The Sun Rises on Traditional Karate
By Vik Khanna and Laura Ocampo
The prospect of traditional karate’s inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games has North American karateka abuzz. It would provide an unparalleled showcase for what is, on our landscape at least, a niche sport that is frequently under-appreciated and widely misunderstood. The question for American karateka is this: How will our athletes fare on the world stage against karateka from other countries, including the sport’s homeland of Japan, where the sport is venerated?
This is potentially a once-in-a-generation opportunity to elevate our sport’s profile and entice a new generation of youth to embrace its beauty, tradition, and athleticism. To do this, American karateka will need to do the one and only thing that mesmerizes U.S. sports fans: win.
One essential way to do this is to elevate the conditioning portion of karate training across the country. Unfortunately, the fitness industry leaves much to be desired in terms of transmitting accurate and useful information about developing a foundation of strength and mobility than can help empower every karateka to deliver techniques with the desired power and control. For example, karate conditioning conversations are often dominated by a preoccupation with being powerful, which is often interpreted as being “fast.” Forgotten in this dialogue is the fact that power has two components: strength (force) and speed (rate of force development). How many of us have seen karateka trying to do explosive push-ups, because their senseis implore them to be more powerful, yet it is painfully obvious that this room of students has never been taught how (or why) to do a push-up correctly, meaning that they lack the foundation of strength necessary to become powerful?
How many dojos pro-actively teach their karateka the proper use of kettlebells, in particular the Russian hardstyle kettlebell swing? Arguably no other exercise does as much for posterior chain activation and development of explosive power and does so economically and efficiently. Even more important, hard-style training is itself derived from Okinawan Goju Ryu, and, thus, there is a mechanical breathing match with all ballistic movements; in other words, the breath drives the technique…sound familiar? It is also doable by virtually any karateka regardless of age, gender, or fitness status. And the hard-style swing is the just the beginning of what’s possible with kettlebells and bodyweight training that is well planned, taught clearly, and grounded in an understanding of energy systems and how to promote their optimization for kata and the kumite ring.
In this space over the coming months, we will explore strength and mobility as core elements of conditioning for powerful, effective, and winning karate. We’ll also write about rest, recovery, and appropriate self care. The athlete who trains constantly is the athlete who burns out quickly. We hope to dispel conditioning and nutrition, myths and introduce evidence from the exercise science literature into the conversation about how contemporary sensei and karateka can promote this beautiful and tradition-rich sport as tool for lifelong fitness and health as well as athletic excellence.
We also plan to have a Q&A column in which we answer questions about conditioning and nutrition from Shuhari senseis and their students. The sun is rising on traditional karate. It is our job to ensure that we teach our teachers and students how to separate fact from fiction in their training tools so that their time, energy, and money is spent well. 2020 will be here in the blink of an eye. Will American karateka be ready for the challenge of competing on the sport’s biggest stage ever? We say “Hai!”
Vik Khanna is the conditioning coach at the Missouri Karate Association. He is a longtime healthcare consultant and exercise coach, with degrees in exercise science, internal medicine, and public health. A lifelong weight lifter, he is a convert to hard-style kettlebell training as primary tool for building fitness for karate. Find Vik online at ExerciseWithVik.com.
Laura Ocampo is a 4th Dan and co-owner of Midwest Karate & Yoga Association of St. Louis Park. She competed both at the National and International level with the AAKF for many years. After her competition years and many chronic injuries later that Laura turned to Yoga for healing. She received her 200hr & 500hr yoga certification and started teaching yoga in her dojo in 2006. Soon after that, she started training with kettlebells. She created and trademark Yoga-Bells™ a fusion class that combines her knowledge of over thirty years of teaching into one unique class. Find Laura online at www.mkyaslp.com