How You Can Move Like a Karate Expert

Have you seen a Karate expert move?kagawa-masao-stance

It’s like magic.

The movements of a true Karate expert are so sophisticated and effortless that you barely notice anything.

Until they smack you in the mouth.

BAM!

How do they do it?

Well, after analyzing numerous Karate experts that I’ve met during my travels around the world, I’ve identified a unique key factor that EVERY Karate expert has in common.

A secret detail that few “regular” Karate people seem to understand.

I’ll explain…

Let’s take a stepping punch as example.

When most Karate people move forward, they usually push off with their back leg, step forward and then punch with their arm.

Like this:

wrong-moving
This is NOT how Karate experts move.

You explode from your rear leg and catapult yourself into the opponent.

(Note: The type of punch doesn’t matter – the principle is the same.)

Simple and intuitive, right?

However…

A Karate expert does the *exact* opposite!

This is what separates them from the rest.

You see, a Karate expert does not initiate his movement by pushing off with his rear leg.

Instead – he relaxes his front leg.

Like this:

right-moving
This is how Karate experts move.

See that?

By literally “collapsing” over his front leg, a Karate expert actually uses gravity to pull him forward – instead of using muscle power to push him forward.

Good Karate works with gravity – not against it.

[Click to Tweet]

It looks simple, but it’s not easy!

Especially not when you’re in fighting mode, since your natural instinct is to tense up and use excessive muscular force – the so-called “fight-or-flight” response.

So…

Why do Karate experts move like this?

3 reasons:

  1. You save energy. Aligning your movement with gravity through relaxation, as opposed to fighting gravity through tension, is economic. It’s smart.
  2. You’re not telegraphing your movements. If you power-up your muscles it will show in your chest, shoulders and face. Your center of gravity also rises. Your opponent reads you like an open book.
  3. You’re faster. Relaxation doesn’t require you to wind up, or pre-tense any musculature. It is immediate and effortless. Just release and go.

Combined, these 3 reasons make Karate experts seem like they’re floating on clouds.

But they’re not.

They’re just working with nature – not against it.

Here’s a video:

And that, my friend, is how you move like a Karate expert.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

– Muhammad Ali

Good luck! ; -)

/Jesse

42 Comments

  • Hm... Check a guy called Rory Miller. He's been trying to teach this for a while. Iain knows him, too, if you need someon else's opinion.Take care
    • Thanks for chiming in Ferran-san! I know Rory, he's the "real deal" ;-)
  • Andy
    Quite a comprehensive discussion of this subject may be found in "The Secrets of Okinawan Karate: Essence and Techniques" by Kiyoshi Arakaki
  • Hector Lareau
    This is jaw-dropping for me. A revelation. I've trained under some of the finest karate (and TKD and kung fu) teachers in the U.S. Midwest, and nobody has ever said this clearly enough for me to understand before. I see it all the time, but I haven't understood it till just now. THANK YOU.
    • Thanks Hector-san! Makes me happy to hear :-) Keep rockin'!
  • Mohamed Marouf
    It's just amazing how things are so easy while we are making it hard for our selves .. thanks for the great tip .. i think i should train for it immediately
  • Ossu! [bow]I've recently been instructed about some refinements I need in my zenkutsu dachi, so I might as well add this to my list of things to work on. I'm already spending practice time moving at tai chi speed, so one more thing isn't going to be overwhelming (I'll ramp it up gradually). Thanks - I'm trying to get into good habits now while I'm still a beginner.[bow]
  • Ossu! [bow]Oh my goodness. I just got back from class. Vive la différence! I didn't quite "get it" with moving forward, but backwards felt much better. Thank you![bow]
    • Awesome KarateMama-san! You're right, it's easier to feel backwards. Keep working at it! :-)
      • Ossu! [bow]I will! Thanks for the encouragement![bow]
  • Claus
    In our Karate class in Japan, this is taught from the beginning. Another advantage of this move is, the head stays always at the same height, not giving away any movement in advance.
    • Exactly, Claus-san! That's what I meant when I wrote: "Your center of gravity also rises. Your opponent reads you like an open book."
  • Interesting stuff and thanks for the detail of the knee "falling forward". Anyway I would add the "kick the ground" must be added anyway; perhaps the difference is that hip and knee relaxation come first and ground kick later. And be sure the kick is not too heavy. In Shotokan karate they have this concept too; too bad many shotokan practicioners don't apply it. First you relax your hara, hips or knees, then use the "fall" to "rebound" against the ground with the back leg, so it helps legs to come together and body to move forward. But you gotta be light, not stiff, or your movement will be slow and tight. I'm gonna apply that advice from Inoue Yoshimi and i think that will make my leg moves faster and lighter. I will try to combine with the ground kick too anyway and see what happens.
  • Mary
    Jesse-san, does this apply to kumite too? I understand the concept in kihon and kata, and now I'm experimenting if it works the same way in kumite. It seems to give me more speed because of the spring from my front foot but I'm not sure if it's just confirmation bias on my part. Thanks for the article, by the way. :)
    • Yes! The few times I've had the (un)fortunate pleasure to face high-level kumite practitioners (i.e. George Kotaka, Junior Lefevre, Luigi Busa etc.) I've observed the exact same concept. Especially in nagashi-zuki and kizami-zuki. Thanks for asking Mary-san!
  • Klaus
    This is so important when you are older and energy and the spring of youth is diminishing - Sensei Yoshimi isn't a young man, but moves so well
  • walter
    What an eye opener! I'm gonna try this!
  • ajp
    I really like that idea, using body to be more efficient leading to more power. We need more instructors like Inoue sensei along with hotton sensei, ubl sensei and Amos sensei, to inform us why we need to move that way, instead of move this way because we say so.
  • Gunnar Grisl
    Jesse-San, that is the concept of Taijiquan... sinking and rooting to transfer real Power... Trying to get a quick "touch" - like in running for points in a more or less competition - poisons this kind of quality which is origin. I stopped Shotokan at 2nd Kyu, now teach Taijiquan and exactly had this experience.
  • Salvador
    Gracias maestro por esos consejos que mejoran dia a dia nuestro performance. Saludos desde Guatemala.
  • I been applying this type in yesterday's training all the time and makes moves and transitions easier. As I said, you can apply some kicks to the ground when needed. I have made a special attention when making yori ashi moves in Juroku and Bassai. It's very interesting because it makes it easier, you can go moving the knee forward insted of up. But in Yori ashi you have to stretch the back leg and it's some kind of kick to the ground. Now I'm practicing Shitoryu but I sometimes apply Shotokan concepts like compressing the ground, which is used in yori ashi specially.
  • Jesse, Thanks for bringing this concept and video lesson of it to a more public and user friendly status... simplifying the complex or hard to understand.This also is the way to activate the fast twitch muscle fibers as all elite athletes do, while the 99% rely on slow twitch muscle fibers.
  • Kaworu
    My Sensei taught me to use the front leg like this to move since the beginning (almost 19 years ago, boy I'm getting old), I'm astonished this was not known from so many karate pratictioner around the world. Great article like always Jesse-San, best regards from Italy!
    • Almost 19 years ago... Kaworu... I'm sensing a pattern.And I might be completely wrong, but... "Zankoku na Tenshi no T?ze"?If you got into MA because of that, you're one of the very, very few, who stayed (and one of the few, also, who got a good instructor). Could tell you stories...Take care
      • Kaworu
        Greetings Ferran, yes, the guess on the nickname is correct, but I blame the Martial Arts choice to Saint Seiya and Dragon ball, I discovered NGE only years later.Oh, also my parents are to blame, they wanted me to do some sports instead of sitting on the couch watching tv, albeit they wanted me to do swimming. I was adamant however, Karate or nothing.My instructor is really great, especially with kids, and I'm thankful he is a person that is not afraid to learn new things to improve and pass down this things to his students, also creating a comfortable environment in the dojo for everyone. (I'm not saying this to flatter him, he does not speak a word of english).
        • I don't know how it worked in Italy. For some reason, Dragon Ball (much less St. Seiya) didn't get as many people into MA (among other things, I recall it in the late 80s; also... well, kung fu is not as known). But I know instructors who had people join kendo/iai already with hakama + keikogi (at least here, people are not expected to invest in those early on). Reddish keikogi and white hakama, hittokiri style. There are others... And the ammount of schools spiked for a while, and people didn't take such new arrivals seriously (practitioners and schools both), and...Take care. If we keep on, I suppose I'll ask for a private mail, to avoid filling the thread.
  • Victor
    Jesse-san, Great article, as usual! It's interesting that I think I was taught this, way back when, but (probably due to language barriers) it was not as clearly articulated as you have managed here. The concept I got at the time was to "sink into your stance" and "pull the back leg in" prior to pushing forward over the (now forward bending) front knee. It makes much more sense how you have explained it here! Learning new stuff every day on your site, even though I've been training off and on for almost 37 years. Domo arigato gozaimasu!
  • Jacob
    Hi, Very interesting, Happy to say that my sensei tried to teach me this. But I was too slow to grasp it. With your additional Explanation I got it. It works, however I think it is more a mental Thing, envision to let gravity pull you down/Forward, Forces you to "collaps" the leg enough to move smoothly, in reality you hardly really lower your Hara. otherwise I would be bopping up and down which I personally don't like.
  • Rafel
    Do you do this with yori ashi a as well? I tried, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. I keep pushing myself with my back leg...
    • yes, keep on trying. It can be done with yori ashi as well and will make it easier. Just relax the front knee and hip before you move. Later, you can use the "falling" sensation and bounce back ahead. They do that in tai chi. later on, you can even re-add the back foot kick in a slighter way!
      • Rafel
        But then you get your strength from your back leg, don't you? I mean, you actually don't move your front leg forward and then your back leg moves "aucomatically" when you get your position again, but instead you leap using your back leg?
        • The way I see it, you are right. But the feeling can be the opposite. Wheter you use the backfoot push or not, what both ways have in common is the contraction of abductor muscle to make the legs get together at first. There is of course a little push, it's natural. But in different schools of karate they strongly use it and in others the don't.
  • Arjun
    Very nice tip , never knew before after being in karate for somany years, thank you Jesse
  • Perry Culver
    Also the movement has to be immediate. If you first move and re-position the foot you'll never be able to reach your opponent. If you move your foot first your opponent responds to the kick. If your first move sends you in motion the you can catch him. It's also about eliminating unnecessary movement and/or moves that telegraph your intentions.
  • ShotoNoob
    EITHER METHOD IS EXPERT: | I think the view that the second stepping methodology is 'expert' came out of the Japanese Karate Masters intense study of body mechanics; and more so as Shotokan karate evolved into more of a competitive exercise versus an individual exercise in self defense. | In any event, the proposed expert method in stepping (No. 2) certainly puts to rest the MMA or boxing critics that denounce traditional karate as devoid of footwork, or lacking in the capability to close on the opponent. | I virtually only use the first method of stepping. For one, I hardly call myself a Master.... Yet expert karate, in my book, calls for a different set of skills than athletically advanced mobility. The basic method of stepping, when done with sufficient mental discipline, is highly advanced in effect--just like all of kihon karate. | Traditional karate is not about advanced body mechanics. It's about mind-body unity--with the mind the driver. The form of ippon kumite becomes highly advanced in effect when mind-body unity is the engine. That's my recipe....
  • Amber
    Thanks so much for the tip! I'll definitely test it out during training!
  • Roberto Zanichelli
    That's the kind of attention that makes the difference, It remember me also the video about blocking and "inviting". I think that trying to understand how the envinronment (gravity for example) affect our body and how we can balance or use those forces is a great way to have more self-consciusness . Those are concept that helps to look deeper inside of ourselfs. without being so philosophycal it's also a good exercise to learn physics ;) . I've spent night thinking about the physics and how our body reacts because sometimes it's clear to see that we use our energy in a very inefficient way ("shaped by one's profession", engineering brings serious "trip"), If you can't defeat them, join them. sometimes isn't wise to contrast some forces, finding a way to use them is a better idea.I really like your posts Master Jesse, it's always a pleasure to see such interest and passion in those disciplines. Thank you, Roberto, Ju jitsu instructor, from italy.
  • Shankar Satheesan
    This is genius. However it's tough to master. Could you suggest any exercises to help with this?
  • George
    Thanks sensei for the tip. But can we use it to move in yori-ashi?
  • Barry Rodgers
    Your video and writeup about achieving faster steps from zenkutsu dachi by first initiating the step by lowering the front knee makes a lot of sense. Note that in practicing this is discovered that in had a reduced range of motion in my left knee due to a overly tight IT Band that caused severe pain in the outside of my left knee.
    • Barry Rodgers
      As a follow up to my IT Band post i would appreciate any thoughts folks may have on the observation hat we a tought to bend the front leg in zenkusu dachi so that the knee is over or just behind the toe; however, the need to lower the front knee to initiate a step forward (or backward) requires the knee to be well past the toes. This requires more strength and flexibility that otherwise may have been thought.
  • Adnan
    Isn't the concept of moving in the Western martial arts the one that is described first?

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