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Maintaining Power When Transitioning to Kishaba Juku

What do all of the most senior instructors of Kishaba Juku have in common?  To my knowledge, all of them spent many years, even decades, first studying one or more different styles of Karate.  At one time, most of the early instructors of Kishaba Juku practiced the Matsubaashi-Ryu form of Karate.  Today, some Kishaba Juku instructors might have practiced Shotokan or other styles of Karate.

My point is that for most instructors, the methods of Kishaba Juku represented a change or transition from one form or style of Karate to another.  In addition, the methods of Kishaba Juku represented a change or transition from a fairly linear approach to Karate to a more dynamic, whole body, core driven, rotary, whip-like, non-linear, etc. approach.

In my case, I had practiced the Matsubayashi-Ryu form of Karate for over 25 years before becoming a student of Kishaba Juku.  I think that I am fairly typical.  In fact, it is pretty rare to find a senior instructor who began in and has only practiced Kishaba Juku.

When I became a student of Kishaba Juku, I had reached a point where I was deeply frustrated by my inability to improve.  I feel that I had reached my own limits of linear Karate.  I am not saying that other people could not have done better than I did with the same training and methods -- I am just saying that I had reached my own limit.  Trying harder did not produce better results.  Quite the opposite.  Trying harder only made be stiffer, more robotic, and more frustrated!

Of course, the answer is that I was doing things wrong.  For a person who had trained for 25 years, I was doing it wrong.  I was still training like a beginner, which is appropriate for a beginner but not for a more advanced student or instructor.

I will give you a concrete example -- chudan shuto uke or uchi.  I could perform the movement reasonably well (I thought) and could generate a fair amount of power.  However, I could only do 7 or 8 in a row before I became tired.  I was generating all the power using my extremities.  I was muscling the movement and hacking like a caveman.  I simply was not strong enough to keep going after 7 or 8 of such inefficient, full power movements.

When I went to Okinawa and met Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, I was amazed by his ability to execute full power shuto techniques, one after another, up and down the dojo, seemingly with no limit.  I remember telling him, "Sensei, if you could just show me how to do that I would be so happy!"

Wow, was I asking for a lot!  Obviously, Shinzato Sensei was not only skilled at shuto.  He could perform any movement just as well -- because of his body dynamics.  The technique did not matter because his body dynamics were so good.  I sometime use a power drill analogy.  Techniques are sort of like drill bits.  You can change the drill bits all you want, but the power source does not change.  If the drill is strong and has good speed and torque settings, you can use any bit you like.  In the same way, Shinzato Sensei's body dynamics don't really change depending on the technique he is performing.  His body dynamics allow him to execute any technique he wants.

So I was incorrect to ask him to "just" teach me to perform shuto like he did.  Then, I did not understand the concept of body dynamics which explains why I incorrectly focused on a certain technique.

But to make a long story short, after my first few training sessions with Shinzato Sensei, I think I could perform about 20 shuto in a row without getting too tired.  Looking back, I was still horribly inefficient, but the point is that the improvement was noticeable.  It gave me positive feedback and hope.  I knew that I was on the right track.

But I have to admit that my early movements, when I was transitioning to Kishaba Juku, were not as powerful as my previous movements. I could hit more but I was not hitting as hard.

Which brings me to the point of this long post.  When transitioning to Kishaba Juku, it should be expected that the student will lose some power.  The student has to learn how to move in a completely different way.  The beginning and end of the movement might look the same but everything in between will be different.  In particular, the student will be learning to generate power in a new and different way -- whole body, core driven mechanics (plus much more).

The new student will lose power but will learn to move more freely in a relaxed manner.  Freed from the rigidity of robot-like movement, the student will gradually be able to generate more power, not by exerting more strength or effort, but by moving faster and with much better timing.

A club can hit very hard.  However, it would be much easier to crack a whip 50 times than it would be to swing a club 50 times.

After about 2 years, I was able to generate as much power as I did before I became a student of Kishaba Juku.  After about 4 years, I was able to generate considerably more power, and by then could perform about 30 or 40 shuto in a row without getting very tired.  Today, I am not sure how many shuto I can perform.  Generally, it seems that I can do as many as I want -- like I remember seeing Shinzato Sensei do, but of course not as well.

When I have a visiting student in Kishaba Juku, I often observe that they tend to concentrate on free movement rather than powerful movement.  Sometimes I ask them, "Did that feel powerful to you?"  The question seems to surprise them.  A new student in our style might think that free, fast movement is good in and of itself.  It is not.  We need to move like a steel whip - not a wet noodle.

Dynamic movement is not good because it is pretty or impressive.  So what?  Can it be used?  If someone attacks you, can you drop them?  Can you move very fast and hit very hard?  You have to be able to do both.

Which is why I think that it is good to start with linear mechanics.  As I mentioned, I could generate power before I became a student of Kishaba Juku.  I was just very inefficient at it.  Now I can generate power much more easily.  I don't get as tired because I am not using as much effort as before.  The two reasons for this is that: (1) I am generating power better (core drive, whole body, etc.), and (2) I am wasting way less energy.  It is not that I have become a great deal physically stronger.  I have become stronger because of my overall training, but that is probably only about 20% of the equation -- 80% is body dynamics.

I sometimes work with Shotokan students.  I enjoy doing so.  They have great linear basics which they practice very diligently.  But, like me, they tend to reach a natural limit moving with linear basics.  More effort does not result in more power or more satisfying movement.  Like me, they need to learn to produce power better and waste less energy.  I can relate to them

Students with linear basics and mechanics will naturally reach a limit -- a limit which is aggravated by age.  With linear mechanics, you have to put in more and more energy to get better results.  Obviously, with age, energy generally diminishes.  I am 54 now.  I certainly am not as strong as my 3 sons.  But then, when I was their ages, I was not a strong as them either!  But can honestly say that I can perform techniques much better at 54 than I could in my 20s, 30s, or 40s.  I am much more powerful and have much more stamina -- again because of the way we generate power and the fact that we do not waste much energy.  My net result today is way better than my net result at younger ages.  And, of course, I have had more time to understand and refine my movements.

When do students reach the limits of linear mechanics?  Of course, it depends.  But I generally think that it is about at the 2nd dan or 3rd dan adult level -- assuming a traditional ranking system not a belt mill. You certainly know that something is wrong when you find a 5th dan or higher who is still cranking away at linear mechanics.  Such people tend to be very frustrated and possibly suffering from self inflicted injuries -- much like I was!

So let's see.  How can you tell if you are moving well?  First, does it feel good?  Do you feel like you are moving very quickly, with a great deal of power, without getting tired?  You have to evaluate yourself very honestly.  Are you moving like a robot, a wet noodle, or a steel whip?

There is another way to evaluate yourself.  When I first watched Shinzato Sensei, and for years after that, whenever he executed a dynamic movement my mouth would drop open.  I would simply be in awe.  When he visited my dojo, my students had exactly the same reaction.  I think that other people have shared this experience.

Well, when you move well, people tend to blink and wonder -- and their mouths tend to drop open.

When you surprise yourself you are on the right track.  It is a good sign when you say, "Wow, how did I do that?"  Now do it again and again until it comes naturally.

And always remember that speed by itself is not enough.  When transitioning to Kishaba Juku, the ultimate goal is to have more power -- seemingly endless, easy power, that appears to come from nowhere. Or at least, that is what I think as a student who is still working on it.


Charles C. Goodin