The Spectrum of Speed and Strength

On Sunday, 11th March 2012 Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi, the President & Chief Instructor of Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai and 8th Dan All Japan Karate do Goju Kai came to visit Brisbane, Australia under the invitation of Glenn Stephenson Shihan the Head Instructor of Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Australia.

I previously met Fujiwara Hanshi at a previous seminar in Sydney back in 2011 when I graded for my 1st Dan in Goju Kai but spent the majority of the time under the instruction of the Goju Kai kata master Kiahara Shihan (please feel free to correct me on any spelling errors here as I am unable to find any other sources).  This was the first real opportunity I have ever had to train so closely to Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi albeit shared among hundreds of other students just as hungry as I was for guidance and correction.

I would like to focus this post on two key messages that Fujiwara Hanshi was trying to communicate to us (through translation). It is amazing how much can actually be translated just through the use of some key words in English such as ‘power’, ‘smooth’, ‘hard’ all along with immaculate demonstration of the technique.

The first key message was something that I am going to use to reiterate my post of Strong and Heavy. In this post I spoke about having gradual tension in Sanchin dachi up from my feet through the thighs, into my core and then maximum tension in the laterals directed downwards. I am going to amend this to say that there should be maximum tension down through the lats, into the core and down through the thighs until finally relaxing into the ankles and feet so that there is stickiness with the ground. Fujiwara Hanshi demonstrated this on Jamie Shihan by asking him to hold full tension all through his body, then simply being able to push Jamie Shihan over like a block of concrete until he lost his balance and had to abandon the stance. Secondly, he asked Jamie Shihan to implement the correct form of tension through the body and relaxing into the ankles and feet (as demonstrated by shime over all muscles and then squeezing the ankles to ensure they were relaxed). This then allowed Fujiwara Hanshi to push Jamie Shihan from all directions without losing the interface with the ground. Our explanation was of a building being nothing but beautiful if it did not have strong foundations with the earth.

The second key message I got from the day was how critical it is in Goju Ryu karate to use tension to control the Spectrum of Speed and Strength. What I mean by this is that, in the paragraph above it was explained that tension cannot be applied to the entire body when standing in Sanchin Dachi as the relaxation of the bottom portion of the legs and feet allow the body to retain an interface with the ground. The same can be said for executing strikes whereby complete tension throughout the strike is ineffective as the relaxation of the muscles is required to achieve speed, tension is then required again at the point of impact to ensure energy remains within the target causing damage. In the application of a strike the relaxation gives speed whereas in the stance it gives stability. Ultimately, power is a combination of strength and speed and at certain times throughout the execution of techniques a combination of the two are required to maximise effectiveness.

This use of contraction and relaxation of the muscles is evident in the timing of techniques, throughout different parts of the body in stances, and is impacted by different breathing techniques and mental vision. Tencho kata gives us a great platform to practice this. When standing in Sanchin Dachi with double chudan uke there is compression of the core created through the outward turning of the wrists and in the inward squeezing of the elbows along with the crunching of the abdominal and pinching at the back of the shoulders and down through the back. Then we withdraw our left hand back into carriage where maximum tension is used by contracting the laterals to lock the left arm into carriage creating more compression. Our focus then shifts to the right hand in chudan uke that is then relaxed to execute the smooth motions of the blocks then applies contracts to withdraw the arm into carriage. This tension impacts the speed we need to block a strike and the strength we need to pull the opponent into our space (queue Occupying Space). This constant change of focus gives room for lots of errors as we train our body to retain compression and tension in one side of the body as the other relaxes to execute blocks.

I look forward to focusing more on these teachings and researching more into the use of muscle contractiom, speed and strength to maximise power. Thanks to Fujiwara Hanshi for providing the inspiration to look into this more (this article was a great read) when developing my kata as it just provided a bit more clarity into what it is that we are doing in kata and how it can further be applied into kumite and bunkai.

Oh and I was presented with my Nidan Certificate in Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai Seiichi Fujiwara aswell! Happy days!


Less is More

“Less is More” is a popular saying in the Brisbane Goju Karate dojo, one that is repeated by both James Duggan Shihan and Kain Johnson Sensei as often as Ichi, Ni, San. Usually in the context of movement, but with an unspoken relevance to intent and purpose. This post aims to explore this “less is more” concept and gain a better understanding of how it can improve our performance as a karateka.

I will start by exploring two other quotes that I have come across more recently when trying to understand “Less is More”.

The first quote

“I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like a lion, and I’m left with a lion” – Michelangelo

When we headed down the road to becoming a black belt in karate every action was to learn a new technique, increase our fitness or find a new height of mental strength. This is the journey to black belt, learning these basic techniques in order to give ourselves the best platform to mastery. If we are honest with ourselves, have trained hard with skill and an open mind then our instructors may reward our efforts with the black belt, the symbol that we have achieved the basics. In order to achieve mastery we now begin the journey of extraction.

Now for the second quote

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This sounds simple, right? Or is it possibly the most difficult task and a journey that a black belt karateka and any martial artist alike spend their entire lives trying to achieve. Removing inefficient movement requires the highest level of understanding of body mechanics, energy flow and process of thought. This decision can be simple but difficult to achieve or it can be difficult to even conceive and once identified by our instructors very simple to remove.

So what is the reward? “Less is More”.

In simple terms, by removing inefficiency of movement we can complete techniques faster or reduce the time spent on redundant movement. This translates into more time and less energy expenditure. Giving us increased performance.

And to finish up, a quote from me…

“Everything in life that we wish to attain is already within us. We just need to remove what we do not need and find happiness in what is left.”

For the karateka’s feel free to comment on a part of your karate that you have been working on improving and what you aim to get out of it.

For everyone else… what in your life have you removed and have ultimately been given more. You can’t pick bad stuff either like drinking or smoking, it has too be something that you have been doing because you thought it was good.

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