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Koshi 10% - Cheating Energy and Age

When I started to learn about koshi, it took 100% of my Karate attention. It became the single focus of my training. Often I would be thinking about koshi at home or work and my body would involuntarily twitch.

Koshi, koshi, koshi.

I certainly became koshi crazy!

As time has gone on and I have become more comfortable with koshi (coordinated, whole body) mechanics, my views about it have changed. For one thing, it is no longer the focus of my training. It is still part of the focus, but one of several connected things.

I have written this before, but I believe that it deserves repeating. If you do not know how to use koshi and have reached a point where just trying harder provides negative results, then, at that point, koshi will deserve 100% of your Karate attention. At that point, it is the missing link -- something that will connect your body and Karate and make your training much easier and much more productive.

At that point you will be like a drowning man gasping for breath.

But once you become more comfortable with koshi mechanics, you will certainly see that it is part of the overall dynamics of Karate. Maybe it is like the transmission in a car engine. The car won't run right without a transmission, but certainly there is more to a car engine than a transmission. I'm sure that you could think of many similar examples.

But in a nutshell, koshi is essential but not the whole thing. While you really cannot do Karate without koshi (coordinated, whole body) mechanics, it is also true that you can't do Karate with koshi only. It is a connector, amplifier, and director (and makes things much easier).

Of course, when I first started to learn about koshi, I overestimated its importance. Again, at that time it was 100% to me. That number has declined steadily over the years. There are two reasons for this.

First, as you train more with koshi, the size of your koshi motion reduces, until sometimes it is probably impossible for an untrained person to realize what you are doing. A trained person will probably recognize it. I understand that a really skilled person can completely internalize the koshi motion so that it is not detectable at all, except by its effects. This is something we are all working on in Kishaba Juku.

My point is that in the early phase, when koshi seems 100% important, the koshi motion is large. As the student progresses, the koshi motion shrinks. At times, it can seem like the student is not using koshi at all.

That is why a good teacher is necessary. If a teacher shows a new student (at least new to the koshi concept) by demonstrating a very small or internalized koshi motion, the student will never get it. Never. Thus, the teacher exaggerates his koshi motion and reveals it. Sometimes we say that he "opens" his koshi. He does not really "open" it, he just makes the motion obvious enough for the student to observe and copy it. Then the teacher probably resumes his usual minimized form of motion.

Actually, demonstrating an open koshi is probably uncomfortable for a teacher, because it is less efficient, slow, and takes more energy. Plus, there is always the chance that an observer will think: "That is too slow! I could hit that guy." Well, of course he could! An open koshi is like training wheels on a bicycle.

I like to go fishing. Tying knots is something you have to do all the time. When you read books about tying knots in fishing line, the illustrations are always big and easy to follow. The knots, before they are tightened, look really big. But when you are fishing, the real knots are small (and tied in the dark with hands slimy from the bait). The instructional picture are big so that you can learn. The real thing is tight.

Just like koshi.

So in the beginning, when koshi requires 100% of the student's attention, koshi looks big. As time goes on, it becomes smaller and either minimally detectable or undetectable (hopefully).

The second reason that the relative importance of koshi decreases over time is because koshi alone simply does not work. You need it, but you also need other things.

Two examples are body alignment and weight shifting. These are just two examples, but if your body alignment and/or weight shifting is wrong or weak, then no amount of koshi expertise will help you. Koshi does not make a bad Karate student good -- it makes a good Karate student better. This is really important. Without good fundamentals, koshi will just make a bad student worse. (Looking back at what I just wrote, I am shocked by the truth of the statement.)

Let's use a fishing example. A student with good fundamentals and good koshi is like a barracuda. Have you ever seen how a barracuda accelerates toward its prey? It is really awesome (and a good example of whole body mechanics)! But a student with bad fundamentals and a weak koshi (or exaggerated koshi), is like a jelly fish. All fizzle and no pop.

There are many fundamental processes involved in Karate. I won't go into them here, but I am sure that you know what I mean. In a physical sense, koshi brings them (the fundamental processes) all together, amplifies energy/power, and enables the student to direct it, as needed.

I now would say that koshi is about 10% of the overall process. This is not because I believe that koshi is unimportant but because I recognize that many things are important.

And it is probably wrong to break things up in percentages. Karate is not accounting. Everything is important and each aspect interacts with the others. The whole is what is important and koshi is part of that whole.

I just thought of a good example. What percentage of your body is your heart? Whatever that percentage is, you certainly cannot live without your heart, nor could you live with your heart alone. The heart is an essential part of the whole body.

When I move now, I do not emphasize koshi unless I am teaching students who need to see an "open" koshi. Moving on my own, I feel like I am not even using my koshi, except for maybe a small twitch now and then. I say the "less the better," but by this I mean that a tight, compressed koshi is better than an exaggerated, loopy one.

About a month ago, I demonstrated a kata and used no koshi at all. I do not mean that I used a small or internalized koshi, I mean that I completely turned my koshi off. This took some work because it is not natural for me to move without koshi now. Anyway, do you know what happened?

The kata looked somewhat crisp and powerful... and I was gassed (ran out of energy). Wow! It took so much more energy to move that way. I suddenly remembered how hard it was for me to practice Karate before I started to learn about koshi. I could not do several kata back to back. I needed a day to recover between training because of muscle strain. I hurt and was frustrated. Which made me like a drowning man in need of... koshi.

Moving with koshi is almost like cheating compared to the way I used to move. Now I see why Shinzato Sensei could move with such apparent ease when I first met him. He was cheating (in a mechanical sense).

Perhaps that is what we do in Kishaba Juku. We cheat energy and age -- at least we try our best to do so.


Charles C. Goodin