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Kuzushi -- Breaking Balance

If you look at photographs of Karate being demonstrated, whether on the cover of magazines or in books, you will almost always see two people standing straight up at close to arm's length. The attacker punches and the defender blocks. They are still standing there, straight up, at about arm's length.

Such depictions do not properly represent Karate movements. They do not show kuzushi -- the process of breaking or unsettling the attacker's balance. Judo students understand that you cannot simply throw your opponent using brute strength. You must first lead the opponent and break his balance. Then, throwing him will be relatively easy. Judo experts can sometimes throw with just a flick of their wrists, because they have already broken their opponent's balance.

We must do the same thing in Karate. When we block, we must also work to break the attacker's balance. This is usually accomplished by entering and tilting his sechusen, or centerline. We cannot simply stand in front of the attacker and exchange punches and blocks. There is no advantage in this. When we block or strike, we must put the attacker into a disadvantageous position, usually one in which he is off balance or unable to block our counterattack.

One way to break the attacker's balance is to enter and crowd him, pushing his upper body back. If, at the same time, we step on his foot or trap his knee, he will end up tilting back at an angle. Try punching when you are tilting back, particularly with your weight on your heels. It is very difficult to generate any power.

We can also push him back or to the sides, pull him forward, twist him using joint locking techniques, etc. We can break the attacker's balance in any direction we choose depending on where and how we wish to counterattack, or where we want to throw or position him (throw him into a wall, for example, or place him between us and another attacker).

It is necessary to block the punch but that it not enough. Simply blocking a punch invites another one. But if we combine our block with kuzushi, then we put the attacker in a weakened position and position ourself for a counterattack. Of course, many blocks can also be used as an effective counterattack either by themselves or in combination.

My sensei once showed me a way to practice where you bang your body into the attacker's body. One reason for this is so that you can punch or strike very hard. You are punching through the attacker's body, not merely striking the surface. The other reason is so that you will be able to break the attacker's balance.

As a former Judo and Aikido student, I would say that most Karate students do not have very good balance - unless they also practice grappling arts. Lacking good balance, it is natural that most Karate students would not think much about breaking the attacker's balance. But it is essential, particularly for a defender who may be smaller and weaker than the attacker.

Before you can break an attacker's bones (hopefully this could be avoided), you have to break his balance first. Then it might be possible to end the conflict with a throw or take-down, which is often more humane than a striking technique.


Charles C. Goodin