Written By Scott Langley Sensei
Following my last article regarding the snap of karate, I wanted to continue the crusade against stiff karate. However, this time I wish to turn our attention to hip vibration. Throughout Shotokan kata there are plenty of examples of double techniques. As early on as Heian Yondan, we see the mae geri, nihon tsuki, but this is simply the start of double hand techniques. Through the intermediate kata and to the advanced kata, we learn forms which have an abundance of these types of movements. Done stiffly and without hip movement they become, at best, slow and weak and, at worst, meaningless. Therefore, like the shoulder snap discussed previously, it is just as important to vibrate the hips.
I am sure you have all read about and learnt from your instructors the importance of good hip movement/twist. Shotokan Karate is characterised by strong shomen to hanme and hanme to shomen hip movement. It is where we derive our power from and can use these strong movements to generate a variety of force. Whether we use that power for an attack, defence or to generate body movement, it underpins everything we do in karate.
However, hip vibration is a little different. To describe it more clearly, let’s first consider that a hip twist (hanme to shomen or vice-versa) is one full movement. We are going from a point where we need to maintain internal tension within our stance to sustain that position (i.e. shomen). We then “unwind” our stance and the hips naturally move back into the middle, relaxed position. We then engage the next set of muscles to snap the hips into the next required position (i.e. hanme). We can see this in terms of switching on-off-on our muscles groups to produce a sharp, quick snap of the hips (“on” being the beginning and end of the hip twist and “off” being the relaxed, in-between stage).
If we continue using these same terms, we can easily describe hip vibration. From shomen dachi (a stance with hips in shomen), our muscles are switched “on”. We then must relax the muscles, allowing the hips to return back to the middle, natural state, only to switch the same muscles back “on” to produce shomen again. Therefore, if we consider shomen – hanme or hanme – shomen twists to be one full movement, then this shomen – relax – shomen is two half movements, producing the strength of one full movement. Of course the same is true for hanme – relax – hanme!
Before we go any further, I feel I need to clarify what is meant by the tension in a stance. In my last article I discussed being completely relaxed in order to produce fluid, fast techniques, but now I am talking about the need for tension in stance. However, they are not mutually exclusive. In my last article I highlighted the fact that kime is only made for the final split second of any technique. This is not only true for the sharp end of the technique (arms and hands) but also the driving power of the technique (the hips). However, there is a certain need to maintain a level of tension in the stance to keep form. Hips have to be “forced” into hanme and shomen as they are not the natural resting point for the hips. Therefore, it is important to maintain tension in the inner thigh muscles, thrusting the tail-bone forward and “locking” the hips into hanme or shomen. Following this, it is also important to point out that the same is true for hand position. If we punch and then completely relax our arm, it will flop down beside us. It is true, a certain amount of tension is needed to maintain form, however, that is not to say it is tense!
Of course, this is only in the case of kihon and kata. In jiyu kumite there is no need to maintain form, so hips are not required to sustain hanme or shomen after the moment of kime. The body is allowed to revert to its natural position and this is helped along by the snap of the technique.
As I have mentioned in the introduction, we can see hip vibration in use in Heian Yondan. However, these two handed techniques are only the more obvious examples of what we are talking about. If we dig a little deeper into karate technique we can apply these principles many more times. For example, the very first movement in Heian Shodan starts from hips facing forward (in shizentai) and finishes in hanme dachi, gedan bari, but with the hips facing in the same direction. To merely fall into stance and only use the arm for power produces a weak, ineffective technique. However, if you allow your hips to vibrate when executing the block, the technique is given the impetus and drive it needs to produce an effective block.
This can be seen throughout karate kata; from the very basic to the very advanced. The four gyaku tsuki at the beginning of Unsu use similar hip vibration in order to distinguish the block from the punch. There is a tendency for people to make one sweeping hip movement as they go from the previous punch to the block, quickly followed by the punch. However, with the correct use of hip vibration, the block can be clearly aided by hanme dachi and then followed up by gyaku tsuki, shomen dachi.
With sparring, hip vibration can be used in a jiyu kumite setting. A classic example is from a neutral, jiyu kamae, use the start of the hip vibration to faint gyaku tsuki, but only using the hips to sell the faint to your opponent (not allowing the arms to move). Then as the hip is pulled back into hanme, allow the snap to spring you forward with kizami tsuki. It is a technique that I have used a lot and have always found effective.
However, I feel the true strength in hip vibration lies in close quarter sparring. At a close range it is impossible to use the large hip movements that we so associate with Shotokan. However, as the hip vibration is smaller, but just as strong, it allows us to generate strong, effective techniques that will work on a close opponent. Plus often at close range (especially if grappling is involved) our movement has actually been limited by our opponent. Sometimes it is impossible to move more than a few inches. This is insufficient to make hanme – shomen, but it is enough for hip vibration. So whatever technique you use to attack your opponent, extra kime can be added with hip vibration. Try to experiment with a partner. Whether you are facing, or side on to your partner, don’t try to generate power simply through upper body/arm strength. Try to use hip vibration with every attack you deliver.
In conclusion I would like to point out that there are many different types of hip movement. Shotokan, over the years, has emphasised the hanme – shomen approach to power generation. But this has often been to the detriment of other ways to use the hips. Hip vibration is an obvious example, however, as well as this there is also the hip thrust. Shito Ryu karate is often characterised by this hip thrust to generate power. Concentrating far less on hip twist, shito ryu karateka often stay solely in shomen dachi. When executing a technique, they thrust the hips forward by tucking in the tail bone. It is very effective and no less authentic, in terms of karate, as shotokan’s hanme shomen. However, Shotokan karateka ignore these ideas at their own peril. There are an abundance of techniques, which require the hips to be used in non-classic Shotokan way, in all our Shotokan kata. To really understand and reach our potential in karate, we need to study different ways to use our hips.