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The modern understanding of “the core” and the need to properly condition it has become well known among athletic and active people, including martial artists (yes, the importance of the hips has been belabored for centuries, but the modern anatomically based concept is not necessarily the same thing). The core refers to the muscles, connective tissues and bones of the torso, yet to many it’s just the rectus abdominis (the “6-pack’).  However, the core can be more accurately thought of as the support, stabilization and movement system for the spinal column. This stack of 33 vertebrae (24 moving and 9 fixed) is connected by many ligaments and muscles, which provide oppositional tension akin to the guy wires on a tall tower.

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All throwing techniques, including trips and tackles,  involve movement in the transverse plane. Initiation may involve sagittal or frontal plane movements, but the follow through and landing will occur around the thrower’s longitudinal axis to a greater or lesser degree.

For the person being thrown, this means that:

  • Landings will involve rotational forces and increased risk of damaging the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck. Pursue isometric strength conditioning as well as concentric conditioning, especially for the neck.
  • Falling skills should be thoroughly practiced in all three planes of motion, as well as from kneeling, standing and moving positions.
  • Failed throws wherein a foot remains planted will pose a high risk for knee injury, particularly ACL damage. Agility training can help a student to recognize these conditions and react quickly to move an endangered leg.
  • For students and fighters whose activity is throwing and takedown-intensive (Judo, wrestling), specific programming for muscle hypertrophy should also be included to protect bony surfaces and joints and to help diffuse impact forces.

Rotating around my longitudinal axis as I land

For the person throwing, this means that:

  • A throw will involve torsion on all joints involved in the technique. Specific strength and stability conditioning involving transverse plane movements can help to increase joint stability and ensure proper muscular activation around the ankles, knees, hips and core.
  • Depending on the other person’s weight and velocity, a successful throw will involve accelerating and potentially decelerating several times more than one’s own weight and mass.  Strength conditioning programs typically emphasize movements in the sagittal plane, while the frontal and transverse planes are less emphasized or neglected.
  • Progressive balance and stability conditioning, comprehensive core conditioning, and agility/reactive training in all three planes are strategies that can reduce the chance of avoidable injury while improving a student or fighter’s performance.
  • If a throw begins to fail at any phase, your body will be required to decelerate and stabilize the load while in non-optimal conditions, and several times your own weight and mass will pose a threat to your knees in particular. Condition the knees in all planes of motion, emphasize single leg balance and stability skills.
  • Throwing and takedowns  occur predominantly in the transverse plane. Most athletic injuries occur in the transverse plane.  Do not neglect conditioning in the transverse plane (do I sound like a broken record yet?) .

Gill travels around Chopper's longitudinal axis

Here, John’s knee is involved in stabilizing and producing force in the transverse plane

Drop us a line for more info on specific conditioning and programming ideas.

I ran across a great video of Russian Sambo training that looks to be from the 1930’s or 40’s. Lots of good throws, leg reaps, arm locks, flying scissor takedowns, and thighs like tree trunks.

And if the first few minutes are any indication, don’t mess with Russian women.


Just posted a couple of additions to the TKRI training clip library:


Peripheral Visual Tracking Drill

(this is one of those ideas that made us wonder afterward “why the hell did we think this was going to be fun?”)



Sumo Drill, 2-Man Variation

Last summer at the TKRI/Seijinkai VA Gasshuku, we ran a live sparring drill that involved assigned responses within a free exchange. To summarize, two partners are involved in some light randori (standing free wrestling), basically jockeying for position and control in the body-to-body grappling/clinch range. Each partner is assigned a skill set- A: grappling/restraints or B: striking.  At a randomly given command, both partners immediately attempt to apply their skill set to their partner to some clear finish such as a pin or flurry of strikes that make further action difficult or impossible. The training benefit is in forcing both partners to use their skill set both offensively and defensively while under attack. Suddenly the activity goes from trying to control your partner and stay on your feet to very aggressive takedowns, tackles and throws against close range knees, elbows, fists etc. The drill was an attempt to simulate the randomness and aggression of a real fight, but to also provide enough limitation that each partners was forced to deal with a specific set of attacks while intentionally using a specific set of responses- this really highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both skill sets at close range against resistance.

But that just wasn’t enough fun by itself- we at TKRI believe in a dumping all the Lego’s onto the floor, as it were, and seeing what we can put together. So round two followed the same parameters, except now one partner in each group had a wooden dowel cut to the size of a 7-9″ hunting knife. This was to be stashed anywhere that the user felt they might hide it on their body- tucked in the belt line, socks, inside shirt, etc.  The drill started as described above, but after the command, the person with the “knife” was free to attempt to pull it and use it on their partner. Suffice to say, many surprises were had by all involved. Most defenders were “stabbed” and “cut” numerous times before any sort of control was established, and it was very clear that serious injury or death would have resulted.  Some found that the draw happened so fast they were never aware of it before it hit them. A lucky few were able to stuff the draw, or force the attacker to drop the weapon- after which the fight continued to see who could regain control over the weapon and use it on their partner.

Seeing as this all happened in the context of rugged shoving, tripping, tackling and hitting, I felt that the drill was a pretty good approximation of the dangers inherent in close range fighting with a person who may or may not be carrying a weapon. All too often we assume that a weapon will be drawn and obvious before the attack, and that the weapon is the main (or sole) attack. This drill effectively dissolves that particular illusion. Due to the nature of the exercise, and the fact that we are responsible for the safety of our training partners, there are limitations to this sort of thing- I can’t elbow smash someone in the temple as they tackle, or twist a shoulder completely out of socket. Despite our honesty and attention to where the weapon was hitting us, there wasn’t any visceral, undeniable feedback.  It’s one thing to cognitively grasp that a training knife has touched you in a specific location in such a way that injury would occur with a real knife- but the shock of actual pain is something else altogether, and carries with it emotional and physiological responses that are not controllable and leave you exposed to the attacker (there goes “Mushin” and the other “Samurai composure” tripe).

So when I came across this little gem (below) today, I immediately recognized a solution to a few of these limitations. The clip shows some US Army CQC training along the same lines, but the weapon in this case is a low-voltage taser.  Someone in the training group hides this taser on their person, and no one knows who has it- until it comes out during a roll on the floor. A struggle for dominance of the opponent might suddenly turn into a fight to control a weapon that is inches away. And as you will see, being hit with the taser produces a very immediate and reflexive response that makes the outcome woefully clear. Leave it to the Army to drive the point home! (note: somehow, this turned from a simple link with a comment to a few paragraphs of rambling, but putting it in a karate training context is useful). Enjoy!

View the clip Here

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


February 2020
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