What is Traditional Karate? 


Traditional Karate is a martial art that is not dependent on muscular strength and hard force, both in technique (kata) and application (kumite). It is the art of giving up muscular strength and mastering the form or its principles. Only then can we give up the form or be free from the form without violating its principles in anything that we do. Moreover we have to give up ourselves to follow the opponent, that is to say we have to give up the idea of wining. In other words, the mind should not interfere.

By giving up control, we gain control and everything we do we will do freely. This is a hard concept to accept because everyone wants to hit hard and here you are told to "give up" your arms and legs. Everyone wants to win when they start Karate training and here you are told that you are supposed to "give up" wining and "give up" yourself. You are told to "give up" the results and to think of the process itself, to practice for the sake of practice.

After the first few years with Nishiyama Sensei I can remember hearing no compliments. Once in a while his stick would hit me and there would be a correction. The best compliment was "so...", you really couldn't feel satisfied about yourself.

When facing an opponent and practicing "sen" timing (which means that when the opponent attacks I anticipate his attack and respond before his application), Sensei Nishiyama would say that when we move there is no mind in the technique and "win or lose, only god knows". Then he describes the space between me and my opponent as hell and behind my opponent as heaven. "You must go through hell to go to heaven" he would say. About the preparation for "sen" Nishiyama Sensei says, "don't think of the opponent and don't think of your own technique" or "the eyes look softly (without intention, naturally), the spirit is strong and the attention is to your own feet." All this means is that the mind should not stop at one place, should not fixate and should be attentive without effort, naturally. This does not mean that we are to commit suicide and to go blindly with the head into the wall. On the contrary, we must except loss and take risk in order to be free and to have clear judgment, It is only then that our whole being can participate in whatever we do without conflict.

Sensei Nishiyama says that the three most important things in Karate are: eyes, feet and guts. Whatever the eyes see the feet should express simultaneously without interference of thought or doubt and guts means strong spirit with no hesitation. We cannot talk about the use of the body alone because both good technique and especially the function of the technique depends on the proper mind and spirit. In applying a karate technique the body has to move as a whole, there is never an independent effort of one limb. If one part of the body moves differently than the rest of the body or if one body part stops than the whole body stops. We say that the energy starts from the inside out or from the center of the body (tan den) to the outer limbs.

The power of a Karate Technique depends upon:

        The softness (elasticity) of the muscles and the ability to change from soft to hard (and from hard to soft) in the shortest time (at contact).

        The coordination of all the muscles and joints to the direction of energy at the right sequence and timing.

        The right timing of muscle contraction-expansion (relaxation) in relation to the timing of the movement of the joints in the technique.

Very important idea in Karate is the idea of "one chance lose or win" and that's the reason of the emphasize on todome or finishing blow technique, and that's why we emphasize so much kime waza or all the energy that accumulated in the technique must be delivered through the target at the moment of contact.

Kime means that the whole being, mentally and physically, hits the target. The whole body connects for the shortest time in one direction. No energy should bounce back or escape. Kime literally means mental and physical together. The softer and more relaxed we are in movement, relaxed means just the right amount of tension to carry an activity, the greater the potential of tension at the point of contact. The more complete the tension at the point of contact, the more potential energy we will have for the next action. From this we learn that Karate techniques are always continuous. The end of one technique is the best condition to begin the next movement while in the stillness between the techniques; the momentum of the last movement still exists. The eyes bring and set the body towards the next direction, the image from low stomach and the eyes move together from one direction to another, the breath follows the image (mind), and the body follows the breath. Therefore when talking about continuation in the form or application, we mean both mental and technical continuation of the breath as it connects to the feet to make smooth continuation between techniques. We cannot talk about being soft if we don't have a root; therefore in Karate techniques we need a strong stance so we can use a base outside of the body (external force). The energy in a Karate technique starts from the feet, through the legs, to the torso, and through the technique itself. The technique, arm or leg, is considered as an extension of the body in making direction and simply a contact tool.

If the bottom and top of the body don't coordinate properly, not only is the technique weak and top heavy, but it could eventually cause back and hip problems. It's correct to say that the feet are handling the top technique. If we don't use the feet properly then we don't have a root. If we don't use the external force (base) to increase the energy as well, then the only way to create energy is by independent effort of the local area (upper body), which we call a top-heavy technique. This kind of technique is weak and limited to the muscular ability of a person applying the technique. This will cause the person to lose control of his center and to be thrown off balance.

All the joints of the body should be free, as if each bone is separate from the joint near it. Then the movement can be free and energy can transmit smoothly and our body will become very light and sensitive.

The posture is of particular importance, which does not mean that we have to pose ourselves in a rigid position. What we should pay attention to be the relationship between head, neck and spine.

As the feet are rooted in the floor the head should be suspended on top so that the spine is not compressed, only then can breath and energy flow.

The mind and body have to be coordinated. Every movement starts first with mental direction, the line of energy of each technique must be clear; breath follows the muscles, then the bones and then the technique (all happening instantaneously). If we don't have a clear understanding of this image than the body can't cooperate as a whole to one direction and the movement will be disordered. This disordered type of movement is not a martial art, but merely an aerobic exercise in the guise of a Karate technique.

Article Written by Sensei Avi Rokah
All Rights Reserved.