Sunday, November 30, 2014

Learning to Relax

For the last several years, I've been focusing on trying to do karate in a much more relaxed fashion.

For years I practiced to try to make a very fast and powerful technique by analyzing various body dynamics and ways to use my koshi (the area surrounding my pelvic girdle) to augment my power.  This process was very involved and complex and it took years for me to get some understanding of it.  I must say that I never really mastered it to the degree of satisfaction I would like.

Fortunately, in 2010, one of our fellow Kishaba Juku practitioners made the journey to Okinawa again to train with Shinzato Sensei, and like those old Chinese Envoys who took the Quan to Loochoo (Ryukyu) hundreds of years ago, he brought back information on Sensei's latest advancements in his study of Karate.

To say these new ideas (principles) were revolutionary for me would be an understatement, because I have been working on them ever since and not making the kind of progress I would like.  They are just a few principles, but they have had the effect of turning my karate training on its head, and really making me rethink how I train.  They include:
  • 50/50 stances (all stances derived from naihanchi)
  • Maintaining the centerline
  • Throwing the elbow off the koshi
  • Breaking balance/Dropping
  • Figure 8 koshi
  • Relaxing!
The first 5 are what I initially took away from our Okinawan Envoy's journey, but the 6th one, relaxing, is what really is at the core of all the other 5.

I will probably spend some time talking about the first 5 at length in other posts, but in this post I'd like to focus on the 6th one, which, if taken in order of importance, should really be the 1st one.  

Anyway, here goes...

What does it mean to be relaxed in karate?

As karateka, we seem to constantly pursue making a more powerful and faster technique.  We want to be able to hit the heavy bag hard with a technique that penetrates.  We also want that technique to get to our target fast.  Unfortunately, doing this can have a tendency to develop tenseness in our technique. We tend to focus on using the muscles to make the technique.  We can get more speed and power by coordinating the technique with the rotation (and counter-rotation) of our hips, but if we are tense throughout the motion, the technique is held back by that tension.  Also, if we use only the muscles, we can only get so fast and powerful.

To really make power and speed, we have to relax.  It seems so counter-intuitive, but relaxing is the key.  All muscles have to stay relaxed throughout the motion, and the only tension should occur at the point of contact.  In that split second all the power of your body combines in that one striking point.  It's like Mr. Miyagi says in Karate Kid, "power of whole body, one inch..."

Sounds simple enough, right?  It's not.  Before you can find the way to make tension at the right moment, first you have to learn to relax.  Trying to relax throughout the performance of a kata is a very difficult thing.  There is a problem with relaxing, though. You have to learn to relax without compromising body structure. This is where the other 5 principles I list above come in.  But that will be the topic of another discussion.

For now, just relax.

Relax the knees. Feel bouncy.
Relax the koshi. Don't squeeze.
Relax the back.
Relax the lats.
Relax the shoulders.
Relax the neck.
Relax the arms.
Relax the hands. Don't squeeze them tight.
Relax your breathing.
Relax your mind.
Now make your first move in the kata...

Begin it relaxed. Stay relaxed as you move through. End the movement relaxed.