Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

Thought/Technique Archive

Technique of the Week (March 19th, 2007)

From Michael Mackay, Shihan
Ueshiro Midtown Dojo at St. Barts


Utilizing the Arch in the Lower Back

For this week’s technique students are encouraged to focus on flexibility in the lower back, particularly as it determines our ability to move correctly between high and low stances. When dropping into a low stance it is necessary to maximize the arch in the lower back to protect the groin and, more importantly, prevent the knees from straining forward. The ability to drop 12 inches instead of six inches while maintaining perfect form (knee over toe, shoulders over hips, head back) depends solely on the flexibility of the lower back to compensate for the tendency of the knees to bend forward.

Lack of flexibility is easily seen in students who are asked to “get lower” and end up either leaning their head forward or buckling the knee. Both provide easy targets for the opponent. Both put strain on the joints and can lead to injury. The student may feel balanced but such “balance” is often mistaken for stability (a tight rope walker has perfect balance but minimal stability).

This technique is best practiced via the fukyugata kata. Moving from walking stance to zenkutsu- or jigotai-dachi, particularly when changing direction, requires bending the supporting leg while reaching out with the other foot. As the knee bends to almost 90 degrees, both the shin of the supporting leg and the torso must remain as perpendicular to the floor as possible. This can only be accomplished by arching the lower back.

Attackers in yakusoku kumite one, three and four can also put their flexibility to the test. Does your face immediately become a target as soon as you drop down and start to move in, or do you lead with your hara? Hanshi has often demonstrated how the greater the arch in the lower back, especially in nihanchi dachi, the more our hara points straight down, improving foundation (soku concept). The same benefit is gained by arching the lower back in transitions between high and low stances: it temporarily (and fluidly) roots us down for a spring-like explosive action, much like a tiger launching it’s attack.

The best way to improve flexibility in the lower back is through daily repetition of our basic warm-ups. Outside of class, these may be performed in slow motion or at regular speed, with an emphasis on achieving full range of motion. Several beginner-level yoga exercises may also be employed to improve strength and range of motion in the lower back. Exercise caution. Research this well.

Domo arigato gozaimasu, Hanshi,

Michael Mackay, Shihan
Ueshiro Midtown Dojo at St. Barts