Drawing parallels to familiar ideas, concepts, activities or objects can help students better understand points the teacher is trying to make.  While some students may understand completely after only one analogy, others may not comprehend until just the right explanation is given.  Because of this, I risk offering too many analogies for students.  I would like to offer a few examples here, for both students and teachers.  Some of these may be in common use while others may not.  The point is that sometimes looking at something one way not help clarify a concept, while looking at it another way may make it perfectly clear.

Building a foundation (of stances, techniques or houses)
I am sure that many other instructors use similar analogies when explaining the importance of stance and basic techniques to students.  The basic techniques are building blocks of our training; without a strong base of support in the fundamental techniques and theories, we cannot properly execute the more “advanced” techniques and theories.  The same thing can be said of techniques themselves; without a strong base of support (stance), the techniques of the arms are relatively insignificant.  We can use the analogy of building a house; no matter how well you build the upper levels of the house, without a strong foundation, it may fall like a house of cards.

Building a wall (or stance)
While it is probably fairly common to describe stances in terms of solidity, attention to mobility and flexibility should also be stressed.  I was thinking of this while trying to construct a retaining wall on my property recently.  Imagine concrete blocks with rebar running through them but with mortar not yet added between the blocks.  The blocks are solid.  But the rebar, while adding additional support, since the blocks are not yet sealed together with mortar allows for some flexibility.   That reinforced concrete is the preferred material for earthquake-resistant buildings is based largely upon this idea of flexibility of a strong material.  A related description was given in a class by Field (James) Sensei, of ISKF Santa Monica, when he offered the idea of bamboo running through stone, as opposed to simply thinking of a stance being like stone; the bamboo allows for flexibility that the solid stones do not.

Fire hose
The idea with the fire hose analogy is that power can be projected relatively effortlessly but with great force in the desired direction.  For example, when describing the push of the back leg in front stance, one could think of that back leg as a fire hose, directing the power from the fire hydrant, that is the floor. This could help the performer develop drive without stiffness.  The same analogy can be applied to punches, imagining the arm as a hose to channel the force from the body, which is then the fire hydrant.  A demonstration is often a useful accompaniment.  The idea is that the flow is relaxed, yet powerful.

Water comes in different forms
Ice, water, gas… The ability to change forms of a substance increases its range of uses.  Bearing in mind that the fluidity of water in its liquid state can quickly turn into the hardness of ice, this concept can translate into a goal of creating contrast between fluid and hard techniques.  For more on this contrast idea as it relates to muscular tension timing, please see my other articles on the subject.

Whether speaking in terms of timing, rhythm or tone, musical analogies are particularly useful for describing kata.  Kata can appear different visually depending on different types of audible parallels drawn.  I have written more about this in another article.

Comparing karate movements to the way cars move can also be useful.  For example, one point I have made several times to students is that just about any car can get up to 60mph (100kph), but what makes for an impressive car is one that can accelerate quickly from zero to 60mph.  Also impressive and useful is the stopping power and maneuverability of an automobile.  Similarly, our ability to perform karate movements quickly from a standstill, as well as to stop suddenly or change directions midstream, will greatly improve our karate.

Most people are very familiar with the idea that snapping kicks should be performed with a “whipping” action.  Understanding that the pulling back of the whip is what ultimately gives this weapon its effectiveness is useful for understanding the way to create power in such a karate technique.  There are other weapon analogies that can be drawn as well.  For example, one can think of a thrust kick to resemble the power projection of a battering ram.  In my teachings, I have analogized using guns, maces, swords, spears, catapults and other weapons.

Descriptions of Developmental Progression
To describe the way students progress in their training, the instructor can employ a variety of analogies.  For example, the students can be said to all be traveling upward on a spiral (such as a spiral staircase); they may all be doing the same technique (vertically-aligned on the spiral) but the more advanced students are at higher levels on the spiral.  Another way to describe this is to imagine chiseling a sphere out of a cube; the first (eight) corners cut are simply done and obvious, followed by less obvious cuts that are more plentiful and more difficult to make.  Ultimately, a perfect sphere is never achieved, relating to the idea that this is a never-ending study toward perfection, without ever actually being able to attain that level, but trying nonetheless.  (Credit where it is due: I heard this “sphere-sculpting” concept explained by Dr. Elmar Schmeisser, author of Advanced Karate-Do).

I use analogies often when I teach and try to create new ones in an effort to make the point clear to as many people as possible. For the teacher, it is good to bear in mind who your students are; a sports analogy may be great for class full of young men but possibly not for one consisting primarily of older women.  The point should be to further the students’ understanding of the techniques or movements.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published July 2002)