Scott Middleton, 5th Dan
The term “bridge” can be used in a variety of contexts with multiple interpretations. From defining the ridge of a human nose to a long handled support used in billiards, these are ways that “bridge” may be used. To realize the intention of this article, the following definition for “bridge” will apply.
- A structure providing passage over a gap or barrier.
- To find a way of getting over.
“Practicing Kata is one thing, but engaging in a real fight is another”, advocated the founder of Shotokan Karate. This statement from Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957) requires the Karate purist to look beyond its surface, and investigate its deeper meaning. For the purpose of clarification, the key phrases of the statement are detailed below.
Contemporary Shotokan Karate derives its solid foundation from training in Kata, Kihon, and Kumite. Repeatedly practicing Kata was the primary mode of physical training in Gichin Funakoshi’s generation. Therefore we may assume that “Practicing Kata” refers to Karate training as a whole, and encompasses Kihon and Kumite practice as well.
“….engaging in a real fight….”
Dedicating oneself to the study of authentic Karate can have many positive side effects on a practitioner’s life, both physically and mentally. Although the side effects of Karate training are beneficial, its inherent nature must be preserved. In a life or death self defense situation the depth of our training becomes paramount, to protect ourselves or family from harm.
What is the bridge that connects “Practicing Kata” and “engaging in a real fight”? The answer should be obvious. How we emphasis Kata, Kihon, and Kumite training. The following two sections detail key areas that require careful consideration.
Part 1: Shinshuku
The systematic and repetitive training of Karate is required to condition the muscles and joints of our body. Through the process of compressing and releasing our body we can produce power sufficient enough for Ichigeki Hisatsu (to kill with one blow).
Note: The deeper meaning of Ichigeki Hisatsu is beyond the scope of this article, but the practitioner should not only consider it a literal statement. Through the process of acquiring Ichigeki Hisatsu, the practitioner must sacrifice, endure, and commit their entire self. These character traits will serve the practitioner well in all walks of life beyond physically doing Karate.
The Japanese translation of Shinshuku:
Shin- to stretch, elongate, extend, or stretch.
Shuku- to shrink, reduce, or contract.
Using an analogy to simplify, the practitioner may think of Shinshuku as creating “a body spring”. During the solo practice of Kata and Kihon the practitioner will hold the extended arm they have just used for punching, blocking, or striking. This developmental stage is essential for the practitioner to master form, posture, balance, and target. This “sprung spring” trend prevents the majority of practitioner from being able to cross the bridge to “engaging in a real fight”. If our Karate is to be applicable for self defense, we must concentrate more on having a “coiled spring”. A techniques impact point (Shin / a sprung spring) must be recoiled and prepared for further use (Shuku / a coiled spring).
Part 2: The letter “X”
The semblance of the letter “X” and the human body may provide the Karate practitioner with the foundation to understand and enhance Shinshuku. The upper and lower points of the letter “X” may be thought of as our hands and feet, while the intersecting lines may be likened to our Tanden (center point of the body).
Unfortunately the majority of Karate practitioners are completely absorbed with the furthest points of the letter “X”, the hands and feet. This is often ignorantly rationalized by concluding that these are the points of the body that are hitting the opponent. Is the medieval catapult less important than the boulder in launches? To advance our Karate to the highest level we must place priority to the body parts that are closest to the Tanden.
Significant anatomical terms:
Adduction- a motion that pulls a body part toward the mid-line of the body.
Abduction- a motion that pulls a body part away from the mid-line of the body.
Often neglected are the essential areas of the Waki no Shita (arm pits), and the Uchi Momo (inner thighs). Connecting the extremities (arms and legs) to the body’s center is the role of these crucial adductors.
To conclude this article, I will issue my personal sentiment on the subject. Physically and mentally Karate training enhances our own self. It is a tremendous shame that the skills we struggle to acquire in the Dojo, remain only applicable in this regulated environment. The self defense skills we acquire, and the character we develop must have a “bridge” to the other side.