Chinkuchi – Another Exotic Okinawan Karate Word

By Jesse | 21 Comments

If you ever plan on travelling to Okinawa (or Japan in general) to study Karate, remember to take notes.

It doesn’t have to be anything serious though, a small notebook will do.

Why?

Because those notes are very interesting to read a few months after you come home!

Aah… the memories…

Anyway, as you’ve probably figured out, I have been reading some of my old Okinawan notes lately.

It’s quite much, actually, but  I thought I would share one special note with you today.

On one page I’ve written:

“Ate dinner at a fancy restaurant with some dojo seniors. Great food! We talked about special Okinawan Karate terms, like “Muchimi”, “Ganmaku”, and “Kunchi” (or “Chinkuchi”). Explanation on next page. Note to self: Never ever order the tuna with extra wasabi again. It hurts.”

This is interesting.

(Not, not the tuna, I’m talking about the Okinawan Karate terms.)

Have you heard these before?

Muchimi, Ganmaku, Kunchi… not many people training Karate have heard these words. Not even in Japan.

Not even in Okinawa, actually.

These words are old ones, of the Okinawan language (uchinaguchi), and only a few old teachers haven understanding of these terms.

So I thought I would write something about that today. Just to understand our art a little better. And the word I’ve decided to explore is chinkuchi. An essential term when dealing with Okinawan Karate.

The question I will try to answer is simply:“What is chinkuchi?”

Well, I thought we could start out by seeing what other people think it is.

Higaonna Morio, 10th dan Goju-ryu Karate has this to say about chinkuchi:

“This expression [chinkuchi] is used to describe the tension or stability of the joints in the body for a firm stance, a powerful punch, or a strong block. For example, when punching or blocking, the joints of the body are momentarily locked for an instant and concentration is focused on the point of contact; the stance is made firm by locking the joints of the lower body – the ankles, the knees and the hips – and by gripping the floor with the feet.

Thus a rapid free-flowing movement is suddenly checked for an instant, on striking or blocking, as power is transferred or absorbed. Then the tension is released immediately in order to prepare for the next movement.”

A good explanation. But I think we need another explanation to understand it even better.

Arakaki Kiyoshi, Karate writer, said this:

“A simple explanation is, when punching for instance, to contract the muscles used when punching (especially the triceps and the trapezius), increasing the speed of the punch or block from within your own body.”

A good explanation, but a little lacking.

I think we need one more explanation.

This is what famous Karate historian (and practitioner) Tokashiki Iken had to say about chinkuchi:

“When punching, the most important thing is that the “koshi” [hips] are in it, and that chinkuchi is being utilized. Chinkuchi, in a word, means to contract the trapezius, the triceps, the pectoralis major, etc. when thrusting the fist out. At that time, the armpit must also be closed when punching or blocking.

This means that a punch with chinkuchi has an instantaneous increase in power. This is called “one cun power” [one inch punch] and causes a great destructive power upon the opponent’s body.”

Okay, I think we are getting the picture now, right?

You see, despite the exotic Okinawan name, chinkuchi is nothing more than a question of body mechanics (relaxation, rooting, sensitivity, compression etc), distance and timing, used right. In Chinese they call it Fa Jing - Release of power.

In short, chinkuchi can be likened to a sneeze.

The entire body opening and closing in an instant.

Sounds crazy?

It is nothing special, really.

The one inch punch, as made famous by Bruce Lee

However, it is something very hard to apply, and therefore very rare to see. Not many people train long enough to understand their body to the degree that they can apply chinkuchi.

Chinkuchi is about knowing when to relax… and when to tense.

The skill of switching between these two, by using the whole body, is called chinkuchi.

No matter if you’re the one delivering a blow or taking a blow.

Chinkuchi is not about pushing, forcing, tensing, stepping, moving, falling, jerking, lunging, dropping, jumping, being aggressive or anything like that. Chinkuchi is about control.

Actually, I think I’ll give you two more quotes on chinkuchi.

The two best I’ve ever found:

Here:

“Shoot your loose, half-opened left hand straight along the power line at a chin-high spot [...]. But as the relaxed left hand speeds [...] suddenly close the hand with a convulsive, grabbing snap. Close it with such a terrific grab that when the second knuckle of the upright fist smashes [...], the fist and the arm and the shoulder will be ‘frozen’ steel-hard by the terrific grabbing tension.

That convulsive, freezing grab is the explosion.”

And here:

“It seemed to me that the real secret lay in the delivery itself far more than the strength behind it, and I therefore aimed to make my punches the culmination of a perfectly coordinated action of the whole body, beginning with the legs.

Incidentally, my punches including the one which I developed later and which was to win general admiration as ‘the lightning settler’, always started from the legs.”

From what secret Okinawan source did I get these quotes? Surely they must be from some hidden, holy, treasured manual on Karate?

Not really.

The two above quotes are from Western boxers Georges Carpentier (1894-1975) and Jack Dempsey (1895-1983).

Dempsey, Carpentier, and a whole bunch of other old school Western boxers all talk about quck, sharp, ‘jolting’ punches where distance, speed, body control and timing come together to deliver maximum effect…

…through a combination of hardness and relaxation.

Chinkuchi.

And isn’t it fun how it requires two Western boxers to adequately explain an Okinawan Karate term?

I guess that’s Okinawan Karate in a nutshell.

Don’t talk.

Do.

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

21 Comments

  1. Saxon_Thor

    February 7, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Is it possible to develop this concept without a makiwara? Does the makiwara help in this development?

    • Jesse

      February 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      I think external resistance is necessary to fully develop this ability.

    • Scot

      February 15, 2010 at 12:10 am

      I think you really need a makiwara to develop this. The resistance back is what will help develop the muscles to contract at the same time. If you are going to try to train this without a makiwara I would suggest doing pushups and when you are in the up position push extra to get your hands off the floor. When you come back down the act of coming down can develop chinkuchi as well. Makiwara is the best method though.

  2. joshua_lee

    February 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  3. Mike at The Punching Bag

    February 10, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks a bunch, this is what I was looking for.

  4. Charles James

    February 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Jesse and others. The link I provided to my web site may be misleading so I am providing a correction.

    Although some of the material comes from me the greater portion is derived from my research on the Isshinkai Yahoo group. Many quotes are directly from Advincula Sensei as they are his teachings.

    As I stated to the person who took homage no person is an island and any one learning or teaching, teaches what they learned from others.

    My site gives due credit but in the format I added it didn’t state in an obvious manner that it was Advincula Sensei’s writings and teachings.

    My apologies if you were misled.

    Charles James

    • Jesse

      February 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm

      Charles,

      No problem! I don’t think anyone was offended or anything. I remember reading much of what you linked to in an old Black Belt article (written by Mr. Advincula). That article was actually what first sparked me to write about chinkuchi myself.

  5. Bruno Durling

    February 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    As always superb post bud. I’ve had a blast reading your posts and have found them awesome. Keep up the posting!

  6. Batman

    July 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I may have understood this concept, new as I am, but how does this differ from kime?

  7. Batman

    July 9, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Oops, I meant I may have MISunderstood this concept :p

  8. Tibz

    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    If I understand correctly, Kime is to “fix” the movement of the body after a strike or block, while Chinkuchi is the name given to the act of synchronising and tensing the muscles correctly to have the best efficiency.
    But it’s true both seem to be kind of related to each other as in to perform the Chinkuchi concept you certainly have to have understood the Kime concept.

  9. Leo

    July 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    So it runs down to this: “Hard and soft, tension and relaxation, quick and slow, all connected in the technique.”

  10. Charles

    July 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Kimi is “focus.”
    Chinkuchi is “see first comment link.”

  11. Charles Boyd

    March 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Nice.
    How about tackling ‘gamaku’, ‘fesa’ and ‘atifa’ next.

  12. Charles James

    March 8, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Gamaku: Using the hips in karate. This is the accelerator to enhance power to a technique. It depends on posture, range (ma-ai), weight transfer, etc. The gamaku or slight twist of the hips provide a technically correct applied punch with power the booster shot which can result in twice the power, i.e. an accelerator much like an accelerator to a fire in firefighting stuff.

  13. Charles James

    March 8, 2011 at 1:24 am

    fesa and atifa, never heard the terms before now.

  14. Katrina Tolman

    August 12, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    +1. Bookmarked and Shared.

  15. Gerry

    March 8, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I don’t use a makiwara, but I think I’m practicing Chinkuchi when striking my heavy bag and focusing on instantaneously tensing/flexing/hardening my entire body at the moment of impact from as relaxed a state as possible while moving into the impact.

  16. Lenny

    April 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Jesse!

    Great post (as always). Could you do me a favor and list the sources for the quotes given in the article? I’d love to read more about it.

    Thanks a lot,
    Lenny

  17. Hayashi Tomio

    January 3, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    In regards to Chinkuchi, most people are lost in an unfamiliar forest and therefor unable to identify the trees. Many of th quotes above are generalizations lacking specifics. They could be applied to any level of technical performance, from the clumsy to the refined. It’s a good starter, but most of the statements provided in good faith are still “in the courtyard.” Chinkuchi is both a system of ‘conscious’ internal energy management and an experience of moving in sync with a confluence of subtle energies. Makiwara work can provide feedback in one’s success of developing chinkuchi, but is not the preferred method. Also, without a guide as to what you think you are developing, you will probably fall into a state of unsurety as to what action(s) have actually improved your technique -- outside of consistent practice. Chinkuchi is not about “anything goes”. Push hands is the traditional way that energy sensitivity is developed because its combative emphasis is upon defeating another person, not inanimate objects. Chinkuchi is synonymous with internal energy cultivation. There are degrees of Chinkuchi control. There are different methods of exerting or expressing this ability. Proper Chinkuchi training is non-ambiguous and progressive, just as basic technical knowledge proceeds along a developmental sequence. A bio-mechanical understanding of technique is only half of the Chinkuchi equation. The other half requires a paradigm shift about the nature of authentic power to include the Human subtle energies. This has been problematic for Western martial artists because the round peg of internal energy principles does not fit neatly into western power constructs.

    • Saxon_Thor

      January 3, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      Hayashi Tomio,

      Thank you for the response. I am on my own for the most part right now. Do you have a recommendation on what I can do on my own either with, or without the makiwara, or if I took on a student, what a good video or book in English would be to help me approximate the correct training methods that will lead down the path to correct “way?” How important do you rate practicing San Chin, if at all, to achieve acceptable Chinkuchi, at least by Western standards?

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