Translated as power this is what all seek and train for in both mental and physical dimensions. There are many ways to define and many proverbs both in the West and East that point the way in this pursuit. A well-known Japanese proverb is “Keizoku wa chikara nari ”, to Continue is power. For many the mental side is forgotten or taken for granted but this is key to longevity and understanding. For others it is to seek the strongest punches and kicks as well as toughness for receiving as well as giving.
Hojo Undo for some (generally more traditional groups) offers this supplemental support, “assistance to basics and techniques” as my Sensei would often say! This incorporates the use of many of the following strength related implements:
- Nigiri Game – Gripping Jars
- Chi Ishi – Weighted Stones or Levers
- Ishi Sashi – Stone Padlocks
- Testu Geta – Iron Sandals
- Kongoken – Large heavy Iron Ring
- Tan – Traditional Barbell
- Makiage Kigu – Wrist Roller
- Tsuburi Bokken – Heavy Bokuto
In addition for conditioning many use:
- Makiwara – both fixed and fluid
- Jari Bako – Sand Box
There are others but for the sake of making the point it is clear that traditional study and practice always included supplemental aids to increase power and capability. The Hojo way is designed to train in tangent to the techniques to strengthen them using the same core muscles and body supporting muscles to enable a stronger delivery. This relevance makes it different to the use of gym weights which are not as specific and not designed around the techniques for martial arts.
In many traditional dojo the aforementioned are compulsory as part of the training and incorporated as much like the practice of Kihon, Kata and Kumite. I remember queuing to use the Makiwara in Japan and hoping it was not me that blemished the impact areas with blood!
In addition the use of varying size and weight kick bags is useful to understand the feedback and way of striking and impacting. Softer bags for impact and vibration and heavier bags like the sand bag for dense closer range consolidation and power. Again, memories of O’Sensei insisting the lighter bag should vibrate on impact and not swing and swinging bags should shudder to rest from delivery impact.
As soon as you start punching the bag or Makiwara the obvious shortcomings arise. The wrists are too loose and twist, the elbows stick out and defuse the connection the core and the knees do not bend enough resulting is absorption into the shoulders which lift. There is always shock for those not use to impacting and a realisation that Kata and Kihon alone do not fill the cup of competence.
There is also a realisation that the impact areas need to be focused. When punching the first two knuckles are key to Karate exactness and should be the only areas initially that make contact. Many students want to wear gloves but these generalise and also inhibit conditioning.
For students of Karate starting the journey of impact punching, it is useful to start with Tate Tsuki, standing fist. This keeps the connection through the wrist to the elbow and core straighter. It also alleviates a little the wrist bend issue.
For bag work a structured approach is needed and in Japan this was initially drilled in as the journey approach:
- Still bag and static stance using Tate Tsuki for short and medium distances
- Still bag and drifting entry front leg using Tate Tsuki for short and medium distances
- Moving bag and static stance using Tate Tsuki for short and medium distances
- Moving bag and drifting entry front leg using Tate Tsuki for short and medium distances
All are undertaken using Gyaku Tsuki to enable the hip and supporting back leg engagement. This was just the start but it provides a good understanding of impacting rooted and impacting mobile. It also teaches body distance awareness to the bag prior to punch engagement. When impacting the core automatically tenses and breathing underpins the punch impact. Short breaths for Kime and longer breaths for heavier power punches pushing through. Punches should start from close range to ensure technique purity and points of focus are not compromised. Many find the knuckle are scuffed all over which is wrong and indicates power above technique and accuracy.
Very quickly there is an understanding of what constitutes a pushing punch, a vibrating punch and a recoil punch. This is imperative to understand otherwise like so many students they use the bag like a boxer only and deploy Karate less and less. The nuance should be studied well and variations should be intentional and not coincidental.
The bag can be supported significantly by the Makiwara, which focuses quickly on the knuckle contact points and feeds back to the elbow, shoulder and core through the legs. Many are not able to hit the Makiwara hard which is acknowledged but it is the contact points that initially are key and like the bag, punching should be from close range to ensure accuracy and precision. The conditioning of the skin will take time but is key to understanding impact striking and consequence both in the strike and in the body at and after contact.
Tate Tsuki is strongly recommended firstly to get the fist, elbow and hip position correct and the embrace of the floor. Slightly shifting the body weight into the punch should be applied as well as an initial small recoil to avoid the skin splitting. After Tate Tsuki start Seiken from close range and feel the fist position for impact. With the twist of the wrist in Seiken impact power is not felt as easily as Tate Tsuki. Gradually the range should be lengthen but do not lose accuracy and awareness of the contact point. Additionally Uraken should be deployed but again with some degree of time to allow the hands to toughen up. In addition the knuckles remain more rounded with using Tate, Seiken and Uraken reducing the callous caps that can be torn or split with angled contact.
There is more to be undertaken on focus mitts and pads from both a static and mobile action and again the feel and contact points are essential. Many for example do Uraken with no recoil and the fall use of the back hand rather than the backs of the first 2 knuckles. Remember accuracy firstly followed by the build-up of power with pushing through, recoiling and tensing principles. Speed is a key element but this must be tempered by the accuracy firstly and the gradual understanding of distance utilisation and when to engage.
For students who also study Kobujutsu, the approaches correspond well with the use of weapons. Jodan Uchi with the Bo for example can be undertaken passing through the target point and stopping on the impact point with tension and Kime. Impact training quickly identifies the power hand and the guide hand in Kobujutsu and this is imperative.
The way of things is not dependent on just open hand and can be transmitted through everything that is used in the ways of combat. Increasing power, understanding and ways to deploy and maximise it should not be approached lightly and taken for granted it will happen in time. It requires focus and training methods to assist and increase the impact energy!