The Dilemma of „Right“ and „Wrong“ in Your Technique

I still tend to like the “old” JKA style, for one because of the unique characters who emerged during the past decades. And their Karate tend to differ in “taste”; a diversity I cherish very much. Also, I have a sweet spot for elder Japanese men teaching “their” ways of Budo from their personal experience. As we can see in this example, – like Yano – they also tend to “suffer” from a life of trial and error in their techniques as well as experiencing hardships, making their Karate even more special to me.

What intrigues me in this video, though, are the participants of that particular seminar, regarding their mae-geri (front kick) from 2:18. For you can clearly observe the lack of mobility (not flexibility!) in the standing leg, lifting the heel up while kicking and exhausting from the hip flexor. Yano also shows this sensation.

A standing mae-geri (opposite to one while lunging forward) doesn’t allow very much of compensating through the lower back by leaning backwards, thus showing the lack of stabilisation through the glutes as well as the lack of mobility for employing the hip flexor in kicking. Especially the younger participants tend to lose height and compensate this with the shoulders, the neck, and the rising heel. And even most of the black and the brown belts do this.

You might say that 1,000 kicks will inevitably show those signs due to exhaustion. That is true: Performance decreases on the long run. But imagine to attempt 1,000 times kicking from your lower back, your shoulders and your neck, having your glutes on vacation and your hip flexors being strained. How long would you sustain this until your kicks become insufficient, compared to employing your glutes, hip flexors, and abdominals? Likewise, the mobility of the hamstrings is crucial. But this is not achieved by static stretching, but by re-programming your brain to release them by gaining the stability required to create mobility. Like Perry Nickelston says: “Stability always precedes force production. No stability and you become a weak ass.” So, your stabilizing glutes release your aductors and hamstrings, given you don’t lean back while kicking. And you won’t believe what a relaxed neck can contribute to this.

Changing the way of using the muscles and therefore switching to their proper function can bequite exhausting. I experienced this while re-learning Karate in Japan: Twenty mae-geri on each leg were enough for me after using more of the hip flexors and less of the lower back, compared to the hundred front kicks I was capable of with leaning backwards. Why exhausting? Because I immedeatly felt (!) the difference to the unconcious struggle for stabilization through tensening (meaining stabilizing but not properly using) the adductors, the lower back, and the neck. A hundred wrong mae-geri go along with the abovementioned compensations, which is harmful. Twenty right mae-geri go along with exhaustion (in the beginning) by using muscles you haven’t used the way they are supposed to. This is a dilemma to most practitioners of Karate, Shotokan, or the martial arts in general: re-think and re-evaluate what you have learned! Can you do this? If yes, the categories of „right“ and „wrong“ dissolve. The dilemma is no longer one. Otherwise, your Karate sucks.

Of course, this article doesn’t consider every variation of the mae geri there is. There is height, distance, thrust, and the position of the hips (hanmi or shomen), the shape of the hip joints, body size and so on. I have referred so far to what is seen in the video above from time index 2:18. But the idea of compensation patterns in your technique and changing them is what I wanted you to consider.

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Perry Nickelston
Stephan Yamamoto