|Relaxing the fists lightly, before and after kime, is an important skill; however, it can only come after strong fists have been mastered.|
NARROWED FOCI: Needless to say, this post could address the many different weapons of the body; nevertheless, today, I’d like to focus on: (1) the most common form of fist: 正拳 ‘seiken’ (the fore-fist); and (2) the base form of all open hands in Karate-Do: 手刀 ‘shuto’ (the sword hand).
So, here we go…
正拳 ‘SEIKEN: One of the first things—taught in karate—is ‘how to make to a proper fist’. Yet, look at the immense numbers karateka, and even high ranking Dan grades, who have weak or ‘incorrectly formed’ fists.
The problem is not that these karateka do not know how to form seiken correctly, rather, it is about a loss of consciousness/awareness of their fists. Underpinning this is the commonly eventual “…too much focus on the movement at the expense of the weapon”. In other words, this is like a warrior, holding a spear, and focusing on ‘moving the staff only, as opposed to ‘also focusing on the tip of the blade’.
The source of this error is “the difficulty of simultaneously having firm fists and relaxed arms/shoulders”. This skill requires to essentially be able to autonomously compartmentalise: (a) shime/squeezing of the weapon; and (b) the looseness for everything above the wrist. Needless to say, this applies also to the shime of foot formations and relaxation of everything above the ankles in ashi-waza (leg techniques). In sum, this skill—in all techniques—clearly elucidates “the constant relationship/interaction between hard and soft”.
My advice is that ‘karateka spend more time hitting the makiwara’ then ‘to strictly use their makiwara fists’ throughout their Kihon and Kata. With constant practice and review, relaxed arms/shoulders and strong seiken will be achieved.
手刀 ‘SHUTO’: It is also commonplace for karateka to have weakly formed ‘sword hands’. Like seiken, if not firm nor correctly formed, shuto will be less effective—or even nullified—as a weapon.
To avoid this, make sure: (1) the four fingers are as straight as possible and tightly connected; and (2) the thumb is bent to a 90 degree angle and firmly placed on the side of the hand—as opposed to the ‘palm side’. In the case of the regular, most commonly practised, shuto-uke in Shotokan-Ryu, one must also make sure that the wrist/back of the hand is kept straight; that is, in line with the forearm.
I think it is important to recognise that poorly formed sword hands are a result of indecisive understanding of various techniques and their meanings/applications. A good example of this is something I often have to correct on black belt karateka: tateshuto-uke. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people with their thumb pointing sidewards when doing this technique. In this case, they have confused this technique with tsukami-uke (the grasping reception). Failing to have the thumb connected to the the side of the hand results in a significantly weaker waza. This is obvious when one thinks that the impacting sword hand is comprised of five digits connecting together with the ‘knife edge’ of the hand striking. Not connecting the thumb to the side of the index finger, therefore, means “…losing (give or take) 20% of reinforcement of the weapon”.
I believe that this article requires no further explanation; that being said, I’d like to conclude with a relevant quote that originally came from Azato Ankou Sensei (one of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s karate masters): 人の手足は剣と思え“Hito no teashi wa ken omoe” (this basically means ‘Think of peoples hands and feet as swords’). Winter greetings and very best wishes from snow covered Japan. Osu!
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2018).