Back foot in reverse punch - is flat really the traditional way

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Back foot in reverse punch - is your foot completely flat? And is that really the traditional way?

Post by Jason Armstrong (6th dan) April 2010

Due to a lot of recent discussion and questions around the back foot during gyakuzuki I am posting a topic on 4 ways the rear foot is often critiqued so people can reflect both what is traditional and what generates the most power etc.. As usual the point of this topic is to help people understand why they do it one way or another - rather than to say that one way is better than another.

Variants 1 & 2 - knife edge of the foot up or down?

When I studied shito-ryu in Japan in the 1990s (from two older 8th dan sensei - Sotokawa & Iba from a dojo which was a Tani/Shukokai line of Shito-ryu called Renbukan) I was taught to do a reverse punch with the knife edge of the rear foot up but keeping the heel down & transferring the weight to the inside or instep. This is to:

  1. maximize hip rotation 

  2. center the power/weight up the middle line of the body and the inside of the thigh & base 

Other Shukokai members on this social network have also been taught the same way. Shotokan in comparison keeps the entire sole of the back foot planted - with the argument that no recoil/give will occur on impact. 

The knife edge of the foot needing to come off the ground to reach full power is also a function of stance depth - for example: if one does reverse punch from sanchin or motodachi the knife edge lift does not need to come into play as much - but go deep enough and not doing it will reduce power. Many argue that the transfer of the flat foot as a princple from the short Okinawan stances does not make sense when in zenkutsudachi - hence the Shukukai way forgoes it in the deeper stances.

Variant 3:

The heel lifted (especially if a wind-up is involved) with the heel slamming down at the instant around  the punch landing. This seems to be a more  traditional action as I have seen primarily Okinawan trained sensei do this . I observed this approach profoundly at the Junodkan in Okinawa and its benefits include power and can involve plyometrics. When observed it is almost the opposite of a sport karate heel action.

Variant 4:

Sports karate - lifting the heel to maximise their length of technique. While sacrificing lateral stability (and opening an option for recoil of the foot down on impact) this approach can extend length and under certain conditions power. One argument here about worrying over recoil because the heel is not planted is-  how often does that recoil really happen compared with the upside fo the extra reach/power - sports karate coaches argue that it is all about your odds of a better outcome not the one that is less likely? Not only modern sports karate does lift the heel - see article on Kimura sensei of Tani Shito-ryu lineage with video of drills where heel lifts...).

Interestingly the criteria that the World Karate Federation (WKF) uses when judging a kata performance requires the foot edge down (see the bottom of this BLOG) which is ironically the opposite of what that system tends to encourage in kumite.

Osu, Jason

Post by Martin April 2010

I let the knife edge of my rear foot come up slightly, transferring the weight to the instep, still griping with the big toe, and the two next to it still have contact, so the hip rotation becomes more fluid and deeper transferring more Ki. I also focus a lot on the whipping action of the fist on the last few inches to generate more speed and Ki as to create a shock rather than a push. 

I have had this passed down to me from Sensei Derek Veitch (6th Dan) Jersey Channel Islands (U.K), who was himself instructed by Soke Chojiro Tani (Founder of Shukokai) 

Osu Martin

Post by Tummayo Sep 2010
we can learn a lot from the way boxers punch, hit a punch bag and naturally the the transfer of weight allows the heel to rise , footwork enabling power.  i am shotokan which is very much for the whole foot on the ground , a good feeling which i practise a lot ,one focuses more on the hara and rooting etc, both complement each other , teach each other , is it not the situation one finds oneself in that will determine the best way at that moment,

This is some of the criteria that the World Karate Federation (WKF) uses when judging a kata performance. Highlighted in red is opposition to the above topic.
  • The kata must be performed with competence and must demonstrate a clear understanding of the principles it contains.
  • The kata performance must have demonstrated correct focus of attention, use of power, good balance and proper breathing.
  • Consistency and correctness of stances.
  • Correct weight distribution according to the kihon being demonstrated.
  • Smooth and even transition (center remaining “weighted down”) between stances.
  • Correct tension in stance.
  • Feet edges firmly on floor.
  • Accuracy in techniques.
  • Correct and consistent kihon with the style being demonstrated.
  • Correct tension, focus, kime.
  • Show proper understanding of the kata bunkai.
  • Contrast in tension, breathing and movement.
  • An understanding of those techniques being demonstrated.
  • A realistic, rather than “theatrical ” demonstration of the Kata meaning.

Post by Jason Armstrong (6th dan) April 2012

Two more interesting additions to this BLOG.

1. Kyoshi Bartholomay also conveyed how David Krieger Sensei indicated that Tani also taught him that way i.e. blade of the foot up for the reasons I was also taught while in the Kansai region (commented on above).

2. There has been a good engineering meta-analysis done (a meta-analysis is a statistical analysis across the data of multiple different but similar studies) which has analyzed University biomechanical studies for boxers and martial artists (& it also reflects on  some lay-person studies such as fight science on the National Geographic channel), which show consistently the stronger "reverse" punch is delivered without the heel/full foot planted evenly on the ground (Grenville, 2011). The same study comes to a conclusion regarding that a a flat foot offers more stability but not more power, and therefore one chooses it potential for use only in particular circumstances but most of the time it is best not to do so.

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