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Never Forget Effectiveness

There are two concepts in Karate that need to be understood.

First, faster is generally better. A faster movement will generally transfer more power... a good thing.

The second is that as we advance, we are to refine our movements. You could compare this to polishing a diamond.

However, these two concepts are sometimes used by students to justify the minimization of movements to such an extent that the original meanings of the movements are lost. Some students emphasize speed above all else and one way to accomplish this is to minimize (or streamline) the movements.

Take a simple outward block (what I call uchi uke.. like the first movement of Pinan Godan). Most students will prepare for the movement by crossing their bent arm across their body. Then they will block, sort of in a windshield wiper-like manner. This is a gross simplification, however my point is that there are two movements involved.

To speed things up, the first movement (the preparation) can be minimized or even eliminated. The block would then be thrown, much like an uppercut. The sideways movements are minimized or eliminated. All that is left is a vertical rising block. Actually, there is no difference between uchi uke and soto uke when the block is minimized in this way. The element of blocking from the outside or inside is eliminated. You just block up and out.

Again, these are gross simplifications, but I hope that you understand my point. To make things faster, movements are streamlined... sometimes to extreme degrees.

Here is what I am trying to get to. That first part of the block, the preparation in which the student crosses his bent arm across his body, has meaning. In some cases, that movement is actually the block and the second part of the block is actually a strike. If you eliminate that first movement, you also lose the meaning.

As kata are streamlined (minimized for speed), this movement and that are eliminated -- as are the meanings associated with those movements. Soon you are left with a shorthand kata that might look good (to the untrained observer) but will be less meaningful than the original kata.

Of course, a Karate expert can perform a kata in many different ways. He can perform the kata the longhand way or the shorthand way -- either way, he will know all the meanings (imi or bunkai). He can perform the kata as he likes or as needed. He can also execute techniques as he likes or as needed. If a preparatory cross is needed, he can do it. If not, he can skip it. He can do what is needed because he understands the movements fluently.

But there is a major problem when less advanced students try to copy an advanced form (that might be minimized). That student might not understand the movements as fluently, and when he minimizes or eliminates a movement he actually loses something. His kata will now be less effective.

Speed does have value. But what matters is not how fast you get from Point A to Point B, but how fast you execute the movement once you get to Point B. Don't rush. After all, the attacker is attacking you. You know where he is going. He is coming toward you. Your job is to defend against that attack.

And when you defend, speed only matters if it makes you more effective. Does your speed allow you to generate and transfer more power, or are you just floating? Are you all flash with no pop?

Hey, there is something to be said about just hitting really, really hard. It might not be elegant, but it generally works.

And refinement does not simply mean making movements faster. Refinement is always balanced against the effectiveness of a movement. If the movement is refined, it becomes more effective, not less.

I often tell my students that sometimes the best defense it to simply tackle the attacker, wrestle him to the ground, and punch the crap out of him (or choke, joint lock, stomp, etc.). Before you reply that this is a crude defense, think about some of the Karate experts you have seen. Some look so good, so fast, so refined, but could they withstand such a defense? Could they really?

If you make a movement faster, it must be more effective. If you make a movement more refined, it must be more effective. Everything we do must be measured by effectiveness.

An ugly effective technique is way better than a pretty ineffective technique.


Charles C. Goodin