Sunday, 8 December 2013

Jiku-ashi timing and the bigger picture

My final practice in New Zealand before returning to Japan.  From l-r: Matt Brew, me, Lyall Stone Sensei & Andrew Makin.
 Based on several emails sent to me “questioning my `pivot foot timing’, and timing in general”, I decided to simultaneously answer both questions by synthesising both of these themes/technical enquiries. I did this as they are clearly related. Enough of my small talk, on with the article and the bigger picture of "timing"…

The “timing of the pivot foot”—a fundamental point in isolation (the small picture): When turning the jiku-ashi (pivot foot) must coordinate with the turn. Whilst this is highly comprehensive, and easy to understand in text, it still requires practice of `reserving’ the pivoting action. What I mean by reserving the pivoting action is keeping the foot in place and only turning it when the rest of the body completes its tasks. Unambiguously, when done correctly this results in single harmonious waza. For example, movement 10 of Heian Shodan (the 270 degree turn with hidari gedan barai); the second half of movement 25 in Heian Yondan (the transfer from migi hiza-geri into hidari shuto-uke) etc… Of course, there are numerous such examples throughout all of the JKA kata.

A “generic methodology to improve and/or resolve timing problems” (the big picture): If timing in this, or any other regard, is problematic for you or your students—here’s a simple tip. Just remember there are “three broad categories” of timing in karate-do: firstly, `same time’; secondly, `before’; and thirdly, (and less commonly in Shotokan) `after’…Basically, if something is wrong in your timing—or not working—(irrespective of whether it’s kihon, kata or kumite) use these three categories to guide you. TRY THE TECHNIQUE, OR APPLICATION, USING ALL THREE TYPES OF TIMING’…Decisively establish “what happens?” If nothing else, this will help you to better understand your waza.
Unsu kata... Photo courtesy of Sergio Rivas of Spain (when he came for training last month).

For example, in Jiyu Ippon Kumite (and of course, all other forms of kumite for yudansha in dojo training), when attacking, don’t only attack with the same timing of your footwork (the orthodox way); but also try `punching then advancing’—the best `oi-komi’ way; and `advancing then punching’. Generally speaking, these variations when applying appropriately and instinctively (and at a higher level, in an ever more subtle manner, can result in one’s opponent `mistiming their defensive action’ or `beating it’…Practicing in this way, so that one instinctively applies the appropriate timing for any given situation/opponent(s) “is utterly essential”: if mastery of karate techniques is a personal objective. This is something that is often weak outside of Japan, and, where it isn’t, has been reduced to means of merely `tagging’ ones opponent: as opposed to downing them with a single blow.

Jiku-ashi: Back to the timing of pivot foot, and its timing in turns.., why are such precise and harmonious movements sought after? The answer is that “by seeking perfection of movement, of harmonious/coordinated action (in a strict form) one can effectively deviate from this form very easily. Therefore, this training results in a clear path that, whilst being “never-ending”, functions as ‘subconsciously grooved line of reference’ for `variations’. Intrinsically, this is the base of henka-waza—a big part of my karate education between 1993 to 2006. Nonetheless, this is something I certainly won’t delve into today.

Conclusion: I would like to end by saying that “only by using/training the body as coordinated unit can we learn to use the different parts of the body—independently—with great effect”. Above and beyond physical skills, otherwise known as ‘optimal performance/ability’—the outcome of our `good days’, this must be grooved into the subconscious mind/ via relentless training. Good days are not reliable! Accordingly, this can only come from conscious effort and, as just said a moment before, relentless training. Thinking about the timing of the jiku-ashi in this way helps us to see karate-waza as whole—this is something that elucidates the importance of kihon. I hope you found this little article useful. But don’t think too much about it. Rather, get down to the dojo and sweat it out. All the best from chilly Nippon, André.
© André Bertel. Aso-shi, Kumamoto. Japan (2013).

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