Foot & Hand Synchronization – it is not as simple a story as tournament kata scoring standards when considering kumite, bunkai & knock-out statistics
Make sure your foot lands at the same time as your block completes? Make sure your strike lands the same time your foot lands? Are these correct and traditional practice? What are some of the physics/technique behind the impact effect? Why do the knock out statistics of the UFC MMA world show that in an applied situation only 11% of knockouts come from an oizuki where the foot was planted the same time as the punch arrived i.e. this points to 90% of knockouts being the opposite of what is stressed in kata and step over kihon so often & WKF rules? (the 11% data point is derived from some of the statistics included in out textbook that audited 63 UFC fights and thousands of hospital/police records to crunch the data – small sample of that data shown in Table 1 below. Also see: Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011). This is one variable that can contribute to knock-out that is worth exploration.
As a first example, in kata like seinchin and gojushiho there is a backward moving block in horse stance (kibdachi or shiko dachi), and a tournament judge would score you down if the gedan block/testsui strike to the “front” did not match the timing of the back foot landing. But does this stack up when looking at the classical or evidenced-based bunkai? Is this what one sees in Okinawan masters? In fact the timing of these together does onften not facilitate the best bunkai nor is it what is done by many master (see video inserted in to this article below for some example), nor does it match a number of the training scenarios I have been given inside mainland Japan and Okinawa. I will also flag there is no blanket approach on this topic as one must look into the “ura” (the deeper meaning of the application and technique) to decide what the stance/foot/hand timing should be. Given the above, this article attempts to overview some of the variables at play, at least as much as we can in a text format rather than an in the dojo training context, which is the only thorough place to explore this topic in any detail.
The famous Sakumoto sensei from Okinawa is a multi-time WKF world champion from the 1980s (back then WKF was called WUKO) and was coach of the all Japan kata team for a long period after that, and he provides an example of the above mis-matched timing of foot and block if one watches video of his world championship wining Seipai in 1986 (i.e. moving backwards his blocking hand locks after the foot has impacted the ground). I was fascinated in seeing this live back then at that event, and by the early 1990s I was getting some exposure with very senior Okinawa sensei and they emphasized the reasons why i.e. the bunkai may in fact articulate a scenario such as the opponent being pulled in the and power is best generated from a pre-rounded bag leg to drive technique in to the opponent i.e. in this scenario synchronization of the foot/hand is not the key requirement, power and opponent control is (see our Seipai and Gojushiho videos for bunkai examples).
In my style we teach a gyakuzuki with a slide in on the front foot, and for people the beginner stage the complexities around foot landing is said to be “simultaneous”. At higher ranks we spend more time discussing the toe to heel, inside foot/stance rotational gripping and the timing of the punch as an integrated topic . At least for our ryu-ha, the “ura" (in depth/advanced nature) of the technique it is not as simple as saying to a student “your front foot lands at the same time as your punch”. The same can be applied to oizuki and we will come to this again later in the article (as a note, this action type is often called the “drop step” punch).
Before we go further, let us remind ourselves of some of the physics involved and then overlay the bunkai context after that. How hard you hit has some key variables including:
Let’s look at three different timing examples:
1. The famous
Taira sensei out of the Jundokan Goju honbu
in Okinawa. Here he is drilling gekisai
kata working foot to hip to technique
Taira Sensei of Okinawa - kata & hip drill with impact after the foot lands
Drilling hand and hip after the foot lands
Morio Higaonna sensei on seienchin – kata with impact and blocks after the foot lands
Hands & hip after foot lands
2. The famous Taira sensei out of the Jundokan Goju honbu in Okinawa & Kanazawa sensei of Shotokan. Here Taira sensei is drilling gekisai kata fast and you can see the timing of foot and technique landing together. Kanaza sensei is performing Gojushiho.
Sensei of Okinawa – kata impact with simultaneous foot landing
Simultaneous foot, hip & hand
Kanazawa sensei of Shotokan – be your own
judge as to whether this the hybrid timing I describe above or gripping
beginning as the weight is coming down or whether is it in fact a straight
simultaneous “drop hit”
Simultaneous or hybrid
3. A combination, as described above in our reference to gyakuzuki in the 4th paragraph.
In regards to oziuki and slide-in gyakuzuki, it could also be viewed that the foot going down first will emphasises hip power in a strike whereas the foot going down simultaneously, or after impact, emphasises bodyweight shift to generate power. The gyakuzuki we perform in our style is hybrid of both, however, the bodyweight dropping component is the more dominate of the two.
Of course in kumite/street fighting there may be timing reasons unrelated to kinetic energy generation as to why we may not have the foot and hand land at the same time (“drop step” punch). For example, delaying your hand technique until after the foot lands to take advantage of the fact that your opponent may be expecting the more commonly trained arrival of both together. This is something that features as a regular tactic in our ryu-ha’s ippon kumite. Here the dynamics at play mean that the gyakuzuki, or front fist punch, in terms of punch power will fall into the range of 4000-5000 Newtons and 1600-2500 Newtons respectively (such data has been measured quite a bit across the martials arts and boxing communities in various university and sports science studies – related note, boxers are the hardest hitters and rear hand is the hardest hitting tool across styles). The opposite of course is launching the hand a good deal ahead of the body weight in an ozuki where speed of punch arrival, not power is the sole goal (something that may well produce a tournament point, or act as a stun blow to set up a large punch, but on its own is unlikely to produce a knock-out see: Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011).
Especially when speed is needed to
track an opponent down, the hand hitting just as the feet are touching or just
before is absolutely a good way to go (but again, is a a predicament that does
not allow for any circular grip contributing to core body dynamics and
stability). But as we mentioned above this drop “step punch” approach
11% of knockouts in MMA. As a counter to these statistics one might say "MMA fighters don't have an oizuki heritage as a core to their training, therefore the stats reflect that". However, when we analyzed Machida, a shotokan derived MMA champion (his father is in fact a Shotokan sensei and Machida won WKF medals at international level) he also surprisingly produced exactly 11% as a knock out with the weight landing with/before the hand i.e his other knockout were knee/kick or foot planted in nature. Furthermore, oizuki was a common technique to achieve knock-outs in the MMA ring whether fighters came from karate backgrounds or not, but the method most often seen saw the foot land first (the same was true for slide-in reverse punches resulting in knock-out). However, at the same time, one must not believe there is an absolute need
for feet to maintain contact with the floor in order to deliver a strong punch,
as a bullet a moving at high speed does a lot of damage and it has no
feet/connection to the ground.
*reverse punch (foot planted prior to impact) i.e. no slide in at all or slide in occurred but foot planted prior to impact. Two further observations:
While the drop step punch maximizes energy going into the target and sees less energy dissipating into the floor. However, this action is not restricted to oizuki, our ryu-ha with the bodyweight slide-in and down for our ryu-ha’s kihon gyakuzuki providing one example. A second example, can be seen in the use of kusshin (1 of the 5 karate principles of uke no gogen ri, see article) which involves and creating body dynamics by changing height through knee expansion/compression - even when both feet remain planted on the floor for the punch. This of course opens up another debate around the modern Japanese karate approach which is so often heard, “keep your belt height the same” as you move through your techniques – a debate outside the scope of this article…
In relation to the statistics showing that by far the highest percentage of knock-outs occur via techniques delivered where feet plant to the ground prior to the hit, it stresses that foot timing is important and in particular being able to move around the floor to hit the right targets at the right time and avoid being hit yourself. Furthermore a related topic, whether the heel is up down, or with the blade of the foot up, is often hotly discussed and we review that at this article/BLOG page...
Poll 1: "As part of my kumite training I move around a bag working my combinations" - surprisingly the poll shows that 77% of karate-ka polled by DownloadKarate.com are impacting a bag less than once a week.
Two final comments. Range is key in technique selection and that then needs to be considered in regards to true street violence versus karate-ka tournament ring conditions (even though people may wish to control "mai", or distance from potential opponents, the reality is that most street fights do not start at a distance of 5 feet away, but typically start very close up, see stats textbook). Secondly, the above poll shows that 77% of karate-ka are impacting a bag less than once a week. Having been someone who has done impact work typically more than weekly (especially in my formative Dan progression days i.e. up to 5th Dan), I was somewhat surprised to see this. In my opinion the ability to hit hard is very correlated with this as one explores timing, body use and the conditioning a bag imparts to one's hands, arms, body alignment etc. A good example is watching the Kimura sensei clips.
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The above article was authored by Jason Armstrong (7th dan) and pulling together personal knowledge and using the below texts:
Karate technique selection & Street Fighting Statistics & Medical Outcomes by Armstrong et al., 2011
Seito Shito-ryu Santa Barbara dojo website by Kyoshi Bartholomay. http://www.sbdojo.com/curriculum.htm
Parting the Clouds - The Science of the Martial Arts: A Fighter's Guide to the Physics of Punching and Kicking for Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu and the Mixed Martial Arts. ISBN: 978-0983704102. Grenville Harrop, 2011.
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