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The Hips Have It

By Christopher Caile
(With Added Commentary by George Donahue)

In karate, taekwondo and kung fu students are constantly reminded about putting our hips into various techniques to add power. But what is not said is that sometimes what we don't do with our hips is just as important.

What does this mean? Well, for example, most students are taught that thrusting your hips into a front kick adds both power and reach. This is true. But, if you are trying to execute a quick follow up punch, the forward thrust of the hips actually reduces the speed of your follow up technique.

That's because when you push your hips forward, you lose your center. That means you have to pull your hips back to regain your center and balance before an effective punch can be launched. This takes time and allows your opponent the opportunity to defend himself more easily.

If instead you hold your hips back when you do a front kick, your follow-up punch can be launched much more quickly. Here, for example, the punch begins as the kicking leg is pulled back. The retreating kick and punch work together, one retreating, the other extending, just as you would do as if you punched with one arm and then the other. This allows the possibility of a whole flurry of quick techniques -- punches and kicks.

I have always wondered about the old photo of Chojun Mayagi, the founder of Goju-ryu, which shows him doing a front kick while also blocking with both arms. While the particular effectiveness of the technique shown may be questioned, the photo does illustrate this same conservation of hip movement so as to be able to execute simultaneous techniques.

Another good example of holding the hips back is in the executing of a front kick that turns into a roundhouse kick. If the hip is extended into the front kick, it is difficult to follow with a roundhouse kick with the same leg without pulling the hip back first.

A much more effective method is to hold the hips back when doing the front kick and then using them to power the following roundhouse kick. In this way the two kicks can be combined and the second kick launched much more quickly and powerfully.

On the Other Hand

By George Donahue

Sometimes in martial arts, as in most of our experience, we fall into the trap of thinking that if something is not "A" then it must be "B" and only "B." Sometimes there really are only two choices, but most times there are more choices, if we look at the situation more intently. We have to be careful that we don't disregard "C" and even "D" through "Z," if they're at hand.

I read my friend Chris Caile's article "The Hips Have It" with great interest. I agree with Chris completely that the manner of hanging out the hip to create greater extension and thrust with a kick is not really optimal, however traditional it may be in certain styles, particularly those originating in Japan rather than Okinawa. In my younger days, I used to love it when my sparring partners fell into the error of overextension-with either the leg or arm-as it usually made for easy disposal, and it at least greatly improved the odds in my favor, despite my smaller size. I was also many times able to take advantage of an attacker's overextension in my days as a nightclub suirakan doorman. There is no easier way to take someone's balance than by letting him do the work for you himself.

However, to keep the hips retracted and/or centered sacrifices too much potential power, limits the kicking range and height, and severely constrains delivery speed. It allows your attacker to stay much closer to you and to dictate ma-ai, the fighting distance. You cannot maximize your effort if you stay in a state of contraction, hips at neutral.

So, in this case, neither "A," extending into the kick, or "B" not extending into the kick, is without limitation. Both have some pluses, but both have some heavy negatives, too. That means it's time to start thinking about whether there might be other alternatives. In fact, there are more than one that I'm aware of, and there are probably many more that I haven't seen or figured out yet, but we'll keep matters simple by discussing only one, the most basic, which incorporates elements of both "A" and "B."

Okay, here is yet another way to kick, one that involves driving with the hips, extending with the hips, and snapping back with the hips. We won't call it "C," because then you might have broken the habit of thinking there are only two ways to kick and simply fall into the habit of thinking there are just three ways to kick. We'll call it "G," so that it will prompt you to think about what "C" through "F" might be, and whether there might also be alternatives "H" through "?".

In any stance conducive to kicking, with your hips neutral, begin by driving the hip in your non-kicking leg forward, without letting either of your feet go anywhere. When you've stretched your stance as far as it will stretch without snapping or toppling, then with all the power you can muster thrust the hip of your kicking leg toward your target, without letting your kicking foot go anywhere. When you've reached the state of maximum stretch of your kicking leg, release your kicking foot. Allow the stretch of your stance and your kicking leg to snap your foot to the target, like a big rock on the end of a giant rubber band. Your hip will be in the lead and will be in a position similar to that used in ordinary thrust kicks. However, you will not extend fully until after contact, saving the last six inches or so of your now increased reach to drive through the target. Here's where you get into trouble if you don't have good mastery of your koshi, not just the hips but the entire pelvic carriage and the muscle and connective tissue surrounding it. As you drive through your target, your driving hip is already changing direction and heading back to neutral. It's working like the handle of a very thick whip to snap your foot (or knee) through the target and then continue to snap it back through the target so that, in essence, you're kicking on the way in and on the way out.

Method "G" won't work if you keep your hips on a single horizontal plane. You have to swivel them like a sexy walker to execute this technique successfully. Loosen up; give it a try.

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About The Authors:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and holds a 6th degree black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo, aikido, diato-ryu, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts. He is also a long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong. He is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwan Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. In Buffalo, NY, he founded the Qi gong Healing Institute and The Qi Medicine Association at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has also written on Qi gong and other health topics in a national magazine, the Holistic Health Journal and had been filmed for a prospective PBS presentation on Alternative Medicine. Recently he contributed a chapter on the subject to an award winning book on alternative medicine, "Resources Guide To Alternative Health" produced by Health Inform.

George Donahue is a senior acquisitions editor at The Lyons Press, in Guilford, Connecticut, where he edits business, sports, military history, outdoors, and fiction books and is currently establishing a martial arts publishing program. Prior to a brief retirement to write books in Vermont, he had been the executive editor of Tuttle Publishing in Boston and before that an editor for many years at Vintage Books in New York City. A 6th dan Shorin Ryu Karatedo student of Shinzato Katsuhiko and the late Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi, he is the director of Kishaba Juku of New York City and an inveterate karate and kobujutsu seminar instructor. He is also a member of's Advisory Board and a contributor to the website.

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hips, body alignment, spinal alignment, balance, karate body mechanics, karate kicking, kicking

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