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Koshi -- No Koshi

In the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu that I practice and teach, the koshi is used to generate and direct power (it is actually more complicated than that). Except when a person is an advanced expert, the movement of the koshi is noticeable. An expert can "hide" the koshi motion within his gi or even within his body -- and still generate tremendous power. But, for the most part, our koshi motion is visible.

Many times, when people from other styles have observed my kata, they comment, "We used to practice koshi but they stopped teaching it." One of my Shotokan friends mentioned this to me more than once.

Shotokan in Hawaii began with Kiyoshi Aihara, who came from Waseda University. He was followed by Kanazawa Sensei, Mori Sensei, and Asai Sensei. Each of these sensei, while teaching Shotokan, taught their own way. I am not sure when koshi was taught or discontinued.

If you practice with koshi, it is easy to see when another person is using it. In some cases, a person might use large but uncoordinated koshi. The result is poorly focused power. In other cases, a person might have a smooth koshi but not know how to "set" it. This looks like jello. An advanced student of koshi will look like a "steel whip" or "iron silk." Someone who has internalized koshi completely will look like he is not using it at all -- but the power will give it away.

It is much easier to use no koshi -- to move with the arms and legs alone. But there is a natural limit to the power that can be generated without koshi. It takes much longer to learn Karate using koshi -- but the limits are also set much higher.

If you were going to learn Karate for three years, I would suggest that koshi should be skipped. Just learn to move cleanly. But if you are going to learn for 10 years or longer, I would suggest that you learn koshi.

A three year student will not have reached his limits. Thus, non-koshi movement will be fine. A 10, 20 or 30 year student will have already reached his physical limits. Unless koshi movement is learned, training will become more and more frustrating, especially as the aging process sets in.

The Kishaba Juku system was not developed for beginners. It actually started as an advanced training group. Most of the "students" were already yudansha and instructors, some quite high. My point is that the system was developed to address the needs of people who, because of their age and years of training, had already reached their limits using "ordinary" mechanics. For them, it was koshi or else.

I do not know why some styles used to teach koshi here in Hawaii and then stopped. I can say that it takes longer to teach a student when koshi is part of the curriculum. It is one thing to teach 20 students how to use koshi -- it is quite another to teach 500 students. In addition, children do not need to learn koshi as much as adults -- again this is because they have not reached the limits of ordinary mechanics. But if the child will train until adulthood, it is worth the investment of time and effort to teach koshi.

The prime candidate for koshi is an advanced student who has learned "ordinary" mechanics, hit his limits, and is so frustrated that he feels like quitting Karate altogether. This was me when I met my sensei. I was literally a drowning man gasping for air.

Koshi was what I needed to re-energize my Karate training. Actually, it did not re-energize it as much as it required me to re-engineered it, and in the process reset my limits.

Koshi is not the ultimate answer. A student who can use koshi still has to learn how to apply techniques, how to move, how to protect his centerline, how to shift weight, how to float and sink and bounce, how to "stab" and "poke", how to transfer power, how to move freely in any direction, how to see the attacker's movement before it begins, etc.

When I was a child, I played with balsa wood gliders. Karate without koshi is like that. Karate with koshi is like a balsa wood plane with a propeller and rubber band. That's an interesting analogy -- koshi as a propeller. Koshi does help to "propel" movement. There are simply things you can do with koshi that you cannot do without.

For me, the choice is not koshi or no koshi, it is koshi or no Karate.

See: Koshi; Rabbit Koshi; Koshi Wo Hineru; Approaching the Whip.


Charles C. Goodin