Tension Timing – Part 2

Tension Timing – Part 2


Part 2: Target-Specific Technique Application

Some Karate people will insist that there is only one way to punch (or kick, etc.). Some will argue that the only good punch is one that involves a coordinated tension of the muscles throughout the entire body at the moment of impact. Others will argue that all that matters is the speed of the fist. My view is that it depends on many factors, and these factors may change in importance depending on the situation. The factor I would like to discuss here is “target-specific application.”

When considering the muscular tension/contraction levels and timings involved in a punch or kick, we should really consider what we would like to accomplish with that punch or kick. Do you want to simply discourage further attacks from the opponent? Do you want to knock him off balance? Cut him? Knock him out? Some of these options are not even considerations for certain target areas. For example, it is unreasonable to try to knock someone unconscious with a kick to the knee.

Looking at various parts of the human anatomy, we can see that there are many types of possible targets. Some parts, such as the torso, do not move much in reaction to a light attack. Other areas, such as the ends of the appendages, can move a great deal when struck with relatively little force. For different levels of reactive movement, doesn’t it make sense to use different types of attacks? Should we really use the same type of punch for the head as the body? And the same types of kicks to various targets as well?

Below, I will review three common target areas and what type of technique applications work well on each and why. Please note that I am providing this information in consideration for practical self-defense application. I am not advocating testing out on others what I describe here. Use of practice targets, such as heavy bags and makiwara, may be used to experiment with these ideas, to simulate reality, but should only be done under the supervision of a qualified instructor, beginning with slow, soft movements.

Target: the head
The head can be moved much further as a result of a blow than the body can. But it will not be moved quite as easily as a target such as a knee. There are many ways to inflict damage to the head. One way is to strike quickly with a snapping motion of the striking limb, concentrating on speed more than sheer power. The defender’s striking weapon (fist or foot) could come at the target in a non-linear path, as this type of trajectory is more conducive to a quick pull-back after impact, which provides for effective transfer of momentum. The resulting jarring motion of the skull can, through this inertia, cause concussion. Concussion is caused by the brain moving within its skull casing. The head is not moved much. But it is moved. And it is moved quickly.

Target: the body
The body cannot be moved much without a strong blow. With the exception of certain key areas, such as the “solar plexus”, a fast fist or foot alone may do little damage to a large, strong body. For a strike to the assailant’s body, the striking limb should probably be attached more rigidly to the defender’s body through muscular tension timed to coordinate with impact. A thrusting trajectory best suits this type of coordinated tension and also provides for the large amount of transfer of momentum required to move the body. This is because the thrusting action involves a projection of the weapon directly from the defender’s body center. The body is thus moved (or at least part of it is, in what is sometimes referred to as “folding”), albeit less quickly, through this type of technique application.

Target: the knee
The knee can be moved much more easily than the head or body, especially if struck from the side. Because it is relatively easy to move, having a very powerful or quick attack is not as important as the control of the depth of the attack. For such an easily moved target, a sweeping movement of the weapon might be best. By sweeping the foot into the side of the knee, not tensing the muscles of the leg as when kicking the body and not snapping back as when striking the head, the knee can be controlled more easily.

Any technique in Karate can use any of the three types of muscular tension timings I detailed in Part 1 of this series. Which timing you use may depend on many factors, target type being perhaps one of the most important. In general, some techniques work much better using one specific type of tension timing (for example, a side-snap kick only really works well with a Type II/reversing tension timing). Other techniques may work well with all three (for example, a back-fist strike). The important thing to consider is that there is more than one way to perform/apply any technique.

In Part 1 of this series on Tension Timing, I discussed the differences in tension timing in more detail. In Part 3, I will discuss trajectory in more detail.

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