Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Power Lines

The Lines, the Lines, Where do They all Come from, Where do they all Go?
...so spoketh Tubs.

One of the things that grumpy disenchanted foreigners who come to Japan and find out it doesn't do what they wanted or expected complain about is the destruction of scenery by Japan's ever present powerlines- bloody great pylons laden with buzzing cables carrying umph-teen kV. It's quite an industry to come here for a few years, then go home and write sophisticated whines. Some do, of course, have a point. But I can't agree with people who think Tokyo is an ugly city. It's quite a work of art, really. And I would rather live in a comfortable block of Japanese danchi than a project or a tower block. In fact I do and I love my "mansion."

But that's by the by...I am, however, buzzing with verve and vim, because on Saturday, we worked on our Keiro- or our very own human power lines.

Our Very Own Yoda
And who better than to talk about our very own power lines than our very own Yoda, actually Yoda Sempai, who was back from Kyushu for the weekend to teach. Yoda Sempai made a deep impression on me a few years ago when we were doing Ji-yu Ippon Kumite, and I had made a pigs ear out of my jodan. (My jodan was a jodan ;-)) I said to him (in Japanese), "I am sorry, that wasn't good enough, can I have another go, sempai?" At which point, in a commanding voice, Yoda spoke English to me for the very first time ..."There is no second chance in Karate, Paul-san!" Yoda is not 3 foot tall green and not made out of rubber, but nonetheless, he is impressive. Most Impressive...

Keiro- Power Lines
Saturday's session was a surprise as we did no Kumite or Kata, but actually kushin-shinshuku pushing exercises after the usual kihon. This actually took an hour-- why, because there is no escaping whether you "have" it, i.e. can use it. And it makes all the difference. So, what is it?

If any of you mystics are looking for some sort of Ki energy magic here, you are going to be sorely disappointed. We all know when things "click," they just -WHAM!- seem to work...you know, if you have ever done Judo, sometimes you get in under your opponent and the Tai-otoshi is just perfect...othertimes you feel as if you are hauling a hundredweight of coal. Well, leaving aside a discussion of Ki, our session was more prosaic.

Keiro Partner Training
Have you ever tested your shinsuku with a partner? OK, go gedan-barai, do a gyaku-zuki, haul yourself back and down into extreme shinshuku (full compression) and the repeat the gyaku-
zuki launching off the rear leg for that powerful gyaku-zuki. Did you launch up at all? No? Really? Unless you are uber-sensitive, or very good, or very experienced and focused, I bet you did! I bet at least 20% of the energy went up and not forward...of course now you are aware of it, you can solve this problem, can't you? Or maybe not? Maybe no matter how much you attempt to hardwire this movement into an indellible pattern, it falls to pieces under pressure...

So how to get round this- the answer is partner training.

The first way to hardwire this movement is to understand it. The way we try to understand it is go the Isaka Sensei (IS) route by tracing the evolutionary wisdom of nature. Basically, one of the best ways to understand how the power vectors in the body work is to understand the interplay between the main nerves and the bones and the joints, the points of contact and pressure, andthe and the angles. What's this? Well, the easiest way to understand the Keiro or Power line that runs from (potentially) the tip of the big toe, or from the ball of the foot up around the back of the calf, then up the leg is the path traced by the Sciatic nerve. Where does it end up, right in the sacrum. This is not an IS lesson today, although Yuko is prevailing on me to start writing this up as we have dozens of untranslated pages, but if you can download a picture of the sciatic nerve from the NIH (National Institutes of Health), etc., you'll get the picture.

If you juggle around with your movement, and trace a mental line through your foot, up through your leg into your sacrum, you'll have a good idea about what the Keiro or power line is- the more milimeters your balance and center of gravity and weight distribution are away from delivering power from the tip of your toe to the end of your knuckle though your leg and hips (we are just looking at the kahanshin today), the more fakery in your gyaku-zuki.

Of course, the only way to really get a handle on this is to train, and the traditional way is the makiwara, right? But you can cheat yourself and the makiwara, so this is where partner training comes in.

Get your partner to go into zenkutsu-dachi and then hold out his or her palms. Basically, when you are in the chambered position, very close, you should not extend your punch but do a pressing of your palms against his or her very strongly held zenkutsu-dachi.

If you can push them back naturally just extending your rear leg (your front leg should be raised off the floor) then you are in balance and can take advantage of all the vectors properly. Welcome to Yahara Karate!

The point about this exercise is not to cheat yourself or have your partner cheat. It is so easy to lean in and use your weight against your opponent, and if your vector isn't correct, you will find yourself pushing yourself up against your partner.

Goro couldn't do it for the world of him in 30 or 40 attempts with his right rear leg pushing from shinshuku for his favored right hand gyakuzuki and the exercise was a good one for focus and patience. He swopped hands for the left gyakuzuki, left leg compressed and did it naturally without effort! So with the right, it's a case of "unlearning what you have learned" as Yoda (the three foot tall rubber one) would have put it, and pretty near what our Yoda said anyway!

When you get a hold of this exercise, good luck! The next stage is to put everything in the fist- and this one is quite a challenge.

With the fist version, have your attacking punch maybe one quarter extended and repeat the prior excercise. This time it is important that you do NOT try to extend the punch using your arm, but extend the rear leg for shinshuku. If you don't wobble at all, you are a better than me. Well, you probably are anyway.

Next, try this with oizuki!

Front Leg Compression in Oizuki
The basic point, the grass roots of all these exercises is to try to intellectually or at least physiologically try to understand the mechanics of one part of Yahara Karate, and then hardwire it into your movement, not by being an ossu-ossu moron, but by actually thinking about and exploring what you do. Know thyself! But, at the end of the day, it's to try to stop you going up when you move forward with oizuki and when you explode off the rear leg in shinshuku.

One of the most exhausting things for me in my black belt campaign was the constant insistance of YS on my oizuki zenshin- without telegraphing you must sink in lower as you go forward. In both oi-zuki and maegeri in the KWF we must lunge forward off the front leg, which is bent, with the knee well forward of the toe of the front foot. But today under Yoda Sempai, we were asked to reconsider this proposition. I've always been told that the power for maegeri comes off the rear leg through the hips, and the way to generate the powerful forward thrust to smash down your opponent is starting the kick by leaning forward heavily on the front (supporting) leg. Of course biomechanically this makes perfect sense and it works. But today, Yoda Sempai told us to forget this...what we should do is consciously bend our ankle forward. Have you ever thought of it that way. For me it was a bit of a conceptual breakthrough- don't think about bending your supporting leg kee- think about using your ankle as an essential component of forging the power in your kick or punch. I am not too cyncial enough to find that intersting!


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