For many years karate has undergone numerous changes and modifications. Each man/woman has adapted and selected what works well for him/her. What hasn't, or should not change, is the underlying basis of what is called 'proper execution'.
Many 'styles' or 'new karates' have come into existence. Most are credible, though some are doubtful as to their 'ingredients'. I would like to think that a 'kaicho' or 'soke' can bare in mind the necessity for keeping tradition alive. Perpetuating standards and expectations for why we use certain technique in certain methods is important. Otherwise, why would it still be called KARATE? Some of our today's soke have left behind these crucial elements and favored to create their own technique, methods and, to the most part, their own standards.
Behind each technique we have requirements, which when employed, gives us what is termed "Proper Execution". Form, Focus, Alignment, Balance, Speed, Power and The 'Ability To Follow-up' results in "Proper Execution". Within these elements we have breath, muscular tension and relaxation, control, extension and recoil.
Too often, in tournament we see Kumite divisions sacrificing these elements of proper technique. One of the most misued and misjudged techniques seen in 'open' tournament kumite competition is the 'flying backfist'. When surrounded by newly promoted yudansha judges, whom the competitor has already identified as laxed or highly impressed by even the sloppiest of 'technique', he/she knows how to play them. The center referee commands 'hajime!' (begin) and with much skipping and body shifting the competitor bounds from his/her tippy toes and flies across the ring. With fingers extended within the ever-so-hiding marshmallow protective hand gear, this 'fighter' lands 'contact' to the side of his/her opponent's head. The technique has so much 'sauce' on it that it causes the 'executor' to fall to the ground, rolling to his/her feet and rising up to see the judges reaction. Point! yells come from the majority of the judges and with a majority rule, the center referee awards the competitor a point.
Travesty! What is missing in the preceeding event? Good judges? Proper technique? Larger trophies? Well, maybe a combination of all. All the requirements of proper execution are missing. And all the more, the looser is left with the impression that he/she cannot win without doing the same. So, the sloppy technique lives on and more and more karateka of open tournament competition become experts in this fallacy. Coupled with this problem is that most of the yudansha that are judging these events are also experts of the 'flying backfist'.
Let us clarify 'proper execution'. We will take this 'flying backfist' and apply the requiremental standards. Did it have focus? Focus or 'kime' is the centering of one's internal energies with the technique. Together with alignment, focus gives the technique the 'ability' to apply the rest of the requiremental standards. Speed? Well, yes it does have speed, but so does a housefly. Power? Not enough to make the equation if applied from the back of the fingertips. As for Form, Balance and the ability to follow-up... Non-existent. After this competitor executes his/her 'flying backfist', he/she continued off stumbling into the crowd or falling gracefully to the floor. Not exactly a good place to follow-up from. Breath is the essence of 'properly executed' technique. The only breath this fighter gave is what was knocked out of him/her when hitting the floor. And, to top all, the technique was way over extended.
In executing technique, we are to be aware of it range of power. Extension and recoil are the applicators of that power. If a punch is over-extended, it has lost its draw of power and has passed its point of application. To recoil a technique is to release the power. Recoil is important in all technique, even in thrusting technique. It is what allows our body to maintain balance and continue technique in combination. This is where 'the ablility to follow-up' comes in.
If you were in real battle, and you committed your power, speed and focus on this one technique, but you miss, what happens? First, you are out of balance. Second, you failed to recoil and have no cover or ability to follow-up. And thirdly, even if you did make contact, it would not significantly stun your opponent. The results are devastating. Your opponent, executing a well-placed reverse punch, takes out three of your ribs severely lacerating your lungs. This is the wrong time to think about breath.
Good news! In some tournament settings, the latter opponent wins the point. Have you seen the look of disgust on the face of the 'flying backfist' executor when the judges call his/her opponent's reverse punch? But mine was there first! Yep, but it did not fit the description of a properly executed technique. It doesn't count when you have properly instructed yudansha judging the event. The reverse punch has always been the favorite counter to the 'flying backfist'. It is a focused, powerful, yet controlled techinque that has balance through extension and recoil with breath (you did hear the kiai, did you?). And he/she was ready to follow-up with more technique if necessary, as his/her body was in good form and balance.
This is why us traditionalist call it 'flash and trash'. It lacks 'proper execution'. Perhaps, this is why many traditional karate practioners gravitate to the traditional 'closed' tournaments. This is where our technique have 'value' and 'merit'. Open tournament is a sport that originated in karate. That is often where such 'sloppy' technique is condoned. Whereas, in traditional closed tournaments, we are applying the principles of true karate in a competitive form. Requirements for a 'score-worthy' technique are tight. The definition of a technique embodies that of which would kill, mame or cause serious bodily injury. Thus enters the concept of control through proper extension and recoil. If a technique is over-extended or under-extended, it can not earn a point and maybe not even a half point. Focus, speed, balance and power is imperative. Karate needs to be demonstrated in a way it was intended to be. We struggle to maintain the public's interest in traditional martial arts for this and many other values. I give my CONGRATULATIONS to the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Karate program and for all of it's efforts to preserve karate for what it is... DYNAMIC! Don't get me wrong, I love open tournament. I just wish the yudansha who judge in these tournaments would be awake during the 'black belt meeting'. To often, I have heard the tournament promoter say "be fair about how you call your 'points', don't tolerate messy technique". Many of those judges already have their mind made up as to what a messy technique is. Unfortunately, overextension and out-of-balance technique are tolerated by these judges. Is it trend? Is it a lack of proper instruction? Is it favoritism? Or is it Sport Karate and 'flying backfist' are expected and well rewarded? Maybe all of the above.