Tension Timing – Part 1

Tension Timing – Part 1


Part 1: The Basics

I provided an introduction to the difference between tension and relaxation in a previous article.  Part 1 of this 3-part series will expand on this idea and take it to a higher level. In that original article, the emphasis was on creating a distinction between tension and relaxation. This article deals with the timing of the changes between muscular tension/contraction (Note: I will use the term “tension”, for the most part, in this article series, but it should be noted that there is a difference between the terms and that muscular contraction is often the more appropriate one.  I use the term “tension” more because it is a more commonly understood term and many readers of these articles are not native english speakers) and relaxation involved in a given technique. Generally, these tension timings are referred to as “focus” or “kime,” especially in type I, below. It should be noted, however, that both the English and Japanese terms can refer to more than a description of physical movement alone. In this series of articles, I am only concerned with the physical movements.

There are three general types of tension timing. Each type can be utilized with any Karate technique. Some techniques, however, may work better with one type than another. Please note that the terminology I am presenting below is my own. As this is a subject rarely discussed in any detail in Karate, specific terminology has yet to become universal. Please also note that I am primarily concerned with the muscles of the attacking limb (and, for the case of arm attacks, the upper torso) in this analysis, as the amount of tension in the stance and lower torso are generally relatively uniform throughout the technique.

1) Type I: Braking
“Slamming on the brakes” in the muscles (tensing) of the moving appendage (for example, the arm), as with a car, decelerates the weapon (for example, the hand) very quickly. This is basically what I described in the Feb98 article. This type of focus is the one normally used for most blocks and punches, as well as thrusting kicks, as performed in basics. The idea is to set a target, reach it with the weapon, stopping just at the target. Relax as the weapon approaches the target, then tense into impact. The connection of the entire body through coordinated tension generally plays a more important role in this type of tension timing than it does for the others.

2) Type II: Reversing
This timing is as in shifting a car into reverse just before reaching the forwardmost point. The limb is relaxed until just prior to impact. At and just after impact, the muscles tense in such a way as to bring the weapon away from the point of impact quickly. The speed at impact is usually greatest with this type of focus. This type of focus is usually what is used for snapping kicks, as well as some strikes and some punches. The idea with reversing is to reach the target quickly, immediately returning after impact. The return actually starts before impact, similar to the way a whip is yanked back just prior to full extension. The tension begins just prior to impact and continues through during the pullback. Total body connection is least important with this type of tension timing.

3) Type III: Flowing
Flowing through the target is similar to taking the foot off the accelerator after reaching top speed, but not touching the brake. With this timing, the tension lessens following impact, having gradually increased tension up to that point. This type of focus is often employed when performing foot sweeps, as well as most Aikido and Judo techniques. To follow through after making contact is the idea. So enough tension must exist going into impact to keep the technique moving, along with the target it just struck. That tension then declines in a controlled manner, based on how far the target is intended to be moved.

As many of the more advanced practitioners already know (even if they haven’t studied the mechanics in detail), the above three types of tension timing can be blended. For example, a block could strike the attacker’s wrist with the intention of moving that limb far out of the way in such a way that the move combines Type I & III tension timings. The attacker’s arm is moved a large distance (not just a couple inches, as with a basic block). But that distance is controlled and culminates with a tense blocking arm. Using the car analogy again, it is like holding the foot on the accelerator while running into an object, then braking quickly after pushing the object the desired distance.

In Part 2 of this series on Tension Timing, I will discuss how a specific tension timing may be more suitable for a given target. In Part 3, I will discuss trajectory in more detail, and how certain tension timings relate to certain trajectories more effectively.

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