Physical Aspects of Karate

Power, speed and form, are the foundations of karate techniques. Power results from a force exerted upon an object. Force may be simply stated a the product of mass (such as a fist and the body weight behind it) and acceleration (change of velocity), or f = m x a. This suggest one way in which the power of a body mass behind the fist, starting from the his, through the shoulders and arm, and finally to the fist, is a much greater force than that generated by merely “throwing a punch”. Another way consists of the sudden tensing of the body muscles at the moment of impact, followed by an instantaneous relaxation for the devastating whiplash effect which is the hallmark of a karate blow. Although this action occurs over such a short space as to be almost indistinguishable to the eye, in the case of a blow its effect is readily discernable. This result of sudden muscular tension may be further intensified by the action of the seika tanden (Center of Gravity) in driving the breath down and out upon impact. A kiai would of course provide the ultimate in shocking power by providing a degree of tension and relaxation which is not possible by other means.

One of Newton’s law states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. In this case still more force will result from the action of pulling back the nonstriking or grabbing hand at an even faster rate than the striking fist advances. Taking a correct stance with feet firmly planted is a necessity. The feet, at the moment of impact, are pressed against the floor with a specific force, It is evident, by the principle just mentioned, that the floor presses against the feet with an equal and opposite force, thus returning the shock of impact to the opponent.

Thus the mechanics of karate are based on sound scientific principles and may be applied to blows administered with any part of the body. The katas and techniques are designed to develop power through their continued practice.
Speed is more difficult to separate from psychological effects, in that the mind (if we may define it as a bundle of thoughts distinct from that which is instinctive or reflexive) may impose mental blocks and other impediments to maximum speed. The time required to perform a particular technique or series of techniques may be brought to the irreducible minimum ( a function of reaction time) only by rigorously disciplining the mind and body to permit one to perform without the hindrance imposed by mental states.

Form contribute directly to power by providing a strong foundation for the actions performed through correct stances as explained above Form also contributes to speed in providing a correct method of performing the techniques of karate. This is best accomplished by practicing katas, the prearranged forms, until one can perform the techniques involved without thought, in a purely reflexive manner.

Mental Aspects of Karate

The discipline of the mind and strengthening of the will are two very important aspects of karate. The beginning karate-ka first learns this discipline at the physical level where he find it impossible to assimilate the material fast enough and his strength and endurance fail under the pace set by his instructors. In these first few weeks of confusion, muscles sore and sometime near exhaustion, he faces the first test. Should he retire gracefully under the pretext of overtime, perhaps a sore back, or should he continue? To quit is to lose a part of the self. To continue is to prepare to meet greater difficulties and overcome them by the strengthening of the will and the disciplining of that conscious part of the mind which offers convenient ways out.

At some later point the karate-ka may suddenly discover that through perseverance he has gained some degree of ability in performing the techniques as well as in coming through the lessons in good physical shape.

Still later on, the karate player may find himself in a new dilemma more serious than the first. Despite a feeling of well-being due to improved physical condition, the unique situation arises in which the karate player realizes he is both attacker and defender, and that his only opponent is himself.

Mastery of mind and body, since they are inseparable, can be accomplished only by long and continued discipline, such as may be found in the hard art of karate.