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 there.
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 day.
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
"The objective of karate is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay