Shotokan Karate Training
There are three components to Shotokan karate
training: kihon, kata, and kumite. Each plays a crucial role
to the development of karate skills. While particular teachers
and particular training sessions may emphasize some (or only
one) components, none of them can be neglected in the course
of one's training.
Kihon is the practice of fundamental techniques:
blocking, punching, striking, and kicking. These techniques
are the beginning and end of karate -- a karateka (practitioner
of karate) may learn them in a matter of months, yet fail
to master them after a life's worth of training. Hence, basic
techniques demand regular practice, applied with as much concentration
and effort as possible.
According to the late Sensei Masatoshi Nakayama,
the karateka must practice kihon with the following in mind:
Form. Balance and stability are necessary
to basic techniques. Kicking -- in which one leg supports
the entire body -- is an example of technique that depends
on the karateka's sense of balance. Karate movements involve
shifting the body's center of gravity, which demands good
balance and control of the body. In addition, the karateka
requires stable joints, stances, and posture to deliver
(or withstand) maximum impact in (or from) a blow.
Power and speed. Karate would be meaningless
without kime, the ability to concentrate the greatest amount
of force at the point of attack (or block). Those with great
muscular strength do not excel at karate, if they never
learn to use their muscles to the greatest effect. The karateka
who excels, does so by maximizing her muscular power through
kime. In addition, the karateka's power is directly related
to the speed of her techniques. However, speed is ineffective
without proper control.
Concentration and relaxation of power. The
karateka cannot generate maximum power if her punches rely
on the arm's muscles alone, or her kicks on the leg's muscles
alone. The greatest level of power comes from concentrating
all of the karateka's strength, from every part of the body,
on the target. In addition, the karateka must generate power
efficiently, using power when and where it is needed. Maximum
power is required only at the point of impact. Until then,
the karateka should stay relaxed and avoid generating unnecessary
power. By tensing the wrong parts of the body or tensing
at the wrong time, the karateka only diminishes the amount
of power that goes into her block or attack. While she is
relaxed, the karateka should stay mentally alert.
Strengthening muscle power. The karateka must
not only understand the principles of kihon, she must give
them effect with strong, elastic muscles. Strong muscles
demand constant, earnest training. They also require the
karateka to know which muscles to use in her techniques:
well-trained muscles will lead to strong and effective karate.
Rhythm and timing. Karate has its own rhythm
that karateka should come to recognize and understand. No
technique takes place in isolation; in combining basic techniques,
the karateka should pay attention to the timing of her techniques
as well as the techniques themselves. A master karateka's
movements not only contain a great deal of power but also
rhythm and, in their own way, beauty. A sense of rhythm
and timing will help the karateka understand the techniques
and the art in general.
Hips. The hips are a crucial, yet oft-neglected
component in executing karate techniques. Hip rotation adds
power to the upper body, and is thus essential to strong
blocks and punches. The hips' proximity to the body's center
of gravity make them the foundation of strong, stable movements,
good balance, and proper form. The karateka cannot move
as smoothly, quickly, or powerfully if the hips are passive.
For this reason, teachers often remind their students to
"block with your hips," "punch with your
hips," and "kick from your hips."
Breathing. The karateka should coordinate
breathing with her techniques. Breathing enhances the karateka's
ability to relax and concentrate maximum power in her techniques.
Correct breathing -- fully exhaling when finishing a strike,
for example -- is necessary to developing kime. The karateka
should not breathe in a uniform manner; her breathing should
change with the situation. Proper inhaling fills the lungs
completely. Proper exhaling leaves the lungs about 20 percent
full -- exhaling completely makes the body limp, leaving
the karateka vulnerable to even a weak attack.
The kata are formal exercises which combine
basic karate techniques -- blocking, punching, striking, and
kicking -- into a series of predetermined movements. Kata
combines offensive and defensive techniques, proper body movement,
and changes in direction. The kata teach the karateka to dispose
of numerous attackers from at least four directions. Although
the kata do not involve visible opponents, the karateka, through
serious study of the kata, learns the art of self-defense
and the ability to calmly and efficiently deal with dangerous
situations. For these reasons, the kata have been the core
of karate training since ancient times.
According to Sensei Nakayama, there are five
characteristics of kata:
1. For each kata, there are a fixed number
of movements. (The basic Heian kata have 20 to 27 movements;
advanced kata can have over 60.) One must perform the movements
in the correct order.
2. One must begin and end the kata at the
same point on the floor. Each kata has its own "shape"
-- depending on the kata, the karateka may move along a
straight line or a "T"- or "I"-shaped
3. There are kata that all karateka must learn,
and kata that are optional. The former consist of the five
Heian kata and three Tekki kata. (Today, Tekki 2 and Tekki
3 are usually optional.) The optional kata are Bassai-dai
(although most brown belts practice this for their black
belt exam) and Bassai-sho, Kanku-dai and Kanku-sho, Empi,
Hangetsu, Jitte, Gankaku, Jion. Other kata include Meikyo,
Chinte, Nijushiho, Gojushiho-dai and Gojushiho-sho, Hyakuhachiho,
Sanchin, Tensho, Unsu, Sochin, Seienchin, Ji'in, and Wankan.
4. There are three aspects to performing a
dynamic kata: (1) correct use of power; (2) correct speed
of movement, be it fast or slow; (3) expansion and contraction
of the body. The kata's beauty, power, and rhythm depend
on these aspects.
5. One bows at the beginning and end of the
kata. Bowing is part of the kata, too.
Kata and kumite are complementary training methods.
In kata, one learns basic techniques; in kumite, one applies
them with a sparring partner. The principles of kihon (see
above) still apply to kumite: the karateka must apply proper
karate techniques, demonstrate correct power and speed, and,
above all, exercise good control -- contact is prohibited.
One must remember that, while kumite is a useful application
of the fundamentals learned through kata, it is not a substitute
There are three types of kumite: basic kumite,
ippon (one-step) kumite, and jiyu (free) kumite.
Basic kumite, consisting of five- or three-step
sparring, permits the karateka to cultivate basic blocking
and attacking through prearranged techniques. It is a useful
introduction to sparring for beginning students.
Ippon kumite also involves basic, prearranged
techniques, but adds emphasis on body movements and proper
distancing from the opponent.
In Jiyu kumite, techniques are not prearranged.
The karateka may freely engage her physical and mental powers,
but must strictly control her attacks -- contact is prohibited.
The karateka must be well-trained and disciplined enough
to make a powerful blow that stops just before it reaches
its target. For these reasons, only advanced students may
practice jiyu kumite.
(Note: Most karateka learn jiyu ippon kumite
-- a combination of one-step and free sparring -- as brown
belts. In this semi-free form of sparring, both sides must
use basic, prearranged techniques, but may act according
to their own rhythm and timing. Jiyu ippon kumite often
serves as a bridge between ippon and jiyu kumite.)
Best Karate, Vol. 1, Masatoshi Nakayama.
Dynamic Karate, Masatoshi Nakayama.