Tube Training – Making Karate Harder
It’s my first day on the instructors’ Course. I have no idea what I am going to face. Nerves and fear seem to be the order of the day. I have only ever seen these guys at the front of the class; now I am training alongside them. What makes them so special, so fast and strong? What secrets are they going to share with me in the next two hours; in the next two years?
We finish warming up and Kagawa sensei simply says “tubes”. Everyone scurries off and comes back with bicycle inner tubes. I am given one and I see that it is in actual fact four or five inner tubes which have been cut and tied to make large elastic-band type things. One end is anchored to the wall and we start – an hour of non-stop kihon and kumite drills. It is my first experience of tube training and I suddenly realize there are no secrets in karate, only hard work.
Before I moved to Japan I had never heard of tube training, let alone been forced to do it. Even when I was training normally at the Hombu dojo in Tokyo, we never used this particular form of training. However, once on the instructors’ course everything changed and tube training became a major part of my training schedule.
I can understand why my sensei waited so long to introduce this form of training. Tubes offer resistance. Resistance is only beneficial to already strong, well formed technique; so, doing this form of training as part of the training regime of the young and/or inexperienced will be counterproductive. However, I believe that there are many karateka in the world whose karate would greatly benefit from this form of practice.
As I mentioned before, the actual apparatus is simply four or five bicycle inner tubes that have had the air nozzle cut off and then been tied together end to end to make one large elastic-band. Then one end is anchored to a wall (or if you are doing it with a partner, one end can be looped around your partner’s waist). The other end is held/attached to yourself and the resistance of the tubing forces you to execute your technique with greater effort. Over time, this training increases speed and strength and then without the tubing you will see improvements in your karate.
Tube training regimes can be devised for the requirements of each individual; however, I wish to demonstrate a couple of training methods that maximise the speed and power of karate.
The preparation for gyaku tsuki is very simple. Holding the tube in the punching hand, it is important to have the tube horizontal, but not taut. This way, when the punch is started, there is immediate resistance, but not so much that it is impossible to punch.
When the punch is released, you must keep the tube in the hand, drive from the back heel and snap the hips forward. Allow the hand to return to hikite immediately. Tube training stresses the snap in every technique. If you try to thrust or you are tense and stiff in the shoulders, you will be unable to do this type of training.
This training really emphasises a strong snap with the hips and the correct recoil of the hikite (pulling) hand. Holding the tube out-stretched, with the tube horizontal, but not taut, snap the hip and the hand back to hikite. Whilst doing this maintain the correct body posture, paying particular attention to your tailbone. Do not allow your bum to stick out when performing this technique. Snap the hips back into hanme, make the correct tension and then release the arm forward again. The return of the arm forward also emphasizes the correct rotation of the fist and screwing action of the arm, in order to make correct kime with gyaku tsuki.
Attaching the tube securely to your foot can be a little difficult. First step through the tube, then make a loop with the front of the tube, making a figure 8 shape (small top loop and very large bottom loop). Place the small loop over your foot and pull the tube taut so the cross of the “8” is across the front of your ankle. This should hold the tube in place. Start with your hips square so that you are only concentrating on the knee lift, stomach squeeze and the hips snapping forward. Performing mae geri with tubes forces you to concentrate on a sharp knee lift and strong hip snap forward. Also, as the foot is snapped back into stance, the supporting leg must remain slightly bent in order to keep stability.
Preparation for kumite drills can be varied. The simplest form is to place the tube around your waist. Driving off the back leg with yori-ashi, the tube resists, which increases speed and power. However, the tube can also be held or attached to the foot, depending on what kumite combination you are practicing. When ready, drive forward with the combination. The tube forces you to be smooth and flowing, snapping every technique to maximise power, speed and distance.
I think it is important to stress a couple of points that apply to tube training. I have already mentioned about karateka who are very tense in the shoulders when they punch. Of course this applies to all hand techniques and it is very important to snap(rather than thrust) one’s technique. Kime is only made for a split second and any excess tension will only hinder and slow down the technique. If you practice kihon waza with the tubes, it really helps to emphasise snapping kime. Then, without the tubes, it is possible to maintain one’s form when performing kihon, but still have the feeling of snapping one’s kime (ie. at the moment of kime, tense the muscles and then immediately relax, whilst still keeping the form).
When performing mae geri the habit is to come back into hanme and then start from this position. This should be avoided. If you start from hanme you start to rock backwards and forwards and the effect is like having a running start. By the time you start with the knee lift and stomach squeeze, you already have forward momentum. It may seem easier to kick this way, but it is less effective in regards to training. With this technique (and every other basic technique described above) start from a completely still position. This way the training will build twitch muscle and emphasise fast starting action and a strong snapping technique.
With kumite drills it is important to practice yori-ashi only (back foot push). If you start with yose-ashi (back foot half step then push) or okuri-ashi (back foot to front foot then push), your body already has gained momentum before you meet resistance from the tube. Whenever doing a kumite drill only push off the back leg ever time a technique is delivered.
Finally, the best tubing is the “Thera-Band” silver latex tubing. It has the perfect resistance for this type of training. However, it can be a little expensive as you need at least 6/7 meters to make one tube. However, the cheap and just as effective alternative is bicycle inner tubes. Often bike shops will have old tubes which have punctures that they will give you for free. They may need a good wash before use, but they work just as well.
It is often noted how fast and strong the traditional Japanese karateka move. Whilst in Japan my doki (class mate) was Yasuhisa Inada (former 70kg WKF World Champion) and my kohai was Shinji Nagaki (current 70kg WKF World Champion). They both practiced kumite drills over and over again with tubes. Like sprinters who practice with small resistance parachutes on their backs, Inada and Nagaki found tube training a great way to increase speed and power. When they took them off and fought normally the result was breathtaking speed and power. We don’t all aim to be world champions; however tube training offers an easy and effective supplement to our normal training.