Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Karate Practitioners Have Different Brain Structures

According to the Cerebral Cortex Journal, scientists in Britain have determined that karate practitioners do not purely use brute strength or muscular mass to achieve their concrete-breaking power - rather, through years of practice, their brains have rewired themselves to perfect and repeat the most efficient methods of striking a target.

While the notion of "practice makes perfect" is no new idea, these scientists think they may have found proof of the brain actually changing in physical structure, specifically in the "white matter" area of the brain. Researchers measured punches from a group of karate blackbelts and a group of equally fit athletes. At a distance of 5 centimeters, the karate practitioners could consistently generate a punch with more impact and PPSI (pounds per square inch). It is believed that the brain, aside from having a different structure, also sent signals to develop the nerves that initiated these precise movements to a level of near-perfection.

Kendo Footwork

Here is a treatise on footwork in Kendo. Notice any similarities between this and Taekwondo? Sometimes, it's best to outmaneuver your opponent.

  In Kendo, the Japanese martial art of sword-fighting, the most important thing to know is not how to swing your sword, but how to move your feet.  Good footwork offers more to kenshi that just being able to smoothly maneuver across the dojo floor. It can also bring you into your proper attacking distance with a step, carry you out of danger, or shift your position for the most advantageous strike, all while keeping your body balanced. Good footwork also allows you to put pressure, or seme, on your opponent, and proper footwork is a vital part of achieving zanshin, a state in which your mind and body are working together to put pressure on your opponent while retaining enough flexibility to counterattack.

Footwork begins and ends with the most basic stance in kendo, chudan no kamae. In this stance, the feet are both facing forward, about two fists apart. Slide the left foot back, keeping the leg straight,  until the big toe of the left foot is at the edge of the right foot’s heel. Bring up the heel of your left foot until the ball of your foot is supporting your weight, then bend the right leg slightly.

In order to move, kick off with the left foot, sliding the right foot forward, then bring your left foot back into the starting position. This step is called okuri-ashi, and it is the most basic step in kendo. Taking a step back requires you to push back with your right foot. In all cases, you want to slide your feet along the ground. This deceptively simple step is the basis for the rest of kendo, and kenshi will spend the rest of their kendo career learning how to do it right.

Here is a video of a 5th dan kenshi demonstrating proper okuri-ashi

Beginning kenshi will often get blisters on their feet as they are getting used to sliding their feet across the floor. This can be painful, but it is also a good learning tool. If a blister forms, make sure it is on the center of the ball of your foot, between the second and third toes. If the blister is closer to your big toe, you need to adjust your stance.

Kendo footwork is a good example of the linear footwork found in Japanese martial arts, including Karate and Judo. The emphasis is on advancing quickly in order to attack, not to mention being able to retreat quickly if you need to. In fact, kendo’s footwork provides a common link between hand-to-hand martial arts and European fencing. In fact, fencing as a sport offers the clearest example of linear footwork since the two opponents only advance and retreat.

When fighting with a sword, nothing is more important than speed, decisiveness, flexibility and balance. With practice, kendo footwork provides the key to all four of these traits. 

Chris Gottschalk is a freelance writer and kendo practitioner. He runs a website at http://chrisgottschalk.info/

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Martial Arts and Dance

    While the two disciplines have remarkably different goals (fun and style vs practicality and combat), they are very intertwined. In fact, some martial arts have combined the two elements into one style, such as Capoeira, and some dance styles have incorporated martial arts techniques into their arsenal. In fact, professional MMA fighters have taken ballet to improve their chances in the ring.

   The upper body movements are often completely different and present the illusion that the two are not connected. The real connection comes when one examines the foot and leg movements.

Let's examine some of the more popular dance styles of today:


Melbourne Shuffle:


    Now let's look at them one by one. The first video was jumpstyle. Jumpystyle is  largely influenced by traditional European folk dances and makes use of repetitive short hops and kicking movements. The "tricks" thrown in between the basic moves are generally aerial and have a high resemblance to Taekwondo-based kicks, such as the 540 roundkick. Chambering of the leg, as seen in Taekwondo and Karate, is also often implemented.

 Next, we saw the Melbourne Shuffle. The Melbourne Shuffle consists almost exclusively of ankle rotations to the left and right, mixed with the "Running Man". This simple movement is the major component of power generation in all kicks, regardless of the martial art (a notable exception may be the basic front kick). By extension, the shuffle to the left or right is the exact same ending movement that Bruce Lee used in his famous stepping sidekick, except that the extending leg does not tend to go above the thigh. The mechanics are the same. This technique is seen at approximately the 1:00 mark in the below video.

  Lastly, we saw Rebolation. Sometimes called the Brazilian version of the Melbourne Shuffle, it incorporates elements of shuffling and jumpstyle, as well as various other movements. The fluidity of transitioning from a "hopping" movement to a "shuffling" movement, as seen in Rebolation, is a major problem for people entering MMA who need to transition from standup to a clinch. Called "pummeling" in Muay Thai, this happens when the transition is made from striking distance into a clinch. Once in the clinch, upper body rotation is used to achieve positional superiority by gaining either double underhooks or upperhooks. However, using pure upperbody strength would be exhausting and MT fighters will use footwork, especially footwork resembling the "pivot walk" seen in Rebolation, to position themselves and give their upperbody extra torque, while remaining rooted firmly to the ground.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lutalo Wins Bronze

The Guardian

 Lutalo Muhammad, center of the BOA controversy during the Olympics, has emerged with a bronze medal. However, the real controversy now is whether or not Aaron Cook would have performed better. Although there is no arguing that Lutalo Muhammad is an excellent athlete and world-ranked Taekwondo fighter, Aaron Cook was ranked #1 in the whole world in his weight class.

Technique Training Toolbox – Elastic Roundhouse

For the majority of Olympic sparring competitors, the roundhouse kicks, and its many variations, are the bread and butter of their sparring game. So what if I told you I knew some great drills for increase the speed and power of your roundhouse?

I have three simple drills using one simple tool; the elastic.

Any sturdy, long piece of elastic with loops for your ankle that can take rapid and repeated stretching (we use bicycle inner tubes tied together, you can buy resistance bands of different strengths,) attached to a solid unmoving anchor (we put our elastic around a door's floor bolt.)

Ideally you'll use the same elastic for each time you do a drill, making comparing your performance each time simple.

The above video is of me demonstrating the three drills:
It comes with some great free commentary by one of our resident eight year olds.

“Why do you use the rubber?”
“To make it harder”

Well put.

Contrast Kicks

The idea is pretty simple; kick the bag pretty much as hard as you can, making sure you have good technique and speed. Take your time with these kicks, no need to rush, do this for about 5-10 kicks.

Then put the elastic around the ankle of the foot you want to kick with. To begin with you'll want to start with the elastic just tense with your foot back (this will stop it suddenly pulling). Record this distance from your anchoring point (we can improve this later). Again, kick as hard and fast as you can, taking your time to get good technique. Once kicking with this much resistance is easy, take a few steps past taut and kick with increased resistance. Do this for the number of reps you want.

Take off the elastic and finish off with another 5-10 unrestrained kicks, using the same technique you used while using the elastic. The power of this set should be more than the power of your initial warm up set.

So how does this work?

I've had students who were big solid men, who would kick your kidneys out with every roundhouse. The problem? They did this huge wind-up that made them slow and easily predictable; they fell in the stereotype of the slow lumbering big guy. This drill causes the wind up technique to become tiring and inefficient in generating power. So what I was finding with these guys was, with very little coaxing, their technique improved a lot, and most of their drive was coming forward, making their kicks much faster.

Similarly with a lot of kids and even women, I found often the problem was they couldn't put any power into their kicks, whatever their hold-back, whether it be fear of injuring themselves, unaccustomed to the idea of hitting others, or any other reason. This drill helped a lot of them generate that raw power when hitting a target, because they had to just to reach the target; so when the contrast of no resistance came, they finally smacked the target and made a solid hit.

I often like to use this drill in sets of 50 each side, because lets face it, you could end up kicking that many times in a round and you want to be able to keep on generating power with speed the whole way through the round.

Over-Speed Kicking

Much like parachute training used for sprinting, adding extra resistance to an already fast and explosive action, we are going to add resistance to our fast roundhouse in the form of the elastic.

Now there are a few ways to approach this, firstly you can just bang out a set of kicks as quickly as you can, this will promote the time from kicking to recovery back to kicking again, quite well; which is a useful skill to promote. Students doing this seem to make great improvement on their recovery as well, as the elastic pulls you back making it difficult to plant properly, meaning an increased concentration on their form.

Another option is to work on single leg doubles and triples, briefly tapping the foot on the ground between kicks up to the number you are aiming for and then back to recovery. When doing this the importance is on the speed between kicks and the power of kicks, not the speed of the overall set. So take your time after recovery. This works well on improving the power of secondary kicks after the initial kick, as well kicking off the clinch. In the video, I do a quick set of a single, double, triple, a four and a five.

With either of these make sure to do a set without the elastic to contrast the kick.

Resistance Peaking

This time we are going to play around with our resistance a bit. We are going to start with the elastic on the foot, but with no tension at the point of kick contact (i.e keep it really loose). We're going to warm up with a few kicks to the bag or shield (I prefer the body shield for this drill as we're practicing scoring.) making sure to kick at a power that scores. Once you've got a feel for the power you want to kick at we'll start the set.

Again starting with no tension in the elastic, kick once at scoring power, then move forward, adding resistance to the elastic and kick again, maintaining that power. Keep moving forward and kicking once at that resistance until you can no longer deliver a kick that scores.

In the video, I show two variations you can play with, in the first one, I drop step forward after the kick, meaning I can get a lot more kicks in the same distance and the resistance doesn't jump as rapidly. In the second, I take a full step between each kick, resulting a in a slower drill with less kicks and a higher jump in resistance between kicks.

This drill utilises the climbing resistance to help athletes push through a plateau in power, think of it as a bit of a range finder for working sets, with the end of the range being a speed working range, and a bit before the end being a power working range.


Part technique practice, part power resistance training, this drill should be treated like any other conditioning drill, with a focus on planning and progressive overload; record your results, and then improve on them.

Elastics have proven themselves with student's I have trained as a great power, speed and technique exercise, as long as you're smart about programming them. Keep in mind that elastic use should be assistance only, and kicking without resistance should make up the bulk of your work. This is because elastic training isn't a natural movement, because let's face it, when in a round have you had someone holding back your leg from kicking?

Try these out and let me know how they go for you.

Alex is a Kukkiowon certified 4th dan and has been training in martial arts for 12 years and instructing for 7. He is also a certified Personal Trainer and constantly works to blend his passion for physiology and fitness into his martial arts instruction; and his passion for martial arts into his fitness instruction.
For more info, check out his Melbourne, Australia based club and business.
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