EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
We’ve had several interviews in the past with senior students of the late Taiji Kase sensei and one thing always comes across strongly, and that is that they all are adamant about preserving and maintaining Kase’s ideas both technical and philosophical, probably more so than any other group I’ve come across. Although I’m sure Kanazawa’s students and Asai’s students and many more would be just as fiecely protective of their heritage. However, our featured interview with sensei Velibor Dimitrijevic 7th Dan offers another fascinating glimpse into the karate mind of one of Kase sensei’s most senior students.
The term, ‘Budo Karate’ is banded about quite often but rarely do we read anyone’s interpretation of this term in any real depth. Until now that is.... Velibor Dimitrijevic gives us his own version of what budo karate means to him. I have to say this is one of the best explanations I have ever read on this important subject. Velibor Dimitrijevic believes strongly in budo karate and importantly he can also describe what it meant to his teacher, the legendary Taiji Kase.
From a technical angle, it’s fair to say that from what Velibor Dimitrijevic sensei says, fudo-dachi and ibuki breathing play a major role in the style of Kase’s students. Similarly in Goju ryu karate, sanchin-dachi and ibuki breathing play a major role yet there is a considerable technical difference between fudo-dachi and sanchin-dachi. This points to the fact that surely all karate stances, postures, techniques combined with abdominal breathing (ibuki) is a principle which originally applied to all traditional karate styles? Working on relaxation and ibuki breathing is what takes one’s karate to another level and usually requires years of experience under excellent guidance. However, in truth, not many karateka reach this advanced level.
Concerning the budo karate – sport karate issue, I remember an interview from around 1985 with Kato sensei, when he said, “I like half sport, half budo” meaning he enjoyed teaching/preparing students for competitions as well as teaching the traditional kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai.
So often we hear instructors talk about the difference between sport karate and budo karate but it’s never backed up with any definite reasons why they are different. Many instructors still enjoy teaching competition karate to their students even if their heart is in budo karate. You see this at the very highest levels in all organisations these days. It’s usually only in small dojo/clubs with predominantly older students where competition type training is not practised or even considered. It’s a choice everyone has, you discover what suits you!
I really like the opening line in Dave Paine’s article ‘The Modern Myth of Kata’. Fill in the blank: “Kata without bunkai is .…” I can imagine the huge difference in the answers people would give to this! For me, I’d say, it’s like a puzzle with a piece missing...But I’m also a strong advocate of using the performance of kata as the vehicle for self-expression....THE ART!
Good health, good training. Editor.
THE JAB (KIZAMI ZUKI) AS A DECISIVE TECHNIQUE. By Jim Stahly Jr.
The jab in karate is a quick, sharp technique, often seen as a feint or a starter to “loosen up” the opponent so another technique – typically the reverse punch – can do the heavy lifting. The implication is it’s not a finishing technique – that it lacks power, or that it’s not typically the technique that’s best suited to inflict significant damage.
On casual inspection, karate books by masters such as Nakayama, Enoeda and others seem to echo this point. They all acknowledge that a kizami-zuki “can” be a finishing technique, but most of the time, it’s not. I think many karateka take that at face value, and rationalize – perhaps because of the short distance a lead hand travels to the target from free stance, or because it’s so often followed by a reverse punch – that the jab isn’t a technique worth developing.
I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of jabs that were, without a doubt, “decisive,” so I look at those statements differently. As Senseis Randall Hassell and Edmond Otis wrote in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Karate, “If you become good enough,” it’s “a technique that can finish a bad situation all on its own.”
I maintain that these comments aren’t meant to dissuade us from developing the jab. Rather, they’re meant to challenge us to do it.
Given the proper body mechanics and training, the technique has plenty of power. Add to that how quickly the lead hand can get to the target, and distance – sometimes a surprising amount of distance – it can cover with body shifting, and you have a technique that can live up to the idea of ikken hissatsu.
What is “decisive?”
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson, former heavyweight boxing champion.
Some comments about kizami zuki:
“It can be decisive, but more often it is used as a diversionary tactic to be followed by a lunge punch, reverse punch or other finishing blow.” Masatoshi Nakayama, in Best Karate 1 – Comprehensive.
“It is not such a powerful punch as the two main straight punching techniques, oi-zuki and gyaku-zuki … When developed, kizami-zuki is a formidable deterrent to people who excel in the lunging type of attack.” Keinosuke Enoeda and Charles Mack, in Shotokan Karate Free Fighting Techniques.
“The short punch (kizami-zuki) … is a very effective and versatile punch. As with the jab used by boxers, the short punch is used as a quick, sharp punch to keep someone from coming close to you. The short punch can also be used as a fake to distract someone while you attack them with something else; as a counter to someone else’s attack; and, if you become good enough, as a technique that can finish a bad situation all on its own.” Randall Hassell and Edmond Otis in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Karate.
When I say “decisive,” I’m not talking about a “score” in sparring, or a broken nose or fat lip for a student during dojo kumite. The “decisive” techniques I mentioned above were knockout punches during dojo sparring. Even at less than full speed and power, they ended the interaction.
For the purpose of this discussion, I consider a technique “decisive” if it ends the exchange outright, or if it stops your opponent’s ability to react long enough for you to finish them off. I don’t simply mean a distraction – a white-hot shock that buys you a fraction of a second to apply your next technique. I’m talking about a technique that leaves the opponent reeling, game plan shattered, and the mind shifted into survival mode. And to me, while a jab certainly has the former, we should train so it also has the latter.
PERFORMING THE TECHNIQUE IN KIHON:
In kihon, the jab is the foil of the reverse punch. From a front stance, our dojo’s exercises typically start in jab position – hip in half-front facing as if blocking, and back knee bent. To execute the reverse punch, one straightens the back leg, driving the hip forward. The jab occurs as the back leg bends again and the hip swivels back. While the reverse punch is solar-plexus level, the jab is mouth height.
Shotokan karateka spend a lot of time discussing how to improve the reverse punch – straightening the back leg to propel the hip, keeping the hip at the same level, front knee stationary, core connection, etc. But we spend relatively little time specifically on the jab. Broadly, the same things apply:
A strong stance – The stance is the foundation of any technique. In this case, a low, deep front stance allows the karateka to bring his or her entire body weight to bear.
Core connection – Efficiently transferring the energy generated by the lower part of the body to the punch is key to power, speed and nearly every aspect of any technique. And during rotation, keeping the hip and shoulder in line with each other is critical.
Hip rotation – Since there’s not a full step like in a lunge punch, the twist powers the technique. A larger, faster movement means the punch will be more powerful.
Large arm movements – just like the hips, moving the arms further and faster can increase the power.
Head position – Despite the fact that the rest of the body is in motion, the head should remain forward.
PERFORMING JAB FROM FREE STANCE:
Executing the technique from free-sparring stance is a little different – a blend of the technique described above and the basic oi-zuki (in fact, in Dynamic Karate, Nakayama refers to kizami zuki as “a kind of lunge punch”).
From sparring stance (slightly shorter front stance with back leg bent and hips in half-front facing position), the front foot steps forward, and the back leg straightens to drive the body forward, then draws up behind.The hips drive forward, like lunge punch, but also rotate inasmuch as that’s possible, probably more resembling vibration than the rotation you’d see in the kihon version. The front foot and fist land at the same time, but the back foot will draw up behind an instant later.
The differences between this technique and its basic version change the emphasis. But the trade-off for stability and larger hip and arm motion is consideration of an opponent who’s actively trying to hurt you at the same time.
Because the technique is executed from a shorter, higher stance – and typically involves a shift of both feet – it may feel less stable. But the increase in mobility allows one to move more quickly and react more easily. It also adds one of the chief advantages of the jab – the ability to cover significant distance quickly to catch an opponent.
Because the hip is already back (or forward, as we discussed above), the rotation will be smaller. This is balanced by the forward hip motion discussed above, and the half-front facing position presents less of a target to an attacker.
In sparring stance, hands start in the guard position – lead arm bent and pointing at the opponent’s face, while the back hand covers the body, further forward than the chambered position in kihon. Typically, when the punch takes place, the drawing hand stays in guard position.
The main advantage from this hand position is the ability to protect oneself from attacks, whether before, after or even during your technique. But because of that positioning, the lead hand doesn’t have nearly as far to accelerate, which limits its power and speed. And the drawing hand doesn’t provide any of the pull we’re accustomed to in basic technique.
At the same time, the lead hand is closer to the target, so it has a shorter distance to travel. And strong hip action can help offset the loss in hand motion.
Now, let’s look at ways to build the kumite version of the jab into an effective weapon. Now, don’t take from this the notion that kihon practice isn’t important. To me, it’s probably more so, because that’s the place where speed, power and kime are forged. What we’ll look at here are really nuances to help make sure those elements don’t get lost when an opponent is standing in front of you.
As I mentioned before, in my mind, the sparring jab takes the driving element form oi-zuki. So when I consider practicing jab in basics, I consider lunge punch and its development of a driving hip and strong kime as an important part of that training. I’ll discuss elements of that below, but because oi-zuki is one of the most frequently practiced techniques in karate (and because that technique could be a topic of a series of papers in itself), we won’t discuss it in detail here.
From the ground up:
Because of the limited arm movement, the ability to move in this stance is paramount to both the speed and power. But more than that, a great deal of the jab’s ability to surprise – and thus be decisive – comes from the ability to deliver it strongly at a point when the opponent feels safe.
When we practice movement in free stance, we practice it differently than we do in kihon. It’s a shift, not a step, that we employ when marching up and down the floor. When introducing a student to sparring stance, we typically describe this motion as “step and slide” – one steps with the lead foot, and lets the rear foot pull up behind.
Initially, the goal is to simply get some control of the movement. We train the students to make sure their feet don’t come together, and to try to make the technique a smooth, one-step action, even though both feet move. Also, we want to make sure the stance still resembles a front stance once the move has completed.
Once a student has gained a level of comfort with the movement and has some element of stability throughout, it’s time to increase the speed and distance of that “step.” It’s also time to acknowledge that there’s more going on than we’ve previously discussed.
In order to add distance, it’s necessary to drive off the back foot as the front foot comes up. That’s what happens whether we think about it or not, but at this point, it’s time for the student to concentrate on that driving action. That will increase speed and power, and concentrating on the driving action vs. the “step” will minimize the amount of time the front leg is reaching forward, out of position.
One drill to help reinforce this driving action pairs a basic oi-zuki with the sparring jab:
Start with feet together, both knees bent, and extend the right hand, simulating the halfway point of oi-zuki.
Drive forward into oi-zuki with the left leg, switching hands as the back leg straightens. Switch to sparring stance, left or right leg forward, hands in guard position. (See photo examples next page).....
Using the same motion you just practiced before, straighten the back leg to shift forward, making sure the timing of foot and fist is the same as in the oi-zuki.
Done correctly, the feeling will be almost the same.
From here, a student should strive to increase the amount of distance he or she can cover while landing solidly. According to Masahiko Tanaka’s Perfecting Kumite, “You should get your body used to covering as great a distance as you can with this technique.”
As I’ve stated above, the hips are back for the duration of this technique, so the forward motion of the hips carries much of the weight. At the same time, a student should still attempt to twist the body – likely resembling hip vibration.
Frequently, this push for distance results in karateka leaning forward. It’s a natural thing to reach for the target, but leaning breaks the connection of the body, severely limiting power and stability. Further, it puts the head closer to the opponent – almost never a good option.
There’s a natural human tendency to “wind up” before we hit something. We fight that in most places in our training, but in few places does it seem more prevalent than in the execution of the jab. Perhaps it’s because the movement of the arm is so small, it’s natural to want to make it bigger.
But this is a mistake. It’s true that adding more distance adds to the potential impact, but doing this becomes a “tell,” stealing away the speed and suddenness that allow the technique to become decisive.
For the drawing hand, many schools pull it back, just as you would in a basic technique. In some circumstances this may be fine, but doing so in general leaves the body open to attack during the technique. For many, not using hikite makes the technique feel weaker.
The solution to both these issues – both intended as solutions to the perceived weakness of the upper body action – is to focus on the hip action as the real power to the technique. Make sure the arms work with the hips – they shouldn’t try to solve the problem by themselves.
In one episode of the TV show Happy Days, Richie Cunningham (played by a then-freckled redhead named Ron Howard) has a run-in with bullies who make him look bad in front of his girlfriend.
He determines he needs to toughen up and face these bullies head-on, and seeks advice from his motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket-wearing friend, the Fonz. He also attends a judo class put on by the owner of the Arnold’s, the diner and hangout that’s one of the main settings for the show (Interestingly, “Arnold” is played by Pat Morita, who would later become famous as Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid movies).
Still, when he moves to confront the bullies later in the episode, they seem unimpressed. He turns to the Fonz, sitting in a nearby booth, and asks why nobody’s buying his new tough guy facade.
“I left out one very small detail,” says the Fonz. “You got no reputation for toughness. Once in your life you had to have hit somebody.”
Richie’s reaction made it one of my favorite Happy Days moments. But Fonzie’s point relates to the next step in polishing the jab – applying it. Up to now, our discussion has largely been about the mechanics of the technique. Now, I want to spend a little time dealing more directly to the challenges of placing the technique on a target.
‘Drive’ vs. ‘rotate’
Most of the discussion here has been about gaining immense distance with the jab, envisioning it as the first technique in an exchange. Because of this, forward movement plays a more central role. But as the distance becomes closer, that balance shifts. Without so much forward motion, the rotation or vibration contributes more. In most cases, if we’re moving from free stance, this means the hip movement needs to be sharper, because the hip is still back. And if the jab follows another technique like reverse punch that ends with the hip forward, then rotation would come even more fully into play.
Whether the execution ends up using vibration or rotation, this is where basic practice comes in. Spending time isolating the rotation part of this technique in basic stance, when it’s as big and powerful as it can be, allows the smaller movement to be effective.
Pull vs. push (distance and focus)
If the distance is off, a couple of different things can happen. In the case of a pulled punch, the technique comes up short or lacks focus when it hits. It may look good, but lacks the connection that would power the technique.
On the other end is the push. Here, a technique extends, but either extends and focuses too early or hits too soon, with the result of a push, rather than a smash into a target.
A couple of ways we can combat these problems are a drill called “three to five,” and impact training.
In the three to five partner drill, students face each other as if getting ready to free spar, but typically on one side of the dojo. One is designated the attacker, and the other the target. The attacker moves forward, executing a series of techniques from free sparring stance. The target shifts back at the same speed as the attacker. The target side doesn’t block, but allows the attacker to place his techniques on target (limited contact to the body, a slight distance from the face).
The drill is great for fine-tuning distance with different techniques and different sized attackers. And because the initial distance can be controlled, it can allow for consistent training of a jab that starts a series.
Another way to address these issues is with impact training. Whether it’s a makiwara, heavy bag or pad, practicing the jab against it allows for instant feedback as to whether there was a solid, sudden impact, or whether a technique was pulled or pushed.
The jab is often considered little more than a feint or distraction. But, as the old maxim says, a feint’s only going to distract effectively if it would work in the first place. Today, we’ve looked at ways to infuse the jab with the power, speed and distance.
Some of these ideas are drills that can be practiced or taught on their own. Others are feelings and principles that a student or instructor can focus on throughout training.
Whether or not a karateka’s sparring strategies involve the jab as a finishing blow or a means to an end, the point to take away is that the jab can and should be an important element of the arsenal, and that consistent, thoughtful practice can make the technique a versatile weapon that’s well suited to do whatever job it’s given.