EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
Sensei Guy Brodeur 7th Dan is a former four times National Champion All Traditional styles (Chito, Goju, Shito, Wado and Shotokan) with the NKA of Canada (Tsuruoka sensei’s organisation, ‘the Father of Canadian karate’) and has won the SKI’s (Kanazawa) 1985 World Championship in Team Kata and 2nd in Individual Kata in Germany. After a Traditional Shotokan Karate background and a successful competition career, Guy was looking for something else, a way, like many others, to further develop his karate after many years of training and competing.
Later, in 1998 he discovered the formidable sensei Steve Ubl and Guy’s karate life changed in an instant. This is the story of one man’s journey which is still in progress on a different path albeit still, as he explains in the interview, a dedication to Traditional Shotokan Karate. He has not departed from this path, as many other karateka have done.
It’s interesting to read how one single experience training with a different sensei can turn your karate life around. I’ve seen this happen many times over the past almost 50 years of training. You spend years going in one direction and then ‘Boom’ just one lesson with someone different and it puts your head in a spin!
Dr Wolf Herbert’s article about the importance of training alone is appropriate for all karateka, especially over the past year or so. The corona virus pandemic has made it impossible to train in one’s dojo in a class environment. Of course there have been and still are Zoom classes but as good as that is, that is no substitute for the dojo and hands-on practise with fellow students. Wolf’s article shed’s some light on the merits of solo training. Hopefully with the vaccinations rolling out we will all be back in the dojo before too long.
We’ve heard the expression originally fashioned by Master Gichin Funakoshi, “Contraction-Expansion” of the body and also the expression “Compression-Expansion”. Yet, we have to trust the literal English ‘translations’. Hopefully, the article in this edition, “Compression-Expansion Principles” by my friend Dr Bill Laich 7th Dan Shotokan and Professor of Biomechanics, based in Madrid, will explain and expand on the topic, as he spent a lot of time in the 1980s with Nishiyama sensei in Los Angeles studying and experimenting with this concept.
I feel that the general idea behind these principles is to move one’s karate from a youthful, athletically based format, which young people do naturally – and some people continue to do and never move beyond this athletic type of movement, to a more sophisticated concept of using the body like a compressed spring, ready to explode into action at any given moment.
Nishiyama, Kanazawa, Kase etc, all the great Masters of Shotokan Karate-do utilized these principles and tried to pass these on to their students. They are concepts way beyond the youth-based Sport-karate world. Nothing wrong with that for a young person. However, if you want to make karate a lifelong pursuit, you have to look at what happens when your natural athleticism has faded/declined.
Good Health, Good Training, Editor.
COMPRESSION–EXPANSION PRINCIPLES By Dr Guillermo (Bill) Laich
Contraction-expansion principle is a key element in the generation of acceleration and maximal speed. With respect to applying any hand or foot karate technique via the contraction-expansion principle, the longer and steeper your acceleration, the higher your maximum velocity will be.
Proper acceleration is arguably the most important phase in the application of any karate technique. This is so because good acceleration sets your hand or foot up for a high level of maximum speed as it hits the target at the moment of kime (focus). In my mind, the most important phase in the integration of explosion, acceleration, speed and power is the acceleration phase. This is mainly because it is the longest phase and it is also easily trainable in the dojo. It is there that the explosive strength of the karate student expresses itself best.
Contraction-expansion of anatomical body components is a major contributor to this process. In fact one of my favorite acceleration development training methods is to improve the acceleration phase with small resistance training. This means accelerating with resistance, mostly from a standing, still, and relaxed position. On the other hand I also use supramaximal speed training in which the acceleration and maximum speed phases are increased 10 to 11% above their maximum. Beyond those percentages body control and proper force transference biomechanics progressively decay and should not be encouraged.
To be truthful the concept that Sensei Nishiyama drilled into me for years, and that we later discussed for many more years, was not so much related to “contraction-expansion” but basically to “compression-expansion” as applied to body mechanics and all karate techniques.
Needless to say, there is an important and wide-scoping physiological and biomechanical distinction between the two concepts: one thing is muscle contraction and expansion, and quite another is “compression and expansion.” Muscle contraction does not necessarily lead to muscle expansion, whereas muscle compression always leads to muscle expansion. What we call tissue leverage or tissue compression expresses itself in a totally different form than muscle contraction. Both elements can be taught and trained to function synergistically in the development of strength, speed, and power. Tissue leverage driven compression-expansion is an expression of organic intracellular and interstitial leverage. It’s a mechanical advantage that is gained when there is intracellular glycogen, fat, and fluid filling the skeletal muscle fibres as if they were water balloons, and sufficient fluids surrounding the muscle fibres in the interstitial spaces.
In order to understand this concept we need to imagine that we are holding a water filled balloon in each hand. Then we bring them together until contact pressure builds up and the two balloons actually exert a compression force against one other. The stronger we pushed them together, the higher will be the compression forces, and the stronger will be the tendency for the two balloons to try to expand and release the compressed potential energy.
Simply substitute fluid-filled skeletal muscle fibres and interstitial fluids for the two balloons and you have understood the tissue leverage compression-expansion principle which requires four consecutive steps.
Step 1: an initial muscle contraction in order to create a compression force that will tend to snap the technique out quickly. Step 2: a natural increase in the compression force which will later maximize the speed of the snap. Step 3: a muscle relaxation which allows for the compression driven release of the technique. Step 4: at the point of maximum acceleration a true and final kime can only be applied from a prior state of relaxation.
Are we talking about a highly complex and time-consuming biomechanical and neuromuscular sequence to learn and apply? The answer is an absolute Yes! But at the same time we are identifying a highly aesthetic and effective expression of traditional martial arts philosophical depth, applicative, and artistic beauty. That is precisely what traditional karate is all about.
Further understanding of the tissue leverage concept can be gleaned if we look at a typical push-push game played by kids. All of us at one time sat back to back on the floor with a friend and facing opposite directions. Then we reached back and interlocked our arms. Upon doing that we pushed hard with our legs and simultaneously pulled with our arms until sufficient compression and pressure built up on our backs. At that point we were able to simultaneously raise to a standing position. Without the tissue leverage we would not be able to stand up.
That is, precisely, the tissue leverage driven compression-expansion principle in action. And that was precisely what Sensei Nishiyama and I were trying to further understand and exploit in the application of all karate techniques.
We soon discovered that this simple principle could be implemented in any and all karate techniques, especially when the stretch reflex is simultaneously and synergistically activated as the muscles and tendons expand. It became clear that the synergistic combination of compression-expansion and the stretch reflex could be utilized to one’s advantage through carefully applied ballistic training techniques. The gedan barai, shuto uke, uchi uke, soto uke, uraken uchi, tetsui uchi, gyaku zuki, kizami zuki, mae geri techniques, among others, are karate techniques that can be utilized to learn this hybrid and biomechanically synergistic expression of strength, speed, and power.
Let’s take the technique of uraken as an example. We can snap the arm much harder and faster by compressing the forearm sharply and strongly against the biceps before extension. If we do not compress and elicit the stretch reflex simultaneously, the forearm and fist are “pushed-out” instead of “snapped-out.” In addition, a push-out will produce far less speed, force, and kime than if both components are elicited simultaneously (tissue compression and the stretch reflex).
Carefully planned ballistic training, augmented with a series of well designed vertical and horizontal plyometric drills, will considerably improve our ability to make use of the compression-expansion and stretch reflex combo simultaneously and effectively. However, written words are just symbolic elements, and one has to actually train this complex neuromuscular sequence in real time and in real life in order to learn and implement it accordingly.
It took us years of gradual testing, re-testing, failures, and more failures, in order to put it all together and move forward from a purely instinctive and intuitive understanding to a more functional and rational explanation. Needless to say much more can be said on this topic. These key concepts can be factored into hara and breathing as well in order to maximize intra-abdominal pressure and core connection at the moment of kime transmission.
When, in all humbleness, I teach these concepts in karate classes and seminars very few students actually pay attention or begin to understand what is being said. In fact, I question the fact that they even care, they simply want to punch and kick in a sports-like fashion. But for persons whose goal is to understand the fathomless philosophical and technical depths of Shotokan karate, we listen very carefully … and we also care.
These concepts are certainly not easy to understand but they make all the difference in the world. Especially in people over 55 who have to learn to find and use the right body springs (load and release) in order to make their techniques smooth, effective, and beautiful.
Many of these fine biomechanical concepts, as applied to Traditional Karate, have remained relatively “submerged underwater” for many years. In most cases due to a true lack of understanding and definition.
On some courses and seminars that I have taught, I was often and conveniently asked to change the subject and move on. It happened when the other instructors present were unable or unwilling to make the mental effort to try to follow the thinking stream.
An intellectual yet practical stream that would allow them to comprehend the concepts exposed. It was like hitting a solid wall for them. As if they were intimidated and/or afraid to feel overshadowed by world class information to which they never had any access. Thus, they were driven by their inflated ego’s to remain mediocre in order to save face in front of themselves and their students. Needless to say, to me and many other karate-ka that is a very limiting and sad thing indeed.
Following the recommendation of my good friend John (SKM Editor), I took a close look at a short video clip by sensei Scott Langley – and I believe his concepts are spot on. Scott, needless to say, is an extraordinary Sensei with excellent internal and external technique. He understands the contraction-compression-expansion process very well. This is a good example of this principle when using a movement from Shotokan kata Bassai Dai. I asked John to please congratulate Scott Langley for his clip. I really enjoyed it. You can view it here..... www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlFXBGqNbYw
For many years, while living in Europe, I was very fortunate to continue my karate training with the great Sensei Taiji Kase, based in Paris. He visited us in Madrid and Alicante on a frequent basis and was extremely generous in sharing his highly explosive and effective techniques. I remember how we always used to change into our karategi together in a small room just before and after the classes.
Throughout the years we became very close friends indeed and exchanged much knowledge and experiences. In Alicante he used to sit at the beach and meditate for hours on end as the waves rolled in and out. He was a real Samurai through and through, and left a wonderful and lasting impression in my heart. Just like Sensei Nishiyama he was able to “load his internal springs” very quickly in order to face any given situation. When he released them – not all at once but sequentially – the result was pure explosion and kime. Attacking or defending he could fool all of us blind, wherever and whenever he wanted. To put it simply, he was “way ahead of the game.”
Anytime anyone wanted to square off with him he would simply and always say: “Fine, let’s go.” It was then that the look in his face changed (see photo above) and things got serious. There was no way to deceive him or to get close without a very creative attack or defense coming your way. Something totally new and unexpected every single time. Sensei Kase’s creativity was limitless.
Senseis Nishiyama and Kase deeply and mutually respected each other. In one special reunion with many of the world’s top karate Senseis, all of them in unison agreed that the most lethal of all was, without a doubt, Sensei Kase.