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Wastelander
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Heath White wrote:

Thanks, Iain and Wastelander, for the feedback.  I agree that "teach both" is a fine solution.  What puzzled me was that, AFAIK, traditional karate doesn't teach both.  Perhaps I am wrong about this, or perhaps this is just a matter of the distance assumed in the fight.  The other thought I had was that a fall in boxing stops the fight, while a fall in self-defense is catastrophic.  So stability would be a greater concern in the SD case regardless of distance or technique.  That is, maybe traditional karate doesn't teach heel-up punching for the same reason it has no high kicks:  not that it's not more effective when the strike lands (it is more effective), but that the downside is too great when it fails.

This goes back to a point I made in another thread (https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/information-thoughts-hand-and-fo...) about methods being taught despite not being in kata. High kicks and jumping kicks are a good example, as Iain has gone over a number of times. Some instructors do, indeed, teach punching with the heel up, as well as high/jumping kicks, and so on. Actually, Motobu Udundi keeps their heels off the floor for pretty much everything, because their goal is mobility and staying light on the feet, avoiding situations where the opponent has a chance to control you. I suspect that most kata emphasize striking with both feet fully planted simply because it fits the context of the kata--close range fighting, where you have contact with the opponent.

karate10
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Excellent video iain sensei, and as I mention on Facebook, the makiwara theory is right on the money.

Heath White
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Apropos of this discussion, here is Shihan Yokota ( _Shotokan Myths_,  etc.) on this topic: 

Gyaku zuki and the heel of the rear foot

is that it depends on which  way you're stepping,  but if you're stepping forward, he's fine with the heel coming up

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Heath White wrote:
Thanks, Iain and Wastelander, for the feedback.

That’s what we are here for! :-)

Heath White wrote:
The other thought I had was that a fall in boxing stops the fight, while a fall in self-defense is catastrophic.  So stability would be a greater concern in the SD case regardless of distance or technique.

I don’t think that’s it. Boxers don’t fall over much when they fight. They are most often knocked down, and there is the occasional slip, but they are not falling over simply because of the nature of their striking. It is simply that they are not gripping as they strike. The heel down can be useful in ensuring stability if the enemy pushes into you, but the strike itself goes not generate a force which would do destabilise unless the heel was down (as per the study linked above).  

Heath White wrote:
That is, maybe traditional karate doesn't teach heel-up punching for the same reason it has no high kicks:  not that it's not more effective when the strike lands (it is more effective), but that the downside is too great when it fails.

Traditional karate does teach heel up (kosa dachi, gyaku neko ashi dachi, etc), but it is always tactically appropriate.

As an additional point, I don’t think the rule of close = “heel down / further away = heel up” holds true. It’s more about connected / unconnected and directions of force at the moment. Generally speaking you are more likely to be connected when close, but I think we need to highlight the fact that it’s not simply being close that makes heel down the better option, or heel up the worse option. Hooks, shovel hooks, elbows, etc can all be effectively thrown from very close-range with the heel up.

All the best,

Iain

Jr cook
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Of interest on this topic, my style does something a little different. I have studied Japanese Karate and still train with some Shotokan partners so I understand the debate. My current style is Okinawan and practices many older versions of the kata. We use a shorter, higher Seisan dachi in place of the Japanese Zenkutsu. We also frequently use Seisan where other styles seem to prefer Cat or Back stances.

In our normal Kihon and Kata we use a kind of shuffle of the back foot when moving and punching. The foot remains flat on the ground but it allows dynamic adjustment of the length of the stance. Almost like the hip rotation is "dragging" the back foot to allow more range of motion.

I used to think this was weird and required extra work. Then one day it occured to me that maybe it's just another variation of the boxer's heel lift.

The first part of the video below will give an idea what I'm trying to describe.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jr cook wrote:
In our normal Kihon and Kata we use a kind of shuffle of the back foot when moving and punching. The foot remains flat on the ground but it allows dynamic adjustment of the length of the stance. Almost like the hip rotation is "dragging" the back foot to allow more range of motion.

Thanks for posting that. It’s not a motion that has been covered in the thread yet ... and we need to put that right :-) You do see it in some karate kata (and two-person drills), and it’s a common movement in the forms of many Chinese systems. I’d also think it would be fair to say it’s foot movement everyone will make use of; even if it’s not in their kata.

Jr cook wrote:
Then one day it occurred to me that maybe it's just another variation of the boxer's heel lift.

It permits the adjusting of distance, and it moves the bodyweight in the direction of the strike. In that way it is similar. However, on the standard “heel up” the heel comes up to permit the rotation of the hips and to drive the body forward (give the right alignment of the ankle and knee). On the movement in the video, the back leg is not driving the body forward in the same way and the hips are not rotating to the degree one would on a standard “heel up” strike.

The motion does fit with what I would say is the central premise though i.e. we move in the way that generates the most power balanced against other tactical considerations.

Moving into the enemy can generate impact and help us smother the enemy’s options by taking away their line of attack (what Miyamoto Musashi called “sticking to your enemy like paint”).  When doing that you would move in as shown in the kata, and you would need your heel down at the end of it in case the enemy pushed back.

I’d therefore say this another version of “heel down” but one that involves some tactical footwork.

The video below is a good one in explaining the driving aspect of “heel up”. If the enemy was closer, you’d not drive as strongly because you’d mess up the distancing of your strike. You’d also not have the same momentum at the point of impact due to the close proximity. The need for stability could therefore be more pressing. So, the “heel up drive” may be inappropriate if closer, but the foot movement shown in the kata above could be appropriate in the same circumstances.

We can’t isolate power generation from wider tactics. I think the key is to hit has hard and as efficiently as we can, in a way that is tactically sound and appropriate to the specific circumstances.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
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Heath White wrote:
Gyaku zuki and the heel of the rear foot

I use the pushing of a car as an analogy to express similar ideas:

If you are pushing the car forward, lifting the heal off will align the knee and ankles and permit better forward drive. If the car started to roll back, you’d drop your heel and lock the back leg to best brace for the force.

To be clear, I’m taking about the enemy pushing into you, when you are connected to each other, when I talk about the need to brace. If the enemy was quickly advancing, and you did not have hold of each other, you are better moving offline (or backward if you can’t: https://youtu.be/wBZgLhvGGOU).

I therefore disagree with the article when it says the heel should be down when “stepping back”.  To root like that with a quickly advancing enemy would be a tactical mistake and it’s highly unlikely your punch would reverse the momentum of the advancing enemy (even if you KO’d them they fall on you!). However, I agree it is right when there is an incoming force that needs to be considered. I would say that force will be a push / barge when we are gripped together though.

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Like JR, our style also features a rear foot slide--it definitely helps ensure that you move your bodyweight forward, while still being able to brace against pressure from the opponent you're connected to, as Iain suggests.  

Jeb Chiles
Jeb Chiles's picture

I have really enjoyed this thread! In Kata we are constantly stepping and adjusting our stances and posture to control our opponent. We use Kosa Dachi ( back heel up) all the time to weight and control posture and structure. We use the T step all the time back heel up in Judo for Kake and Kuzushi:

 

I've seen a lot more strong rooted Karate people tossed on their head from trying to be immovable than from any kind of stepping whether it's heel toe, toe heel, raising back heel etc... So I totally agree with Iain's saying " the only things that are static or still in a fight are people that are unconscious or about to be"~. All the best, Jeb

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

It permits the adjusting of distance, and it moves the bodyweight in the direction of the strike. In that way it is similar. However, on the standard “heel up” the heel comes up to permit the rotation of the hips and to drive the body forward (give the right alignment of the ankle and knee). On the movement in the video, the back leg is not driving the body forward in the same way and the hips are not rotating to the degree one would on a standard “heel up” strike.

I agree, it's not the same. I use (and teach) both methods as described previously in this thread. I actually prefer the heel lift as the default method because I find it's pretty intuitive to plant the feet when needed. 

It just occurs to me that the mobility of the "shuffle step" is greater than that of a typical Zenkutsu. The fact that we can see this difference between newer/older kata, serves as a small example of how Karate continues to evolve.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jr cook wrote:
I use (and teach) both methods as described previously in this thread. I actually prefer the heel lift as the default method because I find it's pretty intuitive to plant the feet when needed.

It seems to be fairly consistent among we “pragmatists” to teach a variety of methods due to the understanding that what is “best” depends upon the circumstances. There’s a good deal of dogmatism elsewhere in the karate community though it seems.

I think you are right that planting the feet in response to an incoming force is intuitive. Being bipedal, it’s something we humans need to do intuitively to stay upright. That’s a good and true observation.

While getting the heel lift coordinated with hip motion and arm extension takes training, people naturally lift the heel when trying to generate forward force too. We can think of throwing. I always think it a revealing use of language that we say we “throw” punches. Humans are not the strongest and fastest of primates, but we are the best throwers by a long way. Indeed, a team from Harvard concluded that:

“Humans are the only species that can throw objects both incredibly fast and with great accuracy.”

https://scholar.harvard.edu/ntroach/evolution-throwing

With a body designed for throwing, it makes sense to mimic a throwing action – modified for tactical purposes – to generate optimum force i.e. the way our waist and hips can rotate, the elastic nature of our ligaments and tendons, the nature of our low shoulder (when compared to other primates) and the related nature of our muscles, etc.

I agree heel down for stability is intuitive. I also think heel up for power generation is natural too. It will take more training to optimise “power generation movements” than it will “maintain stability actions” because the actions taken to maintain stability are simpler and require less coordination. I can therefore see the wisdom your approach in prioritising “heel up power” over “heel down stability” in training because the former needs more refining.

Jr cook wrote:
The fact that we can see this difference between newer/older kata, serves as a small example of how Karate continues to evolve.

I agree. Karate has always evolved, but it’s only in recent times that there has been a reluctance to accept that.  Apparently, karate evolved right up to the 1940s where it reached a state of total perfection and any change since then are an aberration that blasphemes the infallible deities that declared karate now perfect (even though those masters actually said karate must continue to evolve, but their student know they didn’t really mean that when they said it) :-)

All the best,

Iain

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