March 29, 2009

Karate. Is this word shrouded in mystery for you? Or does it make you think of a person dressed in white robes sporting a black belt flying around doing crazy kicks and punches? Hopefully, by the time you've finished reading this article you'll be able to visualize authentic karate moves. More importantly, for those who have recently started practicing karate, this article should enlighten you on the science behind these moves to help you master these amazing techniques!

Did you know? Karate originates from Japan. Its original function was for self-defense using bare hands against opponents who were armed.

For visual purposes let's view a video clip of a basic Kata, 'Taikyoku Shodan.' (Kata refers to a specific sequence or combination of karate moves, designed to be effective against a real opponent.)

Did you know? Karate emphasizes stance and hand-attacks whereas, Taekwondo (a martial art from Korea) focuses more on jumps and kicks.

Basic Punches

As seen in the clip, punches start palm-up but swiftly end palm-down. This rotation serves to maximize the power of the punch. Without this rotation, or if this rotation is too early or late, the elbow has a natural tendency to stick-out like a chicken's wing. This results in a significant reduction of power because if the elbow juts away from the body, it can bent and act as a shock absorber thereby withdrawing some of the punching force. Rotating the fist palm-up to palm-down ensures that the elbow is directly behind the fist from the start of the punch to the time the punch contacts the target. Not only does this ensure a stable motion to minimize force loss, but it also increases the force by utilizing the swing of the hips. With feet firmly grounded, force from the calves and pelvis swing in the direction of the punch, and momentum builds as the force travels to the upper body, through the elbow (which remains behind the punch throughout the whole procedure) for maximum force transport.

Did you know? 'Blade thrust' originally implied penetrating the opponent's chest by trained, hardened hands as a substitute for a weapon.

Basic Kicks

Kicking forces mainly come from the person's leg muscles in conjunction with the rotation of the hips. Therefore the stronger the leg muscles (through training) the more powerful the kicks. There are 4 Steps to any kick: (1) raising the knee, (2) throwing the kick (3), retracting the leg, knee bent and (4) putting the foot down on the ground. The reason for suspending the leg, knee bent, is so that if another kick has to be made, it can be done faster without having to start from raising the foot off the ground. The kick relies on a 'snapping' motion from the knee, somewhat similar to snapping a towel at someone. However the function of kicks is generally to push an opponent away from you.

Basic Stances

'Zenkutsu dachi' (front stance) is also seen in this clip and can be characterized by the forward leg at approximately a 90 degree angle at the knee, whereas the back leg remains straight albeit behind the body center. The stability in this stance lies in the back leg, which is kept straight at all times. In stances the body weight rests on the legs. So the straightened back leg provides 270 degrees support for the core body, the other 90 degrees coming from the front leg. This straightened back leg also allows the person to push forward fast and with power to attack. Other stances include 'kokutsu dachi' (back stance), 'shizentai' (natural stance), 'kiba dachi' (straddle/horse riding stance) and 'neko ashi dachi' (cat stance). Each stance is designed for a particular purpose.

As in any acquired skill, improvement comes from practice. Consistent karate training requires both commitment and perseverance. The reward? Not only having incredible self-defense skills but also increased overall body fitness and motor skills!

Learn more!

origin of karate

University of Toronto Karate Club

Comparison of Karate Styles

The Katas of Shotokan Karate-Do

Jina Yu writer

Jina is a University of Toronto undergrad studying Life Sciences. In her spare time she strums the guitar or doodles in her sketchbook.


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