Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

Technique of the Week (June 28th, 2004)

From Sensei Steve Lott, Go-Dan- Midtown Karate Dojo, NYC


Everyone who begins karate soon learns that each move has a "life" of its own. For each block there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle position, sometimes referred to as the chamber, requires a great deal of understanding to perfect. Once this understanding is accepted, and utilized by the student, the entire technique will look good and be effective.

The very first day in the dojo the student begins to learn Fukugata Ichi. The beginner learns that each of the two blocks incorporated in this first Kata, the down block and the high block, have a mysterious life cycle. The instructor will stand next to the student, usually in front of the mirror, and show the student the motion of the hands from yoi to their final resting place for the first down block (Zenkutsu-dachi gedan barai). As the instruction continues the student will be shown the breakdown for the high block with the arms crossing in front of the face. The instructor will go over these blocks again and again as part of the kata as well as multiple repetitions across the deck. Shortly thereafter the chest block, with arms crossing in front of the body, is added to the workout.

In each of these three blocks the proper middle position, or chamber, is critical. In each of these chambers there is a facet that may help the beginner learn them more quickly.

The high block - it helps for the outside arm, the blocking arm, to be more vertical than horizontal. When the outside arm is more vertical there will be maximum range of motion for the elbow to explode upward toward its final spot. Instructors will notice that some beginners "bounce" the head block technique. That is, the fist and forearm will be thrown upward and past the proper end point only to recoil back a few inches. This occurs because the outside arm, the blocking arm, starts out more horizontally than vertically. A little tool to help the student remember to move the outside arm more vertically for the head block : when chambering try to have the elbows touch. This accomplishes two things. Firstly, the arm that is up will come down directly in front of the face and not directly into the pocket. Secondly, when the student thinks about trying to have the elbows touch, the arm traveling out from the pocket will travel to the chamber more vertically. Another tool to reinforce the correct motion is the following: have the student begin at the chamber, arms crossed in front of the face, and execute the block in two parts. The first part is slowly raising the outside arm vertically, with fist pointing at the ceiling, until the fist is in its final resting spot. When that is done have the student complete the block by twisting the elbow upwards to its final resting spot. Finish up with the student executing the entire block in one motion. This last two-part maneuver is the much like the two-part maneuver of learning the chest punch for the first time; first extend the arm fully, and then turn the fist.

The down block - reach for the belt with the protecting hand. When performing the down block something interesting happens to the blocking arm that must come in to protect the body as the other arm is chambered near the face. As the outstretched arm is brought in centrifugal force has a tendency to whip the arm upward toward the armpit. This can be seen in the very first move of Fukugata Ichi. As the student steps out from yoi the right hand, the "protecting" hand, will be thrown upward toward the left arm pit. Obviously, there is no need to protect the armpit. The opponents kick is being delivered to the left rib. A tool to get the student in the habit of positioning the protecting hand in the correct spot for the down block : when chambering reach for the belt.

Chest block - the arms move to the chamber at different speeds. I saved this blocking technique for last because I think it is the most difficult of the basic blocks. The chest block is the one block in which the arms actually intersect each others "plane" during the chambering process.

What must happen is that the outstretched arm, that is the blocking arm, must be drawn in slightly faster than that of the arm in the pocket, as the arm in the pocket travels to its shouldered position ready to block. Think about what would happen if the outstretched chest block arm and the arm in the pocket moved at the same speed. Try it. The arms will collide. This happens because the outstretched arm must travel a greater distance before the arm in the pocket has a chance to cross the body, at exactly the same spot. The technique some beginners use to get around this "collision" is to have the arm in the pocket move in a big circle motion away from the body. In this fashion the arm in the pocket takes the "scenic route" to get to the shouldered position and thus avoids being an obstacle for the outstretched chest block traveling in to protect the solar plexus. But this is wrong. The hands must never stray far from the body during any chambering process.

A tool to have the beginner thinking about moving the hands correctly during chest block - the outstretched arm coming in must travel a little faster than the arm in the pocket going out. As a rough example; if the arm in the pocket is traveling out at 5 miles per hour than the outstretched arm must come in at 15 miles per hour. This will permit the arms to cross in front of the body properly and avoid the improper motion of "opening up" during the chambering of the chest block. This different speed principle is not new to us. We have been doing something like this in a number of different ways. One way is with the step and slide. We all know that the rear leg must come up 3-4 times faster than the front leg goes out. Another way is within each blocking technique itself, we block 10 times faster than we chamber.

The Chamber - Your Secret Business.
The basic training method instructors use to teach all these blocks is to have the student hold a chamber, or in-between position, for a moment. This is an excellent method of reinforcing the technique. This is OK for white belts.

But not for green belts and above. I remember the very memorable words of Kyoshi Seeger. In a Sunday morning class, many years ago, an advanced student was performing kata on the spot. The student, unknowingly, was stopping at each chamber for a split second. When the Kata was over Kyoshi Seeger complemented the student on the power but said quietly,

"Keep the chambers as your secret business"

This means that it is OK, and perhaps even imperative, for beginners to stop at the chamber. But this is not the case for advanced students. Green belts and above should practice having the arms move through the block without stopping at the chamber. We have all heard Hanshi Scaglione refer to this over and over as TIMING. Just like a batter's swing or a golfer's swing flows without stopping the techniques in karate must flow in the same way.

Steve Lott