This Guest Post is by Charles T. Goodin, a sandan and instructor in the Hikari Dojo. The second son of Charles C. Goodin, he is a senior at the University of Hawaii.
For most people, Karate is about using brute strength. They try to hit as hard and as fast as possible, using mostly the wrong muscles, and emphasizing their blocks and strikes at the wrong time and position. We are extremely fortunate to have learned from Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato. He is a perfect example of how Karate is supposed to be practiced and performed. What I took from him the first time I saw him was the simple fact that you don't have to be young and in great shape to be good at Karate. Granted, Shinzato Sensei is in great shape, but he is also up there in age. Considering the fact that he is three times older than I am, physically I am much stronger and I should also be much faster. When I first saw him in person, I was absolutely dumbfounded at how fast and dynamic he was.
After having his movements broken down, and practicing them over and over for the past couple of years though, I have an idea of how he gets his speed and power with so little effort. I can't move nearly as fast or as dynamically as Shinzato Sensei can, but my movements are decent because I learned to use my koshi. Koshi is just your hip, but for our class, koshi is so much more than just hip. Koshi is using your hip, while connecting it to your extremities, and tying it all together with your lats, correct breathing, and correct timing. Using your koshi allows for fast fluid movements, creating more power than just using your muscles.
If you use your koshi correctly, when you move, you whip. Moving correctly is very similar to whipping with a towel. The movement is not strong because of the force going out, it's strong because it whips at the end with the recoil. The recoil is what causes the whip! In order to understand this, all you need to do is learn how to whip with a towel. Whipping is not just hitting, it has to crack when you whip correctly. If you were to whip someone with the towel correctly, you can actually break the skin and cause them to bleed. This is how you have to move with your body. When you hit someone, you create power using your whole body (especially your core muscles) and whipping.
What I have also learned is that in order to learn to whip, you have to figure it out on your own. You can be shown how to whip a million times, but if you just try to copy you won't accomplish anything. The reason for this is because everyone is different. We all have different body types, and different skill levels, so if I were to copy my dad, I wouldn't be able to whip the same just because I'm much taller and have a longer reach. You have to find one movement that you can whip very well and then try to translate that to all your other movements. I first learned to whip using shuto, and I used the same hip I use for shuto on everything else.
Learning to use your koshi is a long and never ending process. Even Shinzato sensei says that he is always still learning, and you can really tell because he is always changing a few things here and there because he finds a better way to do them. Even though no one may ever really master using their hips, you can come pretty close. We should all strive to become better than Shinzato sensei, even if that's pretty far fetched. Every student has a certain amount of potential. Moving the traditional way that is taught in most schools only lets you tap into about 30% of your potential. Using your koshi though, allows you to fulfill your full potential.
Charles T. Goodin