Elevators and Escalators
I think elevators and escalator are great inventions. I used to ride escalators and elevators every day on my way to and from work. In two previous jobs, it was four stories from the subway to the ground floor and 35 flights up to my office. It would have been quite time-consuming to limit myself to stairs for such a trip. Just as the internet can make us more efficient, so can these other forms of technological innovation.
I am always interested in watching the people who choose to take the stairs when space on the escalator is available and also the people who seem so very happy to be able to stand and stare into space while riding the escalator. When the escalator is very crowded, sometimes I opt for the stairs and feel good to get the little bit of extra workout. But unless I have a tremendous amount of luggage, I never feel a desire to just stand for the ride. I feel that the escalator is a way to enhance the walk on the stairs, not to replace it.
I am often dismayed to see people wait for 5 minutes for an elevator just to ride up or down one story when the stairs are right there. I am not, however, shocked to see that these people appear to be out of shape.
There are many karate practitioners who see parts of traditional karate training as antiquated and of limited benefit and therefore choose to discontinue those parts of their training completely. There are other people who just stand there, figuratively speaking, repeating the same traditional ways without any question.
Just as I believe we should use escalators to help us be more efficient in our walks up and down flights of stairs, I think we can improve upon tradition. But I do not think we should become lazy just because we can be.
For example, people at many dojo around the world continue to perform the warm-up and stretching routines almost exactly as they originally experienced them, without questioning the relative value of such a routine versus the alternatives. Much research in recent years has resulted in improved methods of warming up and stretching. But so many people choose to ignore this in favor of doing what is easy, even if it is not as useful and, in some cases is unhealthy and/or dangerous. The same thing goes for many techniques and training methods. Why continue to do what is tradition just for the sake of tradition? Some people repeat these traditions without any clue as to their meanings or ultimate intentions.
That being said, I am not in favor of completely severing ties to tradition. I think that most of the traditions of Karate-do are very worthwhile. Just as I walk or sprint up the escalator, I would never want to discard the old way of karate training, either. Most of what I do in my karate training and teaching is based entirely on what is done at some of the most traditional dojo in Japan.
Another way of looking at this idea of enhancing, as the escalator does for our stair-climbing experience:
I have heard people theorize that one should always drop the body lower while attacking (as opposed to before attacking), using the force of gravity to strengthen the technique. Many of these people seem to use this as an excuse to begin from a high stance (which may have its merits in terms of increasing mobility, but that is a subject for other articles). Gravity can be a force that we should want to use in some of our techniques. But it is a relatively weak force when compared to others that we can develop.
Simply dropping the weight and not moving forward at the same time would perhaps result in added stability. But how much would this downward movement help create a more forceful attack directed to the front? I would agree that the force of gravity can help create a more forceful attack. But I think that many people who say this do not actually fully understand the concept if they are simply dropping their weight and nothing more.
By pushing off the back leg when driving forward, without lowering the weight at all, one can create tremendous force toward the front; in many cases more than simply using gravity. But to combine the two can in some situations make for a more powerful attack than just one or the other. In this way, we can use gravity to enhance our technique (or, looking at it from the other way around, the drive off the rear leg to enhance the force of gravity).
You may choose to walk up the stairs when more automated options are available, or to stand on the escalator and use that as a time to rest. I do not think that there is anything “wrong” with either extreme. But I choose to maximize efficiency, walking up the escalator and riding the elevator if it saves time, time that I may be able to spend at the dojo working on efficient training. Keep tradition while improving upon it.
As always: Train Hard, Train Smart.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published March 2004)