Technically speaking vertical slingshot is an essence of karate technique. It is a movement pattern which combines its internal and external aspects and does so in optimal proportion – in the way which “extracts” maximum energy out of the movement. That translates into unique quality and another level of performance, especially when speed, power and elusiveness are searched for.
In terms of force creation, vertical slingshot is the only way to fully utilize the potential our body offers. The process is based on complete activation of the body through efficient use of breath and optimal configuration of its physical structure. As a result the technique becomes the unified current of energy with all different segments supporting the effort to the fullest extent.
Being an essence of karate technique, vertical slingshot exposes internal uniformity of all externally different movements and techniques and serves as an internal compass providing unique energetic guidance towards improvement. It is the most efficient way of using the body to achieve maximum power. It’s all embracing character applies equally to all different types of techniques – blocks, punches, kicks, footwork, etc. What’s more – its true universality makes it applicable for sports different than martial arts as well.
Vertical slingshot may be successfully transferred to various disciplines and individual routines. It can greatly improve footwork/versatility of a tennis player, reaction time of a goalie or enhance the kicking speed and power of MMA fighter.
Although there is no limit to creative use of the vertical slingshot in different sports in this book I am going to focus on its general characteristics and its relation to karate technique. In order to illustrate how the process works on body level I will use several different techniques at the same time narrowing down theoretical part to the physical aspect of the process.
Vertical slingshot requires total concurrent body activation (not to be confused with movement of an entire body), which due to its short duration provides the movement with an explosive quality.
On physical level the total activation is determined by two things:
1. Optimal body alignment (required for achieving maximum level of interaction between centered body structure and the ground; it can be regarded as a “pipeline” for rapid energy flow through the body at the time of movement’s execution)
2. Correct use of breath (vital tool used to instantly energize entire physical structure of the body; the real substance behind energy creation).
The entire process of combining these two in practical application can be compared to a human – shaped balloon being instantly filled up with air – with all its parts (legs, torso, arms) stretching out simultaneously as a result.
Optimal body alignment allows different body segments to work in unison by forming energy lines or “power lines”. These energy lines become the channels for compressed energy flow downward and simultaneous ground reaction flowing in upward direction (in form of technique).
Needless to say, an understanding of energetic aspect of karate stances (and their intended use) is crucial for optimizing physical alignment of the body.
The above mentioned energy lines formed along different body segments must constitute the energetic web so that it can support the movement and allow sufficient energy buildup. That means they have to provide support for intended action by fully utilizing the anatomical aspect of the human body.
Karate technique (or any other movement, for example footwork) has to always rely on activation the energy lines in correct manner (simultaneous unification of the action on physical and mental planes) with the purpose of creating and delivering the maximum amount of energy through an intended action. That involves situations where the body changes its position, covers the distance or performs the action in a stationary manner.
Important element for achieving quality of vertical slingshot is correct use of breathing. Breathing is a necessary tool to activate the body structure from inside.
However, its effectiveness requires optimal alignment of different body segments – even a slight postural imperfection can make the breathing action useless.
When teaching I often refer to physical body structure as a pipeline and breathing initiating the technique – as a water flowing through that pipeline. Just as the pipeline has to be solid enough to allow the water to flow through under high pressure – the correct alignment allows the energy to travel through the body with high intensity and no leaks.
It can be said that vertical slingshot is the process of concurrent creation and handling of the energy. Interestingly, techniques formed this way share their explosive quality with that of natural flow or pulsation. Their smoothness and genuine explosiveness is the result of the energy taking the leadership and guiding the body rather than being entrapped within bounds of excessive mechanicality.
Energy lines formed along different body segments fall into two categories: Yin (supportive role) and Yang (creation and direct application of power).
The breathing has to be fully synchronized with the physical action (technique). It initiates its start and completes at its finish. It assists in creating maximum amount of energy throughout the course of technique by increasing its rate along with the raising rate of muscular involvement to the point they both peak. Once the movement is complete and this all freshly created energy has reached its destination (kime) the cycle is complete. When performed correctly it results in automatic recharge – rapid inflow of fresh air/energy that follows an explosive outflow of such.
Importantly, there is no need to inhale during movements’ sequences /combination of techniques. As a matter of fact the process of inhaling exposes karateka both physically (body vulnerable to opponent’s attack) and strategically (inability to maintain the momentum increase throughout the combination will prove inefficient against the opponent backing up quickly). The optimal use of breath within continuous movement sequences could be compared to riding the ocean waves: each move – different wave. The waves will vary but the process is continuous. Their length (strength) will differ in accordance to amount of kime present in each component (technique); the last technique (the one catching the target) includes the full breathing cycle.
Let’s use the examples of front kick technique performed from fighting stance to better understand the pattern of vertical slingshot.
Starting the front kick at position shown on pic 1 we use simultaneous exhale and the pressure being applied along the support leg towards the ground. The breathing action empowers the pressure which in turn results in stronger reaction – the kick. This pressure supports the grounding action and helps to equally engage both legs and the floor. The muscle contraction progresses from starting point to the maximum matching the breathing and technique’s kime.
All three components – breathing, muscle contraction and kime need to remain fully synchronized throughout technique and peak together at its end. This also means the same timing of full contraction for support and kicking legs. It is worth mentioning that optimal involvement of support leg is crucial for maximum momentum increase and requires maintaining the correct posture with different body segments forming unified energy line. We will examine the use of support leg on pics 2,3 and 4.
The resistance being applied against the ankle of kicking leg provides the feedback to the early stage of the kick. While engaging support leg and the ground maintain stability of the bottom of the spine and avoid leaning forward/backward. With correct posture and breathing initiating the move the early stage of the kick will generate more energy and increase kick’s explosiveness.
Pic 3. Initial stage of front kick can also be tested with partner pulling the belt. The pull needs to be moderate in strength – too much force will paralyze the technique at the start. Keep your tailbone stable and utilize the breathing from the very start in order to allow maximum energy increase from the start.
Pic 4. The knee of the kicking leg being raised from the very start significantly reducing the level of grounding along support leg. In such case even slight resistance will prevent the effort due to lack of internal activation of body structure and authentic energy increase during initial stage of the kick.
The example shown on pic 4 illustrates the case where support leg is not adequately activated (grounded) which brings the imbalance to support and kicking legs’ action. The lack of sufficient grounding will result in limited reaction and lead to less explosive and significantly weaker kick.
The pics 2,3 and 4 refer to the first stage of the kick, which can be called the stage of initiation/increase. That is the part of technique from the start up to approximately the point where foot passes the other and is about to take off.
Although the grounding action along support leg has downward direction it brings the back leg and the rest of the body forward (just as during walking on the street).
The downward direction of grounding produces the reaction alongside support leg that reaches its maximum as foot passes the other. The understanding of this timing is crucial – the grounding reaches its climax at the passing point and so does the reaction since they both have simultaneous character (pic 5).
Pic 5. Initial energy increase reaches its maximum at the passing point where the energy is redirected vertically in form of technique (body frame acts as a “pipeline”). Technique is an expression (release) of climaxing energy.
Pic 6a and pic 6b. Internal switch point allows the change even if the process already started. Although the final choice of technique (release) is determined mentally, vertical slingshot allows full level of control and adaptability.
Although the energy climax lasts for a very short time it provides freedom of controlled energy application in different ways. In a way it acts as “internal switch point”- energetic multi plug outlet that allows the energy to express as a kick (front, side, roundhouse) or stepping punch (pic 6a and pic 6b) depending on changing circumstances of the fight.
The stages of initiation/increase/climax/release described above account for one complete energetic movement cycle. They are inseparable and apply in identical manner to all externally different karate techniques regardless which parts of the body they involve.
On physical level this full energy cycle is self-containing – the explosive effort results in complete restoration of energy. The air is brought back automatically pass the point of kime (no voluntary inhale needed).