The Knee is the key, and the Toes make it go ( Part 1) by Mireille Clark

Many times I have heard how the movement of the hip is the center of all karate movements, and I have personally felt how the hip directs, and strengthens the power of all arm, and leg techniques by uniting the whole body into the effort. However, by watching various students attempting to do a proper kick, or a strong strike, I've noticed that they had to work within the framework of the human skeleton. Our bones, and joints dictate how effective, and how much energy we can apply in any direction. You've heard the song:

Your toe bone connected to your foot bone
Your foot bone connected to your ankle bone
Your ankle bone connected to your leg bone
Your leg bone connected to your knee bone
Your knee bone connected to your thigh bone
Your thigh bone connected to your hip bone
Your hip bone connected to your back bone
Your back bone connected to your shoulder bone
Your shoulder bone connected to your neck bone
Your neck bone connected to your head bone
I hear the word of the Lord.

If you aren't familiar with the song, click here.

The lowly toes, almost forgotten as we train in our art when we concentrate on achieving power, are the guide for the knees. Our knees can only shift over a little from being over the toes before we put far too much stress on the limited small side stability tissue. So, in other words, our toes point the way towards where we want our inertia to be directed.

Our knees are the key to the movement of the hips. Keeping a straight leg locks our leg into a very difficult position for ease of changing direction. Many new students to Martial arts attempt to bend their knees in stance, but within a few breaths, they find themselves in too much discomfort, and they pull out taking a much higher position. They do not realize that this straight legged position will make many all of the techniques far more difficult to achieve because they do not have the flexibility offered by a bent knee. One of the main problems will be that their stability, and balance will become more easilly tipped over. Also, a straight leg is far more prone to being broken by a front kick, than a bent knee.

However, rarely in our normal modern everyday movements do we use our leg muscles in such a way as to develop the muscles in the leg, and knee to be able to keep a stable bent knee position. This kind of ability has to be developed through patience, effort, and persistence. Weight bearing resistance exercises that target the legs help us to achieve our goals of having strong power, good balance, and proper application of all of our techniques, including hand strikes. Traditional kata that forces the student to change stance which use inner, and outer tension, distribute their weight in different places, and smoothly turn controlling their balance demands bent knees. These patterns usually take less than a minute to execute, and then the pressure is removed from the muscles allowing them to re-energize, and rest before the next pattern. It is similar to weight lifting in sets of 10, and then taking a 30 second rest between sets. The various directions and positions in kata help build up not only the big muscles such as the thigh and calf muscle, but also the smaller muscles surrounding the knees, ankles, and bottom of the feet. All of these muscles are needed for good balance, and total delivery of power. It does no good to have an unbalanced muscle system wherein one muscle can deliver alot of power, and the support muscle is weak. This unbalance can create interior stress, and even possible damage to the tendons instead of power. ( Here is a website on various knee injuries/problems that dancers have experienced, and how to self-help them. The information is just as valid for Martial artists that place their knee joints through similar training.

Our bones, and joints truly control how we can move. By trying to do martial arts techniques with straight legs we are endangering ourselves in many various ways. A bent knee releases the hip joint to move as it should. Traditional kata training helps develop strong legs, and joints so that we can use our techniques with balance, power, and proper technique. I strongly encourage Martial artists to value their kata training as more than just another thing to be learned to gain their next rank.


Knee is the Key Part 2


Colin Wee said…
Good post Mireille. Not really discussion of a technique, but a skillset or an awareness required for all techniques.

The hip is the seat of karate because of the manner in which power is generated. This is especially so for hard-style karate-kas who generate power through linear motion and your favourite 'hip vibration.'

However, aside from the manner in which immense power is generated, there are other times where other issues need to be considered. Hanshi Tim White, our sifu from Molum Combat Arts Association, talks about 'points of leverage' - which he takes advantage of within his jujutsu bag of tricks. Such points of leverage connect the skeletal system and link the extremities to the opponent's centre of gravity.

Similarly, your own centre of gravity needs to drive all of these points of leverage to take advantage of coverage, blocking, tai sabaki and striking. And when you do strike, you may opt to 'lock up' some of your muscles in order to transmit hard style power through the skeletal system to 'weaponize' your extremities and strike the opponent with a good deal of force.


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