#1: “Straighten Your Back & Look Up!”
If you spend your days like 95% of Western people (= sitting in front of a desk) your back is probably permanently hunched over.
Humans are a product of their environment.
Unfortunately, this is neither good from a health perspective nor from a Karate perspective.
Your back needs to be straight in Karate – especially if you do rotational movements.
Otherwise, your techniques won’t be fully efficient from a biomechanical standpoint, and you might seriously hurt your health and performance.
But it’s not enough to have your back straight. Your neck needs to be straight too.
Many people look down at the ground when executing Karate techniques.
Why? Because it’s an unconscious expression of low self-esteem.
I get it. Karate is hard. Look up anyway!
Did you know that for every inch your head tilts forward, you add 10 pounds of pressure to your spinal chord?
Plus, in self-defense, bad posture makes you look like a victim.
Straighten your back & look up!
You can go days without food or sleep.
But you can’t even go minutes without breathing!
Yet, for some reason, people start compulsively gasping for air when doing Karate.
(Or even worse; they hold their breath.)
Breathing is the key to unlocking the path between your mind & body.
To be more scientific; you can change the activation level of your nervous system simply by down/upregulating your breathing, directly influencing your emotional state.
Related reading: How to Breathe Correctly in Karate
Some people can even control functions of their autonomic nervous system (i.e. digestion and heart rate), purely through adjusting their breathing pattern.
With conscious breathing, you tap into your subconscious.
It’s a well-known fact that breathing unleashes your inner strength.
“The lungs are reservoirs of air, and the air is the lord of strength. Whoever speaks of strength must know of air.”
– Jui Meng, Shaolin monk, 1692
#3: “Twist Your Hips!”
Your legs account for 40% of your total body mass.
To achieve maximum power in your Karate techniques, you need to use your complete body mass – including your lower extremity.
So, how can you recruit your legs and transfer their energy to your upper body?
If you don’t twist your hips when you punch, block, strike etc., you might as well be sitting in a wheelchair, because you’re literally isolating tons of energy in your legs.
The only way to completely channel the energy from your lower body into your upper body is through the efficient timing of hip rotation.
The trick is to coordinate your hip with the rest of the kinetic chain.
Easier said than done, I know.
Twist your hips!
#4: “Lower Your Shoulders!”
Twisting your hips is not enough for delivering great power.
You need to transfer that power via every joint – including the shoulders.
If your shoulders are stiff, weak or disconnected, the power of your techniques will get diminished before it has a chance to reach your target.
That’s why you need to lower your shoulders, so you can relax them and establish the correct connection in the structural alignment of your arms and body.
Only then can you activate the correct muscles.
However, if your Karate solely consists of “punching thin air”, this doesn’t really matter.
But, if you actually hit stuff, your shoulder position is critical – both for power transmission and joint health.
Lower your shoulders!
#5: “Slow Down!”
When something excites us, we speed up.
It’s great that you think Karate is exciting.
But sometimes it’s important to slow down!
When you rush all the time, you tend to create bad habits – like cheating in techniques or injuring your training partners.
The main advantage of slowing down is that it gives you time to reflect & feel.
Slowing down allows you to explore uncharted territory in your proprioceptive map – the physical areas of the brain responsible for sensing movements (read more).
I know… it’s easy to always go fast, because it doesn’t require any thinking – and you can ride on the momentum of speed.
But slowing down requires you to be in full control of you mental state.
And 99% of Karate is about the right mentality.
#6: “Keep Your Guard Up!”
I love eating carrot cake.
But I hate eating knuckle sandwiches.
Why? Because every time I drop my guard when I fight a skilled opponent, I’m reminded of how bitter they taste.
(Luckily, knuckle sandwiches are organic & gluten-free!)
Okay, enough with the bad jokes.
Everyone knows that it’s important to keep your guard up.
Yet, as soon as we face a skilled opponent, we tend to drop it and panic.
The reason is simple: your lizard brain goes into survival mode when you fight. Your brain is literally telling your body to run away from the dangerous situation and curl down in your bed with a warm blanket, a big cup of hot chocolate and Netflix.
But you’re in the dojo now. You need to be able to defend yourself!
(Related reading: 3 Ninja Tactics to Become a Better Karate Fighter)
Keep your guard up!
#7: “Elbows In!”
Many people have heard this, but few people know why it’s important.
When you punch with the elbows in, your shoulder joint rotates externally. Since the shoulder is a spheroidal joint (“ball and socket joint”), this creates a stabilizing force in the shoulder due to the biomechanical law of torque.
It’s basic anatomy.
This is super important, because your shoulder is one of the most unstable joints in the human body!
If your elbows flare out when you punch, block, strike, etc. you lose torque in the shoulder and end up with extra slack in the joint, causing it to get loose.
This increases your risk for injury dramatically.
Keep your elbows in!
#8: “Knees Over Feet!”
Let’s play a game.
Raise your hands if you know a Karate practitioner with a knee injury.
Good. Now take your hands down, grab your knees and whisper softly to them that you’ll never do this dangerous (but common) mistake.
Here’s what you need to know:
If you strive to always align your knees and feet, you’re doing better than 99% of people who injure their knees in Karate.
Why? Because your joints are not made to work in isolation – they’re made to work in integration. The more you align your knees and feet, the better they can cooperate.
Strive to track your foot with your knee – no matter what stance you’re in.
Otherwise, your Karate career might be shorter than you expect.
Knees over feet!
You got “important stuff” to do.
Groceries to shop, kids to take care of, work to finish, people to meet, places to go…
We’re all so busy these days.
But nothing of that exists in the dojo!
The name says it all: “DO”-“JO” (“Way” + “Place”).
There’s simply no room for worldly distractions in the Place for studying the Way.
If you only practice Karate a few times a week, don’t waste them by being unfocused.
(Here’s my favorite way to focus.)
Trust me – your grocery list, phone bills and parking tickets will still be there for you after training. They’re not going anywhere, unfortunately.
And your Karate won’t improve by thinking about them.
You deserve the luxury of shutting out external distractions in the dojo.
#10: “Relax & Smile!”
Lastly, perhaps the most important one:
It’s easy to be too tense in Karate.
Today’s modern hectic life basically promotes it!
But Karate can’t flow from a state of tension.
That’s why Inoue Yoshimi, the world’s greatest kata coach (R.I.P.) once old me the following:
Not because life is too short to not enjoy.
But, because when you smile, you relax!
Needless to say, your Karate techniques can only *snap* when you’re truly relaxed.
(That’s how I was able to extinguish all those candles in Karate On Fire!)
In other words, smile every time you feel stiff. It’ll make you feel relaxed.
Plus, it will make training more fun!
You only live once… right?
Might as well enjoy it.
Relax & smile! ; -)
PS. If you want to seriously improve your Karate, read this next.