Shotokan Karate Principles of Power –

     Hello GutsIsTheKey Reader. This Writing is for a select group of you. Those interested in the martial arts and especially the karate sources of power, that can seem to generate “secret” abilities.

Chuck Norris secret power

     In some respects, I am one of those hard-core karate guys. I have done it pretty much all of my life and as such, it has become an inextricable part of my life. It is a source of dynamism and strength for me and produces MANY genuine benefits. Still, I am aware that there is much puff and fluff in the field of karate also. There is a certain abundance of the showy and pretensive in and around the whole subject of the martial arts. So much so, that it could discourage one from looking at the subject altogether. But I have found that counterfeits normally only more clearly prove, that there is a genuine artifact somewhere to be found.

100% real

     Such is the case with karate. Deeper aspects of learning and power are real. Hidden truths do exist, which do not readily appear to the general public. What do I mean? If you have pursued the martial arts through many seasons of your life; a strange thing happens to some of us. We no longer only work on “it.” “It” also works on us. … I can not explain this exactly, except to say that God has ingrained miraculous, mysterious principles which operate wonderfully in our world.  And sometimes, only the most devoted students of any discipline are aware of these underlying facts, in a substantive way. “Seek and ye shall find.” Mt. 7:7

     Yet, aside from this mystical sounding talk. Real karate is transparent. I want nothing more than to teach students its depths.  Yet, It’s just that for every one that you acquaint with karate. Only a small percentage will actually discover it’s more profound possibilities.

     One of the things that consistently attracts and intrigues people about karate is the amazing power that can be generated through its practice. In my last summer camp with my students; I taught on some of these. This article is dedicated to a basic, entry-level examination of some of karate’s underlying principles of power; that can be learned in its practice.


1- Pendulum                 Power :           “Be in the sway of Divine Power. “

     A pendulum is a dynamic control of energy. More accurately, it is a predictable flow of energy. It is a synthesis of material and motion. It synergizes objects and energy. In karate, the flow of one motion leads to the flow of another. Practicing the flow of one motion co-operating with the flow of another body motion can produce tremendous power.

     In eastern cultures, they refer to this idea as the Yin-Yang concept. There is plain evidence that the positive balances the negative and conversely, in our natural world. Many see this as a very complete synopsis of how our world works and where karate power comes from. As a Christian martial arts teacher; I see this concept also but a little differently.

     For this karate teacher, the sovereign God who reigns above these defined natural principles can also dwell in them. Christ is my Lord and Teacher and I let the flow of His power energize my heart and body. And His power can flow in and through these principles of nature, in the world that He has created and energizes. And His Spirit can flood through my being, through this channeled power. The point of contact that keeps me in this cleanest of all energies is being humbly submitted in reverence, to He without whom, none of these marvelous principles could exist (Jesus).

     Still, Karate is essentially very practical. We take the deeper underlying meanings of these described forces and teach them through very real physical training exercises. Practicing repetitious strategies, where one motion of the body flows into another is the way that I help my students to develop and plug into this unseen, but continuously operating Pendulum power.

simple pendulum

2- Gravity                       Power            “Let it Fall”

     Gravity Power and Relaxed Power are separate but often tie in together.  When people grab you, the natural tendency is to fight back. Yet one of the simplest and most effective self defense strategies that I teach is just to relax and fall, when held tightly. Often the tighter someone holds you, the more susceptible they are that a reaction of complete passivity will take them by surprise. A slick bar of soap is a good example of this. When someone grabs you from behind, a very effective response is to drop limply like a dish rag. Not only will you escape the hold but you are set up for rapid retaliatory movement. 

     Oftentimes to push down will slow you up. Letting gravity do its work and cooperating with this natural force can be much quicker and explosive. The most devastating impacts can often be generated by yielding to gravity’s help, than  by trying to force a muscular movement. Dynamic movements can be generated by allowing downward movements to be fueled by gravity’s natural power. Let it fall.

3-  Relaxed                     Power            “Weightlessness”

     I tell students truthfully that a normally healthy body can move faster than the mind. This is true. Rational thought can slow karate techniques and power.  Blinding speed can happen, when the only moment of thought is to start the technique. To let this movement go, with no further strength or strain until impact is the most super-charged way to make moves fly faster.

3 – Compression          Power            “Bring it together tight”

         When I was a child, everyone loved to give you a box to open that would have a snake-like spring coiled in the box. So that when you opened it; it sprang suddenly at you. Often bringing body parts together is like this. Bringing the legs together can lead to a much more potent movement.

     Compressing the abdomen at the time of impact can make every technique more explosive. Something about contracting this powerful muscle adds to the focus of any punch or kick. It is very important many times in karate; to bring it together tight.

4 – Expansion                Power            “Extend dynamically”

    For years fires were stoked and enhanced by fireplace bellows. Expanding these devices allowed them to fill up with air and be ready for a powerful expulsion.  If you concentrate on full expansions, every technique is lengthened and maximized. There is something incredibly brisk and explosive about expressing a full expansion, after a full contraction.

     Extending dynamically is a certain way to turn karate strikes into penetrating projectiles.

5 – Rootedness             Power            “Power of the Ground”

     This is one of those areas of karate empowerment that you can teach but can come truly to a student only when they “feel it.” How would I describe this moment of discovery? It is like tapping into the strength of the earth that causes a seed to explode. It is like being infused with the unmovable steadiness, of a powerful oak anchored to the ground by its roots. It is like feeling that you can take the energy of the ground and transmit it into the target.

     When I demonstrate this to a student it can be quite frightening to them; even when I make no contact. I can plant my foot and aim a strike and you can feel the dynamic of the ground come through you; even when I hold back the strike. There is great Power in learning to “Ground” your techniques.

6- Rubberband                        Power            “Sudden Release”

     I will often stand behind students and hold back their punch. And then unexpectedly let go as they are pushing. The sudden launching of the technique is obviously more forceful.

     It is like a rubber band. Suddenly letting go of pent up energy can produce incredible snap and speed.

7- Small Point               Power            “Two knuckle” AND

8- Steel Object             Power            “Harder the striking object, harder the impact.”

     Principles Seven and eight work strongly together.Often karate power is generated by bringing things together tightly. I spend a lot of time with students working on their fists. The impact of the strike can be no harder, than the instrument delivering the force.

     As students progress, I have them do knuckle push-ups. And not 5 knuckle push ups But 2 knuckle push-ups. I teach students to align the strength of the forearm behind the first two knuckles. I use an arrow as an illustration. Would you rather be hit by an eraser or an arrow? Of course the arrow is going to have penetrating and cutting power, where the eraser will not. Focusing energy into a small point multiplies its effectiveness.

     Learning to focus on small points can be a means to aim and intensify the power of techniques.

9- Augmented Motion Power            “One withdrawing strengthens one extending!”     AND

 10– Synergy                    Power            “Moving parts strengthening moving parts”   

     Nine and Ten, also flow together.

     I remember in my Floridian travels coming across a bus stopped at a roadside store, 15 to 20 years ago. There was a crowd gathered watching a man I later learned to be a great Chinese karate Master train in the parking lot. This was an extended visit as bus traveller’s stretched legs, had refreshments and etc. People came and went, as the aged man trained in his techniques. It was obvious to this wonderful man that I was more than just passively curious. So, even without being able to speak a word of English, he motioned me to him and began to teach me and let me train with him.

     I soaked up his instruction like a sponge. I learned things I have never forgotten. It was beautiful watching him move. Every move resulted in a corresponding move. Every move up, lead to a move down. Every move in was matched by a move out. there was a graceful synergy coming from him in everything. Every move augmented or strengthened another. I will always be grateful to this wonderful teacher for taking his time to train me that day. 

11- CircularMotion        Power            “Deceptive whirlwind”

     Shotokan is a very linear form of martial arts. Movements are generally based on straight techniques. The most efficient movements are always preferred to more showy ones. Yet still, there is great power in circular movements. The universe turns. The sun spins. The earth rotates. There is something very deep about the strength of circular movements. They can be deceptive. They can build cycles of inertia and energy. Properly focused they can be great sources of power.

12- Strike Through       Power            “Go through the target”

     One of the things that stops people from developing devastating power is aiming AT a target. I teach students to aim THROUGH targets. If the force is directed through the target, then the power generated is much more dynamic.

13- Explosion                 Power            “1:00 Training”

     I once had a student call me at One O’clock in the morning extremely and intensely excited. He had gotten a green belt technique I had been trying to teach him. So from that day, I called teaching this power source; my 1:00 training.

     Elements put together may possess the capacity to generate unbelievable power. But it is only when these elements explode with combustible flame that they produce an amazing blast. Putting many elements together and letting them flow with the combustion of an explosive release is a tremendous karate lesson, only realized by a few students.

14 – Lever                         Power            “Brawn vs. leverage”

     My father was a powerful man. I could write a lot on his physical exploits. Yet, one of the most amazing things about my father was not only his personal power and strength but how he knew how to use levers, block and tackle, winches  and etc. to greatly multiply his strength.

     It seemed to me that my dad could move anything, no matter how big; because he always knew how to find a gear or angle or device to multiply his force.

     You can push like crazy in one way and get nowhere. And yet the same force correctly applied in another place can have amazing results. Karate is built around working on and with these efficiencies. Brawn can seldom hold its own against leverage.

15 – Body Motion            Power            “Use yours & opponents motion to advantage”

     Steven Seagal’s Aikido and George Dillman’s Tuite have always fascinated me. Often the maximum attack or defense with an opponent is one that is energized by their own motion. A fighter leans forward; help him tumble down. A fighter leans backward; help him fall. A fighter charges with a rage; use his own drive to impale him or lose his balance.

     Moving with an aggressor can be like reading the tide. More success can be found in moving with it, than just trying to stop it. I help my students with mind like a moon training and mind like still water training, to help them get in sync with what is going on around them. Also, making them move in synchronous harmony with a class opponent can help them get in to the picture of other’s body movements.

     Not only prevail because you have terrific power but also because you use your opponents power to your own advantage.

16 – Diaphragm               Power            “Underestimated large muscle.”

Wow! Our world it seems is hooked on how abs look. A good karateka will focus on how abs work.

      Loosening and relaxing the diaphragm and learning to breathe deeply into the diaphragm can improve wind, stamina and strength. Loosening the diaphragm can increase muscle elasticity and improve stretching. Contrary to popular thought; Learning to relax our mid section is as important as learning to tighten it.

     Tensing and tightening the diaphragm can be an unparalleled source of karate power. Tightening the diaphragm at the right time can make every technique stronger and more focused. Tightening the diaphragm at the right time can eliminate air in the body and make nearly impossible “getting the wind knocked out of you.” 

     I work with karate students on breathing exercises. This always involves breathing into the abdomen. In my demonstrations, I literally let volunteers punch me in the mid section. Often it hurts their hand. I look like a butterball but my abdomen is like steel. When a punch is coming in one of these demonstrations; I actually attack the volunteer with my mid-section, to the fear of the puncher.

      Also, the karate kiai is vitalized by diaphragm power. The eastern mystics always see the inner fire and source of personal spiritual strength as coming from the mid-section. Through hip twisting and powerful diaphragm tightening; I teach students a realm of potency in their attacks and defenses that is truly devastating to opponents.

17 – Focus                                    Power            “Summoning all body energy into pt. of impact.”

      The Shotokan teacher that I trained under more years than the rest was Sam Jaquinta. Aptly, his nickname was “Sudden Sam.” His techniques were both powerful and electrifying. I can remember a kazillion times in his class; hearing the words: “Focus up on your punches!”

      Learning to tense the body suddenly and with great tension and emphasis at the correct moment can generate terrific power. Few people ever pool all of their resources and strengths into a single moment, much less a single second. And yet this is the goal of good Shotokan. From a relaxed posture to move at absolutely astonishing speed. And then at the precise moment that contact will be made; tense the whole body into a weapon of iron; especially the striking instrument.

     In conclusion, karate; like acupuncture the pyramids and the like; represents an ancient science. An ancient science that still baffles many today. There is tremendous power to be realized and harnessed in its study. I hope this Beam has made you aware of some of these.

Tim with Glenn & Joe in his fighting prime

About timothygrantcarter

Author, Trainer, Pastor, Spiritual Coach, Inspirational Speaker, 12 step follower Thinker, Entrepreneur, Outdoorsman, Hunter, Fisherman, Gardener, and Shotokan YonDan (5th degree black belt). Visionary; Maker of original sayings, slogans and giver of spiritual help. "If God has a pulse, then I can feel it." Nicknamed "Slam" / Creator of #Slamism ... 's on Twitter @cccdynapro
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