, you will do one cycle in 20 seconds. You can divide the
three functions equally such as 7 seconds each. There are three different ways
of breathing.

One is the pattern of exhalation, inhalation and holding. The second is

inhalation, exhalation and holding. These two seems to be similar and you may
not see the difference. However, you will find, if you try them, that the second
method is harder than the first one. In other words, it is much easier to hold
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

your breath after you fill the lung with the air. On the reverse way, you need to
hold the breath after you empty your lung. You can try the easier one first. After
mastering it you can try the more challenging way.

The third way is to split the holding in two and place it after each inhalation and
exhalation. In other words, you will spend 7 seconds to inhale, hold for 3
seconds then spend 7 seconds to breathe in and finally have the second holding
of 3 seconds. This method will give you an opportunity to train holding your
breath after exhalation. Once you are accustomed to this method, you can go to
method one and two described above.

Step 5

If you can breathe comfortably three cycles per minute, your final goal in this
essay is to reduce it down to two cycles or 30 seconds per each breathing cycle.
The training process is very similar to that of Step 4. You can figure this out on
your own so I will skip describing the details here.

You may want to ask if two cycles per minute is the ultimate goal. No, it is not.
The ultimate goal for the martial artist, I think, would be one cycle per minute.
In fact, some of the yoga experts and zen masters can and do their breathing
much longer. My average breathing interval when I am meditating is about 2
times per minute. Even though it is a good number, I have not reached the
master level yet. My current goal is to reduce it to one time per minute.

Try this simple exercise described above and see if you can lengthen your
breathing cycle. If you are busy and do not find spare time every day, you can do
the breathing training during your driving. It will not only train your breathing
but at the same time it will keep you relaxed. As a result you will be less tired
from driving as you exercise slow breathing. If your hobby is reading books like
me then this training is perfect to go along with your reading. You will enjoy
reading and your eyes will not get tired as fast as before. If you also have to
work in front of a computer for a long time this exercise will help you with your
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

The benefits are almost limitless and a wonderful thing about the breathing
exercise is that you can do this almost any time and anywhere. You will have no
excuse not to do this training. After getting used to this training in your daily
life you can easily implement it in your karate training.

Heart Beat (bpm):

To me, the best benefit I can get from longer breathing is slower heartbeat. A
doctor may tell you that you cannot control the speed or action of your heart but
it is not true. By breathing differently you can. If you hold your breath, say, for a
minute your heart beat will increase. On the other hand, if you lengthen your
breath, meaning a longer breathing, your heart beat will slow down. By
practicing this closely you can control your heart’s action and its beating speed
and rhythm. This ability should be a big benefit if you are an athlete. The
average heart beat or rate is 60-100 bpm (beats per minute). The goal should be
to stay somewhere between 50 and 60 bpm. This is not a medical advice as I am
not a medical doctor but I am suggesting this because it works for me. The
heartbeats will differ significantly depending on one’s various conditions so the
numbers I mentioned here are only a guideline.
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International


Another benefit of controlled and slow breathing is the total relaxation that goes
further than your muscles. You will be able to relax, unconsciously, your blood
vessels which means larger diameter to let more blood to flow. The more blood
flow to your head during the meditation will help you if you wish to reach the
stage of nirvana and or total mu. This is why zen meditation comes with a
breathing practice that is to breathe very slowly.

Being able to pump more blood in your circulatory system will help you during
the training, won’t it?  In addition, after a hard karate training, you can
recuperate faster with the relaxed blood vessels. If you have a problem with
sleeping after a hard training in the evening, I recommend that you will do the
controlled slow breathing down to 2 breathing cycle per minute. This will slow
your heart rate and your brain waves will change to Alpha and even down to
Theta then I guarantee that you will have a very restful sleep very quickly.
Relaxed blood vessels can also prevent many cases of heart attacks and strokes.
Just as you can relax your muscles you can train to relax your blood vessels. 
This may be a controversial statement but I have been practicing this and I
believe in this.
Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Improve Immune System:

With this breathing exercise I guarantee better health.  Believe it or not, you
can overcome hay-fever and allergy symptoms.  If you are suffering from this
then you need to improve your breathing as well as your diet (which is another
subject which must be discussed separately).

After your exercise let me hear from you if you feel better or improving your
karate training.  Of course, training this only one day will not have any visible
impact but I am sure you can feel that this exercise will make you feel better.

Slow down and make your breathing longer; that is the key idea in healthy
breathing!  Oss

One Response to Improve your breathing 呼吸法

Viju john on November 3, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Thank you Shihan for posting a great article on breathing. It is really

beneficial for people from a walks of life including martial arts
practitioners.. Thanks a lot for explaining the long breathing techniques..
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

« What is Kumite Tempo? 組手テンポとは

Organization What is Meotode?  夫婦手とは何ぞや? »
A lost ancient fighting concept,
PF. “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据
It is well known that Okinawan karate or Te was formally
introduced to mainland Japan in 1922, almost one hundred
years ago by Gichin Funakoshi (below far left).

A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

Though other Okinawan masters such as Motobu (above center) and Uechi
(above far right) came to Japan during the same period, their activities did not
bear fruit, mainly because they did not promote their karate in Tokyo.
Funakoshi, on the other hand, migrated to Tokyo and promoted his art to the
university students because he could speak standard Japanese. Thus, he is
remembered as the Father of modern day karate.

Since introducing Okinawa te in the early 20th century, he made many changes
such as the names of kata from the original names that made little sense to the
Japanese to ones that made sense to them. He also changed some of the
techniques such as de-emphasizing neko ashi dachi and created kokutsu dachi.
He exchanged some of the mae geri techniques to yoko geri keage in many k

ata. He created or designed the karate gi and belt

that we are very familiar with now. There were many other changes but today I
will introduce only one. If you are interested in other changes, I have already
written a few essays on this subject that can be found in my books. One of the
chapters is titled, “New Techniques by Funakoshi?” in Shotokan Mysteries.

OK enough of the introduction. Today I want to bring up one karate concept, a

very important one as well, that is almost forgotten by karate practition
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

ers. The concept is aite wo suemono ni

suru (相手を据え物にする). Let me explain. The first word “aite wo” means your
opponent. The second one is the key word, “suemono”. One of the most popular
meaning of this word is used in Iaido. It is a roll of straw that is used for a
cutting exercise with a sword to check its cutting ability (photo right). The
original use of this word came from the time of the samurai. It meant a dead
body or a living criminal sentenced to death, instead of a straw roll.  The
suemon was cut by the samurai to check the cutting ability of their swords
when they executed the criminal (photo below).  You can see, the body is tied
down firmly so that it would not move when it is being cut. This is the key point

to help you understand the concept . The

last word of the concept, “ni suru” means to make or set. So, all together the
sentence means, to make an opponent into a still target.

Now you understand the meaning of the Japanese sentence but I suspect the
readers are not exactly sure what it means, unless you have learned about this
in the past. In order to truly understand the meaning of this sentence, we need
to look at a short history of karate in the past 60 years or so.

I assume most of the readers know that the original te was budo or martial art.
That was what Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters brought to Japan nearly
a century ago. I cannot say what the other Okinawan mas
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

ters thought about introducing

tournaments or shiai (試合) to karate. I can say, at least, Funakoshi was firmly
against it until his death. It is true that there were many informal (not
approved) shiai between the university karate clubs located in Tokyo. They did
not call it shiai or tournament but koryukai (交流会), a “friendship meeting”. The
formal tournament, All Japan Championship hosted by JKA had to wait till 1957,
the year Funakoshi passed.

As shiai or sport karate has become so popular these days, we are so

accustomed to that kumite style and you would mistakenly believe the “killing”
techniques seen in the matches are the real and only effective techniques. If you
were ever in a street fight in the past, you are well aware the real situation is
far different from the shiai kumite matches. First of all, the distance is
completely different in most of the cases. There is no “Hajime” or “Yame”. You
may have multiple opponents and you may not know if they have the weapons.
This is why zanshin, a special mindset of full awareness, is extremely important
in martial arts. In addition, the Okinawan masters knew one secret technique
that is in the sentence I am sharing with you now.
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

It is well known that Makiwara training is considered to be one of the very

important items in the training menu. Interestingly, I know that some of the
Western style boxers have criticized that punching a stationary target has little
worth in boxing. They say that their opponent is always moving so it is better to
practice punching with a moving target. They also do not need to toughen their
fists as they wear gloves. I can understand why they would say that and it would
make sense when you watch how kumite matches are conducted as the
competitors are moving around almost all the time.

If this is the case, why did the ancient Okinawan masters talk about suemono
(fixed or tied down body)? Did the Okinawan people fight without moving? Or
were the Okinawan fighters unable to move fast? I do not think so and I am sure
the readers will agree with me. Some of the readers may know that the
nickname of Choki Motobu was Monkey because he could climb up fences and

to rooftops easi ly. If that is the case, we

can hardly believe he could only move slowly.
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

Once you understand the true meaning behind this sentence, only then you will
be impressed with the fantastic knowledge of the Okinawan masters. So, let me
explain in detail. They knew that it was not very easy to knock down an
opponent (especially another karate-ka) with one punch even though the saying
of Ikken Hissatsu (one blow one kill) was used then. It is difficult simply
because the opponent would be constantly moving. The effect of kicking and

punching will be reduced significantly if the target

moves away or closer from the spot where the attacker had assumed the
opponent to be. So, they developed techniques such as deai (出会い photo right)
and irimi (入り身 photo below). Those are the techniques where the defender
moves in when the attacker is stepping in. In this situation, despite a high level
of skill is required, the counter attack can have a great impact upon the
opponent as the target is coming in.

Another technique is a tsukami (掴み grabbing) and hikiyose (引き寄せ pulling in)
technique. We know what hikite is and most of the time the practitioners think
it is only a movement to pull back the hand as you deliver a technique with the
other hand. However, in kata many of the hikite techniques are in fact a mo

vement of grabbing and pulling in the

opponen. A good example is Tekki or Naihanchi. When you do jodan ura zuki,
you are expected to grab and pull in the opponent with the other hand (photo
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

It will be much more difficult to catch an opponent who is moving back or away
from you. You may need to have a skill of reaching further than the opponent
would expect and some people have developed a skill to cover a much further
distance than the average practitioners. This technique is called Shukuchiho (縮
地法), the literal meaning is to shorten the distance method. I will not explain
this technique in this essay.

Those are excellent techni ques against the moving

target (opponent), but the Okinawan masters came up with another brilliant
idea. That is the “suemono ni suru” or stopping the opponent technique.
Suemono was the fixed target such as the straw roll or a dead body. This means
a technique to make your opponent stop momentarily or get into a fixed status.
We all agree that it is much easier to punch or kick if the opponent is fixed in
one spot. In Iaido, of course the suemono is a rolled straw and it would not
move. In samurai time, the dead or living body is tied down at the wrists and
the ankles, so the body would not move. In karate, certainly the opponent is
completely free to move.

What is very interesting and brilliant is that this suemono technique in karate
not only makes the opponent stay in one spot but also makes his mental
condition as unexpected. Have you ever experienced the following situation?
You were walking down a staircase and you thought you completed all the steps,
but there was one more step. What had happened to you? I bet you either
tripped or at least had a big shock to your leg stepping down and you almost fell
down. This comes from an unsuspecting mind. This happens in a dark house at
night or if you are looking at something else while you are coming down the
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

OK you understand in general that this technique or method can bring an

effective result.  But, the opponents are constantly moving so you want to know
how this technique is done. There are a few methods to create this situation. In
fact, tsukami waza that I had mentioned earlier can keep the opponent at a
constant distance. However, the opponent can see what is happening so he can
also use this opportunity (constant distance) to fight against you. Therefore, the
most popular method in suemono technique is metsubushi (目潰し eye jammi

ng or blinding) which is the direct

method to make the opponent close their eyes. You will typically use the open
hand and use your finger tips to either stab or swipe at the eyes.

Is this technique used in kata? Of course, you can find an obvious metsubushi
(blinding) technique in some kata such as Chinte in which it is done with nihon
nukite (two finger spear photo above). Some techniques may not be too obvious.
A good example is Enpi. You will find a metsubushi technique following jodan

age zuki (photo left). After this technique

you will open your punching hand then jump in to give gedan zuki. That open
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

hand is used to blind the eyes. Here is a photo of JKA’s Naka Tatsuya sensei
where he is demonstrating the eye attack technique in Enpi (photo below). After
the jodan age zuki (most likely to the opponent’s chin), you will open your hand
and place your hand over the opponent face with your teisho placed at the chin.
Just spread your hand then you will realize that the finger tips will naturally
reach the eyes. By pushing the whole hand the opponent will be easily pushed
back as you jump in to execute the gedan or chudan zuki. By the way, the right
forearm goes to the other side of the head looking like right forearm jodan

nagashi uke (上段流し受け). T hat

interpretation is not incorrect but it can also be a tsukami (grabbing the
opponent’s lapel or gi) and hikiyose waza, simultaneously you are
striking opponent’s chudan or gedan with your left fist.

Another example of not so obvious metsubushi technique is the last two moves
of Bassai Sho (photo left). The large hand movement, despite being done in a
slow motion, can be an eye swipe action before doing ts

ukami and hikiyose technique (the other

hand is also doing tsukami hikiyose technique). What happens in the actual
bunkai is this. When the attacker is coming with chudan oi zuki, the defender
will initially do ment arm (hikiyose), he will foot sweep at the same time. By
these actions (done faster than what is shown in this kata) the attacker will fall.
The defender will execute the finish attack (punch or kick) either during or after
the attacker falls. This final action is deleted or hidden in this kata.
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

Why is it done slowly? I have touched on this before and have written an essay
on this interesting subject. Let me re-state the reasons briefly here. One is for a
challenging technique (i.e. the first two moves of Heian Yondan). Another is for
the pressing or resisting action such as tsukami waza or kakiwake (掻き分け)
waza. The third reason is a throw technique (found in Heian Godan). I suspect

the last two steps of Bass ai Sho may belong to the

third reason, but at the same time I think there is another and better reason.

A certain move is done slowly to show there are some options that are not
included in the kata. I am pretty certain about this as an uke is not the final
move. In other words, there must be a counter attack after an uke. Especially an
advanced kata like Bassai Sho, I cannot believe the kata creator would think of
a kata where the defender (kata performer) would only foot sweep the attacker
then move on to next waza combination.  Without debating on this particular
point, that overt upper hand movement (swinging the hand in a large horizontal
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

and circular movement) in the last two steps can be either a neck throw or an

eye swipe. B y this action, the attacker

will lose the momentum and will have to stop the action in the middle. This
makes it much easier for the defender to foot sweep as he pulls in the opponent
down-ward. This makes the attacker very vulnerable to the counter attack.

Metsubushi, blinding technique is only one way to achieve suemono in the

opponent. Another popular one is to hit certain tsubo (vital points) such as
Adam’s apple in the throat, solar plexus, groin, etc. initially to achieve this
effect. The initial attack does not need to be too strong (of course, it could cause

the instant knock out too) to achieve such an

effect. The timing and the accuracy are more important than the power or the
strength of the hit (strike or kick). Once (but right after) the effect of suemono
is achieved, you need to deliver the kime waza (final decisive blow) to finish the
fight. This timing is critically important as you can easily fail if you give too
much time after the initial impact as the opponent is able to see what is
happening. The situation is quite different from the mentsubushi case. You will
have much more time between the initial attack and the kime wasa, as the
opponent is blinded by the initial attack for a second or two or even longer
depending on the degree of severity of the eye attack.

If you understand this concept and like it, you may want to evaluate different
A lost ancient fighting concept, “Suemono ni suru” 忘却された秘伝「据え物にする」  – Asai Shotokan Association I...

techniques that could cause a suemono effect. Unfortunately, it is not too easy
to deliver this in a regular kumite training. This separates between the real
fighting situation and the dojo training. How to train this kind of budo technique
is another interesting subject which I hope to cover in one of the essays in the


The true ultimate aim in karate is to keep peace and avoid a fight. However,
once you choose to fight, you want and need to knock down the opponent with

one devastating technique, ikken hissatsu.

The ultimate aim in sport karate is totally different. There it does not matter if
your technique is one punch one kill kind. My statement here is not to degrade
or totally reject sport karate. It has its place and I respect it as one of the
exciting sports. At the same time, I practice the budo karate which is purely
based on the budo concept of real life and death fight. From this perspective, I
am afraid this valuable teaching method, that of making the opponent as a fixed
target, is being forgotten or becoming a lost technique. I hope this essay will
bring some attention to this subject and more people will find and appreciate
the old teachings.

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A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International

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A small mystery about Ochi Sensei
(Español) 越智先生のミステリー
Blog Here is a small mystery about Hideo Ochi. He was born in 1940 so he was
English 70 years old in the following video which was taken in 2010 at the at
Blog ISKF summer camp in Pennsylvania.
Blog Ochi teaching a class at ISKF summer camp in 2010:

A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International


Here is the photo of him doing the body crunch exercise in front of a large group of black belts. This
exercise starts by laying flat on your back and lifting your feet and head up. This exercise is known to
work and strengthen your belly muscles (rectus abdominis), the large muscle group that is commonly
called “six packs” when built up. This exercise is similar to the very popular exercise of sit ups.
However, the body crunch can be much harder if you have to keep your feet up in the air as Ochi
sensei made the group do. He was smiling and kept on doing the exercise into 40 or maybe 50 reps.
The video showed that many of the black belts gave up in the middle and laid there flat. I am not sure
if any of them could follow Ochi sensei and complete all the counts.

So he was 70 years old then and with this exercise he out-did all the black belts who were much
younger. I saw a comment below the Youtube video, “he is more fit than all of us combined”. This
person was correct that Ochi sensei was very fit. Does he do sit ups and body crunches every day to
build his six packs? I could be wrong but I doubt he does. He does not need to do these exercises to
do many sit ups and body crunches. If I am right then how does he do them? This is the true mystery
and I know the secret. I will share what I know and it will solve this small mystery.
A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International

The answer is very simple. Ochi sensei is not using his six packs or the rectus abdominis. The readers
will surely object to this statement. The readers are correct. Ochi sensei is using his rectus abdominis,
indeed, but only to keep his upper body up but not to lift his legs up. In fact, he was using other
muscles to keep his body up which I will explain later. Then, how was he lifting his legs? He was
using his leg muscles! I can almost hear the second objection from the readers. The muscles found in
the leg region are used not only for walking and running but also for balancing your body when you
are standing up. They also do something that is very familiar to us, karateka. They lift up our leg for
kicking or some times for jumping.

As there are so many different muscles in the leg region, let me tell you specifically which muscle
groups I am referring to. Many people know the big leg muscles that are found in the front of the
thighs (the rectus femoris) and the muscles in the back commonly known as hamstrings (the biceps
femoris). However, I am not referring to these muscle groups. There are at least two other muscle
groups that Ochi sensei used. They are the rectus femoris (illustration below right) that ties between
the pelvis to the thigh bone (femur) and the sartorius that ties the pelvis to the shin bone (tibia). In
A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International

fact, the sartorius (illustration below left) is, believe it or not, the longest
muscle group. These muscles are used for the activity that is very familiar to us, kicking. By using
them you can lift your knee up when you do mae geri. Of course, you can lift your knee up and kick
mae geri without using these muscles but rather by using the outer muscles previously mentioned
such as the rectus femoris. However, the professional karateka and the experts use not only those
outer muscles but also the inner muscles. This is why their kicks are faster and stronger. Ochi sensei
was known to have a strong and fast mae geri. I am sure he developed these inner muscles during the
many years of his karate training when he was young. The inner muscles are important but they are
difficult to train separately due to their locations. Most of the weight lifting exercises work on the
outer muscles. You could work on the inner muscles if you practice your kick with an iron geta or
weighted shoes. There are other specific methods to work on the inner muscles but I will not delve

into that subject in this article. What I want to share here is tha
t I suspect that Ochi sensei has developed strong inner muscles that tie between the pelvis and the
thigh bones through many years of hard karate training. As the inner muscles retain the strength
longer than the outer muscles, despite Ochi sensei being 70 years old his inner muscles were still
A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International

strong and useful in the exercise to lift the legs up.

I realized the importance of these inner muscles more than 15 years ago and trained them specifically.
Now, without training in doing sit ups, I can do it 200 or 300 sit ups without much effort. I can do 100
body crunches easily and even with a smiling face like Ochi sensei. When I do the sit up exercise in a
seminar, I usually ask them to do 200 times with me. I tell them to relax the belly muscles and instead
use the leg muscles. They all think I am joking but I am not. I am asking them to use those inner
muscles. In addition to using the inner muscles I give them another hint that will help them do more
sit ups and help them relax the belly muscles. If you are interested in this hint, I encourage you to
participate in one of the seminars I hold around the world.

Earlier in this article I mentioned that Ochi sensei was using other muscles to keep his upper body up
(other than the six packs). Since you are a smart reader you probably guessed that there were some
inner muscles in the belly region. You are correct. In fact to keep his upper body lifted , what he was
using mostly were the inner muscles that connect the thigh bones to the pelvis and the lower spine.
These muscles are found in the hip region between the upper body and the legs (see the illustrations

Believe it or not, there are many important inner muscles in this region (we call it “hara” 腹). All
those inner muscles are important but I will mention the two most important ones. They are the iliacus
muscle (illustration g) that tie the upper part of femur (thigh bone) to the pelvis. The other is the psoas
major that tie the femur to the lower spine (illustration f). There are other important inner muscles
such as psoas minor and others but we will not go too deeply into the anatomy in this article. By
seeing the illustration above, you can easily see that by tightening these muscles you can raise your
upper body and they do not get tired as fast as when you depend only on the six packs. So they are
perfect for the long repetition of body crunches. I suspect that Ochi sensei has developed these inner
muscles both in the leg and the “hara” regions through many years of karate training.
A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー – Asai Shotokan Association International

If you live in Germany, please ask him if he did many deep

squats (either in kiba dachi or shiko dachi) and possibly bunny hop exercises when he was young. I
bet you 1000 Euro that he did those exercises extensively when he was in his prime. He may still be
doing them (though more lightly) even now. Those exercises are often discouraged these days as some
claim the exercises may harm the knees. I agree that they would hurt if you start doing many of them
from the start and when you are not used to these moves and exercises. Once you learn how to use the
inner muscles, you can do 200 or 300 deep squats without stopping. I also do this in some of my
seminars and teach the participants how to do them correctly. If you do them correctly then your legs
will not be sore in the following day. I also teach them how to breathe correctly. So, let me add a
small surprise about Ochi sensei. Do you know why he was smiling? Yes, he is a nice guy and he was
enjoying the exercise or the participants looked funny. There is something not too many people know
or realize that his smile helped his exercise, at least in two different ways. One is he keeps his mouth
open for the correct breathing. The other is to keep his upper body relaxed and not to have his six
packs tensed. By smiling he can relax his muscles around his neck and the upper body which will not
only help his breathing but also be able to control his inner muscles. I do not know if Ochi sensei was
doing those actions knowingly or almost subconsciously. Once one has reached an expert level, they
are able to do these “unbelievable” feats without thinking. I hope Ochi sensei will not get upset that I
have disclosed all of his “secrets”. He may say my hypothesis or assumptions are all wrong (to protect
his “secrets”). All I can say is that I can repeat what he did (I am referring only to the body crunches)
at the age of 68.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

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Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし
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Persian In western boxing
Blog there is only one way of using your hands, a fist. Of course
Macedonianthis is because they are required to wear a pair of boxing
Blog gloves. Due to this rule, their hands are made into a fist.
Turkish On the other hand, in karate we have so many different
Blog ways. Not only can we use both a fist and an open hand,
Ukrainian but also many different parts of our hands. I am not going
Blog to list all of those different parts and uses but most of the
简 readers (most likely the karate practitioners) know most if
体 not all of those parts and methods.

The subject here may be a surprise to the readers. You
might wonder why are we going to discuss such a simple
and self-evident subject, how to make a fist. Yes, it is very
true that we, the karateka, make our fist every time we
train in karate. Therefore, it is almost natural for us as far
as how to make our fist. I am well aware of this and
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

despite all of this, I have been feeling a strong necessity to bring this subject to
your attention.

My commen t may raise your eye

brow but I suspect most of the practitioners do not know how to make a fist
correctly. It is not their fault as I suspect that they never learned how from their
sensei who may not know nor learned how to do it themselves. I can almost
hear many readers saying, “What is he talking about? How can he say we do not
know how to make a fist?” I know how you feel but wait. You probably believe
the way to make a fist is quite simple. Take a look at the photo shown on the
left. It shows the steps to make a fist. First, we roll in all the fingers except the
thumb. By placing a thumb over the index and middle finger, now we have a
beautiful fist. Right? Even though the more precise way to make a fist is
different (this will be shared in the later part of this essay), the general concept

is correct as shown above. Well, it is v ery straight

forward so what would be a problem?

Before I get into my explanation, I wish to share something very interesting.

Here are a couple of photos of a boxer whom we all know. Yes, this is
Muhammad Ali who passed away last year (2016). Take a look at his fist (photo
right). It looks just like the fist we make, even though he wore boxing gloves
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

when he fought. This is nothing unusual but the next photo (below) is the
interesting one. It is interesting not because it is a comical photo of Ali (right
side) who wore a bathrobe with someone else’s name on it. That someone else
happens to be the guy standing in front, Sugar Ray Leonard (left side).  What is
important is not their faces. Take a close look at Ali’s right fist under the chin of

Did you notice it? D id you find

that Ali’s index finger is being extended rather than rolled in?  Can this be a
freak photo where Ali was relaxing or being sloppy? No, I can definitively tell
you that it could not have been. I do not know exactly how old Ali was when he
started his boxing training but I am sure he had been training for twenty or
close to thirty years by then. If so, he would make his fist, unconsciously, to the
way he normally did whether in the training or in a photo session. So, I
conclude this is the normal way of how Ali made his fists. Interesting, isn’t it?
Well, at least this photo made a strong impression to me.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Before I discuss about this interesting fist that is made by Ali, let me share
another photo here (right). Obviously it came from a book. Do you know which
book this is and who is the author?  Some of you may be surprised. This is from
Karatedo Kyohan (published in 1935 from page 20). So, you know the author,
yes, Gichin Funakoshi. Look at the index finger! I wonder if Ali had read this
book and seen the photo. This may sound like a joke but there is a very
interesting and important point hidden here. This is another reason why I am
writing this essay.

By the way, the photo shown here is from the English translated version. Here is
a PDF of the original Karatedo Kyohan in Japanese so you can access this link
and check page 20 yourself in case you wish to verify this.


In that book, Funakoshi is showing

the readers how to make a fist with three step by step photos (left).  The first
two steps look almost identical to the one shown in the first page. However, the
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

last photo shows that the index finger needs to be extended. It is missing the
third photo so I will add it here (below right). The steps from photo #2 to #3
maybe confusing so this additional photo will supplement it. It is easier to roll
all four fingers (little finger to index finger) first rather than roll only three
(little finger to middle finger) and keeping the index finger ext

ended, even though you can do this once you get

used to it.

Have you learned this way of making a fist? Most likely you have not. As a
matter of fact, when I first learned karate in 1962, I took both Shotokan and
Goju ryu. The teacher at the Goju ryu dojo in Osaka showed me this method
more than 50 years ago. In fact, he showed me two options of extending only

one finger (index) which is mo re popular and a less

popular option of extending two fingers (index and middle fingers). I do not
know if the Goju ryu practitioners are still making their fist this way and I would
like to hear from them about this. I know that this method is, as far as I know,
still honored in one of the Okinawan styles, Isshin ryu. I can say this because
they picked up this fist as their style logo (photo left).

So, we must assume that this manner of fist making was brought to the
mainland Japan from Okinawa by Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters. It,
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

somehow, survived at least (in Goju ryu) until the early sixties. I am not sure
how long it lasted in Shotokan and this may be an interesting research project I
may do in the future.

Now that we have touched on the historical background of this fist style, let us
get into the meat of the subject. Why did the Okinawan masters use this fist?

When I learned how to make this fist in that Goju ryu dojo, the instructor did
not tell me to roll all four or even three fingers. He told me to start from the
little finger and roll one by one (photo right) but keeping the index finger
extended. He also told me to squeeze the little finger the tightest, then a little
less on the next finger. With the index finger, I was told to even relax that finger.
You cannot squeeze the index finger because the part of the finger between the
second joint and the finger-tip is extended. Try it with your hand and you will
see how it feels. Unfortunately, he did not explain why I had to make my fist this
way. If he did, I just do not remember it. Regardless, I practiced Goju ryu for
one year and during that time I made my fist this way.

At the same time, I was attending a Shotokan dojo in Kobe. When I started my
karate training, I did not know that I was not supposed to do this (training at
two dojo of two different styles). After one year, my training friend found out
and he advised me to stop and so I had to choose one dojo. I liked both dojo but
the Shotokan dojo was closer to my house so I stayed with Shotokan. At the
Shotokan dojo when they saw my fist, they (my senpai) told me that it was an
old way and they told me to roll all four fingers. I do not know exactly when this
happened but I think it was in my first year. I remember clearly that I wondered
why it was an old way. However, in Japan the students are not supposed to ask
questions so I simply said “Oss” and followed. For those few months, until I quit
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Goju ryu, I used two different styles of fists.

When I started my makiwara training, I really had to squeeze index and middle
fingers in tightly. If you do the makiwara training, you know this well. We are
supposed to hit the board with the knuckles of those fingers (illustration below).
For many years I never doubted this method and continued this training. At the
age of 38 I retired from tournaments. I started to search for a karate

life after competition. The answer was budo karate in

which you train to master the techniques that work in the street. In other
words, the real fighting techniques for life and death situations.

After searching for the budo karate I found my answer in Asai ryu karate that
was founded by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. He taught me many ideas that were
different from what I had learned in my earlier training in the 70’s. First, you
need to keep the elbow pointing downward when you complete a choku zuki
(straight punch). I wrote an essay on this subject and it will be included in my
fourth book, Budo Karate Paradigm Shift (which is slated to be publish in April
2017). I described in detail why the arm and elbow have to be held in that
position in that essay so I will not cover it here. If you are interested in this
subject, please get a copy of my book.

Another important thing I learned was that you have to be totally relaxed. I am
talking about the entire body being relaxed. Asai karate is known for the whip
like techniques such as the whip arm strikes (photo below) and whip leg kicks.
In order to generate this type of body movement, you must learn to relax all of
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

your muscles and your body must turn into

a flexible tube, so to speak. From this main tube, two flexible branches stick out
from the top area. Of course, those are your arms. Then from the bottom, two
flexible branches support the whole tube. At the same time, one of these two
lower branches supports the body while the other is used as a whip like kick.

This is the reason why we use a lot of open hand techniques. The open hand is
naturally more relaxed than the closed fist. We also use the fist techniques for
punching and striking. I learned that you need to relax your fist if you want to
punch faster. In other words, you do not want to squeeze your fist when you are
delivering a punch. You will make a tight fist only for a split second (the shorter
the better) when the fist impacts the target. The benefit of this way of punching
is not only faster but also I can keep my shoulder down. When you punch your
shoulder comes up if your punching side arm, including your fist, is too tense.
When I was competing my sensei used to tell me that I needed to tense my
armpit more so I could keep the shoulder down when I punched. No one told me
to relax my fist. I remember that I used to clench my fists during the kumite
matches that resulted in a raised shoulder when I punched. What is wrong with
this raised shoulder is simply your upper body motion will be detected by the
opponent and also your body motion will not be smooth as you will have an up
and down motion.

So, what I learned is that we need to keep our fists in a relaxed condition
instead of having them tightly clenched. These relaxed fists helped me to relax
my shoulders, upper body, neck area, etc. In other words, I could keep my
entire body relaxed much easier. This body relaxation is needed to have an
effective delivery of the Asai ryu whip-like techniques.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

There are, in general, three ways to relax your fist. One is to have the thumb
and the index finger somewhat tight and keep the other fingers very relaxed
(though they are rolled up). The second way is the opposite of the first. In other
words, you keep the little and the ring fingers sort of tight and keep the other
three fingers relaxed (again they should be rolled up in a relaxed manner). The
third one is to have all the fingers relaxed and they are only half way rolled.
Master Asai asked me which I thought was the best way. I answered that the
first option was. I knew many of the kumite competitors would choose the third
option since they use the kumite mitt or fist protector so they may be used to
having all their fingers relaxed. However, I had a strong feeling that the third
option was the answer.

Which way do you, t he reader,

think was the answer? Believe it or not, it was option two or the second way. In
other words, he told me that it was best to keep the little and the ring fingers
tight first. At that time, I was very surprised by this answer, even though I am
now fully convinced that this is the correct way. So, I asked him why? He
brought out Funakoshi’s book, Karatedo Kyohan and showed me that page. He
also showed me another book by Master Funakoshi, “Goshin –rentan Karate-
jutsu” (護身練鍛空手術). On the cover page there is an illustration of a fist which
looks like nihon nakadakaken (photo left). Asai sensei said the page from
Karatedo Kyohan and also Karate-jutsu made him think about how to make a fist
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

whe n he was young. Then he

discovered that this method was the best way when he started to practice
kobudo, especially bo and nunchaku. He practiced many other weapons such as
sai, whip chain and tonfa but he told me that he had realized that the best way
to hold a bo or a nunchaku is the second way from the previous paragraph. As I
have practiced nunchaku and sai, I immediately agreed with him on this. It is
very true that you need to hold a stick with your little finger very tightly and not
to hold it too tightly with your thumb and the index finger. If you happen to
practice these weapons in an extensive way, I am sure you will see what I am
talking about.

He also told me that that is the correct way to hold a katana sword in Iaido (first
two photos below) and a shinai (bamboo sword, last photo below) in Kendo.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

In addition, he said this way of holding an instrument can be seen in golf (photo
below right), tennis (photo below left) or any other sports or arts that you need
to hold a stick or handle.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

He explained that if you want to generate precise movements with a stick, this
way of holding is a must. The movement does not need to be large. In fact, a
small but accurate movement of a stick requires a relaxed thumb. Why? If you
examine the functions of each finger, the answer is self-evident. Just think how
you would pick up a small item like a jelly bean with your fingers (photo below).
Almost all of us will use our thumb and the index finger. How about when you
turn a page of a book or a magazine? Yes, the thumb and the index finger. How
about when you pinch someone? Try to do this with your little and ring finger.
OK I guess I do not need to answer this and to bring up other examples. Now do
you agree that we need to use our thumb and our index finger to do many of the
small and precise activities.

You may say, “Fine, I agree that we need to

use our thumb and our index finger to do small and precise work, but then why
do you say those fingers have to be relaxed when you hold a bo, a katana, etc?”
An excellent question and the answer is the key to the subject we are discussing
here. When you pick up a jelly bean, try tensing your thumb and your index
finger before you pick one up? Then relax those two fingers instead. Which is
easier to pick up a jelly bean? It is obviously when they are relaxed. So, the
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

mechanism is the same when you handle or hold a stick or a kobudo weapon.

We must pay close attention to the evolution of our thumb which is very unique
among the animals including monkeys and chimpanzees. Suzanne Kemmer of
Rice University, thinks that by enabling fine motor skills the thumb promoted
the development of the brain.

Smithsonian.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-do-


So, we know that our thumb plays a critical role in fine motor skills. By tensing
it too much you will prohibit or prevent the full performance of hand or arm
dexterity. This is why you need to have it relaxed until the moment you really
need to tense it. On the other hand, tensing the little finger will not have much
negative impact to the fine motor skills.

This is the exact reason why Asai sensei and I recommend that you will roll up
your little finger tight and keep the thumb and the index finger somewhat
relaxed for your arm technique, of course, until it makes impact.

Interestingly, this is exactly the fist that was shown in Karatedo Kyohan.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Let us look closer at how this fist (extending the

index finger) would work. First, I want to ask the readers to try this fist with
their hands. How do you feel with this fist? I suspect that you cannot make that
part of the fist as solid as when it was fully rolled up. In other words, when
there is an impact to the surface of a fist, half rolled index finger will “give” or
bend slightly inward. When the finger is fully rolled, then that part of the fist is
more solid and it seems better for punching. If this is the case, we must think
deeper to find why the ancient Okinawan masters, including Funakoshi,
believed in this type of fist. I am afraid this is one of the secrets that has been
lost not only in Shotokan but, maybe, in many of the traditional karate styles in

The major reason I brought this up earlier in this essay was to de-emphasize the
thumb and index finger area in the arm technique so that one can achieve
optimum performance from the hand/arm region. In other words, you can
achieve accurate and maximum speed movement with your arm including the
hand region when your thumb and index fingers are being semi-relaxed or
minimally tensed.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

I also suspect Muhammad Ali knew this secret. Even though we will never know
if he had held his fist in this way inside the gloves, but I have a strong feeling he
did. He knew that by relaxing that area (his thumb and the index finger), he
could achieve an accurate punch which he was famous for. Despite Ali being in
the heavy weight division, his fighting style was known for being light and
relaxed, unlike Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He himself described his style
as “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. In order for him to be able to float in
a relaxed manner when a strong opponent like Joe Frazier was coming to knock
him down, I say keeping his fist relaxed was a must. You also notice when you
watch his fighting style that he kept his hands down as he moved around. Most
of the boxers would always keep their guard up but Ali would judge the distance
so well he could fight with his guard down. To do this his fists had to be totally
relaxed but at the same time they were ready to come up and strike right away
if he found an opportunity.

Here is a video of Ali’s match where his relaxed floating style is very obvious:

What is more important that we must pay attention to in his saying in that he
had described his punch as a “sting” of a bee. Of course, it was a comparison to
a butterfly. However, he could have used something else if he wanted to
describe his punch as a heavy punch or devastating punch. That was what
Foreman, for instance, was known for. Ali could have used a word such as a bite
of a cobra or a strike of a rhinoceros but he chose a sting of a bee. It is very
interesting and at the same time it is very revealing too. He knew his punch was
light and quick. His punch was not like ikken hissatsu but that was ok with him.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

He did not need a heavy punch as he knew how to knock opponents down
leveraging perfect timing and his own unique rhythm he developed. Thus, all he
needed was a light but fast, almost invisible, punch. So, I conclude that he kept
his fist loose around the thumb and index finger area inside the boxing gloves as
he had “accidentally” shown in that memorable photo with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Now let’s get back to the nature of that fist that

could possibly be its downside. This fist is good for the movements prior to the
strong impact to the Seiken (fist). Then, how about when you hit a target? If you
hit a makiwara with this fist (extended index finger), you will see that you
cannot hit the target evenly on two knuckles. In other words, you will have to
depend more on the middle finger knuckle. As most of you know that there are
two bones in our forearm; radius and ulna. Radius is thicker and longer, in fact,
it acts as the major support for the hand (see the xray photo left). You can also
see that the middle finger naturally is in the center and can receive the most
support from the radius.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

The subject of which part of the fist should be used to hit a target has been
discussed by the karate practitioners in the past. It looks like it is now agreed
that Shotokan and other traditional karate styles believe in using index and
middle finger knuckles (illustration b). On the other hand, in Shorinji kenpo the
ring and little finger side is used (illustration c). They say it is the most natural
as they mostly use tateken (vertical fist photo below) and not too much of
Seiken (regular horizontal fist). I think the little finger is too delicate to make

the full impact. Shorinji kenpo’s punch

concept seems to be somewhat different from that of Shotokan. Instead of one
punch one kill, they seem to use it as a preparation before a throwing
technique. Maybe someone from that style can send me more information if my
understanding is correct or not. Regardless, I am a little surprised that we do
not have a concept of using the two knuckles of the middle and the ring fingers.
Out of all three choices, I like the last method.

Asai sensei and I discussed this and we agreed that karate masters, before it
came to mainland Japan, used mainly only one knuckle, middle finger when they
punched. However, they must have rarely used the flat fist as we see most of the
modern day karate practitioners using. Then what did they use? I believe they
used either nakadaka ken (middle finger knuckle below left) or ippon ken (index
finger knuckle below right).
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

By the way, my fist in my kamae is almost always nakadaka ken. As a matter of

fact, there are other single knuckle fist styles such as oyayubi ippon ken (thumb
knuckle photo below). The use of single knuckle makes much more sense from
the perspective of the budo fighting. If you have some physics discipline you
know that the impact energy is reverse correlated to

the impact area. In other

words, the delivered energy amount decreases as the impact area increases. So,
if you hit a target with the entire surface of the fist, the impact energy is much
less than any of the one knuckle fists. Definitely no one can disagree, ippon ken
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

gives a more devastating impact to the opponent.

I can see this heritage in one Okinawan style, Uechi ryu.  Ippon ken techniques
are commonly used in Uechi ryu. Interestingly, they use oyayubi ippon ken from
the open hand and it is found in their standard kamae (his left hand photo
below). The way he holds his left hand, a shotokan practitioner would
misunderstand that it would be an open hand for tsukami (grabbing). This hand,
in fact, is used to strike with the first knuckle of the thumb. In the same photo,
this karateka is forming his right fist in index finger ippon ken. I consider this is
a very budo like kamae by looking at this. I can also see that his hand technique
whether left hand or right hand can cause a very devastating effect upon the


I am not going to say that this is the proof that Master Funakoshi favored ippon
ken. However, I believe he did. This must be one of the reasons why he
specifically showed, in his famous book, how to make the fist with the index
finger half extended. Then, why did it get sort of lost or did he stop teaching
this fist? I am guessing it was for two reasons.

The first reason was kumite training was adopted in his class. As many of the
readers know that his original class consisted of only kata training. His students
asked to include kumite and some of the students who had experienced in
Kendo came up with the kihon kumite ideas. Most of his students were from
various universities in Tokyo. Even though Funakoshi did not allow them to do
jiyu kumite (free sparring), he felt ippon ken or nakadaka ken would be too
dangerous if he encouraged it even in kihon kumite. Thus, I suspect that he
recommended the students to make their fists into a flat fist for safety reasons.
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

The flat fist became standard since sport or shiai karate has gained such
popularity in the last fifty years or so. Obviously, in jiyu kumite ippon ken would
be very dangerous and it will not achieve any benefit or advantage in sport
fighting. When I was competing in the 70’s we did not wear any gloves or fist
protectors at all. Even though we were not allowed to hit the opponents we
frequently had some light “touches”. Nose bleeds and knocked out teeth were
very common occurrences. I confess that I had never thought about forming my
fist into ippon ken or nakadaka ken in my competition days.


Currently, all the traditional karate styles in Japan including Shotokan use the
flat fist with all the fingers excluding thumb rolled in (right side of the
Illustration). However, Master Funakoshi, Father of modern day karate, is
documented (by his published books) that he had taught a different type of fist
with the index finger extended (left side of the illustration). This type of fist is
now almost forgotten among the traditional karate practitioners but it is still
being practiced among some of the Okinawan styles.

The author hypothesizes that the popularity of sport karate made Funakoshi fist
inappropriate to use and eventually it was forgotten by the practitioners. The
author believes this fist form enables the thumb and the index finger to be
Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握りこぶし再考 – Asai Shotokan Association International

relaxed which results in faster and more accurate arm movement. He hopes the
budo karateka will re-evaluate this fist forming as well as ippon ken and include
them, if they haven’t yet, in their daily training.

One Response to Re-thinking of Karate Fist 握り

Leandre Rosa on March 24, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Absolutely amazing this article. I fully agree Shihan. Oss.


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Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

« Bunbu Ryodo (文武 両 道)

Organization Entrevista com Shihan Yokota: Por que Karate Asai? »
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview:
PF. Why Asai karate?
Membership LeandreThis interview was done by Sensei Leandre Rosa
Blog of Brazil.  He gave me a lot of good questions and I want
English to thank him for this opportunity to introduce ASAI and
Blog Asai karate. This interview will be translated in
French Portuguese and will be posted later.
Portuguese 1. Let me ask you about yourself, Shihan Yokota. I am sorry to say this
Blog but I have heard from many people that you are not known in Brazil like
Russian Kanazawa and Yahara who are well known here by the senior karateka.
Blog No one had heard of you until recently. It seems that you appeared
Spanish suddenly with the books (“Shotokan Myths” and “Shotokan Mysteries”)
Blog that you published and with your new organization, ASAI. It has been
Persian only recently the Brazilians began to hear your name and about Asai
Blog karate. It seems very strange so please tell us how did this happen.
(KY) Yes, what you said is true and I had no exposure until 2009. There
are two main reasons why this was the case.
Blog The first reason was that I had a full time job (non karate) to support my
Ukrainian family with three sons. I simply did not have time to write an article (let
Blog alone a book) or to travel for a seminar. It finally changed in 2009 when
简 I lost my job and got divorced at the same time. I took advantage of
体 these fortunate events and decided to teach karate full time.

文 The second reason came from a very Japanese way of thinking. I had
Simplified two senseis to whom I felt I owed my karate to. First sensei was
Chinese Sugano, 9th dan JKA co-chairman who taught the basics of shotokan
Members karate. The other is Asai, 10th dan Founder of JKS who taught me Asai
Shihankai style karate. While they were still alive I felt I must not go out myself so
Contact I declined all the invitations for an interview or give a seminar.

Sugano sensei passed away in 2002 and Asai sensei followed in 2006. After that period I felt those
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

senseis would allow me to go out myself and share my knowledge. My full time karate activities
started in 2009. Since that time, I resigned from the JKS and published my first book in 2010. I
also began visiting different countries to teach Asai style karate which is a very unique Shotokan
Karate. I plan to visit Brazil two times every year and hope to meet many dedicated karate
practitioners in Brazil.

2. Before you followed Master Asai’s JKS, your karate training was under Master Sugano JKA, and
later you became an assistant instructor of Master Okazaki, ISKF. I am sure you also met other
famous masters but how did Master Asai inspire you so much that you decided to propagate his
name and legacy?

(KY) It is true that I was lucky to have had different instruction from some famous instructors
including Nakayama, Kanazawa, Okazaki, Yaguchi, Mikami, Tanaka and many others. They were
all excellent karate senseis and I believe I learned a lot from all of them. Thanks to all of them they
built a solid foundation of Shotokan karate in me. I will never discredit their influence in my
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

I knew Master Asai since the 80s as he and I both belonged to the same organization, the JKA at
that time. I saw his demonstrations at the All Japan Championship in Tokyo which I participated in
1981 and 1982 (I represented my state, Hyogo). I was very much impressed with his karate
because he had those signature techniques of the whipping arms and legs. However, at that time I
did not appreciate his circular and whip like techniques enough to follow him. In fact, I was fully
into the JKA style strong kime techniques that are straight and linear.

When I hit 50 years of age I wanted to improve but could not find a way with the techniques of
JKA. I felt very frustrated and in fact I quit karate for three years (1997 through 2000). I returned
to Japan and entered a Ki training center in Tokyo. I learned how to relax deeply and the
importance of using the backbone in relaxation exercises. In 2001 I happened to participate in an
Asai seminar and saw his karate while in his mid 60s. He was still flexible and his techniques were
still like a whip. At that moment, I immediately knew that his way was exactly how I wanted to be
when I reach his age. In addition, I was impressed to have found that he spent two to three hours

every morning. So he became my karate model.

3. You were a life time member of JKA then you switched to Asai’s organization, JKS in 2002. Then,
you resigned from JKS in 2009 and you created your own organization, ASAI last year. What
happened here?

(KY) You are correct that I was a life time member of JKA and I kept it for 40 years (my name is
still listed in the JKA member list even today). It was a very difficult decision and it took me a year
to switch my membership from JKA to JKS. As the multiple membership is not permitted in Japan,
so I had to pick one. It was hard but I really wanted to follow Master Asai so I switched. I knew I
was doing the right thing and I do not regret what I did. In fact I believe that was the best thing I
did for my karate. Every time I visited Tokyo I visited Master Asai and learned a lot from him.

Unfortunately, he passed away in August of 2006 at the age of only 71. He had major surgery in
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

the winter and he was supposed to rest but instead he visited the US and Mexico in July to do a
seminar which definitely shortened his life. I wrote the details about his last seminar in my second
book and the chapter’s title is “The Last Samurai”.

For three more years I stayed in JKS even after Master Asai’s passing. I wanted to promote Asai
karate as a member of JKS. However, as time passed JKS shifted its attention to its new Chief
Instructor, Sensei Kagawa. With due respect he is a great karate-ka too but his style is not Asai
ryu. His style is the standard JKA shotokan. I understand the necessity of doing this for JKS but
this change made me decide to resign. I belonged to another non Japanese organization for three
years to promote Asai karate mainly in Europe. I had to resign from that organization too in 2013.
After thinking it over for one month I decided to create a non political organization solely to
promote Asai karate. The new organization’s name is ASAI (Asai Shotokan Association
International) and there are no other organization in the world that is doing this.

4. I would like to ask you about your two books: “Shotokan Myths” and “Shotokan Mysteries”.
Where did you get the references discussed in them? Did Master Asai or Sugano have anything to
do with the information you provide to us in your books?

(KY) This is a good question, too. I have read

hundreds if not thousands of books on all kinds of subjects including karate, other martial arts,
sports medicine, kinesiology, philosophy, zen, etc. Some of the ideas and information came from
Master Asai. However, most of the contents in those books are my own knowledge and the
accumulation of the information that I received from those books. When I needed to quote
something I always put the sources. For an example, in the teaching of Ueshiba’s San Go Ichi, I
listed the name of the book I quoted from. As I have little knowledge about Aikido I had to refer to
a book on this subject which I happen to own.

5. I understand that your first book, “Shotokan Myths”, is being translated into Portuguese now.
When will it be published? What is the plan for your second book, “Shotokan Mysteries?”
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

(KY) The translation has been completed and it is going through a proof reading process right now.
Unfortunately, I do not have an exact date of publication but I hope it will be soon. The second
book will follow suit if the first one is successful. I hope many people in Brazil will buy “Shotokan
Myths” in Portuguese.

I am planning to publish my third book (in English) towards the end of this year or early next year.
If you liked the first two, you will like the new book too. I will share one thing with the readers
here. The title of the new book is “Shotokan Transcendence” and this book was written in a spirit
of “going beyond”. I am very excited about it.  

6. I was one of the participants of the seminar you gave in Campinas this year. I found your
training excellent, at the same time I felt everything we did was very advanced. Was this
expected? In other countries that you visit and teach, do the participants make the same

(KY) I am pleased that you enjoyed the seminar in Campinas. I enjoyed it too, because I was very
impressed with the participants as they were all very dedicated and enthusiastic.

Your impression that the syllabus was advanced was natural and expected. You felt that way only
because you were not used to the Asai techniques. Many movements such as the Tenshin (rotation)
were new to you. I purposely selected the techniques that are not familiar to the participants.
When this happens to a black belt, one feels like they were back to being a white belt again.
Naturally, they felt lost and very uncomfortable. When I experienced Asai karate for the first time,
it happened to me too. It took me a few years to get used to the new ideas and techniques. Many
new techniques are included in Asai kata, Junro Shodan through Godan. Once you master them,
you can advance to Joko kata (1 – 5) that are designed for the black belts. Practicing those katas
you will soon get used to most of the Asai techniques.

7. Do you think the sport Karate and Budo Karate can be practiced concurrently by a karateka?
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

(KY) Yes, it is possible but only if that person truly understands what Budo Karate is. For most
people who claim they are practicing Budo Karate do not know what it is. They think it is Budo
Karate only if they are not in a competition. Budo Karate and Sports Karate are two totally
different things. I am not going to write about the difference here. I teach only Budo and Bujutsu
Karate and my aim in my seminar is to pass on some Budo concepts as well as the Asai techniques
so I hope many readers will be able to participate in my seminars.

8. I know you personally and I have you as my model. The last time we met, you mentioned that
you live your life based on the precepts of the Dojo Kun. There are Senseis who recite the Dojo
Kun daily and say they live by Budo but they do not conduct themselves with budo. What do you

think of them?

(KY) It is very true that there are some instructors who do not live by Dojo Kun. However, I do not
wish to criticize them or talk about them. Criticizing them will not make me or you any better. I
only feel bad for the students who train under those teachers. I am planning to write an article
about this. My advice to those students is if the students find their senseis are unethical,
irresponsible, immoral, untruthful or in-dedicated, it is best to leave those instructors. Karate is
not only the physical techniques. It comes with the philosophy and intangible teaching. It may be
difficult to leave a teacher but it is better not to have any teacher than settling for a bad teacher.

9. Master Yokota, what do you think of training other martial arts? Do you think we should focus
on only one style or is it beneficial to practice others?

(KY) Your question is a good one. I recommend all the practitioners to have an open mind and a
desire to learn more. This includes not only the other karate styles but also other martial arts such
as jujitsu and kung fu.

Having said that, I recommend that a practitioner focuses on one karate style for three to five
years. By then, he/she will be Shodan or Nidan and will have a solid foundation in one style. If you
train in two different karate styles one can get confused or mixed up as different styles tend to
emphasize differently on the same subjects. It is ok, however, to mix with another martial art that
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

is totally different from karate. A good example may be Aikido, Kendo, Kyudo or Kobudo
(weapons). They will expand your physical ability. After securing your karate foundation on one
style you can start learning other karate styles and martial arts.

However, I have one requirement. Cross training is advisable only for those who can train at least
2 or 3 hours every day. If you have the time only for two or three times per week then I suggest
that you would focus on only one thing.

10. The youth nowadays is considered Generation Y, a generation with lower concentration and
poor attention span. How do you see the relationship of karate and this generation?

(KY) Yes, I guarantee that Karate training is very beneficial to not only the Generation Y youths but
also for both physically and mentally challenged people. In my last dojo I had two mentally
challenged students. They are still training after I passed the dojo to another instructror. The
attention and physical ability of those students increased significantly. The parents of these
students (both students were young) were very grateful and they support their sons’ karate

11. I often access the blog page of ASAI website (www.asaikarate.com/blog) and I find the
interesting and well researched articles you wrote. I can tell that you have researched and studied
well before you wrote them. Luckily some have been translated into Portuguese. I liked the
articles on Ki, Breathing Method and Bushido. What are you planning to write about in the future?

(KY) The future articles are secret. That’s a joke. Seriously, I have many ideas and I plan to write
about all of them eventually. It will probably take me a few years if not longer. I was focusing on
the Shotokan matters when I started writing several years ago. I touched on the myths and
mysteries of common things in Shotokan such as kiai, kime, kumite, bunkai and various katas such
as Heian, Tekki, Hangetsu and Chinte. Lately I have expanded my subjects to other styles such as
Goju-ryu and other martial arts such as Aikido and Wing Chun. In the future, I plan to cover even
wider varieties of the topics including Japanese cultural things, philosophy and science. By the end
of September I will post my next article on Tachikiri, a special training of Kendo, which I am sure
all karatekas will enjoy learning this unique training method.

We are lucky that we have an excellent translator, Mr. Samir Berardo who is a member of ASAI
and the first ASAI member to pass the online examination to Shodan. I want to thank him here for
his dedicated work. I am confident his work will be a big contribution to the better understanding
of Karate in Brazil.

Let me take this opportunity to ask the readers for their assistance. We are lucky to have Samir
but he is only one person. He is also a busy person with his full time job and family obligations. We
have so many more articles to be translated so additional translators would be a big help. If you
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

are fluent in both English and Portuguese, please help us with the translation work. Most of the
articles are not that long, about ten pages or less. Please contact me directly and your help will be
greatly appreciated not only by me but by hundreds, possibly thousands of the readers in Brazil
and other countries. My email address is <asai.karate@yahoo.com>.

12. Now please tell us what is Asai ryu karate? How is it different from the standard Shotokan


(KY) Asai ryu karate is unique but not too much different from the standard Shotokan. It was created by Master Asai who
was the Technical Director of JKA in the 80’s. So, our karate has a solid foundation in Funakoshi/Nakayama JKA style.
Master Asai was sent to Taiwan in the 60’s and the 70’s to teach karate there. During that time he learned the techniques of
Hakutsuruken, White Crane Kung fu from a Chinese master. So, he combined the long distance fighting method of Shotokan
and the short distance fighting method of Kung Fu. Thus, Asai karate is smooth with the circular motions of Kung fu and at
the same time it is dynamic and powerful with the linear Shotokan techniques. We believe this is the next generation of
bujutsu and budo karate. We can provide the advanced karate concepts and the techniques to the Shotokan practitioners. I
hear the many frustrations of the many senior Shotokan practitioners that they feel they have reached a plateau with their skill
level and they are unable to reach the next level. Asai karate can be the answer and they may be able to advance to the higher
level of Shotokan karate by practicing its syllabus.

There are more than 50 Asai katas but only five of them are
required for the Asai ryu practitioners. The required kata is Junro and there are five of them from Shodan to Godan. They
complement the Heian katas. For instance, a 5th kyu student will learn both Heian Godan and Junro Shodan. A 4th kyu
Shihan Kousaku Yokota interview: Why Asai karate? – Asai Shotokan Association International

student will practice both Tekki Shodan and Junro Nidan, etc. We allow a new dojo member 2 to 3 years to learn Junro kata.
The new members have an option to omit Junro from their kyu examination syllabus. We do not rush them to learn the new
katas. They need to enjoy learning the new katas so we allow a lot of time for this important process.

13. What is your organization, ASAI all about? What are its purposes and goals?

(KY) Thank you for asking this. ASAI has two purposes. One is being a non political organization to
promote Asai style karate around the world. We are open to all the practitioners from any style.
We wish to provide a home for the practitioners who do not belong to any international
organization so that they can get the world class training and also dan recognition. Some
practitioners have strong ties or loyalty to a certain organization which is understandable and
respected. We allow multiple organization memberships which means you can affiliate with ASAI
while you can retain your membership with your current organization. This way they can belong to
their organization and at the same time they can learn Asai ryu karate. The second purpose is to
keep the name of Asai alive and remembered.

Our second goal is simple but challenging. We wish to reach out to all Shotokan practitioners and
to have the members in every country in the world.

I have listed the benefits for the ASAI members on the website. www.asaikarate.com

If you are interested, please contact us. We welcome everyone into our karate family.

14. What is your idea to develop it in Brazil?

(KY) I have two main strategies.ASAI Logo

I am very confident about the karate we offer. Asai karate is a high quality system, which no one
can dispute, but the people need to see and experience it. So, I will continue to visit different
countries and show Asai karate to as many people as possible. My schedule is busy but I still plan
to visit Brazil two times a year. I consider Brazil to be the key country in South America.

Even though we have members in more than 30 countries, we need to be heard more and be
better known. So what we need is exposure and education. Thus, my second strategy is to write
and publish more books. My articles have been published in many Karate magazines. However, the
exposure here is limited. To supplement this, my books are being sold via Amazon. This helps us to
receive much more attention and wider audience.

When they participate in my seminars they can see that I am in good shape and able to show them
Asai karate techniques. With the articles and the books the readers will find that I have knowledge
and an understanding of karate.
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

« Interview with Shihan Yokota at Budo Karate Russia

Organization Why Did Kung fu Training Start at Shaolin Temple? »
Do not explain in karate teaching.
PF. 稽古での説明は悪効果
Membership I am sure you were shocked and may even be offended by
Blog this title. Of course, I chose this title to catch your full
English attention. I expect I will get a lot of push back on this title
Blog but give me a chance to explain why I think it is better not
French to explain when we teach karate.
Turkish If you happen to have or have had a Japanese sensei, I
Blog suspect you have noticed that your sensei does or did not
Ukrainian explain too much in his karate class. Many people may
Blog blame the lack of language skills such as English. It is true
简 that many Japanese sensei are or were not fluent in the
体 local language whether it were English, French, Spanish
中 or whatever. Regardless of the language ability, I
文 emphasize that this is the basic attitude of the Japanese
Simplified instructors. I can say this not only because of my personal
Chinese experience in karate training as well as teaching but I
Members wish to present that there is a very good logical reason.

Before I go into the explanation of this logical reason, I

Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

want to share a little background of the Japanese word of “to learn”, manabe (学

ぶ). This word’s origin is manebu (まねぶ)

which means to imitate. So, the original concept of “to learn something” for the
ancient Japanese was to imitate the teacher. This is why we have a saying of
Shu Ha Ri (守破離). Many readers may already know the meaning of this. It is
a concept that describes the stages of learning to mastery.

To understand this concept let me quote the explanation by an Aikido instructor,

Endo Seishiro.

“It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the
stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we
repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms
that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.
Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the
forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be
broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open
the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in
accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not
overstepping laws.”
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

This is the key point. So, the main idea is while you are learning or at the stage
of Shu, all you are expected to do is to repeat and imitate. This means you
repeat the same thing without trying to be different or thinking.

In fact, this idea was even more prevalent when I

was in school some fifty to sixty years ago. I remember that we, over fifty years
ago as the karate students, never asked any questions not only to our sensei but
also to our senpai. We knew that we were not supposed to ask any questions
during a training session. Without any exaggeration, the only word we could use
was “Oss”. If we had dared to ask any questions about techniques, kata, kumite
or anything else, they never gave us any answers. They would have come back,
instead, with a sharp statement such as “Keep your eyes open” or “Watch more

carefully” or “Practice more”, etc.

When we had a question that we believed was important, we, only once in a
while, dared to ask. However, it was important that we needed to pick the right
moment. Regardless, it always had to be after the class is over. We waited till
we went to a restaurant or a café after training, if we wanted to ask something.
In a casual environment while we were talking about some social and casual
subjects, we used to slip a question or two into our conversation. Regardless, I
remember it was awfully difficult to ask our sensei about a technical question.
Even though the situation in Japan may have changed somewhat since those
days, I am pretty sure that this basic concept has not changed much in Japan. I
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

suspect you would consider this as a terrible learning situation. You are half
right but missed the point in the other half. Let me explain further.

Do you think this “barrier” would prevent or slow down the students from
learning? I suspect it is considered so in the non-Japanese countries. If you are
a karate instructor (I imagine many of you are), I am sure you try to explain a
lot about the key points about the techniques and many things about karate. I
have watched many classes taught by both Japanese and non-Japanese
instructors in the classes outside of Japan. I found that non-Japanese instructors
spend much more effort and energy in verbal communication.

The Japanese instructors tend to speak less and to demonstrate more. This is
partially due to their weakness with the foreign or non-Japanese language.

Regardless, we (the Japanese instructors)

feel uncomfortable when we see that the non-Japanese instructors are spending
so much time with great enthusiasm on the technical matters, especially on the
difficult subjects. My intention is not to bash those instructors but I feel they
are almost in love with themselves or in the ecstasy of showing their knowledge.
I apologize if I offended anyone about this but this is my true impression and I
am pretty sure many of the other Japanese instructors will agree with me.

OK, we must agree that there is a difference in the teaching styles because of
the difference in culture. In fact, many of the Japanese instructors believe that
giving too much explanation is bad for learning. As I had already mentioned
that many of them lack the language ability, but it is still the same even in Japan
where we have no language difficulty. It is probably a big mystery to the readers
to find that the Japanese sensei do not believe in much explanation. You might
have noticed this before but you most likely did not know why. You probably
ended up guessing it was just because of the language problem.
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Let’s investigate why the Japanese instructors prefer to explain less. First of all
the most important reason comes from a cultural factor. Believe it or not, we do
not value verbal understanding too much when it comes to learning anything
but especially when it involves a physical or technical skill. This comes from the
belief that words are imperfect and they are unable to describe anything in full
and adequately.

Further, probably shocking to the western

people, we do not believe in logic too much. We avoid people who like to argue.
In fact, have you noticed that most of the Japanese people are poor at making
speeches and presentations? In school we never learned how to speak
eloquently. Using a joke to relax the students in the karate teaching in Japan is
almost unthinkable and impossible for a Japanese sensei (excluding those who

have been living abroad).

We consider it is almost impossible and unrealistic for a student to understand a

physical thing (something that happens inside of your body which is very
personal) fully with a verbal explanation. The instructors feel that a student
must learn physically with his own body by repeating a technique thousands of
times. In other words, a student must feel and “know” it with his body.

The Japanese martial arts instructors tend to give little explanation during their
class because they believe explanation results in a long period of time of not
doing anything and is not that good for the students mentally as well as
technically. As they put less value in thinking they encourage you to keep
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

moving and repeating the techniques.

In addition, the instructors expect that most of the students, initially or at least
during the first few years, would not understand, not only about the karate
techniques, but also the concept of kata, kumite, bunkai, etc. In fact, they
consider this is a necessary step or stage.

Think of a situation where an instructor spends a lot of time and energy to

explain something difficult such as ki, breathing method, gamaku, muchimi, etc.
Then, the students may gain some understanding about this subject. So, what’s
wrong with that? If the students understand something, didn’t the teacher
complete his duty well? Yes, that is how it will be regarded in the countries
outside of Japan. The Japanese instructors think that even though the students
may feel like they had gained some understanding, it was not a true or full
understanding. In fact, the students were unable to demonstrate “that
something” even if they thought they understood it. We consider a pure mental
understanding a dangerous state as it does not comply with physical
understanding in most cases. We fear that those students were not ready and
premature “understanding” would only harm their natural development of their
karate skill.

Let’s look at another easy example. How about swimming, which is also an
acquired skill? You cannot swim unless you learn how, especially a difficult
swimming method such as the butterfly stroke. Let’s take a student who
happens to be so novice he does not even know how to float or is afraid to put

his face in the water. If he is impressed

with Michael Phelps (right) and this student asks his swimming instructor how
to swim the butterfly stroke like him. Of course, you do not want to crush their
excitement or interest, but an instructor in Japan would not spend time to
explain how to do a dolphin kick, etc. He will tell him like this, “Yes, Phelps is
great. I will teach you how to do a dolphin kick once you learn how to float.”
Once the student learns how to float, they may realize they have to learn other
important things such as how to do a dog paddle, how to hold their breath while
their face is in the water, etc.
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

As you know karate skill requires much more complex physical and mental
techniques. In the water, as long as you can float you can save yourself even if
you cannot swim the butterfly stroke. However, in a life or death situation or
even in a street fight, failure to perform a technique could mean a serious injury
possibly even death.

As I have mentioned earlier, we do not rely too much on verbal understanding

and communication when it comes to learning a skill. We put the value on
“physical understanding”, instead. This is exactly why the instructors demand
our students to look closely or imitate them as much as possible.

This is not only true in karate or martial

arts but also in other arts. You can find the same method in teaching carpentry,
cooking, brush writing, zen study, etc. When you become an apprentice to a
master carpenter, your boss would never teach you any carpentry skills, at least
for some years if not never. It is your job to “steal” such skills by watching your
boss. This is the same in cooking such as sushi (photo above). Why does sushi
taste better in Japan? It is not because the fish or rice is better. It is because the
sushi chef has been properly trained for at least several years before they can
begin to prepare and serve the food (sushi) to customers.

Another good example is a zen monastery

where they train the monks by having a very strict and harsh (as the secular
people see it) daily schedule. First of all, the monk candidates have to beg to be
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

admitted by the temple by waiting at the entrance in a half sitting position

(photo right).

This challenge is called Niwazume (庭詰 photo below). Literally, it means

“staying in the garden”. In the early morning, you need to arrive at the gate of
the zen temple you wish to join. You have to stay there half sitting and bowing

down to show your desire to join. You will

continue this position 9 to 10 hours that day. During that period, the monks in
the temple will ask you to leave. Sometimes, they will even drag you out (but
gently) of the gate. However, this is a part of the ritual so you must not give up
if you are determined to become a monk at this temple. You will have to
continue your request to be admitted by sitting at the front entrance all day
long. After the long day of sitting, they will admit you to come in to eat dinner
and stay overnight. But this does not mean they were admitted. Then, the next
morning you need to restart this waiting at the front entrance at 4 or 5 am. This
harsh ceremony or patience testing ritual lasts two or three days.

However, this is only the first step of the entrance examination. If you can
sustain these few days of waiting at the front entrance, they will let you in and
ask you to show your interest in joining the temple by sitting in zen meditation
all day long (about 12 hours a day). This second test will last one week. After
succeeding in these two tests, a monk candidate can finally be admitted to this
temple as a regular training monk. After this he will start a zen monk life that is
filled with zen meditation and work around the temple.

Here is a typical daily schedule at Sogenji in Okayama Prefecture:

3:40 a.m.    Wake up

4:00             Morning service (sutra)

Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

5:00             Zazen (meditation)

7:00             Breakfast

8:00             Niten Soji (daily cleaning)

8:30             Samu (cleaning)

10:00           Zazen

12:00            Lunch

1:00 – 2:00 Bath (1st group)

2:00 – 4:00 Samu (garden work)

4:00 – 5:00 Bath (2nd group)

5:00               Dinner

6:00               Zazen

9:00               Kaichin (lights out)

Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Even though I am writing about karate teaching, I spent a lot of space

explaining about zen monastery rules. This is to show that they consider doing
is much more important than the words. As you know zen is a religion in which
they seek to be enlightened. During the hours of zen meditation, a monk will try
to reach the enlightened state of mind. However, during the meditation he will
encounter many questions such as “What am I?”, “What is the purpose of my
life?”, “How can I be enlightened?”, “Why there is good and bad in this world?”
etc. The monk master is supposed to have been enlightened so a training monk
seeking an answer may ask such questions of the master. The master will never
explain anything or even try. He will simply say “Do not think” or “Get busy”. He
demands the monk to do things and discourages thinking. During zen
meditation, a monk is supposed to empty his mind but it is very difficult.
However, by spending many hours just sitting, he learns how to do this. He may
see the light when he is engaged in garden work, hall cleaning, chanting sutra,
etc. rather than when he is thinking in meditation.

So, these examples illustrate the Japanese instructors believe in the value of
demonstrating the techniques with their own body and much less in the
explanation using words. You will see the same tendency in Japan not only in
karate but also in other martial arts, such as kenjutsu, iaido, kyudo, aikido, etc.

Lastly, we must consider the fact that karate skill (not

just the techniques but the total structure and system of empty hand fighting)
requires one of the most difficult physical skills. You may not agree with this
statement but this can be theoretically proven as sound and correct. Thus, the
Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

Japanese instructors believe it is almost impossible to explain the most critical

part of the techniques, thus they will tell the students “Practice more”.

Then, is this approach of not explaining better than the method found in the
western world? My quick answer is “It all depends”. I believe this practice of
not explaining method can be an excuse for a Japanese instructor so he can hide
his ignorance or lack of knowledge. If he has to face all kinds of questions, the
instructor will be forced to study and learn more. So, in this sense I like the
western method.

On the other hand, karate skill

development comes in a gradual ascending form or in slow progression. In
other words, you need to go one step at a time which means your body needs to
be trained. Understanding or believing that you understand a technique is
totally different from being able to do that technique. A proper understanding
comes at a right time after repeating the technique thousands of time. Trying to
understand these things in your head before that proper time may not only act
as worthless self-satisfaction but also could become hazardous to your sound
karate achievement.

The similar effect is found when a student learns an advanced kata before his
level. I have seen a brown belt doing Unsu in a tournament. The instructor of
this student is responsible and should be blamed for this ignorant action.  We
must all know that karate achievement is similar to building a house. If the
foundation or the walls are weak, the house will not be able to withstand an
earthquake or a storm. Life time karate training is more like building a
skyscraper of 50 stories or taller, the importance of the solid foundation and the
firm structure becomes even more critical.

Do not explain in karate teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果 – Asai Shotokan Association International

When you teach karate in the western world, it is important and necessary to
include some verbal explanation. Karate training must mean being truly
physical but at the same time, thinking must be encouraged.

The instructors must remember that they

need to be very careful in determining how much explanation is appropriate and
necessary. It is because too much explanation can not only be wasting valuable
training time but also harmful to the students who are not ready mentally
and/orphysically. This can be equated to a situation where an instructor teaches
a black belt kata to a color belt student or to engage a beginner in jiyu kumite
(free sparring).

The skill level of a karate instructor should be determined not only by his karate
skill but also by his teaching skill including knowing how much explanation is
appropriate. This is what I believe. What do you think?

2 Responses to Do not explain in karate

teaching. 稽古での説明は悪効果
Andrew Nathan on October 7, 2017 at 10:00 pm

A thought-provoking article. Thank you!

Have you read Anders Ericcsson’s work on performance improvement? I
read his book Peak this year – in which he explains the methodology of
“deliberate practice’ – the coach-led process of achieving excellence. I
don’t recall “extensive explanation” as an element. However, he does stress
the importance of feedback – “Without feedback, either from yourself or
from outside observers — you cannot figure out what you need to improve
on or how close you are to achieving your goals.” Ericcsson also points out
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

« Ein kleines (?) Rätsel der Heian Kata 平安初段の小さな(?)

Organization 謎
Instructors Que parte do seu pé você usa quando vira? 足のどの部分を
F.A.Q. 使って回転するか? »
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and
Membership Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞ
や?Part 1
Have you heard of “Chinkuchi”, “Gamaku” and “Mochimi”
or “Muchimi”? If you practice or have practiced Okinawan karate
沖縄空手 such as Goju-ryu 剛柔流 you may be familiar with these
terms. In Okinawan karate they are very popular and considered as
critically important if one wishes to achieve excellence in karate.
Blog As far as I know, these terms have not been used in Shotokan
简 training. As a result, most of the shotokan practitioners have never
体 heard of them, though I believe Shotokan karate has similar ideas
中 as one or two of the concepts stated here. I am not saying that the
文 Shotokan practitioners are totally missing something but I hope you
Simplified agree that it is beneficial to investigate and see if we can find
Chinese something we can learn from those concepts or methods.
Shihankai I must confess that I have never been personally taught these
Contact words by any of the senseis I had in the past. Just like most of you,
the readers, I had never heard of these terms either in my regular
dojo training or special seminars. I learned those terms mostly from
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

the karate books that I have read during my research activities. What I did was to compare
what I read with the techniques I know from Shotokan. What I have discovered was not only
interesting but also insightful. So, after reading my article I hope you will find the information
to be beneficial in your training.

Before I go any further I must emphasize that there are different variations in these
techniques depending on the different Okinawan styles. I also do not claim that I have
mastered these techniques nor covered all the meanings of these techniques. If I am
incorrect or inaccurate in any way I would be very happy to receive the corrections.

Let us start with the easiest one to understand, “Muchimi”. It also happens to be the
easiest one to explain.

Part 1: What is Muchimi?

Accordingly, there are two kinds of muchimi and they are expressed with two different kanji
though the pronunciation is very similar. The first is Mochimi, 餅身 (rice-cake body) and it
describes that a practitioner trains so that his/her body will attain the character of mochi or
omochi; a popular food in Japan.

The rice is pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape. In Japan it is traditionally
made in a ceremony called mochitsuki. Though it is eaten year round, omochi is a traditional
food for the New Year period in Japan. If you have eaten one of these omochi you know the
texture of this food. It has a lot of elasticity almost like rubber or a chewing gum in your
mouth as you try to chew it. You can naturally guess how the body needs to be after learning
the character of mochi. Thus, the elasticity of the body use is expressed by the word of
mochi for its similarity in character. This technique is developed by using both the flexor and
extensor muscles. This article is not for a technical instruction so I will not explain the details
of the mechanism. In short, the essence of the body management comes from the maximum
contraction using flexor muscles which generates the full extension of the extensor muscles.
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

It may be too simplistic but you tense your muscles to the maximum and then let go to
achieve the maximum extension. The best analogy may be the mechanism of a spring.
When pressed together tightly, the spring will expand very quickly or more accurately it
jumps out explosively when the compression is taken off suddenly. To make it more
effective, the extensor muscles are trained to relax thus they can achieve their maximum
extension. By mastering this, a practitioner can develop an explosive power in his punches
even before the elbow is fully extended. This effect is most useful in close distance fighting
styles, thus the practitioners of Naha-te (Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, etc.), short distance fighting
method styles, would naturally want to develop this technique.

One point must be noted that this technique, though very powerful, will not be a sharp whip
like punch. It is more like a sharp push of a bo (stick) and the speed of the punch is slower
than a whip motion technique practiced by the Shuri-te (mainly Shorin-ryu) practitioners. I
will explain the mechanism of the whip like technique later in this article. So, the Mochimi
used punch is more like a thrust rather than a snap kind of technique which is better suited
to attack a solid target like chest or mid section of an opponent rather than a head which can
easily bounce and move resulting in the reduction of the impact. Therefore, this technique is
called as Mochimi (mochi body) signifying the nature of the body mechanism.

By the way, when you watch a Naha-te kata, Sanchin (I will post a sample video at the end
of this paragraph), you will see only chudan punches. This demonstrates the muchimi
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

technique of Naha-te is most effective in the chudan area. Of course, to make a punch more
powerful other techniques must be applied at the same time. One of them is tsukami
(grabbing) and hikiyose (pulling in) as well as the use of Chinkuchi (Part 3 of this article).

Here is the video of Sanchin performed by the world famous Morio Higaonna, Goju ryu 10th


Another interesting video clip showing Goju-ryu muchimi training:


OK, the other kind of muchimi is written as 鞭身 (whip body). It

was developed and taught by the Shuri-te (mainly Shorin-ryu) masters. Some Shuri-te
practitioners call the technique Mochimi but the core character of the technique is different.
The same pronunciation was used by some of them mainly because the name of Mochimi
became very popular by the Naha-te practitioners, thus, the Shuri-te practitioners chose to
use the same pronunciation. By studying the differences in the technique mechanisms I
really think they are clearly two different techniques, though they share some common body
mechanism such as relaxation and tension. My personal opinion is that they are different
enough that they should have two different names.

Let me describe briefly what the application of Muchimi is. Simply put, it is a technique of a
whip action. What you need to do is to relax the arms or the legs then swing from the center
of the body, namely the backbone or the pelvis. In this action your limb will travel like a whip
rather than a stick.

Naha-te is known to focus on the short distance fighting thus their techniques include many
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

short stances like neko ashi dachi and sanchin dachi, and prefer the short distance
techniques such as elbow strikes, knee kicks, mae ashi mae geri (front foot front kick), and
even head butting. It is possible to execute a whip like technique from a short stance without
much body shifting, but they tend to use their body more like a stick than a whip. On the
other hand, Shuri-te is a long distance fighting method and they prefer the long stances and
the long distance techniques as the readers know. So the concept of the long distance
fighting bodes well with a whip like motion. However, our arm is rather short and does not
have many joints to make it into an effective weapon. Take a look at the kyusetsubin (the
photo below, the 9 chain whip I own).

It has nine joints and it has a rather heavy anchor piece at the end to make it a lethal
weapon. I use a 7 chain whip because a 9 chain one is too long for me. Compared to those
whips our arm has only three joints (shoulder, elbow and wrist). In addition, our anchor piece
is our fist and obviously it is not as effective an anchor piece as the one in a whip. So, what
do you need to do? Muchimi will be used with a pulling and a controlled tension movement;
Chinkuchi which will be explained in the Part 3 of this article. Consider the following example
to illustrate the concept. It will be difficult for you to try to make a towel into a whip no matter
how fast you swing it when it is completely dry. But what will happen if you wet it? Yes, it will
become much easier to make it into a whip especially if the wet portion is only the whipping
end or the half of the towel, the part you are not holding. The dry towel is the tension of our
arm and the key is that the water is fluid and extremely elastic. The water gives the
additional weight to the towel but the more important effect is the tension or the body it gives
to the towel. What I want to say here is that the tension you apply to muchimi must be at a
minimum. The excessive tension will slow down the snapping motion which will end up with
a poor whip or no whip at all.

The most common whipping techniques that the Shotokan practitioners are familiar with are
uraken uchi, a striking technique and mawashi geri, a kicking technique. However, if you
understand the mechanism of Muchimi and after mastering it one can deliver much faster
techniques including a straight punch, mae geri, yoko geri and all other techniques.

The ultimate technique is one or zero inch punch utilizing the fundamental physiological
method to generate the power with minimum body motion which is called 発勁, hakkei (the
literal meaning is to generate power or energy) and mastering Muchimi, I believe, can aid
What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1 – Asai Shotokan Association ...

the development of hakkei technique.

Here are some reference video clips for your interest:

Tekki Shodan (Naihanchi shodan) by Michiko Onaga:


Tekki Shodan by Shorin- ryu master Shinzato Katsuhiko:


Tekki Shodan by Tetsuhiko Asai:


Master Asai showing how to train the body:


I will continue to explain the sencond term, Gamaku, in Part 2.

4 Responses to What are Chinkuchi, Gamaku

and Muchimi? チンクチ、ガマク、ムチミとは何ぞや?Part 1
Charles Garrett on April 4, 2015 at 6:10 pm

These are great articles. Thank you

ASAI on April 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Sensei Garrett, I hope you enjoyed reading my articles. Oss

Neville Palmer on May 5, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Many thanks for sharing this with us. Master Asais body training clip was
just beautiful to watch. Thank you.

Brian Vivas on June 2, 2015 at 8:49 am
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

« Exercício de respiração  腹式呼吸法

Organization O Que É Ki? 気とは何ぞや? (Parte 1) »
What are Internal system &
PF. External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何
I assume the readers already know that there are some
categorization measures in martial arts. Each one shows
the characteristics that supposedly differentiate one style
from another, but the fact is that all the styles contain
different amounts of the characteristics of both opposing
personalities.  The categorization of a style itself will not
bring any positive effect or a merit. The benefit comes
only when we understand better about our style and to be
able to include some training that will make our style
more effective and meaningful.

Chinese So, let us start with a few popular
Members categorization methods. The most common one is probably
Shihankai the differentiation by the long distance 遠距離and short
Contact distance 近距離 fighting styles. Shotokan is a good example
of the long distance fighting system and Goju-ryu, on the
other side, is of the short distance system. Asai ryu karate is based on the
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

standard Shotokan, a long distance fighting method, with an addition of the

techniques from a short distance fighting system; White Crane kung fu was
incorporated by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. This categorization method is rather
obvious and comparatively easy to grasp. I do not believe it needs further
explanation on this categorization method.

Another popular categorization in karate is Shorin 松林system and Shorei 昭靈

system.  Shorin represents the system with the light and fast techniques and
this is exemplified by kata such as Enpi, Kanku, Gankaku and Unsu. Shorei is,
on the other hand, the system supposedly designed for the larger built karate-
ka for the powerful movements and the slower techniques. Jion, Jutte and
Sochin are the typical kata of Shorei style. This categorization has been
explained by many other writers in the past.  I have my doubts on the legitimacy
of this categorization method but I will not touch on it in this article.

One other popular categorization in karate is Naha-te 那覇手and Shuri-te 首里手.

Naha and Shuri both indicate the particular regions of Okinawa where the
different styles of karate were developed and practiced.  Shotokan belongs to
Shuri-te as our style came from the most popular Shuri-te style of Shorin-ryu 松
林流. The most popular Naha-te styles are Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu.

The categorization I wish to focus on in this article is called Internal System and
External System. As far as I know this categorization method has not been
explained too well to the Shotokan practitioners in the past. Among the Chinese
martial arts this categorization method is as popular as the Northern Style and
the Southern Style. The Internal System and the External System are written in
kanji as 内家拳 and 外家拳 which literally means “inside house (or family) fist”
and “outside house (family) fist”. Most of the practitioners now explain the
meaning of “inside (family) house” as the internal workings of our body such as
breathing and the mental aspect of a martial art.  However, it originally meant
“not staying with the family” or “not living in one’s house” but living in a
Buddhist temple.  Therefore, a famous Shaolin Temple kung fu (Photo below)
and its derivative styles (literally hundreds of them) are called 外家拳, “outside
house fist”.
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

Shaolin kung fu 少林拳法 refers to a collection of

Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery and the
style generally emphasize long range techniques, quick advances and retreats,
wide stances, kicking and leaping techniques, whirling circular blocks,
quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks. Due to numerous Hong Kong movies,
Shaolin Kung Fu is well known in the western world. However, there seems to
be a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about this fighting style. I suggest
that the readers will learn more about it by reading the Wikipedia page:

The other group, “inside (family) house” or staying with the family means that a
practitioner is not a professional monk. This is a group of the fighting methods
that are not linked to the Shaolin Monastery.  The famous three styles of the
Internal System are Tai chi Chuan 太極拳, Xing Yi Quan 形意拳 and Ba Gua Zhang
八卦掌.  They are classified as “inside house” fist.

Tai Chi Chuan (photo right) is a slow-motion and

meditative exercise for relaxation, health and to a lesser degree self-defense.
Tai Chi has gained enormous popularity throughout the world for its health
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

benefits. In Chinese philosophy Tai Chi means the ultimate source and limit of
reality, from which spring yin and yang and all of creation.

There are many different styles of Tai Chi from a popular slow motion style
mainly for a relaxation and health purpose to a style that has some explosive
moves that is better fit for self-defense training. To learn more about Tai Chi
Chuan check the Wikipedia page here:


Xing Yi Quan or Hsing I Chuan (photo below) may be a

lesser known Internal System or 内家拳 to the karate world but it is one of the
best known internal martial arts and is recognized as the most effective fighting
style. Xing Yi means “Shape Mind”, and Quan means “Fist”. The name derives
from the style’s imitation of the movements and inner characteristics of twelve
animals (dragon, tiger, eagle, bear, chicken, hawk, horse, monkey, snake,
phoenix, swallow and alligator). The style was created by Marshal Yeuh Fei, a
famous general of the Chinese Song Dynasty. One of the purposes of Xingyiquan
training, like Taijiquan is aimed to improve Qi or Ki circulation in the body and
to maintain health. The training is supposed to build up a level of internal Qi
and this leads to the strengthening of both the physical body and the mental

For more information on Xing Yi Quan read the chapter in Wikipedia:

What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

Ba Gua Zhang is one of the three orthodox “internal”

styles and the name literally translates to Eight Trigrams Palm. These trigrams
are symbols which are used to represent all of the natural phenomena as
described in the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Book of Changes (Yi
Jing). Zhang means palm as Ba Gua Zhang emphasizes the use of the open hand
in preference to the closed fist. Ba Gua Zhang is based on the theory of
continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome
an opponent with the circular and smooth skill rather than brute force. Its
embusen is very unique as it is built on complex circular lines and the
techniques are delivered not to the direction of the moves but mainly to the
center of a circle or a side of a performer (photo right). I personally like this
style as its foot work is based on normal walking steps which I really think
makes sense. The performer walks with fast steps in circular lines and deliver
the techniques while he is “walking”.

To learn more about Ba Gua or Pa-kua, read the chapter in Wikipedia:


Also, there are many good video clips of Ba Gua kata performance by some
elder masters.  Here is a link to my favorite Ba Gua kata called “The old 8
mother palm” performed by Master Sun: http://www.youtube.com

OK these are all Chinese style martial arts so you may ask “What is the
relationship to our karate? “  We need to look at the other interpretation of
Internal System and External System. You will see the relationship as we go
over the key points of the Internal and External systems according to the
second interpretation. I am aware each martial art and karate style has a
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

characteristic of all the categories and the categorization including Internal and
External System method any categorization does not clearly divide the styles.
By learning the categories and the characteristics I wish to present the general
nature of Shotokan and to show the whole perspective so that the readers can
understand where our style sits.  With this exercise I hope we can identify the
strength of Shotokan as well as the possible areas where it is lacking. The
ultimate goal of this article is the knowledge and the better understanding of
Shotokan karate and the possible improvement in training as the knowledge
would, hopefully, reflect in the training menu.

Let us start with Internal System or styles. This system’s focus is on the
practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi (breath, or energy
flow) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than brutal muscular tension. While
the principles that distinguish internal styles from the external were described
at least as early as the 18th century.

Components of internal training includes stance

training, stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand and
weapon forms. In addition to the solo practice of the forms, many internal styles
have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands. A notable characteristic
of internal styles is that the forms are generally performed at a slow or normal
pace. This is thought to improve coordination and balance by increasing the
work load by moving slowly in low stances, and to require the practitioners to
pay close attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a
technique. In some styles, for example Chen style of Tai Chi and Ba Gua, there
are forms that include sudden outbursts of explosive movements. At an
advanced level, the techniques are performed quickly. The ultimate goal is to
learn to manage and control the entire body in every movement keeping relaxed
with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the body movements and the
breathing accurately while maintaining perfect balance.

Let’s look at External styles or System next. External System is characterized

by fast and explosive movements. Its focus is on physical strength and agility.
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

External System includes both the traditional styles focusing on application and
actual fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition. Shaolin
quan have many Wushu (martial arts) forms both with and without weapons
that include the aerial techniques and explosive attacks. External styles begin
with a focus on muscular power, speed and application. They generally
integrate their qigong (Ki training) aspects in advanced training, after the
excellent physical level has been reached.

From these definitions to which group do you think that Shotokan belongs? I
guess the answer is easy. Shotokan definitely has many characteristics of the
External System. By learning more about the characteristics of the other
system, we can identify the area where Shotokan may be lacking. I hope you
can make your karate training more comprehensive by adding some exercises
to supplement the missing area. So, where are the areas in Shotokan that are
possibly missing? They are probably Ki or Qi training, the breathing exercises
and the softer movements. Can you identify if any of these may be missing from
your training syllabus?

For the breathing training Hangetsu is an excellent kata

through which you can learn to coordinate the kata techniques with breathing.
However, you may complain that this is the only kata that was designed for such
training in Shotokan. You are correct about this, but once you learn the
breathing training idea of this kata, you can apply it to any kata you may know.
The best kata to practice the breathing method from the JKA kata line up may
be Jion, Jutte, Nijushiho, Meikyo, Sochin to name a few. Regarding the
breathing exercise and method, I have written an article on this subject so you
are welcome to refer to that article which can be found earlier in this same
What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや? – Asai Shotokan Association International

One other training that I consider missing in

the standard Shotokan syllabus is Ki or Chi training. This is an important
subject that needs to be understood by all the senior karate practitioners. It is
also a deep subject that requires a lot of explanation. I also have written about
this subject previously (What is “Ki”? and Ki exchange with a tree). If you are
interested in the subject I suggest that you will read those articles that can be
found in this blog. One more thing I wish to call your attention here, is that
deep breathing is closely linked and is critically necessary to Ki training and
exercise. Even if you do not understand anything about Ki, when you do your
deep breathing exercise, believe it or not, you would be strengthening your Ki
at the same time.

As Asai sensei introduced a short distance fighting method to the standard

Shotokan karate to make it more effective, you can add the exercises of the
Internal System to your Shotokan training syllabus. By doing so, you will be
expanding your karate system beyond the standard Shotokan into something
more comprehensive that you can call an Internal and External System. I hope
this article has raised enough interest in the readers and that you will go out of
the box and consider to invest some time and energy to make your karate

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Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

« ¿Sabe cómo hacer una reverencia correctamente o

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Tekki and its deeper understanding
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Spanish Tekki used to be a fundamental kata
Blog for Shurite karate from which Shotokan evolved. Until
Persian Funakoshi changed its name it was called Naihanchi,
Blog Naifanchi or Naihanchin. It is interesting to discuss about
Macedonianthe names of this kata but we will not do this in this
Blog article. What I want to say about this kata is very
Turkish unfortunately no longer receiving proper attention and
Blog sufficient training in most of the Shotokan schools. At
Ukrainian those dojo Tekki Shodan is considered only as a required
Blog kata to advance from 4 kyu to 3 kyu, or a kata before
简 brown belt when you begin to learn the “real” kata. This
体 trend is very unfortunate because it means a huge loss to
中 Shotokan karate in general. My wish is that this article
文 will provide the missing information and make the readers
Simplified to realize the important essence that is built in this unique
Chinese kata. I hope this realization will result in more
Members appreciation and motivation to practice Tekki more
Shihankai frequently and with more respect. Before I continue, I
Contact wish to ask a quick question to the instructors
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

Funakoshi performing Tekki Shodan (from Karatedo Kyohan)

and senior practitioners. Why is the first step (left foot) moved in front of the
right foot? Why not behind? Is there any significance in the move? Or is it an
irreverent or worthless point? Please think about it and I will touch on this
again later.

Tekki is unique because the only stance other than heisoku dachi and kosa
dachi is kiba dachi. Of course, kiba dachi is a perfect stance to train your legs
but there is one other key and hidden objective in this stance and I will cover it
in key point #1. In addition to kiba dachi this kata’s body shifting is done only to
the sideways which makes this kata unique and mysterious. I will cover this in
key point #2. There is one more interesting point. There are three Tekki;
Shodan, Nidan and Sandan. In all of them it starts to right side. You remember
you start to left in all Heian kata. I will not go into this topic in this article. I will
leave it as homework for those who are curious and interested. I will share my
hypothesis somewhere else in the future.

Key point #1:

Kamae of Tekki Shodan is heisoku dachi. Interestingly the next kata you learn,
Bassai Dai’s kamae is also heisoku dachi. In Tekki you learn to body shift
sideways while in Bassai you learn to step forward. I see the wisdom and I am
truly impressed with the deep understanding by the Okinawan master who
developed the kata syllabus. The students learn to shift sideways first because
that is easier to show how to shift the body weight between left and right feet.
In other words, at kamae of heisoku dachi, your body weight is put evenly
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

between left and right feet. With the first move, you cross
your legs (kosa dachi). The same mechanism is taught in Tekki Nidan. The only
difference is that you start from shizentai which is more natural stance than
heisoku dachi. What happens at the first step is that your weight on your left leg
becomes zero as you lift it to step over and the weight distribution on the right
foot becomes 100%. Of course, at kosa dachi there will be a small weight
distribution (maybe 10% or so) but at the next instance it will receive 100% as
your right foot is lifted up high for fumikomi. Then you will end in kiba dachi
(back to 50/50). This change of weight distribution from 50/50 to 0/100 (or
10/90) and to 100/0 and finally to 50/50 is the biggest learning lesson in Tekki.
Every time you step aside and go to a next kiba dachi through kosa dachi, you
learn how to body shift quickly and strongly. Once you learn how to move
sideways then the Okinawa masters believed the students can start learning
how to body shift forward. I agree with them totally. The value of this technique
has been lost, as far as I can see in Shotokan, and it is not taught that way
anymore. Thus, many students miss learning this key point. They mistakenly
believe Tekki is a strange and unimportant kata you go through before you
become a brown belt so you can tackle more important kata like Bassai. It is a
big shame and I wish many people study this kata again and find the true value
of this amazing kata.

Let’s go back to my first question. Why do we step the left foot in front of the
right foot instead of behind. Take a close look at Funakoshi’s left foot in the two
photos above (from Shodan and Nidan).

You can see it is planted firmly on his entire foot. This is critically important. If
your left foot touches only the ball of the foot like kosa dachi then you will have
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

to step down th e heel before you can shift the entire body
weight to the left foot which is an extra move. Is the lost time long? No, it is
only a split of second but it is still significant if you are trying to achieve a quick
weight shifting process which is one of the key objectives of the Tekki training.
So, If you step your left foot behind the right foot, your feet will look just like
the illustration on the left. If you force your left foot to be totally flat on the
ground you will lose your balance or need to shift towards the rear. This is only
natural as a leg is attached to the backside of your foot. You have much more
space in front so that you can easily cross over and put the entire foot on the
floor. Then, what’s wrong with stepping the left foot behind the right foot and as
a result your body shifting happens towards your back? It is not “wrong” as this
step can be used effectively if you are going to throw ushiro geri or yoko kekomi
with your right foot. From a kiba dachi you will shift and you will point your
rear or back to the opponent as you step your left foot behind the right foot. If I
remember correctly Bruce Lee used this (stepping behind and kicking yoko
geri) in one of the movies. Because of his dramatic action I also remember many
kumite competitors took kiba dachi stance in 70’s.

Regardless, the use of this stepping is limited, therefore, the fundamental

concept of kata is to move forward. This concept is also adopted in Tekki by
stepping in front of the other leg.

Key point #2:

There are two good reasons why Tekki is based only on Kiba dachi and the body
movement is sideways. The first one is obvious and very well known, kiba dachi
is an excellent stance to train and strengthen your legs. The second one has
been a mystery: why only moving sideways? I have heard a few ideas. One was
that this kata was created to fight with the wall behind you. Another was to
learn the fighting method in a narrow corridor. I will talk about bunkai later so I
will not go into this now. Let me present my understanding from this unique
kata. I have already mentioned about the uniqueness of the body shifting. Tekki
was the very first kata before Heian was invented in late 19th century and with
this kata Okinawan masters wanted the beginners to learn how to body shift
sideways before they learned how to body shift forward. Why sideways first? It
is because it is physically easier to shift that direction. I know many people
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

do not see this point as they feel more comfortable

moving forward but un-natural with side shifting. But I ask you to experiment
the following. Stand up straight in heisoku dachi (the arms can be held at side
or hands holding the belt as you are experimenting only the body shifting) and
lean forward. You have several muscle groups in feet and calves to prevent the
falling. After feeling this physical reaction, from the same heisoku dachi, try
leaning sideways. You will find it is a lot harder to prevent falling sideways.
Believe it or not, ninja of medieval Japan found this running method useful and
trained running sideways. Regardless, by “falling” to the side a beginner in
Okinawa learned a quick body shift method. Once he learned the sideway
method by Tekki, he went on to Bassai Dai to learn another quick body shifting
method by “falling” forward. This is the idea of hidden energy of the water that
is held in a dam. I must say this old time curriculum of learning the fast body
shifting is amazing and so wise. I covered the details of this concept in another
chapter, “Balancing in unstableness”.

In fact there is another reason for kiba dachi which is not too emphasized in the
most dojo. Kiba dachi is classified as one of the outside tension stance.
However, by moving sideways one learns how to tense the inner muscles of
upper legs. This again helps in fast body shifting.

I must add one more point from the training purpose of Tekki Shodan. As you
can see in the photo (right), Master Funakoshi is beautifully demonstrating the
flexibility of his hip joints. A student must learn to rotate the upper body in 180
degrees in these particular combinations without deforming his kiba dachi.
Unless your hips and mid- section are flexible it will be extremely difficult to
rotate the upper body as shown in the photo. This is the excellent example of a
solid and unmovable stance with flexible upper body movements.
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

Key point #3:

The last one is the most challenging to understand and this has never been
explained before. It is a concept of an invisible leg and I see the true wisdom of
Okinawan master who created this kata. Let me explain but first take a look at
the photo below. Here is a photo of Nakayama sensei instructing Tekki using his
assistant, Osaka sensei who is doing namigaeshi. As you can see he is not
standing straight up on his left leg in this technique. He remained in kiba dachi
position except his right leg is doing namigaeshi. In other words, he will “fall”
to his right side if he continues to keep his right leg up in the air. Of course he
will land his right foot quickly and continues to the next technique. When you
learned this kata I suspect many students might have been instructed by their
sensei to do exactly that. In the video Nakayama sensei is saying, “Don’t lean to
your left. Do your namigaeshi very quickly and put your right foot down before
you fall so that you can keep the upper body in the same position.” To do this
you had to remain in this position for a split of a second while you execute a
namigaeshi technique. So look at the photo again. By looking at his upper body
Osaka sensei could be in a stable kiba dachi. In other words, for a split second
he was standing as though he had an invisible right leg under his right hip. You
could almost draw an invisible leg there. To be able to do this you have to learn
the use of internal muscles which I will not explain here as it is very much
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

involved. But you must ask now w hy do you

have to learn this. Some sensei probably told you that you need to learn how to
do namigaeshi quickly. It sounds too obvious and no brainer. No one has
explained that there is a hidden purpose or objective in this particular
technique. Remind you the technique I am referring to is not namigaeshi but an
invisible leg stance.

OK so I said it was to develop the internal muscles but for what purpose?
Believe it or not, this is to develop the balance that is necessary for strong
support in zenkutsu dachi and kicks. Let me further explain. When I say
zenkutsu dachi I do not mean a still zenkutsu dachi with both feet on the
ground. I am talking about the zenkutsu dachi while you are attacking forward.
Take a look at a photo below. This is a famous photo taken at one of the matches
at 1961 JKA National Championship in Tokyo Japan. The attacker on the left is
Mikami sensei (JKA 8 dan now resides in Louisiana) and the other is late Asai
sensei (the founder of JKS) who is doing a taisabaki in the air. Asai sensei won
this match and went on to win the championship this year but this is not the
subject here. What I want to call your attention is the stance of Mikami sensei
in this photo. Look at the extension of the left leg and he looks like he was flying
in the air. I am not saying Mikami sensei developed his great extension ability
only from practicing Tekki. What I am saying is this invisible leg technique in
Tekki can help the practitioners if they wish to develop the strong extension
ability. Then the smart readers will quickly realize why this ability is also used
in the kicking techniques. You probably figured out correctly that this ability is
not particularly aiding the kick itself but rather for the strong supporting leg
that will give you the forward reach. A rifle has an advantage over a pistol
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

because  a rifle has a longer range. The

same can be said if your kick has a longer reach. A high kick is fine in a close
distance fight, but you need a reach if an opponent is far. The photo on the right
is showing a well extended mae geri but this can be applied to all the kicks. So,
I hope you understand the importance of this invisible leg technique secretly
hidden in namigaeshi practice of Tekki. Now the readers are curious about the
internal muscles and their training. Maybe someday I will spend much time to
address to this interesting and important subject. For now I suggest you to
practice Tekki hopefully with a different vision. If you like kumite it is worth
your time to improve the invisible leg technique as it will make your tsuki or
keri attacks much more effective and threatening to your opponents.

The last thing I want to include in this article is Bunkai. Here, I only wish to
provide you the basic concepts from which you need to build your
understanding. We have already established that there are several levels of
interpretation and applications which is called Bunkai. If the application works
then basically that bunkai can be considered as “applicable” or “realistic”. If it
does not work then it means either the interpretation or application is incorrect
or your techniques are poor.

There are two fundamental concepts we must know about Tekki

bunkai. Unfortunately, these concepts are not well known and some incorrect
interpretations are widely spread or believed.

#1: Tekki kata teaches many short distance fighting techniques such as tsukami
uke, kagi zuki, ashi uke or knee kicks (blocking with knee or leg) with nami
gaeshi, enpi uchi, jodan nagashi uke, tate uraken uchi, hold breaks (first move
of Nidan), throws (kagi zuki in Shodan, 2nd and 3rd moves of Nidan), gedan
zuki, joint attacks and arm twisting waza to name a few.

#2: Fundamentally, your imaginary opponent is in front of you and not

Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International

necessarily to your side. You must not confuse the direction of bunkai just
because the kata foot steps are done only to the sideways. This kata is not
teaching you to fight only in kiba dachi which exposes your front (groin and
midsection) to your opponent; of course, tactically unwise. Look at Funakoshi
photo above where he is doing morote ude uke to his right side in a beautiful
kiba dachi. Just try this. Hide below the belt and see how his upper body above
the belt looks like. What do you see? Doesn’t it look like he would be doing this
technique in his right zenkutsu dachi? In bunkai you will do this technique in
zenkutsu, but in Tekki kata you practice from kiba dachi (for the purposes I had
described). This kata was not designed as a fighting method with your back
against the wall or in a narrow corridor as suggested in Shotokan’s Secret by
Bruce Clayton though I respect his opinion and his work. It was designed rather
to teach a fighting method with restricted hip rotation by keeping the stance
only in kiba dachi. This is a perfect training for short distance fighting which
means you are in a grappling distance and not much room to move. When you
observe this kata by Shorin ryu practitioners you will witness a much more
pronounced hip vibration with each technique.

Here are two photos that show

an interesting bunkai performed by Funakoshi and his student. They show a
bunkai for the second and the third movements (haishu uchi and enpi uchi) of
Tekki Shodan. Hhere haishu uchi is used as haishu osae or otoshi uke. Then he
grabs the opponent’s right wrist next and pulls him down while he takes one
step forward and rotates his hips to bring his opponent’s upper body down.
During this process, he executes left enpi uchi to the opponent’s right elbow or
place his left hand on the opponent’s elbow joint for a leverage. More
aggressive interpretation (not shown in the photos here) can be a jodan enpi
uchi to the opponent’s head instead of his elbow.

By the way, with this hip rotation and a take-down he faces completely opposite
side (to his 6 o’clock) in this bunkai. If you are mentally trapped and believed
that Tekki techniques must face only to one direction then you cannot even
imagine this bunkai. In fact, this rotation move is incorporated in Tekki Mugen
(Infinite Tekki).
Tekki and its deeper understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには – Asai Shotokan Association International


I shared only two key points of Tekki and what did you think? Did these key
points make sense to you? Did you realize those points are essential and
fundamental elements as you develop your karate especially for an intermediate
practitioner? I sincerely hope you did. I recommend all intermediate
practitioners between 4 kyu to 1 kyu and possibly including Shodan to put this
kata in his regular training menu. I ask 4 kyu practitioners particularly not to
stop practicing this kata after passing to 3 kyu. I am aware that there are many
new kata a brown belt needs to learn but Tekki is a short kata and it will not
take too much time to include this kata. Spend 5 if not 10 minutes with this kata
in each training and you can do at least 10 times. If you learn Tekki Mugen you
can continue to do this kata straight 5 minutes or how much ever time you give
without stopping at all. In addition I must add, you can do Tekki Mugen in a
different shape enbusen including a circle, square or whatever the shape you

As I learn further into the art of karate and find new meanings I become more
impressed with the cleverness and wisdom of those ancient Okinawan masters
who left us this treasure called kata.

6 Responses to Tekki and its deeper

understanding 形・鉄騎をより深く理解するには
Tomas Lindgren on December 20, 2015 at 11:09 am

A very interesting article
Looking forward for more about Tekki Shodan and keypoints
The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

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Organization A puzzle of Ernst Mach’s self portrait エルンスト・マッハの自画
Instructors 像の謎 »
The first step of Tekki is to the
(Español) right but why to the left side with
Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎:
English 鉄騎は右方向・平安形は左方向
French Many Shuri-te practitioners may have wondered about the
Blog mystery of Tekki (or Naihanchi) kata. In fact, there are
German two main mysteries. One is that the Tekki’s enbusen is a
Blog horizontal and straight line. The other is the first step of
Portuguese all three Tekki kata is taken to the right side (photo
Blog below).

The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

I have already written a couple of essays regarding these mysteries of Tekki and
shared my understanding and hypothesis. If you are interested you can find
these in my books; Shotokan Myths and Shotokan Mysteries.

Today, I want to bring up another puzzle. The first kata for the Shuri-te (such as
Shotokan, Shorin ryu and Shito ryu) practitioners are the five Heian (or Pinan)
kata. Have you ever wondered why the first step of all these kata is taken to the
left side (illustration below)? Another interesting point is the first move is not
taken to the front but rather to the left side.

You may not consider it a big deal but I believe there was a well thought out
reason for this. Some people have guessed that Master Itosu, the creator of
Heian kata, has chosen the left side simply because the first step for Tekki kata
was to the right side. Also the direction is to the left side instead of front is
because of the Tekki enbusen.
The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

I am writing this essay because I do not think it was

from such a simple reason. I wish to share a deeper reason why Anko Itosu
created this kata with the first step of all Heian kata to the left side. Before we
jump into this subject, I wish to also mention that starting to the left side does
not matter in the end. This is because the Okinawan masters have taught us
that we must practice the mirror side once we become familiar with the kata.
This teaching starts with Heian then on to Tekki. Believe it or not, this will
continue with other kata such as Bassai (or Passai), Kanku (or Kusanku), Enpi
(or Wanshu), etc. If you have learned all 26 Shotokan kata, you can practice 52
kata when you include the mirror sides.

Despite starting to whichever side will not matter in the end if you practice both
sides, I believe there was a good reason why Itosu chose to make the first step
of all Heian kata to the left side. With modern sports science, we have learned a
lot of facts about our body. One of them is we have a favorite or better side.
Even though our body, viewing from the front, may look symmetrical. If you
study a little of anatomy, you begin to find that our body is not symmetrical
externally and more so when you view it internally (internal organs).

One determinant is our heart, an extremely

The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

important organ and we have only one. Our heart is located on the left side of
our body rather than right or in the center. This may be one of the reasons why
we have more right handed people than left handed. When we shake hands for a
greeting, we extend our right hand. Of course, it came from the etiquette in the
time of knights. The right hand was the hand that held the swords, thus by
extending right hand meant “I have no weapon” or a sign of friendship. Even
though there are many who write with their left hand, right hand writing is
much more prevalent.

As the right side is the favorite side for most of us, thus the right leg is the
favored one. In Tekki kata (Shodan and Nidan), we move the left leg first. The
right leg, the favored leg, is used to support the body weight. Of course, there is
one exception, Tekki Sandan. In this kata, the first move is the right leg with the
left leg being the supporting side (illustration below).

The body mechanism here is opposite from that of Shodan and Nidan. This is an
interesting subject to research why Tekki Sandan has a different body
mechanism in the first move. Though we will not go into this subject in this
essay, I wish to add that many karate historians believe that the original form of
Tekki was one long kata and it was simply separated into 3 different parts;
Shodan, Nidan and Sandan. If this idea is correct, the only starting move of
Tekki was that of Tekki Shodan.

On the other hand, if the creator of Tekki, indeed, made this kata intentionally
into three different kata then we need to figure out why Tekki Sandan’s first
move is based on the opposite body mechanism from Shodan and Nidan. In this
case, we must not say that the difference is meaningless or it was created like
so by accident or non-intentional. The creators of these karate kata, I believe,
must have spent much time in figuring out each and every move to make it the
most efficient and effective move, because the kata is the condensed form of
fighting techniques that are infinite in possible numbers.
The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

Interestingly, in Heian or Heian kata, we move our

left leg first and we use our right leg to support the body weight. Thus, the
fundamental physical movement is based on the similar sequence (move left leg
first and use the right leg for support). Even though on the surface, Tekki kata
seem to start to the right side and Heian kata to the left side, they are done
with the same mechanism. Therefore, I conclude that Itosu knew this fact. He
intentionally formatted the same physical movement, but with a superficial
difference in the direction of the body starting to the left side with Heian.

Also, we may want to pay attention to our brain and the nervous system, as
well, to understand our physical functions and mechanism bet

ter. As you know our brain consists of two

sides (left and right). Each side has its own controlling functions. The left
hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body while the right
hemisphere controls those on the left. This is why damage to the left side of the
brain, for example, might have an effect on the right side of the body.

Full article from SpartaScience

The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

It is clearly evident that there are two parts: right side and left side, of the
brain. However, it is also true that there are other parts of the brain that
perform some critical functions as well. In addition, even though we have
discovered and learned a lot about our brain in the 20th century as well as the
early part of this century, it is sadly true that there still exists many mysteries
about the exact functions of the brain. We hope that more study and research in
the future will teach us more about these fascinating mechanisms of our brain.

Despite that we do not know exactly how our body and our brain work in
harmony, there remains the final question. Regardless of the cause or reason, if
the right side is the favored side, then why didn’t the creators of Tekki and
Heian have the right leg move first? Here is my hypothesis. Both Tekki and
Heian are so called practice kata rather than the actual fighting kata such as
Bassai and Kanku. For this reason, the creators must have planned for us to use
the less favored side, left leg, first so that we can focus on our weaker side.

After Heian and Tekki, the next kata we learn is Bassai. The first foot movement
is right leg and you will also use the right arm in its first move.
The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右...

The points I brought up may sound insignificant and to some people, maybe,
almost meaningless. Many people mistakenly believed or still believe that all the
mysteries of karate have been answered. This misunderstanding not only makes
karate less exciting but also harmful. When we do not improve something, it
tends to degenerate and worsen as time progresses.

Therefore, I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to dig deeper and try to
understand more of how these kata were created as well as their objectives.
Unfortunately, those creators have already left us a long time ago and only a
few written documents are available or were left behind. This means we must
depend on our intuition and understanding of our anatomy and kinesiology to
reverse engineer to discover the wisdom and true teaching from the valuable
treasure, kata, that have been handed down for many centuries. To be able to
reverse engineer means a great deal of responsibility is left to us. It means we
must excel in both our physical skills in karate and the intellectual
understanding of human anatomy and kinesiology.

So far, I have reached this level of understanding that you read in this essay. I
hope my essays will be a springboard or at least a start for the readers so that
they can reach to the deeper level of the truth and better understanding of the
wisdom of karate in the future. I am sure there is more to be found and
discovered. I look forward to continuing my karate journey. I invite the readers
to join me in this exciting journey.
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

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What is Gamaku?  ”ガマク”って何?
(Español) At a karate dojo in Okinawa, you may hear a sensei yelling to the
Membership students, “Gamaku wo irero” which means “Put gamaku in”or
Blog “Gamaku wo kakero” which means “Apply gamaku”. I suspect the
English term of “gamaku” must be very foreign to the Shotokan practitioners
Blog unless you have had a chance to train in one of the Okinawan
French styles like Uechi-ryu or Goju-ryu. So “What the heck is gamaku?”,
Blog you would ask. We will investigate together to see if this is
German something new to the Shotokan training or if it is something we
Blog already know or have.
Blog Let me explain the meaning of this word,
Turkish gamaku first. It is an Okinawan local term and it describes the soft
Blog area at the sides of the waist line at the top of the pelvis. This term
Ukrainian is used typically for an Okinawan woman who happens to have a
Blog very small waist line. Of course it is used for both men and women
简 when it comes to karate training. This word is also used in
体 Okinawan dancing which has been closely related to Okinawa-te
中 for many generations. I wrote about this in another article in the
文 past and I also posted a video tape of Master Uehara Seikichi 上原
Simplified 清吉 of Motobu-ryu 本部流 performing a dance, “Bu no mai”.
Here is the URL in case you missed it: https://www.youtube.com
Contact So, you would ask what has the waist line got to do with karate? It
is obviously related to karate techniques but the literal meaning
could miss-lead us. There are two different methods of gamaku and this fact, as it was with
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

Muchimi, may be causing some confusion even among the Okinawan karate practitioners.
Let me explain both and see if anything I describe is familiar or related to the training in

First we need to define the bodily area that we use to do a gamaku technique. By knowing
this it becomes clearer the difference of the two methods.

The first method’s gamaku area:

The gamaku area in this method covers not only the waist line area but all the lower
abdominal area including seika tanden (the core of the lower abdominal area). Here is a
photo of Sensei Higaonna doing gyaku zuki with a gamaku application. In the photo a red
circle shows the gamaku area. I will discuss the actual mechanism of gamaku application

The second method’s gamaku area:

The other method is applied to a smaller area as shown in the photo below. The photo
shows a kaki zuki technique and it is supposedly done with a gamaku application at the right
hip region. The red circle pin points the particular area where gamaku has to be put in or
applied. This is the very area the original non karate term of Gamaku describes. Probably
the ancient masters “borrowed” this term to explain or command the technique as the
general area was similar to where the technique was to be applied. We will discover later
with the explanation of the second method, that this application is not limited to this small

Now you know where the areas of our body that are used for the techniques are. Next, let
me explain the methods or mechanism starting with the body area covering the entire
abdominal region. Regardless of the first or second method, the objective of the gamaku
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

technique is, in general, the same. It is to improve or increase the power generation as well
as the body shifting and the balancing. Then how do you control or apply gamaku?
Mastering gamaku control is not easy but it is not too difficult to understand the mechanism.
What you need to do is to imagine that your abdominal area is a balloon or you are holding a
ball that is filled with water inside the abdominal cavity. The illustration of its mechanism is
shown here (below).

This ball or balloon may be small when you try to

create such a “mechanism” initially, then naturally the effect is also small and partial. As you
train more and become more efficient and gain more control, the balloon can expand from
the shoulder area down all the way to the upper knee area. Once again review the red circle
shown in the first photo (Higaonna sensei gyaku zuki). So the mechanism is simple, if you
wish to shift the center of gravity of your body, you will shift the “water” from one side to
another, up and down, forward and backward, etc. This applies not only for the balance of
your body but also for creating a more lethal technique by increasing the power and the
speed. This mechanism may be foreign to some of you but it is definitely not ridiculous or
unrealistic. We must remember that more than 50% of our body is indeed made from water.
Particularly, in the abdominal area, we have a lot of internal organs and naturally the content
of the water is much higher than the rest of our body. By using the trained internal muscles
one can maneuver or move/shift a group of the internal organs (the water) to accomplish this
mechanism. In the past, I have posted a video clip of Rickson Gracie doing his yoga
exercises and one of them was used to train the internal muscles of the abdominal area.
Here is the clip again so you can observe how he trains the entire abdominal muscles.


This exercise is an excellent one for your health (Yoga calls it “fire” breathing) but Rickson
was not doing this for the health purpose. I am certain he did this to train for his MMA
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

fighting. How? With the way he trained his abdominal muscles you can easily understand
how he can put or apply gamaku to whichever the part of his abdominal area he chooses.
This is the very reason why once he could get on top of the opponent he was almost
undefeatable on the floor or the mat,. If you have not noticed the way he used to fight,

I suggest that you to watch several of his fighting videos and see how
he fought. You will notice his strategy was not to knock someone down with his punches
from the standing position but rather he tried to bring the opponents down to the mat then he
got on top of them and beat them till they surrendered. By controlling the gamaku or the
center of gravity of his body because he could stay on top of the opponents and remain
there without getting dislodged by his opponents. The opponents simply could not get him
off as he could keep the perfect center of gravity not matter how hard the opponents tries to
get him off balance.

OK that is with MMA. Okinawan karate-ka do not do as much ground fighting as they do in
Brazilian jujitsu, then why do they say it is critically important to develop gamaku? To keep
the balance or to change the center of gravity, you may tell me that you can use the arms
and the legs to accomplish the same task. It is true and you can do it that way. Our body is
made up of many joints and the small parts, so it is easy to shift the hip joints to keep the
balance. For instance, if you want to shift your balance to your left side without lifting your
right leg, all you have to do is to shift your hips to the left or simply lean your upper body to
the left side. This is easy and what’s wrong with that? You would know the answer only if you
are practicing bujutsu karate. In bujutsu (life and death fighting) you must minimize your
body movements to prevent detection by your opponent or your slightest movement
becomes a tell-tale. Keeping the balance by shifting gamaku enables you to stealthily move.
This is why developing gamaku is indeed critical and important in bujutsu karate. In the
modern day sports karate the competitors constantly jump up and down and in this
environment this subtlety is not required or needed. Just think, if two persons are fighting in
a duel with a knife in each others hand, would these people choose a tactic of jumping
around? Most likely not if you wish to survive. You would rather not be moving at all or only a
little and very slowly if you must. I respect the ancient masters who had considered this
aspect to this degree and their ability to create the exercises needed to build this technique.

To understand how gamaku is being applied, you need to

What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

understand the concept of the center of gravity in our body.

Now this concept is not rare or unique to the human being. In
fact, there is a center of gravity in almost everything we can
put our hands on. Many of you already know, the center of
gravity of our body when you are standing is located in our
mid section near the seika tanden. The exact location
changes constantly as we move. In addition to the concept of
“center of gravity” there is another concept which is important in martial art, center line of our

body which is called Chushinsen 中心線 in Japanese, literally

“center line” or Chushinjiku中心軸 (center axis). As we stand on our two legs, it extends
from the tip of your head to the tail bone as shown in the illustration (left). It is aided by at
least two more lines (right one in the illustration) which are called Soku jiku 側軸 (side axis).
I will not go further into this subject at this time. I suggest you will refer to my book, Shotokan
Mysteries where you will find a chapter in which I explained in depth on the center of gravity
and the center line of our body.

Let us do a small experiment. Imagine that you are standing straight up in front of a large
mirror (better if you really have one) in shizentai (natural stance). Pick a particular point in
the mirror scene (if possible, something right behind your head) and set your eye on it so
you can see if your body moves either left or right. Now lift up one of your knees (it does not

matter which one) just as you would prepare for a mae geri. Did you
notice that your body shifted or moved towards the supporting (or standing) leg? This is a
very natural thing and it is needed to keep your balance. Now try to do the same knee lift
without shifting or leaning? Could you? If you did it slowly you probably could not stay in the
same position but if you lifted your knee and put it down very quickly, maybe, you were able
to stay in the same position for a very short time. I suspect that you tensed your waist and
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

abdominal area at the very moment when you engaged in the quick motion of lifting your
knee and then returning to shizentai. Try it from zenkutsu dachi and see if you can do this. If
you could do this with the lifting of the knee then try a mae geri without shifting or leaning.
Could you? If you have not developed gamaku control you are unable to do this.

You probably have to lean, even a bit, to the supporting side to compensate the lost of
gravity. But, a lateral leaning is so visible that your opponent can easily detect your
movement. What most practitioners do are either lean to the supporting side or some kind of
fake movement (steps or hand movements) to muffle the kick as he cannot hide it. This is
exactly why the competitors of sports karate must jump up and down but this is another
subject so I will not go into a further explanation in this article. To be able to kick without
shifting you will need to “put” or apply a gamaku technique, an invisible shifting of the
internal organs to compensate the weight off-balance.

I need to add that there is also a center line looking from the side
of our body. Most of you may already know that we have to shift our center of gravity forward
if we wish to walk. This concept may be easier to understand as we walk daily. However, you
may not consciously realize that you are indeed doing the fine movements of getting off
balanced and recovering the balance every time we take a step. In fact you cannot move or
take a step to any directions if you do not shift the center of gravity or make yourself off
balanced first.

If you are a brown belt and above, you have practiced Bassai Dai many times so you know
the initial kamae where your hands are in yin & yan position with heisoku dachi. You may
have learned that the very meaning of Bassai is to break into a fortress and capture it. Thus,
your teacher probably told you to have a very fast and powerful first step. Do you remember
that? Do you also remember if he taught you how to do it more than “go faster”? Probably
not. I see many practitioners bend their knees in this initial stance. I know why. This position
can get you off the stance and you can jump forward much faster. However, I am sorry that
you are not supposed to bend your knees in this stance. I also see this error in Tekki
Shodan, too. Did you know that you are not supposed to bend your knees here either?
Believe it or not, these two katas are exactly the katas to learn how to develop gamaku. With
Bassai (Dai and Sho), you learn how to catapult yourself to the front and with Tekki you learn
how to step aside quickly by shifting gamaku. This particular technique is one of the
important techniques you are supposed to learn from those two katas. Yes, this is the
method every sensei should teach for the first step of Bassai and Tekki. As I mentioned
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

earlier that I have already written a chapter, “Unstable Balance”, in my book, Shotokan
Mysteries, on this particular subject. Please read this chapter for the details as I explained
how to control and manage your body to have an explosive and fluid movement.

I need to go further with Tekki. This kata is amazing that it has so many important training
points that are not normally explained in the Shotokan dojo training. I have written an article
on this and it (The secret teaching points of Tekki) was featured in Classical Fighting Arts
magazine last year. I introduced the concept of “invisible leg” and its training in Tekki
namigaeshi. Yes, one of the bunkai for this technique is a foot block, a kick to the opponent’s
knee, etc. But, unfortunately, it is almost all forgotten or ignored that the most important
objective of namigaeshi technique is to develop strong gamaku.

I can post many photos of the shotokan practitioners

who are demonstrating the beautiful invisible leg technique. I will share one here (I believe
this is done by JKA Miyata sensei). Of the two photos above, the one on the right
demonstrates the invisible leg (of right leg). He lifted his right leg without leaning to his left to
balance by using his gamaku to lift the leg up. Almost any yudansha can do this for a split
second with a great effort but it is difficult to keep the upper body relaxed and sustain the
balance for a half a second or longer to execute the proper namigaeshi in Tekki. What you
need to do is not only tensing the right waist area but also (the more challenging) you need
to shift or push the internal organs to the left side to balance while the right leg is in the air.
The more gamaku control you have developed, the longer you can stay in the air. The
benefit in the actual bunkai is an undetected kick for an example. The opponent will not see
the tell tale sign by your upper body leaning or moving while you are throwing a kick.

Here are two training video clips by Goju-ryu instructor explaining gamaku application with
mae geri. Sorry it is in Japanese only but you can pick up the points he is trying to teach.

Goju ryu’s gamaku training video Part 1


Gamaku training Part 2


OK, let us go to the second method.

What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

In this method, they emphasize the side muscles called abdominal oblique that connects the
hips and the upper body. In fact there are several layers of these muscles in the abdominal
region. One is the Internal abdominal oblique and the inner one is called the transverse
abdominis (see illustration below).

As we cannot feel the internal muscles

even if we are aware that these muscles exist. This is why the Okinawan masters had to
refer to the soft area at the edge of our waist which is mostly our skin and fat as “gamaku”.
For this reason, if the application of gamaku is explained in textbooks showing this area as
the application part, it can cause some confusion. You need to receive an in depth
explanation from an expert to truly understand where it is done. The hidden fact is you use
the internal muscles to stabilize the connection between the hip region and the upper body
to achieve better balance and the maximum power in a technique that is executed. I have
explained that for the first method, Bassai can be used to train the gamaku application for
the quick forward shifting. For the second method, it is said that Seisan or Seishan is used.
By the way, Seisan kata is the forefather of Hangetsu, a familiar kata for the Shotokan

practitioners. In Seisan a training practitioner uses Sanchin stance,

on the other hand in Hangetsu we use Hangetsu stance. Sanchin is a much shorter stance
(see the photo left, Uechi ryu or Pan Gai Noon) and the practitioner must learn how to
generate the power and stability by tensing the inner muscles that are located at the sides of
the waist. You tense them alternatively left and right as you take the steps and execute the
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

upper body techniques both blocking and punching. It is important to note that all through
the process, you must keep your lower buttock muscles tight and pull the bottom of the
pelvis forward so that the seika tanden area will be also pushed forward. As the kata
performer takes a step forward, the inner thigh muscles should be tensed to create a stable
stance when a stance is locked in. This maneuver or mechanism here is in fact a part of
Chinkuchi which is in the future plan bucket. The important point I must add here is that our
body is holistic and works together. In other words, all the parts are not only joined but united
(or coordinated). In fact, you cannot move one muscle without affecting all the others no
matter how small it may be. So, when you apply the gamaku technique it must coordinate
with other mechanisms such as chinkuchi and muchimi. By “coordinate” I mean both
increase and decreasing the tensions in different parts of our body. It may sound confusing
but think of our body as an orchestral group with many different musical instruments. If all
the instruments played loud it will not create music. Each instrument must coordinate and
play its part (loud, quiet, slow, fast, etc) to make beautiful music. Our brain is the conductor
and it is up to the brain to conduct the different instruments, our muscles.

Anyway, this mechanism of inner muscle tension is difficult to explain with just words, but if
you have been practicing Hangetsu with the deep breathing method then the explanation
above will easily make sense to you. I have written an article on Hangetsu and explained the
true purpose of this kata and the mystery of its stance. In it, I did not, of course, refer to
Gamaku but I did explain the necessity of tightening the buttock muscles and connecting the
upper thigh muscles use in order to attain the correct stance and the power of the technique.
For the details of the execution and the unique explanation of Hangetsu kata, please refer to
my book, Shotokan Myths (page 157).

I assume Tekki kata is also used to learn the gamaku application which is applied to one
side of the waist. The example techniques of Tekki best suited for this training are probably
kagi zuki and mawashi enpi uchi, even though one can train gamaku in every technique. In
addition, as you progress in this method a practitioner learns reverse breathing method
(expand the abdominal area as you exhale and reverse) to bring the internal organs up and
down for better balance as well as for more sinking power to aid an upper body technique.

In the second method, the emphasis, at least initially, is placed on one side of the waist
instead of the total abdominal area. I assume the stage of developing gamaku at the side of
the abdominal area is only a start as it is more difficult to develop the total control of all
abdominal muscles. Eventually, the second method will advance to the total control of the
internal muscles of the abdominal region which will be the same objective as the first


In general, though the area each method specifies is slightly different but the basic concept
of gamaku and its application is very similar. More importantly for the Shotokan practitioners
that despite the term, Gamaku being foreign the applications I described above can be
trained by simply practicing some Shotokan katas. In addition, I believe we regularly practice
What is Gamaku? ”ガマク”って何? – Asai Shotokan Association International

the buttock tightening and pushing the pelvis forward in our kihon.

In the photo shown here (right), you can see that Sensei
Kagawa 香川政夫 of JKS is teaching a student a gyaku zuki technique. In fact, this photo
comes from his instruction video and some of the readers may have a copy. Here, Sensei
Kagawa stressed that the punching shoulder needs to stay down and also the importance of
the hip region that is connected to the supporting leg (left leg if it is a left gyaku zuki). He
does not use the term of gamaku but the concept he tried to covey was very similar to the
second method described above. Other Shotokan experts and senior instructors such as
Asai 浅井, Kanazawa 金澤 and Yahara 矢原 (photo below) teach the importance of seika
tanden and inner muscles though they do not use the term of gamaku.

This means the Okinawa karate concepts of balancing and

generating power have been handed down to the modern day Shotokan karate.
Unfortunately, it seems some important objectives and methods of kata teaching have not
been widely taught. I notice that the popularity of bunkai study is increasing which is a
welcomed trend. I hope more Shotokan practitioners will add the internal muscle exercise
and training as they practice these katas mentioned above.

I am confident that you will be able to improve your karate techniques in general as you
develop gamaku ability. Now that you have learned what gamaku means and that the
training method is readily available to us, there is no excuse for us not to include it in our

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Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

« Are the ASAI exercises really necessary? 浅井空手の運動が

Organization 必要な理由
Instructors When will a person be considered as dead? 「死」は何時起こる
F.A.Q. か  »
Should karate be one style? 空手は一
Membership 流派にすべきか
Macedonian Many people (at least the
Blog Japanese people) remember clearly that Judo (柔道) was
Turkish inducted into the Olympics in 1964 at the first Tokyo
Blog Games. Then at the 1988 Seoul Games, Taekwondo was
Ukrainian allowed as a demonstration event, and then became an
Blog official Olympic event at the 2000 Sydney Games. Many
简 karate coaches and the practitioners were very happy
体 when they heard the announcement last year by the IOC
中 (International Olympic Committee) that Karate was one of
文 the sports events added to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
This means that as far as the induction into the Olympics,
Karate is 30 years behind Taekwondo and more than half a
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

century behind Judo. I know that WKF (World Karate Federation) and JKF
(Japan Karate Federation) had tried many times to get karate in the Olympics
but were unsuccessful until now. You would wonder why.

Some people may know that the main reason why Karate had to wait until now
was that it has many different styles. On the other hand, Judo and Taekwondo
are “single” styles. Judo originated from Jujutsu. Though Jujutsu had many
different styles, Jigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎, photo left) made a new style, Judo and
separated it from the other Jujutsu (柔術) styles.  Though the Korean people
want to hide or deny the historic fact, Taekwondo originated from Shotokan
karate after World War II. Therefore, coming from a single source, it was easy
to stay as one style.

For the Olympic supporters, this diversity of karate styles was a bad thing. It is
mainly because the many styles have their own kata and different methods of
execution of technique. Many readers know that we have four major styles in
traditional karate; Shotokan (松濤館), Shito ryu (糸東流), Goju ryu (剛柔流), and
Wado ryu (和道流). It was not surprising then, to see those four major traditional
styles would be included in the 2020 Games. To resolve the problems of
different kata between the styles, WKF picked a few kata from the list of kata of
each style. This is called shitei (指定) kata meaning “appointed” kata. These kata
are used during the eliminations before the competitors can do their own kata
or jiyu (自由) kata.
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

The shitei kata are:

The first round; Kanku dai and Jion (Shotokan), Seishan and Chinto (Wado ryu).
Seienchin and Bassai dai (Shito ryu), Saifa and Sepai (Goju ryu).

The second round; Kanku sho and Enpi (Shotokan), Niseishi and Kushanku
(Wado ryu), Matsumura Rohai and Nipaipo (Shito ryu), Kururunfa and Seisan
(Goju ryu).

First of all, I am not sure how these kata were chosen. As I do not know the kata
from other styles (I know only Shotokan), I cannot compare the degree of
difficulty between the kata. Therefore, I cannot say that the kata that were
selected are fair for all of the participants.

In addition to those four major traditional styles, there are many other karate
styles, though they may not be as popular or well known. Some of those styles
include Shorin ryu (少林流), Uechi ryu (上地流), Ryuei ryu (劉衛流), Isshin ryu (一
心流), and Chito ryu (千唐流). The practitioners from these styles can participate
in the Olympic trials. However, to be able to compete in the kata elimination
bouts, the other style participants need to know the WKF selected (Shitei) kata.
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

The problem was not only with the kata.

When the possibility of karate being admitted to the Olympics, Kyokushinkai (極
真会 Mas Oyama style), a full contact style, expressed their desire to be included
in the kumite event. They (Kyokushinkai management) must have felt that they
needed to be on the band wagon if they wish to be counted as one of the major
karate styles. To prove that any Karate style can play under one umbrella of
karate, JKF accepted them. Of course, Kyokushinkai had to promise that their
competitors would abide by the non-contact rule in the Olympic matches. I was
amazed when I heard this, as I am not sure how they will be able to do this. I
am not even sure if that is even possible. Regardless, they promised to do this
so that they can participate in the Olympics.

By observing these changes, we can clearly see one thing. WKF/JKF eliminated,
at least minimized, the differences between the styles so that they can satisfy
the requirements by the IOC. In other words, all the different styles can look
like one style that is called “Karate”. If you are already involved in the WKF
(World Karate Federation) tournaments, you may feel it is natural and this is
already happening around the world. Many people will probably consider this is
a “good thing” for Karate.

I agree that dropping the barrier between styles is a good thing for Karate.
Learning the kata of another style may be also beneficial. On the other hand, I
am one of the (most likely few) karate practitioners/instructors who oppose
Karate being in the Olympics. I oppose from several different aspects.

1. The first objection is its obese commercialism. I am sure I do not need to

explain much on this subject. I have already written an essay about the bad
effect of commercialism from the Olympics to Karate, so this is not
necessary in this essay.
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

2. The second reason for my opposition is degradation of the tradition, such

as karate etiquette, budo (武道) manners, etc. In the Olympic karate,
winning becomes the ultimate goal. I am afraid some competitors will
cheat or bend the rules in order to win. I have written an essay on this
subject as well, thus I will not repeat the discussion in this essay.
3. And finally I wish to bring up the biggest reason for my opposition, which
is the main subject of this essay. I am seriously concerned the involvement
of karate in the Olympics will result in the degradation of the Karate skill
itself. You may consider this claim to be an exaggeration but let me

I am going to discuss how this change (the Olympics) will bring a serious
detrimental effect on Karate. In fact, it is already happening, to some extent, at
tournaments held by WKF, but the excitement and the commercial power of the
Olympics will certainly increase this trend.

Here are my feared effects on both kumite and kata. Let’s start with kumite.


As I have mentioned earlier a full contact style (Kyokushinkai practitioners) are

now allowed to participate in the kumite event. This is the biggest change in the
fighting style example, but there are other cases. If you have practiced Goju ryu
(photo right) or Uechi ryu, you are aware that their fighting styles are based on
a close distance fighting theory. In other words, their main fighting strategy is
when the opponents are within the arms’ reach or less than a meter away.
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

So, what’s wrong with this? First, let’s take the Kyokushinkai situation. The
practitioners of that style, in their normal training, they hit and kick their
opponents in full swing with the intention of knocking them down. They do not
train to stop their attacks before the impact. They also do not train just to touch
the opponent to get a point. If they make “excessive” contact as ruled by the
WKF judges those competitors will lose through a foul. Therefore, they have to
change not only their training routine but also the fundamental training

This is the same situation for the competitors from Goju ryu and Uechi ryu.
Even though they do not train to hit the opponents in full power, their fighting
method is also based on a close distance fighting. This is why they assume neko
ashi dachi and sanchin dachi in their training. Goju ryu often use knee kicks and
short mae ashi (front leg) kicks. Uechi ryu’s kamae is with open hand and the
use of boshi ken (拇指拳) or thumb fist (photo left). They strike with the knuckle
of the thumbs. They also use a lot of nukite, finger thrust. So these signature
techniques have to be dropped for the WKF kumite tournaments.

In fact, when you watch these kumite matches you cannot differentiate the
styles among the competitors. Surprisingly, the fighting style change did not
happen only to the Goju ryu and Uechi ryu. Believe it or not, it happened to the
Shotokan practitioners as well. In the 60’s and the 70’s when I was active in
tournament kumite, we would never hop or jump as we fought. The change
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

came to Shotokan when JKA joined JKF (WUKO at that time) in the 80’s. Kumite
by the Shotokan practitioners changed from the strong Ippon attack to light and
quick touching style. In order to win by the rules this was necessary.

So, what is wrong with this? You may say that those young competitors will
retire at the age of 30 or so, then they can return to their original style and
continue their own training so that the uniqueness of the style can be
preserved. Or you may say that the competitors are only the young people so
the old sensei can continue their own training to keep their style. This is
theoretically correct, however, real life is different.

Here is a typical Shotokan dojo. I figure a typical dojo of Shito ryu, Wado ryu or
Goju ryu is probably very similar. I bring up a Shotokan dojo as an example only
because I am most familiar with this style. A typical dojo must have many child
and youth members to survive (financially). Most of the large scale dojo with the
membership of 50 or more must consist of 50% or more of youth members
(younger than 18 years old). The parents of those young members want their
children to be trained so that their sons and daughters have a chance to
compete in the Olympics. Does this sound familiar?

In addition, I have been witnessing that many dojo advertise that they support
Karate being in the Olympics, because that will attract the young people and
potentially increase the membership of that dojo. Despite the fact only a few
talented competitors will be chosen for the Olympics and the possibility of the
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

participation is almost zero for most young practitioners, but it does not matter.
Parents still want to see their children try for it. In many cases the parents have
a stronger desire for this than the youth themselves.

This means two things. First, the daily training menu will be designed to match
with the tournament karate. All the young practitioners will not be exposed to
the unique fighting method of their karate style. Second, the senior
practitioners who retired from competitions have to stay with the same menu
and they need to help their kohai (後輩) for competition. Of course, the
instructors will be too occupied with teaching youths so they will have almost
no chance to train their retired students in the traditional way that they had
learned when they were young.

So, it will be impossible for that dojo to either train the new students in the
original or traditional way and to preserve that kind of training with the senior
students. As the result, all the practitioners, young and senior in that dojo will
continue to train only the tournament type of kumite. In other words, the unique
short distance fighting method will soon disappear as it will be considered as
“useless” or “infeasible” for Olympic kumite.


The situation is very similar here, but it is made even worse with kata problem.
It is worse because it affects all of the styles. In kumite situation, the ill effect of
tournament kumite may be less for the long distance fighting method styles
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

such as Shotokan and Wado ryu. The serious ill effect will be felt among the
short distance fighting method styles such as Goju ryu and Uechi ryu.

I am sure you can easily guess what specifically I am concerned about with kata
training. Correct….most of the competitors will practice only the Shitei kata and
maybe their favorite kata. For the Shotokan practitioners, they must be
extremely good with Kanku dai and Jion first, then Kanku sho and Enpi. The
foundation or essential kata for Shotokan include Bassai dai and Tekki. In
addition, Hangetsu and Jitte are very important. Of course, the other kata are
also important but I doubt the competitors will practice them. In fact, Hangetsu,
Meikyo and Jiin are almost being forgotten in the daily training of many
Shotokan dojo.

Even though those four Shitei kata are not complete they represent the core
concept of Shotokan kata. How about if you are a competitor from Uechi ryu?
The main kata are Sanchin, Kanshiwa, Kanshu, Seichin, Seisan, Seirui, Kanchin
and Sanseirui.  Seisan is the only kata found in the Shitei kata list. This kata is
taken from Goju ryu so even if the kata names are the same I am not sure if the
kata are performed the same. I suspect they will be different in the details even
if they happen to be similar. Many Okinawan styles have kobudo (古武道) or
weapon kata for bo, sai, tonfa and nunchaku. Definitely those kata and their
training will be either forgotten or ignored in the dojo that focus on the
Olympics entry.

I believe each kata is a module or a treasure box that contains the essence of
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

karate techniques stored by the ancient masters. I honestly equate the loss of
the kata as the disappearance of that style. It is my belief that the kata of a style
are the soul of that style.


Sports karate is becoming more and more popular each year. The induction of
karate into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will certainly strengthen this trend. Its
attraction is almost irresistible. Literally millions of young people will practice
sports karate hoping that they will be selected to be one of the Olympic

The preparation not only for the Olympics but also for any of the major
tournaments will mean a whole dojo effort. Even though it is possible to divide
the dojo members between the tournament competitors and the traditionalists
so that they would have separate training menus, I doubt it would happen in
most of the dojo. I also doubt the retired sport competitors to drop their
training menu and start the traditional way from scratch. They most likely will
become the coaches and sensei to teach the sports karate to the young people.

The tournament rules will change the kumite styles and the fighting
methodology. Those rules will force the competitors from all different styles to
fight in one way. The close distance fighting will be lost among the Goju ryu,
Uechi ryu and other Nahate styles if they join this trend.

In addition, we already know that many of the effective techniques in a real

fight such as groin kick, eye jabbing, finger techniques, chokes, joint
Should karate be one style? 空手は一流派にすべきか – Asai Shotokan Association International

techniques, etc. have already been excluded. These techniques are already no
longer a part of the regular training menu.

WKF chose a few kata from the major four styles. In order to compete in an
elimination bout, a competitor must practice those kata. There are many other
kata that are considered important in these styles. However, they will become
less attractive and some will be completely ignored in regular training. If you
believe as I do that the essence of the style we train are contained in those kata,
losing any of the kata means the degradation of the style.

Let me give you an analogy that may be easier to understand. There are many
different kinds of ball games around the world. In England and Australia a ball
game means rugby. In most of the Latin American countries, it is soccer. In the
USA, of course it is American football. There are many other ball games such as
baseball, basketball, volleyball to name a few. Can you imagine if you try to
combine them all to make one “ball game”? Even if it is possible to come up
with such a game, there will be no more excitement in that game of a rugby or

Therefore, my conclusion in this subject is very simple and straight forward.

Though the majority of the karate practitioners may consider sports karate is a
good thing, I oppose the trend with all my heart. I do because I fear the soul of
karate will be lost if the different karate styles disappear and becomes one style
under WKF.

At the end let me share a quote by a Zen Buddhist, Taisen Deshimaru (弟子丸

泰仙 1914 – 1982). In 1967, Deshimaru went to Europe and settled in Paris. He
founded the Association Zen Internationale in 1970, and La Gendronnière in
1979. He was much respected and published many books. By the time he died
he had solidly established Zen practice in the West. He commented on budo
(martial arts) and shiai (competition).

“Train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of
competition and power that presides over them is not good, it reflects a
distorted vision of life. The root of the martial arts is not there.”
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

« Are the Japanese sensei gods? 日本人の空手の先生は神様

Organization か?
Instructors Qu’est-ce que le tanden ? 丹田とは何ぞや? »
What is the most important
(Español) training point in budo karate? 武道
English に?
Turkish Before you try to answer to this
Blog question, be aware that I placed the word “budo” in front
Ukrainian of karate. This means that my question is specifically
Blog geared for budo or martial art karate and not sport karate.

OK then we need to define budo and agree to the concept

so we can discuss the question. Most likely the readers
know that Budo (武道) is a term describing
modern Japanese martial arts. Literally translated budo
means the “Martial Way”, and may be thought of as the
“Way of War”. Budo is a compound of the kanji, bu (武),
meaning war battles, military power, or martial arts;
and do (道), obviously means path or way. I am sure we all
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

agree with the translation.

Thus, in budo karate, we train to defend our life in a critical condition.

Therefore, I am sure that you will agree that the purpose of our training in budo
karate is not to learn how to win a point in a kumite competition or to execute a
kata in an attractive way to earn a high score in a kata competition.

So, after agreeing to that what do you think is the most important element in
karate training?  Some people may pick speed, power or distance as the most
important. Other people may say bunkai or application. And some old timer may
insist on kihon or kata. There are so many other elements that are important
such as breathing or concentration, etc. etc. There are so many elements it is
quite difficult to pin down the most important.  So, what do you think?

Yes, all those listed above are indeed

important. I do not disagree with that. But, you may be surprised if I tell you
that none of them is the most important element in budo karate. Then what is
the most important one? The most important element, as far as budo karate is
concerned, by far, is the mind-set. If you do not agree, check the fifth kun of
Funakoshi Nijukun (船越二十訓). You will find this kun: 技術より心術 (gijutsu yori
shinjutsu). This is a short kun and is often translated as “mentality or spirit”
over technique. I am truly impressed that Master Funakoshi put this in the fifth
place out of twenty important precepts. It is very obvious he considered it as
one of the most important concepts.

I have written a deeper translation of Funakoshi Nijukun a few years ago. It is

included in one of the books I published, Shotokan Transcendence. I quote the
explanation which I wrote for #5 kun below.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

This translation needs further explanation to understand the deep meaning of

this kun. Let me explain the meaning of each word and that should help us
understand this important kun. Gijutsu (技術) means technique but gi 技 itself
means technique and jutsu (術) means art, way, method and means. So, it means
technical method or technical way. So, it does not necessarily mean karate
techniques. When we say “gijutsu sha” or gijutsu person we mean an engineer
and craftsman. Regardless, by gijutsu, he meant the physical karate techniques.

Then what is shinjutsu (心術)? Shin means heart, mind and intelligence. So, we
may quickly translate shinjutsu as mind way or intelligent way, however, this
translation is not exactly what Funakoshi really wanted it to mean. The
Japanese word shin (心) has many meanings and it is a very important word for
the Japanese. Shin can mean heart and also center or core (kan 幹). It can even
mean stomach or guts (hara 腹). Samurai considered shin and hara to be the
center of their samurai spirit or value. This is why they cut the belly when they
committed seppuku or harakiri to show that their center is pure. I do not think
Funakoshi was thinking of harakiri but he was thinking of the samurai spirit. He
was thinking of Gojo no toku 五常の徳 which is the five virtues of Confucian.
Those virtues are Jin 仁 (benevolence), Gi 義 (justice), Rei 礼 (courtesy), Chi 智
(wisdom), Shin 信 (trust). I will write about Bushido in the near future and I will
include further explanation of Gojo no toku there.

To read the full article at my blog, access the following URL:

What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

Samurai also believed the importance of

hara (guts), thus shinjutsu. Some kenjutsu styles such as Jigen ryu (示現流) have
dropped almost all of the complex techniques. They teach you to bring your
sword over your head and just bring it down. That is it. They also practice
hitting the bundled wood sticks repeatedly with a bokken, wooden sword (photo
below). Here is a short video of Jigen-ryu demonstration:


As you can see in the video these practitioners showed no fancy techniques.
They repeatedly pounded on the wood sticks with a screaming ki-ai like a mad


In fact, the karate historians suspect that this practice is the fore-father of
Karate’s makiwara. Jigen ryu was invented in Satsuma, southern Kyushu island,
the nearest island to Okinawa. Some of the Okinawan karate practitioners, such
as Sokon Matsumura (松村宗棍), visited the Satsuma clan (Okinawa was
occupied by Satsuma Clan in 1609) to learn their kenjutsu, Jigen ryu. It is easy
to guess that those Okinawan karateka had learned the practice of hitting the
wood sticks with bokken. They brought this practice back to Okinawa and from
there they invented the makiwara for the karate training purpose. OK that is
enough of this side track story.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

So, back to the main subject. The

samurai believed the importance of hara or guts and shinjutsu (mastery of mind
or emotion). After reading the article mentioned above, did you think I had
covered the full explanation of shinjutsu? I am sure you agree that I had not.
You must have felt that something was somehow missing. Yes, I purposely left
out one thing in the explanation. This shinjutsu must include Heijoshin (平常心)
to explain why Funakoshi put shinjutus above gijutsu. You may recall that I have
already touched on Heijoshin in another article recently but I will explain briefly
what this important word means again.  Hei (平) means flat and jo (常) means
constant. As you know that shin (心) means heart or spirit, all three kanji
combined means flat and constant heart. In our daily lives it is difficult for us to
keep a peaceful mind as we get surprised, upset, angry, sad or even frightened. 
So, heijoshin means the ability to keep a peaceful mind.  Then, shinjutsu means
the technique or training to build or form heijoshin. A sport karate enthusiast
may come back and say, “Hey, we also need heijoshin to prepare ourselves for a
tournament especially for the big events such as national and world
championships. So, why do you specify it to ‘budo’ karate?” It is true that a
tournament competitor needs to have a calm and peaceful mind. I respect the
tournament competitors for their enthusiasm and dedication to their karate
training. If they are nervous, upset or shaky, then they will not be able to
perform to best of their ability. Having said that, I am afraid the degree of stress
is vastly different between a tournament competitor and budo karate. In budo,
we practice on the assumption that our fighting is for life and death. I am sure
you will agree facing an assailant with a gun or a knife is quite different from an
opponent in kumite even if it is a full contact tournament.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

When an enemy with a gun or a knife is facing you, a serious degree of mind
control will, naturally be required by anyone. First, you must control your fear.
Secondly, you need to be able to make some quick and correct decisions. You
must determine quickly if this is the time to fight or to surrender depending on
the intention of the assailant. If the assailant simply wants to take your money
or even your car, it is definitely wiser to let him have it rather than risking your
life to save the material loss. On the other hand, if this person is intending to
harm you or a family member, you may have to fight. Especially if he is thinking
of killing you, you have no choice but to fight to save yourself or your family
members. This is, indeed, a life or death fight and this is exactly when a cool
mind is needed the most. Even if you had no fear, you will fail and get killed if
you are too excited and become reckless and/or careless. At this critical time
you need to be able to execute the techniques as you have practiced so many
times in your dojo. It is easy to say this but to be able to do all these things is
considerably more difficult than you can imagine. In this situation, your physical
techniques may be important but your mind or mental techniques (heijoshin) is
needed first. In other words, if you can maintain a cool head your techniques
can be average or to an extreme you may not even need the karate techniques.
Even if you have little karate or martial art training, if one can punch or kick,
you may be able to defend yourself in a critical situation using the cool mind
and making the right decisions.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

So, how can you de velop and maintain

heijoshin? Well, this was a core question for the samurai all through the feudal
period (from the 13th century to the first half of the 19th century). I am sure
they were scared of dying and fighting in a battle. Heijoshin certainly did not
come naturally or easily even in the period of samurai and it is certainly more
difficult now. If it did not come naturally to the samurai how did they learn or
train this mind set? This is an extremely important question and more martial
artists should ask. I am afraid this particular and extremely important area is
often ignored in the martial arts including karate training.

he samurai children started their training early. The male children at the age of
seven would receive a knife from their father. At a genpuku (元服 attaining
manhood) ceremony (photo above), held typically at the age of 12 to 16, the
male children will learn the etiquette and method of seppuku (切腹 hara-kiri,
how to cut the belly). I understand that the female children also had to learn
how to use the knife if they had to commit suicide to protect their virginity or
honor (they typically cut their neck). They were also forced to watch the other
samurai’s seppuku and the execution (decapitation or crucification) of the
criminals to get used to seeing the blood and the killing. Of course, the samurai
children as young as 3 or 5 years old would start their martial arts training
including kenjutsu (剣術 sword), sojutsu (槍術 spear), kyujutsu (弓術 archery),
etc. During the civil war period (the 13th – 15th centuries), the samurai children
after genpuku would be required to join the fighting group to experience a
battle, even just to observe if they were too young to fight.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

One practice they relied on was zazen or zen meditation. I will not go deep into
this subject in this article, though it is an interesting one. Most of the readers
know that this is a special meditation practice typically performed by a certain
sect of Buddhist monks. They open their temples for  the commoners to practice
zazen. Regardless, it is probably very difficult for most of the western readers to
find such a temple in the US or Europe. So, though this is a very useful method
I will not cover it here. Maybe I will focus on this subject sometime in the future
as it is a fascinating practice.

The samurai used to polish their swords

periodically. They used to take care of the long swords to kill the others and the
short one to kill himself. They did a few other preparations. The samurai
parents used to send their male children to the sites where they had the open
execution of the prisoners. The young sons had to watch the executions to “get
used to” the blood (killing) of a person. As I have mentioned earlier, when the
sons reach the age of seven or so, they will receive a knife and typically around
12 years or so, they received a set of katana (a long and a short swords) as a
part of genpuku ritual. At the same time, they were taught the method of
seppuku and the detailed ritual that comes with a seppuku incident. The high
level samurai houses used to have a small room specifically saved for a seppuku
ritual. The children are taught about this room and told never to step inside this
room other than for the specific purpose of seppuku. So, the samurai faced and
learned about a death situation very often, mostly for the purpose of preparing
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

their minds.”

OK but you may say, “We are living in the 21st century so we cannot have such
experiences”. You are correct, but does this mean there is no method for us to
gain the heijoshin mind other than just wishing? No, do not be discouraged. In
fact, there is a method and it is easy enough that anyone can practice it. I am
happy to share it with you here.

Before I go into explaining the method of training, I need to give you a brief
historical background first to set the stage. After the battle of Sekigahara (関ケ
原の合戦) in 1600, the civil war period ended and the peaceful period (no major
battles) of some 250 years started. This “peaceful” or without the battles period
for the samurai lasted during the 17th, 18th and into the first half of the 19th
centuries. During the war period of the 16th century, battles and killing were
very common. Therefore, it was natural that the samurai were accustomed to
seeing death all around them. On the other hand, when the peaceful period
lasted more than two centuries, it became less and less common for the samurai
to see the people getting killed and to get involved in a fight to kill someone.
Though there were some seppuku (hara-kiri) incidents once in a while, but
surprisingly many samurai never had to draw their swords even once (to fight)
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

throughout their life time.

Now during the peaceful period that they lived in became similar to the modern
day environment. It may be, ironically, more dangerous in the 21 st century USA
than the 18th century Japan. Despite the “peaceful” society, the samurai still
had to carry their swords all day. If they are ordered to kill someone or
themselves, they had to follow the order without any protest or objection. That
was the samurai code and almost everyone followed it to the letter without
questioning. Though the situation of the samurai looks similar to that of the
modern day soldiers, it differs greatly as the samurai had to follow the order
without asking why and refusing or even failing an order meant death to

Dying is probably the scariest thing or the biggest disturbance to your mental
condition. Just imagine the situation if your doctor tells you, after a physical
examination, that you have a terminal cancer. Can you maintain a calm mind?
Most of us cannot. Even for a samurai, I am sure it was a scary thing for many
of them to face death right in front of them especially when they found that they
had to do hara kiri. Theoretically, a seppuku (hara kiri) could happen to any of
the samurai if they fail in their daily duty.

Therefore, they had to do something to overcome this fear of facing death even
if they had no more battles. Of course, most of them practiced kenjutsu and
other bujutsu (martial arts) to build the budo and samurai spirit. They did zen
meditation and all other special ceremony (genpuku) and samurai customs, but
most of these methods do not apply to the modern day people including the
Japanese people.

What can we do to avert or overcome this fear? This is the main subject that I
want to share in this article and present an idea as a model that can be
practiced fairly easily by any of us.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

So, what else did they do? Believe it

or not, it was a simple thing they did. Many of them recited daily that it could
be his last day and promised to die with honor if death was necessary. They did
this first thing in the morning when they prayed in front of the in house shrine
(kamidana 神棚) or temple (butsudan 仏壇) before they ate breakfast. This
practice is based on the same concept of reciting Dojo kun (道場訓, photo left)
after every training. I also understand that many Christian people recite the
Lord’s Prayer daily. I am sure other religions have the similar practices of
reciting something important. I do not know if reciting “Today may be my last
day” will help you to develop heijoshin, but this is what I have picked up many
years ago. We will see if this will help me at the critical moment which may or
may not be dramatic.  But one thing I am 100% sure of is that my last day will
come one day, but I just do not know when. No matter what situation I may be
in at that moment, I want to be ready. I say this because I believe the way I
finish my last day and that very moment will determine if I died as a samurai or

I suspect that some people may object to my statement. They may say, “The title
of this article is ‘the most important training point’ but your reciting does not
happen in your dojo training. So, you are not giving us an idea that we can use
in our dojo, or are you?” This question is fair. I recite this in my bed (as I do not
have a Kamidana in my house) when I wake up or when I look at my face in the
mirror right before I wash my face in the morning. It is true that it does not
happen strictly in a dojo. Having said that, this does not mean this is not
happening in my karate training. Do you remember the 8th kun from Nijukun?
Funakoshi wrote, “Dojo nomino karate to omouna (道場のみの空手と思うな)”. In
this kun he told us that karate training must not happen only in our dojo. In
other words, he wanted us to expand our training to the life outside of the dojo.
He did not mean that you have to do kata in your living room (though that is a
good thing to do if you have a space for it). He was talking about how you walk,
sit, drive, etc. The ways of all other physical actions must be conducted in a
budo way. As this is a very important subject I wrote about this in my third
book, Shotokan Transcendence (available from Amazon books). The titles are
Jidosha Dojo (Automobile Dojo) and The Art of Perfect Shaving. In addition,
Funakoshi was also referring to our mental training during our normal daily
activities. I am not sure if he was thinking about reciting “today may be my last
day” but I am sure he would have approved as this helps the budo mind.
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

So, this is the answer to the big question of how do I develop or strengthen my
budo spirit. I do not know if this will work for you or even for myself. I cannot
tell you this until the very moment of my last day. However, one thing I can tell
you now is that I have the feeling of great peace right now and I am not afraid
of dying. We need to see if I can keep this feeling at the critical moment. If I can
then you can say I had a heijoshin. So, if you agree that overcoming of this
critical fear is the most important aspect of budo karate, please try my method.
You have nothing to lose from trying this.

3 Responses to What is the most important

training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古におい
Simon Dodd on September 23, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Nice article. If you don’t mind me saying I knew exactly where you were
going with this when you mentioned it in the comments about the National
Geographic video you shared on Facebook, but I didn’t want to bring it up
then and spoil your release. I now beg your indulgence and hope you won’t
mind me sharing 1) my response, and 2) a comment on your general
writings (positive so don’t worry :) )
What is the most important training point in budo karate? 武道空手の稽古において一番重要な要素とは如何に? – Asa...

1) I wrote about, and will be speaking at a conference about, this very

subject in a couple of weeks. I believe Budo martial arts (and cultural arts
such as Sado and Noh) have teaching methods designed specifically to
develop the core values of each art until they become intrinsically part of
the self. The influence of Confucian, Buddhist and Shintoist philosophies
are still evident in Budo, and I love your explanation of Shinjutsu that
supports the argument well. Funakoshi advocated kata as the principle
method, so some would say kata is the most important, but I feel you are
correct in your claim and that kata was simply seen as the best tool to lead
a student to this way of thinking; it unified more concepts than other
methods and helped unify the principles in mind and body. I referred to
kata as potentially being the ‘true essence of budo’, but I did so because it
contains and develops the fundamental philosophies of budo martial arts in
an embodied form; you could say it is the logical bridge for the 5th Kun.

2) I wanted to comment that I have always enjoyed your articles and,

whilst always interesting, I have noticed a fantastic improvement in your
writing style of late. The tone is less conversational (I have seen some
criticise your books for this in reviews) but remains very personal, the flow
is often cleaner and more logical and more concise, and the use of
evidence or information sources to back up your claims are well
articulated. I would also say the quality of the sources you reference is also
far higher (i remember someone criticising on Amazon reviews about your
use of wikipedia, which as far as i was concerned was fine as you were
often pointing to public misconceptions, and you can’t get more public than
wikipedia!). The articles are increasingly thought provoking and are likely
to stimulate wider debate and so I feel are achieving a most valuable and
overlooked goal to help promote budo martial arts. I commend you in your
work and hope you continue for a long time.


ASAI on October 6, 2017 at 11:13 am

Dear Sensei Simon,

Thank you very much for your comments and input.
I truly appreciate your review on my writing. Yes, many people had
pointed out that I should not use Wikipedia as a reference. I was
ignorant when I first writing some ten years ago. I no longer use
Wikipedia to reference. I use the quotes and reference from the more
reliable sources such as medical journal, etc.
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

« Improve your breathing 呼吸法の上達

Organization A big mystery of Funakoshi 船越翁のミステリー  »
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラ
PF. ドックスとは
Russian Maybe the readers are perplexed when they see the title
Blog of this essay. I am happy if it made you curious. In fact, I
Spanish believe there are two big paradoxes in Japanese budo
Blog (martial art) such as kenjutsu (sword fencing), kyudo
Persian (Japanese archery), karate, etc. As this essay is written for
Blog the karate practitioners, I am focusing the discussion on
Macedonianthe karate (martial art without weapons) situation.
Blog You may already know the facts that I will present but you
Ukrainian may not consider them to be paradoxical or unnatural. Let
Blog me present my case and see what you think.

文 Paradox One:  
Chinese Karate is a martial art which means we teach and practice
Members techniques to maim and even kill our opponents.
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

Is maiming or killing a person a good thing? I am sure you will strongly deny
that. Then, are we teaching the students at our dojo how to be criminals? Of
course we are not. It is illegal to take action without a cause. On the other hand,
we are allowed to use necessary force when we must defend ourselves.

I found it interesting that beating up a person who is just passing by in the

street is a criminal act, but we are allowed to teach such a skill and the karate
sensei is well respected. We think nothing of the fact we are teaching and
learning “killing” techniques, because we know that we are doing it for self-
defense purposes.

Interesting that the main purpose for

learning and practicing budo with the weapons such as kenjutsu, iaido and
kyodo is not particularly for self-defense. We normally do not carry a sword or
bow and arrow in our daily life. They practice those arts for other purposes such
as discipline and mental training. Learning how to shoot a pistol may be quite
different. As it is mainly for the self-defense purpose. However, pistol shooting
is not a Japanese budo so I will not include it in this essay.

The legality is the same when it comes to learning or teaching how to cut a
person with a sword. However, there is a big difference between karate and
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

kenjutsu or iaido. That can become a sticky situation for karate practitioners. In
kenjtsu, of course one must have a tool or a weapon (a sword) to harm another
person. On the other hand, with karate you do not need any tool because your
body is a weapon. If a karate practitioner had to defend himself using his karate
skill and knocked out their opponent. He needs to worry if they would be sued
for the fact they knew karate and they might have retaliated too excessively.

In fact, a karate weapon, Nunchaku, is

illegal in most of the US and many of the western countries even to purchase or
own one. As you know most of the Nunchaku is only a pair of wooden or plastic
sticks. The steel or metal Nunchaku are being made but not popular as they are
much heavier, except for the light aluminum ones that are used for
demonstration purposes. It is very strange and unfair that carrying a pair of
wooden sticks is illegal while it is legal to carry a pistol or high power gun in
most of the states in the USA. This is an interesting subject, but we will not go
into this subject as we should focus on karate subject.

Paradox Two:

We all know that we are living in the world of high tech weapons including
missiles, rockets and nuclear bombs. On the other hand, karate is a hand to
hand combat. According to Webster dictionary karate is defined as follows: A
Japanese art of self-defense employing hand strikes and kicks to disable or

subdue an opponent.
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

Isn’t it amazing that karate is becoming popular in the world of nuclear bombs?
Recently karate has been accepted in the Olympic Games and they will debut in
the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The popularity of karate is at its all-time high.
According to one research, the world wide population of karate is now, believe it
or not, surpassing 100 million.

Comparing use of a nuclear weapon to karate may be too extreme. It is a fact,

however, that we live in the world where, at least in most of the countries, guns
are very popular and common.

Here are the statistics to show the

pervasiveness of firearms in the USA. According to an article in “The Guardian”
U.S. citizens own at least 265 million firearms. This means about one gun for
every American citizen including babies. The US is by far the number one
country to own guns. The distant second is Yemen with about 55 guns for every
100 people or one gun per capita.

Here is the full article on the gun numbers if you are interested.


In the country where karate originated, Japan, there is gun violence also each
year, though far less than most of the western countries. According to
Nippon.com the National Police Agency announced that there were only 22
shooting crimes in 2017. Members of organized crime syndicates or yakuza
were the perpetrators in 13 of the crimes. Amazingly only 3 people were killed
and 5 injured.
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

Here is the full article on the gun crimes in Japan.


Even if you are an expert in karate, your

chance of survival in a fight against an opponent with a gun or even a knife is
much less than when you have a gun in your hand. Some of the karate and
martial art instructors teach their students how to defend themselves in a fight
against an opponent armed with a knife or a gun. It is my personal opinion,
what they are doing is quite irresponsible if they believe an amateur person can
do those techniques in the real street fight or a hold up situation. Even if you
had trained on those techniques for several years, I do not think it is a wise idea
to risk one’s life fighting against an armed assailant.

Against an opponent with a knife or a gun, I recommend to my students not to

fight back but to give them your wallet and other valuables to save their lives.
Such an act is not cowardice but rather a wise choice and an excellent self-
defense tactic. The most stupid thing is to become a dead “hero” when the
opponent is asking only for material things.
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

Of course, it is a totally different story if the opponent is threatening your life or

the life of your loved ones. You have to fight to protect your loved ones and your
life. But, how many times do you think you will be in that situation in your life?
Typically, a robber or a gang member would not risk his life to assault you. If
you show that you are willing to fight to the death, you will be able to intimidate
him to back down. To do this, karate skill is not required. What is required is
your attitude and posture.

Then, why is the popularity of karate increasing around the world including
Japan? As I mentioned earlier, I do not think karate techniques can be a
sufficient self-defense weapon against an opponent with a gun. Is it increasing
because the average citizens believe otherwise? I do not think so. I believe the
people are looking at karate for different reasons.

For the children, I hear two major reasons. One is that the parents want their
children to learn karate so that they will not be easily bullied. The other main
reason is that the parents want the kids to learn discipline and etiquette.

When you ask the adult practitioners why they started to practice karate, you
will find something very interesting. Other than those whose parents forced
them to take karate, the most frequent reason is that they wanted to look like
Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. The kung fu movies from the 70’s and 80’s had a
great impact on the youths at that time. Mainly the young boys wanted to be
like a kung fu master just like many of the boys dreamed of being able to
become superman. While the superman is totally fictitious, a kung fu master
seemed to be realistic.

Of course, after training in karate most of us realized the super human like
The paradoxes of karate 空手のパラドックスとは – Asai Shotokan Association International

kung fu or karate master is also fictitious. Despite that, it did not stop them
from training as they discovered the other values such as respect,
perseverance, courage, honor, etc. I am sure I do not need to elaborate or
explain further as many of the readers have experienced what I described

I want to conclude this short essay with the final paradox of karate. Te, the old
name for karate used in Okinawa, originated hundreds of years ago. During the
time of the samurai, they had to develop hand to hand combat techniques. At
that time, they were literally fighting for life or death. Now in the 21 st century,
while we are enjoying more peaceful life, karate is becoming more and more
popular. It is not because karate can be used in a street fight but mainly
because it is a fun sport. Karate matches these days are totally safe with all
kinds of protectors. The competitors are allowed to use only safe techniques.
The dangerous techniques such as stubbing the eyes or kicking the groin are
prohibited and by using such a technique the competitors can lose the match.

Karate originated from the killing

techniques with bare hands and practiced only by a few selected samurai or
palace guards. Karate in the 21st century has become a very safe and a fun
activity enjoyed by millions of people. I am not sure if the ancient karate
masters of long ago who created Te with their sweat and blood would be happy