Many karate (kata) competitors strive to show better speed and power in every block and punch. This gives a visual impression of powerful techniques which is one of the criteria the referees pay attention to.
Although more strength and power are necessary for having a powerful technique, it is relaxation between each technique that is even more important. The difference you create between the level of contraction/tension in your muscles and the level of relaxation will affect the level of visual presentation and the appearance you’ll provide. This moment of creating muscle tension followed by exhalation, to perform a powerful block of punch is called kime.
Relaxing as fast as possible before performing any technique, following with a significant contraction in the shortest time possible, will result in a strong kime.
Many athletes focus solely on creating more tension through improving their level of strength, power/explosive strength without paying attention to managing the muscle tension properly. At the end of the kata performance, they might feel tensed and rigid, unable to execute the final element properly. This affects their technical performance and results in a decreased ability to recover well afterwards.
The tension usually occurs in the upper body in the shoulders, hands, and neck. The reason for this is not only the inability to relax appropriately but also the idea that the power in the punches, blocks, and other element comes from the upper body. Some karatekas neglect the lower part of the body and the importance of initiating the movement and transferring the power from your feet, legs, and hip through your middle body and arm, and finishing into your fist.
Two easy ways to improve your kime and stay relaxed
# 1 Relax your arms and open your mouth.
Accept the idea that the power of your punches comes from your lower body, hips, and trunk. The hands are there to direct the energy into the desired direction.
Sensei Yoshimi says that you should keep your arms relaxed. Allow them to move freely and be “directed” by your body. Just relax and throw them. Instead of thinking how hard you want to hit, think about how to get faster from point A to point B. Ones you start ignoring your arm, magic happens. Make sure you are persistent and be mindful on this at each practice. This takes time until you get used to “ignoring” your arms and gain better flow, so be patient.
Something that goes along with this idea is the importance of keeping your jaw relaxed by keeping your mouth slightly open while breathing.
#2 Start using Progressive Muscle Relaxation method
This method will help you become aware of what is an optimal relaxed state that will allow you to have explosive kime and perform at your best.
What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
In a nutshell, this is a practice routine that is performed at home or before practice as part of your mental training. Throughout the method, muscles get maximally tensed followed by maximal muscle relaxations. All this is followed by deep and controlled breathing.
How to do progressive muscle relaxation?
Step #1 – Get into a relaxed position
You what to be in a relaxed position. Preferable laying on a floor or in a bed before going to sleep.
Step #2 – Arms, shoulders, and hands.
Make a fist and slowly start increasing the muscle tension in shoulders, arms and hands making a fist. Gradually increase the tension starting from 10 % and moving towards 20,30,40…80,90, and 100 %. Ones you get to 100% hold your breath and for 5-7 seconds and then release the tension while slowly exhaling. It is important to feel how the pressure leaves your arms through your fingers. Spend a few moments to feel your body. Proceed to the next step.
Step #2 – Neck, face, and jaw.
Slowly start increasing the tension in your neck, then your jaw and finish with your forehead. Gradually increase the tension beginning from 10% and slowly reaching 100%. At this point take a breath and hold it for 5-7 seconds. Exhale and feel how the tension washes of your face.
Step #3 – Chest, back, and belly.
Start increasing the tension in your chest, upper and lower back and belly. Slowly increase the tension starting from 10% and slowly reaching 100%. At this point take a breath and hold it for 5-7 seconds. Exhale and feel how the muscle tension leaves these body parts. Be aware of this sensation and try to remember it.
Step #4 – Last part. Your hips, upper and lower legs.
Start increasing the tension in your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Then increase the tension in your calves by pointing the toes towards you or away from you. Slowly increase the muscle tension starting from 10%, 20% and slowly reaching 100%. At this point take a breath and hold it for 5-7 seconds. Exhale and feel how the tension leaves your lower body through your toes. Be aware of this sensation and try to remember it.
Step #5 – Train your mind to translate this state on the tatami.
After going through the steps, pay attention to the whole body sensation. Feel the relaxation in your body — breathe deep while scanning the whole-body and try to find any residual tension. If you identify muscle tension in some parts of the body, repeat the exercise only for that body part.
At this point say to yourself “I am relaxed” or “I am calm.” This is your mantra you will use to bring you in the current “relaxed state” any time you start feeling excess muscle tension before, during and after your performance. Remember you can create a mantra that suits you the best.
Before start working on your relaxation, have in mind that it will take some time until you become aware of your body tension and able to control it. Just because it does not involve physical exertion, that does not mean it will be easy to attain. It takes consistency, practice, and discipline. This is another reason why you what to remind yourself and reflect on your practice by keeping a daily journal.
Do you have your personal experience with excess muscle tension or have used progressive muscle relaxation techniques or something similar? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
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