Shotokai Karate-Do

A personal view

By Stuart Attwood

You may have heard of Shotokai Karate-Do. You may know something of its origins from Master Funakoshi and before. You may even know that the name derives from Master Funakoshi's nickname of "Shoto". However, do you know what it's all about? Do those who practice this Martial Art really know what it's all about? I'm sure that if one were to ask 10 Shotokai karateka that question about 11 answers would come out! We might 'do it' on a regular basis but how much do we really think about what we do? It was with these thoughts in mind that I came up with this personal explanation.

Shotokai Karate-Do shares a number of common themes with other Martial Arts - well, that seems reasonable considering that most of them came from similar backgrounds. The feeling of using distance, space, timing, rapport, speed, strong belief systems and the natural physics associated with the production of forces, power and torque are all important. However, what of the timing of the intervention to the attack?

Watch a child toss a ball into the air and catch it again. What do you see? The ball goes up and the ball comes down? Well, there's much more than that going on and I believe that much of the essence of Shotokai Karate-Do is in that simple action. For a start the child passes onto the ball an amount of energy through the hand/ball connection and the associated action of the hand coming up and releasing the ball - Newton's Third Law of Motion on impulse suggests that the longer the hand is in connection with the ball the more energy is passed on. The ball for its part takes on this energy which propels it upward against the force of gravity which acts on it when the energy 'runs out'. What happens next is difficult for the human eye to see; the ball stops still for a brief moment in time, gravity then attracts the ball downwards as it realises it's potential energy (mass x the force of gravity at 9.83 m/s2) and it travels back towards the child's hand again.

If one were to imagine, for a moment, that the ball was able to process conscious thought (as humans can) it would be able to process the amount of energy given to it from the hand and where that energy would run out. Research has shown that the human nervous system can process such information and make adaptations to skeletal muscle which pre-empts drop speed and the forces probable upon landing on particular surfaces. If simple proof of this were needed consider the last time you were deep in conversation with a friend walking along the street and all of a sudden you stumbled because there was an unexpected dip in the pavement, or you miscalculated the number of stairs whilst walking down them in the dark. Apart from the obvious 'pratt factor' going off the scale of the 'pratt-o-meter' your brain prepared your body for one thing and experienced another. Now how would it be if our thinking ball expecting to run out of the imparted energy at a given point suddenly found that it was moving past this point, not reaching it or moving away from the expected flight path - the balls 'pratt factor'. This is the point of intervention for the Shotokai karateka and is in contrast to some other styles of karate, which seek to intervene at an earlier point in the flight path when much more energy is needed.

The energy needed to deflect, re-direct or stop the ball at the 'pratt factor point' is much less as the ball is stationery or moving slightly expecting to reach it's end point of flight or returning to it's original position. Clearly to do this a great degree of rapport must be developed with the flight of the ball and timing is of huge importance or the ball will adapt to the forces placed upon it.

Now, what if the idea of the ball was replaced with one of a partner performing a striking technique - kick or punch - do the same principles apply? Well, yes they do. The intervention placed on the striking body part could be a deflecting block and the key seems to be at what stage in the path of the strike this is applied for the desired effect. In Shotokan, for instance, the intervention might arrive with a great deal of force early in the path of the strike whilst with Aikido it might be just before the expected end point to 'join' with the energy of the strike and take it on a different path than that expected. Simplistic? Well maybe but then it really is simple - isn't it? Take the energy offered, deflect it to another path or use it against the opposing person by adding to it a little more than expected and giving it back. The 'pratt factor' comes into play and whilst that moment of disorientation is apparent strike with great force to compound the difficulty for the attacker and render them ineffective as an aggressive force. The only question then remains as to what intervention one uses against the variety of attacks that might come in by various means and what techniques are employed to render the attacker ineffective by striking back.

This tossed ball explanation may also be used when discussing the idea of 'stopping' the attack before it becomes apparent. After all it's an extension of the idea with the rapport that makes the 'pratt factor point' at the end of the strike just happen earlier - in fact so early that it just doesn't start ("can't start" would be the words used by many who experience this high level of practice). After all, if you were an intelligent ball being tossed by a child and you 'knew' that you were going to experience 100 on the 'pratt-o-meter' would you want to leave the child's hand?

Remember Newton's Third Law of Motion on impulse mentioned earlier? The Shotokai strike is intended to create damage within the target area not on it and it's for that reason that the analogy of the throwing action of the ball is relevant here. If the throw were a quick sharp one the Law concerning impulse energy suggests that a smaller amount of the available energy would be transferred into the object than if the impulse was of a longer duration - a high jumper uses this same principle when leaning back just before placing the take off foot down before the jump so that the foot is in connection with the ground for longer and so provide more force upwards. The Shotokai strike 'buries' itself into the target unlike the snappier in/out of some other styles.

So you see the analogy of the tossed ball may have some relevance to Shotokai Karate-Do and go some way to explain something of what's going on. Maybe !

All information on this ASKO website is 2000-2001 Blackrock Karate Club.
Last updated on Thursday, December 6th, 2001.