- THE CHICKEN
OR THE EGG
- The answer
is all in the timing
- Sometime time ago, I don't
remember exactly when, I was in the dojo practicing
standing punches in front of the mirrors and the darndest
thing jumped into my head. It was one of those odd sort
of riddles that make you think, as Arsinio Hall would
have said, "hmmmmmm".
- It was that immortal
question to which there seems to be no right answer,
"which came first the chicken or the egg".
- Now if you have ever been
asked to answer this particular question it should appear
fairly obvious that you really have only one of two
choices. You either cast your vote for the chicken, or
you cast your vote for the egg.
- In trying to reach a
conclusion in this matter one school of thought will
argue that the only the that way the chicken could have
come into existence in the first place, was if there had
first been an egg from which the chicken could have
hatched. The other school of thought will argue equally
passionately, that the exact opposite has to be true,
that the only way that the egg could have come into
existence in the first place was if there had first been
a chicken who could have laid the egg.
- It is usually right about
now that someone will then bring up one of the other
unanswered question in all of this. That being, if the
chicken indeed came before the egg, then the chicken that
laid the egg must have been a female, and if that was the
case, where does the roster fit in all of this, and
further more, where did he come from?
- I am not going there.
- For one thing I don't know
the answer, and secondly right now I don't have the time
to come up with one.
- In a way I suppose the
initial question, and the unasked one about the roster,
are a lot like a Buddhist koan.
- Now if you are unfamiliar
with the term koan and you do not know what a koan is,
the best way for me to describe one to you would be to
say, "that a koan is a bit like a philosophical
riddle". A riddle that in fact you are not always
suppose to be able to answer. At least not always in this
lifetime. The theory being I suppose that some questions
in this world are best left unanswered.
- Right about know I can hear
you asking yourself, "so what does all this have to
do with karate, and in particular what the heck does this
have to do with standing punches".
- Patience, I am getting
- Oh yes, one thing that I
failed to point out previously, and what you need to
realize is, that all of this stuff originally went
through my head in as they say, "the blink of an eye",
and at a time when I was working very hard to once again
obtain the feel of the elusive "perfect punch".
You know, that supposed "one in a thousand"
that feels so sweet. But the damage as they say had
already done, and at this point I realized that my focus
was gone, that perfection was just an illusion, and that
all I was really left with at that moment in time was the
question, "which came first the chicken or the egg".
- So deciding that there must
be a logical reason why all of this had occurred at
exactly that moment in my life I decided to follow what
was at best a meandering mixture of thoughts and see
where it all took me.
- This then, like it or not,
was the result.
- Today when a new student
enters a dojo for the very first time one of the first
karate skills they are usually taught, after learning how
to bow, line up, and some of the other important tenants
of dojo etiquette, is how perform a proper standing punch.
Now way back when I first started in Shotokan karate more
than twenty six years ago, I was taught as many students
are today. That is, when performing a correct standing
punch both fists should always move in tandem with each
other. Meaning that for every inch you pull the left fist
back, (sorry but I am very old school and millimetres
just do not do it for me), the right fist must move
forward an exactly equal distance, and both fists must
finish moving at precisely the same time. The idea being
that this not only creates an effective punch but also
helps keep amongst other things, proper balance.
- Now a punch like any other
karate technique, is singularly unique to each individual
student. What needs to be common to all students,
however, is learning how a proper punch should be
delivered, either standing, or for that matter in any
kind of stance. But since this all started with standing
punches I will use this format as my platform for the
purpose of this discussion. As I said earlier when
performing a correct punch a beginner is taught that both
fists should always move in tandem with one other. Since
this type of basic punch involves no pre-conceived ideas,
or any of the thought processes and advanced body
dynamics, found in a more senior students technique, then
what we are talking about here is white belt stuff, pure
and simple. What you will find when you teach a punch in
this manner, and I think it is fair to say that senior
students will realize this more than novice or juniors
students, is that it really allows a new student to focus
on just the basic underlying principles of the technique
without any outside influences. All of the other stuff
like balance, posture, breathing, power, relaxation, will
of course need to be covered eventually, but for the time
being at this point, they are best set aside for another
- As time goes by of course
and as a student rises in rank they obviously will become
more proficient and comfortable with their punching
technique. It is around the time that a student
approaches the rank of 4th kyu or 5th kyu that more
emphasis should begin to be placed on those subtle
changes that will help them to create a more efficient
punch, primarily by bringing stronger body dynamics,
improved timing, hip rotation, and proper breathing to
the very fore front of their thinking.
- By the time a student
reaches the rank of Shodan then, their punch should be
sufficiently evolved to the point that it almost becomes
a "thoughtless movement" given the thousands
upon thousands of proper repetitions they will have
performed up to this point in their karate training. Now
with every upside there is of course always a downside.
After many years of hard of training it is often at this
point in their Shotokan career that a large number of
senior karate-ka will hit a physical if not mental
plateau in terms of their punch. Not unlike a marathon
runner hitting the "proverbial wall".
- To help these students
break through their wall it is at this junction that the
question that first popped into my head needs to be
answered. Only it needs to be asked and answered in terms
of karate and more importantly strictly in terms of how
the question relates to the quality a punch as delivered
by a student with the rank of Shodan or higher.
- So I ask you, "which
comes first, the pulling hand, or the punching hand"?
- The correct answer of
course is the pulling hand.
- But like the rooster, (you
remember the rooster don't you), there are also a few
unasked karate question in all of this, and they are:
- "As a Dan rank should
your pulling hand, and punching hand, still always start
at the same time"?
- From my personal
perspective the correct answer is, no, definitely not.
- "As a Dan rank should
your pulling hand, and punching hand, still always finish
at the same time"?
- From my personal
perspective the correct answer is, yes, definitely.
- The truth of the matter is,
that what was once an acceptable means of punching as a
beginner, or a kyu belt, is no longer adequate for
someone who has attained the rank of Shodan or higher.
For these students I advocate that their basic way of
punching should now be altered. What these students
should be doing I believe is to focus on learning what I
call, "accelerated timing". The basic premise
being, that starting both fists at the same time when
doing punches should now be a thing of the past. In fact
just the opposite should now be true.
- Now don't misunderstand me,
the basic fundamental punch is still the same. The
pulling hand still moves first. The major different then
is found in the initial timing of the punch. What I am
advocating here is that as a senior karate-ka you should
now be giving your pulling hand at least a twenty to
twenty-five percent head start on your punching hand. In
doing this it of course it will then require your
punching hand to greatly accelerate it's speed in order
to still finish it's movement at the same time as the
pulling hand even though the punching hand had such a
large head start in the first place. When this is done
properly and with sufficient speed the pulling hand will
create an accelerated "push" that in turn will
drive the punching hand forward with a new and previously
un-experienced level of momentum and power.
- It is very important to
remember though, that this is the kind of timing can only
be achieved when you are totally relaxed. In fact at this
stage of Dan ranks development relaxation should be
emphasised far more often than speed or power. The truth
is, and in never ceases to amaze me just how many senior
students fail to realize this point, even after years and
years of training,
- "maximum speed and
maximum power come from maximum relaxation right up until
the very moment of impact".
- So this is where that odd
moment in front of the mirror took me.
- For me this works.
- My punch feels much
different, it looks different, my balance is enhanced and
many other aspects that I consider important to my
continued progress as a student of the art of Shotokan
karate also seem to be happily in place. Will this
concept benefit you, I have no idea, but why not give it
a try and find out, I hope it does but only you can
answer that question for sure.
- In the end it is not
important that we all believe the same things, or teach
the same way, as long as the underlying fundamentals of
the art of Shotokan karate remain intact for us and for
our students. What is important, however, is that no
matter how high your rise in rank never loose sight of
the fact that you are still a student, and as such always
remember to keep an open mind.
- After all, while there are
many great Masters of the art of Shotokan karate in the
world today, I bet not one of them would ever claim to
know it all.
- The essence
of karate-do lies not in what you know,
- but in how
you apply what you know to your daily life.
- In other
words - "seek perfection of character".
- Part the
clouds - see the way
objective of karate is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."