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Uncomfortable Power

March 10, 2014

Ku no Kata is still very much on my mind. There are so many ways people can mess it up or make it less effective, so I isolated all the problem areas into one scaffolding exercise. This is made up of three steps:

1)      Ichimonji no kamae – Knees are to be in line with the direction of the feet, the spine is to be straight (the tailbone tucked in) and the torso upright (not leaning forward).

This is ichimonji as I teach it. If you get it correct, you’ll notice that your rear leg will start to burn because your weight is on the leg. That’s good. I’ll explain why in a moment.

2)      Gedan Uke – The lead hand is lowered, the front foot is turned out, the weight is shifted to the front leg and the rear hand is lifted up to the face as in either shakoken or metsubushi. The tailbone is STILL to be tucked in and the torso kept upright. Hips are now square on to the opponent.

This is the point where MANY people miss it. After the gedan uke and turn, many people either let their butts stick out (forget to tuck in their tailbone) or twist their hips till the rear hip is past the original front hip. Once their butts stick out, there is automatically a disconnect between the upper body and lower body. That means that the power they derive from their hips and legs do NOT carry over to the arms, or the power is not transmitted in full.

This is fine if you are a burly, strong, strapping young fellow with loads of strength and speed to spare. This is NOT fine if you are injured, weaker, older but need to have all your taijutsu in order to generate and deliver force into your opponent.

3)      Hicho no Kamae – from the previous position, bring your shakoken hand into the regular hicho position and bring knee of your rear leg up. Keep the hips squared on towards the opponent still.

One common problem I see with the sokuyaku geri: people tend to twist their hips too early. If you twist your hips too early, by the time you kick all you have left is the force generated by your kicking leg. What we want is to have our leg movement AND the hip movement going together to deliver force into the opponent/target. That way you have the force from your leg, hip movement and stepping forward all coming together to make life miserable for your opponent/target.

This scaffolding exercise isolates and drills the correct hip movement and timing for us.

Back to the tailbone – if you do not keep it tucked in when you turn (Position 2) , you will either kick with your hips held back (which is VERY ineffective) or have to jerk your hips forward somehow as you kick. That is both ineffective AND a waste of energy. You end up using more effort and getting less result.

More Effort, Less Result

The common problem many people have with martial art movement is doing too much. If some swing is good, a lot of swing must be better, they think. If some hip movement is good, a lot of hip movement must be great, right?


If you twist your hips too much you use up energy that will not go into delivering force into your opponent. You mess up your structure and balance so you spend more effort recovering your balance, and your effort is not delivering force into your opponent.

The same also applies to stepping, by the way. If you step too far when avoiding your opponent’s attack, you are making it difficult to close the distance again and come back in to strike/grab/throw your opponent. If you step in too close you are turning your strikes into pushes as well as making it too easy for your opponent to grapple and wrestle with you. That is fine if you are the burly, strapping young dude mentioned earlier, but not if you are a lady facing an opponent bigger, heavier and stronger than you.

Side Note: And if you teach women martial arts, you are doing them a grave disservice if you make them think their skill allows them to overcome a larger, stronger opponent with ease. If weight and strength are irrelevant or that easily overcome, why on earth do they have weight classes in Judo and Brazilian Jujitsu? Far better to teach ladies to keep their distance from any attackers, and that includes striking effectively from a distance as well as focusing more on grappling that keeps the opponent further away.

Basic Discomfort

When you go into the kamae properly, especially Positions 1 and 2, you will feel very uncomfortable. You will feel tense and wound up. That is GOOD, all that tension is potential energy, ready to be directed and delivered into your opponent.

Two problems arise:

1)      People adjust their kamae to make themselves more comfortable. Shifting your knee one inch away from the correct position is more comfortable, but it takes away the potential energy your body is naturally winding up to deliver into your opponent.

2)      People think anything uncomfortable is good basics. That is not necessarily the case. Many people do wide and low kamae. Yes, it gives you the burn, it makes your legs wobble and ache and it builds up your muscles. So what? As long as your knees and spine are not in the correct position, you are NOT able to direct that force into an opponent. But you will be slower and clumsier!

Simple rule-of-thumb: when our stance is wider, we must have one leg that is bearing more of the body weight than the other. That leg will be like a loaded spring, ready to deliver force to the target. If the weight distribution is about the same, the stance has to be narrower to allow for speedy movement.

At the beginning, we take the time and effort to open up our kamae and shift the weight clearly from one leg to the other. That is the very core of our power generation. When we get better at it, we are able to generate power through smaller movements. Some of the modern arts do not go through this process. That means the practitioners very quickly plateau in their power generation and have to depend on muscular strength to proceed further. That is the way to go if you want immediate, short term improvement in ability, you just gloss past any structural or coordination problems and count on strength and speed instead. Traditional martial arts will use larger kamae to surface any structural and coordination problems so that the student can actually deal with them. And I would rather do things in the traditional way!

I’ve covered a lot of details and pointers here, in fact, I have pretty much given away my best secrets in this post. But what you do with these secrets is up to you. I hope that you will use them to make your taijutsu work. See you at class!


俊傑 (Shunketsu)


From → bujinkan

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