|Just before completion. Shoulder/Lat's yet to fully engage and hiki-te on the way back.|
HARMONY OF ACTION.
Today I thought I’d write a generic article on, quite possibly, the first karate technique you ever learned (and/or that you potentially first teach your own students): 直突 (CHOKU-ZUKI). While this will not include all of the details and extensions of them, I hope it will help you see this waza in a refreshed light in relation to all of the other 基本技 (kihonwaza) in karate.
Let me begin with the base ‘karada no buki’ (weapon of the body): Make a correct ‘seiken’ and use it correctly. Seiken comprises of the fore-knuckles of the index and middle fingers. Furthermore, it requires that the thumb braces these fingers underneath; also, that the top of the punching fist is in line with forearm. There must be perfect alignment of the radius and ulna, wrist and fist to avoid injury upon impact; moreover, this changes based on the variance of targets, height/reach differences (between you and your opponents), and the respective maai (distance).
In the basic form, at the end of the ‘tsuki’ the forearm, wrist and fist are rolled over—corkscrewed—so that the back of the fist faces skyward. The opposite fist is pulled back to the opposite hip with the forearm also twisting so that the back of the fist faces the floor. The height of the ‘hiki-te’ position is determined by one’s arms-length. As a general method, this height is same as the individuals elbow crease. This is my methodology, however, I recommend each karateka test and find the best position for themselves. This point is not a rule in the IKS, it is simply the baseline. Please note the lower and higher hiki-te of various elite instructors as there are many variations. Think of Osaka Sensei, Yahara Sensei and so on. Be inspired, but we must still find what is best for ourselves—just as these legends, and all the other greats, have done.
Away from this variability, the best hiki-te is one which is pulled back as far as possible on the side of the body without going behind the back; moreover, that focuses on pulling and tucking the elbow as opposed to focusing on pulling the fist back. This should be done as ‘chudan ushiro enpi-uchi’. I need to add here that there are also shorter hiki-te, which are actually kamae but I will leave that there.
In correspondence with the hiki-te is the use of the hips. There are several methods, but I will only focus on the most basic here. This is ‘gyaku-kaiten’ in which the opposite hip subtly inverts (“the subtle horizontal action”). Consequently, this method locks the karateka into shomen as opposed to the hips rotating in the same direction as punch and, therefore, ‘opening up’. The purpose of this is ‘connectivity with the core’ for greater strength, also for balance. Most obviously, this point can be further mastered by training in the three Tekki via kagi-zuki. In other contexts, zenwan mizunagarae no kamae etc… I need to add here that there are also more shallow versions of hiki-te, at least in appearance. These variations are in fact ‘kamae’.
The trajectory of choku-zuki is as straight as possible: the shortest distance from the hiki-te position to the respective target. In solo training ‘jodan’ is aimed at one’s own jinchu height (which is centralized at the upper lip just below the nose). ‘Chudan’ is at one’s suigetsu height (which is centralized at one’s solar plexus). Chudan is the most important training as it centralized, has the most penetration and distance, and is technically easier. Jodan is the most important in application, but is more difficult as it requires greater control of the shoulder and wakibara—to not raise up. The idea is that the shoulder sinks to the center thus remains relaxed and connected: especially to the lats. It is worth noting that chudan is based on the ‘yari’ concept—that is, the ‘spear’. When fighting with a spear the best position is when the spear is pointing directly at an opponent. This position is longest and safest with this weapon. It is also its strongest ‘driving’ (spearing) position. Beyond these aspects, this is also less readable by one’s opponent. In sum think of your tsuki as a spear. This will allow you to know the best height and position of your waza. I’ve intentionally left out Gedan as the variations are wide and diverse.
Note, in extension of the arm “…it is pinky side of the fist that slides on the side of the body” and, “…with the hiki-te it is the thumb side that brushes the side.”
It is important to note that without bouncing, power is derived from the floor/ground. This is achieved by pushing from corresponding heel of the punching arm (“the subtle vertical action”). The image is that power comes from the supporting leg, which emulates the rear leg in oi-zuki. In this way, one can see a chain from the corresponding heel to the striking fist. Whether in hachiji-dachi, heiko-dachi or kiba-dachi the heels are flat and the power goes to the weakest part of the feet: the small toe sides. This optimizes full connectivity and best use of ‘ground power’. Often senior instructors here in Japan will say “walk on your sokuto”. Yes, it is sokuto—the knife edges of your feet, and kakato—the heel, where the concentration must be. This is because the big toe side of the foot is naturally stronger and, thus, requires minimal attention.
A key lesson in choku-zuki and the other sonoba kihon (stationary fundamentals) is the forming and maintenance of excellent shisei (posture); namely, that of the pelvis, back and head/neck. The correct feeling is that of the crown going upwards thus vertically elongating the spine. Related to this is the ‘fixing of the eyes’, which is based on the correct head position and, indeed, maximizing environment awareness.
The use of muscle power is “…not correct in the extension of the arm. The aim is to be relaxed and seek maximum velocity”. This is hard for many people because they feel that they want to hit hard by consciously using their muscles. This, in a fight, is often caused by emotional influences—especially the feelings of anger and/or fear. Indeed, in the heat of the moment, is counterintuitive when fighting to relax. Consequently, it is imperative to ‘engrave relaxation’ into everything one does: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. What I always tell my students is “let the muscles work by themselves by concentration on moving the joints”. The best example of this, as I have quoted many times before, is Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s example of the nunchaku. A relaxed whipping action, using ‘snap’ is far more devastating than a clumsy stiff punch. What’s more, the muscular ‘forced punch’ negatively interferes with one’s balance, significantly detaches the arm from your core, and literally clouds your mind by narrowing your wider attention/awareness. In sum, tension narrows mind by making one more ‘internally focused’ as opposed to being focused on ‘the external environment’ where the fight is.
It’s here that we find a paradox. Again, this mix of Yin and Yang… Greater awareness of self in the technical sense ‘is the training’. And, to be outside of oneself—autonomous and receptive to the opponent(s).
Contrastingly, the hiki-te should be consciously strong: actively used to speed up the punch—like pulling a rope strongly back. In application this essential to pull the opponent off balance, blindside them and keep them in position (line them up/set) to hit optimally.
While choku-zuki is trained for practical effect, it is still “…‘isolation training’ for exact positioning, trajectory, body mechanics, and use of power for all of the other linear tsuki-waza”. With this in mind, it is an important foundational technique and training exercise irrespective of grade and years of experience.
In saying that it is still imperative to not only practice punching choku-zuki into the air but also with a partner—applying hikite, doing impact training with it, and so on.
Needless to say, variations of practice are also necessary to reach higher levels of skill such as utilizing tenshin, sokumen-zuki, sonkyo, snapping out and back from a basic kamae, etc… Indeed, the list goes on! Nevertheless, irrespective of what one does, there should be ‘a clear target and means of evaluation to monitor improvements towards these goals’. Innovation for the sake of innovation is a major weakness in karate now.
In this way, we can see the importance of the most basic forms of technique to achieve the highest levels of skill. This skill is not merely a performance of ‘nice movement’ or the external display of sharp techniques; rather, it is being able to use one’s karate with devastating effect “…most importantly with both adaptability and reliability”. Last but not least, we can see how the most basic of techniques/exercises interrelate with everything else; hence, as alluded to earlier “…literally contributes to the biomechanical and psychological foundation of one’s overall karate skills.” Yes, choku-zuki is indeed a straight punch, nevertheless, its training objectives are multidimensional; hence, anything but linear in the wider context of budo/bujutsu.
By the way, if you feel like reading part one, which I published in mid October, five years ago, here is the link: André Bertel's Karate-Do: Choku-zuki (Part One... Part Two in late 2020) (andrebertel.blogspot.com).
BEST WISHES FOR YOUR TRAINING! OSU!!!
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).