A radical review: the Tsuki is ineffective

A radical review: the Tsuki is ineffective

After many years of intensive training, Shigeru Egami reviews the basic fundamental techniques of karate. He makes two radical criticisms that we will review in order:

  • the karate tsuki is not effective.
  • the makiwara is more damaging that useful.

In his texts related to the search of effectivity Shigeru Egami mainly questions the effectivity of the tsuki. Shozan Kubota, his junior in Shotokan for many years told me:

“Master Egami’s tsuki was magnificent. Most students used his technique as the model.”

This testimony shows that Master Egami’s tsuki technique was exemplary. However he had doubts about his technique and he searched for a truly effective tsuki. He was reknowned for his tsuki and also his leg techniques, the keri. Here’s a testimony by Yukio Togawa, who studied at that same moment:

I saw Master Egami for the first time training one night at the dojo. Here he had two trainees that were in the corner of the dojo. One would attack him violently chaining tsuki, the other stopped all attacks with his legs returning all the attacks by his partner. He held his hands on his hips and used a astonishing mobility of his two feet as if they were his hands. From time to time he would hit with his foot the partner. Surprised I asked my dojo partner “Who is that?”. I found out it was Egami, I believe that among all of Master Funakoshi’s students, he was the best leg technician…

Let us return to Master Shigeru Egami’s text:

For a long time I put my heart into knowing if the karate tsuki was truly effective and I felt very tormented by this. I did all kinds of material breaking: boards, tiles, bricks. However, even if I could break bricks, I was not sure of the effectivity of my tsuki against a human body. In my experience, the human body is more resistant than what is believed and the spirit gives it a completely different consistency, different from bricks or tiles.

I was afflicted by doubts on the effectivity of my tsuki, so I thought: “My tsuki cannot be effective.”

I was filled with anguish. I asked different people and karateka friends. Some said that surely it was effective and others were not sure. In any case nobody said it was completely effective. However most people said that there exists a tsuki that kills with one blow, something that is no more than a traditional cliche of karate. It was as if they simply repeating what they had heard or they blindly believed in the effectivity of karate or tried to believe in the effectivity shutting any doubts or anguish that could exist in the backs of their thoughts.

It is evidently hard to try the effectivity against the human body. There are people that have tried against others, but in most cases the result has not shown to be very effective. When they were not effective, in general, they would dissimulate their failure.

For a blow to be effective, strength must be placed with the exact cadence. In a very serious combat situation (kumite), sometimes only one very effective tsuki is delivered, but even then it is very far from being a “tsuki that kills in one blow”. When the tsuki is effective in this situation it differs from the one we practice in basic technique (kihon) and kata. A karateka actually does different tsuki whether he is practicing kihon, kata or kumite. When a tsuki is effective, I believe in most cases the effectivity depends of chance. I say this based on my experience because I have analysed the effectivity of the tsuki receiving myself blows on my abdomen, precisely on my solar plexus, tens of thousands until this day.

We may ask ourselves how this experience of receiving blows did not have a negative influence on Master Egami’s health, which got worse after the age of forty. In the photos from that moment he is very thin and musculous. His abdominal muscles helped him resist the blows, but, did he not accumulate profound traumatisms in different organs? Even more if we consider that Shigeru Egami had digestive problems from his infancy. I believe we must maintain this doubt because it is a matter that cannot be completely confronted in a scientific manner. Even if a young person can resist blows apparently easily, is it not probable that he may accumulate a small trauma that will only manifest itself after many years, when it has surpassed a certain threshold? For those that search for a long term practice it is necessary to train with a long enough perspective. We can find lessons of prudence from Master Egami’s experience:

Master Egami continues:

I wanted to know if my tsuki was effective or not and what I’d have to do to obtain one. But I could not test on another person. I had no other option, I invited all kinds of people to hit me with all their strength on my stomach so I could study the quality of the blows. I received blows from all kinds of karateka, boxers, kendoka, judoka, etc….

The result of the studies were extremely depressing because I was able to discover that the karate tsuki was the least effective. And I had to admit a very shocking thing: the more and more seriously a karateka had trained the less effective were their tsuki. The most percussive tsuki was that of the boxers. Another very surprising fact was that the blows from a person that had never studied anything were surprisingly percussive.

This was an extremely shocking result. But why? What did this mean? What are the differences? What is true effectivity? Where does true effectivity originate? I had to start once again the search for an effective tsuki.

To control the unrestfulness of being ineffective I searched for new ways to do a tsuki and ended up concluding that karate techniques must include a concentration. In the beginning I only started to concentrate physical force on one point of impact. When doing attacks or blocking I started to concentrate the strength on the spot I would touch the body of the opponent. During this search I understood that the problem of concentration should not limit itself to physical laws and the most important part is mental concentration.

During this questioning I understood one thing. Until that moment I had practiced karate with a fundamental illusion, I had confused hardness with stength and I made every effort to harden my body thinking that I would obtain more strength when hardening the body is equivalent to stopping the movement. This is a fundamental defect. I had then to start massaging and lightening the body I had struggled so many years to harden.

I decided to start again from zero, totally rejecting all that which I thought I had acquired till that point.

My goal would be to attain naive and spontaneous forms and movements, as if I were a beginner again. When I tried with this attitude I discovered that I obtained a higher effectivity. I then understood the teaching of Master Funakoshi: “You must never go against nature”.

Then I remembered the different types of tsuki by the masters:

Master Funakoshi did his tsuki in a natural and decontracted fashion; Master Shimoda would throw a tsuki lightly but I was never able to stop his arm, it wouldn’t budge a centimeter; the terrible furi-tsuki (whip tsuki) of Master Yoshitaka Funakoshi…

If the adversary’s attack doesn’t have any true effectivity, you do not seriously need to stop it, you don’t even need a technique. A truly effective tsuki must be countered with a serious blocking or evasion technique. That is when true training begins. That is how I was able to start a true training.

The tsuki must be completely effective. To attain this, you must think that you are making the strength go through to the infinite. All the strength must go through the body, not even partially reflected in the moment of contact. A truly mortal blow is the concentration of force on one point. Said in another way, you pour all your being into the body of the opponent. Effectivity will therefore vary in accord to your state of mind. The objective is not to strike as a thief, which is despicable, you must acquire a natural tsuki.