Martial Arts: Karate, Taikwondo, Kung Fu
The Power Of Slow
By Christopher Caile
In the martial arts, such as karate, faster is usually considered better. A faster kick or punch has advantage, and if it is fast enough your opponent might not see it, or if he does it might not be blocked.
Thus I see students in the dojo trying to improve their techniques – concentrating on punching and kicking faster, hitting bags to try to improve their power, and chaining together combinations in flurries of movement that will, it is hoped, overcome their adversary in free fighting.
Fast, however, also can hide a lot of problems – especially bad technique. When I watch students, for example, I always carefully watch how they punch. Too often, there are poor biomechanics – elbows flopping outward, shoulders rising, the knee and ankle out of line – things that can dramatically reduce power and efficiency.
That’s why “slow” should be part of every practice. What this means is that you should practice various techniques very, very slowly, while intensely focusing on what and how your are doing it, paying attention to correct bio-mechanics, balance and form to try to eliminate any errors of technique.
This is especially important with new students. When learning new physical skills the mind works to automatically integrate them into a learned vocabulary of automated body movements. But if you learn technique too fast, the technique will likely be sloppy and imperfect. If you practice very slowly, you can concentrate, breaking each technique down into its individual parts.
This is why more experienced students have such difficulty correcting their form – they have so integrated technique into muscle memory that unless they are concentrating on what they are doing in terms of improving their technique, they just revert to what they have done all along. I can’t tell you how many times in class I have instructed students to practice slowely and work on basic technique, going over details of movement, making corrections, etc., only to see students quickly revert to sloppy form later in practice. In short, correcting poor form is much more difficult than learning it correctly at the start.
The concept of “slow” is one aspect of the kata Sanchin central to Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu and practiced in other styles of karate, such as in Seido Karate, Kyokushinkai and Shito-ryu although these styles do not give the same emphasis on practice of this kata. It is also what is going on in Tai Chi where performance is slow, measured and precise – every nuance meticulously practiced, the slowness in effect isolating each part of technique so it can be learned correctly.
This same benefit can also be brought to virtually any kata. But it is also helpful to have assistance, a person who can see and correct your performance. A senior student (one with exceptional technique) can provide feedback, correct your form and timing, perhaps even let you know what you are doing with various techniques (bunkai) which can help students better remember various techniques. Slow practice should be repeated, over and over, literally hundreds of times until everything becomes automatic.
If you incorporate “slow” into your practice, your technique will improve, unnecessary movements will be eliminated, and you will learn to better keep your balance through progressions of movement. Thus your technique will improve and you will become stronger and faster, the very thing you were aiming for in the first place.
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 7th degree black belt (Shuzeki Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, jodo, iaido, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. 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. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.). He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition.