Karate technique is a combination of intentional creation and distribution of the energy – a physical movement that enables human body the use of its’ full potential at the time.

The technique is a result of energetic process based on simultaneously applied pressure and captured reaction involving both the body and the ground (the ground playing a role of outside energy source). In the process the physical body becomes a channel for creation, increase and transfer (delivery) of the energy to the target. The channeling of the energy follows the same pattern in different physical configurations, with same internal quality maintained during execution of various techniques and stances being used.  In that sense, energetically speaking, we can picture human body as a “tree” with the trunk and different branches (arms, legs) that remains internally unchanged regardless of the difference in its external configuration. Similarly, regardless of which technique is being used (the external shape the movement takes), the energy flows uniformly along different “branches” of the body (legs, arms, torso) just to join together at technique’s kime. This happens in a fashion similar to smaller mountain springs finally joining/forming one big river but in case of karate technique the word “intense” works better than “big” for the energy intensifies along the process rather than becomes bigger.

The course an energy takes inside and along the body while executing the technique determines the character of the force being produced – and this very aspect of movement’s internal shape will be the main subject of this chapter. Although yin and young aspect of karate reaches out well beyond purely technical matter, we are going to focus on its’ strongly practical dimension by watching two contrary forces completing single motion. The discourse will also be narrowed down mostly to the study of the lower part of the body with help of a few simple examples to illustrate the nature of the process. The information on different techniques and their energetic shape can be found in later part of the book.

In vertical slingshot chapter I mentioned two types of energy lines that constitute energetic body frame supporting karate technique:

  • YANG lines providing direct support towards movement/technique (energy line formed at time of active application of force; such line can work outward – for example, when punching or inward,  for example when the main action is the pulling effort)
  • YIN lines providing indirect support towards technique through enforcing Yang line. Yin lines are formed past the point of energy transfer in the final stage of technique.

It’s important to understand that yin and yang energy lines support and complement each other at all times, forming secured energy circuit within the body system. These energy lines are formed by adjacent body segments which (when activated) twist in opposite directions forming unified energy currents along the body (the term “body segment” is used here and throughout the book in reference to parts of the body connected by joints – for example upper and lower leg connected through the knee joint or forearm and upper arm connected through the elbow joint. The trunk itself works as one separate segment). The action of grounding/reaction lets the energy to ascend in form of technique and travel up and down along these lines in spiraling fashion alongside the legs, torso and arms. It is the very direction (inward or outward) of this spiral action that determines the character of force being produced (delivered) by a movement on the physical level. What plays a major role here though is mental intention which dictates the direction of spiraling in the first place.

It is very important to understand that within karate technique all body segments need to work both independently and in full cooperation with each other. Each segment has to become fully utilized in terms of its “own workings” and at the same time take part in the leading sequence (explosive action/technique) thus becoming valid part of whole effort. Understanding the energy working described in this chapter will help in achieving both.

Before taking a look at the formation of yin and yang energy lines using practical examples we need to understand that activation of the muscles is accompanied by their expansion which itself serves as a foundation of powerful technique, especially at its kime. The expansive muscle action is the result of interconnection and collective work of adjacent body segments, which twist in opposite directions. The process resembles a wet towel being twisted using both hands moving in opposite direction. During the process of squeezing the towel/getting rid of the water the towel becomes more firm in similar way to muscles contracting around the core. The exercise of slow reverse punch against resisting partner is a good example that illustrates the idea (Pic 1).

Pic 1. Using outside resistance to test initiation, continuation and finish of reverse punch. It is important to combine slow movement of the punching arm with increasing grounding along back leg.  

While punching, try not to rush through and make sure to fully synchronize the breathing (exhale) with physical action of the punch at slower pace. Notice, that engaging back leg (simultaneous twisting action/pressure/reaction) connects it to the rest of the body and increases the ability to counter the resistance making the action of the arm more powerful. The same exercise done with just hip action (rotation) without back leg being engaged produces weak result. Excessive hip action in general is a sign of limited grounding and naturally results in limited reaction (imagine trying this exercise with your body suspended in the air – since neither leg could engage via grounding, rotating your hips would not produce much result either). Throughout the technique the muscles of upper and lower back leg (in our example right) twist in opposite direction which results in muscular expansion and formation of unified energy line. Activation of the back leg with use of the breath and pressure applied along the leg towards the ground results in simultaneous reaction and energy increase (which becomes the technique). Forward rotation of the hip while executing reverse punch is more the side effect of engaging the leg (and its optimal interaction with the ground) rather than main source of technique’s power. Excessive hip action not only disturbs the natural energy flow throughout the body (decrease in movement’s explosive quality) but overstresses the hip joint leading to common (yet avoidable) hip injuries among longtime karate practitioners.*

  Pic 2. Using the wall for observing muscle contraction at the final stage of left reverse punch. Try contracting the muscles in the manner of pulsating push rather than constant one. While the left upper leg twists outward yang and left lower leg twists inward yin, the right upper leg twists inward and right lower leg twist outward. The torso rotates forward in direction of the punch and opposite to upper back leg (adjacent segments). The back upper leg, torso and punching arm each twist in opposite direction in relation to each other forming unified energy line from the ground up to the target. 

In reverse punch the back upper leg forms yang energy line directly supporting the technique. The back leg forms the channel for both grounding and reaction – energetic foundation of reverse punch. Properly engaged back leg energetically “extends” towards the ground and along the torso and arm towards the target.

The inward twisting front upper leg (yin) adds balancing quality to the technique at its kime and indirectly strengthens yang line of power by “surrendering” to the active side. This surrender is nothing more but part of energy transfer to another side of the body. You can increase your awareness of the process by observing the yin – yang actions of both legs during kizami and gyaku zuki against some resistance applied from outside, as shown earlier on pic 1. Since we already tried reverse punch, let’s try left kizami zuki in left zenkutsu dachi and observe the workings of energy lines towards technique’s final stage.

*Although hips do participate in movement they need to play their part by remaining fully aligned with legs and upper body in order to allow maximum energy flow between them. Excessive hip movement will cause energetic cut off by disengaging the leg and disturbing the energy transfer to the torso and arms (in case of kicking techniques – energetic isolation of the kicking leg). Moreover, on advanced level of karate, over amplified hip action will prevent complete breathing control over the technique, limiting the adaptability and instant change within movement sequences when necessary. That may result in major strategic disadvantage against skilled opponent.