Do you work out a lot? Do you look like our (prior) California governor* in his prime, with gigantic pectorals and biceps? Unless your body is abnormally proportioned, no matter how much you are working out, the muscles of the arms and chest are probably not all that big, relatively speaking.
The gluteus maximus, or buttocks, is officially the largest muscle on the average person. The thigh quadriceps are very large as well and arguably the strongest (post-script note: The quads are now considered larger than the glutes due to a reclassification of muscle groupings). Other muscles of the upper leg are relatively large and/or strong. With many of the largest and strongest muscles connecting to the hip area, it stands to reason that we should spend time thinking about how we should utilize them in our karate training.
Often during our karate training we are reminded to “use our hips”. It is fairly obvious that “hip rotation” can make many techniques stronger. And pushing the hips into a technique can also help.
So the hip region’s importance in karate training is undeniable in terms of making techniques strong (or stronger). In addition to the pushing and turning of the hips that are primarily a result of the actions of the leg muscles, the use of the hip region to aid posture is also important.
Most karate students have heard their instructors remind them to keep the back straight, fix their posture, and sometimes to do the “pelvic tuck”. To some, good posture is naturally achieved. For others, it takes a bit of effort. Some people realize the benefits of trying to straighten the spine. Some just do it (or try). And some question it.
Some instructors probably do not fully understand the “pelvic tuck” (the forceful forward push of the tailbone) and those who do may not be explaining it well. Probably more important than what to do is why we do it.
“Over-tucking” can definitely be counter-productive. So can accentuating the natural curvature of the lower spine. In my opinion, the emphasis should not be to actually straighten the spine near the tailbone, and certainly not to “push the stomach” (and thus accentuate the curvature of the spine) but rather to contract the muscles of the pelvic region to solidify the structure of this crucial section of the body.
To make strong technique, we should concentrate the most effort on the biggest, strongest muscles. While the gluts are not so strong in relative terms, they are big. And the thighs connected to them and are both big and strong. So we should be trying to utilize this entire area when we can. Sometimes this means for turning and pushing. Sometimes this means to keep the torso straight.
As an exercise, stand in a stance and feel the tension in your thighs and buttocks. Feel it internally, by thinking about it, as well as externally, by placing your hands on these muscles. Step, shift, punch, kick…Notice how the tension level differs. Are you using the muscles of your hip region? Try to concentrate on tensing and see if you feel an improvement in your posture and techniques. The ultimate goal here is not simply to “tuck your hips” or to “tighten the muscles” just “because Sensei says to”. The goals should be to make better techniques and to improve our posture and muscle tone in general.
For reference: http://www.answerbag.com/c_view.php/2182
*The California State Governor at the time of this article’s publication in 2006 was Arnold Schwarzenegger
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published January 2006)