Hip Vibration

“Hip Vibration” – What does it really mean?


Most of the JKA-style practitioners who are reading this article, at least those who have been at it for at least a year or two, have heard of “hip vibration.” I am quite sure that some non-JKA Shotokan practitioners have also heard the term. Whether or not the hips move during techniques that are described as using “hip vibration” is not an issue. They move. How and why they move, however, are issues I would like to address here.

Some people, after hearing about and seeing “hip vibration,” will put much effort into this action. While there may be good reason to think about this action, it would be worth taking some time to think about what is actually happening (or, more appropriately what should be happening) during this action. “Hip vibration” is not merely an extraneous horizontal swing or jiggle of the hips. And it is not something completely esoteric, either.

The usual way in which the hips “vibrate” during a punch involves the hip on the side of the forward leg moving towards the target first (or, sometimes, the hip of the back leg moving back). Then, the back hip is immediately forced towards the target. This quick, one-two action is the normal physical action referred to as “hip vibration.” Sometimes, such as during blocks, the hip action occurs the other way around. Basically, the hips move horizontally toward the opposite of their final position, then are quickly snapped into their final position.

So, it is as easy as moving the hip one way, then the other, right?

Wrong. There is more to it. And there is less to it, depending on how you look at it…

While the above is the normal physical movement that we witness during techniques using “hip vibration,” I would say that this is more of a reaction to something else. The way I see it, the primary force causing this “hip vibration” is not as much an intentional hip swing, as an application of “dynamic tension.”

What is actually occurring in the hips during this movement is a result of a relaxation of the hips, lower torso and upper-leg muscles, followed by a tensing of the muscles of this region. When we relax those muscles, the hips naturally turn towards a position between the extremes of shomen and hanmi (hips front and hips to the side), to a neutral position. We relax these muscles, then quickly tense them as we assume our final, less-natural hip position, at the extreme of either shomen or hanmi hip position. The resulting physical action is what we see as “hip vibration.”

If we are simply trying to make a large movement of the hips to add horizontal power to a technique, then we are probably better off using larger hip movements, instead of this “vibration.” The purpose of “hip vibration” is not so much to add rotational force to a technique. I would actually say that there is no purpose to it at all; it is a side-effect. It is more a result of an action aimed at efficient motion. Through relaxation, during the first part of the movement, we should be able to increase speed and be able to more naturally react to unknown stimuli. Through tension, during the final part of the movement, we should connect the various body parts together (muscles binding solidly to each other through and around the joints) as they come to a stop. The energy conserved while relaxing can then be utilized during tension, to create “dynamic tension,” a sharp contrast between relaxation and tension of the muscles of the hip region.

In summary, I would stress that when thinking about “hip vibration,” it is probably better to think of the contrast between relaxation and tension than to think about the physical movements of the hip itself.

For more on the subjects of tension vs relaxation and tension timing, please see articles I have written on those subjects.  Also, for more on hip rotation, please see article on that subject.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published November 2000)