by Chris Beswick
of White Rose Martial Arts
As an instructor I’m sometimes asked “are we doing something new this week” and it pains me to see that “we did this last week” look on some of my students faces, if only they realized how much they actually know I think they would be surprised .
This short paper, I hope will explain the importance of “Kihon” or basic training.Your basic training or “Kihon” is the most essential part of your karate development and must be practiced in one form or another at every training session. These “Basic” techniques are the building blocks of the art and must be trained and understood well if to be used in application effectively, they cover the basic motor skills one must learn in order to protect the full body.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of these “Basics”. Jodan Age-uke, this technique requires preparing your hand on the opposite shoulder and then raising it above your head and could deflect an oncoming attack to the head or neck. Gedan Bari traverses from the shoulder to below the waist, sweeping across the torso. Soto-uke and Uchi-uke are quite similar in some ways and can be used to protect the mid section, Soto-uke coming from outside to inside and Uchi-uke from inside to outside. These Techniques are initially taught as blocks and indeed could be used in such a fashion to block an oncoming attack, however if we look a little closer you will see that that the same technique in full or in part could be used in an entirely different way.
Let’s take a closer look at Gedan Barai, a simple downward block right? However I could use this motion to strike, throw, lock a joint and also to release from a grip to name a few. So you see how “basic” techniques are multi faceted and can be applied in various different and imaginative ways, and that’s just a few simple applications for a single technique. Once you start to combine these movements with other techniques and stances you will see the possibilities are endless.
From three primary colours a skilled painter can make an infinite amount of new colours and shades, just as the skilled martial artist can mix and match these primary techniques to understand and develop their karate repertoire. Some higher end applications may require more strength or power, increased flexibility and balance or some other special ability in order to execute effectively, however these are reserved for those who dedicate themselves to their art and achieve the required levels of understanding both in body and mind. I also believe it is important to earn the trust and respect of your instructor for if they are to hand you a powerful tool they must be sure that you can be trusted with it and only use it in the correct circumstances.
It is also vital that you train your techniques through their full range of motion, in doing this you will begin to get a “feel” for the technique. Also when using Gedan Barai to release a grip from your wrist you will no doubt need as much power as you can muster, so preparing high on the shoulder increases the distance the hand/arm travels enabling it to gain more velocity and therefore be more powerful and effective. One argument to this could be that in a real self defense situation you may not have time to bring your hand all the way up to your shoulder, this is perfect example of why we train the technique from beginning to end in the dojo, so we can develop the muscles, flexibility and body dynamic required to use the technique effectively even when not fully applied in a pressured situation. So now you’re starting to get the hang of your “basics” there is another important thing that you must practice and that is the controlling of your breath.
Technique can be maximized with the correct use of one’s breath, controlling the intake and outtake of breath during pre determined points in a technique or kata, this is called conscious breathing. The martial artist body is a highly tuned engine that understands and applies the secrets of breath control, this concept can allow people to feel not out of breath, but rather more refreshed and energized after training. Practice conscious breathing in your own kihon and kata, try to breathe in rhythm with the body movements, breathing in at the start and exhaling throughout with a short burst of out breath at the end to signify the completion of the technique. This will establish the preferred breathing patters into your “combat muscle memory” for each technique. Similar to contracting the muscles in the hand at the end of a chudan zuki punch.
There is a harmony between the last minute tension in hand and powerful expulsion of breath which will make the punch stronger. With conscious breath control your techniques will become more powerful and precise and if practiced and refined, melding your breath in rhythm with your body movements it will also enhance your physical and mental focus. Other benefits of breath control include superior muscle performance. By controlling the breath and regulating the oxygen flow to your muscles will have less of a buildup of lactic acid enabling you to stay at your optimum levels for longer both in body and mind. Developing this state of mind will give you a higher awareness and allow you to focus your mind clearly on the present (satori) and if a physical encounter should take place then being in the state will keep you more relaxed, reducing the amount of chemicals dumped into your body like adrenalin therefore reducing the shock and panic effect these such chemicals have on the body, effectively you can learn to control the sub conscious fight or flight response. Breath control is an essential part of martial arts training and not to be neglected, it is “basic” at first like everything but advanced later so the earlier you begin to practice it the more all rounded your karate development will be.
Now putting aside the technique and breathing for a moment, but by no means forgetting about it, there are also massive health benefits both physical and mental to be gained by training “Basics”. We are taught to train our stances long and low, and this could be for a multitude of combative reasons, Maybe to stay that little bit more out of range or maybe you would need to get that low in order to perform a takedown or trip of some kind, at the same time you are also working all the major muscle groups in the legs and in and around your core, increasing your strength, stamina, speed and flexibility as well as giving you a better understanding of your own limits and body dynamics. When you begin to couple the hand techniques with the stances and footwork you will get an overall body workout and obviously as with anything, the more you put in the better physical results you will see.
There is also tremendous mental fitness to be gained, as well as improving your concentration and focus martial arts can have meditative qualities. When one is truly focused on controlling their body movements and breathing there is an overall well being and peace of mind to be gained which is unmatched by most modern sports or activities. Exercise also releases endorphins and dopamine in to body allowing you to feel good about what you are doing at that moment, which is why doctors recommend exercise to patients suffering with depression, allowing them to experience the natural boost this gives you both in body and mind.
By looking closer at this subject I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no “Basics”. The Japanese term for this type training is Kihon and although it does translate into English as “basics” or “fundamentals” it is specific to martial arts. Kihon is not just the learning of basic fighting techniques but also teaches people foster the correct spirit and attitude at all times, it is a form of training that is directly translatable into the kata and combinations you will learn later in your Karate journey as well as the development of “Reiho” (manners). So as you can now see “Kihon” is a multitude of different training techniques and methodology which when combined can be most rewarding and satisfactory. Karate offers its students the chance to become strong and healthy both mentally and physically, it also allows its students push their selves every time they train to be the best they can be, develop the manners and discipline expected of them and most importantly instills the spirit and fortitude needed in one to achieve anything you want, and that my friends is very far from “basic”.
“Do not win after having struck, but strike after having won”