Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ippon ken, tsumasaki-geri and spear hand

These techniques had always kind of confused me when I first started practicing karate. I'll use the English terms for ease of understanding. I'm speaking of the single knuckle fist, the toe kick and the spear hand. All of which seemed like kind of a dangerous proposition. Wouldn't they just break? After a few years it dawned on my why these techniques were trained and why you wouldn't just break yourself. I'm sure many did.

First on the breaking part cause it's shorter. The answer is structure. With the toe kick and the spear hand the striking surface is supported by the phalanges around them. The bones are kept in line with the supporting structures of the large bones to which they are attached. The single knuckle fist is supported in a similar fashion, but different configurations depending on style. The trick is that you have to get the alignment perfect, or at least within acceptable parameters. Hence the conditioning exercises. I don't really believe that kicking wood or stabbing tires makes your fingers harder or toes harder, but I do think it tests your structure. If it's wrong you'll definitely know it, hence the slow build up of these techniques. The callouses and such are just by products of the training.

Now why would one want to do such a thing?

Simple. Smaller surface area. Imagine you have a staff. It's a pretty good all around tool. If you stab someone with it, it can get the job done through impact. Now if you put a point on that staff you have a spear. The smaller surface area at the top with the same force behind it allows it to penetrate and cause more damage. It's the same basic principle.

This has a couple of advantages. The first is if you can get all your energy behind one of these strikes like the toe kick or the single knuckle punch you're going to obliterate the point that it touches. Maximum damage. The second advantage is that because it does have a small surface area you can use less force and get the same effect as a punch, or a kick. Motobu Choki recommended the single knuckle punch for when you were too close to punch properly.

Like the spear hand, these are soft target strikes and do have their own limitations due to the skill required to use them effectively, but the thought of someone launching their entire body weight behind a single knuckle punch into your solar plexus is a scary thought, or worse a toe kick into your testicles. They might just rip apart.