How to “Snap” Your Karate Techniques Like Rika Usami

Snap!

Crack! Pop!

The sounds of Rika Usami’s techniques cut through the air, as innocent bystanders are blown away by her world-class kata performance.

They can’t understand how she does it.

Her snappy movements are ridiculously impressive.

And, truth be told, few World Champions have come close to her level since she abruptly decided to retire in 2012, revealed when I famously interviewed her right after she won the WKF (World Karate Federation) world title.

Don’t believe me?

Check this video out:

(PS. More videos HERE.)

As you can see, even when she’s casually giving a seminar demo, Rika Usami has an incredible power for her body size – not to mention deadly grace and spirit.

No wonder people keep e-mailing me questions about her!

Like…

  • How *exactly* does she do it?
  • What is the secret to her “snappy” techniques?
  • Can anyone learn this?

Today I’ll answer these questions, and much more.

Follow along, as I explain the secret principle that enables Rika Usami to boast such impressive technique – as told and shown to me by Rika-san herself.

If you have experience with traditional Okinawan Karate, you’ll recognize a lot.

You see, it’s all about ONE very special principle.

Introducing…

“The Whip”: Rika Usami’s Snappy Secret

A powerful whip breaks the sound barrier at 1400 feet per second. Compare that to a bullet, leaving the barrel of a gun at 1100 feet per second, and you see that a whip cracks faster than a speeding bullet!

Imagine a whip.

Seriously. Imagine a bullwhip.

You know – those long things made of leather that you secretly use in the bedroom cowboys use in movies, as made famous by Indiana Jones.

Now, consider this:

A whip is thin, right? It’s flexible too, and doesn’t weigh a lot.

Yet, a regular bullwhip is capable of generating enormous amount of power, merely from cracking it with your arm and wrist!

So…

How does this relate to Karate?

Well, to crack a whip powerfully and accurately, you don’t really need a great deal of strength. That’s why small people can do it effectively. If the technique is correct, the physics of the whip will allow the cracker to reach supersonic power with relatively little effort.

This knowledge is PURE GOLD for Karate practitioners.

rika-usami-karate-kata-whipWhy?

Because if you learn how to mimic a whip with your body, you’ll be able to generate massive amounts of power without the need for excessive strength or tension.

That’s why Usami, a woman of pretty modest size, can have such snap in her techniques.

But, in order to become a “living bullwhip”, you first need to understand how power is most efficiently generated.

Allow me to explain:

According to Inoue Yoshimi, the sensei of multiple world champions (including Antonio Diaz and Rika Usami), three vital components have to be present in your technique to generate maximum power with minimum effort.

These could be referred to as the “three principles of optimal technique”.

And they are…

  1. Speed – the ability to move quickly when initiating, accelerating and stopping your techniques. This requires an understanding of how to adjust your physical and mental a) relaxation b) tension/pre-tension in the right body parts.
  2. Timing – the ability to dictate interplay (start/stop) between a) upper/lower body, b) right/left body half, and c) posterior/anterior kinetic chain, i.e. timing between foot/hand when stepping, hikite/striking hand, kime etc.
  3. Balance – a natural instinct, hardwired to circumvent many motor skills, and hence of utmost importance to control in order to avoid draining energy from other parts of your system. Balance implies both your stance, posture, trajectory of movement, end-positions and being physically/mentally centered.

Together, these three principles will give you…

POWER.

Which is then expressed through the whip concept.

Here’s how it works:

Rika Usami says that the center of your body should be the “shaft” of the whip.

So, imagine a line going through your body from the top of your head to the floor.

This shaft is what you twist, in order to crack the whip and generate the power that travels outward; from your center (shaft) to your fist, foot, knee, elbow or any other tool of impact. The “snap” sound is just a by-product of this process, not the goal.

As a practical example, in the first half of this video, you can see Inoue sensei explaining a typical “whip” exercise using world champion Antonio Diaz.

Check it:

Conclusion?

If you want to have “snap” in your techniques, you first need to focus on correct technique (speed, timing and balance) in order to generate enough power to crack your body like a human bullwhip.

Sounds hard?

That’s because it is.

But everyone are 103% capable of learning this skill.

And now that you got the theory down, the rest is just practice.

One day, you might be able to snap your techniques like Rika Usami too.

I believe in you.

Good luck!

42 Comments

  • Michel
    I think the snap has to do with the type of karate-gi you're wearing as well. Some competitors put starch on their clothes so that they snap more.
    • Sad but true, Michael-san! But the "snap" can be experienced even without a gi, once it's applied effectively. Again, it's all about correct technique (and strong joints!) :)
      • Betty
        Many years ago my Sensei turned and smiled at me, he announced to the whole class that finally I produced my first correct punch. The snap was so loud and I was fast. The class, mainly males proceeded to laugh and jeer at me. Sensei was not impressed. He announced that it had taken me four years to get to this level, but I was now just starting to understand how to use my body correctly. He turned to the rest of the class and then asked when they would do the same,nobody laughed(they had been training twice as long)...:)
    • Juan Alfred Rodriguez
      Indeed - Shureido sells one of those "typical" karate-gi. The top of the line right now is the "NW-3."But as they say - it still depends on correct technique.
    • Andrew
      Sloppy Gi + incorrect technique = no snap.Sloppy Gi + correct technique = no snap.Starched Gi + incorrect technique = no snap.And lastly: Starched Gi + correct technique = snap.You can replace the term sloppy Gi with rigid Gi if you like....some of the expensive Gi's do not need starching as they are better quality. The starched Gi when it snaps just represents the power and correctness of the techniques.
  • Thank you for the article.I believe it is what some call "heavy hand". To let proper body movement and rotation move the weight naturally without too much effort.I had a longer answer that got washed because I forgot to enter the captcha (this is not fun).
  • Check this: Unsu performed by WKF-world champion kumite (!) Miki Kobayashi.You don't want to get in the way of those punches!I like this 100% better than the snaps of the kata champions.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JE8HoP3q88&sns=em
  • I was taught that in a correct karate punch, the elbow followed the fist and the arm projected outward like an arrow from a bow. If you wear a heavy gi and your elbow moves outward during the punch and snaps inward at the focus point, you will hear a "pop" made by the gi and perhaps a little bit of elbow joint stress. . . telling the practitioner that the elbow joint wasn't a musical instrument or another misunderstood hallmark of speed and power. (like the screaming that wins kata performances in many tournaments)On a more creative and less destructive manner for waking up an audience, Ed Parker used to accompany a "killing" blow to an Uke during a self-defense application, with slap to his body with his left hand while attacking with his right. Most impressive and provided the audience with a sense of destructive power while not injuring his own arm or the body of his Uke.I personally like the lightweight cotton gi bottoms that go just below the knees and a tee shirt for working out. Some of the tents that karate practitioners wear today hide important body movements that make up much of the systems core principles and perpetuate the myth that a powerful punch will produce a whip-like snapping noise.
    • Chip Quimby
      Mattson sensei,It's great to see your contributions here for all to read and benefit from.It's simply amazing to me that you have time to share your thoughts and experiences on other forums and blogs, especially when you're probably straight-out running your own.Thanks for the input on the subject. Hopefully readers know how fortunate they are to have such accomplished martial artist contributing to the discussion.Folks check www.Uechi-Ryu.com if you'd like to see more of Mattson sensei's work. I think his forum was one of the very first in the martial arts world. OSU!
  • Gunnar
    Get the whip app, I got it from android play store, "Big Bang Whip"... bad is, you can only use it for 1 limb...
    • Haha! That cracked me up Gunnar-san. :D There's a "lightsaber app" too, for that special Jedi effect... ;)
      • Sam malla
        I will try you are kind one day I will meet you
  • Austin
    My Sensei figured this out a few years ago and looking back it is amazing how much faster and smarter this is compared to the way we used to do it with the classic arms back and strong forced punch. Now we move so much faster and its nice that he used the same analogy of the whip to describe it. Means we are on the right track I think..
  • Chris Collins
    Good topic! Takes me back more than 45 years when Ed Parker left Hawaii a brown belt and showed up in L.A. as a black belt and began to cheapen the martial arts in general. I was present at his first demonstration (along with director Blake Edwards and writer Sterling Sylliphant. Soon he was everywhere giving ridiculous demonstrations.Having been the founding associate editor and photographer for the then fledgling Black Belt magazine I was asked to take some pictures of Ed to go with an interview the editor had done.Very distasteful to me, but as soon as I walked in and introduced myself (I have never used my real name in writing about the arts because, while I hold advanced rank in virtually all of them (this is my 65th year) it is the arts that are important, not personalities who want to create titles for themselves and "create" new arts) Ed said he had heard about me from everyone he met and offered me a job. I laughed and asked why I should teach for someone who knew NOTHING about martial arts.Anyway I was known for my "kime" which is the practice (different from what you describe) of being able to throw unblockable punches and to block any punch thrown. In practice it causes a gi snap which untrained people seem fascinated with. Immediately, I was surrounded by Ed's students (including Danny Inosanto who wore a brown belt under Ed) begging me to tell the secret. You see, in Kenpo Karate Parker taught his students to slap themselves to try and copy the sound of the gi snapping.Even Bruce Lee who later studied with me wanted to know - but never learned - how that magical sound was produced.They all looked for some secret, but it was simply the application of two of the most basic principles in the striking arts. Unfortunately no one seems to teach the basics anymore since the mid 1960's so it has become virtually a lost art save for a few instructors who still believe in the basics. Ms. Usami was lucky to have studied under such an instructor.
    • Chris-san, thanks a lot for your sharing your story, insights and experience. :) Looking forward to hearing more one day!
  • Luis
    My sensei always used to say "make your gi crack whenever you do a technique". We used regular gi, without starch or something like that.
  • Jesse Payne
    There are 3 types of snap sounds that come from Karateka.The first one is a deep low sounding snap that happens in the torso and or hip section of the Gi - this is the one you want to hear as you tighten up over a split second from your core outward to your extremity performing the technique.The second is a lighter sounding snap that only originates from the piece of clothing surrounding the extremity performing the technique, often resulting in hyper-extension of a surrounding joint.The third is the sound of the opposite had that's being retracted from the previous technique slapping your Gi, you are not fooling anyone. But unfortunately I see this done all the time even watching high level competition. It even looks bad as your open hand makes it's way across your gut instead of returning straight to your hip.When you can make the sound with just only your skin and no Gi, that's when you're doing it right.
    • Vasilios
      At last , the above is correct imo,Very disheartened by some of methods used to create the illusion of snap versus the real deal.Unfortunately if judges score, competitors do, so where does the blame lay.In the new rules as I understand them hopefully this will be rectified.With respect.
  • Nana B.
    I have always Idolised Rika Usami. Being a modest sized female myself, I have always said if she can do it, then I can. And, now I know how, off to practice!!
  • Shiro
    Nothing related to the hikite hand literally snapping the Gi?
    • Shiro-san, if the goal is to just have snappy sounding techniques, that's an effective tactic indeed.
      • Shiro
        Sadly, that seems to be the goal of 90% of karatekas (not Karate Nerds, of course!). IMHO I really can´t see the relations between the snap sound and effectiveness, considering that speed is just one variable of the whole "equation" for efficiency of a waza.But, it´s cute, indeed! lol
  • Pleiades
    Oh dear. Concentrating on fripperies like 'snappy' sounds kinda devalues the whole point of Karate IMHO... but each to their own.Rika Usami is brilliant at what she does tho, no question about that. And seriously adorable too ;-)
    • Pleiades-san, I agree fully. And, like I wrote in the article, the "snap" is a by-product of the abovementioned process, it should never be confused with the actual goal.
  • Nicki
    Another great article Jesse-San! Thank you!I think a lot of people confuse audible 'snap' with the snap or finish of the technique. I have trained in karate for 15 years now but still consider myself to be a novice, especially when it comes to this stuff.A few years ago I spent a lot of time asking senior members of our club how to execute more snap in my technique. A common response was 'get a canvas gi' (which I wear anyway) or 'starch the sleeves'. It was frustrating having them not understand the question. A few did understand and could even explain what snap was but not the how. I asked them to elaborate on the how and the most common response was 'you just do it'.Your article makes it so much clearer for me. But just to clarify, in order to execute the snap, you want to be completely free of tension until the point of impact?I love Rika, I think she has amazing kata but I am not a fan of the gi-slap she does that is common in WKF these days.
    • Hi Nicki-san! Thanks for your comment. Correct - you want to be free of unnecessary tension, especially in your antagonists, but still maintain enough tension to keep basic posture and muscle tonus.
  • bhaskar sen
    Is'nt this contrary to sensei inoue's disbelief in sounds and stomps ? also ... the idea of breathing out and exhaling out (from the mouth) is highly debateable
    • Bhaskar-san, that's actually what the video is all about. I just used it to show Inoue sensei's classic "whip" exercise.
  • szilard
    Also: the whip is completely loose up to the point before it cracks. If you hit the target before the cracking point, it will be a rather harmless hit. If it connects to the target at the cracking point it has a demolishing force tearing hide and breaking bone. You can experience the same thing with your punching technique if you practice breaking free falling breaking boards.
  • Chip Quimby
    Nice article Jesse-san!I like some of thoughts being shared here. It’s always a great group of contributors.In terms of speed though, we can all certainly afford to get quicker, that's for sure. Who doesn't want to be quicker, wink wink!To me, I think the most impressive aspect in watching practitioners at this level, relative to their acceleration and deceleration in striking, is their ability to control tension and compression within their bodies.Great karateka all seem have what appears to be a full-body or holistic sense of balance, which intern allows them to control their entire body's tension (or ability to negotiate it) with blinding speed, producing extraordinary results along with some pretty ‘snappy’ techniques, often with or without a dogi. It's simply awesome to watch.But then again, producing these results in kata is just one piece of the puzzle; controlling ones body while shadow boxing is one thing, doing it in bunkai or other dynamic situations is altogether different, never mind while doing it in combat. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to find that most of the great kata practitioners on the international tournament circuit these days spend virtually all of their training time working solely on kata. Not that that’s wrong, but it’s just one piece of the pie right.On another note, one of my teachers, who happens to be the best kata practitioner I've ever met, said that he could never coach someone to be a world class kata practitioner in today's world, because he teaches kata so that that it really works. It’s an interesting statement if not outright controversial. I never forgot that, but I always thought it was funny because his kata is truly extraordinary (as is his ability to apply it in the real world).Thanks again for the great conversation.Gotta go teach…
  • Thanks Jesse I needed that because my first WKF sanction tournament is about to take place in 12 days, 12 days ... God I got to practice this
  • Awesome! I am going to train on this every day! Roma usami is my biggest idol! The best kata ever made in history
  • Amakiri
    I cringe at the thought of what could happen to my spine...anyway, no disclaimers so Jesse-San I'll have you in mind when I use my spine as a shaft in my next training session.
  • I have heard wonderful feedbacks with Rika Usami and I have also watched some of her YouTube videos. She's really good and my sister really loves her.
  • Marcelo Luna
    There was a sensei who worked with much emphasis on technique harness to generate energy. Was considered a genius of Karate for that. His name is Tetsuhiko Asai. Today the only disciple to see it with the same quality called Andre Bertel, New Zealand. Both master and disciple are small and can generate a force blast and totally out of the ordinary! I think karate should be based on it! Do not rely on physical strength, but train hard to generate power through technology.OSU!
  • fred
    I think what you call the center of your body, the "shaft" correspond to the tanden. To properly use your body like a whip, you have to train the muscles of your tanden to generate proper movements. As you said the snap is just a by-product of a correct application of this principle. I hope it will help people understand the process
  • Sui Takahashi
    It's called "Koshi O ireru": Lit, "Putting in the back". Learn that and you will have mastered "the whip"!! :) Sayonara ~Tak
  • Well, while I think that noise is secondary (perhaps good in contests' aesthetic) and you can make kime (an chinkuchi) with no colthe noise even with a good and tuff karategi, I have also seen even children make that noise with cheap soft karategis. So is not in the colthes.
  • mike austin
    um I have large arms and can (curl 60# bench 350) if I was that fast my elbows would shatter
  • I was fortunate enough to have been able to train with Inoue Sensei, and I attended a seminar where he focused on this idea. He codified a lot of things that I had been thinking, and I agree whole-heartedly with his approach: keep your tanden down, relax, generate rotational power around seichusen, and keep the striking limb fluid for as long as possible until the kime point.I teach it to my students today. :)

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