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Phases Of Koshi

I have written at length about different aspects of koshi. While koshi is usually translated as hip, this is a bit like translating kokoro as heart -- there is much more to it. I would say that koshi involves using your whole body in a coordinated manner to generate and transfer power, and to assist mobility. Your upper and lower body must be connected, vertically and in a crisscross manner, and some of this takes place in the hip area. But the idea of using your whole body defies isolated descriptions.

I would like to address the phases of koshi, particularly when a student should (and should not) learn koshi. At first, I thought that koshi was the answer to all my Karate problems. And it was! It was the answer to my problems at a particular point in my training. That does not mean that it is the answer for everyone at all times.

I do not think that beginners should learn or use koshi. Ideally, I would want a beginner to develop clean linear basics. Once clean linear basics are learned, the student should repeat them again and again, for years, until the student becomes strong. The student should learn to generate as much power as possible using clean linear basics, his own strength, and body movement (toward or away from the attacker). But koshi (twisting) should be avoided or minimized.

When a student reaches the point where he cannot generate any additional power -- when he hits the "wall" -- then koshi can be introduced. Again, at this point, the student will have already developed clean linear basics and the most power available using that type of basics. A sloppy student should continue to work on clean linear basics.

Such a "maximized" student (one who has generated as much power as possible using clean linear basics) will find that initial power with koshi will be less, but that koshi will present the potential for considerably greater power (using considerably less effort) than is possible with simple linear basics.

Koshi is taught in phases. The first phase is large, exaggerated, and slow. The student must learn the "shape" of the movement. We sometime practice kata in a way that is described as Taichi Ken or Taiji Ken. The movements look like Shorin-Ryu kata done like Tai Chi. This is to teach the student the shape of the movements -- not necessarily for self-defense.

The student must also strengthen the parts of the body that form and connect to the koshi. This takes time and effort. For example, most people have weak "lats." Even children I teach who practice koshi, have firm lats. The body has to be remodeled for koshi mechanics. It must be remodeled to generate koshi power and also to withstand the forces generated by koshi power. I suffered microtears, for example, in the osseous membrane between my radius and ulna when I executed shuto movemets at high speed. I could throw harder than my body could take. (Of course, I was doing the movement incorrectly at the time.)

The next phase of koshi is to increase speed. At first, the student moves quickly with large, exaggerated koshi movements. Some Karate people would think this looks weird and impractical -- it is! This is done to teach how to use koshi, not how to fight. Of course, there is no time for large exaggerated movements in a fight, but such movements are necessary in order for the student to learn how to move.

As the student gets better at koshi, and his body adapts, the movements will become smaller and less exaggerated. You could say that the koshi become tighter, but it is actually the radius of the circle that becomes shorter. The student learns to use more internal torque with less visible external movement.

The goal is to have all the power of large, exaggerated koshi movement, with small, internalized movement. By internalized, I do not mean ki or something metaphysical. I mean that the torque is inside the body without twisting the outside (at least not too much).

So at an advanced level, it might appear that the student is using clean linear basics again! But what has changed is the potential power. The student learns to generate big power with small movements.

Now what happens if you teach koshi too early? Most likely, the student will not develop clean linear basics and will not develop maximum strength. To be honest, koshi messes up basics! Koshi takes order and makes it chaotic -- at first. So the student needs to be very clean before he adds koshi.

Imagine an airplane propeller. If it spins very slowly, there may be no problem. But speed it up and any faults could cause a failure. The propeller could wobble and break loose, it could even explode under the strain. Only if it is properly balanced and made of suitable material can it handle great speed.

A Karate student should be like a bull (clean linear basics) that learns to be soft and whiplike (koshi mechanics). He should not be like a jellyfish (beginner koshi movements) that tries to be strong like a bull. I don't think jellyfish can ever become strong.

So a student starts with no koshi, develops large koshi, and makes it smaller and smaller, until it looks like he has no koshi. How to accomplish (and teach) this in a systematic manner is a real challenge!


Charles C. Goodin